Several days have passed since our youthful duke's son 're-awakened' to his current status, having spent them acclimatizing to all that has been put on offer, with a morning routine to match an automaton. Get up, get dressed, bathe, drink what the denizens of this world decide passes for 'medicine', then have breakfast and beeline it to the Library, forbidding all but two people from following or disturbing him, though a third demands constant access to his person nonetheless.
"One would think that being the son of a duke would allow one some measure of privacy..." Muttering out with an intense sigh, I let out a small yawn as I continued sifting through the book in front of me. If anything was positively true from all the incredulous excrement that I'd heard for the past few days, then its the fact that I understand and know very little for certain.
"I only wish to ascertain thyne own good health, young lord." Harkon grimly spoke from somewhere behind me, having been ordered by aunt Sofia to keep his distance from me. This much is fine, I just don't know exactly why he decided that he absolutely has to do it while being invisible.
Rolling my eyes at his incredulous response, I continued my musings. "Then lets hope 'ascertaining' my good health equates you eventually teaching me how to go invisible since that's about the only cool thing about you being here, Inquisitor." As soon as I finished my willfully childish sentence, I heard a soft stumble and a back-bitten curse, eliciting a smirk and a snort to escape me.
Good to know that not even Harkon is immune to critique. Thankfully, I received no reply as I sifted through my reading materials once again. Most of the books present were just mathematical in nature, their presence here only possible due to my desire to find out how developed this world, or at the very least, the 'Holy Kingdom' that I live in, is. To which, the answer is, ... uhh, well, not that developed. Its not good. At all.
These people are, in fact, so damn backwards, they still haven't discovered the connection between washing your bloody hands and diseases. Perhaps, more personally, and far more moronically, they believe that what happened to me was some kind of 'devilry' or rather, a demonic possession 'attempt'. How does a demon only 'attempt' possessing someone, you may ask?
Why!; by being beaten at their own game and therefore failing the task at hand. Which is fine and all, but applying this logic to me?... yes, of course, let's say that a demon tried and failed to possess a kid because the kid defeated them mentally during a battle that seems to have lasted for several months or perhaps even a year, without anyone noticing, in a household full of paladins and priests of the gods.
The sheer moronic undertone of this train of thought is making me lose braincells. I almost want to tell them the truth...
But saying that I'm from another world would probably be an equally idiotic state of affairs. "Haaa..." A sigh escaped me as I looked at the clock on the wall and nodded to myself as I took out a small, white bottle from my person and downed a sip of it. "Aach!" Tingling pain erupted from my tongue and throat as the high potency alcohol, or well 'holy water', ran its purifying self straight down my throat, making me feel somewhat woozy already.
Honestly, this drink might be the only reason why I managed to keep myself somewhat sane during the whole ordeal where six different people tried to explain to me what happened to me while I slept. Never was one for alcohol, nor do I think it particularly healthy to drink as a nine-year old, but so long as I use my blood magic carefully enough, I can dilute the effects. Its good training, if nothing else.
Returning my attention to the books, I set aside the math-related texts for the geographic and historical ones pertaining to the part of the duchy that I currently reside in. The northernmost county of the great Lumenhart Duchy, the County of Arroed, possibly named as such due to its unmistakable geographical similarity to an arrowhead due to having likely been formed via the descent of a comet.
I'll be perfectly honest here; this county is shit. Just shit. Beyond garbage. So much so that only criminals and exiles frequently pass through this place. To be fair, the area around my mansion, being the private property of the Lumenhart dynasty, is ironically safer than most places in the entire kingdom, being home to a military academy where valiant knights are trained for use as elite soldiers in the eternal war against the demons. Meaning that the security of this relatively tiny piece of the Arroed county as a whole, is unmistakably top notch. Entire squadrons of holy knights patrol the roads, healers and priests can be found in nearly every town and even the mages are trying to establish themselves here for militant purposes. The fact that it lies on the opposite site of the continent in comparison to the borders of demonkind and thus as far away from the actual war as possible only elevates its status and value.
The reason for this incredible benefit of security is, of course, also the primary detriment of everything and everyone else that decides to try living here; its a damn backwater county as far away from the wealthy, prosperous capital city as possible. Meaning what exactly, I can hear you ask, oh my invisible, fourth-wall companion!
Well, let me tell you: rampaging tribes of orcs and goblins that have made this area home, ogres settling in the mountains, all three of which perform regular raids on the people of the kingdom every winter, using my county as a staging ground for their war-hosts. More than that, there's a bloody volcano known as the 'arrows tip' at the northernmost point of the county that could erupt at any time!
Now that I think about it, perhaps capturing the lowlands beneath the volcano might be a good idea. The soil there tends to be excessively fertile, after all.
Anyways, if you thought that's the end of my troubles, no. No, I think not. Because, and this is something that nobody has discovered why exactly yet, the county is known for its legions and legions of undead, ghosts and zombies alike, populating the darker corners, sometimes observed crawling out of antediluvian graveyards or ancient, abandoned castles.
Hm, abandoned castles? I should look into that sometime. As a medieval lord, its only natural that I should grab myself a castle, after all!
Naturally, all that's been said so far fails to take into account the problems that usually crop up by simply having a human population; those being bandits, black markets, marauders and, in this case, also slavers. The last of which are the worst problem, not because of what they do, but just how much they fail to do it. You see, one of the favorite type of slaves in this kingdom are beastkin. Strong, loyal and abnormally submissive to their benefactors, they are hunted by specialists and brought here from the far east. Thing is, as nice as they are, both for physical labor and on the eyes, the beastkin have the tendency to go feral when you don't feed them, torment them too much or otherwise break their minds in any manner at all.
A feral beastkin is basically a humanoid animal that acts like an animal. I like to think of them as lycanthropes, really. Anyways, due to the missteps of several slaver organizations, entire packs of roving, raging and very much feral beastkin now haunts my county. Their presence is both a negative and a boon, considering they do clash against the other problems, those being the bandits, orcs and goblins primarily, but they are also several times more dangerous.
Orcs, such as they are, can be reasoned with or bought. Their migrations down the Gelidgate Pass are caused by food shortages they experience during the winter season in their own homeland and, as such, they can be pacified with donations of aforementioned sustenance. The same sadly does not go for the goblins and ogres, whom are much too genetically-predisposed to retardation to understand the concepts of diplomacy.
Thankfully, the excessively dumbest side of that family tree, those being the trolls, are rare enough to not be classified as an active problem within this barely-colonized county. Truly, everywhere I look, there's just savages and monsters.
Not all is horrible though, I'll give the gods that. My capital, the place where all these battle academies train the legions of soldiers needed to fuel the eternal war against demonkind, as well as the only plot of land viable for taxation and therefore my only source of consistent income, is an immense, fortress city-state, making me think of something akin to medieval Venice, if its merchandise was solely built for war and conflict, like a massive, private military company.
"Mhmm..." Finding myself groaning as I carefully re-read the report in my hands, I let out a giant sigh. The estimated profit from taxing the city isn't exactly all that large. It, in fact, barely covers the cost of the massive amounts of supplies that the city needs to function. Supplies that have to come from elsewhere, as the people of this fortress city produce nothing but soldiers and the weapons they need to teach them, exporting only a minute leftover of the aforementioned military gear to earn what little profit they do gain.
No, the primary source of the city's income are, in fact, the students themselves. Their tuition fees are no joke and every year equals a burst of income, an incredible paycheck, approximately five percent of which goes directly to my own coffers. Which is still a massive amount of coin, just that, as the lord of the land, I feel slightly offended that not ALL of it is going into my coffers. I can only imagine what sort of incredible things I could do with so much money at my disposal...
Perhaps, there will be a time to 're-think' the contract between Gelidgate, the city-state, and the rightful lords of this land, my dynasty, the Lumenharts.
Apart from Gelidgate and the few, minor villages that have cropped up around its defenses, primarily agricultural settlements that exist solely to be raided, by the nobility for what little they have, and then the greyskin hordes for whatever is left. Its really no wonder that the majority of this land is uncolonized when its basically uninhabitable by humans, other than the relatively fertile valleys of its eastern fringes.
In reality, I would say that Arroed is orcish territory, with the only precept for its supposed occupation by humanity being our kinds innate arrogance and greed. Nobody needs this land. Nobody wants this land. Nobody will bat an eye even if the land is lost. And that makes it perfect for me!
Oh, don't get me wrong, it'll be abhorrently difficult, but this is the perfect place for me to build up my fame and prestige, as well as securing a base of my power. One of the first things I'll have to do however, is get the majority of the population under my control; to pacify the orcs. Unsurprisingly, the city-state of Gelidgate, within which my manor resides, is close to the legendary Gelidgate Pass, an icy valley carved out of the mountains by the orcs during the first invasion of the Kingdom. Any orc that comes here for whatever purpose must first travel through that treacherous pass.
Gelidgate itself was built as the secondary choice of past kings, whom tried to blockage the Pass unsuccessfully, as the orcish hordes, faced with the existential crisis of starvation within their own homeland, crashed against the walls of man and shattered the fortresses built into the mountains, all to pry open the gates to slightly more fertile lands.
I can't really blame the orcs for their invasion. Honestly, this land should be theirs by right! Which is perfectly fine by me, so long as I still get to rule over them~!
But how do I go about doing that?... Hmmm... "Hey, Harkon. You here?"
Another sound of an old man stumbling against his own feet could be heard. "Y-yes? Do you need something from I, young lord?"
"I have a question. Pardon if you find it unsavory, but are there any slave traders nearby?" The man was so shocked that his invisibility spell shattered, revealing him to actually be right in front of me, staring at me from across the table. I swear, if I wasn't a serial killer, I'd have found that to be slightly unnerving, but yes, I can admit, being right in front of me is perfectly logical for observatory purposes.
"Uhm, pray tell, why would you require this knowledge, my lord?" To his credit, Harkon's seriousness returned in full as he stared me down hard. In hindsight, perhaps asking about slavers isn't the most innocent of questions. I merely sighed at his antics. "I wish to obtain a slave, of course. An orc, to be exact."
"And why would you desire an orcish slave, your highness?" Somehow, my explanation seems to have slightly calmed him, if him removing his hand off of the handle of the sword hidden behind his overcoat is anything to go by. "To put it simply, I want to make peace with the orcs and for that, I need a translator."
Harkon blinked in surprise and confusion. "You would... pacify the orcs, your highness?" His tone seemed to shift in its entirety. "A noble goal, but using a slave to initiate dialogue may offend the orcs."
I offered the man a scowl, to which he rose an eyebrow. "And you should not assume that by 'obtaining' an orcish slave, I meant by buying them. The orcs are proud warriors, are they not? I figure, if we go destroy a slave guild, we might find some willing to serve me as Lord."
"As Lord?... you intent to rule over orcs?!" He exclaimed with intense horror. "Why? Are you xenophobic towards them, Harkon?"
"Xen-what?" He shook his head and blinked in confusion. I sighed and grasped my pained forehead in response. "I mean, do you hate the orcs, or any other race for that matter, for simply not being human?"
Seemingly taking offence at the question, Harkon quickly shook his head in negative and replied in an angered tone. "What?! NAY! The gods despise those whom are beholden to such vile emotions! Ours is a Holy Kingdom, your highness, not one of those disgusting materialists from beyond the seas."
"And yet, we still have slaves." I pointed out as I returned my attention to the written works before me. "I-... I cannot discredit your statement, yet I feel that so long as -" Harkon began and then shook his head in evident shock, turning deathly quiet in the process. Hmm, poor man, he must've been about to say that slavery cannot end so long as its primary consumers, that being the nobles, exist.
"Say, Harkon.. Would you be adverse to doing some travelling with me? Since, I think it would be safe to assume that you wouldn't let me go without you, I mean." My question and subsequent portrayal of ignorance towards his previous antics, seemed to soothe the mans panic, albeit it returned his gleam of accusatory seriousness. "Considering that pacifying the orcs of this land would be an achievement worthy of the Lumenhart dynasty, I would be happy to accompany you but.."
Harkon clicked his tongue. "I scarcely think that your aunt or your uncle would authorize such an... 'adventure', your highness."
Those two incredible annoyances.
The Uncle, who is my acting governor of the County of Arroed until I come of age.
The Aunt, who is the leader of one of Gelidgate's academies and responsible for my upbringing.
"Bleh..." Guttering out of myself with a tone of clear distaste, I let out another sigh. "Well, uncle is only here for a short time to administer the region before he has to return to his own county... as for my aunt, well, she lives here so its not like convincing her will be easy. Maybe she could come along?"
"Unlikely, sir. Her status as headmistress gives her precious free time as it is." Harkon was quick to helpfully answer my question with that resounding no. "... perhaps, she could be convinced to let me go?"
The elderly man shook his head, but gave it some thought nonetheless. "Perhaps, if we wait till you are of age, or at least until you've passed your Symbolica, then you would be able to go without her approval."
"Symbolica?" I blinked and tilted my head in confusion, to which the old man smiled and smirked evilly, as if he'd just caught me red-handed in some way, shape and form. "Why, young lord, you do not know that, as you reach your tenth birthday, you shall be ritualistically branded by the gods, as per the customs of our great faith?"
"Branded? You mean like, with a burning rod or something?" Now, it was the old mans turn to be surprised, as shock dawned on his face for a moment, before he slapped his head. "By the gods, could it be that you actually don't know about the Symbolica?..." My mouth opened slightly in order to respond, though the man continued before I could. "Your highness, the Symbolica is a ritual performed by ten year old children, one of whom shall be you soon enough, whereas the child stands within the confines of a ritual circle and prays to the heavens, after which, the symbol of their patron god forms, painlessly, on their body."
"Oh, I see." So its just a holy ritual, then? Why is he acti- oooh... demonic possession, I get it. "So when will I have my Symbolica?"
He stops to think and nods, his tone adopting a sarcastic, perhaps even snarky form. "Young lord, you are nine. Your birthday is in two months. I'm sure that if you truly understand the literature you're currently reading, you should be able to figure this out on your own."
Unbeknownst to the unlikely duo, they were being stalked from the outside, as Sofia and Geoffrey, two siblings far too old to be doing what they're doing, yet still doing it nonetheless, found themselves with their ears hard-pressed onto the Library doors, trying each their hardest to figure out what was going on beyond it.
"Is he-.. are they-... talking? In a friendly manner?!" Geoffrey whispered with a tone full of disbelief towards his sister, whom shrugged in response, her frame fraught with equivalent confusion. "I'm not sure. I can't hear a thing! Even so- they've been in the library for hours! What is a child doing in such a place the whole afternoon?! He should be out playing or swinging a sword or something!"
Geoffrey blinked at Sofia before adopting a rather disapproving look. "Swinging a sword? The boy has no talent for combat. We should be praising him for seeking knowledge regardless! In fact, aren't you a teacher?! How could you even -"
Sofia removed herself from the door and stood up proudly, pointing an accusatory finger towards her older sibling. "First off, I am the headmistress, not a teacher!" She claimed with pride in her tone, as if the two were highly different from one another. "Secondly, regardless of his talent, for a child of Lumenhart to have no martial prowess is unheard of! Even you, whom has despised swordsmanship his entire life and preferred bookkeeping instead, are still skillful with a blade!"
Her brother's eyebrow twitched as he grasped his head in annoyance. "Woman, you mentioned 'swinging a sword', not practicing swordsmanship."
She rolled her eyes. "Same thing, you dunce!"
Before they could continue their little spat, they heard a knock from the other side of the door which shattered the atmosphere they'd made for themselves. After things went quiet, Harkon slowly opened the library doors, coughing into his fist as he revealed a very annoyed youth standing in his shadow. Said youth then looked at his two family members and gave them each a heavy, heaving sigh.
Deciding to ignore the sheer childishness of the two, he spoke with a polite tone, only barely betraying his growing annoyance. "Pardon me if I heard you wrong, esteemed uncle and aunt, but did I hear thee mention something about swordsmanship practice?"