The gavel rapped smartly against the high wooden table, and King Skarl awoke with a start, hastily wiping the drool from his chin.
“He nodded off again,” noted Emilie with a snicker, grinning at her brother.
“Shhh!” snapped Edgar. The Shoyru was beginning to realize it might have been foolish to bring his little sister and expect her to sit through a court case.
The judge, an ancient and stern-looking Kougra, gave the King a quick look of disapproval before continuing to read the lengthy list of charges in his slow, droning voice.
Again, he was interrupted by the defendant. “I robbed two banks, not one, on the 3rd day of Sleeping. And I didn’t impersonate a bank official - I like to stretch my acting chops and make up my own characters.”
The court room erupted with noisy laughter and chatter, and the judge had to bring the court to order again. Edgar suspected that the judge genuinely wished he could sentence the defendant right away, but he picked up the scroll again and read on.
The defendant, a clever-looking Pteri nicknamed “Magic Mel”, had become something of a legend in Neopia. No one knew his real name, but everyone had heard of him and his numerous misdeeds. Between robbing banks and the fanciest shops, he found time to put on elaborate magic shows, much to the delight of the children who were able to see it before the police caught word. Somehow, he had managed to evade being captured for months, and his recent apprehension was a proud achievement of the chief of police. Magic Mel’s popularity explained the packed courtroom and constant, quiet whispering.
Emilie glanced back at the King, who was beginning to nod off again. “Do you think he’s annoyed that he had to travel all the way to Neopia Central from Meridell? I mean, it is far and - ”
This time Edgar placed a hand firmly over Emilie’s mouth. He decided that he did not want to draw any disapproval from the already annoyed judge.
The judge reached the end of the scroll and hastily rolled it up. He glanced over at Magic Mel, narrowed his eyes, and said in his most threatening voice, “How do you plead?”
Magic Mel sat up a little taller, winked at the jury, and said happily, “Guilty, of course!”
Edgar wondered if was he genuinely crazy or if he just enjoyed making people wonder if he was. Edgar was fairly certain he would be far less happy under the circumstances.
The judge gave an exhausted sigh, as if he knew the whole thing was a waste of time, and called the court to recess.
Emilie leapt up from her seat, grabbed Edgar’s hand, and hurried out the large double doors.
“If we hurry, we can run to the market! Doesn‘t some popcorn sound really tasty right now?”
Edgar raised an eyebrow. “Emilie, this isn’t a movie!”
But she wasn’t listening; she was already hurrying down the street ahead of him.
Emilie flung open the door of the Food Shop and nearly collided with a rather large Scorchio.
“Aw, darn!” Emilie pouted. There was already a long line as the crowds of Neopian Times reporters, spectators, and curious Neopets paused for lunch.
The door lurched open behind her and Edgar shuffled in, peering over his shoulder as the crowds from inside the courtroom began queuing up outside behind them.
“There are other places to eat you know,” he said irritably, as the line inched along.
“Yes, but are there other places with popcorn?” she said, craning her neck to see whether they would have time to reach the counter.
“Come on,” Edgar snapped, “we can go to the Health Food store and get a baked apple or something.”
Emilie winced. “Gross!”
Edgar sighed. “Or we could go the bakery... and get a cupcake... for lunch.”
Emilie’s eyes lit up. “Deal!” She grabbed his arm, and they forced their way outside the crowded store and back onto the busy street.
It was a pleasant afternoon, punctuated by the busy gossip of Neopets on the street as they exchanged news about the trial. Edgar and Emilie had been lucky to get seats in the courtroom - their dad worked for Magic Mel’s lawyer, so the family was allowed inside. Their dad refused to tell them anything about the trial, and Emilie badly wanted to know the latest gossip; even a seat in the courtroom did not make up for her not knowing what was happening before everyone else did.
They made their way slowly past the Smoothie Shop. It was slow going, as everyone was still crowded out in the streets, mingling and chattering loudly.
Suddenly, a sharp-looking Shoyru thrust herself in their way. She wore a large badge that read “Neopian Times Reporter”.
“Pardon me, but were you in court today? Of course you were, I saw you walk out from there. Did you have seats from which you could see the king? How did he look? Grumpy? Angry? Tired?” She spoke very fast, and it took Edgar a moment to comprehend what she said.
“Er, yes, we could see the king, and he looked tired, I suppose -”
“Tired? Interesting.” The reporter scribbled something down on her notepad. “Would you say that bankrupting farmers with his outrageous taxes has been exhausting?”
Edgar stared at her for a moment. “I don’t know, I guess maybe the court was a bit -”
“Or would you guess he is losing sleep because of a guilty conscience from banning Haunted Woods imports? Maybe he has lost his grip on the throne so none of this bothers him at all, and that’s why he can sleep, even at his court?”
“His court?” Emilie asked, watching the Shoyru with fascination. “It’s not his court at all!”
The reporter chuckled. “Of course it is, dear, don’t be a fool. It‘s his judge!”
Edgar watched her suspiciously. “I’m very sorry, but we’re only kids, and I’m afraid we don’t have anything to say about any of this.” He pulled Emilie away quickly before she could open her mouth again.
“Edgar! She was interesting. And I wanted to hear more about taxes and haunted stuff and naps!”
Edgar rolled his eyes. “Honestly, Emilie, don’t you ever read the papers?”
“Waste of time,” said Emilie confidently. “By the time it’s in the papers, everyone knows about it already, and what’s the use if you’re not the first to know?”
“Because this is important!” He lowered his voice. “Everyone says that the king has been a foul mood these past few months. He’s been making all kinds of bad decisions, and all of it has really been hurting the people of Meridell! No one knows what to do to cheer him up.”
Emilie looked unconcerned. “That’s too bad for them, isn’t it? Hey look, the bakery hardly has any line at all!”
She sprinted inside the bakery, and Edgar followed thoughtfully after her. He wondered what could have possibly put the king in such a bad mood. He could hear Emilie inside, already chattering loudly at someone else.
When he pulled open the door, he had to pause in utter horror. There was his sister, his silly little sister, talking intently at king Skarl.
“So anyway, they say that you are so grumpy you’re ruining the country! So I thought, what could possibly make someone so grumpy that they would do a thing like that? I figured I might as well ask you, since -”
Once Edgar realized what was going on, he lunged forward and knocked his sister away from the king. He dared an upward glance at the king, and to his surprise, he did not look angry at all. Instead, he looked a little sad.
“I didn’t realize everyone was talking about it. I didn’t really know how bad it had gotten,” the King said quietly.
Emilie gave her brother a triumphant look and stepped on his toes as hard as she could. Edgar leapt out of the way, and Emilie stood in front of the king again.
“Well, maybe you should do something to cheer yourself up!” Emilie glanced at the doughnut the baker handed to the king. “Try a doughnut with sprinkles next time, they always cheer me up!”
“I don’t really enjoy doing anything”, the King said thoughtfully. “I’m used to having people entertain me. But lately, no one has been able to make me so much as smile.”
Edgar watched in stunned silence as his sister wheedled the best gossip of her life out of the king of Meridell himself.
Emilie smiled. “Well, we should think of someone better! Someone who can really make you laugh.”
King Skarl glanced around suspiciously. “Yes, that does sounds like a good idea. But let’s go somewhere a bit more private.” Edgar was beginning to believe that the king’s judgment really was impaired as he pulled his sister away from the counter and out onto the street.
They followed the king down the road, where he settled down on a bench underneath a tree.
“Okay,” Emilie said importantly, sitting down next to him. “When was the last time you laughed?”
King Skarl nibbled on his doughnut thoughtfully. “I can’t recall... I had a joker come last week; he wasn’t funny at all. The week before that a fortuneteller visited, but she predicted I would ruin my kingdom and I threw her out... what do you know, she may have been right!”
Emilie scowled, and Edgar remembered her dislike of fortunetellers - anyone who could know something before her would automatically garner her dislike.
“Then before that, there was a musician; he played the harp. It was very boring.”
Suddenly, the King looked a little guilty. “I remember now.”
Emilie looked excited. “Well, when was it?”
“Magic Mel did a magic show outside the castle, and I happened to be riding past it. I stopped to watch, and it was the last time I laughed. He’s very funny.”
Edgar looked shocked. “You watched Magic Mel’s magic show? After he robbed from your own castle?”
“No, this was before he robbed me,” Skarl said sulkily.
“It’s perfect!” Emilie said happily. Both Skarl and Edgar looked shocked.
“You can simply convince the judge to give him jail time, but have some breaks to come to court and put on magic shows for you!”
“I’d prefer not to have a criminal in my court!”
Edgar looked thoughtful. “Pardon me sir, but if you don’t let him back and you don’t cheer up, then you might just have one quicker than you know it!”
The king stared at Edgar as he grasped his meaning.
“Well, I have been making some pretty poor choices lately... What will the people say, I wonder?”
“I think they’ll just be glad to have you back, sir!” said Emilie with a winning smile.
King Skarl chuckled. “Of course they will! You were right all along!” He pushed open the doors to the courtroom and strolled inside. Edgar was about to go after him when he noticed Emilie running down the road.
“Emilie! Where do you think you’re going?”
“To Natalie’s house of course! Just wait until my friends hear about this news!”
Edgar couldn’t help but smile as he made his way back into courtroom after the king.