Golden Hill Mansion, a traditional stone building, was built before my great-grandfather’s time, and was quite cold in winter. The coldness in the rooms pierced through the bone without a fireplace, and the walls and floors were cold too.
Naturally, the dungeon, which wasn’t equipped with any heating equipment, was extremely cold. There were also small holes which lead directly above, for ventilation, which made the dungeon even colder than the storehouse during winter.
The winter draft was strong, and the unreliable fire in the dungeon flickered weakly.
I wrapped my thick fur cloak tightly around my body as I went down into the dungeon, then there was a crash, and the iron bars shook.
“What’s the matter? It’s noisy.”
“Let me out of here! I beg you! I’m going to freeze to death…!”
The mournful voice pleading from the other side of the bar belonged to a slender man, one of the two prisoners held in this cell since summer. He was shivering, unable to protect himself from the cold in his thin clothing. His blonde hair was a shadow of its former self; dirty and turning a murky shade.
“Shut up… Don’t beg for your life…!”
From the depths of the cell next to him, the other man feebly did his best to draw out a weak yell. It seemed especially exhausting for their older age. Was he exhausted because I tormented him more than the other man? He was the first to be interrogated, an alleged noble who spoke fluent Arxian, and also seemed to be the leader of the bandits.
I watched them in silence without answering either of them, then the blonde man shouted back at the next cell in frustration and impatience.
“Shut up! If you want to die that much, then die alone! I don’t want to freeze to death…!”
“You… have you forgotten your loyalty to God…!?”
The man punched the bars. After being captive for a long time, the man’s will finally succumbed to the life-threatening winter cold.
“Hey, I’ll tell you anything… and everything… save me, let me out of here…. My feet, my toes are hurting so bad…!”
Severe pain in the toes probably meant frostbites. They weren’t given shoes, so their toes seemed to have frozen before their fingers. Seven days had already passed since snow fell and the temperature dropped rapidly. The areas where he has frostbites are probably already completely dead.
“… I see. Yeah, alright. I’ll let you out if you give me information. We’ll even take a look at your feet.”
I think I let out a terribly coaxing voice. Unusually, the edges of my lips lifted up on their own.
“Of course. Honestly, we can’t take care of people who keep silent forever.”
The blonde man shouted with joy while the other man groaned in anger.
“How are you taking care of us!? This…!”
“You shameless bastard!”
I watched in silence as the men, who had lost all their will, shouted at each other. It didn’t seem to be an act. I called out to the soldier, not bothering with the two men, and let the blonde haired man out of his cell.
“Valon! DON’T GO!! VALOOON!!!”
Finally, the dungeon door was closed with the man’s pleading cries behind us.
I ordered the soldier to drag the blonde man, Valon, to the imprisonment room at the army base, and then climbed the stairs to call for Rashiok.
I finally found Rashiok lying in front of Radka’s room on the third floor and slumped my shoulders. Why is he here…?
I was going to have Rashiok witness the interrogation. The blonde haired man wasn’t used to large beasts. The mere presence of Rashiok was enough to frighten and fluster him.
But the loyal Rashiok wouldn’t move from in front of Radka’s room. The beast, who was much bigger than me, wouldn’t budge no matter how much I pushed.
Of course, I wanted to avoid coming into contact with Radka. It was only natural since he had laid his emotions bare and rejected me clearly; I couldn’t think of what to say or reply to him if we met.
I already knew why he couldn’t keep up with his emotions. I knew but couldn’t do anything about it.
Rashiok cleared his throat in exasperation as I glared at him.
Although draconises were intelligent beasts, they don’t have complex thoughts like humans do, and their emotions are simple. His eyes were genuinely telling me that if I don’t want Radka to hate me then I shouldn’t do anything that would make him hate me.
I cussed him in my mind, fucking bastard. Since memories of my past life have come back to haunt me, such crude words have come to my mind more often than not on impulse. The draconis, who I was cussing, didn’t seem to care and his long tail which looked like a snake shook side to side as he laid down in the corridor.
Why don’t I just stop trying to take him with me? His presence in the interrogation room isn’t essential. The man had already lost enough of his will and had begged for his life from the cold. I let go of Rashiok and turned my heel, thinking that I would be able to shake the man up a lot by telling him that I would put him back into the cell.
… At that moment, I fell to my knees and hit my face onto the corridor floor.
I felt intense pain and heat in my nose. I wasn’t injured since the floor was carpeted, but what hurts, hurts. Above all else. I felt a terrible pressure from my back. Rashiok had placed something on my back. It was probably his head. He held the hem of my cloak in his mouth, making me fall down and was pinning me down so that I couldn’t move. This guy.
When I held my nose and looked up, I could feel a warm liquid running down my nose. I had a nosebleed.
I let out in a low voice, but the weight on my back wouldn’t go away. I knew it was useless to struggle, so I quietly put my sleeve to my nose. Clothes are expensive, but carpets are even more expensive.
Then, a small figure came up the stairs. It was Radka, carrying a book under his arm. What good timing.
Radka looked confused before anything else.
It was understandable. In light of my usual behaviour, it was hard to imagine me lying in the corridor, holding my bloody nose with a draconis leaning his head on my back.
“… Hmm, what are you doing?”
“What do I look like I’m doing?”
I answered dumbfoundedly, and Radka rushed over to me and tapped Rashiok on the head. Then, finally, the sluggish weight lifted off my back and disappeared.
This bastard. I cussed Rashiok once again in my mind. This was his goal from the beginning.
“Ah… Let’s stop your nosebleed for now.”
Radka opened the door to his room with an indescribable expression on his face.
There was a bed, writing desk, containers and a shelf that held a bunch of papers and books. I haven’t entered his room for the past year, but it was as empty as before, except for the addition of a shelf. It wasn’t a surprise since I hadn’t given him any money or furniture. However, as I sat down on the bed and looked around the room, I felt the room looked dreary since it was big and wondered if I should at least put a sofa in here.
“Here, hold your nose with this cloth.”
Radka’s mouth was turned down at the corners as he took care of me. As soon as he saw me putting pressure on my nosebleed with my dalmatica sleeve, he took a scrap of clean cotton cloth from the first-aid kit in the corner of the shelf, handed it to me and opened the window slightly to let the air into the room.
I sat quietly for a while and my nose stopped bleeding. The pain from hitting my face onto the floor had also receded. I know that Rashiok will probably do the exact same thing again if I leave now.
I hesitated for a while, then decided to play it safe.
“… How is Elize-dono?”
“Oh, she had a few seizures today. She’s sleeping right now because she’s tired. She was so happy that she hadn’t had that many fevers in this past year.”
Radka had no work to do while Elize was sleeping. Apparently, he spent that time reading, and he came back to his room to put the book he had finished back onto the shelf, and get a new one.
As Radka said, Elize often fell asleep with a fever due to her lack of strength when she had first come here, but since she came to Kaldia, she was gradually able to move, perhaps because the climate here was better. Therefore, I frowned when I heard that she was getting more seizures.
“The doctor seems to be keeping an eye on her for now, but Elize-sama doesn’t seem to think that her illness has gotten worse.”
“Give her the encouragement she needs. I’ll also visit her when I can.”
Elize’s seizures are greatly affected by her mental state. The weaker she is, the more seizures she gets.
“Please do. She’s been complaining that you haven’t gone to visit her ever since I was placed there.”
“… I see.”
I was avoiding Radka, not Elize, but it was true that I avoided going to her room because Radka was there. I told myself that I was too busy to visit her, but I felt awfully guilty when her words were conveyed to me.
I nodded, unable to say anything, and Radka stared at me with dazzling eyes.
“… You’re not using the masculine way to refer to yourself anymore.”
His voice sounded strangely cold. I looked back at Radka in surprise. His expression faded and he seemed to have frozen.
I didn’t know what to say. Radka’s dark red eyes stared into my red ones, as if trying to read what was on my mind. The coldness of his eyes took my breath away.
My instincts whispered to me, I’m sure those eyes are more like mine than anyone else.
“I know that you weren’t expecting gratitude from me when you didn’t kill me. That’s why I’ve always been thinking. I wondered why you would go to the trouble of educating me and keeping me by your side. You were obviously spoiling me. You probably still are, since you haven’t killed me yet, even after all you’ve said and done.”
“But at the same time, you also want to control me. That’s why you killed ‘Radka’. You wanted me to be someone other than ‘Radka’, right?”
I declared as my voice trembled. I knew what Radka was trying to say. I was dimly aware of it, but I’ve blocked it out for the past year.
“I don’t think I’m wrong. Somehow… you’re trying to turn me into Kamil.”
The back of my throat froze. I wanted to tell him to stop talking, but my voice wouldn’t come out.
“You wanted me to replace him. So, you were friendly towards me and tried to keep me close.”
My head was burning. All sorts of emotions were raging out of control. My eyes flickered in front of me.
He knew. Of all people, he knew what was going on inside of my mind even though I didn’t want to see it.
An inaudible voice leaked out from my tightened throat. It was from my left wrist that I had unconsciously clenched. I felt slight pain as the thin chain dug into my skin from inside of my clothes.
“Say. What do you think of me? … I’m always thinking about you. I think about you to take my hatred out on you. I think about how to kill you when you show up in front of me. I think about what you’re thinking about when you let me live… Don’t you think it’s unfair?”
Radka bit his lips.
“I was kept alive for your convenience, but you didn’t give a single thought to my convenience.”
He was absolutely right.
Every time he spoke, his expression changed to one that seemed to be enduring pain.
“… You didn’t even listen to what I had to say. It’s not like I was trying to deceive you at that time. I just didn’t know what you were upset about, and I was just trying to calm you down first.”
Hah, Radka sighed and looked up at the ceiling. Then, he sat down on the chair at the writing desk, as if a thread had been broken.
“I don’t know if you want to keep me alive or kill me. I also don’t know if I want to live or die… anymore. I don’t want to die, but I think it would be better to die than have you kill off ‘Radka’ and live as your puppet…”
His voice was full of emotions. This was the first time I had heard this voice from him.
Why am I making such a small child say these things to me?
I hung my head down. I couldn’t look at him because I felt too pathetic.
“… I’ve been thinking about it all this time. But I really can’t… become a puppet like you want me to… Sorry.”
Why? Why are you apologising?
I’m the one who owes you an apology. The reason why you threw that stone at me, and the reason why I forced you to live and deprived you of your freedom, ――― everything was because of my sins. Now I felt like I understood why I was so outraged.
Perhaps, I had selfishly felt betrayed by him.
That’s… that’s ――― certainly arrogant of me.
“… I can’t cast you away even though I certainly don’t need you.”
I wanted ――― to cut off my ties with Radka. The relationship that had started off in a bad way and twisted by me; I wanted to cut it off.
So, I had to say those words, which were fatal to the both of us.
“I wanted to need you because I needed to take responsibility for killing you, and making you live. I wanted to make you special to me. I wanted you by my side, not because I couldn’t kill you, but because I didn’t want to kill you.”
But it was impossible. Even if I forcefully treated him like how I treated Kamil, our relationship would only change on the surface.
Because of my attitude, we both hid our distrust for each other and couldn’t understand each other, ――― no, our relationship was much worse; he was the only one who tried to understand me and compromise.
How could I, the perpetrator, force Radka, the victim, to understand?
“I can’t kill you. How many people suffered ――― because I live? How many people were tortured and died? How many deaths and sins have I overlooked?”
Those were my sins, which Radka had pointed out clearly. Those were my sins against the citizens. Silence fell. I stood up powerlessly and dragged my wobbling body to the door where Rashiok was waiting.
“I see. So that’s the reason…’
A muffled voice came from behind me just as the door was about to close.
I eventually went to the interrogation room where that man was waiting alone, unaccompanied by Rashiok.