Chapter 2: Meeting Mae
Apollo searched his desk for a blank notebook, sighing at himself. Why the heck had he even agreed to this? He had enough work as it was. And the way things looked right now, the case against Mae wouldn’t be going to trial. But when Albhi led the girl in question inside, he knew why. She was so young, so scared. He just had to help her.
“Mae, this is Mr. Justice. He wants to help you out, okay?”
The girl still looked pretty shaken up, but she stumbled over the traditional greeting, offering Apollo a shy, grateful smile. “I’m Mae’do Laqueen, but please call me Mae. Thank you so much for, um, taking my case. I think that’s the correct term.”
“Well, you haven’t technically been charged with anything, have you?” Apollo asked, gesturing for both the children to sit down.
“N-no, I don’t think so,” Mae replied, tugging on her skirt nervously as she took a seat. “I’ve just been removed from my position. Oh, what will the princess do without me…? I was the only one who kept track of her schedule…”
“I’d like to talk about that, if that’s alright,” Apollo gently interrupted Mae’s musings. “What was the schedule like today?”
Mae fixed her green gaze on the ceiling, biting her lip as she recounted the day. “Well, I woke up Princess Rayfa and dressed her, before escorting her to the throne room, where she had duties to attend to. Following that, the princess was to be practicing the Dance of Devotion at Tehm’pul Temple. The guards were meant to escort her there, so I… I ran a few errands in the market, but I made sure I would arrive back at the palace before the princess. A-and… and that’s when it happened…” Mae’s lip began to tremble and Albhi squeezed her hand tightly.
“It’s okay, Mae. You can tell him.”
Mae sniffed and nodded. “W-when I got back, the palace was in an uproar. The incense burner used in the queen’s channeling ritual was missing and the ritual master blamed me for it. Th-they were going to arrest me when I said I didn’t know what had happened to it, but the princess… she just demanded I be let go instead. And that’s when Albhi found me.”
Apollo nodded, looking over the notes he’d taken. “And what can you tell me about the incense burner? Anything special about it?”
“It’s really beautiful,” Mae replied, nodding enthusiastically, the gold ornament in her hair jingling up and down with the motion. “Made of gold with an emerald set into the top. I’ve seen it sometimes when the princess goes to observe the channeling ritual. That’s all it’s ever used for. It’s always kept in the channeling room.”
“Okay, Mae. And did you talk to anyone in the market, anyone who can vouch for you being there?”
Mae hesitated, looking uncomfortable and wringing her hands. “N-no, I… I didn’t end up buying anything. The stores didn’t have what I was looking for, so I didn’t speak to anyone. And there were so many people I doubt anyone would remember seeing me. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Apollo said, but inside he was mentally cursing. Of course it couldn’t be that easy. “Do you think you could take us to the palace so we can look around a bit?” Noting Mae’s slightly distressed expression, Apollo continued. “Don’t worry. You’ll be with me, it’ll be okay. We just want to look around a bit, and having you there might help us find clues.”
The young girl nodded slowly. “I’ll help however I can, Mr. Justice.”
“Thanks, Mae. Can you go outside and tell Datz to make you a cup of tea before we leave? I need to gather up a few things.” Mae nodded and exited the small office, closing the door behind her. Albhi spoke up almost immediately.
“Well, what do you think? Do you know who did it yet?”
“Albhi, we haven’t even investigated yet,” Apollo replied. “But I have a few questions I’d like to ask you… about Mae.”
Albhi colored again. “We’re not dating!”
“That… wasn’t what I was going to ask you.” Apollo almost failed to hide his smirk. “What I was actually going to ask is about this incense burner. It sounds really valuable. Would there be any way to sell it?”
“I mean, sure, I guess so. There’s a black market for all kinds of things. I bet they’d pay good money for something so sacred and something made out of gold and jewels, too,” Albhi mused.
“And Mae… would she have any reason to take something like this? Does she need money for anything?”
Albhi hesitated. “Well…”
“You can tell me, Albhi. I’m going to take the case no matter what.”
Albhi sighed. “Mae’s youngest sister, Juu’ni, she’s only four. She’s really sick and her parents are having trouble taking care of her.”
Apollo nodded, gritting his teeth. A motive and no alibi. He’d defended worse. But the situation definitely wasn’t ideal. “Okay. Let’s go to the palace.”