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Chapter 3: The Nobleman
19th day of Nemophys – 739 (Asnor counting)
3 months and 8 days before first invasion of Domnex
Everyone stood before him. Peasant, servant, jester, noblemen and even the king. They were all gathered around the well to greet the new arrival at Vreyhold, scrutinising every inch of his expensive clothes, washed brown hair and sheathed sword attached to his belt. His appearance, despite good-looking and easy on the eyes, made the people of Vreyhold unusually nervous.
An unmistakable sense of authority radiated from the new visitor, clashing with that of King Keres himself. He approached the well as if he had built it with his own hands, and the crowd surrounding it were in his employment. Even the king was unnerved by this stranger.
“Welcome to Vreyhold.” King Keres said as confidently as he could. “Are you here for business or to rent one of our beds?”
“I can pick any bed in the castle.” The strange nobleman quickly responded in a slick voice. “I’m aware of how things work around here, and I already know where I want to be. The bed of the king.”
“Naturally.” King Keres muttered, signalling one of his servants to bring forth the usual cups. A young man with blonde hair and dressed in a black livery placed them on the edge of the well and filled them with the rotten water.
“A toast.” Keres Fern averred, handing over a cup to the nobleman and raising his own high up in the air. “May your stay here be a pleasant and life-changing one.”
“I’m counting on it.” The man smiled as he emptied the murky contents of the cup in his mouth and swallowed it. Everyone watched and judged his reaction like they had done countless times before.
The nobleman studied the remaining droplets in the cup before speaking again. “This is good water. I’ve never tasted anything like it.”
“Do you want a refill?” King Keres asked with a diabolical smile, his servant standing ready to fill the cups once more.
The nobleman agreed and finished his second cup with ease. When the footman took the cups away, King Keres invited the nobleman to join him in the castle. In response, the man signalled someone with his fingers and two young men carrying heavy travelling-luggage entered the courtyard through the portcullis leading inside.
“Who are they?” King Keres asked in surprise upon seeing the stranger’s entourage.
“My own servants, of course. Can you imagine travelling without an army of men rubbing your legs and feeding you fresh fruit? Absolutely barbaric.”
“You must come from a prominent family to have so many servants. I don’t remember your name, though.”
“That’s because I haven’t said my name yet.” The nobleman smiled as he started to walk towards the crumbling keep on his own, leaving King Keres behind near the well.
Whatever the name of this stranger, he was a threat. Keres knew that all too well. He also realised that disposing someone from a prominent family was a slippery slope. The last thing Vreyhold needed was more nobles asking questions. Would he allow this man to leave the castle alive? Then again, he said he knew how things worked around Vreyhold. His words could have had a double meaning.
With a troubled mind, King Keres followed the stranger and his servants to the keep. His footsteps echoed as he walked over the paved road, and he noticed how quiet the castle grounds were today, as if everyone was holding their breath in anticipation, even the houses.
Stone stairs marked the end of the paved road, and the grand wooden doors leading inside the keep were wide open. The nobleman was already inside.
King Keres hurried up the stairs and entered the great hall. It was a large rectangular room with many windows and a black-white chequered stone floor, shiny and polished. Wooden tables and benches stood near the walls where people could eat or drink, and a musician was playing on his lute from a balcony overlooking the room. Keres expected to find the nobleman sitting at the high table on the raised platform at the end of the hall, but it was abandoned. He turned to the nearest servant he could find, a girl cleaning the floor.
“Where is that nobleman?” He hissed at the girl, who dropped her wet cleaning rag on the stone floor.
“The – the throne room, Your Majesty.” She stuttered nervously, afraid of what the king might do to her if her answer didn’t please him.
“I should have known.” King Keres sighed. He entered the hallway through a door in the left wall, only ten steps away from the front doors. The setting sun bathed the hallway in an orange light, shining through the large windows, warming the red carpet and expensive paintings and marble statues.
King Keres entered the third door to the right. The door to the throne room. It wasn’t as grand as the great hall, but still impressive enough. The throne was a golden chair in the back of the room, nestled under a canopy of black and red cloth.
The nobleman’s travelling coat was on the floor, and the man himself was casually reclining on the throne. One of his servants had taken off the man’s left boot and was massaging his foot. His other servant was sitting on his lap with his hand under the nobleman’s white shirt.
King Keres had half a mind to order his guards to drag the man to the dungeons, but he had to keep his guest happy.
“Enjoying yourself?” King Keres asked after taking a deep breath to calm himself down.
“Not too shabby.” The man responded with a smile, his hand resting between the legs of the servant sitting on his lap. “I understand why some people would kill to sit on this throne.”
Keres’ heart skipped a beat, filling his veins with ice for only a split second. The man does know what really happens at Vreyhold. Then again, many use that idiom, especially for something as exclusive as being king.
“The life of a king is coveted, but comes with more restrictions than people realise.” King Keres said, hiding the storm that is his thoughts under a casual smirk. “It’s challenging to act out on your impulses when the world is watching. Some things are better done in the dark, or you risk angering dangerous people.” The king’s eyes deliberately wandered to the nobleman’s hand between his male servant’s legs to make sure that the message was loud and clear.
“I reckon you’re quite good at hiding your impulses after all those years of being in charge.” The nobleman smiled, his hand moving closer to the servant’s crotch in an act of defiance. He was taunting Keres.
“I have nothing to hide.” King Keres calmly responded. “But it helps if you surround yourself with people who have similar taste. That way, we can enjoy the finer things in life without too many frowns.”
“I see.” The nobleman muttered, his eyes trained on the fingers of his servant rubbing his feet.
“Why don’t you come down from there so we can have supper? Are you hungry for mutton or… pork sausage?” King Keres was pleased with the outcome of their conversation. If the nobleman really knew what was happening at Vreyhold, then now knows that he’s surrounded. Perhaps that was the reason why his playful smirk had disappeared.
Keres turned his back to the nobleman as he put his boot back on. One of the guards near the door was gripping his halberd tightly, raising his eyebrows to the king. He was begging to kill the nobleman.
King Keres gently shook his head. As long as he didn’t know the name of the man, he couldn’t risk harming him.
Keres returned to the great hall with the nobleman and his two servants. He seated the guest of honour at the high table on the raised platform, while his servants had to dine on the regular tables.
“Where are you from?” King Keres asked the nobleman after eating some of the mutton on his silver plate. If he refused to give up his name, maybe it could be deduced from other questions.
“Near the coast.” The man responded, sipping from his red wine.
Most of the important cities in the Southern Isles were near the coast, but it excluded Procua and Bloomdale from the list. Then again, it was possible that this man wasn’t even from the Southern Isles. He could have come from Tartand or even Shaekos. If that were the case, then killing him wasn’t a problem at all. Those countries were already at war with the Southern Isles. His accent and appearance seemed native to the south, though.
After an hour of more questions, Keres hadn’t made any progress towards identifying the stranger at his table. When it was time for bed, Keres had already used all of his usual tricks, to no avail.
The king’s bedroom was a grand chamber heavily decorated with gold. Stars were embroidered in the black cloth covering up the ceiling, and the largest animal pelts warmed the nobleman’s bare feet.
“This is where you’ll be sleeping tonight, I’ll make do with one of the other rooms.” King Keres said while the nobleman’s servants were busy undressing him. He could imagine the kinds of debauchery that would take place in his own bed, and he loathed the thought that he couldn’t be there for it.
Then again, perhaps there was a way. He quickly turned to the guard near the door and ordered him to fetch Lysa.
“Who is that?” The nobleman asked as Keres returned to him. His white shirt was already on an expensive couch, and his servants were slowly opening his brown trousers.
“A gift for tonight.” King Keres responded. “You have your servants to please you, but now that you’re in my home you could try out my own.”
Before Keres’ guest could respond, a young woman with brown hair entered the room. She wore a simple green dress, but both Keres and Lysa knew that dress would be removed in just a few seconds.
“You’ve seen my taste in company.” The nobleman responded with a frown. “I’m not sure if your girl has the equipment needed to serve me.”
“Now, now.” Keres pouted as he unfastened the top of Lysa’s dress, which quickly fell on the floor. “It’s important to spice things up. You didn’t come here to have the exact same night as the ones at home, did you?”
The nobleman stepped away from his servants who were finished undressing him completely and circled the naked lady in the bedroom. “What do you usually do with her?”
Keres smiled briefly upon hearing the nobleman’s approval. No man could resist Lysa if she spread her legs for them. If there was anyone in the castle who could extract the nobleman’s name, it was her. Much darker things than a name were moaned in the heats of passion.
“If you must know, I usually tie her to the bed.” Keres cheered as he walked to the nearest closet and opened it. Three different kinds of ropes and a thick whip laid on the shelves. The nobleman chose the thinnest rope and handed it over to Lysa.
“All right, then. Tie up King Keres, dear.” He said to her.
“What?” Keres exclaimed in surprise. Lysa’s eyes flashed to him in confusion.
“You just said it yourself, we need to spice things up. Instead of Lysa being tied up, she can do it to you for a change.”
Once again, the nobleman was thwarting Keres’ plans with ease. He had never had such a troublesome guest before. To say it unnerved him was an understatement. Perhaps it didn’t make much of a difference. The happier the nobleman was, the easier it would be to get his name.
“I guess we’ll both have a special night, then.” King Keres finally said, walking up to Lysa who quickly unbuttoned his black shirt and tied his hands the bedpost. He sat on his knees with his back to Lysa and the nobleman, waiting for Lysa to take charge.
“You can leave the room, girl.” Keres heard the nobleman say as he walked to the open closet. He took out the whip. “We don’t need you anymore.”
“But you haven’t even had a taste yet.” Lysa protested in a sweet voice. She approached the nobleman and cupped his manhood in her delicate hands. “I’ve been trained in the arts of love for many years now. I promise you won’t regret it.”
The nobleman responded by hitting her in the face with the whip. “Leave, I said. Don’t make me repeat myself.”
Lysa glanced at Keres again, who gave her a brief nod. Angering his guest was the last thing he wanted to do. The girl picked up her dress and quickly left the room.
“I guess you really don’t like women.” Keres said with his face against the bedpost. “I have to warn you, I’m not that experienced with men.”
“That won’t be a problem.” The nobleman responded, flicking the black whip against Keres’ back. The king groaned in pain, pressing his entire body against the bed in an attempt to escape the whip.
“It’s time we talked for real.” The man said as his servants bolted the door. “How many people have you killed in this castle?”
Keres pulled hard against his restraints, but Lysa’s knot was too strong to break. The man did know everything. Or maybe he only suspected it. “I don’t know what you mean, no one has died here.” The king decided to play dumb and see what would happen.
Another flick of the whip, another red mark on his back.
“Hundreds of people have rented beds at Vreyhold, but they have all mysteriously disappeared. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
“The roads are dangerous.”
The whip cracked against Keres’ back again.
“I’ve escorted one of my servants to your doorstep a fortnight ago. He never walked out. What did you do to him?”
Keres bit his tongue hard. He remembered the young man who arrived two weeks ago, and he could still see his mutilated corpse before him.
The nobleman knew without a doubt. He may not have hard evidence, but he knew. Continuing the façade would be fruitless.
The whip cracked again. “Yes.” Keres moaned in pain. “Yes, your servant is dead. All those other people are dead, rotting in our well.”
“How did he die?” The nobleman was already preparing another hit with the whip, but King Keres answered before he could act.
“He wanted to be a stable boy for a day, so Hendrik tore off his clothes and tied him up in the stables where the horses could mount him as much as they wanted. He died two days later from internal bleeding.”
“He suffered a lot.” The nobleman stated. His voice wasn’t condescending or judgemental, but something else entirely. Something Keres recognised.
“You wouldn’t believe the horrors that have taken place in this castle. The king continued. “A girl wanted to be a clothier but got her eyes and mouth sewn shut. Another ended up in the oven while baking pies. The guards used a man for target practice and someone else was fed to the dogs.”
“Why not?” King Keres smiled. He couldn’t help himself and let out a loud laugh. The nobleman put down his whip and sat down on the bed so he could face the king.
All these murders, all the horror. Hundreds of missing people and grieving families, everyone in the castle taking part in the cover-up of these crimes. The nobleman had expected a convoluted story explaining everything, but the truth was simpler than he could have imagined.
They just liked doing it.
There were no sacrifices to demons or otherworldly forces. No experiments on corpses to chase some mad scientific theory, no money to be made by selling body parts or slaves on the black market and they certainly weren’t cannibals killing for food.
They just liked it.
Pain, torment and agony. Physical and sexual abuse. Stripping power, dignity and sanity from the people. Dismemberment, their victims writhing in their blood and waste. Removing their teeth and fingernails, flaying their skin and using the human hides to make furniture.
They loved it.
“I suppose you’re planning to kill me now.” King Keres sighed, still shaking from the interrogation, the whip marks on his back slowly seeping out blood.
“Kill you?” The nobleman responded with a wicked smile. His brown eyes glowed with mischief upon hearing those words. “No, I’m here to join you. If I wanted you dead, you’d never have seen me.”
King Keres chuckled in relief. “Why didn’t you say so from the start? Would have saved me a lot of trouble. I’ve had countless opportunities to put you down.”
“I like to toy around.” The nobleman said. “Besides, I wanted to prove to you that I’m worthy of staying at Vreyhold.”
“Will you finally give me your name, then?” King Keres asked. The stranger had made him quite curious.
“I’m Henry Septes, son of Mikael Septes, Grand-Duke of Edon.”
“I knew you were related to a Grand-Duke.” Keres responded with a smile. “Can you untie me now?”
“Oh, no.” Henry said, gently playing with his manhood. “I’m not done yet.” He got up from the bed and knelt behind Keres, slowly pulling down the king’s trousers.