The 189th chapter ”Old Smoke’s decision”
Within the barn of the Duke’s temporary residence, Longbottom arranged the newly conscripted men’s into single files.
The somewhat crude residence of the Duke only occupied a modest amount of land. Compared to the mansions littered throughout the capital, this place can only be considered middle-lower tier, truly unfit for Du Wei’s status.
Nonetheless, the Duke’s manor is by no means lacking in horses.
When the Rowling Household withdrew from the imperial capital, they had sold all their assets including their original manor; the only exception to this was the horses because Du Wei wanted them for himself.
“You can freely choose your own mount.” Once Longbottom gave the order, those run down warrior’s all had a look of surprise.
Everyone already knew from the beginning who the true lord of this place was the moment they entered the premise. Just yesterday, they were still trying to make a living at the slave market in their pathetic attire, and now, they are in the residence of the famed Duke Tulip!
On top of this, they are allowed to retain a horse for their own use?!
But Longbottom was already secretly shaking his head when he looked at the way these guys were trying to mount their rides. Whispering to Du Wei in a low voice: “Aigh, these guys are only warriors, not Knights. The place we are heading to is the Northwest where even a child knows how to ride.”
Basically, any warrior of the continent can attain a rank from the knight’s association as long as they can pass the assessment. As such, they are can only be considered “warriors” and not “knights”.
At the bare minimum, the so-called Knights must be at least capable of riding a horse!
However, for these lower class warriors, they can’t even keep themselves alive; much less support a mount for their personal use!
The decline of warriors is the current trend floating across the continent. Once recognized as an organization that could stand on par with the magic union, the current Knight’s association has been reduced to the point where they can’t even be put on the table anymore.
“Huh?” Longbottom eyes suddenly lit up because his attentions were quickly focused on Old Smoke. Unlike the rest that could only hang on for their dear lives against their mount, Old Smoke had no trouble whatsoever. In a single swing, his entire body fell neatly into the saddle. With the perfect posture found only among a veteran rider, his body looked very relax without any hint of panic.
“This guy is a ‘Knight’.” Longbottom became intrigued by this Old Smoke: “His martial skills aren’t bad, and his riding skill appears to be quite good. With such skills, why is he reduced to such a state of looking for a job at the slave market?”
This question is also what Du Wei wanted to ask too.
This temporary residence may be small in size, but the typical facilities of a noble’s mansion is still there. For example: a race track.
Leaving behind those happy fledglings to practice their riding skills, Longbottom called Old Smoke over to a lone room. Aside from the two, Du Wei was already inside waiting.
Old Smoke’s expression looked a bit stiff as if he knew what the reason for his summoning is.
Longbottom didn’t wait for Old Smoke to get a proper footing before shouting at him in a loud voice: “Report your service station, knight!”
Almost like a knee-jerking reaction due to years of training, Old Smoke instinctively straightened his legs and arms together before crying out: “Squadron leader of the sixth unit of Royal guards…..”
When he reached the last part, Old Smoke finally realized he is no longer a part of the royal guards.
But both Longbottom and Du Wei were very happy at the results.
Looking at the unnatural expression of this guy called Old Smoke, Du Wei started to smile: “You used to be an officer within the royal guards?”
“…… Yes, that’s right.”
Longbottom smiled with relief: “No wonder, I see you like to tuck your trousers into your boots…… Only the royal guards like to beautify themselves like this.”
Old Smoke somewhat blushed. That’s right, compared to the regular army, the royal guards are different in many aspects. This is especially true when it comes to their visual appearance, in fact, it can be called exemplary.
Their uniforms are always ironed to the teeth and their trousers are always tucked into their boots to make themselves look tall and straight.
But this saying of “liking to beautify” themselves is still deeply hurting Old Smoke. In his mind, the images of that nightmarish moment in the coup is starting to flood back into his head again. 3,000 of the most elite royal guards were slaughtered on that fateful day like defenseless rabbits all because they were ill equipped with these so called “beautiful equipment”.
Soldiers are supposed to pay attention to their appearances, but if this part becomes excessive…. Then they can only be regarded as honor guards.
“Enough, my General.” Du Wei waved at Longbottom with a smile. Turning to face Old Smoke, he then said: “I think you already know what I want to ask without me saying it, right?”
Old Smoke nods before sighing: “My Lord, are you going to tie me up like a deserter?”
Indeed, this is what Old Smoke is most worried about. Within the empire, the punishments for deserters are all the same without exception…. Kill!!
“Tell us about your experience first Old Smoke.” Du Wei smiles.
“I….. Used to be a royal guard.” Old Smoke grits his teeth: “Before the ceremony on that summer day, I’ve been serving in the royal guards for 12 years full…..”
Subsequently, Old Smoke went over all the details of his experience in the coup.
“…… I was hit by an arrow, right here.” Old Smoke points to the wound on his chest: “I fainted, but did not die. When the battlefield is being cleaned, I was treated like a dead body and transported outside the city. In the middle of the night, I woke up and found myself within a mound of dead bodies and the burning smell of carcasses. I didn’t know which side had won at the time, so I didn’t dare call out. Instead, I secretly slipped out of the place by myself…… There were undermanned. With thousands of bodies to deal with, there were only around a hundred guards to keep watch, so I wasn’t discovered.”
“And then what?” Du Wei nods.
“Then I slipped away to a nearby town. In a farmer’s barn house, I spent the night sleeping in the haystacks. By the noon, I woke up and stole a set of clothes to disguise myself. Fortunately, there was a river nearby so I was able to clean my wounds. After that, I was later saved by a traveling merchant team. I explained to them what has transpired in the capital and that I was a normal citizen that got caught in the crossfire. My statement did not arouse and suspicion from them because a lot of innocent people got hurt just like me. After they helped bandage me up, I was given some food and water before being left alone. A few days later, I finally returned to the capital.”
“You’re back.” Du Wei nodded: “Well then, you should already know which side had won in the midst of the coup, right? Since the royalty side won, why didn’t you go back to your post? For someone like you, whom offered their life to fight the enemy, should be heavily rewarded if you returned.”
Old Smoke was silent, but Du Wei can tell, this 30 or so old man is burning with fire in his eyes!
“My Lord, we have a total of 3,000 people, most of them are dead now. Especially my team, my brothers, they all died. There’s also my squadron, our captain is dead too. Among my squadron, I fear I’m the only one left alive.”
Old Smoke’s voice became intense: “I’ve been there for 12 years, always loyal to the court. Whenever we get off our shift, me and my brothers would always go out. We would drink, we would gamble, and we would even go find woman together. I remember, I once fell off my mount and broke my leg. At that time, my squad captain personally brought me back from the race trace! But now….. They’re all dead.” When it comes to the last part, Old Smoke’s voice sounded a little dry: “They’re all dead now….”
Du Wei could not say anything while Longbottom only bit his lips in hesitation.
“I remember their names. They are all my brothers, my officers. Knight Hank, he is a good captain. He may be strict, but he would treat us to drinks once we were off duty. There’s also Ignazio, I still owe him money from gambling. And Russa, I even fought with him the day before over women. I wanted to apologize after the end of the day too, but now….” Old Smoke’s voice suddenly started to tremble clumsily as he repeated this phrase:
“But they’re all dead now, they’re all dead…….”
“But their death is not your fault.” Du Wei looked at Old Smoke in the eye: “They were killed by the rebels. You are very lucky not to die, so why did you not go back?”
Old Smoke did not answer Du Wei’s question, instead, he raised a question in reply.
“Your dukeship, the details of the coup d’état was later spread around, so everyone knew what was going on.” Old Smoke’s eye suddenly became murky like that of a dying man: “My lord, Prince Son became the Regent. On that day, he knew about the revolt, and he made preparations ahead of time! With his plan completed, he will eventually become the emperor, right?”
Du Wei suddenly feels like he understood the inner thoughts of this middle aged man!
“Since Prince Son already knew, why didn’t he stop it?”
“If Prince Son already knew, then why did we – the 3,000 royal guards – have to die?”
“If Prince Son already knew, then why didn’t he do something before the coup took place?”
Regarding these questions, Du Wei couldn’t answer it, or rather; he cannot say it out loud.
“Your excellency, do you find it impossible to answer?” Old Smoke smiles wryly: “I myself actually know.”
He sucks in a deep breath: “Because Prince Son never intended to block off that coup. He needed the coup to remove the crown prince. Therefore, the 3,000 of us needed to die. From the start, we were the bait, the bait to lure the crown prince into making the gigantic mistake. With his plan completed, Prince Son can now smoothly step up to the throne…. From the beginning till now, we were already abandoned!”
At the end, Old Smoke concluded: “I understand all of this.”
Du Wei only sighed but the fat chubby Longbottom standing next to him suddenly gave the table a heavy punch.
“I am a member of the royal guards.” Old Smoke’s voice sounded heavy: “I was once loyal to the royal household. As long as the royal flag points to a place, I’m willing to use my blood to fight for their dignity! Yet, I suddenly found out the people I swore my loyalty to all these years didn’t actually deserve my loyalty!”
“I’m a soldier, I am willing to die! But…… I’m definitely not willing to die for someone that abandoned me! Since I survived that battle, I refuse to ever go back to serve the royal family!”
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