The war had been a resounding victory for the empire. In the beginning, it seemed like the kingdom might actually have a chance, especially when the main force led by Ferdia took down the empire’s battalions one by one. But everything crumbled when the empire’s troubleshooter, the Duke of Grecia, brought Ferdia down.
The foolish king had played right into the emperor’s hands, letting a petty squabble escalate until it contributed to the downfall of an entire nation. The royal family faced execution, and the others who were involved in the war were judged and either sentenced to death or stripped of their status and wealth.
Tied up in the underground dungeon, Ferdia sat in a daze. She didn’t know how much time had passed, but she vaguely guessed it had been around ten days since she had slept ten times.
She had never imagined she would find herself in such a situation, and the weight on her mind was immense. In addition a recent comment from a guard who hands her food, made matters even worse.
“This bitch who’s about to be burned and skewered alive still has an appetite, huh?”
The moment she heard the guards words, Ferdia went pale. Burned alive? What does he mean by skewerd? Weren’t they just going to behead her? She stared wide-eyed at the guard, but he said no more.
Three days after that, Ferdia had given up all hope. She sat numbly, abandoning any thought of her future, simply awaiting the day of her death.
The grinding noise of a door interrupted her thoughts as the dungeon door opened. Moments later, three knights approached, unlocking the cell that held her. As she recognized them, Ferdia’s expression hardened.
Are they leading me to my death? She wanted to resist, but her tendons felt like they were disconnected, and without proper treatment, she couldn’t even stand on her own.
Seeing her unresponsive, one of the knights motioned for the others to lift her. The knights came and grabbed her by the shoulders, lifting her up and dragging her. As they dragged her along, it finally hit her where she was being taken.
The cold, damp dungeon suddenly felt comforting. But as soon as the bright sunlight hit her eyes, that feeling vanished. As they dragged her through the hallway, she could feel the piercing gazes of onlookers. When she tried to meet their eyes, a maid-looking woman spat on the floor and said,
“That bitch killed my brother.”
“Even cursing her feels worthless.”
To them, Ferdia was a sinner, a villain who had harmed their loved ones. As she hung her head in shame, her hair covered her face, and her lips quivered inwards. Her life was destined to end anyway. She had no energy left to defend herself.
After what felt like hours, they arrived at a large hall. The doors swung open to reveal an audience seated in rows. Led to the center by the knights, Ferdia was made to sit in a chair placed prominently in the middle. She lifted her head slightly amidst the countless staring eyes, and a booming voice echoed through the hall.
“We will now commence the military trial of Ferdia Arde Poeheim, the Knight Commander of the Astia Kingdom.”
In the solemn voice, Ferdia could finally grasp where she was. Over four hundred eyes were staring at her. More than two hundred mouths whispering and making jeering gestures. All these hinted at a near-future death sentence for her- that is being burned and skewered alive.
A deep sigh escaped her lips. Had she really struggled so fiercely on the battlefield against the Duke of Grecia, only to end up like this? Ferdia wondered if it might have been better to have just died by his hand.
The hall reverberated with numerous voices, each detailing Ferdia’s crimes, the atrocities she had committed, and passionately arguing for the justness of her punishment.
Although their words varied, the consensus was clear.
Her eyes settled calmly. If she had to die one way or another, she reasoned, she might as well die the less painful way. Oddly enough, this thought calmed her racing heart.
“Ferdia led to the deaths of over a thousand soldiers in this war alone. Furthermore, her leadership skills are unmatched; under her command, over a hundred thousand of our imperial troops were slaughtered. They were sons, fathers, brothers, and lovers of our people. While she may have directly killed a hundred thousand, the entire empire feels the pain of this loss. I believe the appropriate punishment for Ferdia Arde Poeheim is flaying.”
Flaying? Ferdia abruptly lifted her head.
“Along with the flaying, I propose she be executed by burning at stake in front of the entire empire on her final day.”
Execution by burning too? The severity of the proposed punishments made Ferdia’s heart tremble again. Why not just kill her? Why the flaying and the burning? Ferdia tried to raise her voice in protest, but her words got lost in the cacophony of the crowd.
Desperate to avoid such a gruesome fate, Ferdia kept opening her lips. However, her parched throat seemed to refuse her any audible voice, only allowing her to let out a dry cough.
Coughing violently, Ferdia hung her head. Her rough breaths hit to her chin, seemingly prohibiting her from speaking any further.
The throbbing in her head, a result of insufficient rest and food, made her feel lightheaded. Dizziness overwhelmed her, deepening her despair. Realizing her fate was now in their hands, Ferdia’s eyes filled with hopelessness. But as she closed her eyes, a heavy silence fell upon the assembly.
Ferdia, who had been lost in her hopelessness, looked up again to gauge the room. Her gaze settled on the judge overseeing the trial. The judge, looking distressed, received a letter handed to him. After reading, he exchanged a series of questions and received nods in return.
Apparently not satisfied, he began whispering to other council members, eliciting shared expressions of disbelief. Their conversation, which seemed to stretch on, finally ended when the judge raised a hand. Moments later, he rose from his seat.
As he exited, the rest followed. Soon after, whispers spread that the military trial was over. The other nobles, looking bewildered, also began to rise.
“What just happened?”
Unable to make sense of the abruptly halted trial, Ferdia looked around. Just moments before, they were debating about burning her or flaying her, and now, the room was nearly empty. Her face displayed evident confusion.
Before she could fully process, guards approached, lifting her up by the shoulders. As she was pulled to her feet, anxiety struck, and she whispered,
“… Are you taking me to my death?”
The guard glanced at her, offering a half-smile, and merely shook his head. It wasn’t much of an answer, but it was enough. Relieved that death wasn’t immediate, a long sigh escaped her.
All the talk of flaying, burning, and dismemberment in the assembly seemed distant as hope of surving kindled within her. Moments later, they entered a vast room.
A familiar voice struck Ferdia. Lifting her head, she searched for the source of the voice.
Then she was met with a pair of deep black eyes and shimmering blond hair. Simultaneously, the silver blade in his hand captured her attention. Her lips parted in recognition.
“Duke of Grecia?”
“You remember, I see.”
He approached with a playful grin, taking her from the knight guards and effortlessly lifting her into his arms. The knights looked taken aback by his actions, and Ferdia’s expression showed even greater surprise. As her eyes darted in bewilderment due to his sudden gesture, his even-toned voice flowed out.
“Get lost. Why are you just standing there?”
Realizing the comment was directed at the knights and not her, the sound of the door closing echoed. He then gently set her down in a chair.
“Are there any inconveniences?”
“How could you…”
His lips moved as he looked at Ferdia, who opened her mouth with a blank look on her face. She noticed the smile he never showed on the battlefield now gracing his attractive lips. The Duke of Grecia picked up a box from the table, took out a small bottle, and handed it to her.
Taking the vial hesitantly, Ferdia watched him with anxious eyes.
“It’s not poison or anything weird. Just a wound healer.”
“A… wound healer?”
Her eyes were filled with doubt. Noticing her hesitation, the Duke sighed and took the bottle from her, spraying its contents onto her leg.
The blue liquid made contact with her cuts, which were filled with dried blood and scabs, and turned into a white mist. To her amazement, the wounds began to heal, and the scabs fell away. She gaped in surprise at what she witnessed.
“First time seeing something like this? Don’t they have this in your kingdom?”
“No, it’s not that… Isn’t that really expensive?”
“Very. Probably worth a house or two.”
“Why would you use that on me?”
As he applied the solution to her other leg, he looked up, his eyes meeting hers. A mischievous glint shone through his partially obscured bangs.
“Because you look in pain. I hate seeing people in pain.”
“…Duke of Grecia.”
After pouring the last drop of the healing solution from the vial onto her leg, he spoke in a relaxed tone.
“Erev Sans Ovenil Grecia. But I dislike long names. So, call me Erev or simply Rev if that’s easier.”
Ferdia’s expression slightly crinkled at his words, prompting a smile to play at his lips once again.
“Nice to meet you, Ferdy.”