‘I was sixteen. I was sold to a brothel after my father’s death. And just when I caught a glimmer of hope—a glimpse of survival—I was framed for murder. If, for a second, you thought that our dystopia had ruined all chances of a meaningful life, think again—all I ever wanted was to escape the gallows.
‘The year was 1259—one thousand, three hundred, and fifty-nine years after the Red Sun grazed our earth. What was once a thriving planet, with expeditions to the moon, had become a wasteland. Our people were forced to start over and our nations returned to their primeval state—to a past where famine and plagues descended upon the poorer folks, where the kings were chosen by the gods, and where my father died a poor man.
‘My father had accumulated creditors over his many years of Wei-Qi—a game he sought to master, in hopes of reclaiming the very wealth he’d wasted from it. Upon his death, I was sent to the House of Red Lanterns to repay his debts. It was the home to unfortunate women who danced in silky crimson dresses, plucked lyrical string instruments, and served sweet tea and cakes to its male guests amongst other unspoken services. It wasn’t a place for a child. But in the midst of its hopelessness, I saw a light. My saviour entered the brothel’s rosewood halls as a tax collector—the man who soon made me his second wife.
‘I knew. I was well aware—I wasn’t saved because of love. I was rescued from a life of prostitution because of my youth. I was young and fertile—I could bear the tax collector’s child, and I did. I gave birth to his one and only son, and became the mother of the heir to his fortune. Alas, that didn’t sit well with his first wife. It was bad news for the lady of the house—bad enough news for her to murder her husband, frame me for his death, and claim my child as her own. And that is why, Judge Bao, I am writing this to you. I need you to save me.’
“Another letter from the portal?” Dominic asked.
“Yes, as though our own universe isn’t filled with enough injustice,” I replied. “This Judge Bao is getting out of hand. Someone over there has made me out to be a hero.”
“Well, you did solve that one case with the butterfly dream,” Dominic said. “You’re quite the Sherlock Holmes.”
“Please, don’t get started with Sherlock Holmes,” I replied as I handed the letter to Dominic.
Standing from my oak desk, I headed to the bookshelf in my private study. Surely, its occupants had the answer to the hapless girl’s case. Perhaps one of the great kings of the past could free her from her inequitable predicament. But just as I retrieved a thick leather-bound book, an idea struck.
“Are you still getting those letters—the Sherlock ones?” Dominic asked. “I thought they stopped.”
I chuckled. “Stop? See that pile over there?” I said, gesturing at a box brimming with unopened envelopes. “They keep coming. Heck, I’d rather be a beekeeper at this point.”
“You’re afraid of bees,” Dominic stated.
“Precisely. Now read that letter and give me some advice, Watson.”
Dominic retreated to an armchair by the lit fireplace. And after a brisk read, he said, “This seems pretty straightforward.”
“Yes, I’m sure. So how do we help her?”
“I have no idea,” Dominic said. “If I did, I’d be you.”
“You’re always of great help,” I said. “Thanks for being here.”
“You’re welcome, Solomon.” Dominic hopped off the armchair. “Better get to replying that poor child. The gallows is a deadly place to be.”
“Yes. Death waits for no man.” I shooed Dominic to the double doors before returning to my desk. Hopefully, with the right instructions, the magistrates on the other side would save yet another soul—hopefully, that would be all from that universe for a while.
‘Dear fellow judges,
‘It has come to my attention that the tax collector’s second wife is being framed for a murder she did not commit. But to say that she is innocent without proper investigation would be a crime. Thus, I have found a solution to unravel the truth.
‘Before the girl is unjustly sentenced, draw a circle of chalk around the heir of the fortune. Then, instruct both the lady of the house and the girl to pull the child out of the circle. Whoever refuses to hurt the child in the process is the true mother of the boy. And though that will not discount the murder, it will reveal the true liar.
‘Best regards, Judge Bao’
12 Genre Months © 2019 by Jeyna Grace. All rights reserved.
(Click HERE for the list of stories in this writing challenge.)