When Castor pulled out the sword, Hannah collapsed with her abdomen oozing blood.
It burned her white dress like an inferno before the fire spread like a wildfire. Blood. The fiery red blood. (1) I thought I had gotten used to it but once I saw her bleeding body, my entire body tingled. Why? What was going on?
“You are now under arrest for revealing taboo information to an unnamed maid, ignorant princess.”
Why? Within the arms of two other knights, I witnessed Hannah being dragged away to someplace behind Castor. Bess and the other maids in the hall were all screaming. I was just staring blankly from where I was and staring at the pool of red that Hannah left behind.
As if he already did his part, Castor walked towards me and placed his hands on my shoulders.
‘Did you know?’
He whispered to me in the faintest of voices whilst smiling elegantly, looking nothing like the man who was just now holding a blade to my neck and threatening me.
“I think you misunderstood.”
I could not allow myself.
I must not cry.
I must not scream.
I had been suffering from my tangled nerves. Despite my countless deaths, it was surprising to know that I could still be this shocked.
“That child encouraged you and led you to this strange place, right?”
Led? Who did? Hannah? Did he mean Hannah?
“Yes… I-I think so.”
I managed to crack a smile. My maid, who had been smiling and chatting with me just a few hours ago, looked so miserable again. Was Hannah still alive? My maid who had been dragged into some corner with her chest soaked in red, I had not hoped for Castor’s recognition for even a single moment but this was not right! This was not right! What wrong did Hannah and I commit to suffer from his hand?
‘Don’t do anything.’
It smelled like blood in here.
“That child did wrong… You didn’t do anything wrong, did you?”
I was fine. Yet I did not know why I felt like crying and why my body was shivering like I was actually sick.
If this man was really ruined, then what of the times I had suffered through?
“Yes, you’re extremely right to say that, brother.”
Bastard. Fucking bastard. I would never forgive him. If only I had powers, I would have directed them all towards the central palace. Why did this bandit come all the way to the west?
A silent sob broke out of me. Why? No matter how tragic of a life he led, that gave him no right to trample on others. The one he had trampled on, Hannah, was someone who just lived her life happily day to day. He made someone who had been living like that to become a corpse. He did.
“Are you sure you’re innocent?”
Castor leaned forward slightly so that he was at my eye level before gently sweeping his hand over my shoulders. With a beautiful and captivating smile in front of my eyes.
“… Yes. I’m i-innocent.”
I closed my eyes.
The sky was still bright and brilliant but it was yet another bloody scene with Hannah dying today.
“Will you do anything for me?”
My hands that helplessly reached out for him were captured in his. His eyes fluttered sadly like the wings of a butterfly.
Slowly, I grabbed Castor’s hands and brought them to my cheek.
“For my… brother, I can do anything.”
Resisting my disgust, I smiled.
The disgust welling inside of me was making me sick. The Duke approached us and after taking a glance at me, wiped off the blood on Castor’s cheeks. What I just saw only contained meaningless feelings and I closed my eyes to look away from something I could not understand.
The bystander. He picked up the blade that had been thrown aside by Castor before throwing it at one of the knights. He wiped the blood off the blade before placing it back inside the scabbard.
Smiling, Castor said.
“Even my mother had been disgusted by me and ran away. You expect the best from me and like me without ever having seen my face before.”
In my cold and subdued eyes, I managed to get a glimpse of an unknown and unreadable expression on his face.
“You welcomed me.”
He grabbed my cheek and rubbed against it gently. At the way he treated me like a baby with the uncharacteristically gentle motion of his fingers, an indescribable emotion boiled within me, making me want to cry. Upon further inspection, I realised that there was something red at the tip of his fingers.
Castor kept his eyes on me the whole time before raising my chin and forcing me to face him.
“I’ll do whatever you want.”
What was he talking about? What did he mean? Not a distance away, my maids remained terrified of the Duke and the countless knights. But for some reason, I could only sense Castor and I in this space between us.
“I’ll spare the sinner.”
Leaving my cheeks alone, I could not blink and continued looking at Castor. At the edges of his golden irises, the brilliance of his eyes were being surrounded by a band of black. I thought his eyes were completely gold. His eyes were even more brilliant close up. He looked cold, merciless and a little inhumane.
Eyes that did not look to have belonged to a human.
Watching Castor’s mouth slowly open, I thought there would still be hope that I would stay alive and move on to the future.
What a ridiculous idea I had. I still did not know whether or not Hannah was alive. His enchanting voice melted my ears.
“Hernan. I heard that the person running an errand for the Education Minister died.”
The Duke replied softly and gently.
Castor turned towards me. As if a towering waterfall was going to fall upon me, I was struck by his majesty. He let go of my cheek and placed his hand on my cheek. Playfulness was evident in his narrowed eyes.
I blinked. As soon as my eyelashes fluttered open, something flashed like lightning before striking me.
“So there was a spot.”
At last, I was notified of his decision.
“I’ll allow you to be by my side.”
Back to looking bored, Castor said his piece before turning around.
Along with the platoon of knights and the white-haired Duke, everyone left the Terena Palace. They kicked up clouds of dust and when the dust settled, only red footprints remained on the floor.
No one, including me, spoke a word from wherever they were.
I stepped up and looked around the bloodied floor before running towards Hannah.
“S-she’s still breathing!”
“Hurry, move her!”
No one spoke until a group of maids huddled into Hannah’s room.
Hannah fortunately managed to live but it was not easy to find a templar who was versed in medicine to heal her. However, after a while, Fleon came panting and Hannah’s treatment was complete. I asked everyone present to leave.
The space left was filled with old furniture and dust. In the small room, only I remained standing.
Hannah’s face was reddened by her fever and she was panting. I held her hand before whispering softly and sadly.
How did we end up like this? I continued between sobs.
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
I did not know whether I should be sorry but I felt sorry for her.
I did not shed any tears. But I still felt so much sadness that I could not just express it with some tears.
The 10th day of Habermia.
I was alive.
And I had become one of the Crown Prince’s servants and messengers.
3.5 Amor Noté
With his sad blue eyes, he said that he would die whether or not he ate. The older child urged the young child to make a choice. The young child who had just lost his mother could not nod or shake his head whilst in tears.
“Amor. Do you want to live?”
The noble and respectable boy looked at himself with his dull eyes and that became the earliest memory he could recall of his life. Like the first words of a novel.
The older child introduced himself as Castor before whispering, “I’m your brother.”
When he was a child, Amor’s world was small yet endless.
“The sun. The moon. The flower.”
He could not yet form complete sentences and instead his mother would whisper to him corrections.
“Is bright. Is gentle. Is pretty.”
A ghost story spread about the two wearing hats who lived in the palace. It was said that a moronic woman from the far south raised her son alone. In fact, they claimed that the rumour was true after someone reportedly met the boy’s mother and testified her terribly deformed appearance with part of her lips split to the left.
‘A woman abandoned by the Emperor.’
His mother had many titles but as far as he could remember, they all referred to the same thing.
When the boy’s maternal grandmother had been six months pregnant with him, she drank Labercho juice. It was considered poison for the fetus that was going to come out of the womb.
She did not want a child because there were so many other things she wanted to do.
However, contrary to what she thought would happen, she gave birth to the child. The baby was a very healthy girl. The only problem was that her lips were stuck to her philtrum. So, her appearance was the problem.
“I can’t believe I gave birth to a harelip!”
Throughout the rest of her life, she was trapped in the storeroom. (2) All she saw were small bushes and wildflowers that were randomly planted in a small plot of land. She was naturally overwhelmed when she listened to people talk because she did not have many opportunities to learn more knowledge, common sense, manners and etiquette.
Her mother’s house was situated on the land of Tellus, the God of Plants. It also contained the most beautiful temple in the southern region. The place was run by Templar Hierba, her father, and had the largest grain fields in the entirety of the Empire with rich lands that support the growth of colourful flowers to grow at any time of the year.
However, about 300 years ago, the temple lost its ability to nurture the lands it supported but the remnants it left behind were still considered honorable. When Hierba’s child turned 18, the Emperor visited the lands.
“Call the God of these lands.”
The ruler of the Empire brought with him a great army of mighty knights behind him and ordered for an extremely rare visit by an extremely prestigious God. The 125th Hierba was the owner of the land of Tellius and was a noble who already pledged his allegiance to the Emperor and was a templar only in name.
He would do anything to protect his lands.
“I will gladly give up my daughter to the glorious Emperor.”
The Great King of Gods and the 24 other Gods that came down to this earth with him. Those chosen according to the requirements set by the first emperor as well as the Gods became new templars. They were the only ones who remained in power ever since the new templars from back then became noble families in the lands. Fearful of losing the power they had and their rich lands. Hierba did not hesitate to give up his own daughter. He was begging for him to not take away his lands too.
The woman who had spent her entire life abandoned in the dark and damp storage room was then appointed with a gold crown as a noble queen in a single day.
The ceremony which was held in the huge palace she had only seen for the first time was short, huge and grand. A year after spending a night with the Emperor and being shunned, the woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
There was a superstition the people that lived on the lands of Tellus where Amor’s mother was born and raised believed in. If the child looked like the first templar, he or she would grow up to be a kind child who was to be happy for a long time.
Pale skin and hair that was made as if someone had cut off a piece of the sunny sky and stuck it on the child’s head. A boy born with misty green eyes.
After seeing how much he resembled the first templar of Tellus, Hierbas, who had now become some sort of myth, named her child ‘Amor Noté’.
(1): This was not the exact imagery the author used. Similar but I did some touch ups.
(2): Raws said backroom but most of the time, in korea, backrooms are storage rooms too so i am using that instead.