The War Tribunal was in an uproar. Tables slamming, fists waving, anger painted at every man’s face.
Council men, clad in smart uniform, had all their hatred and anger pointed to that one man. The man in the square wooden box, facing the President, himself too dressed in a well decorated uniform. But unlike his fellow councilmen, he was their piñata, their dartboard.
Everyone took their seats. “Guilty!!!!” someone shouted from the back bench, and the hall erupted momentarily once more before the President raised his hand, the enough gesture well understood by all.
“Do you plead guilty to the charges, of conspiring against the nation of Zanotopia by possessing top secrets of the nation and selling them to our enemy, Ramzon of Kalanis, hence jeopardizing the Reyarps search and destroy mission of the stronghold of Kalanis?”
Silence. Councilmen, still wearing their game face with eyes burning with rage, stared at him for what seemed to be like an eternity.
Saduj looked to the floor, guilt and remorse overwhelmed him. No tears from this tough man hardened by many wars, many battles. No apologies from the arrogant and proud general who commands the prestigious and elite squad of the Reyarps.
“I do.” The spell was broken. The councilmen rose to their feet again and threw everything they could grab on their tables down to the box. Saduj didn’t flinch, didn’t react, didn’t turn around to see his attackers.
“TRAITOR! TRAITOR!” In unison, in one voice, in a chant.
“General Saduj. Would you like to redeem yourself?”
That eerie silence again filled the hall, an impending sense of doom heavily rested on the shoulders of the man in the box. In every councilman’s mind was the simple question, Why did he betray the President?
“Because,” he swallowed his choke and cough back to spill out what may very well be his last words.
“Because Ramzon was a friend, was an ally,” he paused to look straight into the President’s eyes,
“And because he was a son of Zanotopia.”
This time it wasn’t anger or chanting. Many faces turned pale, some turned to each other in whispers, franctically seeking some truth in what Saduj has just said from each other. Was that true? Some asked. How could the worse enemy of Zanotopia once was a son of Zanotopia?
The President hammered the table. “This case is adjourned. We shall reconvene after the dissolution of the war tribunal, and turn General Saduj over to the civilian court.
“The damage has already been done,” he rose from his seat and straightened his jacket. “Punishing him will not save our children.”
The President walked out of the tribunal, calm and composed unlike his councilmen. Nire, his daughter was outside waiting for him. “How did it go?” Both father and daughter paced swiftly away from the Tribunal towards their waiting vehicles outside the building.
“We’re postponing his case. It is neither fair nor right to trial a man during war times. Inter arma enim silent leges.”
“Fair?” she stopped in her steps. Rage rose deep within her. “This man betrayed the country, sold secrets to our worst enemy, costing my brother and my husband to be captured. After what he has done, you telling me we should be fair to him? Does he even deserve it?”
“How could you?” Her voice so full of accusation, so full of hurt, so full of pain.
The President never stopped walking, never turned back to look at her daughter. He knew better not to. His daughter was right, her reasoning sound. He should have just charged Saduj with treason, strip him off his stars and medals, and sentence him either to the guillotines or the cells. That would be standard military protocol.
But I am the President.
With that authority came much wisdom and insight. A heritage of the Presidents passed down from one to the other was the Heritage of Discernment, and he knew well enough that he was already punishing him by not sentencing him just yet.
Nire ran up to her father, fist tight and clenched, was about to continue her hate speech when they heard a gunshot, a scream, and many men scrambling behind them. Both father and daughter froze in their steps, meters apart, as they gave themselves a few moments for the events to make sense, if any at all.
Someone fired a round in one of the backrooms of the tribunal. “We need medics here!” a distant voice pleaded.
Civilians were leaving the building, security personnel surrounded the President and daughter. More officers filled the Tribunal and swiftly secured a perimeter. Nire grabbed one of a sobbing and hysterical woman who was leaving the building. “What happened in there?” she demanded.
“Saduj… Saduj… he shot himself…”
Disbelief, confused, shocked. Her grip on the traumatized woman loosened. She looked at her father who still had his calm face on, but eyes filled with sorrow and pain. “You saw this coming didn’t you?” He never responded to her question, never looked her in the eyes.
Both walked up into the vehicles, and sped off to the Command Centre.
Now what? She asked meekly.
“Now,” he took a long deep breath, “we wait."