The courtroom guards let Benny go. He straightened his tunic and hat. Ron started whooping and jumping around and the birdladies-in-waiting drooled. The generals and admirals forgot their weak bladders and stroked their medals, remembering their own glorious triumphs. The Emperor wiggled his moustache. The Empress recalled when her husband was a young prince and she was his princess and they waltzed around the frozen courtyard of the Imperial Palace in the moonlight. The Emperor’s uncle threw his papers in the courtroom bin. His butler looked numb.
Fred crawled down to Ron’s ear and whispered something.
The judge said, “Well, that was unusual! A last-minute reprieve!”
“Hooray!” shouted everyone.
And then the Emperor stood up. “Please be quiet.” he said.
Everyone was quiet.
“Now I’m as pleased as anyone to see justice done in my courtroom. And Benny, I regret putting you through all this, and by way of compensation I would like you to stay here in the Imperial Palace as my special guest for a few days. And you too, Ron, of course. But it is not quite time to celebrate yet. We still don’t know who shot the snowball!”
A murmur of agreement went around the room.
“But let me say, I will hunt down the offender and whoever it is will be very sorry!”
“Excuse me, Your Highpointness,” said Ron.
“You have something to say about this, Ron?” said the Emperor, surprised.
“No.” said Ron. “But Fred does.”
“Fred?” said the Emperor.
Ron pointed to his right shoulder, where Fred was now standing. Everyone looked at Fred. Fred’s eight legs were trembling, but no-one noticed. The Empress shrieked and got up on her seat, clutching her dress.
Fred started to speak but his voice was too small for anyone to hear.
“Is this some kind of joke, Ron?” said the Emperor impatiently.
“No it’s very important. Don’t let anyone leave the room,” said Ron. “Is there a megaphone?”
The judge signalled to one of the court officials who opened a cupboard and brought out a megaphone and took it over to Ron, who held it for Fred.
“Ahem,” said Fred. His voice was now amplified sufficiently. “While everyone was cheering and Ron was jumping around, I went up on the ceiling to get out of the way. I looked down and saw something shiny. I made a thread to where it was and ran down it. I found myself in a coat pocket.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
“In the pocket was a big shiny button,” said Fred.
“I walked back along my thread and told Ron I had seen something. And now I’m telling you.”
“So whose pocket was it?” asked the Emperor.
“Him!” said Fred. No-one could see who he was pointing at with one of his little legs.
“Wait a minute, I’ll show you - my thread is still connected!”
In a flash Fred was up on the ceiling and then running down an invisible thread. Everyone’s eyes followed him down as he got nearer and nearer to.... the Emperor’s uncle’s butler’s coat pocket!
Fred jumped out of the way as the Emperor ran forward and grabbed the butler. The butler squeeked as the Emperor turned him upside-down and shook him, and several big shiny buttons and a catapult dropped out of the his coat pockets onto the courtroom floor.
Everyone gasped. And then there was silence.
“Objection!” shouted the Emperor’s uncle.
“Shut up, uncle,” said the Emperor.