Chapter 17

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The brothel named ‘Innocent Meadow’ was considered to be the best one in this prefecture. It was right next to the shopping district and as big as the district itself.

Its six buildings formed a kind of hexagon. There was only one entrance if you were coming in off the street, which led to the courtyard. Alongside the gardens and several ponds, there were also shops where the local scientists plied their trade.

They sold a variety of drugs and potions for men. One pill worked wonders on their libido and another helped to ease any tensions. That’s how they made their money. Senta, of course, received her fair share of the profits.

They offered a discount to the workers of the ‘Meadow’, as was stipulated in the contract they’d made with Senta. The discounts were quite hefty, considering how much these potions normally cost in shops that sold medicine.

With red lanterns burning everywhere, the girls were easily visible through their sliding windows. They varied in beauty, and their prices were set accordingly. They were having fun: drinking, sleeping and chatting with various customers.

Most of the buildings were two or three stories high. During one typical evening, thousands of people could end up visiting the ‘Meadow’. This was awe-inspiring in a way, since the town itself was rather small, having only three or four million inhabitants. Also, the prices for even the most ordinary of girls were quite high here.

During this ‘extravaganza’ in the central hall, where the most important city officials were having fun, a figure sat there, covered up completely by its black clothes. Nothing of the figure could be seen, only their white gloves as they ran skillfully along the strings of a musical instrument.

The customers ate and drank, laughed and sang. They kept hugging the giggling girls merrily, reaching under their skirts and kissing their satiny necks with their greedy lips, spilling alcohol all over the silk pillows and fleecy carpets. And the figure just kept on playing as it all happened.

Hadjar had gotten used to it. By now, he’d spent as much time in the brothel as he had in the freak show—five years. Just yesterday, he’d turned seventeen.

He had officially spent seventeen years in this world. Seven of them had been happy and carefree, but the remaining ten, however, hadn’t. For ten years now, he’d been living as a powerless freak, unable to take up even a broom, let alone the sword.

“Play louder! I can barely hear you” Some official roared drunkenly and moved his hand back to throw a slipper at Hadjar.

A tiny girl immediately came around the corner. She had red hair, black eyes, and white, almost porcelain skin. Her name was Eina, and she was the daughter of the brothel’s mistress. Smiling charmingly, she whispered something into the official’s ear, and he calmed down.

Moving back, Eina winked at Hadjar. The former Prince wasn’t always able to find company, especially if said company was a cute girl. He was really only friends with one—Stepha. She knew Eina well and had, apparently, put in the right word for him. That’s why Hadjar and the red-haired girl were friends, too.

She often gave him extra food or left him way too generous ‘tips’. Hadjar saved them carefully. He never forgot his primary goal—finding a potion.

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In this world, there were only two ways you could obtain something. Either you took it by force, or you bought it. While the first option wasn’t available to Hadjar, he was hoping that the second one would be his salvation.

***

In the darkness of the dungeon, with only a pervasive stench to keep her company, an old woman hung, suspended on thick, iron chains. Her body was emaciated to the point where she nearly looked like a skeleton. She was covered in numerous cuts, with only a few rags protecting her modesty.

The only sound that disturbed the oppressive silence was the creaking of the unoiled iron hinges.

A broad-shouldered, gray-haired man entered the room. He was wearing a heavy gold crown. Soldiers in blue armor accompanied him, carrying torches. The light from the torches was making him squint.

“Primus,” the woman gurgled out. “You’re so afraid of me that you’ve come with a squadron of guards.”

Without any hesitation, the King slapped her in the face. He didn’t even pause to consider if he should remove his armored glove first. The woman’s head swung limply to the left, and scarlet drops fell to the stone floor.

“Where is it?”

“You need to be more specific, Primus.”

The woman gave him a toothless, horrible smile and then laughed. It was a wild, almost crazy sound.

“Where is the King’s Sword, Nanny?!”

Yes, the Nanny, who had changed so drastically, was the one in the dungeon. Before, it seemed like she practically radiated an aura of health. These days, it was hard to look at her without bursting into tears.

“Didn’t I teach you, Primus…” the former nursemaid of the royal brothers barely grunted out. “That it’s bad to take someone else’s things?”

Another slap to the face, followed by a new cry of pain and a fresh surge of scarlet was Primus’ response to her mockery.

“Ten years, Nanny. Ten years of suffering. Maybe it’s time to stop resisting? Tell me where the King’s Sword is, and it can all end.”

Despite her weariness, the pain she was enduring, when she raised her head to look at him, Nanny’s gaze had a sliver of sanity.

“And hand you the heirlooms of the royal family? You?! The man who murdered his own brother!”

Primus swung, but the third strike didn’t land. He only lowered his hand feebly.

“Haver was weak.”

“Like you’re so strong. You had to chain me to a wall, coward.” The Nanny spat at her former ward. “What about your daughter, Primus? Does she know who she really is? Does she know what actually happened to her parents and brother?”

Primus jerked his head to the side like she’d slapped him.

“You old witch!” He hissed, and, turning around, started walking away from the woman’s prison.

“See you next year, Nanny.”

He was almost gone when he heard her speak. “It might take a year, maybe two or three…but you can feel it, Primus. Am I wrong? You know your time is running out.”

“What do you mean?” Primus turned back.

He only received a dry, croaking laugh in reply. Even the seasoned soldiers shuddered at the sound. It was straight out of a fairytale told to children: the raspy cackle of an evil witch.

“Don’t lie to me, Primus. I can’t see much, thanks to your torturers, but when I lost my eyesight, I gained something else. And I’m sure you haven’t been sleeping much, that you wake up often, drenched in sweat. You can hear him coming to kill you, can’t you? The soft sound of his armor as he moves toward you, the rattle of his sword as he pulls it from its sheath. You can feel the ground itself shaking as your doom approaches.”

“Shut up, old woman.”

“Hadjar is coming.” The toothless smile only further disfigured her already deformed face. “The rightful King is coming for you, Primus. His sword is like a river. His power is as endless as the sky. His rage will incinerate your soul.”

“Hadjar is dead,” Primus growled back. “If he’s alive, he’s hiding in a hole and waiting for death to take him. He’s a freak and a cripple, what could he ever do to me?!”

Nanny only smiled wider.

“Are you trying to convince me or… yourself?”

Primus stood, and the laughter of the witch followed him as he turned around and walked out. He slammed the door forcefully, leaving the woman in complete darkness and solitude once more.

“Hadjar is coming!” He heard her muffled cry from the casemate.

“I warned you…” The Governor was leaning against the wall. He was still as cold and arrogant as ever, and kept looking at his nails. “If you had just killed the boy, none of this would be happening.”

Primus closed his eyes, then abruptly drew his sword and swung it twice. A barely visible black haze remained in the air after each strike. Four dismembered bodies fell behind him in a shower of gore, dropping their torches. Even their artifact armor, that had been forged for them by order of the King, failed to save them.

“Why did you kill them?” The Governor seemed surprised.

“They would’ve betrayed me at some point,” Primus cleaned the blood off his sword.

They’d seen his weakness, they’d heard about the Prince… Primus was right; they would’ve betrayed him eventually.

“Why haven’t you given up on this King’s Sword nonsense by now, Primus? It’s just a legend from your village. If such an artifact did exist, Haver would probably have had it. Not that he could’ve ever understood what it was.”

“It’s not a legend.” The King smoothed his hair down. “I can still remember my great-grandfather giving Nanny a scroll on his deathbed. I noticed that the scroll had a map on it.”

“That map could lead you anywhere,” the Governor laughed.

Primus, ignoring the Imperial b*****d, grabbed a torch from one of the dead men and began climbing back up.

“You should be worrying about the Empire’s share of the ore instead! You were nearly 450 pounds short last time.”

The King only cursed in response. He wandered through the long, empty palace corridors. One of his first decrees had been to expel all the minor nobles from the royal residence. Haver might’ve let them live there, but he had no such plans. The palace was surprisingly empty without those parasites around to fill it up.

The abandoned classrooms no longer had thousands of students in them. The Master, who had used to teach thousands of students on the parade ground, was now all alone, fighting wooden dummies all day long.

It was only possible to glimpse pale, frightened maids occasionally. They feared the King and were careful not to upset him in any way.

“We need more slaves,” Primus whispered to himself.

The mine needed more laborers and the work there was torturously hard. People were dying at a terrifying rate. There were never enough slaves. It was getting hard to find any suitable people from the southern region to replace the losses with.

Primus didn’t notice that he’d come to the lake. The garden in the palace occupied such a large area that the whole lake fit in there. The mountain where Haver’s castle used to stand could be seen in the distance. He almost never visited it, and a squad of soldiers always guarded the ruins.

Primus stood over a nameless and lonely tombstone that had been placed in a rather picturesque place.

“I spared your son,” Primus said in a low voice. “For the sake of your memory, I spared him—and now I can’t sleep. The guard sold him, if you can believe it. He sold your son. I made sure the gold he earned was enough for the rest of his life!”

Primus looked at the golden monument standing in the throne room. Only a few people knew how the sculptor worked—he would pour boiling hot metal directly onto a living person.

“It’s such a nice day today, brother,” Primus said as he let the wind caress his face.

“Remember how we used to sneak out and go into the city on days like this? We’d play with the local boys, and we never lost a single game, not even once.”

Two swans swam along on the placid surface of the lake. They were majestic, beautiful and utterly indifferent to him.

“Do you ever miss those days, brother?” It seemed like Primus was aging noticeably as he stood there. As if the weight of the centuries he’d lived through had fallen on his shoulders, all at once.

“I do. I admit it. But why are you so silent, brother? Answer me.”

“Dad!” someone suddenly shouted from behind him.

Primus turned around.

An incredibly beautiful girl was running across the meadow toward him.

Her skin was whiter than snow and her golden hair was so long that it almost brushed against the ground.

She was as tall as any man could ask for. Her breasts, hidden by her chaste dress, were perky, tantalizing people wherever she went. Her long legs were admired by just as many men, even called art by some.

Her waist was so thin that one could wrap their hands around it and almost touch their fingers together.

“Elaine,” Primus smiled and suddenly looked reinvigorated.

He hugged the girl that had become his light in the endless darkness.

“Dad,” the girl hugged the King back tightly. She hadn’t seen her father for almost a month now. “Have you come to visit my uncle’s grave again?”

The King nodded.

Elaine looked at the nameless headstone angrily. It was the reason she didn’t like this garden.

“You should’ve had it demolished a long time ago! He killed Mom! He even tried to kill you and my brother! All because he wanted the throne…”

“I know, my daughter, I know,” Primus said, stroking Elaine’s golden hair. “But he was still my brother.”

“And why did you make my brother join the army? Now who’s going to ward off my… suitors?”

Primus smiled kindly at her. There was true tenderness and warmth in his gaze, as he looked at her. A whole ocean of it.

“Maybe you should consider accepting someone’s offer.”

“Don’t even joke about that, dad!” Elaine said menacingly. “They’re all stupid and lazy. Not one of them can even hold a normal weapon in their hands. Them being able to actually fight me is out of the question.”

Primus only shook his head.

“With every day that passes, I am more and more convinced that letting you train with your brother was a mistake.”

Elaine laughed again and clung to her father. When she was with him, she felt so safe, so loved.

***

Hadjar awoke from a strange dream. It seemed like an old sword, stuck in stone, was illuminating a dark cave somewhere. It seemed to be calling out to him.

What a silly dream… He thought.

He put on some dark clothes, covered his face and head with a black hood, wrapped himself up in his cloak, looking a bit like a bat, and went out into the city.

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Graestra
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Graestra

I kind of understand the comment on the last chapter now. On top of all the other bad things that have happened to the mc, his sister has been fooled into thinking the man that murdered her parents is her loving dad. The author really seems sadistic towards Hadjar.