Volume II : The First Sin
Chapter 56 – In God’s Tone[2994 words]
Princess Sissila got down from the coach and said to the giants, “I may well forgive you. But considering the actions that you’ve committed and the consequences it may cause, I have to dispense a punishment. It will also be a chance for you to acknowledge your fault and redeem yourselves. If you accept this, you can save yourselves from being destroyed by our mighty army.”
Still on his knees, Ussir responded, “We sincerely accept this punishment. May Your Highness have mercy on us.”
Standing upright, the princess somehow looked majestic despite her thin shape. She spoke slowly, “In order to uphold the laws of the kingdom, you will be exiled from the state of Kish. You shall leave your domicile and burn it to ashes.”
It was cruel for the giants, but they couldn’t say no to it. Because even if they didn’t burn their villages, the state army would. Ussir answered quickly, “All the tribes will leave the state and burn their dwellings to ashes.”
The princess nodded with satisfaction, then continued. She put one hand on her chest and pointed the other hand to the sky and said, “In the name of Marduc the Great, you and your people shall pledge loyalty to His Majesty and to the kingdom of Bablon. Wherever you go and live, you must build shrines for His Majesty, offer sacrifice to him and pray for his guidance.”
The people present were taken by surprise. It was justifiable that the subjects of the kingdom of Bablon build shrines for Marduc. However, pragmatically, building a shrine was not that simple. It needed a priest as chaplain that was appointed by the kingdom. As a local administrator, the priests were honored with nobility.
Prince Benut wanted to say something, but refrained after hearing a few whispers from the mayor. Ussir had told Tich that he was a second-level mage. It seemed that he had been telling the truth.
If so, he did meet the criteria that the princess set up. The only imperfection was that the appointing of a chaplain to a shrine usually was meant as an honor. How could an abductor receive such an honor?
As if aware of the confusion the prince had, Princess Sissila continued, “Establishing a shrine and nominating a priest to it requires authorization from the kingdom. It would be an honor for you to become a priest. But don’t get this wrong. I have a dangerous mission for you to accomplish. If you can fulfil it, and establish the shrine, your crimes will be forgiven, and you will be awarded with nobility.”
Ussir answered solemnly, “Whatever mission it is. My fellowmen and I will do our best to fulfil it.”
The princess walked straight to the giants, pushing aside the warriors that tried to stand in front of her to protect her. What a brave woman! She walked to Ussir, took out a folded parchment and handed it to him, “This is the mission I ask you to accomplish. The award you will have is also marked in it. It will be your certificate once you fulfil the mission. Now you may leave… Eliminate your villages and leave this place before the next sunrise. None of you shall stay!”
Ussir raised his hands over his head and received the parchment with respect. Then he got up off his knees with a lowered head, “Yes, Your Highness!”
Ussir went away with the giants, leaving a group of petrified people.
How had the princess been able to do this? It must be her peerless charisma that had overwhelmed those barbaric highlanders, persuading them to acknowledge their sins and be willing to accept punishment. What a king-like exploit! People started to cheer and celebrate the princess’ extraordinary victory.
Watching the triumphant people, Peri seemed to be satisfied. It was nothing but a well arranged play. Although it had deviated to some degree over the course of time, the final scene was still acceptable. Nobody knew what mission Princess Sissila had given to the giants, but none of them cared about that too much. The joyful crew escorted the princess back to the town of Arcade.
It was the second time the princess appeared at the town. This time, the merchants became exalted heroes. The locals were rapturous for the coming of the princess and prince, and the safe return of their brave rescue team. Revelries were held spontaneously for days and nights. Cheers and praises could be heard at every corner of the town.
More than half of the living supplies in the town had been spent. The locals needed the farming tools and cattles before the next spring. Fortunately, the princess generously granted to doubly repay their loss. She sent a herald to the state of Kish. The materials would soon be handed over to the Arcadians.
The goods that the giants had demanded was huge in quantity but not that huge in value. They only added up to several dozens of paragons. It was not hard to purchase all of them in a big city like Kish in a relatively short time. Besides, Princess Sissila had also sent the list of names of all the people in the rescue team to the state city. They would all be rewarded. As leader of the rescue team, Tich, the mayor of Arcade, would be promoted to a higher nobility.
Therefore, although he was still the mayor of a town, his nobility rank was equivalent to the vice quaestor of a state! That was just two grades from the governor of the state!
And it was just the beginning. More importantly, he had won the recognition and appreciation from the princess. It was almost certain that mayor Tich was going to have a bright future.
The volunteers in the rescue team surely deserved special awards. Given his identity as a member of the royal family, Prince Benut and his fellows were not counted as real volunteers. So the only ones that needed to be rewarded were Metatro and Amon.
The mayor tidied up his own house for Princess Sissila and ordered the priest of the town to empty his house for Prince Benut. But the princess chose to meet the two bravemen in the shrine, in the hall where Goddess Mourrin’s sculpture was honored.
The two bravemen were called in one by one to present themselves before the princess. The first one was Amon. After the greetings, the princess granted him a seat and asked him smilingly, “My dear brave young man, if my memory was right, you called yourself Amon? Please tell me where you’re from? The kingdom needs such loyal and brave people as you. I appreciate your courage and loyalty as well.”
Facing the princess and the suspicious-looking mage called Peri, behind him was the sculpture of Goddess Mourrin, Amon somehow felt quite uncomfortable, as if he was being poked through by their looks. He stood up, bowed and answered, “I come from the mountains at the west side of the Euphrate River. I was taught body arts since childhood and practiced to be a good hunter. I’m good at travelling and hunting in the mountains. I followed my friend’s will and joined the rescue mission. By grace of God, Your Highness’ majesty has made the giants acknowledge their guilt. My contribution was trivial in this affair.”
The princess raised her palm and said, “Please don’t say something like that. I wouldn’t have been rescued so soon and safe without your kind help. You deserve a reward from the kingdom. Please name your wish and it would be fulfilled.”
Peri put two plates in front of Amon. One contained two parangons and the other contained forty gold parans. He spoke to Amon emotionlessly, “This is the reward from the state. Don’t mistake it with that from the royalty. You can choose one out of the two offers at your wish.”
Amon nodded and took the gold parans without consideration. A slight doubt skimmed across the mage’s eyes. But he said nothing and stepped back. The princess still watched Amon smilingly and asked kindly, “Please, brave young man Amon, you haven’t told me what you want from me.”
Amon shook his head and replied, “I volunteered to join the rescue team, I wasn’t expecting any extra reward.”
The princess shook her head as well, “No, you have to name one.”
On her side, Peri reminded Amon in a low voice, “This is not a personal thing, Amon. You need to understand. What would the people think if Her Highness gave nothing to the brave that had saved her life? What would the people think if some of the rescuers had received rewards from Her Highness and others had not? It’s about Her Highness’ reputation. You shall consider again.”
The princess smilingly interrupted him, “Don’t be so serious, Peri. Amon isn’t the officials in the courts. There’s a lot of things he is not aware of.” She turned to Amon and spoke kindly, “My brave young man, I really want to thank you. Please let me have the chance to express my gratitude. Tell me, at this moment, what do you want the most in your heart?”
Amon raised his head and looked into her eyes, “My dear princess, I must thank you for your kindness. As you insist, I can tell you what I want the most at this moment… I was in the capital not too long ago. I saw Gilgamesh, your fiancé, entering the gate of the city with his gifts to the God and to you. They were the strings and fangs of Humbaba. It is said that they are the best materials for a warrior’s weapons. If one day I can do more contributions to the kingdom and my merits are enough, I hope to have one of Humbaba’s string and one of Humbaba’s fang from you.”
Peri bristled with anger. This pleb was demanding too much! He reproached Amon, “You don’t know what you are asking! How dare you ask Her Highness for the present from her fiancé?”
Amon had to explain, “I‘m not asking for them now. I was hoping that if one day my merits for the kingdom can match this award, the princess can be generous and let me have this honor.”
The princess watched him for a while. Finally she smiled again, “Don’t be angry, Peri. He was just saying what was on his mind… Amon, I accede to your demand. I will give you a string and a fang of Humbaba, if one day, what you do for the kingdom deserves them. I will explain it to Gilgamesh… Alright. Now you may leave. Tell Metatro to come in.”
Amon bowed and turned round when the princess added words to him, “I heard that you are a fifth-level warrior. Can you show me your achievement in body arts?” Amon turned to her again and saw Peri handing him a knife.
It was inappropriate to use force in front of the princess, even with her permission. Amon took the knife, moved back to the door, then slashed it leftwards, gently. A faint light appeared on the blade and not far from him there was a crack in the air. Then he pointed the knife to himself and placed it on a table beside him.
Peri nodded approvingly, “Fifth level body arts indeed. Thank you. You can leave now.”
Seeing Amon walk out and close the door, a hint of bewilderment emerged on the mage’s face, “He doesn’t seem to be the mage we are looking for. Magic and body arts can’t be practiced at the same pace. Even if he was lucky enough to have a second awakening, he could only achieve a primary level in magic. The signal we received that night was sent by at least a sixth-level advanced mage. Could it be his companion?”
“He is not the mage. You’ve already tested him twice, haven’t you? He chose the gold parans instead of the parangons. This is not something a mage would do… He is an interesting man though. He dared to look into my eyes when speaking to me. Not to mention the reward he asked for. He spoke like a deity.”
Peri laughed scornfully, “That should be called insolence. Please don’t be concerned by such coarse behaviours.”
“I won’t. If anything, I find it quite interesting.”
When Metatro came into the hall, Princess Sissila immediately asked him to show his skill as a fourth-level warrior. Metatro took the knife with great enthusiasm and marked a long crack on the table before handing it back to Peri. When he was asked to choose between gold parans and parangons, he took the parangons without hesitation, saying that they were more convenient to carry.
The princess then asked him what he wanted as a reward. Metatro thought for a while, then got on his knees and said, “My dear princess, I come from the city of Bablon. My great-grandfather, Hessik Nivahem Krutu, was a sixth-level mage and priest of the Marduc Shrine. However, it has been years since my family has lost the noble title and the manor. I became a knight following my ancestors’ wish, seeking a chance to recover the glory of my family. I sincerely look for Your Highness’ guidance. Please enlighten me.”
The princess laughed with delightment, “Although I don’t have the power to re-establish a deprived noble title, as the princess, I can, of course, grant you a new one. The formalities will be done as soon as I return to the capital. From now on, you will be Lord Metatro. You are exempt from all civil taxes. However, it’s not easy to take back your great-grandfather’s title and manor, until you make significant contributions to the kingdom.”
Metatro answered gratefully, “I understand. It is already beyond my expectation that I can have a noble title. I will do my best till my contributions merit my ancestors’ title.”
The princess continued, “I won’t be staying long in this town. The day after tomorrow, I will be on my way back to the capital. You can come with me, or I can sign you a certificate which you can present to the director of the Archive. Would you be my company, my brave knight? Since you are one of the witnesses, I wish you can present yourself to the court with me.”
“Of course I am willing to. However, I had a deal with my friend. We were heading for somewhere else together when we passed through this town. Please allow me to inform him of my decision. I cannot leave him alone without his pardon.”
Princess Sissila’s eyes blinked, “Oh, you mean your friend Amon? Surely you can talk with him. You can tell him that I asked you to come with me. If you are decided, tell me before tomorrow.”
When Metatro was ready to ask to leave, the princess asked him a final question, “Please tell me, how did you come to know your friend Amon? He claimed to be a hunter in the mountains. How did he come to meet a knight of Bablon?”
Metatro appeared to be a bit embarrassed. He answered cautiously, “Please forgive me, dear princess. I used to travel to the mountains at the west side of the Euphrate River and trade with the dwarfs there to make a living. I got to know Amon in the mountains.”
Peri appeared to be interested, “Is he one of the dwarfs?”
“No, he isn’t.” answered Metatro, “I have once met some fierce beasts and almost lost my life. He came by and saved me. That’s how we met and became friends.”
The princess’ eyes brightened. She stood up and said, “My dear Lord Metatro, if you have a good relationship with the dwarfs, I can give you a mission. If you do well, you can probably take back your ancestors’ manor and title.”
Metatro was excited as well, “I maintain quite a good relationship with them. The headman of one of the tribes there is a good friend of mine. May I know what mission I will have the honor to accomplish?”
However the princess was not eager to engage in this conversation yet. She simply said, “You can come to see me when you return to the capital. Just tell your name to my guards. It’d better if you come with me to the capital… Now you may leave and get your own things sorted.”
Metatro left the hall. Peri frowned and said, “He isn’t the mage either, but a genuine fourth-level warrior. It means someone that we don’t know has been watching us. We need to be more careful. It’s wise to return to the capital. You shouldn’t worry that the king knows about what you have been planning and doing, since they bring nothing but benefit to the kingdom. What we should worry about is that your competitors notice what you are doing.”
Princess Sissila nodded with a sullen face, “I hope that it was just a mage from the Academy that my brother had sent to watch out for me. Keep your ears sharp. Try to find this person. But don’t make your search known. We shall act as if we don’t care about the signal that night anymore.”
“You’ve asked the highlanders to go to that land. Are you also interested in sending the dwarfs there? We have just met this Metatro. We don’t know if he is trustworthy.”
“That’s why I haven’t said anything important yet. We need to observe him and rope him in. I won’t say anything before we are sure that he becomes one of us. He claimed to be the descendant of a deprived noble family. It is easy to find out if he was telling us the truth. If so, then we already know his aspirations. He will certainly be a reliable tool.”