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It just broke my heart to see all those people standing there, wise faces frowning with displeasure as the two thugs next to me escorted me, forcefully, into the room. I looked around at what would probably spell out the end of my life. It was the inside of a tree, the natural home of the fey. I noticed that this tree was a yew, tall, strong, and unmoving, just like the head judge standing right there with her poker face perfect, with no sign of emotion. There were no seats, just benches where root-like structures emanated from the ground. Twelve judges sat there in their semicircle, almost taunting me to speak out against their wisdom.
If I craned my neck, I could see my mother and father in the back of the room, her with tears running down her gorgeous face, him with a glare to curdle milk. Oh, they were furious with me! And I could not blame them.
I had known that what I had done was against the law, and I would be punished. But I couldn’t just stand there as my home, my world, was destroyed by officials in long, black robes, taking over neighborhoods and burning down homes. Burning. The worst possible fate for us, for the fair folk. They hadn’t been content with just ruling the hawthorn kingdoms, oh no. They had to try to take over all of the elven lands, approaching the borders of the hamadryad and dryad territories as well. So a few of us who knew what was going on had rebelled, posting signs, speaking out, that kind of thing. I, of course, had been the only one to get caught. They had promised me amnesty if I betrayed my friends, told on them.
They would lie. I could see it in their faces, read their minds. Unusual for an elf, but there you have it. I wasn’t normal. I knew it, my parents knew it (though they always tried to keep it hidden), and now the officials knew it.
And they were going to try me for it. Just because I could do magic, besides the normal Etherealm powers of talking to trees and understanding the other animals out there. Just because I stood up for what was right.
The head judge, Erlenia, stood up, and the crowd fell silent. “Are you Aliyana Oakendaughter?” Like she didn’t know. She was the one in charge of the reformation, the Replanting, as they called it. I’d spent lots of time around her, protesting and generally causing a large disturbance.
“No, I’m a bush,” I mumbled sarcastically. My guards inched closer, their large axes coming dangerously close to my face. They wouldn’t kill me. They couldn’t. That would be murder; in the Etherealm, it was illegal to kill a child, and at twelve, I was still considered a child. They could seriously injure me, though. I sighed. “Goodness gracious, cans’t thou take a joke?” I asked, lapsing into the formal speak required for conversing with a judge. “I am she they call Aliyana Oakendaughter.”
“Good,” she responded, her silken voice filling the silent room. There was something about that voice that scared me more than anything that would happen, some inner menace hidden behind a veil of calm. “I am Erlenia Hawthornqueen, high judge of the Ethercourt of the elves. Now we may proceed. Aliyana Oakendaughter, you are brought here under charges of being a mage and rebelling against the Replanting. What do you plead to these charges?”
“I plead that you leave me alone and go bother some other misunderstood elfchild.” She cocked her head, and I could hear her voice in my head. What did she say? “I plead innocent.”
She motioned to a woman near the middle of the crowd, who then came forward. I recognized her instantly as Saia Oakenwife, my next door neighbor. “Saia, tell the girl what you saw, what you told me.”
Saia, trembling, repeated a story I’d heard several times in the Replanter’s minds, her voice quavering with fright, and…was it pity? “I saw Aliyana in the Roothall earlier this week, planting a few seeds. She whispered a word, and they grew. In seconds, I mean. I’d never seen anything like that before. And there have been other things. I’ve seen her drop a fruit from a tall branch, and it fell to the ground and bounced back to her hand!” Then, sadly, tears flooding her almond-shaped eyes, she whispered, “I’m so sorry, Aliy.”
Erlenia gave her a gentle shove, and in seconds, she was absorbed by the roaring monster that was the crowd.
“Now, Aliyana, what do you plead? If you plead guilty, and you tell us the names of others so we can help them, too, then all will be forgiven. We are only trying to help you. What do you plead?”
“If standing up for what is right is a crime, then I’m guilty. If practicing talents that can help the Etherealms is a crime, I’m a criminal. But I’m not ashamed. I would have done it again, and again, just to see the look on your faces as I saw your faces, terrified to see a threat to your precious Replanting. I’m a threat to you. You won’t let me be innocent. And if I betrayed a friend, you’d still not leave me alone. For me, this is a lose-lose situation. You’ll pick for me anyway,” I finished defiantly, seeing my mother burst into tears and Elenia’s smile fade momentarily, to reappear more scary than before. Oh, goodness, what had I done?
Erlenia and the other judges deliberated for a while, probably taking such a long time to get me nervous about my fate.
“Aliyana Oakendaughter, elfchild of Lanai and Kinoa Oakenparents, you are found guilty of rebelling against the Replanting and practicing magic illegally as a mage.”
My mother Lanai fainted, her limp form sliding down the unyielding yew wall. I wanted to do the same, but I could not. I must save face; otherwise I would disgrace the whole Oakenrealm.
“I hear your assessment, high Ethercourt, but I do not accept it as correct.”
“Understood. Now, we were all in favor of execution by burning at stake, but the Etherlaw states that no child may be killed, and all those who do so are to be killed themselves. Therefore, we wished to just banish you from the Elvenrealm. However, thanks to your cheek and total lack of respect to your superiors, we have changed your sentence.”
“I like sentences,” I exclaimed with false gusto. “My favorite one is ‘I am innocent.’ Can I have that one please?”
Erlenia glared at me, a murderous gleam in her strangely feral eyes. Now that I looked, she looked different from the other elves. Her hair was black, bushier than most, and her face was less aquiline than most elves, more round and fat. She also seemed rounder, without the elegant grace of our race, but stockier, more strong. Her eyes also differed, way less like deep pools of wisdom. Instead, they reminded me of smooth black beetles, shining as they hunkered down in the dark recesses of her face. In fact, the more I looked at her, the less she seemed like an elf. I guesses that she had come from one of the lesser realms, and tried to take over the Hawthornrealm to have a better place to rule. She wasn’t even elven at all! Once I got out of this punishment, then I would help the Hawthornrealm regain its independence.
“You can’t stop me, Erlenia. Whatever you do, I’ll be back.”
She grinned, a triumphant, evil smile lighting up her face. “I’m sorry, Aliyana Oakendaughter, but that won’t be possible. You’re banished.”
“I’ll live in the Dryadrealms, then.”
“Oh, dear, did I not make myself clear? I meant exiled from all the Etherealms. Exiled to the Otherworld”
A large tumult arose out of the crowd. I could hear whispers all around me, saying Earth? Earth? Does she mean Earth? The mage, banished, to Earth?
I found the courage to ask what I was dreading.
“You mean Earth? You’re exiling me to Earth?”
“Oh, yes,” she smirked cruelly. “You will be sent to the Otherworld, the one the native species, humans, call Earth.”