I was informed that the culprit was the cook on soup duty in the kitchen.
(Though there’s no way of knowing if that’s true.)
As they’d say in a police drama, “Cannot be prosecuted due to death of the suspect.”
Exactly. The guy was dead.
When Ellelucia’s collapse caused an uproar, he was apparently still around; but at some point he disappeared, and when he was found there was already no breath in him.
They say it was the same poison that killed Ellelucia.
(Dead men tell no tales…)
There was no concrete evidence that he was the culprit, but according to the report I received from the Elsvelt Court Officer, his death was concluded as a suicide. And though the investigation is still continuing, it was written that the suspicion that the man was the criminal was quite deep.
Deciding that the man’s innocence could not be proven, and naming him was the culprit was easy. Even without concrete evidence, the circumstantial evidence was more than sufficient.
With just a word from the Court Officer, that man was already being made out like a criminal.
As if he were a sacrificial lamb.
Dead men can’t offer any explanations, either.
Afterward, the people that surrounded started arbitrarily concocting reasons he was suspicious.
His acquaintances’ testimonies piled up in the addendums.
That he was poor.
That he loved to gamble.
That he was in debt and needed money.
That he was always saying how much he wanted money.
That he said he heard a way to make a fast buck… each and every one of them a triviality.
Completely ordinary little things unworthy of being suspected.
But it seemed those trivialities accumulated until it became a situation where no one found it strange that he might be the culprit.
To say nothing of the Court Officer declaring him so, of course they would think so.
(The power of self-delusion is strong.)
For example, even if it wasn’t the truth, for those who have deluded themselves into believing it, it might as well be true.
They’re just selfishly adding weight to their own spin onto the actual truth.
Whether the Court Officer really believed that man was the culprit or not, or if he was making the effort to convince himself that man was the culprit, the materials for making those decisions were scanty.
The other document I received was a report submitted by my company of guards.
As this was the Elsvelt territory, it wasn’t an official document; just an informal address.
The report was submitted by Count Nadjek Raj Vera Schtazen.
He was the commanding officer in charge of my guards, and a licensed Court Officer.
A Court Officer, as they call them, is a licensed specialist who holds the authority of both police officer and judge, and hold the title of “Vera,” but strictly speaking, “Court Officer” does not equal the “Vera” title.
“Vera” holds the meaning of “scholar,” and indicates that the person has graduated college.
Since any person who has graduated college can become a Court Officer, at some point Court Officials also came to be called by the “Vera” title.
On this continent, no matter what country you enter, if you have acquired the title of “Vera” you can easily get ascend to a high-ranking position. That’s right. Even if you were a former slave.
I’ve heard that the Prime Minister of the great Roland Empire to the north was a former slave who attained the title “Vera.”
Though I found it strange that a person could be considered a law specialist just by graduating from college, once I understood how college worked over here, I totally got it. College in this world is an exceedingly advanced, technical institution of scholarship, where getting admitted is hard and actually graduating is even harder.
Though the only admittance requirements are that one be under 30 years of age and pass the entrance examination, the scope of said examination apparently covers and ungodly amount of material. The exam’s three core subjects are law, history, and language, but in history you may be asked what method was used for refining zinc in the era of the Unified Empire, or in language you might be asked about the economics of the Second Empire era, so one must be well-versed in an extensive variety of fields.
Apparently, depending on the year, there are times when accepted individuals number in the single digits.
Of course, laws vary by country. So-called “Continental Law,” the national laws from the old Unified Empire, are considered the standard. College students study the laws of all the five major countries, including Dardinia. If one doesn’t acceptably pass the three core subjects of law, history, and language, they cannot continue to more specialized subjects, and graduation becomes a dream within a dream.
As far as advanced educational institutions go there’s always the Royal Academy, but in most countries the royal academies are halfway monopolized by the aristocracy. There are famous private schools, too, but their education is basically only accepted within their own country.
However, there is an ivory tower with absolute authority, which bows before no social rank or position, nor political power. That is this College.
They believe in merit first regardless of all else; no matter how high one’s position or how much money one puts in, if they don’t pass the entrance exam on their own power they will never set a foot inside.
By the by, His Highness the Crown Prince Nadir has the title “Vera.”
Presently, there was no other prince anywhere in the entire continent that possess the title of “Vera.” They told me that once he ascended the throne, he would become the first king in history with “Vera” in his name.
Let’s return to the report at hand.
Unsurprisingly, Count Schtazen’s report came from a blatantly different perspective than the Elsvelts’ Court Officer.
That’s why even though they were writing about the exact same facts, their impressions couldn’t have been more different.
If one talks of poverty, then that applies across the board to all those of farming class in an agricultural community, and at the local bar betting small change on darts, dice, or poker is an obvious hobby of the village men; that story about him being in debt was based on a measly three-game losing streak, which he would be able to pay back on his next month’s salary.
It’s not exactly uncommon for people to regularly say they want money, and though him saying he knew a way to make a quick buck is a little questionable, but for example if he realized he could take a fresh harvest of a new potato variety and sell it for twice the price if he just skipped the village’s market and went straight to the one in town… even something like that, to the farming class, was a big deal and more than able to suffice as a “way to make a fast buck.”
(There’s always two sides to a story…)
Though they’re not such opposites as to be considered completely polarized from one another, just as scenery seen under the light of day will look different, so too does the emerging truth look different based on one’s viewpoint.
(Though there’s only one reality, everyone sees something different in it.)
The man with the answers was no longer there.
There wasn’t anyone who will object on his behalf, either.
Though up to this point there was no proof, only a lot of doubts based on circumstantial evidence, eventually someone might say he possessed an amount of money unsuited to his station in his things, or maybe even that they’ve discovered thee poison they say he used.
Even though there’s no way of knowing whether such things were tossed in there afterwards.
(… And then there’s the possibility that he really was involved.)
It was possible that I was doubting too much. It was possible that the circumstantial evidence honestly just needed accepting at face value.
The reason it seems suspicious and just doesn’t sit right with me, even with one piece of evidence after another, is probably because he was the soup cook.
That clam soup wasn’t about to get any rave reviews. Even so, I believed that from a technical standpoint it was quite well-done.
The clams themselves were prepared quite tastefully. The thick, generously large pieces of clam meat weren’t overcooked, and had a light, fluffy texture. The texture wasn’t too tough, and it didn’t taste raw… the cooking temperature was quite adequate.
It’s not like they have gas. They don’t have ranges or timers, either. Since it’s more than likely he was making this soup over an open flame, I can’t imagine he was doing anything but paying attention to the soup.
Just looking at the quality of the soup, there shouldn’t have been any leeway for him to be involved in something else.
(The soup station is right next to the oven, and the stir-fry station is on the opposite side of the kitchen from the bread ovens, after all…)
The report even recorded where the shelves for the spices were located in the kitchen. Though both reports contained fairly detailed attachments, the report submitted by the Elsvelt officer was exceedingly detailed, down to recording which spices were located where on which shelves. The reporter’s personality was practically soaked into the documents.
Though it might be assumed that anyone in the kitchen would find chances aplenty to throw poison into the good, the corner where the soup was being prepared and the corner where the stir-fry was being prepared were simply too far apart from one another. Moreover, the bread ovens stood between them, and naturally, there would be people there in charge of those ovens.
There were no testimonies that said he went around the ovens to get close to where they were making the stir-fry.
It’s also nigh impossible that the poison was added after the dishes were plated. They were brought almost the moment they were finished, and there was no testimony saying he was near the cart.
At the time in question, there were more than ten people in the kitchen. The chef in charge of supervising the work testified that no one did anything out of the ordinary.
While his skills may be somewhat questionable, I believe that however half-hearted, his willingness to take a stand for his subordinate, who was being treated as a criminal, was worth a brownie point or two.
(Like, this is getting ridiculously complicated…)
There was a lot to think about.
I don’t think I was going about life with nothing going on in my head, but it felt like my brain had been getting a serious workout ever sine I got here.
It seemed like about halfway through the Court Officer decided that the man was the culprit, and Duke Elsvelt’s standing took a hit. … Or rather, he’s secretly regarded as the true mastermind behind all this.
(That man’s family has been tenant farmering under the Duke’s house for generations…)
The relationship between tenant farmers and their landlords is about like volunteer slaves and the master of their house. And exactly because their position is so like slavery, they cannot stand against the commands of their masters.
To see it as an act performed at the behest of the Duke is perfectly natural. It seems the Duke made several attempts to come and explain things, but the commander of my guard would hear no excuses and Lilia wouldn’t even pass on his words.
(Well yeah, normally you’d be suspected… it’s really obvious, in a way.)
But this time around, I wasn’t suspecting his involvement.
I just couldn’t see him using such a cheap, easy trick.
To be served poison in a dish made by the Elsvelts’ cooks in the Elsvelts’ castle… and to be led so quickly to the criminal… it was just too easy a scheme.
(I don’t think a man like him would use such a simple method.)
If it was Duke Elsvelt, I’m sure he would provide an airtight alibi, and use a method that couldn’t even remotely be traced back to him.
That Duke seemed to be the high-strung perfectionist type. That type of person should definitely be one to hone in on all the little details.
Though I’m sure there are exceptions, that Duke is definitely detail-oriented. After all, that list of spices on the shelves was written in his own hand.
The facts I was able to gain from both of the reports… were that, as soon as Ellelucia collapsed, the knights on my guard immediately seized the castle’s kitchen and investigated both the excess left from my breakfast dishes, as well as all the ingredients.
Apparently, there were no abnormalities with the ingredients whatsoever. The spices, either.
Traces of poison were only found on the plate of “stir-fried greens and mushrooms” that was brought to my room.
Since the frying pan and unfortunately already been washed, it was unknown whether the poison was mixed in during the cooking process, or after it was cooked, or even while it was being carried to my room.
The one who carried the “stir-fried greens and mushrooms” from the kitchen to my room was Ellelucia. Apparently, the maids taste the dishes they themselves carry.
(I wonder what form the poison was in? … Was it powder… or maybe liquid…?)
Was it possible for it to be added in as they passed in the hallway?
While the investigation into the poison was ongoing, the reports postulated that it might be Rigis poison.
Rigis is a flowering medicinal herb with pain relief and tranquilizing effects. It’s widely used, and most families have Rigis flowers planted in their gardens; it’s so very common that many women consider it an essential part of starting a family, and bring a potted Rigis flower with them when they marry.
Nevertheless, according to the writings of a famous alchemist called Triguias from about two centuries prior, by refining the roots through a special method, it could turn out a terrible poison. I heard that as a liquid it would only take a single drop, and as a powder a pinky-fingertip’s worth, to quietly kill ten full adults.
The most terrifying part of this poison is how long it needs to take effect. Nothing will happen for a long while after ingesting it, and by the time you notice it’s too late. There’s no chance to throw it up at that point.
It melts the insides, and eventually you die. I’m told that the corpse’s skin will become inflamed, and as time passes purple flecks will emerge.
(Well, any poison they can’t identify is basically labeled as Rigis poison, at any rate.)
Fact of the matter is, this Rigis poison is basically a legendary drug. There are no existing records of the so-called “special refining process”; nothing more than the efficacy of the poison and the observation records of Triguias’ experiments on death row criminals remain.
Boil Rigis roots and they’re perfectly edible. They’re quite like lily roots, and I had just eaten some several days prior. Incidentally, if you crush them into a pulp they apparently serve as excellent ointment for bruises.
(… I wonder, but is there any possibility that Ellelucia was the target?)
I couldn’t help but wonder if there wasn’t some reason for Ellelucia to be targeted.
She was a cute, cheerful girl. I heard her skill with a sword was also quite something. She was to be my shield if worse came to worst.
But no matter how I thought about it, in the end I couldn’t convince myself that it was unrelated to Ellelucia’s position as my maid.