I would never admit, even under the threat of slow and torturous death, but something about the horses just rubbed me the wrong way. They were too smart and too impassive beasts and idea of putting your safety into the hooves of one just sounded insane to me. And it wasn’t like they were that useful. A tractor or a van - products of human engineering, could do everything horses did, and do it better to boot.
The point was that I didn’t appreciate six fucking hours I had spent on a horseback. Still, nobility scum or not, but after this hellish torture, I couldn’t help but give them the smallest unit of respect possible. Halfway here I was ready to curse to high heavens, but they acted like it was nothing.
Bastards were probably bred for this.
Regardless, it took quite a lot not to sigh in relief when he stepped back on blessedly solid earth.
Currently I was in the courtyard of what was the most stereotypical noble’s estate imaginable. Long, two story building was built in style, with white marble columns and lazure walls. Tall windows were looking out at the sprawling park and garden which even now were tended by the peasants.
Unlike the peasant from the road, or the ones we rode past, these ones were dressed objectively better. Their clothes were noticeably cleaner and they themselves looked much healthier. Like they ate two meals a day.
I didn’t know precisely why. Not for a second did I believe that Adhemar actually cared for the people working for him.
A couple of stable girls hurried to us, and lead the horses away. Aside from deep respectful bows to Adhemar and quick startled glances at me they didn’t look at us, trying to disappear as quickly as possible. Their tense shoulders, stooped backs and quick, almost frantic movements told me all I needed to know.
They were terrified of Adhemar, and by extension of me.
Anger rose inside me, but I had to squash it. It was very tempting to lash out and start the fight here, to kill these oppressors and free the innocents from their tyrannical shadow. And If I was being completely honest...to further test my abilities granted to me by a botched ritual.
I was itching for a fight, but I just didn’t like my chances against four well armed and armoured individuals. I had no grasp on their fighting capabilities, but surely they must have been at least decent. Even with surprise on my side, it was still no guarantee of my victory.
So, with extreme reluctance I settled for observing my surroundings. A stout woman hurriedly moved towards the Adhemar. Her balding head shone with sweat and the expression on her face was perfect example of subservience.
“Greetings Lord Adhemar! Everything is in perfect order. Collection of taxes is going slower than expected, but soon enough we’ll have everything gathered.” she said, nervously.wiping the sweat with a handkerchief.
I glanced at Adhemar, expecting her to be furious. And she was. Her nostrils flared and her eyes blazed. I waited for an explosion, but shockingly enough she was able to contain herself.
“Accelerate the collection. Take everything they have if you have to. If they are too lazy to produce enough,” she raised her voice, “Let it be a lesson to them. Those that will survive will not repeat that mistake.”
The woman, who I guessed was estate’s administrator, bowed, and after Adhemar’s wave of hand ran off shouting orders at a group of stocky women.
Adhemar turned and gave me a contemplative look.
“Take him to the dungeon.” she said and turned away.
Two knights took places in front and behind me, and one of them even rammed the pommel of her sword into my back. After that rude encouragement I was escorted through the decorated corridors down into the basement.
I fully expected it to look like something out of museums. You know: iron maidens, rack and stocks, with chains and spikes descending from the ceiling. So it was almost disappointing to see a clean, empty room with a single chair in the centre.
“Ehm, Boss Lady said “dungeon”, didn’t she? Wrong room gentlemen!” I told them with an earnest smile.
Another jab of a pommel was all the answer I got at first.
“It’s Lord.” the armoured knight corrected me with a tired tone of voice. I guessed she had to say that a lot.
They roughly seated me into the chair fastened the cuffs on my arms and legs. I was starting to get second thoughts on this whole situation. While I might be able to take out my dirk, using it was a pipe dream.
One woman left, but the armoured chick remained standing, her back to the wall, watching me. The only comfort she seemed to allow herself was leaning against the wall.
I tested the bonds. Yep, not going to break out of these any time soon. ‘Guess it’s time to dust off good old russian charm.’
I peered into the female knight’s eyes. She returned my look. I think we spent five or so minutes locked in this truly “riveting” battle of wits. I got tired quite quickly of it though.
I gathered some spit and sent it flying in the knight’s direction, hoping to break her gaze. No such luck, my projectile landed five metres away from her.
Knight continued looking at me, although this time with a slightly questioning tilt of her eyebrows.
“That was meant to hit you in the eye.” Silence. “To make you blink.” Still silence. “So I would win.” No answer.
I sagged in the chair. I could feel my intelligence slipping under the relentless assault of the action energy. I needed something to occupy myself, before Adhemar came and got on with torturing me or whatever.
“So what is it like working for Adhemar?” I asked. It seemed like there was some time to waste on some chit-chat. “Are wages decent, are you provided paid sick days? What’s your bosses attitude to you showing up drunk for work?” I fired off, not really expecting her to answer, just trying to get under her skin.
Surprisingly, my last remark seemed to work.
“I don’t.” she replied.
I waited for a minute, expecting her to elaborate. But she hadn’t.
“Missy, let’s not play that game. I am here, you are here, why not spend some time talking. It’s not like I am going anywhere. You seem to be in no hurry to go anywhere. Let’s chat.”
“Fine. I do not get drunk.”
“Get out of here. Everybody drinks too much from time to time. What’s the point of alcohol if not to over indulge occasionally?”
“I think it’s supposed to be a social lubricant. In moderate amounts it helps a lot to help things move smoothly, but too much and conversation will slip off the road and into the swamp of nonsensical garbage.”
“Nice speech, lady philosopher, a surprising amount of knowledge about lubricants though, considering that from what little I’ve seen you don’t have much machinery going around. So anything you care to share?”
I smirked as her cheeks reddened.
“You really are disgusting swine.” she uttered indignantly.
“What, there were any doubts to the contrary? And weren’t you a man just a little over a month ago? You should be used to this, unless you were one of those pansy intelligentia types, who wouldn’t shut up about the crunch of french baguette.”
“I don’t know what french is, or how pastry is related to any of this, but I will have you know, that I have never sullied myself by association with uncouth rabble.”
“Man, sorry woman, you are missing out. Some of the grandest stories happen because of so called “uncouth rabble”, like that one time with a polish nun turned partizan in a german brothel.”
“I am sure tales of rutting are all someone like you can think about.” the knight rolled her eyes. And it was starting to get really annoying referring to her as “knight”. I do prefer to know the names of women I bandy words with. Comes in real handy if later I get to “bandy” more than words with them.
“Well, my tastes in oral folklore aside, care to share your name? I am Alexandr Godunov.”
“My name is Ivar Rolfson. Remember this name well.” Ivar replied grudgingly.
“I am no expert on local naming protocols, but shouldn’t you have been disqualified from the “-son” suffix six weeks ago?”
“Your ignorance is astounding, and you tried to pass yourself off as the summoned hero!.”
Her words might have been calm, but her hand strayed uncomfortably close to the hilt of her sword, Did I hit a nerve?
“What do you mean “pass yourself off“? Surely you can see my incredibly seasoned masculine features?”
“You can always be an incredibly ugly woman, who cut her hair short and is yet to suffer the full brunt of curse’s backlash.”
“Oh, I understand. You are trying to find an excuse to get into my pants!” I said it in the most obnoxious “smarter than thou” tone of voice. “When Adhemar comes in, you will “reluctantly” take one for the team and check out what’s between my legs.”
Ivar reddened with rage or embarrassment or maybe both, I didn’t know.
“Oh you cur...” she didn’t have chance to finish as the door into the room opened up and Adhemar entered.
It looked like, while Ivar and I were getting to know each other on a deep “meaningful” level available only to a jailer and the prisoner, Adhemar took her sweet time to change out of travel attire into a long flowing skirt and a modest silk shirt.
“What is that?” she asked, angrily pointing at the spit on the floor.
“A type of a bodily liquid?” I offered helpfully.
Adhemar raised her leg and put it on my face. ‘Wow, her servants must scrub the floors all day long for her indoor shoes to be so unexpectedly clean.’
I couldn’t see clearly, but I heard that someone, likely Adhemar, snapped her fingers and a second later someone ran inside the room.
“Lick it up until the floor is clean.” Adhemar ordered.
Soon, I heard the sounds of a tongue sliding over the floor.
Could it be it? Was it an “indirect kiss” that Issei fawned over, during one of his comics binges? Honestly, the boy spent so much of his mother’s money on comics and toys, he could have bought a whore for a tumble and lose his virginity. Even something pathetic like paying to lose virginity wasn’t as bad as his obsessive right-hand “fantasizing” over some cartoon chicks.
But I was getting off track.
“I would like to lodge a complaint!” I exclaimed as loudly as I could, which prompted Adhemar to remove her admittedly sexy leg. I saw that Ivar was standing respectfully behind Adhemar, trying to look anywhere but on the maid currently polishing the spot where my spit had landed.
“A complaint? And what are you complaining about, savage?” She asked mildly amused.
“Why about my lodgings of course. I remember you clearly ordering her to escort me to dungeon.” I theatrically looked around. “And look at that! No torture implements, decent hygiene, no rats skulking around. It’s no dungeon, and I was promised a dungeon.” I leered at Ivar. “I think you should flog Lady Rolfson for poor customer service. Publically, with ceremonial stripping.”
Adhemar didn’t seem to take my suggestions seriously, instead she asked Ivar.
“HaS he been like this all the time?”
“Yes my lord.”
“Good, it would have been such a disappointment if this barbarian had no fire in his blood.” Adhemar remarked. “As for the lack of torture...Well we can’t have prey damaged before the hunt. Where is the fun in that? Surely even a savage like you can understand that.”
“What’s with all the “savage” remarks? I told you I am the Hero.”
“Your lies are as pathetic as your appearance, wretch. Capital has spread the news of Lord Issei’s summoning, as well as description of him. So it was very easy to see through your sorry excuse for deception.” She paused to enjoy the look of annoyance on my face.
‘Really, Lord Issei? He had to have gotten this from that jap father of his.’
“Though I do wonder how you have heard of Hero’s summoning. I thought that Northern Tribes didn’t have the prophecies in their culture. Then again you probably tortured it out of the same person you stole these clothes. And speaking of clothes…” Adhemar turned to the maid, who was kneeling on the floor. “Have Inga prepare a more barbarous attire for this man. I want my hunt to be as authentic as possible.”
The maid nodded and scurried off.
“Until tomorrow, savage. Do try to gather strength. I would like you to be the centerpiece of the tomorrow’s event.”
And with that, they left the room, leaving me in darkness, contemplating everything I learnt.