The Land of Wolves: Death unto the Weak, Mercy be None 5
Katya Aurelie was stunned by the news of her brother Jamal Aurelie’s death.
“My brother…is dead…”
Lying on top of her bed, she immediately regretted opening her mouth in front of her maid.
She wasn’t supposed to hear about it. Even though she spent all of her time alone in her quarters, it was inevitable that she would eventually catch wind of it.
“…Leave me be.”
“But my lady…”
“I said, leave me alone!”
Yelling at the maid for her superficial sympathy, Katya threw her pillow at her. Missing its target, the pillow rolled on the floor.
The maid tried to pick the pillow up, but Katya barked, “Get out!”
With a solemn nod, the maid curtsied and quickly made herself scarce.
Katya was left alone in the quiet room. After hearing the door close, she buried her face in her hands.
She always believed that even if he was cut down in battle, he wouldn’t die.
In fact, Jamal himself insisted that he wouldn’t die even if he was killed, and although he was a crass and uncaring older brother, they had an unspoken trust.
And that trust was broken with Jamal’s death.
It was a mistake to place her trust and hopes in such a fragile thing as unfounded faith.
Nothing in life goes as one wants it to.
Rising from deep within her, wasn’t the sound of crying, but rather the broken cries of pain and disappointment crushing her lungs down.
Coughing miserably, Katya folded herself over her frail body.
Her hands searched for her familiar pillow, wanting to hold it tight before her chest, but remembered how she had thrown it across the room. She hated herself for not having the maid pick it up.
—Katya hated herself. She despised herself.
So she couldn’t understand people who were kind to her, who helped her, who were friendly to her. She was afraid of them.
“Wh-Why…Why were you like that!?”
Why did he show me such kindness?
Jamal usually didn’t feel a shred of concern for others, but he was always kind to her.
Katya could not understand it at all.
—Why did I speak so hatefully in my last conversation with him?
Filled with regret, Katya continued to cough as tears streamed down her cheeks.
House Aurelie was a low-ranking noble house of the Vollachian Empire that would likely die out in their lifetime.
This was Katya’s understanding, as she was too weak to marry into another family or to fulfill a woman’s duty of giving birth to strong children.
Since she could not be of any help to her family, they had placed all their hopes in her sibling. Unfortunately, the eldest son passed away, leaving their last hope with Jamal, the second and more problematic son.
Words could not describe the grief and anguish felt by the family when their eldest passed away.
Although he wasn’t Katya’s favorite brother, Picard Aurelie was an outstanding young man with a bright future ahead of him. Though he was gifted with extraordinary abilities, he was not blessed with luck, meeting his demise in a rockfall accident while riding in a dragon carriage.
The feeling of sorrow to those closest to him was further compounded by the fact that Jamal and Katya were also riding in said carriage.
They said, “Those two should’ve died instead of Picard.”
“That would have been better.”
Katya’s heart broke into a million pieces when she heard the malicious gossip.
You could think whatever you want, however, the least you could do was not let others hear such sickening thoughts. It was cruel to place the blame on the two younger siblings. They weren’t worthy as heirs to the empire.
Unlike Katya, who had given in to the gossip, Jamal had challenged all of the silent relatives to a duel and in accordance with the rules of the empire, he had beheaded them all.
“Now that Picard is dead, the Aurelie Empire is ours. Wait and see, Katya. I’ll make sure that you never have a reason to scowl again,” radiated Jamal with a smile, drenched in the blood of a decapitated relative.
In spite of Katya’s scowl in response, seeing the head roll away was almost enough to alleviate the cries of resentment that had wrapped hold of itself deep in her for so long.
“From this day forward, the House of Aurelie will begin its rapid march forward!”
She was no prophet, but as Katya watched Jamal’s enthusiastic cries, she was convinced that the family line would die out.
With the death of their eldest and the rebellious new heir, their father, the head of House Aurelie, became desperate following the disappearance of the sibling’s mother.
Both parents had little interest in their own daughter, who was born with poor health.
Even though they were traumatized by their eldest’s death, Katya felt nothing. On the surface, he was good to others, but he was always cold to Katya and hated her.
Of course, Katya disliked him in return. Although she didn’t wish for his death, she also didn’t feel any remorse or sadness when he met his maker.
Jamal is the only one in the family who cares for me.
He was a hopeless brother, but Jamal was the only family she had. If Jamal wished it, Katya would willingly help him reach his rash ambitions.
She wasn’t a great beauty and was of little use as a woman due to her poor health. But if Jamal thought she could be of use politically and wanted to marry her off, Katya was more than willing to help him.
“Meet Todd Fang. My colleague.”
Deep in her heart, Katya knew that Jamal lacked the charm of a nobleman when he returned from a war zone, bringing back with him someone he wanted to introduce her to.
Katya had never discussed the future of the family with him.
Jamal had no idea that Katya had resigned her future away, but it didn’t matter. He remained confident in his plan, even though it wasn’t a very good one.
Even if it wasn’t an impossible plan…
“Mr. Todd, may I ask what position you hold?”
“Sorry? Oh, you mean the social standing of my family or my army title? Well, I wasn’t born into a great family, and I’m the lowest ranking soldier. But, I suppose this promotion would make me a Private First-Class, don’t you agree?
“I suppose so…”
“Damn right he is!” butted in Jamal. “Listen to this, Katya. He was awarded for his distinguished service in the army. He was the one that, well…beheaded the rebel leader.”
Jamal patted Todd on the shoulder with a look of pride on his face.
Introducing such a man to Katya felt like a cruel joke. There were still so many unanswered questions that demanded an explanation.
Such as what had happened to his right eye or why he burst into his sister’s—who was nonetheless a lady—private quarters without permission. And why he would introduce her to a stranger who was neither of an acceptable social rank nor held a high position in the army.
Katya’s mind was filled with such questions, but Jamal, with an open and unruffled expression, said to Katya, “I like this guy. How about it, Katya? How would you like to have him as your husband?”
The Aurelie family might very well die out in our own lifetime, she thought.
“I don’t know much about the world of nobility,” Todd began, “but I understand that you and Jamal are in a bad position.”
“I don’t need you to tell me that,” snapped back Katya.
“You have every right to think that way, but Jamal doesn’t see it that way. That’s the problem, isn’t it? I’m not sure how he feels about it.”
Katya sighed as Todd leaned his head against her bed.
Katya made a strange noise with a mixture of emotions upon hearing Jamal’s gory introduction to Todd, provoking a fit of madness where she drove them away when she smashed a nearby vase with a pillow.
If a man was to see such eccentric behavior from a woman on their first meeting, he would be disillusioned, regardless of what he had been told beforehand. Katya doubted her brother had any of the charm required to make his friends and colleagues want to see her again.
But despite Katya’s attempts to drive Todd away with her sour attitude, he continued to drop by the Aurelie house to see her.
“Hmm? What’s up? Is there something on my face?”
“……Your face has shady weirdo written all over it.”
“Ha-ha-ha-ha, what the heck? Saying I look like a shady weirdo is an awful thing to say.”
Even when she gave him snide remarks, Todd would laugh them off.
Katya felt puzzled by the ordeal. Her attitude was not very ladylike, and yet he wouldn’t even leave her room.
Katya didn’t like to be exposed to the sun, so all of the windows in the room were covered with thick curtains and she rarely got out of bed except to use the bathroom.
“Are you feeling self-conscious because you can’t go outside with me?” asked Todd “If that’s the case, I’d appreciate it if you made use of my gift.”
With a friendly smile on his face, Todd pointed to the chair with wheels in a corner of the room—a product of Kararagi origin. Apparently, it could be used to seat a person with a limp and push them around from behind.
“A chair on wheels is crazy. I’ll fall.”
“I’ve made it so that you won’t fall out of it. It’ll be tough to move around by yourself, but I won’t leave you alone. That won’t be an inconvenience to you, will it?
He had gone to the trouble of setting it up for Katya, and had given it to her as a gift.
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. —I don’t know what to do…why would Todd do that for me?
“…Do you like my brother, by any chance?” asked Katya.
“Oh, come on, that’s a terrible misunderstanding. Don’t tell me you think I’m trying to get Jamal to like me through you? That would just piss him off, don’t you think?
“…Yeah. I suppose so. You’re kind of a weird guy. Odd and creepy.”
That’s why I haven’t even laid a finger on that wheelchair. But I still don’t get what he’s after.
“I can’t walk, I can’t have children, there’s not a single womanly thing about me, and I have a twisted personality. And on top of that, there’s my troublesome brother.”
“You’re right, I can’t love you for that last flaw.”
Her breath stopped. This went against everything she knew. She had been ridiculed endlessly by others her entire life. She cursed herself for her inability to have children and here stood a man before her who claimed he loved her.
It was all a lie. It had to be. Todd was crazy to love a cursed woman like her. But what was the point of deceiving Katya like this? Was he after the Aurelie family fortune? They may have looked wealthy to a commoner, but this home wasn’t worth ransacking.
“Todd, I don’t understand you.”
“I don’t really mind, Katya. Even if you don’t understand me, I don’t give a single damn. But I want you to remember just one thing.”
Todd reached for Katya, who sat up on her bed, her back resting on a pillow. He stood up, pulling her hands close to him. Katya’s eyes widened and her shoulders tensed in response.
Todd gently stroked her pale cheeks and said, “I love you with every fiber of my being,” before he went on. “This is no exaggeration. I love you, no questions asked.”
I’m not good enough to be loved. Jamal has always showered me with kindness, but that’s because he’s my brother. I had another brother who didn’t care for me, Picard. But Jamal was the exception.
But what would that make Todd? I don’t know. I don’t know, and I’m afraid of not knowing.
“I want to make the world an easier place for you and Jamal to live in.”
Katya could not say anything to Todd’s gentle smile or the touch of his unusually cold hand.
After some time, their relatives disappeared without an explanation. They had often interfered in Katya’s life and in Jamal’s post as an imperial soldier. So, Katya was more than happy to stay in the dark about such reasons.
She accepted the fact that Todd Fang was a curious man, and when he asked for her hand in marriage, she accepted, entrusting their futures to one another.
—And so, the countdown had begun for the downfall of House Aurelie, or so she thought.
—Turning forward to the present, as Katya learns of the news of her brother’s death.
Hearing the coughing Katya fall out from her bed, the maid rushed to the scene to help her. The strong scent of incense filled the room and Katya recalled the morning of her brother’s departure for his next expedition.
Wearing the now-familiar eyepatch, Jamal was headed to the eastern territories with Todd. For some reason, when he returned from his mission, Jamal was more excited to talk about the wedding plans than the engaged couple themselves.
Even when he was alone with Todd, he would still bring the topic of the upcoming marriage up. It bothered her that he thought so highly of their partnership.
That’s why Katya said those awful, childish things. There was always a chance that he might die on a mission, so she didn’t want to make a big deal out of the ceremony.
I sent my brother off without even conveying a word of good luck and safety in arms. As a result, Jamal died. He promised me that he would come home safely, but he broke his word. But how could I blame him when it was me who was in the wrong in the first place?
So, you see…
“Lady Katya, Master Todd is here to see you.”
Katya gave a curt reply and went to her wheelchair. It was a gift from Todd, and one that she had been using for some time without any resistance. The wheels were hard to turn with her hands, but it allowed her to move freely around the room.
With some difficulty, Katya managed to turn the wheelchair towards the door.
“My brother…is dead…”
Why did this pathetic man who claimed he loved me come back?
I don’t know what to make of any of this. My entire life is filled with misfortune. —Oh, how I despise myself so.
“Katya, it’s me. I’m coming in.”
There was a knock at the door and a man’s voice lingered in her ears. Katya grabbed the vase on the table. The door slowly opened, and aiming at the man on the other side, she threw the heavy vase with all her might.
“You complete pest!” she cried, lashing out at her fiancé and cursing her misfortune.