Trial by combat. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time: the short, fat judge wide-eyed as Howard uttered the words. It just made so much sense. He didn’t have the $40 needed to pay for his speeding ticket, and he knew he wouldn’t get it for another week or so – at which point, the cost would have surely gone up to a staggering $45 or more. That was unacceptable, unthinkable. If Howard was going to spend an extra $5, it sure as shit wasn’t going to be for some Government-issued nonsense speeding ticket. If anything, he’d be spending his hard-earned cash at the strip clubs, on Budweiser, and on cigarettes, like any true patriot and American.
“I demand a trial by combat,” Howard had said, staring straight into the eyes of the pudgy judge. The man’s grey, thinning hair seemed to be cowering away from the center of his head, leaving a visible bald spot like a Friar from the Medieval period. Although he was seated behind a desk, it was clear he was no taller than five-foot-four.
“You what?” said the man, his voice cracking slightly toward the end of the sentence.
“I demand a trial by combat,” Howard repeated. He pulled his shoulder blades together so that he was standing straight, his sleeveless American flag t-shirt catching slightly on his giant, silver bottle opener belt buckle. “You heard what I said.” Howard lowered the brim on his forest-camouflage hat.
The judge glanced around the court room, Howard following his gaze as he did so. None of the other people seemed to care much, most of them staring down at their cell phones or restlessly fidgeting with the tickets they came to protest.
“You want to have a trial by combat? For a $40 speeding ticket? You don’t even want to try arguing it first?”
“Yes sir. This is America, isn’t it? I’m free to follow America’s oldest tradition, aren’t I?” Howard stood erect and saluted the flag in the corner of the court room.
“Trial by combat is of British origins,” said the judge, staring down at Howard.
“Britain is just old America,” Howard said, releasing his salute. “I demand a trial by combat, you short, little bitch.”
The soft sound of ticket shuffling stopped as Howard stared up at the judge, his face frozen, eyes wide. He seemed to be turning slightly reddish, almost as if he were asphyxiating. The judge reached for his gavel.
“Trial by combat granted,” the judge said, smashing the small, brown gavel against the wooden platform on his desk. It bounced as he hit it, landing sideways and rolling off his desk and onto the floor.
It honestly had seemed like such a great idea at the time, like a truly novel way to get out of a ticket and take down the oppressors of the good, patriotic American folk. For far too long had courts been trying to silence his people, to force him to get gay married with their laws and liberal ideals. He would stand and take action, defeat this man and show the country that they need not be afraid to defend its borders from the Mexicans, that Americans shouldn’t be thrown in jail for just loving freedom, and that speeding was a God-given right. He would stand and defend America.
The judge had set the trial to take place at 6:00pm the following evening on the lawn just outside of the court house. Howard was allowed to go home and prepare; he felt genuinely confident in his decision as he drove home. He’d not only come out $40 ahead of where he would have been, but he’d be able to teach the judge a well-deserved lesson. It was just an all-around great idea.
As Howard later lay on the ground, a stabbing pain deep in his lower back, it occurred to him the decision might have been slightly less appealing than he’d originally thought.
The judge showed up just as Howard arrived the following evening, still as short and pudgy as he had been the last time they were together. Howard smiled and laughed as he saw him waddle onto the field, his black robes long enough to rub on the grass as he moved. A bag was slung around his shoulder. The judge stopped just in front of him, his head no higher than the bottom of Howard’s neck.
“Pick your weapon,” the judge said, throwing his bag on the floor with a metallic clink. “In Case of Trial by Combat, Break Seal,” it read on the front. A sword and several small daggers fell out of its opened top and onto the grass, various other silver and black weapons peeking out of the bag.
Howard bent down and grabbed the sword, smiling as he rose back up. He’d used a sword one time, pulled it off a wall and tried to throw it at some illegal immigrant at a bar once. He missed, but got close enough to know he could do it better if he needed to.
“Let’s do this,” Howard said, gripping the sword like a baseball bat. It felt comfortable in his hands, almost as if it belonged. It was definitely heavier than he thought, though.
The judge knelt down and stuck his hand into the bag, removing a large, chained object. A silver, spikey ball dangled on one end, connected to its wooden base with a blackened chain. A flail, Howard thought, trying to remember back to his 7th grade social studies class. He’d done a project on early weaponry, one of the last things he’d accomplished before dropping out in 8th grade.
“Good choice,” Howard laughed, shaking his head as he stared at him. The flail dangled just above the ground, the judges tiny arms clearly struggling to keep it in the air.
“Let us begin,” said the judge, lifting the flail up slightly higher. His voice was deep and stern, as if speaking through clenched teeth.
“Democracy!” Howard shouted, swinging the sword in an arc like a baseball player hitting for a home-run. His grip immediately released, sending the sword flying to the far left of both the judge and himself, surprisingly similar to what had happened all those months ago in the bar. It landed flat against the grass several yards away. “Shit,” Howard said.
The judge stared at Howard and moved toward him, his tiny black robe blowing in the wind as he walked forward. Howard stepped backwards in response, frantically searching for anything to save him. He knew he probably should’ve chosen a gun instead of a sword, or possibly a few daggers, or even a god damn rock at that point.
The judge lifted the flail up, his arm raised above his head and ball at waist level. He slowly spun it around his body like the moon orbiting the Earth.
“Wait, I changed my mind,” Howard said.
“No one calls me short, you redneck shit,” said the judge. He lunged, the spikey ball rocketing forward in an arc and slamming into Howard’s lower back, then immediately bouncing backwards and striking the judge along the left side of his ribs. The two of them screamed and toppled over, blood seeping from their individual wounds.
It had been such a promising idea, such a great way to save $40, or potentially even $45. Yet as Howard lay on the ground, blood slowly draining from his body, it occurred to him that perhaps it would have been wise to at least argue the ticket before demanding a trial by combat, or maybe to take a lesson in sword fighting beforehand. Perhaps he should’ve tried holding onto the sword, rather than taking the risk of throwing it at the judge. In fact, there were at least half a dozen things he realized would have made slightly more sense had he taken a few extra moments to think about it. To his utter dismay, it seemed Game of Thrones had been a poor choice for education in judicial practice.
Writing Prompt: It’s 2014: A man, charged with a minor traffic offense, demands a trial by combat. The court accepts.