Chapter 43 – The Real Culprit Is Different
As Lucio recovered, Patrizia put her nose to the grindstone. When the Emperor had been unconscious, she had only managed a fraction of his work anyway. She wanted to make sure the transition would be as smooth as possible. Her efforts proved to bear fruit, and Lucio returned to work a week later without any problems. Her duties shifted from regent to queen, but her overall workload only lessened somewhat. She still hadn’t finished the most important task yet.
Patrizia savored a steaming cup of tea as she waited for someone. At last, a maid arrived and informed her of a guest.
“Your Majesty, Duke Witherford is here.”
“Let him in.”
With that, Duke Witherford walked in grandly, and Patrizia greeted him with a smile.
“Come in, Duke. It’s been a while.”
“Indeed, Your Majesty.”
In truth it hadn’t been that long, but it was the polite thing to say. Patrizia looked at him with interested eyes and asked, “You said you wanted to see me?”
He nodded. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
“And there is only one reason why you’d see me, right?”
“Just as you predicted, Your Majesty. I have a witness.”
“Who is it?”
“A court lady from the Bain palace, Your Majesty. I chose someone who’s smart and good at judging situations. She will testify about the needed evidence.”
“What if there’s trouble later on?”
“I gave her certain conditions regarding her family in her hometown. She won’t do anything stupid. There is no need to worry,” Duke Witherford said reassuringly.
Patrzia nodded. “Good. Who knows about this besides the two of us?”
“No one else. We will present the results at the council meeting tomorrow morning.”
“Very well. Good work, Duke.”
He gave a slight bow. “Not at all, Your Majesty. I’m sorry that the results came late.”
Patrizia smiled in satisfaction at the end of the Duke’s words. It didn’t matter if it was late, so long as the results were the same.
“The important thing is that the job is done,” she said, her mood lifting.
The next day, Patrizia set out to the Lohen palace to bring the case to its close. The witness would testify, and the punishment would be decided. Her face was tense with nervousness, and to make matters worse, she happened to run into Lucio, who was also heading in the same direction. She tried to turn around to avoid encountering him, but it was too late.
“Queen,” he called out, then quickly approached her. Patrizia was secretly unhappy, wondering why he would go out of his way to come to her. When he neared, however, she gave no signs of discontent and gave a respectful bow.
“Greetings to the Emperor. Glory to the Sun of the Empire.”
“Are you on your way to Lohen palace?”
“Yes,” Patrizia answered shortly. Then came his shocking reply.
“Then let’s go together.”
Was there anyone in this Empire who could dare reject the Emperor? Patrizia sighed inwardly.
“Do as you please,” she answered. It was an uncomfortable arrangement, but she couldn’t change it.
The two walked together, but that did not mean that words were exchanged between them. Patrizia tried to keep as reticent as possible, worried that any possible slip up might ruin the crucial moment ahead of her. To Lucio, he thought that Patrizia still hated him.
“Today is the day when the investigation will be closed,” he said briefly.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“There is evidence.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Will you put her to death?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Lucio suddenly stopped walking. Patrizia’s footsteps naturally halted as well, and she looked at his face for the first time. His expression was hard to read, but it didn’t look like one of resentment or hatred. He just stared at her. At that moment, it looked as if his gaze belonged to a small child, and Patrizia, feeling uncomfortable, turned away.
Lucio started walking again. Patrizia wanted to ask why he had looked that way, but she didn’t have the courage to. Eventually, she followed silently by his side again.
“Your Majesty the Emperor, Your Majesty the Queen,” a servant greeted, then opened the door to the council hall. They entered, and Patrizia’s eyes swept the room as the nobles bowed to them. It was a privilege that only the Emperor and Queen of the Empire could have. Patrizia and Lucio took their seats, and she thought that this was probably the first time they sat next to each other in an official capacity.
“We’ll start with the Queen first,” Lucio said.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Patrizia replied in an appreciative voice, then turned to Duke Witherford.
“Duke, report on the incident.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. Not long ago, there was an unfortunate event in which the Emperor and Queen went missing at a hunting tournament. Fortunately, they returned shortly after the tournament ended, but they had been attacked by assassins, and the Emperor had been struck by a poison arrow. The Queen became regent on behalf of His Majesty, and she commissioned me to investigate this matter. I questioned Lady Phelps, the most likely suspect, as well as the servants of Bain palace where she lives.”
“Today is the last day of the investigation, Duke. Did you identify the true criminal?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Who is it?”
Duke Witherford did not directly answer Patrizia’s question. Instead, he said something else.
“Bring in the witness.”
The door swung open and someone walked in. It was a court lady, wearing the red dress of the Bain palace. She looked exhausted by what must have been a long interrogation, but not so much that she was about to collapse. She was slightly withdrawn as if intimidated by the high status of those in the room. As soon as she met Duke Witherford’s eyes, she shivered.
“Come near,” he ordered.
Patrizia decided to watch what would happen with interested eyes. Soon Duke Witherford spoke again.
“Your Majesties, my fellow nobles. It is Lady Phelps who tried to kill the Emperor and Queen.”
It was the result Patrizia wanted, and as it came to reality, there was an outbreak in murmuring. Lucio raised his hand to quiet the room and turned to Duke Witherford.
“Is it true, Duke?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I have secured the testimony from this court lady of Bain palace.” He glanced at the woman as if to urge her to testify.
The young lady barely opened her lips as she spoke. “It’s true, Your Majesty.”
“And there is not an inch of falsehood? Perjury is punishable by death.”
“It’s true, Your Majesty. I saw that Lady Phelps has always hated Her Majesty and has been hostile towards her. When the Queen decided to enter the hunting tournament, Lady Phelps saw it as an opportunity to hire assassins.”
One noble interrupted. “Your Majesty, how can you believe what she says? You cannot sentence to death an emperor’s concubine from a single testimony.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. A lone witness cannot solve this investigation,” another piped up. Duke Ephreney’s allies were speaking.
Duke Witherford glanced again, and this time Raphaella, captain of the search party, stepped forward.
“Here is a token.”
It was half of a small, dirt-covered accessory. Raphaella continued her speech in a steady voice.
“We found this during the search. I didn’t report it as I didn’t want to cause a commotion, but the court lady’s interrogation revealed that this belonged to Lady Phelps.”
The court lady nodded and continued. “It is an accessory that Lady Phelps used to wear often, but one day she suddenly stopped. If you don’t believe me, then search Bain palace. I’m certain the other half is there.”
“Then it is decided,” Patrizia announced, but Lucio said nothing. She fixed him with a stare for a moment, before turning back to the nobles, who were in awe and panic over Raphaella’s and the court lady’s testimony.
“What do you all think about this? Is further proof required?”
In truth, it was all false. The court lady’s testimony was a necessary sin that dirtied Patrizia. In all honesty, was more proof needed? No, could she produce more accurate evidence than this?
Patrizia was confident of her victory. The nobles did not say a word of objection, and she was finally convinced that the moment she had longed for had come.
“I believe we have reached a conclusion, Your Majesty. As Queen, I request the beheading of Lady Phelps, who dared to destroy the Imperial Family—”
“False, Your Majesty!” Someone’s voice suddenly interrupted her.
Patrizia’s anger flared at someone daring to cut off her moment, and she turned to see who it was. The door opened, and a familiar figure was walking in. Patrizia’s face hardened as she saw her opponent, and she let out a laugh.
“Duke Ephreney. You said you wouldn’t show up, and now you’re here.”
“Your Majesty, those testimonies are false,” Duke Ephreney said in a steady voice, and Patrizia saw that another woman followed him from behind. She was also wearing a red dress.
“And what do you mean by that, Duke Ephreney?” Patrizia asked.
“Your Majesty, the real criminal is different. It’s not Baroness Phelps. Please use your wise judgment.”
“I’m also curious, Duke Ephreney. On what basis do you claim this?” Patrizia fixed him with a stare, and Duke Ephreney looked at her back. Finally he did what she wanted.
“This wench is the proof,” said Duke Ephreney, and turned around and forced the court lady standing behind him to kneel.