Book 1, Chapter 7A

An Irresistible Woman

The army dispersed upon returning to Azan, returning to their homes to rest. Mordred entered Blackrose Castle with Richard in tow, settling him down in a guest room on the outskirts of the castle. Two young maids soon brought him brand new clothes and accessories, even filling the wooden bathtub with hot water. Marquess Gaton would see him at dinner, and by then the boy would have to bathe, change, and rest.

Richard was done with the bath quickly, leaving himself an hour to rest in bed after he was changed. Although he was still tired from the long, arduous journey, he couldn’t calm his excited brain in the slightest. The two maids had bathed him personally, and he didn’t even lift a finger before the process was complete. He’d tried to refuse, even struggled, but they’d easily repressed him with strength greater than that of the village chief. They appeared delicate, but he hadn’t been able to resist them at all, ending up obediently letting them clean him from head to toe. Even the roots of his hair and the crevices of his ears were scrubbed squeaky clean.

The guest room Richard was in wasn’t very expansive, but the ceiling was still more than five metres high. A tall, narrow window was located at the three metre mark, letting the daylight shine in on the unpolished obsidian walls. The rough walls were adorned with tapestries, swords, and shields, a deep scarlet that Richard couldn’t distinguish from dried blood. The room itself was still dark, blurring his sight even at midday without a lamp. He could feel a sinister aura radiating from every corner of the room as he lay in bed.

There was also the fire flowing in his veins: something the two maids had started. They’d been secretly giggling amongst themselves during the bath, but the smart boy had been aware of their ‘special’ intentions.

With both the gloomy cold and searing heat affecting him, Richard’s thoughts grew even more chaotic. Ever since he’d left Rooseland— nay, ever since the enlightenment ceremony that fateful night, everything had felt like a dream. The world right now just seemed so unreal.

He finally heard a knock on the door while he was lost in thought. It was time for dinner, and he was taken to a dining hall within the castle that was quite a distance from the guest room. As he followed the maid to the place, Richard’s only impression of the place was that it was large and dark. All the buildings were extremely tall, to the extent that even though the long, winding passageway was illuminated it couldn’t cast light on every single corner. It left silhouettes looming across the castle amidst the swaying shadows and pitch darkness that normal sight couldn’t pierce through.

At the centre of the castle was an outdoor area he’d passed before, with the vegetation casting flickering shadows that messed further with his vision and caused him to tense up involuntarily.

A faint odour seemed to be diffused throughout the castle, lingering behind and clinging onto him with every step he took. It made him feel repulsed and uncomfortable from the depths of his soul, a disgust that he couldn’t express in words.

The dining hall he was led to wasn’t the largest in Blackrose Castle, but its size was still befitting of even a duke. The hall was fifteen metres tall, extremely lofty and gloomy in spite of the torches lining the walls. Their light could hardly illuminate the mural on the domed roof.

The table was twenty metres long, and Richard sat upright at one end dressed in the attire of a young noble. He was facing his father across the table that could serve up to thirty people at once.

His father was an oddly charismatic man, with a smile on his face. His hair was combed back so neatly that not a single strand was loose, forming an indispensable part of his face alongside his short, thick mustache. Time had already left a noticeable mark on him, fine wrinkles creeping along the corners of his eyes. Those emerald orbs were clear and pure, but those who gazed upon them would feel like they were staring into an abyss. Sat there casually, he skillfully sliced the roasted lamb chops on his plate as he ate in quick bites, sipping on the red wine on occasion. His actions were strangely rhythmic; in fact, even the most fussy etiquette trainer wouldn’t be able to pick out any slip-ups in his actions. Of course, he was eating too quickly, and too much, but his elegance made it hard to notice the several kilograms of lamb vanishing in a few breaths.

Richard couldn’t deny that Gaton was very graceful and charming, even as he wanted to smash the silver plate in his hand into the man’s face. It would be a while before he learnt of the sheer number in that same camp.

But for now he had to bear with it; not for himself, but for his mother. He still didn’t understand the implications of his mother’s wish, but his unwavering determination, patience, and wisdom let him know that he’d understand its profound meaning in the near future.

Little Richard tried his best to sit with his back straight, and handled his food clumsily. The feast laid out in front of him was sumptuous; the delicacies by the huge kitchen of the Blackrose Castle were renowned, and the kitchen crew was made up of the best rotisseurs and patissiers in the entire peninsula. However, he didn’t at all know how to appreciate the food he had put in his mouth. He hadn’t received etiquette training, and one would be able to tell that he came from the countryside just by looking at the way he gripped his fork and knife. He had no clue about table manners.

However, Richard looked very handsome after his change of clothes, and his composed melancholy greatly resembled Gaton’s own. Quite a few amongst the streams of maids entering and leaving the room cast secret glances at the adolescent who’d grow into his manly charm in a couple of years.

After gracefully yet miraculously polishing off over 20 kilograms of lamb chops, Marquess Gaton finally wiped his mouth clean with a snow white napkin and smiled. His huge mouth revealed two rows of dazzling white teeth.

“You are Richard.”

Richard merely nodded, and didn’t say a word. He could tell that Gaton was using a narrative tone, and that sentence didn’t need to be answered.

Gaton smiled. “You’re quite fortunate to be an Archeron… You’re also quite unfortunate, for the very same reason.”

Richard lifted his head and met Gaton’s gaze. He said calmly, “My name is Richard.”

Gaton’s gaze was as clear as water, yet few could look at him in the eye. Yet, Richard had held his head up high and didn’t retreat even by the slightest bit.

Gaton laughed, before exclaiming, “You’re quite like your mother! But she never mentioned that your name was Richard Ragobar?” Although it was a question, he said it as though he was making a statement, just like before.

Little Richard hesitated for a while before speaking. “That’s right.” Now, he had more or less understood a little of his mother’s intentions.

“So, your surname is still Archeron, regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not.” Gaton said. At this point, he had already finished eating the main course. Ten maids stepped forward with a wave of his hands, clearing out the dishes he’d polished off like a stream. They replaced the silverware with brand new ones, and served seven dishes for dessert.

Gaton devoured the dessert once more with the same elegance and speed, speaking at the same time. “Allow me to digress.

“Even the most experienced nobleman would be unable to pick out a flaw in my posture, but those old-school nobles still think that I am part of the nouveau riche. Yet there’s this prominent figure we call Bloodthirsty Philip, someone whose favourite dish is raw demon meat that’s less than an hour old normally. The only exception he makes is to extend it to a day for rare breeds. On top of that, he likes to tear the meat apart with his own two hands before he eats. Still, the old people think he’s the true role model of all nobility. Do you know why?”

Richard shook his head. The world of nobles was an unknown to him, what little information he did have coming from Mordred on their trip. The knight clearly wasn’t a qualified tutor.

“Because this Philip is the great emperor of our Sacred Alliance. His Imperial Majesty wields formidable power and is very temperamental, so the older noble houses don’t wish to infuriate him. There’s benefits to having someone so big in their circles, and the hefty benefits are irresistible.”

Richard understood a little of the explanation, so he nodded.

“You are unfortunate to be an Archeron. You must grow strong and powerful, making the world your paradise, for without strength only hell awaits you in every corner! You won’t have to bother about whether you grew up in the mountains or were born in the most magnificent and majestic of castles. You won’t have to put on an act like I am now, those are all meaningless illusions! You only need to become formidable! You are an Archeron, and Archeron blood courses through your veins! As long as you carry this family name, people will look at you with hopes and expectations, placing you on a pedestal unlike any other! If you are only a tad bit stronger than the ordinary person, YOU WILL DISAPPOINT EVERYONE!”

Gaton’s voice grew louder as he spoke, and by the end of his speech his words were like thunderclaps resounding in Richard’s ears, so much so that the boy started to grow dizzy. He gripped tightly onto the cutlery in his hands as he blankly turned towards the man who continued to maintain impeccable poise despite his volume. He couldn’t care less about the piece of food that had rudely fallen from the tip of his fork and onto his plate.

Gaton suddenly restrained his thundering voice, and revealed that charming smile once more. “As long as you possess enough power, you can do anything you please, regardless of whether it has any meaning or no matter how absurd it is. Just like this.”

As he said that, Gaton called upon a maid and grabbed the clothing in front of her chest. He ripped her entire assembly apart with ferocity, instantly revealing her bare, naked body. The maid instinctively cried out in fear, but immediately choked back the shrieks that were about to follow. She obediently placed her hands on either side of her body, without the slightest intentions of covering up her exposed breasts and abdomen.

The butler, some male servants, and guards and knights were also present in the dining hall, leaning against the wall like statues. Mordred, who’d brought Richard over from the village, was amongst their ranks. They all seemed to come to life at that moment. Even though they remained in standard position, there was no doubt that their eyes were all over the maid’s body. She wasn’t considered extremely beautiful, but her youth gave her a body brimming with attraction.

Richard was dumbstruck, the scene almost too much for the ten-year-old to handle. The toughness he’d trained in since his youth took effect, however, as he held firmly onto the cutlery in his hands to ensure that it didn’t fall out of his grip.

The maid only dared to gather her clothes after Gaton waved his hands, but she didn’t dare cover her bodied. She curtseyed as she maintained normal posture, retreating from the hall while still facing her masters. She only dared to turn around after she reached the hallway, afraid that she’d meet with more misery if she ran away without courtesy.

Indeed, Gaton’s voice sounded from behind her. “I originally wanted to kill someone for you to see, Richard, but I was in a bad mood a while ago so I killed everyone I could get rid of. The other nobles had planted some moles in here! A pity I couldn’t control my temper when I found out.”

Richard turned pale. How could one speak of murder so easily, in such a frivolous tone? Yet, the expressions of everyone in the dining hall remained the same, from the servants to the knights. It was as though what their master just said was as common as him hunting for animals and serving them up with vegetables. It was then that Richard became vaguely aware of what exactly that faint odour permeating the castle was. It was the stench of blood, accumulated over months and years.

Just like he with the main course, Richard couldn’t appreciate the dessert even as he finished it. He tried his best to resist the churning in his stomach, a gruelling task to prevent the food he’d just eaten from rushing up his throat. The smell grew more distinct once he realised its origins, lingering at the tip of his nose.

However, Richard ate quite a bit. He was in puberty, and children who grew up in the mountains were used to eating more. Gaton was rather satisfied. “Eat more, so that you’ll grow quickly. Richard, did your mother have any wishes that she wanted you to fulfill?”

Richard’s expression changed. His silence was an affirmative, but he had no intentions of telling Gaton about them before they’d become reality.

Gaton didn’t press Richard any further, merely saying, “No matter what your mother’s wish is, achieving it is probably no easy feat. I will not assist you directly, nor grant you any power, but I will give you enough chances to grow stronger. As for how far you will go, it all depends on you. I hope that one day, you’ll be able to speak loudly to me.”

Richard nodded, but didn’t speak.

Gaton muttered to himself for a while, and said, “I’ll get you a teacher, and you’ll spend the next few years with her, learning. I hope you’ll give me a pleasant surprise the next time you return. Not just for me, but also for yourself, and for your mother.

“That’s all for tonight. Now go, go meet your brothers and sisters, it’ll be very… meaningful.”

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