Lucia Chapter 12
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Northern Territory (3)
The Northern territory had been under the control of the Taran nobles for an uncountable number of years, to the point that their reign had become unshakable. It was an unwritten rule that even the emperor could not interfere with the North's activities. With such power, the Taran nobles could have seceded to form an independent country, but they had not revolted against the emperor even once.
Most of the population saw the Duke of Taran as the North's King. Even so, the duke's rank only reached the level of the emperor's vassal. Even without orders, the North paid their taxes; when at war, they were the first to fight in the front lines; additionally, they were the ones to take care of the conflicts with the borderland barbarians. If the emperor were to rub the North the wrong way, the duke could possibly shout for secession, causing a great headache. Not all past generations of emperors held the same opinion, but as long as the emperor had a bit of wisdom, he would know the best option was to leave the North to its own devices.
The Taran family had always defended their position as the rulers of the North. They did not interfere with the politics in the capital one bit; they only focused on the problems related to the North. However, that trend had begun to change the slightest bit seven years ago.
The previous Northern Duke had suffered an abrupt death, and the current duke had been conferred the position at the mere age of 18. As soon as he had become the new duke, he'd had to leave his Northern territory and become the vanguard of the various wars occurring throughout the empire.
Duke Taran's military achievements had swept through the battlefields. His art of war had made the heavens and the earth tremble. Knights from other units, who got a chance to fight alongside the duke, had become his loyal followers regardless of who their original masters were.
While Duke Taran had been earning military merit, the Northern territory had been peaceful. The North had been a distance away from the war. No matter how much havoc Duke Taran had caused, the North suffered no consequences.
Hugo never received a formal test to see whether he was qualified to rule over the vast Northern land. He was young and had left the Northern territory on its own for a long time. People had begun to suspect that his only talent was in the art of war, and that his qualification as a ruler was nonexistent. Those were the voices of the ones discontent with the way Duke Taran ruled his territory.
In other territories, the dukes would impose taxes onto the counts of various regions. When the regions paid their imposed taxes, the counts would be given the authority to rule their land as they saw fit.
However, the Northern territory was governed differently. The Taran family controlled all its regions with minute detail. That included everything from taxes to the everyday laws concerning all the citizens. Each past generation of dukes of the Taran family forbade any form of tyranny in any of their regions. The commoners in the Northern territory lived peaceful lives, but many nobles of the North believed that the duke had unfairly stolen their governing rights from them.
The nobles living a safe distance away from the barbarian borderlands felt the duke's military powers were unnecessary to their lives. Those regions, as well as other nobles living closer to the capital, had formed ties and mocked the duke together. They had planned to submit a formal request to the emperor for a secession from the Northern territory, to formally become an independent territory in the Empire. That wasn't all; they had secretly increased the taxes behind Duke Taran's back, and had made a secret fund that would be used for their own private military units.
But those people had made a fatal mistake. They didn't understand the duke's true personality at all.
He couldn't breathe properly because his throat was being strangled. His body felt heavy like it was digging itself into the earth. His head hurt as if a steel pipe was being jammed into it. Count Brown blinked wearily.
He tried to properly open his eyes, but he couldn't. A warm liquid was flowing down from his forehead, and it kept dripping into his eyes. He wiped his forehead roughly with his trembling hands and found clotted blood covering it.
A chilling feeling of dread spread across his back. The count looked back and surveyed his surroundings. The place looked familiar. This was inside the halls of his castle.
He heard muffled crying from somewhere. The count turned around and his eyes grew wide. In a single corner, dozens of people were gathered in a kneeling position. Their faces were stained with messy tears as they hyperventilated and blubbered all at the same time. They clamped their own mouths with the palm of their hands and their breaths were spastic, making for a miserable sight.
He was familiar with them all – his wife, children, and even some of his most loyal subordinates. The people who were slightest bit involved with Count Brown were all there.
He was going to ask what they were all doing there, but his voice wouldn't come out. When Count Brown looked to his family, and their faces turned a degree uglier and messier while bursting into horrible wailing cries. Their eyes were filled with despair and resentment toward Count Brown and he couldn't do anything.
"We've let a rat escape."
"Apologies, My Lord Duke."
The sound of footsteps followed the voices. The sound of leather shoes clacking on the stone floor echoed louder and louder. A group of people entered the hall through the opened door. One person was leading the group, while the others followed behind the man.
Count Brown's eyes grew wide and his body shook like a poplar tree. The leading man had black hair and red eyes. All the residents of the Northern territory identified those unmistakable characteristics. The dukes of Taran all had black hair and red eyes. Even if a person had never seen the Northern territory dukes their whole lives, they would still be able to identify this person instantly.
The count glanced to the side. The moment Count Brown's eyes met with the duke's, he was frightened out of his wits and began to panic while retreating backwards. The duke drew closer to the count; it was as if a snake was drawing closer to a trembling frog. The count couldn't do anything but bow his head and look at the floor.
The duke paused just a step away from the count. He put his cold long sword under the count's jaw, forcing him to look up.
The count wondered why he didn't choose to remain unconscious on the ground. The black-haired man was armored in a single black chest plate stained all over with something. The exact color staining the chest plate could not be seen, but it should have been blood. Especially seeing that the duke's sleeves and pants were drenched in blood.
The duke's sword being held against the count's neck was dyed red with blood. The black-haired man's face was splattered with blood. The count felt hot liquid spilling down his pants. When Duke Taran saw the count piss himself, he furrowed his brows.
"Count Brown. Correct?"
"Your son, who was to inherit your position, escaped alone. Do you have any idea where he could have run off to?"
Tch, Hugo clicked his tongue. The guy had lost most of his sanity and it was too late to get any reliable answers. It seemed it would take a while longer to catch the rat. Hugo stuck his hand out and made a hand signal. A knight immediately brought forth a document. Hugo threw the papers at the count's feet.
"That signature, you were the one to sign it. Correct?"
The count took hold of the document with trembling hands and skimmed over it. It was the petition he was going to send to the emperor. All the related nobles' signatures were neatly organized, along with his own. The ground he was standing on suddenly felt like a bottomless pit. It was as though death was looming right beside him.
"A…trial. I wish to request from the emperor a trial…."
The count's jaw trembled without stop. Count Brown was duke Taran's vassal, but at the same time, Count Brown was also the emperor’s vassal. As one of the emperor's vassals, he had the right to request the emperor to mediate for him. Even though this was the duke, the count couldn't stand around quietly and accept the judgement of treason against the Empire.
A monotone voice mumbled out.
"He says the same things as the guy from this morning."
The count felt a chilling fear wash over his whole body. He heard Death whispering in his ears. Without hesitation, he prostrated himself on the floor.
"Please have me-mercy! Spare me my life! Your Grace!"
His only thought was to get out of this situation with his life. He was prepared to do anything for his life. The count wanted to show how much accumulated wealth he could offer to the duke, but he couldn't gather enough courage to speak. It felt like he was suffering a heart attack, his chest felt tight. Tears started uncontrollably spilling from his eyes.
"They seem to be exact clones of each other."
His voice was full of disdain.
"Lift your head."
The count lifted his head very fast as if someone was pulling on his hair. His eyes met indifferent blood red eyes. One couldn't find the smallest amount of rage or excitement. The count was scared exactly because of that reason. He could feel the hidden killing intent that was behind those indifferent eyes. Those were the eyes of a predator lying in wait to pounce on its prey.
"Kugh… Have mer…cy…"
The count watched the sword dig deep into his heart. Even so, he didn't think to try and step back, and simply stood there trembling. The sword continued to stab deeper and the count's body convulsed exponentially worse. His eyes rolled to the back of his head as blood spurted from his mouth.
The knights had already witnessed the duke's murderous nature many times before, and had become numb to the sight. Instead, they were watching the duke with admiration. 'That maneuver is very difficult. He didn't use his full strength, but his sword pierced through the armor into the flesh as if the count were made out of tofu.' That was the reason Fabian called all of the duke's hand-picked knights crazy.
Hugo didn't flinch even once while watching the various emotions emerge on the dying person's face. He continued to push his sword in until the spasming body turned into a corpse. That person had died more from horror than the pain. As soon as that person's breath ceased, he swiftly pulled his sword out of the body and slashed it across the neck.
The bones snapped and the severed head rolled on the floor.
The count's relatives, who were gathered in the corner, broke their silence and started screaming.
When the knights heard the duke's low voice, they peered at each other and started walking toward the count's people. As the knights drew closer, the gathered nobles began to wail.
Fabian yelled while running in.
"You cannot kill them all! Then, nobody will be left to work here! The administration will be at a standstill!"
The knights paused in their steps; the remaining family members clamped their mouths shut while trying to muffle their cries, and looked toward Fabian like he was their hope of life. The duke was frightening like a vampire drenched in blood. Nevertheless, Fabian didn't seem affected by that at all, and yelled while stomping his feet.
"I thought I told you to bring some people to Roam."
"Do you think the population of Roam is high? There is a limited amount of people who are qualified to work here."
"There are no exceptions."
A total of 13 lords had conspired together, and Hugo had visited seven locations thus far. Six regions were turned into a mess after his visit. The lords' vassals and any of their remaining children were killed in cold blood. The number of people killed had amounted to a few hundred.
"Can't you make a few exceptions? The amount of work after all your surprise visits has piled so high that my back is going to break. Break, I tell you!"
"I'll exterminate all sources of possible troubles. What are you doing? Do you expect me to do everything myself?"
The knights complied and immediately drew their swords. A pandemonium of swords clashing, screams, and cries exploded. In a few moments, about 50 people had turned into a pile of meat. The smell of blood quickly filled the halls.
Fabian let out a deep sigh. He could see his work snowballing bigger and bigger. Ah, really! Why did they have to monkey around without knowing their place and increase his workload! Fabian felt more concerned for his holidays than all the people dying in front of his eyes. In the eyes of the knights, Fabian seemed much crazier than them.
'I've already predicted this, but… he really kills all these people like bugs.'
Fabian's thoughts on the cruel reality were short. He had become too accustomed to it. All the blame had gone to those who had started the mess in the first place.
'If it were me, I would rather choose suicide. Those idiots.'
These nobles didn't understand the Northern Ruler's temper at all. Hugo hated making anything complicated. When something got tangled into a mess, he would rather cut it off than try and attempt to untangle it again. If he was unsatisfied with something, there was no such thing as forgiveness. Fabian thought his Lord Duke was too cruel from time to time, but it was a hundred times better than an indecisive ruler.
"We will depart tomorrow morning."
The knights answered firmly. Fabian, who stood to the side, let out a heavier sigh. The way he took care of problems was so swift. At that rate, he would settle everything within a month's time.
Thirteen region lords wasn't something to laugh about. Individually, their territories were small, but all together, they added up to a big part of the Northern territory. However, Duke Taran's knights were not some everyday normal talents. They had been fighting against the borderland barbarians for years, and they had all grown stronger exponentially during all that time. They all held a lot of real life experience, and their killing skills were of another level. Additionally, Duke Taran personally trained with the knights every day; there was no way they could relax for even a moment.
The duke and the knights had been crisscrossing the wide Northern territory, dealing with the murderous borderland barbarians. By now, they were nothing but killing machines. To these knights, such situations were like jumping into a fight against a flock of sheep.
A knight entered the hall with quick steps to relay information to the chief knight. Chief knight Elliott passed on the information to the duke.
"They've caught him."
"Bring him here." (Hugo)
Several knights communicated with each other through nods and left the hall. In a short while, two knights came in while dragging a man and restraining his arms at the same time. The man was a mess himself, but as soon as he saw the chaos within the halls, he started to scream. Just then, a knight struck the man behind his neck, causing him to tumble onto the floor.
The man crawled on the floor while spastically wailing. The duke wasn't so kind-hearted to let the man continue crying. He was about the kick him, but stopped when the crying man started laughing.
Was he crazy? But the man's eyes belonged to a sane person.
"Shut up. Before I decide to snap your neck."
The duke's quiet but murderous threat put a stop to the man's laugh, who breathed roughly trying to calm himself down. He kneeled and slammed his forehead on the floor.
"Please kill me."
That was a first. The first time someone didn't beg for their life.
Fabian understood the duke was questioning the man and intervened.
"He's the son of Count Brown's previous wife. It's been just over one year since it was decided he would succeed his father, but it seems they set this up so he would become a sacrificial lamb in case their plan failed."
"The others didn't prepare something like that." (Hugo)
"Count Brown was always detailed in everything he did." (Fabian)
"Leave that man in charge of this place." (Hugo)
"Please kill me! Your Grace!"
The duke had said he would save the man and leave the region to him, but he was still going on about dying. Fabian glared at him, wondering whether the man had really gone insane. He was relieved that his workload had decreased, but it seemed he had rejoiced too soon.
"I loathe the blood… flowing inside this body of mine."
The man was looking at his own two hands with disgust, while the duke watched on with a blank look. A crooked smile formed on Hugo's lips.
"You hate the blood inside your veins, yet you cannot kill yourself. Then you must live on while bearing that pain."
Just like how he couldn't discard the blood ties inside himself.
The man looked up at Hugo with shocked eyes. Hugo turned his back to the man.
"My name is Hue. In my language, it means demon, devil, something of that sort."
"Hugh? Woah. We look the same and even have similar names! My name is Hugo."
"Not Hugh, Hue. Idiot."
"Hue, Hue, Hugh. If you say it fast it's all the same. Hugh. Your name is Hugh."
"I thought I was all alone up until now. But now we are not alone anymore. Right, Hugh?"
"Idiot. Your brain is so bright that it burned up. Don't you understand what our old man is going to do? Whether it is you or me, one of us will be killed."
"I will protect you."
"You groveling bastard."
"You can protect me too."
Recalling his past, his cold-blooded heart still hurt as though needles were stabbing through it.
"This is for your own good, Hugh. I love you my brother(1)."
Hugo wanted to say one thing to his brother, who had already left this world.
'You are wrong.'
If it was for his own good, his older brother should have stabbed him dead with his sword. His older brother had thrown him away to this pathetic and dirty world.
'I need alcohol.'
Even so, he couldn't get drunk. Even if he drank all the alcohol in the world, he wouldn't get drunk. No matter how much he enjoyed alcohol, girls, and killing, he couldn't get drunk off them. The Taran family's bloodline was terrible like that. Thus, he was a monster.
No matter how much he bathed in the blood of others, he could instantly change himself into an honorable noble. Those two identities reflected his true self.
The world he lived in… was too tiresome.
Lucia went to explore the sights of Roam in her spare time. There wasn't a place Lucia was restricted from visiting. Many structures were built surrounding the high central tower, while tall inner walls encircled the whole place. If one looked to the east, south, north, and west, one could locate four more towering structures. When one climbed to the top of those towers, one could see all of Roam with a bird's eye view.
However, she was restricted from visiting the west tower. The west tower's door was tightly locked. She had visited the place many times before, but it had remained locked, so she decided to ask the maids who were following her.
"Why is this place locked? Bring me the keys."
"Madam, it would be better if you did not enter this place."
The maids answered with extreme discomfort.
"It is haunted by ghosts."
The maid shivered like she was explaining an unspeakable tale, while Lucia snickered a few moments later.
"Ghost? Did anyone see it?"
The maid went on with a passionate speech about all the people who had witnessed the horrifying ghost, bringing up even a friend's friend's story, along with the tales that a distant relative had relayed to her. Still, that meant that she had not seen the ghost personally, and the person who had seen the ghost was nobody very close to her either. It was a random rumor that she had picked up by chance.
"Then why does the ghost appear here? There should be a reason, right?"
"…I'm not sure of the exact reason either. But everyone says ghosts appear here."
Lucia continued to ask the maid different questions on the topic and found out that most citizens of Roam knew of the story. If the story had spread to that degree, it wasn't just a simple rumor, but there had to be another underlying reason. Lucia instantly thought of a person who could quench that curiosity of hers.
"Jerome, I have something to ask you."
The words 'I have something to ask you' were the ones that made Jerome cower in fear the most. His heart sank heavily, and cold sweat dripped from his face.
"Yes, Madam. Please speak."
"It's about the west tower. I saw that you've locked the place. Everyone says a ghost is haunting it. Does a ghost really dwell there?"
Jerome swallowed hard. As expected of Her Grace, she didn't ask any ordinary questions.
"…There are such rumors, but I've never seen a ghost in my life."
"That means you've been inside the tower before?"
"Yes. However, people kept spreading rumors that whoever enters it faces bad luck. So we decided to restrict people from entering altogether."
"There should be a reason. Why does the rumor continue to this day?"
"…That is because someone has died in that place before."
"It wasn't… an ordinary accident, was it?"
"Yes. Someone was murdered."
She let out a sad sigh with her mouth, but her eyes were glittering.
"Who, why, and how? How could someone be murdered within the castle walls? It must not have been an ordinary murder case."
Hhaa. Jerome let out a heavy sigh. He was contemplating whether it was something he should truthfully relay to Her Grace.
But in the end, he decided it was something the lady of the house should know of. In Jerome's mind, Lucia was already the perfect Taran family's duchess.
"It was a case before I was hired as the butler of the castle, so all my knowledge is second-hand as well. The people who died in the west tower were the previous Taran Duke and Duchess."
Lucia inquired about the topic with a light heart as if she was reading a mystery novel, however upon his words, her face stiffened.
"…Heavens. No… why?"
"This is part of the secret history of Duke Taran. It happened long ago and not many people know of it. However, I thought Madam should know of this."
There had been a long investigation. Lucia tensely listened.
"I've told you before that His Grace had a twin brother."
"The previous duke feared that his children would fight in order to succeed after him. Therefore, he made a cruel decision. He decided to let one of his sons succeed him and abandon his other son. I'm not sure whether the duke decided to kill his own child. However, the child that was thrown away matured and appeared before the ducal couple, then ended their lives with his own hands."
'Oh my god.' The shocking truth of the Taran family's secret history began to sink in, making her hands tremble.
"At the time, His Grace was not in Roam and was able to escape death. I wasn't present at the castle then, so I'm not too sure of the exact details of this case, either. "
To have experienced something so painful. She had assumed that he had never experienced anything painful in his life.
"Then… his twin brother… killed his own parents?"
"The previous duke was indeed the father, but the duchess was not his mother. I heard that their mother died giving birth to them."
It was grotesque that a child would kill his own father, but she felt a bit of relief that he had not killed his own mother. Maybe it was because of her own personal experiences. Lucia's father was someone who didn't deserve even her disdain, but her mother was all the love she'd had in this world.
"He is a very…strong person. I cannot even begin to fathom that he has experienced something so cruel…"
"Yes, His Grace is a very strong person."
Lucia felt a little sad as she understood where his strength might have originated from. She wished to tightly hug him at this moment. Maybe he didn't give any attention to his past anymore. As a result, her own feelings could become an annoyance to him. However, she wished to help console him in some way. He could be a bit selfish and say some hurtful things, but at this moment, she thought she could forgive him anything.
(1) I love you my brother: The literal translation is "I love you my little brother, my older brother." They are twins, thus this phrase. But I don't think it makes that much sense to a lot of people. To reduce confusion, I've reworded it.
Lucia Chapter 12
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Lucia Chapter 12 summary
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