The confession that was muttered in a whisper echoed in the air between them. Ellard stayed silent, savouring his words and fell into memories of the woman he loved deeply while Carr quietly frowned.
He had never heard a case where humans and demons fell in love. There was never a fairy tale or rumours about such situations. Just like Arte’s explanation before, demons always one-sidedly deceived humans to copulate and sired a child. There was no word of love between that relationship. Carr had never hoped to be loved by anyone, he never put that word in his heart before.
However, right here, in front of him was a human who was cursed and abandoned because he fell in love with a demon.
“Then? How did it go?”
“I tried my best to persuade the Holy Lady.”
Ellard answered slowly,
“…but I failed. In the end, she died in the hands of the Holy Lady and I was demoted from my positioned, cursed, and excommunicated from the church of the sun. And this is the result.”
“You don’t laugh at my situation.”
“Why should I laugh at you?”
Ellard’s armour tilted slightly forward – in its own, it was a gesture of gratitude. Carr looked away, feeling awkward, noticing the sword that was lying next to them on the ground. It was very rusty that it could no longer be used. He could imagine when the sword was shiny – like brand new. His mind went to the woman whose sword tip was supposed to protect, whose judgement caused the owner’s heartbreak.
“Aren’t you blaming the Holy Lady?”
Carr asked curiously.
“All your life, you risked it to protect her. Shouldn’t she have made one exception and be generous, especially toward those that have been protecting her?”
Ellard burst into a laugh at the question, although it sounded more like a low grumbling than a genuine laugh.
“Thank you, Lord Carr, for your concern but I understand her decision. For her, who was born with overflowing divinity and had a heavy burden on her shoulder, she could never make an exception just for one situation.”
“Is that supposed to be an excuse?”
“It’s a little different than that. Do… you believe that humans are good?”
The answer was immediate. Carr, who had seen how humans were prone to fraud, corruption, deception, and betrayal, shook his head firmly at Ellard.
“That’s right, we can’t just separate things into good and evil. There is always a grey line in between. We cannot call ourselves good and the saying was true for most demons who managed to ignore their instincts, they also cannot be defined as evil. Just like the woman whom I loved wasn’t evil.”
Ellard’s armour moved, crossing its two legs together with its hands placed in the middle, mimicking a meditating person.
“300 years ago, the continent was in chaos. The reason was that majority of demons followed their primitive nature and some humans were profiting from those demons. It was a time where the earth was poisoned, the sun went out, many people were trembling in fear, losing their faith and hope. At that time, the gods sent a saviour in the form of the Holy Lady.”
Ellard, who had lived during the chaos himself, recalled the memories and spoke slowly so Carr could understand.
“To protect her, seven paladins were selected. There was a physical limitation to save everybody which caused the Holy Lady’s decision to bring peace by driving the demons from the land of the living. Not those who were evil.”
The Holy Lady defined all demons as evil to calm people’s hearts and exterminate every single demon without mercy. It was a terrible decision for those who knew the real situation. Eventually, the war against the demon soon turned into a full-fledged war.
The great demon, who was the most powerful of all, struggled but couldn’t defeat the Holy Lady who was protected by the seven gods. The paladins who received blessings from her were also powerful warriors who were able to defeat hundreds of demons in a fight.
The fierce battle continues for a long time, but victory gradually leaned toward human beings under the Holy Lady’s guidance. She knew that she couldn’t root out all demons while she was alive and then decided to end the war by containing all the surviving demons underground.
The Holy Lady was the judge, jury, and executioner. She didn’t allow any exception or prejudice to cloud her judgement. She was able to save the world because she was so merciless.
“….even though I knew it was wrong, I was loyal to my oath that I could never go against the Holy Lady’s words but at the same time, I could not fool myself because I was deeply in love with her. I’m the worst example of a paladin out there.”
“…do you have any regret?
“I don’t regret it.”
There were a lingering smile and firm conviction in his words.
“Even if I mourn about it. However, my greatest regret was that I couldn’t die with her.”
“You don’t look like you really understand it.”
“Well, maybe I don’t. I’ve only ever cared about my survival. I’ve managed to do it without hurting anyone, but I’ve never thought about dying with someone else or wanting to die for myself.”
Carr rubbed the back of his neck as he contemplated Ellard’s situation.
Ellard might have blamed himself for his past, but in Carr’s eyes, he was an impeccable knight. He delivered justice, he had loyalty and recognized by his peers. Although he was an undead for 300 years, he still managed to keep that part of himself that was human.
It was something that Carr, who lived recklessly, could respect.
The story of the Holy Lady was interesting, but Carr was hesitant to inquire about it more. If Ellard’s words were true, the moment the Holy Lady was resurrected Carr would have to become an enemy, not caring whether he was good or evil, because he was a demon.
“There is no shame in admitting that you want to survive. It has a beauty on its own. Anyway, I know this is a personal question, but have you ever fallen in love?”
Carr replied, after glancing at the blue-eyed saint who had risen from the ground. Ellard swallowed a laugh seeing the long paused before his answer.
“Conflict and anguish are privileges that only young people can enjoy when it comes to this matter. This is something that I would have talked to you about with a round of drinks, but it is a pity that I cannot do that.”
“I would have declined. I remember getting burnt a while ago, so even if it’s a free drink I will turn it down.”
“Hahaha. Then how about a cigarette?”
Ellard moved his hand toward the leather bag next to his armour which only baffled Carr even more. The paladin didn’t have to pack foods, after all at his undead state he wouldn’t be thirsty. However, inside the leather bag was dried tobacco leaves rolled up into several cigarettes and a few letters – items that Ellard’s cherished and kept his spirit up in the last 300 years.
“That’s enough. The story itself is enough.”
Carr said, burdened as Ellard offered him a cigarette.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask a favour from you.”
“Yes, I don’t have an actual body, only a soul in an armour. There are no eyes to look around, no nose to smell, no mouth to breathe out. These tobacco leaves came from my hometown and it was the scent that the woman I loved like.”
After hearing such stories, Carr couldn’t refuse the request. Thus, he reached out and took the cigarette.
“And how are you going to smell the cigarette with no eyes or nose?”
“Don’t worry about it, because my senses are still engraved in my soul.”
“Is that so…. I’m getting all sorts of requests lately.”
“Ha-ha, well you’re a good man. I think I know why you were chosen as an escort.”
“The reason is very different from what you think.”
Carr muttered as he scratched the match lightly and the red flame lit the dark forest. Carr lit up the foot of the cigarette and slowly inhaled the tobacco before puffing out the smoke lightly. Just like the paladin said, the tobacco had a mild and good scent, but Carr still could taste some of its bitterness.
The smoke spread into the air and Carr watched how Ellard tilted slightly as if to enjoy the scent. Carr wasn’t someone who enjoyed smoking, but he had tried it before when he encountered tobacco merchants in the past. It was simple curiosity, but he ended up enjoying the feeling.
However, it was a luxury he couldn’t afford because he was a demon.
Perhaps… now that my situation has changed, I can do it again.
“Would she hate it….?”
Ellard pretended that he didn’t hear the question but smiled to himself listening to Carr’s quiet muttering.