The Man Who Repaid Good With Evil
This is a story from fifteen years ago. When he was thirteen years old, Rudolph became a slave in the Trading Country on the Eastern Sea.
He was born as the third son to a well-off family of some note, but when the house fell to ruin he was sold into bondage to pay off debts and forced to work in a merchant vessel.
Money makes the world go round. In the Trading Country where prosperity is valued above all, even people can be treated as goods. There is no such thing as nobility or commoners, only those who have and those who have not.
――――Ahh, why has such a thing happened to me?
Wherever they went, a slave’s work was always excruciating. The pitiful amount of food and rest they received is highly imbalanced against the backbreaking and long hours of work.
When it came to slave owners, there were those who treated their chattel like property and those who treated them like lab rats to mutilate and experiment with at will.
The traders who owned the ship that Rudolph was enslaved on were the former, but it was still an inconceivably cruel time for the young boy who had once lived a relatively comfortable life.
He grew to hate his parents who had abandoned their only son for money. He also grew to bear a deep grudge against his owner who whipped him mercilessly.
But, what he truly wished for most of all, is to live a life where he was just treated like a human being. Even if he can’t go back to his charmed life, even if he had to work hard every day, that would be fine by him.
But, for Rudolph’s dream to come true, he would have to be somehow emancipated.
As if his wishes were heard by the Goddess above, the ship Rudolph slaved in a caught in a sudden storm and shipwrecked.
His health already deteriorated from the harsh conditions aboard, the thirteen year old boy fell into the rough seas, but miraculously was washed ashore without being eaten by monsters that lurked below the waves.
“Are you alright?”
Not being able to move for the wounds that covered his body and believing he was at death’s door, Rudolph suddenly met a girl that he mistook for an angel.
It was a fateful encounter with the fiancee of Crown Prince Albert, the daughter of the most powerful duke in the Empire the Duke of Earlgrey, Shirley Earlgrey, who was currently carrying out an inspection of the eastern provinces.
She listened to Rudolph’s circumstances, about how he had made it to this continent… Not long after, Shirley had offered to employ him as a servant.
After suffering so many twists and turns of fate in his life, he finally met his ultimate benefactor in Shirley who had saved his life and he decided to serve her.
Being a former slave and possessing the black hair that is very rare on the continent apart from travelling merchants from across the seas, many of the nobility regarded Rudolph with suspicion, but Shirley only judged him on his loyalty and work.
“Slavery is still legal in this country and it’s always been a point of ethical differences with the Theocracy, the Kingdom and the Land of Demons. I believe that in order for the Empire to be strong in the future, we need to restore trust with those nations by abolishing the practice.”
Along with other influential people in the nation, led by the Emperor of the time, Shirley was attempting to cultivate the groundwork for an Empire that cared for the downtrodden.
One of the main reasons for this was the hardships she herself had to go through because although she was born as the daughter of a Duke, she had been neglected horribly as a result of her birth condition.
Shirley’s desire to end slavery struck a deep chord with Rudolph who truly understood the pain of being shackled in servitude, but he also began to develop feelings of that were unacceptable between a master and servant.
“It’s thanks to Albert-sama that it’s possible for me to help the nation and its people like this. He rescued me from the darkest time of my life… That’s why I want to stand beside him as he leads the Empire into the next generation.”
But it was a love that could not be. She was the fiancée to the Crown Prince and deeply loved Albert from the bottom of her heart.
She only smiled the brightest when she was with Albert, but why was such a thing reserved only to fiancée? Why couldn’t she look at him like that, when he loved her so dearly? Day by day, he grew more and more depressed and fragile.
“Oh, are you not my older sister’s reliable young squire? It’s nice to meet you, I’m Shirley’s younger sister, Alice Earlgrey.”
It was at such a time when Rudolph was so sad and confused about his feelings, that he met Alice, the girl who would become Empress.
The younger sister of his master was known as a wonderfully kind person who stood out amongst all the other nobles on the continent, she was also known to be very honest and paid no mind to social positions.
The serene and gentle Shirley and the bright and friendly Alice seemed like they would be close sisters, not knowing the true depths of the prejudices of the aristocracy that was the ideal Rudolph held of the Earlgrey household, but the reality was different.
“Shirley-sama, I actually met your younger sister for the first time today, she really seems like a lovely person.”
“Oh… Alice, huh…?”
Rudolph didn’t understand the darkness in Shirley’s words, as she muttered the name of her sister with such a sad expression.
After hearing the story from a maidservant who also served Shirley, Rudolph learned how horribly opposite to the truth his expectations were, hearing of how Alice had been the one who was Shirley’s most passionate tormenter in a family of monsters.
The maid had also told him that she was under strict orders to watch for any attempts by the Earlgrey family to contact or interfere with Shirley, from the Empress of the time; Elizabeth.
Rudolph also became incredibly wary of Alice, but Alice continued to attempt to get closer to Rudolph with each passing day.
“I beg you, I wish to apologize to my older sister before I can never see her again. Won’t you please help me see her?”
“You say you wish to apologize… I know it’s impertinent of me to say this, but I’ve heard the stories of how the family of Duke Earlgrey had tread on Shirley-sama since the day she was born. Even if you say things like that, there’s no way I can trust you enough to let you see Shirley-sama.”
Whenever he rebuked her like that, Alice looked like she was on the verge of tears. Because Shirley herself never said anything bad about her parent’s house, Rudolph’s view of the truth became distorted as he felt more and more sympathy for Alice, beginning to spend more time together with her.
“You are a truly faithful person. I wish I had someone like you by my side… My sister is so lucky.”
“No, I’m just happy to serve her…”
“You’re so humble. Is it because you’re from the Trading Country? That’s why you’re so amazing!”
With a sudden intimacy he wasn’t expecting, Alice had hugged his arm and lavished him with praise.
Whenever that bright and happy person touched him, whenever he smelled the sweet scent of her hair when she hugged him… Little by little, Rudolph’s heart began to belong to Alice.
As the days rolled on and Rudolph reached his sixteenth year, he truly wondered if Alice was the evil woman certain people whispered about, instead just a pure and innocent young girl who truly wanted to reconcile with Shirley.
Being the youngest daughter of a grand noble family, perhaps she was simply an unfortunate younger sister who wasn’t able to protect her older sister, who was born with such hated features?
“Rudolph! Please help me catch Shirley! That woman, she deceived me… Deceived all of us!”
On that day, Albert had implored Rudolph in a fit of rage so intense his face had almost turned blue, as he held Alice whose face was streaked with tears to his chest.
He said that the woman he adored as a saint, his ideal, was all a complete lie. The truth was that Shirley had been threatening the Duke of Earlgrey’s family with rare powers that were the truth of her cursed birth, she had ensnared the Imperial Princess as her puppet, manipulating him with powerful curses and spells and was an all-around evil villainess who had been committing all sorts of atrocities from the shadows.
Of course, he didn’t believe in those absurd accusations at the start, but when the Crown Prince’s testimony was coloured with Alice’s tears, he began to believe it.
――――That woman! She’s even worse than the slavers and parents who treated me like I was nothing!
It had been an unbelievable story at first, but it began to make sense when he realized that Shirley never truly had eyes for any man or woman but Albert.
The resentment that had been building up as a result of never having his feelings even noticed by her exploded in his heart, the love he once felt boiling over into hatred.
Soon after, Shirley was convicted. When she had desperately looked around the hall with tears in those differing eyes, he had averted his gaze.
…Trying to hold down the aching pain in his heart that he couldn’t understand.
A month later, Shirley had escaped from prison and Rudolph was amongst those who initiated the search. He searched everywhere for the wicked woman who had pulled the wool over his eyes with her sweet and gentle words, but in the end, she couldn’t be found and the hunt was eventually called off.
“It’s fine. Maybe it’s for the best if my sister can live quietly somewhere, to reflect on what she’s done.”
“Alice-sama, you are far too kind.”
“Even now she’s still my treasured family member. Isn’t that what family does, forgive each other?”
“You’re so… Truly, you’re the one I should have served from the beginning…”
He gave the kiss of loyalty to her outstretched hand.
As if she had looked down on him for being a former slave, Shirley had never opened herself to him despite having slept around with all sorts of influential people, Alice showered her favours on men from all quarters, including Albert and Rudolph.
“Please keep this a secret from Albert-sama, okay? I’m sure he’d be awful jealous if he found out, hm?”
Alice smiled mischievously and he couldn’t resist her pixy charm as they lay together.
He had forgotten about Shirley a long time ago, drowning in that sweet and pleasant dream for the next eleven years, but one day Rudolph was told a shocking truth.
“False charges…!? Against Shirley Earlgrey you say!?”
The current Emperor and Empress told him with painful expressions as he felt the very earth beneath him seem to quake.
“It’s true that Shirley was living a lie. But, one of our court magicians was curious and studied the case and found that there had actually been a mastermind who had threatened and manipulated her the entire time.”
“T-then who the hell was it!? Who was the damned fiend that did that to her!?”
“The Golden Witch, Canary.”
As soon as he heard those words, it all made sense to Rudolph. The strongest magician known on the continent and an old foe of the Empire, it was not beyond her to manipulate people in high places to try and bring the nation to ruin.
Her reputation as a megalomaniacal villain only made the words of those two more persuasive. In other words, Shirley had been robbed of her free will and forced into performing evil acts?
“I sent people out to investigate and apparently she lives with the children she bore me, in a frontier town in the Kingdom.”
“This… No… How can I… How can I ever apologize to Shirley-sama…!?”
“Don’t give in to despair!”
As Rudolph stood on the edge of a dark pit in his mind, Alice clasped his hands and looked straight into his eyes. Rudolph’s thoughts calmed a bit when he smelled that familiar scent.
“We didn’t truly understand what my sister was going through and did something so terrible to her. But, so long as we’re still alive, all wounds can heal! Therefore, why not meet with her and apologize from the depths of your heart? It’s okay, my sister is a kind person, I’m sure she’ll forgive you.”
At Alice’s words, Rudolph felt like he was seeing the light. He could definitely believe it, because Shirley was the mother of all mercy, the person who had saved his life out of the goodness of her heart all those years ago.
“That being said, Shirley might be wary if you approach her directly. I know it seems cowardly, but the best thing to do would be to have my daughters first return to the Empire. Then, Shirley will come home herself. Then, we can sit down and talk to her sincerely.”
“I understand. On my life, I shall do as you ask.”
“Just please don’t let any harm come to my daughters. After all, they are the successors to the throne.”
Rudolph couldn’t have known. That master he had once respected and loved, just how terrible had her wrath become?
The true nature of that sweet scent he had become so used to since all those years ago was actually a type of magic that twisted the minds of the fragile, useless against those who were confident and driven.
Thinking that now the charges were to be overturned, he dreamed of an impossible future alongside the two women that he loved.
And worst of all, he departed for the Kingdom not knowing just how brutal a mother can be when her children are in danger.
“Infatuate Hell, 《Nerves of the Underworld – Ipetam》”
Following Ig-Alima and Sul-Sagana, what Shirley took out of the toolbox next was something so hideous it didn’t seem like it belonged in this world, a sword that had pulsating blood vessels and nervous systems tangled around it like ivy.
She thrust the sword known as Ipetam into the ground in front of her, then took up the red and blue blades once more and began to chant.
“《Hence Now to the Land of Death》”
Her beautiful white hair flowed as the magical blades were imbued with power.
“《The Primitives Cease Their Howling・The Burning in My Chest Sparks the Flame》”
She spun the spell like a song and anyone who fought alongside her during the Dragon War would know in an instant, that this was a very different chant than the one they’d heard back then.
Kyle did his best to shield the two girls from the onrushing winds that seemed to fill the alley, it was all he could do to watch the back of that Demon Swordswoman.
“《The End is Nigh ・I Hold the Blade that Decapitates the Cycle of Rebirth》”
And as the chant ended, Shirley and Rudolph disappeared from sight.
“《Cease to Breathe、Look Not to Hope》”
Rudolph had been temporarily blinded by the light, but when his eyes adjusted he found himself in a massive place surrounded by incredibly high stone walls on every side, was it a labyrinth? Or a prison?
An old bloodstain is splattered against the bars of an empty gibbet nearby and soon that intense heat that had buffeted him when the spell activated had given way to an intense chill he could feel in his bones.
“Where… Where is this…!?”
When the magical blades Ig-Alima and Sul-Sagana are used in tandem, it activates the world creating magic known as 《The Garden City of the Tyrant》.
A different world that can creative advantageous terrain and laws for the caster that brought it into being, blocking all forms of outside interference and spatial magic escape, when the Demonic White Sword put her mind to use it to create a cage for the enemy in front of her, this is the scenery that emerged based on the image in her head.
The world created with Shirley’s imagination is divided into seven parts. During the Dragon War, she had shown the first of them, a solemnly beautiful world of floating islands full of crumbling ancient ruins designed to be used against an army, 《The Scenic Garden of the Gods》.
And this second world was one that was designed to deal with a single enemy, 《The Chains of the Vagrant Convict》, it was called and it was designated as hell.
“We can talk here without anyone seeing.”
Assuming that Shirley had lain Ig-Alima and Sul-Sagana on the floor because she had no intention to do him harm, Rudolph was relieved and bowed deeply towards her.
“It has been such a long time since we last saw each other, Shirley-sama. Not since eleven years ago… You haven’t changed at all in that time… No, rather, you’ve only grown more beautiful.”
Even after all this time, she looked as young as ever, whilst her gorgeous appearance and refined atmosphere had only grown more pronounced.
It’s as if she was the polar opposite to Alice and had never aged at all… In fact, because of how little she has changed… Her skin is so perfect, anyone could mistake her for a teenage girl.
To Rudolph, it was as if time had stopped ever since the tragic moment of their parting. Just thinking that he could be of use to such a bewitching and sophisticated beauty, perhaps one day even being with her, tears begin to well up in his eyes.
“…So? What were you planning to do?”
But, the praise he gave her was bluntly ignored as if he had never said it at all. Rudolph froze for a moment when he stared into those blue and red eyes that were as cold as ice as they glared back, but then he remembered what he needed to say.
“Shirley-sama… For what happened eleven years ago, I am deeply sorry. I wrongly doubted you and did something truly unforgivable when I should have stood by your side. But, now the misunderstanding has been cleared away. There is no need to fear the power of that hateful Golden Witch anymore, I will do everything I can to protect you.”
“……..I don’t know where I should start, but what exactly has Canary done?”
Shirley rubbed her arms with her hands to steady her shaking limbs. But Rudolph didn’t seem to notice that and kept talking.
“Is it not due to the machinations of that witch that you were forced into such a base and barbarous profession like adventuring? Surely, she must be holding your beloved children hostage in some way? Otherwise, you would never have become an adventurer. It’s so cruel… To send such a gentle lady onto the battlefield… The depravity of it…!”
The way Rudolph sees it, Canary is somehow holding the children born as a result of Shirley and Albert’s deep love hostage, forcing Shirley to swing a sword and suffer injury for the sake of her daughters every day.
If anyone else from the guild heard that story, they’d go slackjawed. The truth is Shirley was the one who defeated the Dragon King in single combat unscathed and was beginning to find true enjoyment in adventuring after all this time, but so thoroughly deceived is Rudolph that he believes that he understands Shirley’s feelings.
“……..Well, honestly, all of that doesn’t matter. What I really want to know is why you tried to kidnap my daughters?”
The subject is changed forcibly to the real point. She had already heard it from Philia, but she doesn’t exactly trust her, so she wants to hear it straight from the source.
“Ah… Forgiving my terrible mistakes of the past, just like the Empress said… You truly are a merciful saint.”
Shirley was tempted to kill him right there and then, but she restrained herself. Now is not the time.
“Just keep talking.”
“Oh, my apologies for my rudeness… Of course, the two princesses are the successors to the throne, inheritors of the venerable bloodline of His Imperial Majesty and Shirley-sama. Unfortunately, Empress Alice has not been blessed with a child, so the seat of the successor remained vacant, but now a ray of hope shines upon the Empire.”
What she heard from Rudolph was the same thing she had heard from Philia.
“So please be at ease, Shirley-sama. I was simply sent to escort Her Highness Princess Sophilea and Her Highness Princess Tionissia back safely to their home in the Empire. Originally the plan was for Shirley-sama to come later, but since you are here now, why not go back to the Empire together with me? I am sure His Imperial Majesty will be very relieved as well.”
She assumed that Sophilea and Tionissia referred to Sophie and Tio due to the similarities of the names.
Shirley had wanted to tell him not to call her daughters such strange names, but the absurdity of what he was saying had managed to keep her mouth closed.
“Let me confirm two things… The reason you falsely accused me and brought me to be condemned is due to the fact I was being manipulated by Canary, deceiving people and committing evil acts under her influence? And you also intended to bring my girls back to the Empire for the sake of the Imperial succession?”
“The latter part is correct… But the former is truly unkind to say. Can we not let bygones be bygones, like water under the bridge?”
Rudolph had a smile on his face as if he had just told a little joke, reaching out a hand to Shirley in respect.
“Now, let us return to the Empire together, Shirley-sama. The happiness denied to you these past eleven years is waiting for you.”
Yes, he has decided, this time Rudolph will be the one who makes Shirley happy. Albert is madly in love with Alice and although Rudolph loves Alice as well, his great ardour for Shirley had been reignited.
Beauty as if bestowed by the Goddess, supple limbs and a bountiful chest that only serve to intensify her irresistibility. Looking at those bejeweled eyes and snow-like hair, his heart and loins burned at the thought of making her his own.
Of course, Rudolph believed that Shirley would accept, but what came out of her mouth was a voice so cold it sent a chill up his spine.
“Yes, I understand now. Just how badly the Empire underestimates us.”
Rudolph’s eyes never saw it for the speed, the hideous sword that was pulled from the ground and slashed towards him in the blink of an eye.
Rudolph’s head flew through the air before he even realized a blade had been swung, his still conscious eyes taking a moment to realize that he was watching his own decapitated body spill blood in torrents onto the stones.
Looking at his own corpse gush blood like a fountain, the pain suddenly became excruciating and his mouth contorted into a voiceless scream.
Ipetam is a legendary Ainu sword that literally means ‘The Eating Blade’ or ‘The Sword that Eats People’.