- All rise! The Honorable Justice Sands and the jury are now entering the court room.
She stood up slowly, looking down at the plea box railings before her, then glanced undetectably at the face of the judge.
- Today's trial is : Frances Cotton Hannah O'Neil and her family v. a joint plea of the Sea Merchants Guild and the Crown.
- Miss O'Neil is represented by her family's lawyer, mister Michael O'Hara; the Sea Merchants and the Crown are represented here by mister Edward Zachary.
- Miss O'Neill could not attend today's trial because of suffering from ill health.
- Thank you. You may now sit down.
- This court will now hear the testimony of the Free Sea Merchants Guild representative, read out by their legal counsel, mister Edward Zachary.
- Thank you. Your Honour, in the name of the Free See Merchants Guild, I bring this plea before you and the jury - please hear what we have to say. This woman, together with the crew, may God have mercy on their souls as they are surely suffering in hell right now, of the sail ship under her command, may the name of it be forgotten forever, has been attacking our ships for the good part of last five years. For years before that, they have been evading our and the Royal Navy's efforts to apprehend them and bring them to trial for their crimes. It is her family who pleaded out, that she be tried separately from the crew, as she is a woman; We want to make it known, that no amount of atonement her family can ever pay up, will make up for the loss of ships, goods and life resulting from what we can only call a pirates' and smugglers proceedings of her and her crew. They have stolen unforgivable amounts, scuttled and prized numerous ships and have it not been for the support our Guild extends to the merchants affected, several of them would have gone out of business. We plea this court and this jury, that the punishment exerted on Frances Cotton Hannah O'Neill be proportional to the crimes she has committed. Thank you for hearing us out, your Honour.
- Counsel Zachary, did the Guild prepare a list of scuttled and prized ships and the summary of goods stolen?
- Yes your honour. Shall I read it out for knowing of all the present in the court room ?
- Just give us the rough numbers, something more precise than in the opening address, please.
- The list is long your honour. But the highlights are : at least 5 ships sunken irrecoverably with goods on board, at least 15 ships scuttled on the shore line, from which no goods could have been recovered, because they've been ransacked by the local populace, of those, 5 ships have actually been completely taken apart by the time the soldiers arrived and took control; one heavily damaged Her Majesty Ship - managed to reach the port but only because of the back-breaking work of the sailors, later has sunk in unexplained circumstances while still moored; As a result of that, families of many merchant sailors have been without upkeep, putting them at a great peril. This list - the counsel turned around, showing a densely written scroll to everybody in the room - is going to be put for your Honour and the jury to consider.
- Thank you Counsel Zachary. Now the representative of the O'Neil family, mister O'Hara will be heard.
- Thank you, your honour. We all know what the real story of Miss Cotton is. She has been rescued from a ship wreck, three years ago, by the people the honourable counsel Zachary presents as pirates. Let me tell you as if you haven't heard or read the papers - they have not been indiscriminately attacking any ships that have been showing up on their horizon, as pirates do. At least not since Miss Cotton has joined them. The captain's log that we have secured from the remains of Miss Cotton's ship, shows that the attacks on the merchants were only enacted, if apart from the goods declared on board, they also carried goods unaccounted - results of exertion of injustice on our land, from the side of the merchants. The unfortunate events of loss of life, have only been a result of uninformed fury from the side of the assailants, and only exerted when there was no other way to disarm them. They went to great lengths to ensure, that the goods carried were properly paid for, and the monies were passed to the farmers and manufacturers of the goods, who would otherwise have been struck down by poverty. Also for the money earned from selling the unaccounted goods, they have compensated every last family of any sailor that was ever been in contact with them; This should be also known as the fact, that after their apprehension, no goods, no money and no other valuables were found, either on their ship, or with the banks that they used deal with. All their transactions were always transparent, and we have tracked every single one of their recipients. Your Honour, we are not in any way discounting the time before Miss Cotton joined them; but since she did, her influence on them, has singlehandedly reduced illegal trade between the shores of the Crown's land and reduced the injustice around Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland. It is not just my or Miss Cotton's word : here is the original of the captain's log, which I now present to Your Honour and the copy is for the jury, for your consideration.
- Thank you, Counsel O'Hara. It is certainly known to all gathered here, that Frances Cotton Hannah O'Neill's crew have been apprehended while delivering Miss Cotton back to the shore, in the Crown's port of the City of Belfast. Last week they have been tried and sentenced, and now they are awaiting execution. Has any of these facts been known to the judge and jury that were trying them?
- Your Honour, they have been put on trial in the City of London, where the Guild of Merchants is the strongest. The crew's representatives were unable to successfully secure their witnesses' testimony, and the evidence they presented has been brushed off. We are trying to do what we can to save them, we still have hope for the Queens or God's intervention.
- It's actually been said, your Honour, that the good deeds they did, while under the influence of Miss Cotton, have cancelled the poor deeds they exerted while she was with them; after all, theft and robbery is a punishable crime, and a number of rogue merchants have also been tried for it over the years; but there was time when Miss Cotton wasn't with her crew, and for that they have been convicted.
- Under her influence, your Honour, the number of trials on rogue traders, has fallen to single numbers per year! Now that she and her crew is not on patrol any more, we hear of the injustice brewing again.
- Before she joined them, they have been rogue traders and smugglers themselves! And they will hang for this.
- We hope it won't happen...
- Silence! His Honour the Judge wishes to speak now.
- Honorable Counsel Zachary, Counsel O'Hara. The evidence you presented is known to me. Also the proceedings of the crew's trial. I am told, that the crew can not be saved, the weight of crimes they committed is too gross. Counsel O'Hara, please explain, how did it happen that she joined them, and how come that of all the places they could have selected, they had to go to Belfast?
- Thank you, your Honour. Five years ago, Miss Cotton has been traveling on board of a ship, bound for New York. The ship has been struck by a lightning, which incapacitated most of the crew, not far away from the Rathlin Island, the now-known home of the crew. Unable to steer, the ship ran aground some rocks. Miss Cotton clung to a piece of wood, and was rescued, as we're told, thanks to her bright yellow dress she was wearing at the time, and that she was observing the storm standing close to her cabin door; when the ship disintegrated, battered by the waves and the wind, she was flung out to the see, together with the door she was clinging to. Originally when the crew found her, we were told, they intended to ask the family for ransom in return of her freedom; But she, being the strong character that she is, made herself known of her heritage, and was accepted as a peer among them; they treated her like royalty, which she certainly deserved, being of O'Neill family. With her acumen and energy, she helped them set up the proceedings, and helped in disputes, decided what's right to do and what not. This went on until a month ago, when her health has rapidly deteriorated. The crew came to contact the family, which, regrettably, not knowing the entire story, requested the handover to happen in a free city port under Queens Peace; As the crew understood that time is of the essence, they thought they can explain everything later. Unfortunately, the Merchants Guild has come to knowledge of the handover, and drafted the army to facilitate the crew's and the ship's apprehension, while Miss Cotton has been admitted to hospital.
- Your honour, if I may ...
- Yes counsel Zachary ?
- There is also the case of Her Majesty's ship that has been injured while trying to apprehend Miss Cotton. We've established, that there was a collision, that almost cost the Crown a loss of an entire ship.
- Counsel O'Hara?
- Yes. Miss Cotton's ship has been actually apprehended and was beginning to be taken as a prize; then Miss Cotton spoke and addressed the captain, the soldiers and the crew; she passed on information about another rogue trader in the area; it was that ship that the Crown's vessel has collided with in the fog; the rogue merchant sank and has been lost; some of her crew has been rescued, and since Miss Cotton wasn't very far away, she actually assisted the Crown's ship however she could, attempting to repair; they even escorted the vulnerable vessel down to Cardiff. Where the higher rank apprehended members of the rogue ship have been bailed out by the Guild, and returned the same night, to scuttle her in the port where she was moored.
- Your Honour I'd like to remind Mr O'Hara and have it on the record, that the events of our ship's scuttling on the moorings are still under investigation, and no statements of any of their crew or the apprehended sailors has been released. But it may not help Miss Cotton's crew.
- Noted, counsel Zachary. Thank you, counsel O'Hara. I believe I and the jury have now heard enough. The jury will now enter a debate and return with their verdict. My instructions to the jury are : she did a lot of good, while also exerting a lot of punishable crimes. As she's been struck by an incurable illness, I hear, I believe whatever punishment God meant for her, has been done.
- Your honour, the jury wishes to communicate they have reached the verdict without debate.
- Really. Let's hear the verdict then.
- It's a split decision, your Honour; she may be returned to her family to be kept under care for the illness she's contracted; she is to never leave the home or the town the family selects for her to live; and she can never be allowed to return to the sea or any of the towns or villages she helped. Her name to be forgotten, all the records of what's been proceeded, to be deleted. She is to live the rest of her life alone.
- Honorable Jury Leader... is this right? this seems like unnecessarily harsh, also impractical to erase any records that's been made. This part of the verdict is hereby nullified. Miss Cotton is to be returned to her family and we let the family decide for her care or where and how she's kept. Such is my decision. As the Merchant's claims and the captain's log and bank records cancel each other out, we can not declare Miss Cotton a convicted criminal; God have mercy on the souls of her crew as they are beyond our power here.
- All rise ! The Honourable Justice Sands and the jury are now leaving the court room.
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