Chapter 4: The Conclusion
Apollo, Albhi, and Mae looked in dismay at the cracked incense burner, thrown behind the channeling hall into the garden. “I hope you see what happened. The girl attempted to steal it, broke the priceless artifact, panicked, and threw it into the back garden before making her escape,” the chief ritual official concluded triumphantly. “Consider yourself lucky the princess has decided to have mercy on you, young lady, or you would be facing the fullest extent of the law.”
“I didn’t do this!” Mae whispered, her face absolutely aghast. “I could never break a priceless artifact like this…”
“Mae, this wasn’t here when you were praying, was it?” Apollo asked.
“No, Mr. Justice, I left passing by the back garden, I would have noticed it for sure.”
“Alright. I think I’m ready to put this together. Chief Ritual Official, can you go retrieve Her Benevolence from her chambers? I’d like her to hear my logic as well,” Apollo said, straightening up and fixing his tie. The official looked mortified at being asked to do such a menial task, but huffed away toward the princess’s chambers.
“Do you really think you know what happened, Mr. Justice?” Mae asked, biting her lip, her green eyes hopeful.
“I think so. There’s just one lie left to unravel.”
A few minutes passed before the princess arrived, stalking down the corridor toward Apollo. “Horn Head! What is the meaning of this interruption? I am incredibly busy, especially since my maid has recently been let go.”
“Please excuse the intrusion, Your Benevolence, but I thought you’d want to hear my logic as I prove Mae innocent of this crime,” Apollo replied, trying not to sound too smug.
“Wh-what is the meaning of this?” Rayfa spluttered, an equally indignant chief ritual official behind her.
“Yes, Mae did ‘commit a crime.’ She didn’t go to the market as ordered because she was offering prayers for her sister’s surgery this weekend.”
“Well, she… she could be lying about that!” Rayfa interrupted.
“No, I don’t think so. The chief ritual official here says no one else was around the channeling hall all day, and the offering of flowers in front of the statue of the Holy Mother had to come from someone, since the baskets are emptied in the morning. Mae was exactly where she, eventually, said she was,” Apollo finished, winking at Mae, who hung her head, smiling shyly.
“Alright, well then, who is responsible for this atrocity?” the chief ritual official stuttered.
“Your Benevolence, there were a few things in our discussion earlier that I found strange. You knew about the state of the channeling chamber before you were told, and the soldiers implied you were not where you were supposed to be earlier today, at the time of the crime, no less. Furthermore, Mae heard someone in the channeling hall practicing a ritual. Now, there are only four pillows in the channeling hall. Two for the queen and her visitor, one for Mae, and one for you. Am I right?”
“Y-yes…” Rayfa answered shakily.
“Mae, the ritual you heard someone practicing in the channeling hall. Was it the channeling ritual usually performed by the queen?”
“Yes, yes it was!” Mae answered, her eyes widening as she looked at Rayfa. “Princess, you didn’t…”
“Your Benevolence, it was you, wasn’t it. You broke the incense burner while you were practicing the ritual, attempted to hide it, and when it was blamed on Mae, you demanded a lenient punishment for her because the crime… was your own.”
Rayfa fumed for a moment, then all the fight seemed to drain out of her. She hung her head. “I should have known you’d figure it out, Horn Head. You’re right. I skipped my Dance of Devotion practice and was practicing my mother’s ritual. I was hoping to surprise her with it. I ran into the incense burner as I backed up and I burned my ankle on it.”
“That explains your tell,” Apollo murmured to himself.
“It fell off the plate and just… broke. I panicked, I’d just broken a sacred artifact, what was I going to do? I threw it behind the channeling hall and planned to come get it later while everyone was asleep. I never dreamed anyone would notice it was missing so quickly.” Rayfa turned to Mae. “Mae, I’m sorry I let them blame you. I was planning on coming to confess to you later and I was going to make it up to you and your family by helping with your sister’s medical expenses. But in the moment, I just… couldn’t speak up. The least I could do was make sure you weren’t arrested.”
Mae approached Rayfa, smiling shyly. “It’s okay, princess. I understand. We’ve all been in a situation like that, I think.”
Rayfa hesitated for a moment, then grabbed the younger girl’s hands. “How can I make it up to you?”
Mae lifted her head, her smile wider than ever. “Can I be your maid again, princess?”
Rayfa sighed in relief. “I thought you’d never ask. I’ve been absolutely lost without you.”
Mae curtsied to the princess gracefully before turning to Apollo and Albhi. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank you two enough for all you did for me. Please feel free to come to the palace anytime for tea, at least with me. I don’t think Rayfa and ‘Horn Head’ can have a peaceful tea together yet.” She giggled before leaning up to press a quick kiss to Albhi’s cheek. “Thank you for not giving up on me.”
Albhi turned bright red. “N-no problem, M-Mae.”
The sweet moment was interrupted by Rayfa, who stamped her foot on the floor. “Come, Mae. We have work to do. And Horn Head? Take your friend and leave my sight, now!”
Apollo rolled his eyes, bowing. “Yes, Your Benevolence.”
And with that, Apollo and Albhi left the palace, leaving a laughing Mae and a fuming Rayfa in their wake. Apollo reflected on the day as the sun dipped below the hills on his walk back to the office, where he knew the pile of cases was still waiting. But he couldn’t call this day a waste. Seeing Mae’s smile doing the job she loved was worth the work. And seeing Albhi’s still-flushed cheeks on the walk back was the cherry on top.
“This is what defense attorneys do, you know,” he commented out loud. “Help those who aren’t in a position to help themselves. You’ve got real potential, Albhi.”
“Y-you think I could be an attorney someday? Really?”
“If you work hard, I think you’d be a great one. And a good start would be helping me sort all my new cases-”
Albhi paled quickly, clearly remembering the size of the pile on Apollo’s desk. “Sorry Mr. Justice, I just remembered a late night tour I promised to give. Maybe next time! Gotta go!”
As Apollo watched the boy disappear down the nearest alley, he sighed. Typical. But the potential of finding more cases like Mae’s, of someone who really needed his help, kept his feet moving forward as he headed home.