Valgrind used his teeth to bite out a chunk of roasted Deer meat from his skewer. He savored the texture of the flesh and the powerful spices that enhanced the flavor. Valgrind sat in front of a campfire next to Zolgrind, who sat to his right. His brother is busy munching on his fourth skewer already.
“Slow down, Zol! There is plenty of meat left.”
“Do you know how rare it is to find Sambar Deer meat, Garam Masala, and Red Salt? I cannot believe the bandits had so many luxurious ingredients in their hideout.”
“They probably looted it off some rich nobles or trade merchants.”
“Pretty recently too! Judging by how fresh the ingredients are in the stores.”
The Senior Knight walked over to where the twins were seated by the fire. He offered them both freshly cooked skewers of roasted vegetables and mushrooms.
“It is not healthy to only eat meat for dinner, young masters. You are still growing into manhood, so you need a balanced diet.”
“I swear! You and old Senu were put on this escort to just baby us all day, weren’t you?” Zolgrind said as he frowned. He really hated being told to eat vegetables by his father and grandmother.
“I added enough butter and spices to make it worthy of your tastebuds.”
Valgrind almost coughed out his meat at that joke.
The Senior Knight is his father’s longest-serving warrior subordinate. He had served under the twin’s grandfather as a teenager. This is why he was chosen by their father to guard their lives. Whenever he was called away on hunting or military expeditions.
Everyone called him Senior Knight because he was the oldest and the highest-ranking Knight in House Candon. However, some say his personal name is difficult to pronounce, so everyone preferred to address him this way instead.
Senu, the old Mage, defected to the Candon House when his original tribe of Lizardmen had exiled him for practicing forbidden magic. Though Valgrind had no idea about the details of that event. All he knew was that Senu secretly watched over him and Zolgrind from the shadows against all kinds of Mage-related threats.
“Young Masters, are you sure it is alright for my men to be enjoying this rich food like pigs?”
The Senior Knight pointed towards his subordinates, who all sat around several separate fire pits. Each group was digging into their food like Zolgrind and crying tears of joy. They joked around and sang songs while drinking mugs filled with fine brews.
“We might as well consume them all rather than letting it rot under the elements or picked apart by scavengers.” Valgrind reasoned.
“True, but this kind of ingredients and drinks cannot be stolen from your average merchant. It must definitely belong to one of the great houses in Prandaval or the royal families of Tarelam.”
“If it was all destined for House Candon, then we have nothing to worry about. As for the other houses, I doubt they will sponsor an expedition to recover these goods or seek retribution against common bandits.
Anyways we can claim we killed the bandits and looted the spoils of war.”
“Is that allowed?” Zolgrind asked in surprise.
“How else will someone be incentivized to search and destroy bandits. They are masters at running away from organized armies. So adventurers such as bounty hunters and contracted mercenaries are the only ones willing to do the job.” Valgrind explained.
“How do you know all this stuff, Val?”
“I considered becoming an adventurer at one point and decided to research how they make a living. Bandits and Mercenaries were the main sources of revenue for adventurers. However, some bandit or mercenary groups are too powerful for beginner adventurers to handle. Their survival rate is pretty low because of that, and very few chose to remain as adventurers past their thirties and seek professions that provide a stable income.”
“It is a wise choice to avoid that profession, young master Valgrind. Adventurers are no different than bandits or mercenaries because they have nothing to fight for other than glory and gold from whoever offers or possesses it. At the first sign of things going sour, they flee or renege on their word. On the other hand, professional soldiers and Knights fight for their King, Country, and family. Those who break their oaths die a coward’s death. Knights and soldiers know they will be rewarded with a good pension if they do their jobs right. Their families will be taken care of if they have sacrificed their lives. But, unfortunately, so many choose the military and stick to it till the grave like me.” The senior Knight explained.
“These bandits were pretty weak then since they all got taken out by a girl.”
Zolgrind questioned as he glanced at the gravesite where the Knights buried them at the edge of their campsite.
“Senu said it was her doing, but I do not understand how she could have done that. She was too shy to even accept my invitation to our home.” Valgrind recollected.
“Speaking of Senu, I think he is almost done with the interrogation. Maybe she finally told him how she did it and how her family ended up here.”
The three of them glanced towards the makeshift bamboo cage constructed by the knights to hold Emilia Rodes. Her hands and feet have been bound by Senu’s magic. The old Lizardman sat outside the bamboo cage interrogating the poor girl for the past two hours.
Valgrind could see him finally getting up. Senu then walked over to where Valgrind, Zolgrind, and the senior Knight were eating their dinner.
“Can I have one of those? I am famished!” Senu said hungrily.
“Have all of mine! I am stuffed already.” The senior Knight said as he passed three skewers filled with roasted meat and mushrooms.
“How is she, Senu?” Valgrind asked.
“Miss Rodes is very unstable right now. I cannot expect anything else given the circumstances. But, she did answer most of my questions when her unique ability did not work on me or dispel my magic.”
“Did you learn anything from her?” The senior Knight asked.
Senu let out a tired sigh before answering.
“The story may be hard for you all to hear, but I fear it might be true and needs to be heard.”
“Just tell us Senu!” Zolgrind demanded.
“It seems young master Valgrind had offered her an invitation to continue their discussion about the All-Father at his home. Her family wanted to see the Candon castle and hopefully get a free meal at our celebratory feast.”
“Could they not afford food?” Zolgrind interrupted.
“I do not think it was out of hunger. It is not every day the common folk of Tarelam gets an invitation from a noble. I am sure they just wanted to see whether the young master would keep his word.” The senior Knight argued.
“Whatever the reason they had, Miss Rodes did not wish to deny them that opportunity due to her shy nature. But when they arrived at our castle, they were denied entry by young master Valgrind himself.”
“What kind of sick game are you playing with people, Val?” Zolgrind demanded.
“What… what are you talking about? I did not meet them after receiving my blessing.” Valgrind replied in confusion.
“If you did not meet them, then who denied them entry at the gate?” Senu asked before a thought struck him. The senior Knight and Valgrind had the same idea as they all looked toward Zolgrind.
“What are you looking at me for?”
“Zol! You went to the gate to meet and greet the guests alone that night, right?”
“Yes, so what?”
“Did you see Miss Rodes and her family?” Senu asked.
“There were so many people who arrived that night. I just welcomed everyone we knew… oh… wait, I think one of the guards asked me if I recognized a family of poor people from Tarelam. I had no idea who they were and said no. Maybe the guards told them to leave. But they should have contacted Valgrind if the family knew him. So why did they ask me to identify them?”
Senu massaged his forehead while the Senior Knight let out a hoarse cough.
“Zol, I did not tell them I have an identical twin. So they might have thought you were me when they saw you at the gate.”
“Even if I was the one who denied them entry to the feast. How does that connect with that family ending up with bandits?” Zolgrind replied in defiance.
“When they were denied entry, they were shocked and outraged by the change in treatment. The young boys of the Rodes family yelled out curses at what they thought was Valgrind and tried to throw a few rocks at him. This action got them all arrested by our Castle guards.” Senu explained.
“They are just kids… why arrest them?” Valgrind asked.
“The heads of the three great families are technically the government of Prandaval. Therefore, anyone who acts aggressively towards their family members is seen as a criminal.” The senior Knight explained.
“Did the guards report the arrest to our father?” Valgrind asked.
“According to Miss Rodes, our Lord Candon instructed the house guards to hand over the Rodes family to the Head of the Great House of Borlo as slaves. He deemed slavery preferable to death for any foreigner who dared to attack his son.” Senu answered.
Both the twins yelled in shock.
“Young Masters, your father… our Lord Candon did not become the Head of the house by being nice. He used to make slaves out of the defeated enemy troops he captured in battle. So this action is not a surprise to Senu and me.” The Senior Knight explained.
“Why did he deal in slavery? Is it not a heinous practice? How come no one told us about this?” Zolgrind asked.
“Young masters, the both of you are still eleven years old. But since it is necessary to explain your father’s actions, I will have to explain how House Candon and Prandaval prospers.
The Great House of Candon has always been a family of warriors. Our armies are the best forces Prandaval can deploy on the field. However, building and maintaining a mighty army is not as simple as assembling a group of village men together. Youngsters and most commoners overlook training, weapons, armor, clothing, food, blacksmiths, tents, blankets, steeds, and wages to maintain an army.
Taxes on citizens of Prandaval cannot cover the bills to maintain the army we possess without crippling our economy. Therefore, to solve this financial burden, the great houses agreed to let House Candon keep all the spoils of war. This includes the enemy combatants that are captured.
Their highest officers are ransomed to their families. At the same time, the rest are sold as slaves to wealthy families of Prandaval or Slave Merchants. They are given as gifts to the houses of Arlon and Borlo on special occasions. In this case, our Lord Candon might have deemed it necessary to placate the Head of the house of Borlo with slaves as a form of compensation in secret that night.” Senu explained.
Valgrind did not feel like eating anymore. He felt in his stomach for not knowing something so horrific about his family legacy.
“Then why were we taught that slavery is bad?” Zolgrind asked.
“That is because it is a bad practice, one that we wish could have been avoided. Long before the All-Father appeared in our history, most of the Human race in the southern lands of Roduna were slaves to the Elvan.
I am not sure about how we all ended up as slaves, but that is how the story goes. Centuries passed until one day, we rebelled against the Elvan. Escaped slaves captured the military forts, iron mines, and forges that produced steel. With those resources, they created heavily armored cavalry, heavy infantry, and heavy artillery. The Elvan, who specialized in the bow and light infantry, could not quell the rebellion and ended up losing half of their territory, which eventually became Prandaval. But to keep the Elvan from invading, the new army had to be maintained. All of which required a tremendous amount of steel and trained manpower to maintain. We made all nonhumans our slaves, but we decided to put our own race in chains again to fund the war machine somewhere in our history. The other races copied our model, and it has become a necessary evil.” The senior Knight explained.
“Val! How come you never told me about this before? Did you not read this in your books about Prandaval history?” Zolgrind questioned.
“I knew that Prandaval was once part of Tarelam. The Elvan were the rulers, but I did not know that we were all slaves. Nor that we practiced slavery in Prandaval to maintain our army.” Valgrind defended.
“Sometimes it is better to edit out certain unsavory parts of our history to instill pride in our nation when we are young.” The senior Knight reasoned.
Valgrind and Zolgrind sat in silence as they processed this revelation. If things had been this way for countless years, there was little chance that the system could be changed.
Unless… a particular figure came along and forced all the races to stop fighting each other. If the figure is powerful enough to wipe out large armies, society could be changed from the top down.
Valgrind looked at his vision from a new lens. Maybe the future version of him did not turn evil. Could he have been fighting alone because he was trying to change the system?
“So, what happened to Emilia Rodes and her family after they became slaves to the Borlo family?” Valgrind asked Senu. He wanted to refocus on the present and think about the future later.
“The Borlo family investigated where her family came from and found out that they belonged to Tarelam. Since there is a treaty that allows our Kingdoms to buy back our citizens for ransom. They loaded onto a caravan headed to Tarelam.” Senu answered.
“So they would have been freed from slavery? You made it sound like they were slaves for life.” Zolgrind asked with relief shown on his face.
“Remember when I said ‘Buy Back’? They would have to repay their debt to whichever royal family member bought them. Seven family members are already worth a huge sum of gold, on top of five of them being quintuplets and eleven years old. I doubt they would have earned enough to buy their freedom for decades.” Senu clarified.
“Then their merchant caravan got ambushed by bandits, failed to fight them off, and got captured or killed on their way to Tarelam?” The senior Knight guessed.
“Yes, although the Merchants of the Caravan were spared. The contracted mercenaries hired to protect the caravan were stripped of their weapons and returned to Prandaval. Only Miss
Rodes and her family along with all the goods were taken to this hideout.” Senu clarified.
“It sounds like the mercenaries were in on the ambush to me.” The Senior Knight said as he scratched his chin.
“That may be the case, though things took a turn for the worse when the boys tried to make an escape attempt. Their parents were beaten to death to serve as an example for trying to escape. But this triggered the unique ability within Miss Rodes to go berserk.”
“Let her ability go Berserk? What does that mean?” Valgrind asked.
“The ‘Ancient Draconic Arts’ is a volatile ability that gets triggered by emotions. Basically, when she lost her parents, the emotional turmoil caused her to lose control and let her ability go berserk on the bandits-“
“Can I do it as well?” Zolgrind interrupted with a question.
“There have been cases of humans being able to go Berserk, but there are too few examples. It is a state of mind that comes naturally to Lizardmen, Orcs, Cyclopians, Torus, and Dwarven. Their combat power explodes for a short duration under its effects. Abilities that they could not use before suddenly get unlocked during this period. Since their emotions are in the driver’s seat of their actions, they cannot distinguish between friend or foe and attack everyone around them. Unfortunately for Miss Rodes, she ended up killing all the bandits and her four brothers as well.” Senu explained.
“She killed her brothers?” Valgrind asked in shock.
“Yes, she only realized what she had done when it was all over. That was why we found her crying in the bandit hideout with the corpses.”
Silence filled the air as they all processed the unfortunate fate that befell the Rodes family because of a stupid misunderstanding.
Valgrind felt responsible for this entire mess. Why did he have to show off his knowledge about the ancient temple to that family? Why did he even invite her to his home? Did his need to make a friend who could share his interest ruin her life? What he had just gone with his brother to the gate and identified them when they arrived would have changed everything? If he had just kept his mouth shut that day, could he have prevented all of this from happening? The answer was evident to him now.
“But it does not explain how the bandits have claw and bite marks. So all she can do is use the Dragon roar, right?” Zolgrind pointed out.
“I believe that her legacy ability not only paralyzes the minds of her enemies but also allows her to transform parts of her body for a short period. My Guru, who had the same legacy, could only use the roar. Since he was a Lizardmen, there was no need to transform the body. Like young master Zolgrind’s blessing, this could be a legacy that has evolved. It might be why it was blessed to a human.” Senu reasoned.
“Enough!” Valgrind yelled.
“Why is she still in that cage and bound up?” Valgrind asked Senu.
“I thought you needed to hear the whole story before making a decision, young master. But, unfortunately, there is a high chance that she blames you and the House of Candon for the destruction of her life and family.”
“I need to take responsibility for my actions which had indirectly caused the death of six people. I may not have killed them directly, but I know that I am the spark that ignited this tragedy.”
“Val, I am at fault too! But, do not blame yourself.” Zolgrind pleaded as he noticed his brother was in pain.
“No, you had no idea who they were, and that is not your fault. I chose not to come with you, and I am the one who invited Emilia Rodes. Therefore it is my responsibility.”
“Young master, blaming yourself will not fix anything.” The Senior Knight reasoned.
“That is why I will do everything I can to help her. Even if she hates me and is a stranger to me. I have to make sure she does not suffer anymore because of me and my family. Otherwise, I cannot live with the guilt that is clouding my mind.”
“What do you plan to do, Val?”
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