“Ssshhh!” Ron was brought into the penguinpeople’s ice court and the Empress’s ladypenguins-in-waiting squawked and nudged each other. “Shhsshh!” shushed the Empress again.
“Hmnhumdmnmbumdumnhum.” There was a general murmur of disapproval as Benny was then brought in and received by the Emperor’s mad uncle, who was acting as Ron and Benny’s lawyer, and his butler.
The Emperor came in next with his footmen. He seated himself next to the Empress. Everyone noticed he was wearing his eye patch - covering his black eye. Behind the Imperial Couple was a row of generals and admirals in their full regalia.
Then in came the judge and her court officials. The judge, an owl-penguin, sat at the head of the ice court, with her officials either side.
The participants and audience savoured the atmosphere for a few more seconds (it was like a hundred bingo games all at once) and then the trial began.
There were a few sniggers when Benny was told to give his name and abode and said, “Benny Bluebell, of the Soup Shack, in the Chilly Peaks.” Ron’s answer to the same question - “Ron Regent Stork of Biscuit Factory Yard”, caused less of a fuss and the sound of the ice court stenographer’s pen could be heard scratching across a sheet of blue paper.
“You are charged with a violent assault on His Highlightness the Emperor’s Imperial visage,” said the judge, “with a missile in the form of a snowball with a big silver button in it: Exhibit A.”
A court official held up a tray with the button and a label saying “Exhibit A” on it.
“This button is identical to one from the accused’s coat: Exhibit B.” said the judge.
The official held up another tray with a button and a label on it.
“And there are two buttons missing from your coat, which has buttons of the very same kind,” said the judge. “Stand up. please.” Benny stood up and the official pointed to his chest with an arrow labelled “Exhibit C”, where two of the big silver buttons of Benny’s scarlet tunic were plainly absent.
There was a “Hfffh!” from the audience as they made an inhalation sound in unison.
“Objection, my lord!” said the Emperor’s uncle. “There may be two buttons missing from my client’s coat, but that is only circumstantial evidence.”
“Circum-what?” said the judge.
“Stantial, my lord,” said the Emperor’s uncle.
“What does that mean?” asked the judge impatiently.
“I’m not sure, my lord. I heard it on the magic lantern once.” said the Emperor’s uncle.
“Well, if you don’t mind, Your Niceness, until you can clarify what-the-frozen-fish you are talking about, we will proceed with the trial!” said the judge.
“Yes, my lord,” said the Emperor’s uncle.
“And by the way, stop calling me “my lord”. I am a lady judge,” said the judge.
“Yes, my lo...ady,” said the Emperor’s uncle.”I’m sorry.”
“Excuse me, your my lord,” said Benny suddenly. He knew what “circumstantial” meant, and he knew the Emperor’s uncle was on to something.
“Please keep your beak shut until I tell you you can open it!” squawked the judge irately.
“That’s not fair, your lady!” said Ron.
“Quiet!” shouted the judge, flapping her wings and nearly losing her wig. “One more sound from either of you two traitors and you’ll be charged with contempt of court on top of violent assault!”
“How do you spell circumstantial?” said the stenographer suddenly.
There was then a delay of five minutes, while one of the generals noisily shuffled along the row to go to the bathroom, which became a delay of half-an-hour when all the other generals and admirals were inspired, one-by-one, to do the same.
Finally, when everyone was settled, and the stenographer had caught up, the judge continued.
“Where were you on Thursday morning?” she asked Benny.
“I was in the Soup Shack, you lady,” replied Benny.
“Do you have a witness?” asked the judge.
“Well, Ron was there, but...” Benny hesitated. He thought it was best to tell the truth, but on the other hand he knew the cards were stacked against him, despite what the Emperor’s uncle had said about fairness and justice being important to the Emperor and his penguinpeople.
“But what?” asked the judge.
“Objection, my lady!” said the Emperor’s uncle.
“You can’t object to me! I’m the judge!” said the judge.
“Oh, sorry,” said the Emperor’s uncle sheepishly.
“But Ron was asleep all day Thursday. He didn’t wake up for twenty-four hours after he saved the airship from crashing.” said Benny.
“So you do not have an alibi?” asked the judge.
“No, my lad. I don’t think I do.“ said Benny
There was a hush in the courtroom as the spectators considered the significance of Benny’s admission.
“How do you spell “alibi”,“ said the stenographer.
“Court is adjourned.” said the judge. “Come back tomorrow for the accused’s plea and the sentencing”.