The morning of the 21st dawns and the verdict is delivered in Prince Franz's trial.
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Episode 258. About 9 months (17)
The Morning of the 21st.
The trial which had drawn the undivided attention of the court aristocracy in the Capital of the Ocerian Empire was now nearing its end.
The trial involved the Emperor and his immediate family, but no Imperial family members were present, except for the Emperor's Consul, Allen Godfrey.
The First Prince Franz Amure, Duke Grafton Toulouse, and Baron Paliport sat on the bench designated for the defence, accompanied by a team of twenty defence attorneys seated in the back row.
The judge, seated sternly at the bench, began to read the sentence.
"After the outbreak of war, the defendants sold key military secrets to the Skandoans, an enemy nation, who then used the information to launch a surprise attack that caused great damage to the Empire and resulted in multiple casualties and the destruction of military installations on the border. This is a clear instance of espionage. Article 121, paragraph 1 of the Imperial Code states that anyone who spies for an enemy state or reveals military secrets to an enemy state shall be punished by death, life imprisonment, or life in exile, as deemed appropriate."
Baron Paliport couldn’t hide his anxiety, while the First Prince and the Duke of Toulouse appeared calm.
"However, based on the statements of several witnesses, it is possible to conclude that the intentions of the defendants were misconstrued by their subordinates, and that the main purpose for their actions, namely, to deceive the enemy by pretending to be spies and thereby turn the war to their advantage, was undermined by failed execution."
The judge paused for a moment and shuffled his papers. The Emperor's Consul, Allen Godfrey, sat in the audience, eagerly recording the judge's words.
"No matter how much your intentions may have been for the good of the Empire, you are all guilty of espionage. Nevertheless, in light of the fact that the defendants are honoured imperial subjects, who will shape the future of the Empire, and accounting for the fact that the defendants are high ranking nobles and public servants who have done their utmost to make it stronger, I sentence the defendants to ten years' exile and a fine of 2,000 gold each. These sentences shall be executed immediately, pending appeal. Counsel?"
"We intend to appeal."
The judge glanced at Allen for a moment, then pronounced.
"The defence's appeal is noted."
As soon as the trial ended, reporters waiting outside the courtroom hastily received the verdict and sent it to the newspapers, which immediately printed and released it onto the streets of the Capital.
Nick burst through the door of the Ministry of Security conference room.
"Your Highness , the newspapers are out, and they're all over the streets of the Capital already. I passed by some nobles who were busy reading all about it...Ugh."
Walter, who was also in the room, grabbed Nick's arm.
"Please, watch your mouth!"
He snatched the newspaper out of Nick's hand and passed it straight to the Second Prince.
Kyle, who had just concluded a meeting with the entire Ministry of Security’s Executive Council, tore his eyes away from the meeting notes and immediately read the article. Walter followed Kyle's lead and read the summary of the judgement.
"Wow. Ten years in exile. Either the judge has finally come to his senses or he's lost his mind."
At Walter's comment, Kyle immediately shoved the newspaper aside.
"He ducked responsibility."
"What?" Nick asked, confused.
"The first judge allowed the appeal. I assume this means they have no intention of enforcing the ten-year exile sentence in full."
"Why bother? The Noble Court has always been lenient to nobles and royalty, so didn’t they just do what they've always done and have the first judge suspend the sentence?"
Kyle scoffed at Nick's lack of confidence in the Noble Court.
"This case has the attention of both the common people and the nobility. So they gave him a punishment, but are leaving the execution of said punishment to be decided at the second trial. Though the requested date of the appeal is earlier than I expected."
"Ah! Yes, six months. For aristocratic trials, don’t they typically delay the second trial for three years after the first? Could it be a mistake on the part of the defence?"
"I doubt it."
Kyle's brow furrowed slightly, and he thought about it for a moment.
Nick and Walter looked at each other, then shrugged and simply waited.
"There's nothing wrong with the second trial being six-months later, but I think they might have reason to believe they will walk free after a re-trial.That means they're planning on doing something to ensure that outcome. Six months... Walter!"
Kyle's voice was icy.
"Yes, Your Highness."
"I'm writing you a direct order. I want you to assemble a witness protection transport team and head straight for the Tower prison outside the Capital. Let him know I haven't forgotten my promise."
"Yes, Your Highness."
Walter waited a moment, then accepted the orders and swiftly left. Nick wondered about the sudden change in circumstances, but he swallowed hard and held back his words.
‘I'll ask Walter about it later. I'll be damned if I'm going to ask him about it now.'
After writing the order to Walter, his Master was deep in thought with a serious expression on his face. He didn't want to disturb him at a time like this.
‘Yes! You've got a good eye, Nick Bright!'
Nick gave himself a silent pat on the back and then quietly took the papers and left the room, not wanting to disturb his Master's intense reflection.
The Ocerian Prison, located on the outskirts of the Capital, was a tall, cylindrical tower. It was exclusively used for the nobility, and the commoners often described it as more akin to a hotel than a prison.
It was there, in the northern cell on the fourth floor, that Baron Paliport was imprisoned.
Unlike the Duke and First Prince, the Baron was required to remain in prison until the appeal.
The justification for his detention was that his position was low enough for him to be a flight risk, despite him being a fellow member of the nobility.
It was fortunate.
Had he stayed in the Capital, the Duke's men likely would’ve come to visit him in the middle of the night.
Of course, if he really wanted to, he could still choose to take his own life and voluntarily become a frigid corpse.
However, thanks to the guards assigned to the prison by the Second Prince for witness protection, Baron Paliport might have a chance of survival.
He hadn't been so worried leading up to the trial, but after today, the tight feeling in his chest refused to go away.
"Oh, my God, there's something going on...."
Throughout the trial, the Duke of Toulouse had treated him like a bug. Right before they parted ways at court, the Duke had said something deeply unsettling, which had sent Baron Paliport’s already weak heart plummeting to the floor.
[Your words are deeply imprinted on my heart, dear Baron, and I shall never forget your hard work.]
"Ugghhh, at this rate I'm going to disappear into thin air..."
He was pacing back and forth in the narrow cell and talking to himself, but, before he could say anything else, the thick iron door to his cell opened with a metallic clang.
Startled by the sound, the Baron pressed himself against the stone wall and stared wide-eyed at the sight of Walter.
"The rats can hear you. Please be as quiet as possible."
Walter brought a finger to his mouth, and spoke as quietly and clearly as he could manage.
"Yes… Yes. I will."
"His Highness the Second Prince has, by virtue of his position, changed your place of detention to a safe house. From now on, you will be transported by the Ministry's Witness Protection Team, who will be responsible for your safety until your next trial. The transfer will take place after midnight tonight, and will not remain on record. The team will assist you with your transfer at dawn."
"Aaaaah.... Thank God. Thank God. I'm so glad. I would have died of anxiety otherwise."
"His Highness said to tell you that he has not forgotten his promise."
"Yes. Yes. I'm counting on it, too. Heuk." The Baron sobbed.
Walter quickly laid a finger on his mouth.
Stunned, the Baron covered his mouth with both hands, and watched Walter walk away quietly.
Tears still streamed from his eyes, but no sound escaped his lips.
Noon, the 21st, Tara's room.
Why were there days like that? Days when the universe and a variety of forces conspired to lead you to do 'something’ in particular, as if it was all predetermined.
In the past, when Author Kim had rambled on about stuff like this I’d dismissed it as 'bullshit,' but coincidentally, today seemed to be that kind of day for me.
I soaked in the bathtub wondering about Andrei, who I still hadn't heard back from.
"They said they were testing the new plumbing today, but I told them to turn the hot water on so you could have a bubble bath. Didn’t I do well, Miss!"
Beth unwrapped my bathrobe and I wrinkled my nose.
"Yes, good job, Beth. I usually want to just take a quick wash and soak in hot water, but today's the day..." I said, lathering my forearms with bubbles.
Beth swished the bubbles in the tub around and then stuck her face right in front of mine.
"Why? Why did you want to take a bath today? Is today special?"
‘Oh my. Now she's investigating me without hesitation. She would fit right in at the Security Forces Office!’
I gave her a thumbs up and smiled sheepishly.
"What's the matter with me.... It just came out that way, I guess the water was too hot and I got my tongue in a knot."
"Oh, should I add some cold water?"
"No. I like it just the way it is. Baths are the best when they're hot."
"Huh? Aren't you worried about burning yourself? You have unique taste. Oh yes, Miss! Josh, the researcher, gave me a birthday present for you at breakfast. It's on the table."
On the table in front of the couch, where Beth pointed, stood a tall glass bottle. I immediately noticed there was something unusual inside it.
"Wow. I'm impressed. But what is it, can I see?"
Beth wiped her hands dry on a towel and quickly retrieved the elongated glass bottle.
‘What? Why does this look familiar?’
As she brought the bottle closer so I could fully see it, I rubbed my eyes and squinted again, recognizing the shape as one I'd seen often in Korea.
It looked like fermented or distilled alcohol with medical ingredients soaked in it.
"To me, it looks like some kind of fermented infused spirits.... What does it look like to you?"*
"Wow. How did you get that right on the first try? I thought it was steeped tea leaves when Josh first brought it in. You really do know everything, Miss."
Beth pretended to hold both thumbs up.
"Ha ha. I know. I've seen something like this before. But what kind of alcohol is it?"
"It has a medicinal herb from the East. Oh, wait, here is a note with instructions."
Editor’s Notes -
* Infused spirits are a kind of alcohol which are infused, and sometimes fermented with, some kind of herbal additive. Well-known European examples of infused spirits are absinthe and gin, but there is a long tradition in Chinese and East Asian medicine of infusing traditional herbs into alcohol through fermentation. Chinese baijiu, and Korean soju are created by a similar process (usually without the herbs), and there are plenty of different traditional varieties all over Asia that are often said to have medicinal properties.
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