Seven pens lay neatly next to each other in a wooden box that was handed over to Isabelle as per the will of her grandpa, Paul, who had recently expired. Young Isabelle was studying law then and was amused to receive this gift. It was an old heavy decorative box of wood that contained these old fountain pens. They looked shabby and she did inspect a few. However their broken nibs and dried up ink rendered them useless. They weren't of much use to her anyway as with the advent of computers, hardly anyone used fountain pens anymore! Nevertheless, she kept the gift, thinking it was a token of encouragement from her grandpa for her pursuit of studies. Her sister Sophie, an aspiring model, had on the other hand received a decent amount of cash as per Paul's will.
Years passed by, Isabelle graduated, got married and had a son. She served for years as a lawyer at the local court in this crime-stricken city of Marseille. She was known to be honest, shrewd and just. She also pursued further studies and later rose to the ranks of a judge in the very same court that long back Paul had presided upon. Soon, it was her first case as a judge and all rose as she entered the court-room. It was a moment of honour for Isabelle and she was sure that grandpa Paul would have been very proud of her to see her seated in the very same seat as his.
A little nod from her and everyone seated themselves. The proceedings began. It was a case of rape and murder of a seventeen year old girl from the neighbourhood. Caroline's body was found badly mutilated and tortured beyond recognition. The perpetrators had shown no signs of guilt, mercy or remorse while committing the act. The accused was a 23 year old yuppie, Sam and his friend Petit of the same age. Isabelle was no newbie to such cases, but the ghastly acts still disturbed her from deep within.
The trial went on for days and the prosecution as well as the defence played all tricks in the game that she was so familiar with. Over days she learnt that the victim was the only daughter of the Garcia couple and that Sam had a troubled childhood and was raised by his grandparents. He was their only support. This did not belittle his crime though and Isabelle made every effort to hear the proceedings clinically. What disturbed her was that Sam was nearly the same age as her son and wondered if she would have been this strong emotionally if it were to be her son in place of Sam.
Soon forensic evidence was made available by the labs and the DNA analysis besides the circumstantial evidence proved beyond doubt that Sam and Petit were indeed the perpetrators of the ghastly act. The defence had run out of all means to save these two lads and pleaded for mercy. They now played the emotional cards claiming that Sam was the only support for his ailing grandparents.
The judgement was scheduled for the next day and Isabelle sat very disturbed in her study. She was going thru' all the case papers and setting them in place for the next day's procedures. Somehow she just couldn't lay her eyes off the file-photos of Sam and Caroline in their happier times. "Why?" yelled out Isabelle's soul at Sam's photo without uttering a word. Just then a security guard knocked at her door and informed her that an elderly man wanted to see her urgently. "Let him in", she said and saw a very old man enter her room. The lenses of his eyes had clouded and he trembled with age. She was just gonna rise to provide him support when he fell on his knees wailing. With his head touching the ground he cried "Let him live, let him live" with words choked with age and grief. "Let him suffer his crime, but let him live. He's all I've got", he kept wailing.
Isabelle was overwhelmed by this unexpected incident. She learnt that he was Sam's grandpa as she rushed towards him. She ran her hand over the back of the wailing man as she said, "Sir, I understand your pain. But I'm not allowed to meet you. It's against the law". She nodded at the security who held his hand and guided him out. "Drop him home", she instructed the security as she rushed back to her study, visibly shaken. She rubbed her chest in pain as she frantically searched for Paul's box of pens. Some scattered pieces from her life-long riddle had all-of-a-sudden fallen in place. She held the box close to her heart as she whispered "Gimme strength. Guide me. Gimme strength".
The next day saw a poised and a composed Isabelle go over the final procedures. The defence wished in hope. "Death by guillotine" she pronounced as she wrote her judgement over the file papers and broke the nib of her pen as was customary.
That evening eight pens lay neatly next to each other in Paul's wooden box.