Dungeon Defense - Chapter 23
We were given a single mission.
Go north and rescue Barbatos.
The amount of rest given to our soldiers was half a day. We pillaged the supplies that were piled up like a mountain within the White Fortress, and since it would be beyond our capacity to pillage everything, we burned the rest. While we were burning the supplies, which we originally planned to use to feed and clothe the prisoners, we also decided to burn the captives as well.
Since that would be more efficient.
I ordered for cruelty.
“Set ablaze every single human village we see on our path.”
Flames and smoke were present wherever my army went. My soldiers marched as they set ablaze everything that lay in our path, and marched while placing the smoke behind them. We advanced strenuously in order to provide aid for Barbatos.
The humans desired to push the assault back to the demon territory. Since war was an occurrence that trampled over the land which they took place in, the humans wished for the land of the demons to be trampled instead of their own.
Now, during the current situation where the second army had completely fallen, the only person blocking the path of the massive human army was Demon Lord Barbatos. Barbatos was barely obstructing the human army of 40,000 with her own 20,000 soldiers. Providing aid for Barbatos was a major task. That way, the demon territory could avoid the terrible disaster of war. Barbatos and I will not become the renegades who had brought upon this war.
“Do not become obsessed with pillaging! Kill them if you wish to take their lives, but do not waste your energy in slaughter. We do not have the time to rape so manage your lower bodies fairly. Burn all the human towns and turn those villagers into the homeless.”
I did not have even a touch of hesitation. Burn everything. Set ablaze everything in sight. The villages and supplies which we do not burn will become the lifeline that will feed the enemy. I was executing a cheongya tactic in reverse.
(TL note: Cheongya tactic (청야 전술) – A tactic where the defending army would retreat while burning every supply that could possibly be used by the enemy forces.)
Occasionally, the elders of the villages would be driven mad by the pent-up frustration and beg to us. The elders pleaded that they at least needed the seeds if they wished to carry out the first tilling during the upcoming spring, so they begged for us to not tear out their hopes to survive by the roots. I did not have the time to explain to the elders the urgency of our situation. Their circumstances should not be mine and my circumstances should not be theirs, so I did not have the time to make our misaligned circumstances interlock. Even if I did have enough time, that was a difficult dislocation to fix. I browbeat the elders.
“Then will you die? Would you rather die instead? Listen to me carefully, humans. Until the winter is over, run away to the mountains and do not come down. The farming this year has come to an end, so do not hold any lingering attachment. Do not return from the mountain valleys!”
With tears in their eyes, the old men and women departed to find refuge.
The smoke rising from the Black Mountains was moving ever so slightly, but with certainty, towards the north. As each day passed, the villages that laid on our northward path were turned into flames.
People overflowed from the towns where only ashes remained. The humans who had lost their homes escaped towards the south or hid in the mountains. The smoke was dense on all sides. The sound of crying and weeping echoed throughout the areas where the fumes were thick. They should consider it a fortune that the snow and rain that fell during our march of arson was light. If it had become difficult to set things ablaze because of the weather, then I would have killed every single human.
The refugees sang as they departed.
If we go now, when will we return
If we go now, when will we return
Our villages are burning and our sons are burning
Aha, if we go now, then when will we return……
When they had no path to tread and no destination to arrive at, it seemed humans relied on songs on their road of departure . Although the song was sorrowful and foolish, I did not stop them. If anything, I shoved the backs of the humans. Run away, spread it, spread the song wide, inform the people with a song that we have arrived as your plague……
En route, the army of the dukes blocked our path. They were soldiers who had ran away from their strongholds because they were unable to endure the bitter song of the people. However, this was after the dukes had offered the majority of their military personnel to the Imperial family in order to provide military assistance. Although their spirit was praiseworthy, solely their spirit was what could be complimented. While slightly glancing at the enemy forces that barely reached 50 soldiers, Farnese asked.
“What should we do, lord?”
“Trample over them.”
“Understood. ……How tiresome.”
While muttering about how bothersome it was, Farnese commanded our troops.
Since our victory was much too apparent, Farnese devised a game. It was a play to see how she could kill all 50 enemy soldiers without missing a single one. While testing all kinds of tactics, Farnese taunted the enemy. The game was a success. The soldiers were wiped out completely.
We severed the heads of the so-called soldiers and dangled them on poles. Every time we burned a village down, we threw in about 15 heads. After seeing those heads, the elderly folks listened to our words a slight bit better. Without having the need for us to verbally threaten them, they packed their stuff on their own discretion in order to find refuge. It was straight forward. I should have done this sooner.
We were without a doubt a Demon Lord’s army.
If one were to express it a bit more accurately, then we were an army of bastards.
Our military personnel considered the fact that they were bastards as something to be proud of. As we pillaged more, our soldiers formed a stronger army. Marching was not painful.
Our own soldiers would give our army titles, such as ‘The Harbingers of Winter’, ‘The Human’s Plague’, and ‘The Pillagers of Mountains’. Since the winter was something that was damned, the plague was something to be sworn at, and pillaging was a vile thing to do, one could know how dastardly my army was. How cheer-worthy. Aha, how anarchistic. It was a good season.
My life was more than just miserable, so I would sing about my forlornness. The refugees sang because they did not know where to go, and I sang because I did not know where I had come from. The song of a person who had nowhere to go and the song of a person who had nowhere to return were completely different.
“What shall it be: this or that–? The walls behind the temple of the city’s deity have fallen – shall it be this–? When they die and die again a hundred times–. Or if we die and die together nonetheless – shall it be that–?”
(TL note: This is a fusion of two poems Hayeoga(하여가) and Dansimga(단심가). Hayeoga was created in order to declare the death of an era. Link)
“……What in the world is that song? It is bizarre.”
Farnese furrowed her brows. Lapis, who was riding beside me on her horse, also gave me a weird look. I made up a lie.
“These are the lyrics from a melody which I had heard in my dream last night. The beat twines around my tongue so well that the song flows naturally. Would this not be a tune blessed to us by the Goddess?”
“Try singing along. It is a song that casually unburdens one’s life. Songs are sung to savor the taste of doing something that is heavy but with lightheartedness. What shall everything in the world be: this or that?”
The song instantly circulated among the soldiers. ‘They say that this is a song that Our Liege the Demon Lord made after personally hearing it from the Goddess herself’, a premium attached to this groundless rumor. Once I included a trot-like rhythm to the song and recited it, our soldiers tossed away military songs and giggled at the trot. Our troops altered the lyrics to match their taste. (TL note: Trot is a Korean music genre)
Badum tat badum tat what shall it be: this or that?
Badum tatat tat burn the temples and slaughter the people – shall it be this?
When they die and die again a hundred times
Or if we die and die together nonetheless – shall it be that?
(TL note: It’s an old Korean style of music that voices the sound of drums instead of actually playing drums. It’s rather hard to explain, so I’ll just give you guys this link)
Our officers and men chanted, slaughtered, pillaged, and committed arson. With a ‘koong chuck’, an excited air blew as they swung their blades, and with another ‘koong chuck’, they hummed as they put down the flames. Every time the chant was sung, blood was splattered.
As we advanced further north, the four-beat drum tune became convivial. The witches were the ones most giddy about the trot and let out a whimsical vibe. While riding on their brooms, the witches flew low and sang the chorus. Below the witches, the soldiers sang along while treading the ground. As the chorus and repetition were going back and forth, our march proceeded quickly.
The song of refugees spread to the south. The song of invaders dug its way into the north. The anthem of refugees was the weeping of the people, and the anthem of pillagers was the gaiety of the people, so I did not differentiate the two. I simply considered them all as the people. While being enshrouded by the smoke rising from the flames, we spread the melody.
While all of our troops were going along with the rhythm, solely Lapis remained cold. Lapis firmly refused to sing.
“That is a bad habit.”
It was honestly an accurate discernment.
3rd month, 11th day.
Before the 13th day that Barbatos had made us vow.
We had grabbed the enemy’s blockade by the nape.
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 3, Day 11
“—Break through them.”
I spoke while pointing towards the enemy encirclement.
To the people, words followed the world and were changed according to their lives. However, for the individuals in power, the world followed words, and the lives of others changed according to the words spoken by the figures of authority. I was a man of influence. I ordered them to break through, thus it happened.
Humbaba led the other witches and carpet-bombed the enemy. We had plundered so much gunpowder from the White Fortress that we were now nearly overflowing with it. The witches scattered the pouches of gunpowder without reserve. Soon after, the mages on the enemy forces’ side flew up into the air to retaliate.
The enemy troops were many and our forces were few. Regardless, the enemy soldiers were spread out vastly in order to form an encirclement. Our forces retracted and stabbed into a single point. The enemy was dispersed and we were focused. The enemy forces had to keep an eye out for both the outside and inside of their encirclement, while all we had to do was rush forward while only looking ahead. As if hammering a nail into a plank of wood, Farnese hammered our soldiers into the blockade. Excluding this, there was no other plot or unusual wit. It was a powerful frontal attack.
“An army that wins through a frontal assault is a happy army.”
Her words became few when she was commanding. She would only embed the tactics into the other captains during the strategy meetings, but during actual combat, she watched the battlefield with a flickering gaze.
Farnese would read battlefields as if she was looking at a book. It felt as if the soldiers’ shouts, the movement of the unit, and the sound of horns all had a fixed meaning to her, and that meaning alluded to words and lines. When our soldiers’ movements were vague, she spoke.
“Do not falter and go forth.”
When the enemy forces endured tenaciously, she spoke.
“Hold out as well, and be resolute to shed your blood.”
Once the enemy encirclement started to fall apart, she spoke again.
Farnese read the battlefield as if it were a book, and as if she were correcting all the misprints within a paperback, she amended the errors on a battlefield with her orders. Her commands were precise, and therefore engraved deeply into our officers and men.
Without uttering a word, the captains held Laura De Farnese, who was gazing down at the back of their heads, with high esteem. They boasted that they were able to feel the acting general’s gaze while they were fighting. From the captains to the privates, there was not a single person who doubted the general’s words. I recalled the words of a genius mathematician who claimed that the entire world appeared as numbers to him. To Farnese, the battlefield most likely appeared as words and sentences to her. A natural talent.
Before the 2-hour mark had passed since we had begun our assault on the blockade, Farnese nodded.
“It is over.”
A crooked smile drifted over Farnese’s lips.
5 minutes later, as she had stated, the encirclement collapsed. The enemy forces raised their flags and fled. Since their retreat appeared to be deliberate, Farnese forbade our troops from pursuing them thoughtlessly.
“Do not go after them. We will end up suffering instead.”
The captains kept silent and obeyed the order. It was a captain’s joy to chase after remnant enemy troops, hit them from behind, and empty their pockets. Bewitched by that interest, the number of soldiers who preferred plundering over fighting was countless. However, Farnese was not a general who was stingy about looting. The captains, who had pillaged as much as they wanted to during our forced march here, understood the general’s nature well. If Farnese told them to not pursue, then they must not pursue. It was a solemn rule.
After the enemy soldiers had withdrawn, as if curtains were being pulled aside, Barbatos’ encampment was revealed. The person in charge of the campsite came out.
“Welcome, Dantalian. Thanks to you, we are able to survive another day.”
“I can only apologize for my belated arrival.”
“To say that you are late…… We did not have any expectation that someone would arrive in the first place.”
The supervisor smiled bitterly. There was blood smeared on the supervisor’s pure white beard. This man with the appearance of an old man was a Demon Lord, rank 16th Zepar.
“Although it would only be proper etiquette to treat you and your men to a banquet for having allowed us to escape death, disconcertingly, our current situation is unfavorable. I apologize. Nevertheless, if you had arrived a day later, we would have greeted you as blind corpses.”
“How could etiquette in war be the same as common civility? Let us not be concerned about such matters. There is not even the slightest reason for you to feel disconcerted, Duke Zepar.”
Rank 16th Zepar and I, who was rank 71st, conversed with one another while using a half-polite language. It may have gone against courtesy, but Zepar was the lord who had received salvation, and I was the lord who had given him that redemption. I was indirectly suggesting to him that this was what front line decorum was. Zepar must have understood my implication as he had nodded his head.
“Nevertheless, I feel quite ashamed to be welcoming you like this. What have we been doing while you, who possesses a low rank, were breaching through the mountain range and arriving to rescue us……?”
“Duke Zepar, what part of that is your mistake? Since the lords of the Plains Faction have protected the demon continent, which had risen to extremities, the people will most definitely praise your efforts. All I have merely done was to very slightly assist the lords in helping their subjects. Now then, let us go.”
While exchanging words of blessing, Zepar guided us to the campsite.
The encampment was solitary. It was a campsite that relied solely on wooden fences and trenches. The fences had broken apart due to the repeated attacks which had unfolded for the past several days. On the wooden pickets, corpses were impaled through the abdomen and were hanging like laundry. Birds of prey landed on the corpses and feasted on the most tender part of their flesh; the eyes. The blood oozed from the empty eye sockets of the blinded corpses. The moment we drew near, the birds flew away in alarm. As the birds fled, they dropped the torn apart eyeballs onto the earth. Zepar did not utter a word while going past the corpses of his men.
Witnessing my troops entering the camp, the soldiers who were still alive gathered. They cheered while raising their spears.
— Hoorah for His Highness Dantalian! Hoorah!
— Blessings to our savior!
The soldiers blocked our path so we were unable to move here or there. It was infallible for the faces of the soldiers who had survived purgatory to be beautiful. They were missing limbs and teeth and were dirty because of the grime which was smeared all over them. If there was something about them that was beautiful, then it was the bright smile that had formed on their faces. Zepar scolded the officers and men.
“What is this? No matter how delighted you all are, it is custom to not block the path of a king. Quickly……”
“No, that is fine, Duke Zepar.”
I stopped him.
“It is a rule that a king who steps on the path of his people does not exist.”
I stepped down from my horse and embraced one of the soldiers. The soldier was a young orc. A strong pungent smell of horse feces, blood, and urine emanated from his body. I held the young orc close and kissed his forehead.
“You are all admirable. You are all praiseworthy. You all did a good job standing your ground. I am sorry that I was not able to arrive sooner. You did well……”
The soldier burst into tears. After hearing my words, the other soldiers around me started to shed tears as well. They knelt around me and drenched the ends of my clothes with their tears. They cried profusely while muttering ‘your…… highness……’. Zepar could not interfere with the soldiers who were crying because they had survived. That was something that one could not dare impede in.
While the sound of crying was overflowing from the camp, a sharp voice cut in.
“Hey! Tall and feeble!”
It was Barbatos. She was standing beyond the lowered backs of the soldiers.
Barbatos jumped. As if she was crossing over stepping stones, she stepped on the backs of her soldiers and ran all the way to me. Because her behavior had no face or dignity, I was taken aback and my mouth hung agape. Barbatos embraced the me who was like that.
“I’m fucking thankful, you son of a bitch!”
I lost my balance and nearly fell over. Barbatos chortled as she hung onto my shoulders and dangled.
“You crazy bastard, you dog-like bastard! You bastard who really arrives within six days because he was told to come within six days! You, you! Did you crawl here within six days because the mountains are like your front yard? You pretty bastard!”
I was forcefully kissed. In truth, this was not kissing but suckling. There was no possibility that this was something beside suckling.
I, who had performed quite the romantic and dignified scene, was now twisting his neck in order to avoid displaying a public suckling exhibition. Barbatos’ lips frequently missed. Once that happened, this girl got upset for some reason.
“Ah, damn it. Stay still.”
Barbatos grabbed my head with both her hands. Finally, she was able to shove her tongue into my mouth. That was the moment where the suckling had turned into a deep kiss. For someone who had the appearance of that of a child, her kissing capability was extraordinarily peerless. First, she took my breath and made the inside of my mouth into a vacuum. Having been smothered, I lost the strength in my tongue. Barbatos then enveloped her tongue around mine and sucked on it. Our lips went astray for an instant. In that moment, I inhaled sharply while letting out the sound ‘Heub… ha…!’. This was also for an instant. Soon after, Barbatos plugged my mouth once more, and this time, she pressed the center of my tongue with hers and stimulated it. Strength drained from my joints. Barbatos lightly caught and supported my body which was about to collapse since my knees had buckled. I’m going to be raped. These words went through my head. Truly. I’m going to be raped today. I honestly believed that I was going to be violated just like this. Barbatos, who was pressing the center of my tongue with hers, then wrapped her tongue around both sides of my own. Letting out a ‘Eub…’, I moaned. Did I just utter that moan? Did I truly? Was I going to be done in by a single tongue? No matter how much I moved both of my arms in order to push the other party away, it was pointless. Because I was unable to put strength into my arms, my flailing slipped. Barbatos smirked with her eyes. ‘How cute’. It felt like Barbatos was saying that. As if telling me to stop fussing, Barbatos lightly gripped my lower body with her left hand. Dear God. My vision became white. My final line of resistance had disappeared without a trace as well. There was no way to struggle here. My knees trembled in fear from the technique of this perverted Demon Lord who had lived for hundreds of years. I could feel with my entire body what the term ‘being eaten’ meant. I am going to be eaten. That was a basic fear that humans retained towards beasts since the beginning of all things. I primitively trembled. God, please, just, seriously. Barbatos then mixed the techniques of pushing her tongue like a drill and capturing my tongue with hers like a rope together and stirred the inside of my mouth. It felt like a blender was whisking my brain.
At last, Barbatos removed her lips. A thin line of saliva hung loosely like a suspension bridge between my and Barbatos’ tongue. While gasping heavily, I glared ferociously at Barbatos.
“Don’t try to shrewdly steal the hearts of my men.”
Barbatos bit my earlobe and whispered.
“I’m thankful that you saved me, but that’s it. Listen well. My soldiers are mine. The thing I despise the most are wastrels who mess with the things that are mine. Although this time, I’m letting you off with just this, but if you try to entice my subordinates ever again……”
Barbatos’ tongue licked the inner portion of my ear. That cold moist sensation sent a chill down my spine.
“Dantalian. At that moment, I’ll really violate you while in front of the watchful eyes of the soldiers.”
“I-I’ll be careful.”
“Your plans tonight?”
Barbatos’ voice, which had asked me about my plans for tonight, was dripping with lust. If there was a color to one’s breath, then Barbatos’ breath would most likely be a light pink color right now. I hiccuped.
“Heeh. Then would you look at that? One was made just now.”
“Please wait a moment. Although I am unsure whether you are exhausted after having blocked the enemy’s continuous attack or not, how about getting some proper rest today?”
“Then since I’m tired, I guess I should improve my health by taking tonics?”
“Every rational being in the world has the right of decision-making regarding their sexual behaviors within society. Barbatos, to your temptation, I shall adamantly refuse……”
“Deny all you want. I’ll just refuse your refusal.”
This was not right.
Barbatos grabbed my right hand and started to drag me along. As I was being dragged, it felt as if I had become a slave who was being sold to another household due to a bad harvest. It was miserable and miserable again.
Thousands of soldiers vacantly watched the sight of me being dragged away. It was obvious what was going to remain in the minds of the soldiers today. The scene of His Highness Dantalian embracing the dirty bodies of the soldiers and crying for them had already fluttered away and evaporated. Only a single scene will remain within the soldiers and they will laugh and talk about it all night.
‘Her Highness Barbatos had devoured His Highness Dantalian!’
With my final bit of hope, I gazed at Lapis, Farnese, and the witches. All of them disregarded my gaze. The witches even waved their arms as if they were the people of Pyeongyang and were passionately seeing off their leader. The witches were beaming brightly.
— Be eaten well, your highness!
If my ear holes were still working correctly, then that was what the witches had distinctly shouted. Damn it. Just what country’s custom and what world’s moral principle was the courtesy of selling off one’s master and telling him to be eaten well. Since the three fundamental principles in human relations had collapsed and the Olympic rings have vanished, I shall see it as something you all had committed. Confucius and Mencius shall curse you all. Go die. All of you go die……
Empire Calendar: Year 1506, Month 3, Day 11
The officers and men were unable to recognize me who had approached while walking with a cane. Even after I had shown the ring of the House of Rosenberg, the gatekeeper was still half in doubt. My appearance was dirty and shabby. Although I’m going to go and ask, don’t expect too much, the gatekeeper uttered this and went to inform the people above of my arrival.
After a long time, a captain arrived while holding a rope used to bind criminals. It was a captain who I was an acquaintance with. Unable to treat me as a criminal, the captain stammered.
“They said the crime of bringing us defeat was atrocious……”
“Did Her Highness the Imperial Princess order you to bind me?”
“My apologies, your honor.”
My throat was parched. I let out a dry cough. Ever since I was struck on the back of the head and had fallen into the snow, my coughs had become more frequent. This hacking cough which had found me after the age of 60 informed me of my age. The agedness I faced because I was old, was painful.
“What is there to apologize for. Tie me.”
“Please resent this captain.”
The captain bound both of my arms and guided me into the base. During the midday, the areas that the sunlight filled in the military base was vast. In each location where the sun shined down upon, soldiers were gathered and sharing small-talk. Once a captain started leading an elderly man bound by rope, the soldiers turned to look this way. Someone must have recognized my old bones since my name had started to spread immediately.
— That’s the Margrave of Rosenberg.
— Well, the reason our position was taken the other day……
The officers and men whispered. It felt as if my body was completely in the open and my inner flesh was being revealed. The captain guided me not to the quarters used for war councils, but to the Imperial Princess’ personal tent instead.
“I have brought the defeated general, your highness.”
I shuddered. The disgrace I felt now sunk into a deeper corner of my psyche than it did while walking in front of the soldiers.
The Imperial Princess did not respond. Her shadow could be faintly seen through the white tent fabric.
The captain called out once more. No response. Feeling perplexed, the captain turned to look at me. It appeared the captain did not have the courage to press on and call for Her Highness the Imperial Princess, who was like the sky, for the third time. I cleared my throat.
“Your highness, this one is here to bow his head.”
A refined voice flowed out from the tent.
With the steps of a criminal, I entered the quarters. The Imperial Princess was sitting at a desk and dealing with documents. At the center of the tent, steam was rising from a bucket full of hot water.
Even after we had entered, the Imperial Princess continued to only touch the documents. It appeared that being in her highness’ tent for a long period of time was putting the captain under immense distress. Only the sound of a quill writing on parchment resonated throughout the tent. Even though time should be the same no matter what type of space you were in, the captain was unable to handle the time within this isolated space. The Imperial Princess spoke.
“You may leave now, captain.”
The captain quickly departed.
Only then, did the Imperial Princess stand up. Eyes that were as red as blood gazed at my face. There were no emotions there.
“Yes, please speak, your highness.”
“Thou has lost.”
I dropped down to my knees.
“Do not forgive this one, your highness.”
“That is right. That is how you should behave. However, if I do not forgive you, then would the soldiers who have fallen come back to life? Would the penetrated mountain range be blocked once more? Our subjects, who have been burned to death, are still the people who have burned, and the soldiers, who have released the encirclement and have retreated, are still our soldiers who have fled.”
“Why did you lose?”
In full detail, I told her about everything that I knew.
The Imperial Princess silently listened to my words. After hearing everything, she uttered.
“I see, so that man is Dantalian.”
“How does your highness know of such……”
“An acquaintance of mine sent me some information. Have a look as well.”
The Imperial Princess pulled out a pocket watch from the inside of her clothes. Once she turned the hour hand of the clock, smoke started to leak out. A transparent screen was faintly displayed on the smoke. Memory Play artifact. It was a tool with an exorbitant price.
— Turn this place into Hell.
— Aha? By ‘Hell’, does master mean?
— I can smell a scent somewhere. It is the smell of fat emanating from disgusting masses of flesh. It is the smell of greed and hypocrisy.
My eyes shot open. Dantalian’s figure appeared on the screen. He ordered for a slaughter and a countless number of humans were killed off. I held my breath. The Imperial Princess turned the artifact off and questioned me.
“How is it? You must have seen this Demon Lord in person.”
“Yes…… Without a doubt, that is Demon Lord Dantalian.”
“Is there no possibility that they had acquired a man with the same face as Dantalian and made him act as the Demon Lord? Also, is there no chance that they had hired a large group of mages to enact this performance while having disguised themselves?”
“The possibility of that being so is incredibly low. Your highness, this one recognizes the witch that appeared with the Demon Lord.”
“Who is it?”
“We had crossed swords several days ago. This one had even cut that girl down. If it were a performance, then it would be difficult to have a near identical appearance like that. Furthermore, the girl held within Dantalian’s arms is the Demon Lord’s general.”
The Imperial Princess placed her hand on her chin and went into thought.
“I had sent a person to Pavia to confirm this occurrence. Apparently, there was indeed an incident where the slave market was assaulted last autumn. The people of Pavia believe that it was the act of a wild demonic beast.”
“Demon Lord Dantalian most likely slaughtered the people deliberately, regardless of their race, in order to disguise the assault on the marketplace as an attack by beasts. Since both humans and demons had died indiscriminately, there was no other choice but to naturally see it as an act committed by demonic beasts.”
“He is a cruel man, Sir Rosenberg.”
The Imperial Princess’ judgment was infinitely correct. Demon Lord Dantalian was a heartless man. There was no occasion of him having spared the lives of the humans he had captured as prisoners. If it were for victory, then he would calmly corner his subordinates into a deadly situation. Surely, without any room for doubt, Dantalian was a villain who was most suited for the title ‘Demon Lord’.
But why? Why did the scene I had witnessed, after having awoken from being unconscious, feel so sentimental? The scenery which I was uncertain on whether it was reality or a hallucination. Within the sunlight that was similar to fog, Dantalian and the girls were blended together like glares of light. That scene had become a single mystery and was imprinted into my cornea. The further I tried to push that scenery away from my head, the closer it got. However, even that closeness was too far for me to cross over. It felt as if that spot was nirvana.
“Yes, your highness.”
“Habsburg has already given you their faith once.”
The Imperial Princess lifted a dagger.
I slowly closed my eyes. I had come here resolute. The reason why I had not committed suicide was because my individuality considered suicide as an inviolable act. As dying voluntarily was one’s own duty, it was something tremendously extravagant for a traitor who had disgraced his race and ruined his country. My death was no longer my own, and must be the punishment from the country. I have come here to die.
“Your Highness. Enact your justice.”
Unexpectedly, the sound of empty laughter reached my ears.
The blade sliced into the air and cut the rope, freeing both of my hands. Feeling strange that my neck had not been severed yet, I opened my eyes. In front of me, the Imperial Princess was smiling.
“I am not going to take your life.”
“Your body is exceedingly dirty. Why is the margrave, which we only have four of in our empire, not properly maintaining his garment? The basis of one’s mind is in their body, and the basis of one’s body is in their clothes, so if the clothes are messy, then that reveals that the person’s mind is disorderly as well.”
The Imperial Princess undid my collar. Although I tried to back away, the Imperial Princess firmly gripped the edge of my clothes. It was disconcerting. There was no possibility that the Imperial Princess would desire for this old body, so I could not figure out the reason behind her current action.
“It is an order.”
“As a vassal, how could……”
“Were you ever my vassal? Regardless, since you are a criminal of the empire, it would be difficult for you to oppose my words. Or perhaps, will you refuse the words of a lord with the body of a criminal?”
I could not resist.
The Imperial Princess’ white hands went over my chest. As the buttons came undone, my coat slipped off.
Unbefitting of a lady who was born in the Royal Palace, the Imperial Princess’ hands were rough. I vaguely recalled the rumor that from a young age the Imperial Princess had learned how to catch fish from a fisherman, was taught how to hunt birds from a hunter, and learned how to plow fields from a farmer. The aristocrats talked in whispers that it was the Imperial Princess’ eccentric behaviors. The Imperial Princess’ fingers were coarse. This rough sensation proved that the Imperial Princess’ eccentric behaviors were not simply an act of delinquency because of a young age. While enduring the luxury of the Imperial Princess unclothing me, which was not a luxury, I spoke.
“Your highness, the alligator……”
“How did your highness learn how to butcher an alligator?”
“I saw the chef doing it in the Royal Palace.”
“Did the head cook teach your highness?”
“No. I did not receive any lessons. I merely watched.”
The Imperial Princesse pulled the wooden bucket close and dipped a washcloth into it. I was dumbstruck.
“Is your highness telling this one that you had learned the method of wielding the blade to skin leather through observation alone?”
“It is generally like that for me.”
With a splash, the Imperial Princess washed my body with the washcloth. My skin was arid and dry so it received the hot water well. I felt my skin breathing with gasps. As it continued to breathe, my mind became relaxed. The Imperial Princess comforted my exhausted back and shoulders with the towel.
Behind my back, the Imperial Princess spoke.
“Your body tells me of your life. It is proof that you have lived not with your head, but with your body.”
“That is something indecent for a criminal to hear. Please refrain from speaking such words, your highness.”
“Where did you acquire this stab wound on your back?”
“That is a scar this one had gained when this one was 18-years-old and had gone to a battlefield for the first time. While this one was running away in fear, this one was cut by a nameless person.”
“Aha. If it is 18-years-old, then that is the same as my current age.”
Although it was impious, a small laughter flowed from my lips. It was surprising that the Imperial Princess was 18-years-old and strange that I was already past the age of 60. Since the legacy I had walked down from the age of 18 to 60 was so distant, I laughed obscurely. This was something which I could only laugh vaguely about.
“Though the numbers could be nearly the same, this one does not believe that your highness’ feats can be approached by others.”
“You have yielded your allegiance to the Imperial Family for the past 60 years and have been faithful to your people for that long as well, but it seems merely being defeated twice is enough to ruin you. I will console your body.”
“Your humiliation is your own and is something which I cannot cleanse. Therefore, since I cannot clean your mind, consider the thought that I am consoling you by cleansing your body. The path of consideration will at least not be solitary.”
I narrowed my eyes.
As the water flowed, hot steam rose upwards. The steam filled the tent like smoke. The smell of skin emanated from the steam. Whether the alligator, which had its skin peeled off personally by the Imperial Princess’ hands, had enjoyed a deep luxury as an animal, or if I was enjoying a deeper luxury for having my body cleaned by the Imperial Princess as a vassal. I could not decide on which of those two were superior. While receiving the warm steam, I spoke.
“What should this one do?”
“I will lead the knights and withdraw. It is highly unlikely that Barbatos will leave us alone as we retreat. Her viciousness has most likely piled up to the point where she wishes to return to us all the beatings her forces had received up till now in full. You will block our rear.”
“Is your highness telling this one to die while defending?”
“I will not stop you.”
My body trembled.
The Imperial Princess brushed my shoulders with her bare hands. Because her coarse palms had grazed my skin, my inner flesh itched as well.
“However, it will not only be you. My brother shall be there as well. If you let the Crown Prince of the Empire die, then you will most likely become known as a traitor for all of eternity. But, if you are able to safely bring the Crown Prince southwards, then would that not also be a great meritorious deed?”
“……Is your highness giving this one an opportunity?”
“I simply wish to give you an appropriate location.”
The Imperial Princess remarked.
“Even if you are to lose this time as well, I shall not punish the northern region. I swear on the name of Habsburg, so leave while bearing all of your humiliation alone.”
This was an extravagance that a criminal could not hope more for.
I lowered my head.
“These old bones will carry out your order, your highness.”
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