A/N: Ok, this may seem like an unusual choice, and yes you read the character right. I had this idea because we have no idea what happens to Ludveck beyond his promise of a trial. I aim to cover that with this, even though I can't stand him.
This story relies heavily on dialouge, so hopefully it doesn't get too confusing. I hope you'll all enjoy it.
P.S. Fixed a few things and changed a few words.
Chapter 1: The Winter Trial
A young scribe dutifully took his place at his small desk in the grand hall of Fort Alpea. From where he sat, the writer could survey all the doings of the court, save for the judges, who sat in their own grand booth alongside his meager desk. The lad sat with the impatience of his age, for he was only fourteen, and it seemed the same mood had fallen over the chamber. Despite his eagerness, the scribe dared not mutter as much as a single world of dissatisfaction. It hardly was the occasion to show such faces, but more than that, he knew that one of the judges, the grandest of them in fact, would surely put him out of the room. Yet, he wondered if he could truly have blame held against him for such a desire, as he was sure that even the ministers likewise desired that the proceedings begin sooner rather than later.
It was a chilling afternoon that day in the winter's early month, and a shiver fell upon the young boy as he sat in the cold silence of the air about the room. He did not know if he was permitted to even rub his hands together to warm them, although he could not resist doing so, if only to prepare his hands for the task ahead of them. It was far too cold for his liking. From where he sat, he thought he could see each breath of those who had gathered here.
The news in the air was, however, hardly cold or quiet. Whisperings of war with the Begnion Empire ran hot among the citizens. The scribe had heard rumors that the imperial army had even crossed over into Crimea only for the queen herself to repel them. It struck the lad as odd that the queen or even Lady Lucia should not attend this solemn affair. What better place was there to observe justice and even due vengeance for what was done to them?
Tiring of the lack of activity, the scribe looked about the room at the two stands at either side. They were packed full as though they were the storehouses of the rich, though not with the fruits of the field or the vines, but with fruit of the country. Common citizens filled both stands, and the scribe spotted many faces he knew, for they lived near the fort as did he. Others, he wondered from where they had come; had they come even from the streets of Melior? But from wherever they had come, the scribe had little doubt as to the reason.
He knew that none of them had any interest in what was to come as people of the kingdom. No, instead they had come as spectators, only eager to watch as though the coming trial served as a mere diversion of the daily repetitions that they had grown so accustomed to. By the look of their occasional jostling, they, too, hoped that this event would begin soon, and the scribe could hardly blame them. Though he was here by appointment, he found this day little more than an entertaining occurrence.
At length, he allowed his eyes fell to the empty seat that stood small before the imposing booth from which justice was to be dispensed. He wondered if the man doomed to sit in that seat would find himself made small before the eyes of that booth, although he highly doubted it. He began again waiting with great anticipation for that chair to fill. Oh, when would this begin? His hand wrestled to take hold of the pen entrusted to it, and the pen longed for the company of the ink. When would it begin?
"Bring in the accused!" the chief of the judges roared with a voice that brought all eyes and ears to the front of the room. At once, the scribe set his pen to the page for the exchange certain to ensue.
The doors of the chamber groaned against the keepers, for they wished not to swing upon their hinges, as though they were not eager for the proceedings to begin. Yet bound by duty, as many were, they complied. The scribe looked towards the empty doorway, leaning forward as much as he was able, in order to catch a glimpse of him who was to sit in that fateful place. Moments later, the rattling of irons sounded and resounded in the chamber as two soldiers entered with their fettered charge.
The scribe had not seen Ludveck until this moment, but the former duke looked very much as the lad had imagined him. His face was common, for his hair had grown slightly and his chin was dotted with brown stubble, likely from his months in the prisons, yet his eyes bore a gleam of pride that the scribe had often heard said of him. A heavy iron chain bound his wrists, and this was his only binding. He appeared indifferent to the men who dragged him to the chair and roughly sat him down in it.
"This shouldn't take long," one of the guards said in poor humor as he joined his fellow behind and on either side of the chair.
"Silence," the judge roared again, and indeed silence fell over the room. The scribe hastily wrote upon his page, waiting for the trial to continue. At last, the judge spoke again, "Ludveck of Felirae, you stand accused of high treason, sedition, inciting rebellion against your lawful queen, dishonorable conduct against your station, unlawful conduct against the laws of Crimea, and the abduction and attempted murder of a lady of the court. To each of these charges, how do you answer?"
"My, my, the queen managed to write so few crimes with so many words," the duke said in spiteful jest. A series of low mutterings came from the judge's booth. The scribe could only snicker lightly to himself at the ease in which he had angered the court. At length the words died down and the minister spoke again.
"You will mind your place, for you are no longer in a place of honor. I ask you again, how do you answer these charges made against you?"
"Does it matter how I answer?" Ludveck replied as if the proceedings were a mere annoyance. "We all know the truth behind each of the charges, and I know well enough what the verdict is; I'm sure the queen has already instructed you in how to rule in this matter."
"That is not at all relevant; now, answer the question."
"I will not because that would make it far too easy for you."
"Then do you admit to committing any one of these crimes?"
"Did I say that? I don't believe I did; but why not hear it from the queen's lips instead? She can tell you all that you wish to know."
"Her Majesty is attending to the war; her presence here is not required." The rustling of paper met the scribe's ears, and he looked up to see one of the guards taking a sheet of parchment and handing it to the prisoner. "This is a solemn oath that states that you will answer any questions with the utmost truth. The court orders you to sign it." The scribe watched as Ludveck looked with false concentration at the page and let it drop from his hand.
"I have a better proposal for you," the former-duke stated. "In the place of this pointless charade, I move for a trial by combat. Fetch for yourselves a champion, and I will fight him to the death. If he kills me, you may find me guilty then. If I prevail, then declare me innocent. What say you to that?"
Another muttering fell from the judges' booth. The scribe hoped to hear what was spoken, yet he could not. He wondered how one man could bring his testers to anger in the span of such a short time before his trial had even commenced. The lad wondered what thing they might do upon him for such a motion, and he was sure the people assembled thought the same. At length, the murmuring ceased, and the minister spoke again.
"We had thought you would make such a request of us, and we will not permit it. The charges made against you have deprived you of your rights as a nobleman. Therefore, we shall not honor such a motion. Now, sign the oath and be quick about it."
"Is it of any concern to me if I sign this or not? How do you know I will even keep to it? I can still lie if it suits me, and my name on a piece of paper is of no consequence, as you put it. Still, I suppose I will play this idiotic game. Fetch me a quill."
The boy hurried to finish the last of the words and then ceded his pen to the approaching guard. He scowled as the soldier put it in the hands of the accused who quickly penned his mired name upon the page. He knew not why he held the act in contempt; perhaps it was that he, like the man on trial, found the affair a waste of time.
He had seen the aftermath of the battle with his own eyes. He had watched the men of Felirae as they dragged Lady Lucia to the scaffold and as she was lifted off her feet at their hands. He wondered if there was any need for this royal show at all. Yet he could say nothing of it. When, at length, he held his pen again, the questioning began.
"What is your name?" the chief judge asked.
"Don't you know my name by now?" the former duke replied rather smugly.
"Answer the question, and do not mock us."
"My name is Ludveck," he answered with unveiled irritation at the question.
"What is your station?"
"I am the sixth duke of the territory of Felirae."
"As such, you have great influence over the people in your domain, do you not?"
"Don't all the nobles of the realm have the same influence? I merely see fit to use it."
"In what way do you use the influence of your post?"
"I can convince the people that I seek the best for them. At times, I can also influence the royal house."
"How have you done so?"
"I was an adviser to King Ramon before the Mad King's War, and, for a time, to our current queen after it."
"Did you declare your loyalty to Her Majesty at the end of the Mad King's War?"
"Of course I did. I bowed to her just as my fellow nobles and the common rabble did," said the accused man, looking about with disfavor at all those who gathered around him.
"Was that the full extent of your services to her?" the questioner asked.
"It was not, and you may ask any of my soldiers, if they happen to still be alive. I supplied men to the queen's cause when we were under Daein occupation. I even fought alongside the army of Crimea."
Again, a flurry of indiscernible words came from the mouths of the judges as the flakes of winter upon the windows. The scribe knew not what they whispered among themselves. Perhaps, they considered the statement of the charged. Perhaps they only proposed further questions among themselves. Perhaps they discussed the truth of those words glaring up at the scribe from his page, for they did sound as words of loyalty. Perhaps, they merely sought to amuse themselves in some way, though it was hardly likely. Whatever the reason, the scribe wished only for the proceedings to continue, if only to prevent a delay of the inevitable.
"So, you consider yourself a loyal citizen of Crimea, do you?" the chief judge said at length.
"I do," Ludveck replied. "I would gladly ensure the security of the kingdom by any means necessary."
"Would you even commit treason for...security, as you put it?"
"If I answer that, then I may as well put a noose around my neck here and now, and, what's more, you know it. I must say the queen is going to great lengths to see me dead. Perhaps she is more ruthless than I gave her credit for."
"Do you believe that one must be ruthless in order to properly rule a country?"
"I do," the accused answered without a single hesitation. "One must not be afraid to demonstrate strength in order to show both their subjects and the other nations that one is not weak. Has the queen done this?"
"So, you consider Queen Elincia a weak woman?"
"Is that a crime? Have you never once thought that she was weak in her conduct as queen?"
"My loyalty to Her Majesty is not on trial; yours is. Now, do you consider the queen weak?"
"If I do, then that is not a crime. Every noble in the whole of the kingdom would be here if it were, including at least two of you. Do you not remember that you had confided in me your own sentiments towards Elincia's reign?" A low laugh arose from the stands as the people turned to one another, some even discreetly pointing towards the head of the court. The scribe could only wonder which of the judges were the objects of the common mockery. The thundering of the chief judge brought the spectators to silence as though they were children having heard the booms of a storm.
"Order," he shouted. "If you dare speak such insolence again, I shall have your mouth bound. For the third time, Ludveck of Felirae, I ask you, do you consider the queen weak?"
"Will you take it as a confession? We all know the outcome of this. But let me ask you a question; has the queen given you the power to torture me for answers?"
"She did not say." Ludveck reclined as much as the chair would permit him, and the scribe noted a rather haughty smile forming from his lips.
"Then, yes, I do consider her weak. I have thought her weak since she threw away the rule over Daein. A strong queen would do whatever was necessary. She did not, and she continues to do the same, and we will pay the price for it."
At his words, what fleeting amusement the people found in this war of wit and word faded as a great rage filled the observers' eyes. The scribe noticed several standing to their feet to shout hated words at the duke. Even at the command of the judges, the people would not remain silent. At length, the loud voices did subside, and the questioning continued.
"Since you consider Her Majesty a weak ruler, who do you suppose should sit on the throne?"
"It makes me little difference who wears the crown. Elincia may wear it, but she should prove that she is worthy to have it sit on her head."
"Do you count her worthy?"
"Haven't we done this before? No, I do not."
"On what basis do you consider your queen unworthy of her crown?"
"She practically would have had the armies of Daein on her doorstep if she thought it would bring peace. Does a true ruler show weakness to an enemy? Did you not think it unwise for her to acknowledge the new king of Daein?"
"Acknowledging the sovereignty of an independent country does not make one weak."
"Does Begnion recognize our sovereignty? Even from my cell, I see and hear things. I am not a blind man, nor am I deaf. They take no hesitation to show their strength, and Daein did not either. Would you rather have us bowing to the knee of the empire or at the whim of our former occupiers. Would you rather have us subject to foreigners as we once were? Should we not have a worthy ruler to protect our borders and show our sovereignty?"
"So you admit to treason then? Or do you mean that you did not consider yourself worthy of the crown?"
"How many times must I say it? I hardly see how I am a traitor for merely speaking my mind, especially when the fate of Crimea is at stake. Will you try the other nobles for speaking poorly of Elincia? As for your other question, perhaps you see how weak your queen's rule really is."
For a time, silence fell over the chamber. The scribe could not see the faces of the panel for which he wrote, but he could imagine that each man looked to the other, quietly asking questions of his peers. When no words were still given, the scribe looked out the window at the gray clouds heavily pressing against the glass, as if they themselves wished to observe or at the very least offer their own cold words to the cold room. At last, the interrogator spoke again.
"The afternoon wanes, and we grow tired of this circle of words. Therefore, we shall convene again in the morning in order to determine the validity of the charges made against you, although we seem to have determined much. Guards, take the prisoner back to his cell!"
The scribe watched as the guards took hold of the prisoner, partially led, and partially dragged, him from the room. He marveled at the smile upon the face of the duke; the same wickedly triumphant and proud smile he wore only moments ago.
"You men are cowards," shouted he as he was taken away. "You could end this pointless case here and now. You have your verdict and your sentence, and you delay them. If that is not cowardice, then I do not know the meaning of the word." Then the door was shut.
The commoners gathered likewise left to return to their own homes or to any inn that would lodge them, for the scribe was certain that they would not fail to attend. The lad was likewise glad to rest his hand, and so he rose to return to his own chamber in order to do so and to fill his empty belly. As he left the chamber, he looked behind him to spot the judges still gathered in their booth in secret deliberation. When he laid himself down for the night, the scribe did also wonder as Ludveck did. Why did they delay when his guilt was quite apparent?
A/N: Updates on this will likely be slow, so don't expect to see this on the front page all that often. I'll try to update fast, but it's not high on my list. I hope you'll understand.
A big shout out goes to HaveAHeart0301 who was my beta for this story. I couldn't do it without you.
And of course an equally big shout goes to the readers. I wouldn't be anything without your support.