Regina normally loved the market fair. The castle courtyard was full of stalls, all filled with goods from the countryside. Smells filled the air, along with all the bustling and clamor that went with it. It had the air of people enjoying themselves, and not afraid of showing it. Roasting meats, cages of live chickens, baskets of fruits, cloth, grains... the best that the kingdom had to boast of, from the long generous summer weather. The earth was bountiful this year, and the kingdom's people had prospered.
But this time, the princess was not enjoying the market scene. She had been brought here by Merlin, and he was most upset with her. It was really kind of confusing, all these years he had lectured her one taking her responsibilities seriously, but when she had stepped into a conflict, now he had grown angry. It was simple really, a merchant in the city was arguing with a farmer from the countryside, really loudly. A crowd was gathering and Regina just happened to come by with a few of her maids. It seemed the perfect chance for her to show her skills as a judge, and she had imperiously sent a summons to the castle court to the men. The serfs became seriously quiet, and Regina returned to the castle confident that she was showing her subjects just how involved she was in their lives. But the mood in the market was markedly subdued.
Then Merlin showed up, and he was not happy. He hadn't said much, but Regina knew better than to think it would last. Before she could catch her breath, they were down in the market place. At first it seemed to be a place he chose at random, but Regina realized Merlin had placed them at the opening of an alley, out of the crowd but an easy place to watch what was happening around them. But, then the magician grew preoccupied. He studied the folks around him with total concentration until he seemed satisfied.
Reaching out, the old wizard grabbed a young boy. Taking him by the arm he pulled him into the alley. Regina tried to imagine why Merlin would take this boy out of the crowd.
Merlin was focused on the dirty, poorly dressed boy. He was surly, and most unhappy that Merlin had caught him. The magician reached into his thin tunic and pulled out a shiny, fresh apple.
"Tell me, why did you steal this apple?" he said it evenly, no flash of temper or threat of punishment. But it was a question that demanded an answer. Regina stood close, listening for his response.
He bristled, and blustered for a moment and finally came up with an answer.
"That farmer has plenty of apples, she doesn't need it as much as I do."
Merlin stroked his gray beard thoughtfully.
"I see." Merlin nodded.
"Is that your only reason? You must have thought this through enough to have more than that one excuse..."
"Well, one isn't going to make a difference, and my mom wouldn't give me anything for lunch because she was too busy with her newest baby."
"Besides, they never would have known I took it, if you hadn't caught me. Besides, it's only one apple, so it's no big deal anyhow."
Merlin looked at Regina for a moment, then shifted his attention back to the boy.
"Is this apple as valuable as the marble in your pocket?"
The boy gasp as he realized what Merlin has said to him. Grabbing at his pocket his gasp in shock, the pocket was empty! Then anger in waves washed over his face,
"That was my marble, you have no right to take it!"
Merlin smiled and nodded to Regina, giving her a chance to answer the unruly child. It took her but a moment to catch on to his intent. So, she clicked off the reasons the boy had already given for his earlier theft of the apple.
"I don't know, you had more marbles than Merlin did.
"Merlin was busy this morning, and didn't have a chance to get any more marbles from home before he left for the day, and besides, you never would have noticed it was missing if he hadn't mentioned it. And, it's only one little marble, so it can't be any big deal anyhow."
The old man was wracked with laughter as she finished.
"The farmer's wife has your marble in her apron, but you have to return the apple. And you have to explain to her why you want the marble back before I'll let you have it back."
The boy started back towards the farmer's stall, but Merlin wasn't done with him just yet.
"If you steal again, the marble will disappear forever!"
Regina saw the boy gasp, and duck into the crowd as he ran for the stall.
"Princess Regina, you have to understand Justice in order to administer it." He sat down on a nearby bench, and motioned for her to join him.
"You have been taught about justice, the system of making sure right wins over wrong. But there is something no teacher has shown you. This little skirmish in the making might be able to do that. Shall we watch, hmmm?" He gestured to the farmer's stall. The boy was fidgeting, but moving towards the woman working the stall. From the looks of her, it was the no nonsense farmer's wife.
Within moments, She had him firmly by the ear. They were just a little out of range for normal speech to reach them, but when the woman raised her voice to a screech they had no problem making out her words.
"...and you had better sweep things out really good if you don't want me telling you poor dear mother what you did!" The good woman handed him a broom, and stood there until he took it from her. Reluctantly he began to clear the floor of old straw and refuse. Just when Regina was beginning to feel sorry for him, a customer came along.
"You see Regina, they have a way of distributing their own simple justice. And their justice not only decides a fair amount to pay back, but also returns to the victims a sense of control. Your court can't do that, except that the victim controls that the case is heard. So, only hear cases sent to you by the victim, don't drag anyone there and take that control from your subjects.
Regina thought a moment, the farmer's wife certainly enjoyed dealing with the little thief. He was thoroughly chastised and worked hard until the stall was cleaned from stem to stern. But it wasn't long until he was sat down to a hearty lunch.
"The people in your kingdom are decent fair folks, and they take pride in the way they treat each other. Let them do that.
The princess nodded, the woman and boy were lifting some heavy boxes together, perhaps Merlin did have a point.