Bonds of Blood – chapter one

Bonds of Blood title image
Bonds of Blood
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1

There is an island named Lodoss.

It is a remote island that floats to the south of the continent of Alecrast. There are those on the continent who call it The Accursed Island.

The demon world still exists in many regions, trying to keep the humans at bay, and so abominable war rages on.

The southwest region of Lodoss is a mountainous place called Moss. It is made up of relatively small kingdoms standing together, and the struggle to expand their power has continued over several hundred years. However, unity of these kingdoms is currently neither theory nor practice, thanks to it being a land easy to protect and difficult to attack.

For that reason, war continues.

For the most part, no large battle has occurred in nearly ten years. But every person living in Moss knows full well that this peace is only a temporary state of affairs.

In the southernmost part of the Moss region is a kingdom called Skard. Population, approximately ten thousand. The number of knights who protect the kingdom, even including apprentices, isn’t fully one hundred men. And most of the knights have their origins as farmers without any noble lineage at all. If they returned to their own demesnes, they would cultivate the wheat and grapes themselves.

The current king of this Kingdom of Skard is called Brook by name–

“A demon army?”

King Brook, surprise and doubt mixed in his eyes, peered at the face of the magician standing in front of him. The magician’s hair, which stretched easily to his shoulders, had not been well cared for, and the tips had become ragged. Even the white robe he wore stood out for its stains and filth, and showed signs of not having been changed for several days.

A typical magician, he was indifferent to worldly things. Indeed, when this honored guest had come from the country, cleaned up his appearance, and entered into service, it had surprised even Brook.

“That is correct,” the magician answered quietly.

He looked just past thirty, but some thought he was as much as ten years older than his outward appearance indicated.

The magician’s name was Wort.

His other name, The Sage of the Wilds, rang out over all of Lodoss. The previous year, Brook himself had journeyed to Wort’s stronghold, built on the Runoana Shores, and invited him to Skard as court magician.

Indeed, he had entrusted him with a job even more important than the duties of a court magician: the education of his son Nashere.

To Nashere, who was adored, praised by the people as the Prince of the Sun, this was just one more person in charge of his education. Instructing him in general military arts was The Red Headed Mercenary, Beld.

He, too, was a man for hire whose name was known throughout Lodoss. The price of employing him was enough to hire a hundred ordinary mercenaries. But for Beld’s martial skill, even that was considered cheap. If he’d cared to, he could have easily conquered a small country. As to why he didn’t, perhaps it was because he thought ruling a country would be a bother.

Nashere was an outstanding young man, such that he might surpass two such eminent teachers.

This wasn’t looking at it with the prejudiced eyes of a parent. Brook had the confidence of having seen it with his own eyes. The opponent had been a woman, but still……

Against a woman, you could be charmed by beautiful limbs and a beautiful face before you knew it, ability and personality be damned.

Except when he had met Nashere’s mother, Eliza. Not that she wasn’t a beautiful woman. Rather she was more beautiful than any woman Brook had met before. And that body, it was well-proportioned without being extravagant.

But, as well thought of as those virtues were, she was also intelligent, and wise. That was what had stolen Brook’s heart.

Eliza was the princess of The Dragon’s Eye, the Highlands, and belonged to one of the larger Moss countries. She was on a whole different level from Brook, who was just the prince of a small country, without even a Dragon name, but the Highland king accepted Brook’s proposal of marriage nonetheless.

The child who was born to Eliza in time was Nashere. His excellence must have been from his mother.

In his younger days, Brook imagined himself a suitable candidate for the duke who would lead the Moss countries, but watching Nashere grow up, he came to realize that it had been a foolish delusion.

He himself had never gone beyond mere cleverness. A hero was a far better human being. The Red Headed Mercenary, Beld, and The Sage of the Wilds who stood before his eyes, Wort, they were the ones who could be called heroes. That these two men had undertaken Nashere’s education was proof that Brook’s eyes were not clouded.

It was unfortunate that Nashere had been born as a prince of a kingdom in the crush that was Moss, and a tiny kingdom at that. What great person, being born here, not being able to take his place in the spotlight, what great person wouldn’t be buried and succumb to decay?

But he wanted to keep Nashere from any taste of the disgusted regret he felt over his own younger days. Brook intended to risk what life remained to him for that cause.

He would unify Moss, the same Moss that spend all it’s days in war, and he would tuck the large neighboring countries into his territory, too. In the end, he would mark even the Thousand Year Kingdom Alania and The Dark Island of Marmo on his map, and The Age of The Sword would pull aside the curtain on a unified Lodoss.

But in order to do so, he needed a strong army.

When he had appealed to, or rather, complained about these things to Court Magician Wort, Wort had replied with those recent words.

There was a demon army.

There were ruins of a fallen ancient kingdom from more than five hundred years ago, in a spot far to the south, beyond the tunnel that led to the village of the southern Dwarf tribe, the Kingdom of Stone, and it was said that inhabitants of the spirit world had been summoned in ancient times and sealed there.

These inhabitants of the spirit world were called demons. They were placed in bodies with powers far beyond the capabilities of human beings, and dark people commanded those fearful powers and special abilities that no human possessed. It was said that this army was more powerful even than all the knights of Lodoss combined. If such a thing really existed……

Brook tried tossing out a casual question. “Are you saying that if I commanded this demon army, I could easily conquer Lodoss?”

“You probably could.” Wort nodded, apparently indifferent. “Although, even if you did unify Lodoss through such means, you probably couldn’t maintain the kingdom for long. The only thing history would remember would be the disgrace of your using the evil creatures. Do you intend to pass on a throne thus endlessly dishonored to Prince Nashere?”

“That is……” Brook was at a loss for an answer.

That was to say, who would praise a throne this small, even an honorable one? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be possible, in the thrall of massive power, even if the throne was painted with blood, if the country was huge?

But he wanted to leave a name behind to history, to Nashere, as a heroic king. That would suit a prince who was a once-in-a-millennium hero.

“In the first place, in order to subdue the demon army, you must release the Demon King from his seal and place him under your rule. The other demons are subordinate to their king, so they will all be ruled by whoever liberates him. However, there are plenty of obstacles to doing so. Many traps have been laid in the labyrinth, and you must break through them and the magical creatures that protect the labyrinth. And then, you will need a sacrifice.”

“A sacrifice?”

“And not just any common sacrifice.”

“Some maiden protected by her purity?”

In response to Brook’s sarcastic question, Wort nodded and smiled grimly. “Even the magicians of the ancient kingdom used pure young girls as sacrifices, just as frequently as the priests of the dark gods. It seems that virgin girls are the closest thing to the origin of life, although they weren’t thought to be a very significant element when I was at studies. We have a hunch that they’re rather a ceremonial decoration. Or maybe a relic of the dark ages when they worshiped nature……”

“I don’t need a lecture on magic.” Brook rebuked Wort for his wandering speech, urging him to continue the story of the demons.

“The sacrifice used to liberate the demon king must be a blood relative of the liberator. The demon king exists only as an immortal soul, he doesn’t have anything like a body.”

“What are you saying, he’s the same as the gods……?” Brook realized how horrible the demon king must be.

In ancient times, the gods divided into factions of light and darkness, and did battle. They lost their bodies and came to exist only as souls.

Their souls were immortal, but because their bodies had been destroyed, they had lost their means of influencing this world. But even though they could no longer exercise it, the power of the gods was so massive it was incalculable. High ranking priests invoked the power of a god by forcing the advent of that god into his own body. These powers were beyond human imagining.

The demon king must have powers comparable to a god’s. Or perhaps he was an evil god.

“Can you offer a pure maiden as a sacrifice, one of your blood relatives?” Wort asked, a teasing note in his voice.

There was only one person who fulfilled the conditions Wort indicated. The Princess of the Moon, Reena, half-sister to Nashere. She was two years younger than Nashere, having turned fourteen just this year.

She had come of age last year, and although she was finally coming into a body that resembled a woman’s, her spirit was still that of a child. Her selfishness was sometimes wearying.

Just like her mother.

Reena’s mother, who had been the second queen, was named Natasha. Originally an itinerant dancing girl, she had a free and unrestrained nature. With ebony hair and eyes, and an ample and flexible body, she had known all of the skills that brought a man joy in bed.

She had had a particularly lewd nature in that respect. Indeed, Brook had been so taken on that point that he made her his second queen……

While his first queen, Eliza, was alive, Natasha had been comparatively mild. She must have detested Eliza, but she feared her at the same time.

Later, when Eliza died of an illness, Natasha’s vices began to appear. She acted quite the empress, earning her the hatred of the people. She drove one of the first queen’s lady’s maids to suicide, and never tired of buying expensive fashions and jewelry. And finally, she crossed a line that should never have been crossed. She had a passionate affair with one of the servants.

Brook decided she had gone far enough.

When she came down with a mild cold, he gave orders to Tatus, an herbalist attached to the court, and had him prepare a poison. To people unaware, it appeared as if her condition had simply deteriorated and she had died. Only the perpetrator would be aware of the poison’s added effects.

Even now, her final words burned Brook’s ears. He couldn’t forget them.

“I curse you. I curse your kingdom, and your royal family……”

The Princess Reena had inherited her hair and eye color from her mother. When she grew up, she too might become like her mother.

She had an important role to play as the daughter of the royal line. Some day she would be married off into the royal line of another country. Whether she would or would not become a captivating marriage partner, that was the important question.

But he wasn’t considering marrying his daughter off just yet. He thought it would be better if she matured more, emotionally. Besides, she might find someone she liked. If a marriage with such a person turned out to also have political meaning, Brook would happily approve. He had no intention of causing her grief by pressuring her into a marriage she was unwilling to accept.

Reena probably misunderstood him, but Brook did love her. How nice it would be to dote on her. Except it didn’t suit the position, the bearing of a king. He had to keep his heart well veiled, so it was often better to be severe.

But it seemed Brook’s heart, and everything else, was visible to this court magician. With his thoughts tending toward the indignant, Brook threw himself onto a couch that had been placed against the wall.

“You can’t keep something like a demon king under your control forever. Eventually, it will get out of control, and spread misfortune across Lodoss.”

“Probably true……” That, Brook could agree with.

If the person who liberated the Demon King died, only then would the demon be freed from the blood ties. So, that being the case, even the magicians of the ancient kingdom had to seal the Demon King in the deep underground labyrinth.

“To judge by recent movements, this region will soon be upset. Without it, you can’t do anything. Your first goal should be unification of Moss, and after that you can subdue the communal towns led by Raiden, and then dispose of the dragon hunters, and the wind and fire tribes of the desert.”

“That’s easily said,” Brook declared ruefully.

Wort took the response calmly, and then he said, “It is a simple thing.”

He look down at Brook, saying nothing else, but thinking that Brook must have invited him here for that very purpose.

He was certain of it.

Brook flashed a wry smile. “I asked you, Lord Tactician.”

“Please, leave it to me. Except, if you plan in haste, you will make mistakes. We must plan slowly, and carry out those plans carefully. Prince Nashere is still young. There is plenty of time.” Wort looked full of confidence.

His dream, beside Nashere’s becoming king of a unified Lodoss, was to wield power. At this point, his interests were in agreement with Brook’s. As far as the king was concerned, The Sage of the Wilds wasn’t just a court magician, he was a trusted friend. This was why a conspiracy like this was even possible.

But–

(Is there enough time……?) Brook muttered in his heart.

But this was only the voice in his heart, there was no reason to speak of it to his trusted friend.

Brook gave Wort the order and he stepped back.

Bowing reverently, Wort excused himself from the room. The door closed after him with a heavy thud.

“Nashere certainly has enough time. But what about me……”

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