Chapter 1. Harsh season (1)
Rietta Tristy was a beautiful woman.
Her thick, wavy blonde hair was untied but shone beautifully, and her feminine, beautifully curved nose and mouth and deep, graceful eyes always drew people’s attention.
Her white skin, which didn’t burn much under the sun, was a rarity among commoners.
Most special of all were her eyes. Her eyes, which shone with a brilliant sky-blue color whenever the light shone on them, and sometimes a noble lapis lazuli color, made her pure beauty even more mysterious.
The flowers and stars lost their light when Rietta smiled with her beautiful eyes.
When people first heard that she was already married and even had a three-year-old daughter, they all mourned and envied her, saying that her husband had saved the country in his previous life. Their family was happy.
That was, until four months ago, when her husband died.
After Rietta’s husband contracted a mysterious illness and died suddenly, she lost her laughter.
Beauty was more of a curse than a blessing to the powerless commoner woman.
Before the flowers she had sown at her husband’s funeral could wither, she was forced by Cassarius, the lord of the land where they lived, to become his concubine.
At first, Rietta refused. Not only because Cassarius was her father’s age, but also because her husband was dead only less than a month.
In his frustration, Cassarius took her daughter from Rietta, who did not even pretend to listen to his wishes. Her daughter was only three years old. She was a young girl who begged Rietta to find out where her father had gone, because she still didn’t know what death was.
Rumors said that Cassarius had sold Rietta’s daughter to a slave dealer.
Poor Rietta almost lost her mind and accepted to be his concubine if he returned her daughter back safely.
But unfortunately or fortunately, Cassarius, who contracted the plague that struck the empire, was unable to get Rietta and died without giving her daughter back.
He left a nasty will that asked for Rietta to be buried with him.
It was a harsh season.
There was nothing but moaning and lamenting in the empire as the plague and demons reared their ugly heads.
There were constant wailing and burning dead bodies everywhere.
The land dried up and people fought among themselves to get food.
In some lands, sacrifices were even offered to comfort the dead.
In other words, it was at least possible for one of the petty commoner women to be martyred at a nobleman’s funeral.
The day of Rietta’s death was set.
It was the day of Cassarius Sevitas’s funeral.
On that day, Grand Duke Axias appeared in the territory of Sevitas.
To get back the huge debt Cassarius Sevitas owed him.
“While she’s still so young…”
“……. Poor thing, what shall we do?”
“Tsk, tsk. …… Even if the commoners do it nicely, the stars won’t turn.”
“That’s right. It’s a shame, really. Heaven is merciless.”
Rietta was wearing the most expensive clothes she had ever worn in her life, but there was no smile on her face.
Beautifully adorned with a festive dress made of soft black silk and a black veil that covered her sky blue eyes, her braided hair tied up and adorned with white flowers, Rietta’s appearance was truly sigh-worthy.
In front of the Sevitas residence, where the funeral of Count Cassarius was held.
Rietta knelt on a carpet that was more expensive than her ransom as she waited for her turn on the altar that was temporarily prepared.
To ensure a painless and clean martyr’s burial, Rietta had been sedated since dawn with a decoction of anesthetizing alucino berries. Although she had difficulty moving her body, she was surrounded by maidens on either side of her and guards to prevent her from escaping.
Everyone gathered felt sorry for the beautiful woman who had come to meet such a tragic fate.
One middle-aged woman clicked her tongue and murmured,
“The sky is not just pitiless. If you build your castle with such care, you will see that Cassarius has finally come down with the plague. Heaven forbid!”
The man beside her chuckled and stepped in.
“Heaven doesn’t care, but rather the plague gods have seen to that, don’t you think?”
They all cursed Cassarius with one accord, and pitied Rietta.
However, there was no one to stand up for her.
She had no parents to begin with, and her husband, the only person who could protect her, was dead.
“He had a thing for women younger than his own children. Even when he died, he dragged Rietta with him. He’s a really bad person.”
“Shh. Lower your voice. People can hear you.”
After the priest’s eulogy, the Count’s maids helped Rietta up from both sides.
Rietta, drowsy from alucino and feeling a little dazed, staggered her feet as she followed the maids.
It was time to go beyond the world and be with her family.
Dry snow began to flutter down from the gray sky.
It was a late April’s snowfall.
Rietta looked at the thin snowflakes that seemed to stop at any moment, and thought about her little daughter’s last complaint.
She had waited all winter for her father, who left as soon as winter came and never came again. Her daughter begged for a snowman all the time.
A teardrop ran down Rietta’s cheek as she finally called out the child’s name.
“When this snow piles up….. It’s the time for us to build a snowman together.
“Now ….. the three of us together…… “
Those who die have few words, and those who live have few words.
The people who remained on earth were also silent, each with their own thoughts still hidden in their hearts.
The quiet funeral procession began slowly.
The bereaved family of Cassarius began to move their feet, following the beautiful sacrifice as she followed the coffin, supported by the attendants.
By the time the cemetery was just around the corner, a small commotion broke through the slow-footed procession.
A servant was rushing towards their procession.
Cassarius’s eldest son, Frederick, who had wanted to handle this event as quietly as possible, maintained a calm expression, but was annoyed.
He hoped the senseless fellow wouldn’t make it to him, but the servant finally made his way through the crowd to Frederick and lowered his head, breathing heavily.
“My lord, ……! We have an important guest!”
Frederick frowned and snapped at the servant.
“It’s a funeral. You shouldn’t act frivolously. Don’t you know how to guide the mourners?”
The servant stammered in a panic.
“It’s not a mourner, sir. Oh, Grand Duke Axias is here!”
The bereaved family’s complexion changed at the servant’s words about the Grand Duke’s visit. A quiet unrest spread.
Frederick, who had forgotten his words for a while, bit his lips.
“Killian Axias is here?”
The deceased Cassarius owed a great debt to Grand Duke Axias.
It was a debt that was already some time past its promised repayment date.
The family of Sevitas had to hire priests and pay huge sums of money to the temple for the control of the plague. The sudden death and funeral of Cassarius left the estate in a near deplorable financial state.
They had no way to immediately repay their debt to Archduke Axias.
They had even hidden the death of Cassarius from the outside world in order to give him no excuse to visit.
Frederick bit his lip.
“How did he come to know that my father had passed away?”
“I was passing by and thought I’d pay a visit to a friend who I hadn’t heard from for a long time.”
The sound of thumping horse hooves and a cold voice interrupted.
All eyes turned to the owner of the voice.
A man with an intimidating energy on top of a huge black horse was slowly approaching with glowing red eyes.
His jet black hair swayed gently with the horse’s mane as he moved.
Killian Axias tilted his head and raised a corner of his mouth. The people who were watching inhaled, gasping. It was a beautiful and ghastly smile that made people shudder.
“I had no idea my friend’s funeral was taking place.”
A chilling sneer.
No one could blame Killian Axias for his rudeness in interrupting the funeral procession on horseback.
It was a lazy attitude that even looked like a lazy one, but the knights instinctively swallowed their spit and tensed their shoulders when they saw that he was not the least bit phased by the immediate blade wound.
He was the most influential and ferocious man in the empire.
He was born the legitimate eldest son of the emperor, but he was an abolished prince who was kicked out of the imperial family more than a decade ago for decapitating his brother and throwing his head at the feet of the emperor and queen.
Under the imperial law, the death penalty was inevitable due to the murder of the royal family and the defamation of the royal family.
The emperor, who regretted his brilliance, was unable to execute him and punished him by expelling Killian to the distant northern wasteland to Axias.
He was stripped of all his titles and rights as a prince.
However, the abolished prince, who seemed to have lost everything, reclaimed the ancient Saint Axias from the clutches of the demons, which had not been allowed to humans for hundreds of years, and began to transform the wasteland into a habitable place.
A few years later, Killian seized vast territories in the area and reigned as the champion of the north.
From the huge snow mountain in the region he controlled, Adamantite, the most precious mineral on the continent, was found.
Axias accumulated immense wealth from the workers and mercenaries, crafters and artisans who gathered to stare at the magic hand loot and adamantite.
Axias grew at a superior and explosive pace.
Cities were built on the land that was once a wasteland at a speed that was almost unbelievable.
The House of Lords changed its attitude and pawed at him, saying that he should formally be granted a title to fulfill his tax obligations.
In the end, the imperial family formally granted him the title of Grand Duke of Axias and recognized his dominion over the land. Even though he was not a prince, the imperial family granted him the title and rights as a royal Grand Duke.
Killian accepted it without much emotion.
Up to this point, the story was known to all the people.
It had been thirteen years since he lost his imperial name and been banished to the far north.
Killian Axias had never once appeared in social circles, but his name alone was a constant topic of conversation among the nobility.
The commoners, with the addition of all the exaggerated falsehoods, were so cruel and violent that he was considered a monster instead of human.
Stories about being crazy were basic, stories about being possessed by demons and cursed were very common.
From the “stare at me and I’ll kill you, body graze me and I’ll kill you, feel bad and I’ll kill you, don’t like me and I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you if I’m not satisfied with a woman, if I like a body part I’ll kill her to gouge it out” stories.
From stories of eating human flesh, drinking blood, and even collecting human fingers, ears, and eyeballs, there was no one who was unaware of all the creepy and bloody rumors he was pulling, where some were true and some were false.
The road to the cemetery opened as the people on his way stepped back with blue faces.
Everyone bowed their heads in fear of making eye contact with him.
By the time Axias stopped in front of Frederick, all the funeral processions had already spontaneously stopped.
“It’s been a long time. His Royal Highness, Grand Duke Axias.”.
“I see. Frederick. Are you Count Sevitas now? Why didn’t you give me the news? If you did, I wouldn’t have committed this kind of rudeness of asking for debt payment at the funeral.”
Killian chuckled, ruthless and graceful. He still did not get off his horse.
Frederick responded with a smile.
“Rude is outrageous, my lord. Since he died of the plague, I tried to send him off quietly, without accepting any condolences. It was rather my fault.”
Killian chuckled animatedly.
“I thought you hid it, hoping I wouldn’t come again.”
The bereaved aristocrats froze at the unspoken directness of a man who had never cared for others and had never been associated with society.
Even Frederick, who was a stout man of society, couldn’t immediately respond to his words.
He thought about denying it, but decided it was better to just admit it and bowed down.
As it turned out, Frederick didn’t make the wrong decision. Killian chuckled, turned away involuntarily, and murmured as he looked at the coffin of Lord Cassarius.
“He said he would pay me back even if he’s dead or alive. The excuses he used each time. But I can’t bring him out of the coffin.”
Killian commented harshly and jumped off his horse.
“Since I’m at a funeral, I suppose I should give you my condolences. I’m sorry about your father.”
Killian took off his hat, placed it on the head of the black horse he was riding, and handed the reins to a knight who followed him a step behind. He spontaneously joined the funeral procession.
The people stared at Killian, who was somewhat different from the rumors of a madman. Some people exchanged glances and whispered among themselves.
“Really? That’s the Grand Duke of Axias?”
“Doesn’t he like eating meat…?”
The others who gathered and stared at Grand Duke Axias with shocked faces because of his eerie beauty.
Killian Axias, who called Cassarius Sevitas friend, but was rather the same age as his eldest son Frederick, was a cool, laid-back, chilled beauty.
His blood-colored eyes and cold stare gave off a sharp energy, but his eyes didn’t seem to be obsessed with madness.
At least, from his current demeanor, he didn’t look like a madman, let alone a homicidal maniac.
The first sight of Grand Duke Axias was unexpected, even as a nobleman who roughly skipped the false rumors circulating among commoners and knew only the truth as appropriate.
His dusty gray robes, as if he had traveled on horseback for a long time, were alien to the black mourners, but no one could believe that he had not been polite in his splendid appearance.
Whether it was the fact that he had cut off his brothers’ head, or the fact that he had ruthlessly slaughtered northern looters and terrifying beasts mercilessly to carve out vast territories had a noble and dignified face that was more elegant and colder than any art gallery.
His jet-black hair and black horse suited him perfectly.
Killian blended in naturally, as if he had been walking there from the beginning to remember the deceased, and bowed silently to Frederick’s wife and siblings.
The nobles of the House of Sevitas carefully exchanged silent greetings with him and resumed the funeral.
Rietta, who had paused for a long time at the delayed funeral, staggered to a sitting position.
The mourning maids helped her up, feeling agitated.
Killian’s brow furrowed as he stared at the distracted woman who had been following the coffin in front of the mourners.
“Who is that woman?”