The captured bandits had their mouths covered with a cloth so that they couldn’t bite their tongues, they were stripped naked so no weapons can be hidden, and locked in the dark dungeon with their hands and feet bound.
The cold, damp, dark dungeon had no light shining in, and chipped at people’s wills just by being trapped in here.
The young Radka had only been in here for three days, but even so, he was quite worn out when he got out. Although, he went back to normal after a few days. He slept normally inside this dungeon, even though the lights had been left on, and I now realise that he might unexpectedly have thick skin.
The bandits were only given a tub of water and were left alone for the whole day. The bandits could only crawl and couldn’t even stretch themselves if they wanted to. They also couldn’t drink the only water they were given since their mouths were covered with cloth. This was done to drain them faster.
On the morning of the third day, I had only one person let out of the prison. The bandits probably couldn’t get any decent rest either. The man, who was dragged into the interrogation room at the barracks, looked pale and ghastly. They didn’t receive any food for two days, so he was probably feeling dizzy and nauseous.
“I’ll ask you this first. Do you have anything you want to say?”
The man had been doused in water and dressed in used clothes. His face, which was hidden behind his dirty hair and beard, distorted cynically.
“… I understand how barbaric and brutal Arxian nobles treat their prisoners. This is a valuable experience.”
He’s tough and has good instincts.
This was my first assessment of the man who spoke Arxian and didn’t look down on me for being a child but instead called me an 『Arxian noble』.
“That dungeon was left behind by my father, the most ruthless and wicked man in Arxia. I couldn’t think of a better place for culturally stunted outsiders to rest than that dungeon. You can’t get used to soft beds, right?”
I laughed sarcastically. I no longer cared about people thinking of me as barbaric or brutal. I’m sure everyone in Kaldia thinks that of me.
The fief soldiers, who were holding down the man, all laughed. They don’t hesitate to proclaim that they had low upbringings, so they knew better than me about how to rub people the wrong way. It was the correct decision to let the soldiers decide how to get the enemy to talk.
The bandit flushed slightly at the soldiers’ taunts.
“Hoh, is there a bed like that? I thought that nobles would sleep in straw just like the commoners do.”
“People still sleep in straw in Densel? It seems like there are a lot of pitiful situations when the culture is so far behind. It was a good idea to give you guys the dungeon. Even the humble sleeping quarters of a commoner seem to be too good for you.”
Seeing the ridiculing smug on my face the man seemed to be at a loss for words, only managing to mutter, “This fucking bitch,” in Linguilenian as a comeback.
The soldiers jeered at the scene again. I don’t think they’re actually enjoying this.
I’d like to believe that they were faithfully acting as the ‘extremely vulgar Kaldia army’.
Now then, I’m beginning to see a little of this man’s identity from our sarcastic exchange just now.
He has a strong accent, but he can speak Arxian ――― thus, he’s been educated.
The language he swore in was Linguileaian, a language spoken in Densel and Planates. His pronunciation was smooth, despite speaking in slang, and sounded like someone of the upper class.
His language was clearly not something a bandit would speak. But the information that I had received from Jugfena was ‘bandits had entered the kingdom’. It may be necessary to confirm why Jugfena recognised this group of people as ‘bandits’.
――― After roughly sorting through the information I had obtained, I called out to the soldier at the corner of the room since I wanted to interrogate the man.
“Bring that thing here.”
The soldier stepped forward and nervously unfolded the whip and showed it to the man. The whip, which had several chains and ropes bound together, was knotted together with rope and stained with blood.
Apparently, this was the first toy my father had given my brother to play with. It was for my brother’s sixth birthday celebration, so it should be just right for me now.
I shared this with the man who was looking at the whip in surprise. The man’s face distorted slightly for the first time since entering the room.
“I’m going to ask you a few questions now. I don’t care if you answer or not… There are eleven other people in the dungeon to take your place, after all. However, they won’t get out until I have finished questioning you.”
The man’s face became more twisted when I told him this.
“The last person will starve to death by the time he’s let out.”
The soldiers let out a coarsen laugh. It must have been a good follow-up since the bandit man’s face paled. Were they not on good terms or was there someone in that group of men that he couldn’t let die?
“You… you heinous heathen…!”
The man cursed with resentment.
So, he’s uttered the word ‘heathen’. I’d love to hear about what he believes in. A gloomy joy rose from the corner of my mind at the information that I had obtained easier than I thought I would.
“Well this is going to be a broad question, but first, let’s hear why you came to Arxia.”
The bandit glared at me in silence. There was no need for me to say a lot of words. I ordered the soldiers, who were pinning him down on both sides, to make him kneel and swung the whip down on his back.
Whack, a very painful sound echoed through the interrogation room.
It shouldn’t have caused much damage since he didn’t take off his clothes. With that in mind, I swung the whip about five more times.
The man gritted his teeth and endured the pain. He didn’t even moan. He really isn’t just a mere bandit. If he was a bandit who had invaded Arxia because he had his eyes on the richness of Arxia, then he wouldn’t be strong enough to stay silent while being tortured.
“I’ll ask you a different question. Where were you going?”
“… I don’t know Arxia’s geography.”
The man spat those words out as if he knew that he would be whipped if he remained silent.
I wasn’t impressed by the lie and swung the whip down. A red-black stain appeared on the hemp of the man’s shirt. I whipped him again on his welt, and his skin seemed to have begun to tear.
Did he think that I would believe this lie when he understood Arxia’s geography well enough to skilfully utilise the border lines to escape from the Jugfena soldiers? I changed the whip to my left hand, which was my dominant hand, and swung down with all my might. I heard the sharp sound of the whip hitting the air together with the sound of it hitting flesh. The tear in his skin hit the chains of the whip and his shirt was soon dyed in red.
A moan escaped from the man’s mouth. I saw a few soldiers frowning.
“Uoah, m…. north… we were heading to the north…”
“Y-yes. We were heading to the north since the strong armies are located in the east and south of Arxia, since they have to guard against the neighbouring kingdoms…”
Aside from his reasoning, there is some truth about them heading to the north.
To the north of the eastern portion of Jugfena royal fief and Kaldia is Amon Nohl. Trudging through that mountain range would be extremely difficult even in the summer.
The footsteps of the bandits, upon returning from their detour in Junas, had begun to move northward to avoid the village, a complete change from their previous course. They came back to the centre of Kaldia after coming back from Junas, which was just past Amon Nohl. The bandits were trying to take the shortest distance to the north.
――― They’re quite familiar with the geography in Arxia.
I swung my leg, not my whip, down the man’s back. I stomped over the swollen skin with my weight. Ongoing pain, quite different from the searing, sharp pain of the whip’s swing. People are awfully weak against ongoing pain.
Being kicked by a child would be humiliating in itself. The man groaned lowly every time I swung my leg down.
“Why did you kidnap those women?”
“To find out… the location of the village…”
“You treated them horribly for that.”
“They were useless… some of the younger men got angry and used them… ack!”
I swung my leg down, jamming the heel of my shoes into his skin. His torn flesh was gouged out skilfully, and the man let out an inaudible scream.
“The pain will rise sharply if you control the tempo,” father’s joyful mutter rang through my mind. Things like how to handle the whip and how to hurt people were all knowledge left behind by my father.
The man suddenly fainted as if he had been inflicted with too much pain at once. This was what happened when one experiences too much pain. After all, the man had already been mentally drained for two days before coming here.
When I instructed someone to get me alcohol, one of the soldiers grabbed the bottle of cheap liquor on the desk near the wall as if he had flipped. He seemed to be overwhelmed by the bizarre atmosphere of the interrogation. The soldier jerked the bottle out to me. I turned the bottle over on the man’s back and liquor dripped down his bloodied back. The man regained consciousness with a scream.
“Let’s continue with the questioning. But first, I’ll give you something to keep you awake.”
The more dazed a person becomes, they become less able to think, much less tell a lie. The more a person was cornered and in pain, the more distant their consciousness became.
A clear scream gushed out from the man’s mouth when I swung down the whip.
I finished interrogating everyone four days later.
I couldn’t let my sources of information starve to death, so I gave them a tiny amount of food, and they became even hungrier and worn out.
I was able to get a lot of information out from the bandits by using all the knowledge that had been etched into me because of my father. New information came out during the second round of interrogations, and what I found out was written on a piece of paper so that I can immediately report this to Earl Thelesia, and incidentally, Priestess Faris.
――― I had my doubts, but they really weren’t a normal bandit group. I felt that some of the bandits had received education. Densel was culturally inferior to Arxia, but it was unimaginable for a ruined noble to become a bandit.
That meant that they had Densel nobles, or someone even further up, backing them. It might also be some religious group, since the first man who I had interrogated had said the word ‘heathen’.
All the religions in Densel Dukedom worshipped the main god, Lewa, and those who are associated with Lewa. Hence it was called Lewaism, in contrast to Xia in Arxia.
I couldn’t find out what sect of Lewaism he belonged to in the end… but on the contrary, it was highly likely that this sect was involved in the bandits’ infiltration of Arxia.
Next, their destination was ‘north’. It was almost certain that the anti-noble faction of the church, and people from outside of the kingdom were connected to Nordsterm.
I will have to ask them about where their main unit is hiding in the next interrogation since they were acting as decoys.
I threw my notes of information into a locked drawer in my desk and stretched.
I ended up moaning loudly from muscle pains caused by using the whip.
Around the time when the second round of interrogations was over.
A pigeon arrived from the House of Lords. According to the letter, the bandits, who had invaded the kingdom, put the whole nation on guard, and will be taken into custody by the Royal Army.
“Should I say that it was fortunate that we had them for more than ten days…?”
“Did you know that they would be taken away by the state?”
Gunter, who was standing next to me as Claudia’s replacement guard, reacted to the words that I had muttered in response to the letter. I nodded and explained why I knew.
Although I had a lot of work to do, it was summer, and the heat broke my concentration. I decided to have a little chat with Gunter to change my mood.
“Even though they’ve been captured, they had snuck through the fief that is used for border defence. This hasn’t happened since the war where Artolas was destroyed. The defence at the royal fief isn’t that lax. At the very least, it’s impossible for a ‘mere’ bandit group to invade.”
“But they invaded, didn’t they?”
“Lady Marechan taught me that information about Arxia is scarce outside of the kingdom, especially in Densel, since we’re not on friendly terms with them. Commoners should have even less information about Arxia. The only place in Densel that maintains a connection with Arxia, is the imperial court, where the Arxian diplomats visit… That bandit group had a pretty good grasp of the fief borders in Arxia, so this means that they are connected to the Densel imperial court. Especially the man who spoke fluent Arxian. He might be a noble.”
I spoke while unravelling the information bit by bit, and Gunter’s expression became grimmer and grimmer. Gunter didn’t understand international relations since he was a commoner, but he could still understand how ‘bad’ that bandit gang was.
That was how important the various information that the bandits spilt out were. Therefore, I wanted to squeeze as much information out of them as I could, before they’re taken out of my reach.
I spoke a lot at once and pointed to the pitcher on my desk. I was thirsty from talking. The herb-infused water was especially cold and refreshing and cleared my head from the summer heat. I drank it all at once and resumed talking.
“And I suspect that they have help from someone on the inside. They know too much about our land.”
It was also worrisome that news arrived from Jugfena that concluded them to be ‘bandits’. It was definitely hard to believe that they were a military unit from the situation and their numbers. But there must be a reason for calling them bandits, since they were an unidentified group.
“Yeah, you’re right. But if that’s the case, then why do they want to move the bandits to the high-security capital?”
“A cell in the capital is easier for a noble to contact them. I’m sure the people who got them here will get them out of their reach soon. If it is the Nordsterm faction that I’m worried about, then it’s less convenient for them to be held here.”
“But isn’t it dangerous just to hand them over?”
“Who said that I would?”
I guess he expected it. Gunter said then sighed, “You’ve been raised as a cunning brat…”
I had no intentions of following the orders of the House of Lords and handing over the entire group of bandits. The right to interrogate them was mine until this letter arrived. So, it was possible to ‘kill’ them during interrogation or capture and keep one or two alive.
“I’ve already decided who to kill based on the information we’ve gotten so far. The first one I interrogated and the other one, the blonde one… I shall return to the royal capital with the captured bandits as instructed. Assemble a team for transfer.”
“Understood, My Lord. When are we leaving?”
“Let’s see… That’s up to Claudia.”
“Ah,” Gunter nodded in understanding.
Claudia was currently exploring the northern parts of Kaldia along the fief border line with the Sill Tribe, who are excellent trackers, and the fief army.
We expected that there would have been people who had passed through the north, since the bandits were a diversion and were causing a commotion in the south. The second round of interrogations confirmed this fact, so I had Claudia and the other trace their footsteps and traces in the north.
There were several men who gave information, some of whom were exceptionally young; they couldn’t understand Arxian or even know that they were a diversion. They were only informed that the group was split into two, one to the north and one to the south, in order to split up their pursuers and improve their chances of survival. Did they endure the first round of interrogations because they hoped that the north group would come to their rescue? Whatever the reason was, they didn’t seem to have any more information apart from the stuff they had said during the second round of interrogations.
The ones who held useful information were the ones who had endured the second round of interrogations without telling me anything conclusive… I puzzled over what to do with them since it seemed useless to physically hurt them any further. I can’t be occupied with the bandits forever.
As I told Theomer, I had socialised in the royal capital and we were going to accept craftsmen from other fiefs. I would like to finalise as many plans for the reception as possible while I’m still in the fief. There should also be several problems with the reclaimed land that must be solved in a hurry, so I must take care of those as well.
It was my first time receiving new citizens and taking charge of projects related to that, and I had no time to rest since there are a lot of things to do. This didn’t include the management of the fief, reconstruction work and other tasks that Earl Thelesia was taking care of.
When I thought of it that way, the Earl really did a lot. Considering that the Earl is an old man, and I’m only seven years old, I felt like crying at the unreasonable amount of work I had to do.