Chapter 29

“T-Tafel’s missing, milord!” A sentry said as he stood outside a storage room. The door opened and Zollstock stepped out. He had bags under his eyes and his hair was disheveled. His white robe was smudged with dirt.

“Where’s Prim?” he asked.

“She was found in Tafel’s room tied up and gagged,” the sentry said.

“Does Mina know?” Zollstock asked.

“Yes, she sent me to come find you, milord,” the sentry said while lowering his head.

Zollstock sighed and placed his forehead into his hand. “Just kill me now.”

“Don’t worry, milord. Prim wasn’t tied up long; we have guards searching for her now. She couldn’t have gone very far,” the sentry said. “Would you like me to tell your wife that we were unable to find you? I can call you again after she’s found.”

“Please do,” Zollstock said as he raised his head up. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Retter, milord,” Retter said.

Zollstock nodded. “When she’s found, expect a promotion.”

“Thank you, milord,” Retter said with his right hand to his chest. “As a fellow husband, I understand your plight.”

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“He couldn’t be found?” Mina said as she stared at Retter. “Is that so?”

“Yes, milady,” Retter said and stared at his feet.

“So, he’s hiding from me too?” Mina said as her purple dress and hair fluttered. “Very well, you’re dismissed.”

Retter saluted and left the room with a pounding chest. Mina turned to look at Prim. Prim was wearing a black dress with a white apron over it. Her white hair was curled and shoulder length. She had a single grey horn, three inches long, sprouting from the center of her forehead. Her irises were purple and wrinkles framed her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mina,” she said. “She overpowered me and gagged me before I could do anything. I didn’t realize she had gotten so strong.”

Mina shook her head. “It’s not your fault. It’s Zollstock’s,” she said and gnashed her teeth, “that useless husband of mine. Abandoning her in the wild with a family of dragons. Why couldn’t I have married a better man?”

Prim didn’t say anything.

Mina sighed. “I didn’t mean to get angry,” Mina said and shook her head, “it’s just… whenever I look at Tafel, I see myself in her. I don’t want her to make the same mistakes I made. I don’t want to see her cry when her heart breaks. But she’s always fighting against me; I just don’t know what to do.” Mina buried her face in her hands.

Prim put her arm around Mina’s shoulder and pulled her close. “Sometimes children fall when they learn how to walk,” she said, “that doesn’t mean you should stop them from learning to walk.”

Mina leaned into Prim. “There’s no happiness to be found at the end if she becomes an adventurer,” she said and sniffed.

“Do you regret becoming an adventurer?” Prim asked.

Mina nodded. “I do. I miss the nights spent sleeping under the moon. I miss the thrill of winning against a stronger opponent. I miss the satisfaction of raising my level. I miss my companions who I traveled with. I miss him, most of all. My heart hurts every time I see him, knowing I can’t be with him, knowing that I have to be cold to him, pretending to hate him. It would have been better if I never adventured at all, at least I wouldn’t know what I was missing.”

Prim sighed and stroked her hair. “You poor, poor child,” she said. “Maybe you should’ve gone with Tafel to see the dragons instead of Zollstock.”

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How’d they find out so quickly? Tafel thought as she crouched behind a house across the street from the demon lord’s castle. She was wearing a black cloak on top of her white woolen sweater and brown leather pants. The hood cast shadows over her face and only her mouth could be seen.

Sentries bustled throughout the streets calling for Tafel. Bystanders whispered to each other discussing the behavior of the princess.

“Oh? Isn’t that Tafel?” a voice called out from above her.

Tafel jumped and fell over. She looked up at saw her grandmother’s face looking down at her from outside her window. She shook her head and scrambled away.

Her grandmother smiled. “I can recognize your aura from anywhere, child. Would you like some tea? You won’t get anywhere with all those sentries around anyway. Come, keep your lonely old grandmother company.”

Tafel stopped for a moment. She sighed and went inside the house. Her grandmother was wearing pink pajamas. Wrinkles adorned her face and two horns sprouting from her temple, wrapping around her white hair. Tafel took a seat on the chair opposite her grandmother.

She picked up the steaming tea cup and looked into her grandmother’s eyes. “You won’t tell?”

Her grandmother shook her head. “I’m too old to care about these things anymore,” she said. “Just drink some tea with me.”

Tafel sipped the tea and her belly turned warm. She felt her mana circulating in her body. She looked up at her grandmother with wide eyes.

Her grandmother smiled at her. “Good tea, eh?” she said. “Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?”

Tafel nodded. “Mom never lets me do what I want. She makes me practice the harp every day, read books about politics and geography. She makes me wear stuffy dresses that takes hours to put on and take off. She makes Prim teach me how to act like a lady and I get punished when I do something un-lady like. I don’t get to play with other children and I don’t get to read the books I want to read. I made my first friend and now mom won’t let me see him.” Tears formed in Tafel’s eyes and her breathes became short. “I hate being a princess; why can’t I just be normal? I want to have adventures and see the world like the people in the stories.” Tafel sniffed and covered her face with her hands.

Her grandmother sighed. Oh, Mina. What have you done? she thought.

“Would you like me to help you, Tafel?” she asked. “I used to be a pretty strong black mage you know? It runs in the family.”

Tafel looked up and said through sobs, “R-really?”

Her grandmother nodded. “Your mother shouldn’t have any problems if I teach you,” she said. “I did raise her after all.”

Tafel was silent for a moment.

“Why does mom hate me?” Tafel asked and sipped her tea.

“Oh, Tafel. She doesn’t hate you,” her grandmother said. “She just doesn’t know how to raise you. Your mother used to be an adventurer too, you know? She had to stop, though, because your father took a fancy to her when she was seventeen and passing through the capital. Of course our family was ecstatic that the prince liked her, so they arranged a marriage with the royal family. Mina wasn’t so happy about that.” Her grandmother sighed. “I think she’s afraid something similar will happen to you.”

Tafel frowned. “She’s still mean to me,” she said, “and I don’t like that.”

“You’re right. You shouldn’t like that,” her grandmother said. “More tea?”

Tafel nodded.

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“The undead are back!”

Gale stopped writing and sighed. He donned his mithril robe and walked outside.

“You think it’s going to be the same as yesterday?”

“I hope so. If they seriously fought us, we’d lose.”

“Would you volunteer to duel them?”

“Heck no. You crazy? I have a wife and kid at home waiting for me.”

Gale watched as the knights and paladins ambled to the courtyard as the ground trembled. A few demons yawned and stretched as they made their way to the gate. Gale shook his head, but didn’t say anything. He saw Dustin standing on top of the city wall and walked up to him.

“It’s about the same size as last time,” Dustin said.

“Same formation as last time,” Gale shouted towards the soldiers, “don’t let your guards down.”

The ground stopped trembling and the undead cavalry took the same formation as yesterday.

“Return him,” the undead knight at the front said.

A few cavalry rode forward and threw a naked Opfern onto the ground in front of them before returning to the formation. His legs were tied together with rope and his mouth was gagged.

“What’s the meaning of this?” Dustin asked.

“We need a real noble. Not a fake one who poops his pants in the presence of a child,” the undead knight said. Opfern shivered and covered his head with his hands as tears sprang from his eyes.

“Aren’t ther-. Wait. Give me a second,” the undead knight said and stood still.

A few moments later, he turned around and faced the undead army. “I just got a message from the mistress. We’re going back.”

The cavalry rode away, leaving the bound Opfern behind. Dustin and Gale stared at each other without saying anything.

Two knights opened the gate and went outside to retrieve Opfern. They reached Opfern and were just about to pick him up when forty skeletal hands sprang out of the ground and grabbed them. Twenty skeletons rose up from the ground along with twenty undead horses. Ten skeletons grabbed each knight and they rode off into the distance, chasing the undead cavalry.

The men in the garrison were silent as the screams of the two knights trailed away into the distance. They looked at Opfern.

“Think we should just leave him there?”

 

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