6 – 11
– Are there any objections?
The murmurs in the court ceased at Prince Julian’s piercing words.
It didn’t seem as if a single person was going to dispute the verdict. Count Storm looked bitterly in his daughter’s direction, Therese’s eyes were full of anticipation for her moment. Diana’s face was twisted in frustration, whilst Eckhart bit his lower lip in an attempt to subdue his anger.
The final downfall of Camilla, the infamous villainess, had finally come, and not a single noble in the courtroom or excited reporter outside were going to blink lest they miss it.
The judge prepared to read out his verdict. Then…
A low voice echoed through the quiet courtroom.
“If you are courting objections, then I have one.”
Murmurs began to erupt behind Camilla’s back.
Everyone in the court and all those jostling for a view through the windows turned to stare at whoever had spoken. People’s eyes widened in stunned surprise as the speaker moved towards the stand.
His silver hair lay loosely across his shoulders. The man was so tall that it only made his unusual hair stand out more. His face was marred by specks of sweat, and his breathing was slightly ragged. Had he rushed to be here? Although the exhaustion was plain in his face, those red eyes of his burned with an inner fire, transfixing the gaze of any who looked upon him.
Not a single person attempted to impede him as he intruded into the court. There was something beyond mere beauty that attracted the stunned gazes of both men and women.
Just who is that man?
Judging from his face, he had all the features of a member of the royal family. The sudden appearance of a third member of the royal family, other than Prince Julian and Prince Eckhart, left the room with their mouths agape. But, he didn’t pay any mind to them at all.
Prince Julian’s eyes opened wide in shock as the man kept approaching. Liselotte cast her eyes down and Gerda’s face twisted. Eckhart leaned forward, taking a sharp intake of breath…
Finally, Camilla looked behind her.
And when she saw the man standing before her, she forgot to breath.
Was she seeing things? Why was he here? He was supposed to be far away, back in Mohnton.
But, before any of those questions could reach her lips, one name trumped them all.
After hearing Camilla’s cry, the uproar in the court began to grow.
Alois… Alois Montchat. The despised Toad of the Swamp, whose boggy domain the hated villainess Camilla was exiled to. But the man who stood before them now was far from how he was described in the rumours and gossip of the capital.
The man looked almost like… that’s right, like a member of the royal family.
Ignoring the confused faces of the people who stared at his back, Alois stood in front of Camilla. Camilla stood in the very center of the courtroom, directly below the podium of the judge who had been about to pass sentence on her.
The princes sat either side of the judge. Alois turned to look at Prince Julian. Prince Julian forgot himself, and looked at Alois with undisguised hatred.
“Guards, drag this man from the courtroom. He is an imposter, claiming to be Duke Alois Montchat. However, he clearly doesn’t fit his appearance at all. In fact, it’s like that this accomplice is Camilla’s last desperate gamble?”
Prince Julian tried to calm down the court with his words. That expression full of frustration and hatred was washed away, replaced by the face of the righteous Prince he wore before.
“And, even though it’s nigh on impossible, if this really isn’t an imposter, that means he has abandoned his land in a time of crisis to come chasing after this woman. Could such a treacherous man’s words really be trusted!?”
Julian attempted to coerce the crowd with his words. Certainly, what the Prince was saying wasn’t lost on them either. Was this mysterious man truly Alois? Just what kind of testimony had he come here to deliver?
Still, nobody dared move. Not a single one of the guards dared to attempt to drive away a man who carried such regal features.
That silver hair was something only those of the royal bloodline possessed. With hair like that, just who else could he be but Duke Montchat, a member of a royal branch family? But if it truly is Duke Montchat, then just how could that figure of his be explained?
The man at the center of all the attention spoke toward Prince Julian.
“Your Highness. Please allow me to say something first. Whether or not my word can be trusted can be decided afterward.”
Prince Julian frowned. He was about to open his mouth to reject it, but Eckhart spoke before him.
“…So be it.”
“Let us hear Duke Montchat’s side of things. He seems to be quite confident in himself?”
Although he was speaking to Julian, Prince Eckhart didn’t pay him a glance as he looked at Alois. He studied Alois head to toe, as if scrutinizing every part of him that he could see.
“I wish to hear your story, sir. What’s more, it was Julian himself who opened the floor to objections. There should be no issue in hearing what you have to say.”
“Guh,” Julian bit his lip in frustration. Considering all the eyes that were on them, it would be a bad move to suddenly renege on his own word, going against Eckhart and expelling Alois from the court. For Julian, who wielded popularity as a weapon, betraying the expectant eyes of the people would be like cutting off his own sword arm.
When Julian sat back in his seat reproachfully, he cast a quick glance at Liselotte, hoping that no one would notice. Liselotte nodded in silence, her face looking slightly uneasy.
With that, it seems like Prince Julian made up his mind.
“…It seems that my older brother wishes for you to speak. Fine, let it be so. But, I hope you will not waste our time.”
“Thank you very much.”
After bowing to the princes, Alois turned on his heel and addressed the people who had been staring at his back.
Turning that body of his, who those people once scorned but could now not tear their eyes off of, he took a deep breath.
“…I am Alois Montchat. The person who can prove her innocence.”
Alois’ voice resounded through the courtroom. He really did have a booming tone. Even though the courtroom had been on the verge of uproar just a moment ago, his voice passed above it all.
“But, before I speak, there’s one thing I have to do. Something I need to show you all.”
With those terse words, Alois turned to Camilla. He gave her the slightest of smiles to reassure her, as she stared at him in confusion.
As if to prompt her, Alois glanced at Prince Julian, then back to her. Whilst Camilla followed his gaze, Alois spoke again.
“Camilla, your magic.”
When she looked back at Alois, he had drawn up closer to her. That calm voice that whispered in her ear was that soft tone she had heard so many times before.
“Please make the sign with your hand. I’ll use my own magic to compensate.”
“…Magic? What magic?”
As Camilla asked him that, Alois smiled. He spoke in an oddly familiar way… a voice she had thought of so many times in the past.
“The magic that I taught you once.”
Camilla stood in silence.
But, almost as if she were naturally compelled to do so, her fingers began to slowly draw the sign in the air.
A magic sigil that should have been only have been known to members of the royal family. Camilla’s magic charm. Magic to dispel curses, magic to uncover the truth.
A long time ago, the boy that Camilla fell in love with had taught her how to do it as he guided her fingers.
The moment that Alois’ magic entered through Camilla’s body and imbued the magic sigil she signed, Prince Julian had been enveloped by something.
As if Liselotte had been expecting something like this, she immediately began to cast her own protective magic on Prince Julian. But, even though her red eyes shone brightly, they were no match for Alois’. As if there were barely any resistance at all, Liselotte’s magic was blown away with overwhelming force, and dispelled the magic that had been cast on Julian.
As their magical power suddenly collided, the air in the courtroom became electric, pricking at the skin of the attendees.
A brilliant white light forced people to cover their eyes.
The light shone so brightly it traveled far.
As the magic shattered, the light could even be seen from the royal palace.
As the light suddenly faded, people beheld the aftermath. It was not Prince Julian who stood next to Liselotte now.
His hair didn’t shine silver. His eyes were not a regal red. His grey hair lacked any lustre, whilst his eyes were a muddy brown colour. The gaunt young man who stood there now looked very different to the prince who had been in his place but a moment ago.
Camilla recognized something in the face of the young man who had suddenly appeared before them.
When she used to live in the royal capital, that was the man Camilla recalled seeing Liselotte walking with, all that time ago.
She remembered when she had seen the portraits of the previous Duke Montchat of Mohnton. The man who stood up there in Prince Julian’s place was the spitting image of Alois’ father, who was supposed to be long dead.
But, behind Camilla, the sudden uproar drowned out her stunned murmur.
Someone screamed, pointing at the man who was Prince Julian.
“The ghost of the royal palace! That is… that is definitely the ghost…!!”
A scary story spoken of in whispers, akin to the rumours of the Toad of the Swamp, that has long been a favourite of the royal palace gossipers.
The stories had always gone was that it was the vengeful spirit of a noble wronged by the royal family, or perhaps a King of an earlier age, or perhaps even a real man who had secretly been poisoning the current King, causing his declining health?
A man with a pale but handsome face, well dressed and groomed, who passed through the royal palace like a ghost.