“What is your name, sir?” the magistrate demanded. I stood facing him, in front of a packed courtroom of people who seemed very curious in my fate.
“My name is Horus Vere,” I replied proudly. It is a name to be proud of.
“And what is your profession?”
“My family are traditionally glaziers, but I am more of a merchant. I find things here and there and sell them, in order to pay for my travels.”
“Ah, so a thief then?”
“Put down salvager, if you please, if there is a box marked ‘Profession’ that must be filled in,” I said. “Now, if I might ask a question, why am I here, instead of being on the road to Hatavass, as I had planned?”
“You are charged, sir, with spooking a horse and causing a thousand crowns of damage to a load of expensive pottery. Do you deny it?”
“I do not deny being there,” I said, “but it was the red poltergeist that spooked the horse.”
“A poltergeist!” The magistrate looked outraged. “You are saying you saw a poltergeist in the road?”
“No, your honor. It was invisible.”
“Then, how do you know it was there? And how can you call it red?”
“For both those questions, I have only the word of Brokker.”
“And who is he?” The magistrate’s tone was soft and dangerous.
“He called himself a spirit sage. I only met him that day. It was he that told me that a poltergeist was stealing my shoe.”
The magistrate threw up his hands. “I have no idea what you are talking about. Please start this whole mess of an account from the beginning.”
“I am afraid I have just told you everything,” I said. “I was just about to break camp when I could not find my shoe. Brokker came along and told me he had seen a poltergeist taking off with it. A red one.”
“Yes, you mentioned that detail already,” the magistrate said. The crowd tittered with delight. “Tell me then, how the horse came to be spooked?”
“Well, for a crown Brokker offered to show me where the poltergeist had gone. My shoe was hardly worth that much, but I had never seen an invisible red poltergeist before, and since having only one shoe is as good as being barefoot, I agreed. We were running along, when I banged into the fox.”
“Well, it was in a cage,” I said, “obviously. It was in a pile of other wild animals in cages, all headed to circuses and menageries. You should have heard the racket.”
“Yes, I see,” the magistrate said, wrinkling his forehead. The crowd was entranced. Even if admission to the courtroom had not been free, this would be money well spent.
“So, I knocked over the fox cage, which was fine, except it broke open and the fox ran into a group of schoolchildren being led by two nuns . . .”
“Whatever are you talking about?” the magistrate asked, exploding suddenly with anger. “Why were there foxes in cages and nuns with schoolchildren wandering around in the forest?”
“This was not in the forest—it was here in the city. I camped in Fountain Square last night. Did they not tell you?” The look on the magistrate’s face showed that they had not.
“Get to the horse,” he said.
“Well,” I continued, “the fox was darting here and there, and nuns and children were screaming and crashing around when Brokker suddenly said he saw the poltergeist. It had dropped my shoe but Brokker said he could find out where it had dropped it. So we took off running through the square, dodging screaming nuns and vaulting over children. ‘It’s going for that horse!’ Brokker said and he jumped for it. I tried to follow, but I had been running with only one shoe and I tripped and fell at the horse’s feet. It reared up and started charging around the square too. Brokker said that the poltergeist had jumped on its back. The wagon wheel hit a small anvil that I had been planning to trade and the whole load of pottery slid off and smashed on the street.”
“That was quite a story, Mr. Vere,” the magistrate said, although he did not sound impressed. “Do you have anything to add?”
“Yes, your honor. I got my shoe back. Brokker produced it and said the poltergeist had given it to him, so I was obliged to pay him the crown. In any case, all’s well that ends well, right?”
* * *
That night, I told the story to a group of eager bar patrons at the renowned establishment, the Feathered Pork Chop.
“What happened then?” they asked. “Did they make you pay for the pottery?”
“No, I was acquitted on that charge,” I said, “although I did get fined half a crown for illegally sleeping in Fountain Square. I don’t mind though: it’s not every day you get to see an invisible, red poltergeist.”