Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 297
Claude had never imagined that the investigation would be so detailed. They didn't just conclude after taking his and Duriaulo's testimonies. They even got everyone who had seen Bechmil and Jiblik to testify. The enforcers Dyavid disarmed were the closest to the scene when it happened and heard the gunshot. Everyone was questioned three times and their testimonies were relentlessly cross-referenced for contradictions.
Some investigators even had Claude and Moriad and a volunteer act out their melee to reenact how the misfire happened. That was when Claude understood why Duriaulo had him and Moriad relentlessly reenact the brawl two days back. He knew that the committee would use that method.
Claude figured that the investigators that insisted that they reenact the melee were the ones holding ill intentions towards them and should belong to officers allied with frontline command. Perhaps they believed they would be able to expose the lie and reveal how they had intentionally harmed Jiblik and Bechmil.
However, everyone's expression stiffened after the reenactment. At the end of it, Moriad spoke loudly.
"I thought it was weird that the gun went off even though I didn't touch it. So that bastard was trying to hit you, Sir..."
The scene was set up thusly: Bechmil was squatting down with his body facing the ground and right shoulder hanging low while his right hand grasped his lit musket tightly. Claude stood beside him and grabbed onto his left hand and shoulder in an attempt to drag him up. Moriad was half-kneeling to the right and trying to tug Bechmil's right hand outward with his right hand and pushing Bechmil's right shoulder with his left.
Those were all consistent with the testimonies of Claude and Moriad. Bechmil was squatting down and the reason he had his right shoulder hanging low was so that the other two wouldn't touch his musket lest it be grabbed away from him. Normally speaking, the short-barrel musket held in the second lieutenant's hand should've been pointed downwards, yet the man was shot in the face. That meant that Bechmil had turned the barrel up before pulling the trigger.
Bechmil wouldn't shoot himself, so why would he turn the barrel upwards? The answer was simple: he was trying to shoot Claude to his left because Claude had his arms around his left shoulder. Bechmil held his gun in his right hand and couldn't shoot Moriad, who was trying to push his hand away from his right, so he naturally tried to turn the barrel to aim to Claude.
What Bechmil surely didn't expect was that when he pulled the trigger, Moriad would tug his right hand outwards, causing the barrel to shift and aim at his face and cause the tragedy.
"How could this happen?!!" General Welster slammed the table. It was clear to him that Duriaulo, Claude and Moriad weren't lying. Instead, Bechmil allegedly violated a lot of regulations and protocol. Threatening a superior officer with a short-barrel musket and attempting to shoot others in a melee were huge offences that would turn into a scandal for the judiciary if allowed to spread. Fortunately, Bechmil had hurt only himself and there was still some way to salvage this.
"Let's close the case and conclude it as a case of manslaughter as a result of a misfire," Welster decided. Claude and the rest were cleared of suspicion for Bechmil's death, at least.
It was already around nine at night. Even though they had a large meal during the afternoon, they only got some blackwheat bread and red tea to fill their stomachs to prepare for their busy schedule during the night. Duriaulo asked whether they would be postponing the investigation into Jiblik's death to the next day, since it was getting late and they didn't want to impose on their rest.
But Welster refused. The weather was getting hotter by the day and it wouldn't be easy to keep corpses preserved. It would be best for them to inspect the corpse before it started to smell and settle the case for good.
With the case of Bechmil as precedent, most of the investigators were willing to trust Claude and the other two's testimonies. When they were shown Jiblik's corpse, they easily came to the conclusion it was suicide for two reasons: his tongue was indeed missing as a result of him biting it off and there was an eerie smile on his face.
Nobody could've figured out that the smile was actually there due to having his feet licked by a goat. He smiled so hard he stuck out his tongue and all Moriad and Dyavid had to do was hold his tongue and smash his chin close.
The investigators didn't know one could commit suicide using that method. They were more familiar with poisoning or hangings. Tongue-biting would be no issue for Claude and the rest as nobody could force someone to bite their own tongues off and leave such a ghastly smile on the face after death.
However, the officers who got the two to reenact the melee weren't satisfied. They took off Jiblik's uniform and inspected the whole body, only to be disappointed as there was no trace of beatings or other interrogation techniques, save for some light bloodstains on the shoulder.
Moriad explained that the injury came from the three gripping Jiblik a little too tightly after Bechmil threatened to shoot them and killed himself. The tense situation caused them to exert a little too much force.
The investigators didn't really care for the minor wounds. However, they still suspected them of using underhanded methods such as threatening to kill Jiblik's family to get him to commit suicide.
Then Duriaulo took out the testimony Jiblik had left behind. He said he questioned Jiblik immediately after Bechmil died. Perhaps due to shock from Bechmil's death, he answered any question asked of him and admitted that he was in cahoots with the four imposters and had come to rescue them.
The testimony had Jiblik's own signature and didn't seem to be tampered with. One feature of the words was that they were rather hard to read, which could be explained by the panic felt by Jiblik at the time of writing. He had probably still been shaken by his partner's death.
It was only after he finished writing the testimony that Duriauolo realised that he didn't really know who allowed the enforcers to come with the two officers were and they couldn't be sure whether they were also accomplices.
So, Duriaulo decided to once more question Jiblik about it, but now, Jiblik kept completely silent. Instead, he smiled wryly and suddenly bit his own tongue off. That was something even Duriaulo didn't expect. He had watched Jiblik kill himself before him.
The hostile investigators still weren't fully convinced. Perhaps they didn't recall that Jiblik was someone brave enough to commit suicide. Yet, the evidence was laid before them and there was no arguing with it.
"It's getting late. I think it's best we close the case now. It's obvious what has happened here. Sir Claude and Captain Duriaulo weren't in the wrong at all and shouldn't be charged with treason. I think we have to focus on those folks in frontline command. Even with the first prince's absence, the war has ended and the ministry should once more take charge of the forces. They shouldn't be allowed to hold them back at the frontlines. Do you have any other questions? If not, please sign your names here for the record," General Welster said.
The general was the inquisitor of the royal guard's judiciary and he was appointed by the ministry to handle the case. His words meant that Claude and Duriaulo were proven innocent and the death of Jiblik had nothing to do with them. Instead, they ought to look into the matter of the two officers' transgressions.
Welster was the first one to sign his name on the case records and stamp his personal seal. The other eight inquisitors from irregular corps also did the same. Last came the 20-odd lower-ranking officers. They had to sign and stamp as witnesses to ensure that there would be no further argument about the case's verdict.
The belligerent investigators didn't dare to put up a fit lest they anger their inquisitors. Even though they still held suspicions, they signed their names.
Claude breathed a sigh of relief in his mind. They were finally cleared of suspicion.
Duriaulo had them wait before he served up a delicious meal cooked up by the tavern to thank them for their efforts.
In a rare occasion, Welster indulged in the food. He spoke in a more friendly manner to Claude and Duriaulo, maybe because they were now cleared of suspicion. He simply picked some food to fill his stomach and said that he would have to interrogate the four imposters the next day.
Duriaulo said that since they had worked so hard that night, it was about time they got some good rest. There also wouldn't be much trouble with interrogating the imposters since they were alive and well. They had also provided testimonies of their attempt to cause trouble for Claude and it wouldn't be a tough case to crack.
With the aid of wine, the atmosphere within the tent grew livelier. Though, the two corpses in the tent were a little jarring to look at. Duriaulo asked how they should deal with them and the general simply asked him to deal with them as he would soldiers who died on the battlefield. They would be cremated and put into urns labelled with their names and sent back to their families with their personal artefacts.
It had been a week since their deaths and spots were beginning to form on the corpses. Claude left the tent with the reason being dealing with the corpses and he ordered some troops to haul them with stretchers to the slope further away from the village. Firewood was piled around them before a good dose of fuel was sprinkled all over to burn the two corpses up.
Laughter and merry-making could be heard coming from the camp of the investigators. Duriaulo had the barmaids of the taverns serve the investigators in the tent. Even though it was initially called a supper, it played out more like a banquet. Duriaulo had started preparing for the event even as the investigators were busy working.
The corpses were gradually covered in flames and the smell of cooked meat was wafting in the air. Claude was accustomed to the smell; it couldn't have been stronger than the time he set the whole village on fire. The soldiers waiting to collect the ashes, on the other hand, couldn't take it and coughed. Claude tossed two thales to those soldiers for them to get a bottle of wine each to wash their throats down lest they be unable to eat anything for the next few days.
The investigation committee left two days later with the four imposters as well as the urns and documents relating to the case. Claude had wanted to ask General Welster about Major Skri's case, but the general refused to comment on that matter as he was only there to deal with the imposters and the killed judiciary officers from frontline command. Whether Skri was innocent or not wasn't up to him to decide.
Claude wore quite the disappointed look as he watched the committee leave. Duriaulo, now relaxed, tried to console him. "General Welster was speaking the truth. He's the inquisitor of the royal guard's judiciary and doesn't have the authority to interfere with that case. Your only hope of saving Major Skri is the first prince coming back out soon."