Immediately, there was a large audience of kneeling villagers. The villagers were pale. They were on their knees begging for their lives. Some of them even stained and wet their pants when they saw the bloody corpses on the ground.
“Don’t! Don’t!” A thin and sharp voice clearly pleaded among the crowd. After that, a small silhouette crawled forward, clung onto Rody’s thigh and wept. “Your Excellency, they were all forced! They were all forced to do it!” It was the village head’s daughter.
“Forced?” Without waiting for Rody to speak, Sieg immediately shouted, “Just because they were forced to, does it mean that they are not enemy spies? Because of them, I lost 100 of my best comrades! All of them were killed!” Sieg was absolutely furious at that moment. Due to the fierce fight, he lost 100 soldiers from the 200 most elite soldiers he had specially selected. They were from the 20,000 soldiers in the Wolf Fang Army. They were now dead because of the cowardly villagers. The villagers had caused the death of his 100 elite soldiers who had undergone strict training!
“Your Excellency! Your Excellency!” The little girl was so scared that she turned pale but she still clung onto Rody’s thigh. After that, she bowed and repeatedly hit her head on the ground. The impact was loud. Soon, her forehead started to bleed and her face was filled with dirt and tears. She looked extremely miserable.
Rody tried to calm down but his heart was beating violently. He glanced at the 20 villagers on the floor. They were old and young and there were also men as well as women. The villagers all looked fearful. Rody felt sad too.
He was certain that those 20 heads would fall to the ground when he waved his hand. According to the laws of the Empire, collaborating with the enemy and committing treason would cause the whole family to be executed. These villagers had secretly provided the Great Moon Kingdom Army with information and caused them to lose more than 100 soldiers in a surprise attack. They were unable to get away from being persecuted.
However, they were just civilians! Rody hesitated to order their execution. It was a command that Rody was unable to utter. He continued to watch the crying villagers, young and old, men and women, who were of the lowest rank in the Empire’s society. They were pitiful people who worked hard just to obtain 3 meals a day. In fact a few months ago, he was also a civilian like them!
What if this happened to me?
If it was my parents who were captured by the enemy and they used their lives to threaten me…
Rody sighed and dared not continue this line of thought.
For the civilians, the Empire, the emperor, the war, the struggle for the throne were all distant issues and not important. Their own loved ones were far more important!
When he saw Rody’s hesitant face, Sieg gritted his teeth and spoke, “Your Excellency! Don’t be merciful! They have committed a serious crime! If you do not execute them, how can you lead the soldiers? How can you justify this to the ones who died?”
Rody was startled and looked at the soldiers around him. He saw that his soldiers, especially his 100 bodyguards had a cold expression. The soldiers looked at the kneeling villagers with eyes full of hatred. After all, it was the villagers’ secret message that had caused the death of their 100 comrades. That was especially true for his bodyguards who were already holding the hilt of their scimitars as they gnashed their teeth.
“Your Excellency…Your Excellency…” That girl continued to cry at his feet. The blood and the tears on her face had already blended together.
“The law of the Empire states that the whole family of those who commit treason will be executed!” Sieg spoke loudly.
Rody gritted his teeth. He knew that this time, he could not be compassionate. Whatever the reasons were, they had collaborated with the enemy and caused a big loss to the army. More importantly, they exposed the whereabouts of the army. The consequences of such crimes could only be execution.
Sieg signaled and two soldiers rushed forward to pull the girl away. Rody sighed and was about to wave when the girl suddenly struggled with all her strength and cried out, “Your Excellency, please wait! Wait! I… I have something important to say!”
“What else have you not said?” Sieg asked coldly.
The girl was so afraid that she was trembling. She looked at Rody, bit her lip and said, “I know a path that can lead you to the north. Using this path, you can reach Trier Fortress and save half a day or even a day’s worth of time… I… I can show you the way… I beg you, Your Excellency, I beg you don’t execute them… They were actually forced!”
Rody looked at her for a moment and then he looked at the audience before speaking coldly. “Separate them based on their houses! Then, drag out the ones who set the fire! As for the others… set them free!”
Sieg and the captain of the bodyguards exclaimed at the same time.
Sieg looked gloomy and gritted his teeth, “Your Excellency, no matter who they are, those who collaborated with the enemy must be executed! Otherwise, it will not serve as a warning to the others!”
“I know! I know about the laws of the Empire! I am also distressed by the deaths of the soldiers! But… but, have you ever thought that… they are just civilians!”
Rody took a deep breath. “I think that most of the officers here were born as civilians. We are all soldiers! As soldiers of the Empire, it is our responsibility to defend the Empire’s territory! We are supposed to guard their homes and protect the civilians! It is true that they have sinned! They were forced to do so because their loved ones were captured by the Great Moon Kingdom! But why were their loved ones captured in the first place? Why?”
Looking at the audience, Rody continued, “This is our fault! We were not able to defend their homes! The Great Moon Kingdom was allowed to rampage on our territory! This is all our fault! If the army was able to prevent the enemy from entering our territory and protect the homes of the civilians, they would not have been forced to collaborate with the Great Moon Kingdom!”
Taking another deep breath, Rody continued slowly, “I know you are not satisfied. I know that you cannot accept that your comrades died like this! However, those who should be punished are not the civilians! To begin with, they should not even have to face the enemy butchers! That was supposed to be done by us! Your hatred should not be directed to these unarmed villagers but those butchers in the Great Moon Kingdom!”
Again, no one spoke.
“Your Excellency…” Sieg clenched his jaw but he did not continue to speak.
Rody did not look at Sieg. He slowly turned to look at the villagers who were kneeling on the ground and said, “I know it was not done voluntarily! I know that you were forced to do it! However, you have still committed treason! You have caused the tragic death of 100 heroic warriors of the Empire! That is why I cannot forgive you…” Rody ruthlessly continued, “Those who set the fire just now, step forward and accept your punishment! Your families will be safe and forgiven!”
For a moment, there was silence. The soldiers were all looking at Rody but no one moved.
Rody was unhappy and he suddenly shouted, “What are you guys doing?! Must you really kill all of them? Were the scimitars of the ‘Lightning God’s Whip’ sharpened to kill civilians?”
The soldiers were startled when they suddenly heard Rody’s shout. They immediately stood up straight.
“Execution squad, listen to the order!” Sieg suddenly shouted. “Carry out the order!”
Finally, the soldiers moved and separated the 20 villagers. After some commotion, 10 people stepped forward and knelt on the ground. The remaining villagers were pulled to the back by the soldiers.
“Were you the ones who set the fire earlier?” Rody mournfully asked.
After a moment of silence, a man who was in the middle replied softly, “I was the one who set the fire.” The other nine also nodded.
“Because of all of you, 100 heroic soldiers of the Empire died a tragic death! I understand that you were forced to do so to ensure the safety of your family! Yet, you have still caused the death of 100 others! You are all people but those 100 soldiers were people as well! You have families but those who died also had families! You all cherished your families but what about the families of those who have died? Won’t they be heartbroken as well?”
The villagers stayed silent. None of the kneeling villagers raised their heads to look at Rody.
Rody’s voice became deeper as he spoke, “I am now going to execute you according to the laws of the Empire. Do you have any last words?”
The 10 villagers lowered their heads in silence. Even the daughter of the village head did not speak. She only looked at Rody in tears. She also seemed to understand that forgiving their families was already showing mercy beyond the law.
Rody no longer looked at them. He turned around and walked to the back as Sieg coldly signaled the executioners.
The sound of heads being chopped off was soon heard and it was followed by sad crying from a distance. Sieg then walked forward with big strides.
Rody glanced at him and slowly said, “Commander Sieg, I know that you are not contented with this but I believe that you can understand my approach. I can punish the criminals so that the dead may rest in peace. However, I cannot raise a hand against the innocent villagers.”
There was a long silence before Sieg opened his mouth to speak, “Your Excellency, I understand. I will redirect this hatred to the Great Moon Kingdom! They have killed 100 of us! I will kill 1,000… no… 10,000 of them!”
Rody shook his head and lightly said, “Enough. They already know our whereabouts. We cannot stay here any longer! Give an order to immediately set out! Also… that girl. She said that there is a small path! Take her with us. If we can reach Watt Fortress earlier, we will be safer earlier!”
Sieg nodded and signaled the soldiers to bring the girl up.
“What is your name?”
“Jadelina.” The girl bowed. Her voice was still shaking a little.
Rody sternly asked, “Earlier, you mentioned a small path leading to the north. Can this path reach Watt Fortress?”
“It can,” Jadelina spoke softly. She then stopped for a moment. She needed to gather her courage to continue to speak. “This is a path that only my brother and I know. He fled back here from Trier Fortress using this path. Using this path to reach Watt Fortress can probably save you a day of traveling.”
Sieg carefully asked a few more questions to determine if the path was concealed. Jadelina replied that it was a path that her brother found by chance when he went hunting in the mountains. However, it was a rugged path. It was still suitable for horses to pass by but vehicles would definitely not be able to use it.
“Very good.” Sieg gave Rody a glance. It was good enough if they can pass through on horses. After all, they were not taking a lot of supplies with them.
“Give her a horse. Can you ride?” Rody asked lightly.
“Yes… I can!” Jadelina did not dare to look at Rody. In fact, Rody’s face was still covered in blood. He had not wiped off the bloodstains on his face. It made him look scary.
Soon, the messenger finished conveying the order to set out. At that moment, Jadelina suddenly plucked up her courage and begged Rody, “Your Excellency, could… could you go and save those captured villagers? They…”
“Impossible!” Rody immediately refused. His eyes were cold and detached. “Listen to me, the captured villagers are already dead! The army of the Great Moon Kingdom came out to look for food! Do you think they would share their food with the prisoners? The captured villagers have probably died a long time ago!”
“Boy, do you still think that having power is a pleasant thing?” Andy coldly asked in his mind.
Rody felt depressed to the extent that he could barely breathe. His stomach felt as if it was being crushed by a heavy boulder. “I don’t know… Andy… I found out that there are a lot of things I cannot understand…”