Chapter 558: Punishment
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
“As previously mentioned, the elven language has surpassed the sphere of language that we are able to comprehend. Most of its effective meaning lies in the tacit understanding and resonance of the speaker, which relies on elves’ inherent extraordinary senses that are practically the basic instincts of that ethnic group. Even with mere text, they can reproduce the context, relay a thorough description and realize emotional connection through pronunciation and brushstrokes by reading aloud or touching it. This is something that humans, reliant only on banal speech, cannot imagine…”
In the study room of Mindis Hall, Grand Scholar Bonar was conducting his grammar lesson in a self-assured and composed manner as usual.
Seated in an elegant posture behind the desk, Thales was quietly and meticulously copying the ancient elven script and the five to fifteen phonetic symbols of each letter.
As if nothing had happened the previous night.
“So in writing, the elven language is often concise to an outrageous extent: the grammatical structure of the language of the Ancient Cia elves frequently omits tenses and pronouns, and the word order of the language of the Ancient Rehan elves regularly contains incomprehensible inversions. There’s even a joke about this. A romance novel about a love triangle had been translated from the elven language into a common human text, but readers were split into three conflicting factions after they finished reading it. All three factions argued that the character pair that they liked ended up together. In the end, the original author had to come out and explain that he had actually written about a love hexagon…”
Scholar Bonar’s voice hummed on monotonously, but Thales remained focused.
The Star Lake Guards who stood guard near the entrance were still a partner configuration of a vanguard and a protector (as preferred by Mallos), but no longer Glover and Doyle. Instead, they were the young Ness and buff Bastia, with whom Thales was unfamiliar. Both had displayed admirable performances the night before: the former subdued D.D—who was anxious about his father—with an Iron Fist, while Thales experienced the stiffness of the latter’s abdominal muscles.
‘So, both Glover and Doyle had been relieved from their shifts,’ Thales thought to himself.
“In view of this, in the early years of The Empire, during the Uncivilized Period, when Rudollians created their alphabet based on the elven script, they had to add a plethora of grammatical norms, such as tenses, grammatical voice, subject-predicate-object order et cetera, to clarify things that ancient elves could perceive without added description. This led to another extreme, which evolved into the complex and elaborate ancient language of The Empire with variable rhetoric. As such, we have to pay extra care when reading and translating the language of the elves…”
There was no sun today. A harsh wind blew and the cold was biting.
Mindis Hall thus seemed desolate and muted.
If previous years were anything to go by, Eternal Star City would be deep in winter by now. But the autumn this year seemed exceptionally long, which made it feel miserable, dull and grim.
The Duke of Star Lake silently moved his wrist and watched as letters, one after the other, formed on the paper.
After one night, his back was stiff, his forehead was sore and the side of his legs were chilly.
All of these served as reminders that the corner of the bedroom was not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
“Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why different ethnic groups have different languages, and how different languages shape different ethnic groups—language is a tool, is the result, but also the master, and the cause. It is the best example of a guest that usurps its host and profoundly influences its users in changing times…”
Listening to Scholar Bonar’s low voice, Thales focused his gaze on the letters in front of him as the tip of his brush moved deftly like a machine. Each stroke was meticulous and delicate.
Other than that, there was nothing else.
The “nothing else” that he despised facing.
Scholar Bonar’s voice became hazy. His tone was peculiar and fluctuating.
The young duke did not react. He switched over to the next piece of paper with a blank expression and turned to the next page that he was going to copy.
The next page.
And the next.
But Scholar Bonar suddenly raised his voice, “Dis—tant!”
Thales’ brush wobbled, blotting the paper with a drop of ink.
He snapped out of it and looked up in surprise.
Before him, the poised Scholar Bonar was staring interestedly at Thales with his arms folded.
Scholar Bonar chuckled and explained patiently, “That was a sentence in the language of the Ancient Cia elves. If all the information contained in the pronunciation were to be interpreted, it would probably be translated into—”
The scholar returned to his seat and went on subtly, “Your attention isn’t here with me, not on the lesson, and not even on the letters under your brush, Your Highness.”
Thales was momentarily stunned.
Even though he managed to quickly think of a few excuses, he finally sighed and sincerely apologized, “I’m, I’m sorry Scholar Bonar.”
“Ah no, I’m the one who should apologize,” Scholar Bonar, now holding teacups, continued without a trace of anger, “My lesson has obviously not been interesting enough for you to concentrate on it and forget your worries.”
Thales shook his head. “This is not your fault. You are an excellent teacher. It’s just that I…”
But Bonar interjected, “I heard about what happened last night.”
“It’s good to be respectful and understanding, Your Highness. To not ignore the human value and inner qualities of a person—even if that person is your enemy—is even more admirable.”
“Is it?” the prince forced a smile at these words as he suppressed his chaotic emotions.
Scholar Bonar closed his textbook and said softly, “But don’t forget that you are a person too.”
Upon hearing these words, Thales froze for a moment.
The respected old scholar smiled. “So I thought we might as well end the class early.”
Thales put down his brush.
He just realized that mistakes abound on the page of elven script that he was copying.
The youth sighed. “Thank you for understanding, Scholar Bonar. I am grateful.”
Scholar Bonar responded with a smile.
“The reason why we have to improve our grammar and study languages, and not just stop at the level of everyday conversation and letter-writing, Your Highness,” he stood up and said profoundly, “is because, as humans, we value each other’s values and feelings, and because we want to communicate and understand each other better, in order to unearth and express what’s deep within us.
“Instead of superficial actions and reactions, blind consciousness and misunderstandings, malicious conjectures and suspicions, and our indifferent nature and rules.
“What sets us apart from animals, Your Highness, is not that ‘we’ know how to light a fire…”
The elderly Scholar Bonar carefully put away his teaching materials. “It is that among this ‘we’, some know how to light a fire and some don’t.”
Thales contemplated these profound words without saying anything.
He stood up and bowed.
After Scholar Bonar left, Thales took a look at the gloomy weather outside and summoned Ness and Bastia.
“Any news from Renaissance Palace?”
“None, Your Highness.”
As a trainee vanguard, it was obvious that this was the first time he had been given a task by the prince he served. This young man, who was only a few years older than Thales, was clearly excited. He looked at the prince earnestly and with anticipation.
“Actually, I think the palace is busy right now, with…what happened last night.”
Thales sighed. He felt depressed.
Bastia, who was slightly older, shot a glance at Ness, but the young man was entirely unaware and continued enthusiastically, “Do you want to send someone to inquire at Renaissance Palace? I can—”
“No. That won’t be necessary.”
Thales stood up.
“I need to change. The martial arts lesson is next. Before Mallos arrives,” the duke stood up and unbuttoned his sleeves. After last night, he had a pressing desire to swing a weapon, “I want to warm up at the Training Field.”
Ness responded radiantly, “Of course. I’ll inform the servants now—”
“But, Your Highness,” the slightly older Bastia hesitated to speak. His voice was rugged, like a bellow in a blacksmith’s forge.
“About the Training Field…”
He stopped himself short.
“What is it?” Thales looked at the protector who was as sturdy as a small hill and recalled the latter’s strength when he protected him last night. He wondered whether every royal guard had such a build.
“D.D just came back.”
The hand that was unbuttoning his sleeve froze.
Bastia noticed Thales’ expression and quickly said, “I mean, Doyle. He is with Vanguard Glover at the Training Field…together with Commander Mallos.”
Thales turned around, confused. “So?”
They exchanged a look but did not answer him.
He did not have to wonder for long.
When Thales reached the Training Field, most of the Star Lake Guards were there. They were divided into teams based on rank and duties, and formed a semi-circle—just like when they “tested” Thales previously.
Ness wanted to grab everyone’s attention and have them pay respect to Thales, but Bastia stopped him swiftly.
Thales sensed something was amiss.
Under the overcast sky, everyone stood at attention in silence. No one whispered, and no one moved an extra inch.
Thales’ gaze brushed past them and focused on Mallos, who was standing in front:
He had his hands behind his back. His expression was placid as usual and his gaze was calm, but there was an unnerving aura about him.
Penal Officer Patterson, Logistics Officer Stone, and Flagbearer Fuble—these experienced guards with special statuses stood right behind the watchman with grave expressions.
In front of Mallos, in the center of the Training Field, two men were down on one knee with a hand to their chests and their heads lowered.
Bearing everyone’s gazes.
It was Doyle and Glover.
Thales was mildly stunned.
The prince subconsciously stood to a side of the Training Field and did not proceed forward.
His gut told him that he shouldn’t go any closer.
Still, some noticed the duke’s arrival, but evidently, the situation before them prevented them from greeting him loudly. Many merely bowed slightly and put a hand to their chests.
Mallos quickly noticed Thales too. He glanced over for a bit then indifferently returned to the matter at hand. “Patterson, do your job.”
In front of the crowd, Penal Officer Patterson coldly took a step forward past Mallos and reached the kneeling pair.
“First-class Protector, Danny Doyle.”
The kneeling Doyle shuddered.
The penal officer’s voice was steady, but unfeeling, with a trial-like incontrovertible attitude.
“As the protector of Mindis Hall with the best family background and the most promise, your rash actions last night endangered His Highness and impeded the work of your colleagues, going against your responsibilities as a guard and your mission.”
Thales, who was onlooking from a side, closed his eye. He knew what was going on.
But last night…
Thales recalled the terrified Baron Doyle, the hysteric baroness, and the D.D who brandished his sword in anger.
And he recalled Anker Byrael and his desperate smile.
As well as the countless gazes from the spectators.
He felt uneasy.
“Sharpen thy sword for its blade to shine,” Patterson uttered an antiquated phrase, lowered his gaze and looked coldly at the kneeling D.D. “Do you have anything you wish to appeal?”
Doyle’s clothes were unkempt and his hair was messy. It was a stark contrast to his usual image of a lazy and crafty but well-groomed rich kid.
“None, Penal Officer Patterson.” Doyle took a deep breath. He looked up despondently. Only when he caught sight of Thales did his eyes gleam. “My recklessness implicated High Highness and everyone else. I am willing to take responsibility for my mistakes.”
He put down the hand that was on his knee and knelt on both knees, then said with his head lowered, “Sharpen my sword, for its blade needs shining.”
None of the onlooking guards spoke. Everyone was quietly observing them; the atmosphere was somber.
Patterson took a glance at Mallos. The latter did not speak.
“Very well, then,” the penal officer nodded and commanded indifferently, “Nine lashes.”
With the issue of the verdict, there was a slight commotion amongst the guards, but was quickly suppressed.
Behind Patterson, Capone and Pedrossi of the Discipline Division—the former constantly teased by D.D as “Patterson’s lil’ cotton-padded jacket”, the latter a member of the ad-hoc sniper squad last night—stepped up expressionlessly.
Doyle, who was kneeling on the ground, was well-prepared. As everyone looked on, he silently removed his weapon and handed it over, then took off his armor equipment and items of clothing one by one: coat, jacket, wrist guard, armguard, leather armor, weapon belt, scarf, inner vest…
Until he revealed his muscular and proportionate upper body, shivering in the cold autumn wind.
The penal officer did not stop. He moved on to the next person.
“Caleb Glover, first-class vanguard.”
‘Zombie’ Glover did not respond, but was calm as usual.
As if it wasn’t his name that was called.
“As the most senior and most capable vanguard, you failed to notice your partner’s emotional state. Even after noticing it, you ignored your duty and even disobeyed orders out of sympathy and tolerated his reckless behavior.”
Doyle, who was beside him, bit his lip but did not dare utter a word.
Compared to earlier, Patterson’s rebuke towards Glover was more severe in tone. “Sharpen thy sword for its blade to shine.
“Do you have any objections?”
Glover slowly looked up, like a statue that had been sealed for a thousand years being exposed to air, with dust falling off it.
“No,” Zombie said in a hoarse but calm voice, “Sharpen my sword, for its blade needs shining.”
Patterson took a long look at him before pronouncing, “Seven lashes.”
Without the need for prompting, Glover swiftly knelt on both knees, consciously removed his armor and equipment to reveal his muscular but tanned and rough-hewn body. There were old scars like tiny potholes all over it, in contrast to Doyle’s.
The two knelt on the Training Field with their upper bodies bare, enduring the gazes of their peers.
Mallos remained silent, merely observing coldly.
Thales’ mixed emotions intensified.
Capone of the Discipline Division took two short rods the size of spindles out of the equipment bag and handed them to Doyle and Glover for them to clench between their teeth.
“You have experience in this,” Capone loosened the wooden rod in Glover’s mouth and whispered between the two, “I only have one piece of advice: bite on to it and don’t let it drop.”
On the other hand, Pedrossi methodically pulled out two fist-sized leather objects that had been bundled into bowknots. He slowly unraveled the bundles into two leather whips.
The two whips were slender and sturdy. Pedrossi tried whipping them at thin air, making cracking noises.
This made many guards furrow their brows.
Doyle took a deep breath. Glover looked solemn.
“Hang in there, boys,” Penal Officer Patterson said coldly, “Trust me, I’ve seen the barbed whips that Northlanders use. They are thicker and worse than the ropes used to hang bodies at the city gates.”
Doyle had a calm look of acceptance. He turned around, look towards Thales and nodded at the prince.
Thales sighed and silently nodded back.
Mallos frowned at this sight.
In the next second, Patterson waved a hand.
Capone and Pedrossi were behind the kneeling duo, straightening out the whips.
But in that moment, someone placed a hand on the penal officer’s shoulder.
It was Mallos.
“Gray, you be in charge of Glover.” The watchman looked at the startled Patterson. He walked forward and gestured for Capone to hand him the whip. “As for Protector Doyle, I’ll do it.”
Murmurs could be heard coming from the guards.
Doyle and Glover were extremely surprised too.
Patterson frowned. “Us, handling it personally? There’s actually no need…”
But Mallos interjected, “Since there is a prestigious guest in the crowd, we need to handle it more seriously, don’t you agree?”
The watchman cast a side glance at Thales.
The guards’ chatter was quickly suppressed.
Thales felt a chill in his heart and shot an indignant look at Mallos. “But I—”
“Even though this is an internal affair of the guards, Your Highness,” Mallos did not give Thales a chance to speak. He bowed to the prince and smiled calmly, “You are welcome to look on, and be a witness.
“Or would you be willing to count off the number of lashes for us?”
Thales was incredulous as he struggled to find the words.
Patterson sighed. He trailed behind Glover, pushed the stunned Pedrossi aside and took the whip from him.
Mallos stood behind Doyle. He shook the whip in his hand, smiled at Thales and said before the latter could respond, “Alright, since His Highness won’t do it. Toledo, you do the count off.”
In the crowd, Toledo—Mallos’ military courier—was momentarily stunned.
He looked at his superior, then at the prince, and was at a loss.
Until Mallos ordered, displeased, “Now!”
Toledo did not dare hesitate any longer. He stepped forward, raised his head and yelled, “One!”
The sound of his voice faded off.
As Thales looked on in surprise and anger, Mallos and Patterson swung their arms in unison.
Their actions were deft and the flow of their movement was smooth. The arcs of both whips were almost synchronized and the sound as they whistled through the air was unprecedented!
Thales’ breathing staggered.
In the next second, the sound of high-speed contact between leather and skin ripped through the air—
Crisp, shrill, harsh, spine-chilling.
On the Training Field, Doyle shuddered violently!
He subconsciously put his hands together and hunched forward, but reacted quickly to put his hands back down and straighten his back.
Beside him, Glover clenched the short rod tight between his teeth with an unfazed expression. Stiff as steel, his body merely trembled a little when the whip hit.
But both their breathing quickened.
Thales soon saw, on the backs of the two punished guards—whether rough or smooth-skinned—a thin and ghastly red line appear diagonally from the upper right to lower left. Blood seeped out of it and spread to the surrounding skin.
“At this force,” Thales could hear Bastia let out a soft sigh, intentionally or otherwise, “It’s going to scar.”
The spectators watched with uneven breathing and complex gazes.
Mallos reached out his left hand and halted Toledo from counting off. He gradually said, “Protector Danny Doyle, do you know what your biggest mistake was last night?”
D.D was still wallowing in the excruciating pain of the first lash and did not speak. He clenched tightly onto the short rod with a twisted expression on his face.
Mallos paused before turning towards Toledo.
Toledo did not dare to drag on, and hurriedly counted, “Two!”
Mallos and Patterson’s whip swung forward for the second time.
Doyle and Glover shuddered again.
Thales turned away subconsciously, as if he could feel the searing pain just by watching.
Mallos revealed his usual calm smile. “Protector Doyle…
“Do you know?”
D.D panted and seemed to be struggling.
But finally he took a sharp breath!
He spat out the short rod resolutely said in pain, “Because of my choice, rashness, and selfishness, I endangered His Highness and everyone else!”
Mallos scoffed softly and motioned to Toledo.
The whips sliced through the air once again.
This time, without the short rod in his mouth, Doyle groaned in pain and his entire body slumped forward. It took him a few seconds to kneel upright again.
Looking at Doyle beside him, Glover clenched tighter onto the short rod.
“Wrong answer,” Mallos said calmly.
“Tell me, D.D, when there is a conflict between personal interest and the collective interest,” the watchman shook his whip, “which would you choose?”
As soon as this remark was made, Thales, Doyle Glover and all the guards around them were all stunned.
“Perhaps I should phrase it more plainly. One day, when your family and relatives conflict with your duties and responsibilities,” Mallos, while casting a side glance at the Toledo responsible for counting off, continued indifferently, “How should you choose?”
Toledo sighed. “Four.”
Both whips flew out.
Doyle huffed through gritted teeth. It seemed to be too much to bear for Glover too as his body started to sway.
They gasped for air as blood flowed down their backs.
“What if someone holds your family member’s life against you and threatens you to harm His Highness?”
Mallos started to raise his voice. “Or worse, what if your dearest family member requests that you betray His Highness?”
Thales felt a tightness in his heart.
He suddenly remembered the Prison of Bones, and the old royal guards.
Doyle caught his breath and managed to straighten his back again, but he was already drenched in sweat, cutting a sorry figure.
He hissed in pain. “I, I failed to fulfil my duties last night, Lord Mallos!”
This time, he flung the whip without waiting for Toledo to count off. An explosive sound, more terrifying than before, could be heard.
D.D howled in pain and crumpled to the ground, shuddering uncontrollably.
The onlooking guards shook too.
Patterson was startled before he reacted immediately and whipped Glover, causing the latter to arch his back in spasm.
Toledo hurried to keep up, shouting, “Fife—Five!”
Thales couldn’t bear to look any longer. He directed his gaze away and felt a weight in his heart.
Mallos exhaled. He looked at the trembling Doyle and turned around to look at the other guard that was being punished. “You, Vanguard Caleb Glover.
“How should you choose?”
Equally drenched in sweat, Glover—whose face was covered in dirt—took a few deep breaths. With a determined look in his eye, he straightened his back.
Zombie spat the short rod out and replied in a hoarse voice, “We made a vow, Sir! To devote our lives to the throne and serve the royal power.”
Mallos paced and pursed his lips. “So?”
Under the torture of pain and humiliation, Glover responded with a dreadful expression, “So we need to make sacrifices. Duty over family.”
Thales’ breathing quickened as he listened to Glover’s reply.
Mallos suddenly turned around and let his whip fly!
After a horrible cracking sound, Glover howled in pain and collapsed forward!
Holding his whip, Patterson frowned. He looked at Glover, his supposed responsibility, and looked at Mallos, who had a somber gaze, and was bewildered.
“Give him five more lashes.”
Without waiting for Toledo to count off, Mallos pointed with his chin to Glover on the ground and said to Patterson, “Also, that whip doesn’t count.”
The penal officer was shocked and confused.
“Because you held back, Gray,” Mallos did not wait for him to respond before continuing impassively, “You know I trust you very much.”
The penal officer held on tight to the whip handle without saying a word, and did not dare to show mercy anymore.
Slowly picking himself back up, Doyle looked at Glover, who was trembling on the ground, and hurriedly said, “Lord Mallos, Sir! This has nothing to do with Zombie. Last night, it was me who…”
He ignored the tears and snot rolling down his face and said through gritted teeth, “I made the wrong choice! I wasn’t brave enough to make the sacrifice!”
Mallos frowned and swung his arm.
Doyle slumped on all fours under the force of the whip. Blood trickled down his back as he panted erratically.
“This one, give him five more lashes too,” Mallos commanded impassively without giving any reasons.
Toledo did not dare hesitate further, and continued counting off.
Unable to bear this sight any longer, Thales wanted to speak up. But at the thought of the fact that it was his presence that worsened the situation and added to their punishment, he had to force himself to calm down and swallow his words.
Mallos looked up towards the guards.
The watchman’s voice was soft, but was enough to make everyone stand at attention.
“It’s such an easy word to say, isn’t it?
“Holy, glorious, honorable, stirring, and makes one feel sublime.”
Mallos started to pace and did not continue whipping.
“But many people forget.”
Mallos looked towards the bleak sky. His gaze was hazy, as if looking up at a distant god.
“That sacrifice, in essence…
“Is a transaction.”
Under stunned gazes, the watchman lowered his head.
Doyle and Glover clenched their teeth and straightened their backs again.
“In ancient times, when belief in the Bright God was still prevalent, mortals offered religious sacrifices at the altar in exchange for blessings. This is the origin of sacrifice.”
Upon finishing his sentence, Toledo started a count which led to another whip.
The pair being punished collapsed to the ground again. They propped themselves up with their elbows.
Thales’ pupils narrowed forcibly.
“So it’s the exact opposite of what it sounds like—sacrifice, is selfish.”
Mallos’ tone was profound, “It’s a profit-seeking transaction.”