Chapter 6
Conrad and his companions noticed the faint shape of the city despite the sand storm that had recently raged over the sand dunes. Everyone felt relieved. Yuuri and Gwendal must have also stopped at this city to stock up water and to change horses. With some luck, they would be able to find both of them there. Everyone harbored the hope that they would soon see their King and their Chief Commander safe and sound again.
Conrad gathered his men in the lee of some rocks. He dismounted and prepared to explore the situation in the city himself.
"Your Excellency, but you can send one of the men out as scout," protested Boyd.
"That's right," waved Conrad. "However I'm probably the best among us all to deal with the locals. For this purpose, it's best to blend in. It's time I take advantage of my appearance." Boyd's face looked slightly embarrassed as Conrad went on, "You all know I understand the human well. Moreover, I myself am half human."
The voice of the handsome Ex-Prince had returned to normal, a sweet tenor tone. Although he dressed like a police officer in tropical climate, his outfits made him look like a boy scout. It would be no problem in the evening, but during the day, exposing that much skin under the scorching sun was suicidal.
"You have to let me know right away, if you should find Yuuri and my brother," Wolfram said nervously.
Wolfram put both hands on his hip, puffed his chest up and said with a haughty voice: "And if you do not want to join in the search for the Magic Flute, that's not a problem. You can always turn back."
"Why do you say that?"
"I know you don't want to face Gegenhuber. And if we find the Magic Flute, that guy must be near by."
Wolfram's tone towards his brother was still far from being respectful, but at least he seemed to care about Conrad's feeling. Compared to his behavior a few months ago, this was by all means a huge progress.
"Besides, Yuuri would pay more attention to me when you're not around."
"Yes, yes, I got that already."
Conrad held up his left arm to protect his eyes from the sun and walked away.
Almost all the shops in the city, the rows of houses that wriggled like an eel through the dunes, were already closed. The entrance was guarded by many soldiers. They were distinguished from all others by a very strange hairstyle. Conrad remembered the strange people he had seen during his stay in London: The hairstyle of these soldiers was actually very similar to those Englishmen, who pierced holes everywhere on their bodies and were called punks.
Conrad wondered briefly what would be the best way to approach these men.
"Damn it, if only the men of Suberera could share some of their strength with my companions," he spoke to them.
The punk-heads grinned. Conrad was pleased with the result.
"They are delicate like flowers. The sand storm is just too much for them. Are there any hotels in this city?"
"We ourselves don't have enough water and women, but there are plenty of liquor and beds."
"Beds would be just fine. If we had to camp out tonight, I would probably wake up tomorrow morning all alone."
"That must be the case, if you have only wimps around you."
"Tell me about it. One more question though: Have you seen two strangers in the city? They have very different builds, one taller and one shorter. Do you happen to know where they stay for the night?"
"What, you know these two?" Excited, the soldier tapped his finger on a leaf of paper that his subordinate handed to him. "Surely you mean these two here. Yes, they were here. We almost arrested them, but they ran away hand in hand!"
Conrad looked skeptically at the hand-drawn pictures on the wanted poster.
"They look quite different from this drawing..."
"You are looking for them? You got to be the one cuckolded, am I right, old boy? So it's your girlfriend or wife-to-be who ran away."
"I can't quite follow you."
"No wonder. You don't look that bad at all, but this demon was really a first-class specimen. There's only one thing I can't comprehend still: how the hell did that chick manage to wrap one guy after another around her finger? Really, she didn't even have decent tits! Isn't that so, guys?"
A soldier with a red face nodded.
"She's flat like a board. But amazingly strong for a girl."
That must be the result of his training.
"And a dirty mouth too."
That would be the gift he had been born with.
"Boy, boy," the leader continued. "She might have been quite good-looking, but for a girl, she's not that attractive. Tell me, what is it that you like about her?"
The conversation had taken a strange direction. Conrad was indeed looking for two people of different heights, but certainly not a couple. Or perhaps the soldiers had mistaken one of the two for a woman?
"But they couldn't have gone far. We have chained them together. Sorry, old boy, but my comrades will certainly track them down before you. After all, you'll earn a decent sum if you capture a pair of elopers. The government pays a huge reward, I'm sure you know that."
Conrad could not believe his ears: A pair of elopers chained together! How on earth would he break this news to Wolfram?
I waited and waited and still no one brought us water. Although I was in a stranger's house, I eventually decided to go looking for water myself. The thirst was simply unbearable.
Just when I stood up from my chair, the boy called Jilda came running holding a huge fan in his hand. He seemed on the verge of tears with embarrassment.
"You do not need to bring me fan," I said. "I would just like to drink a glass of water. Maybe you could take me to the kitchen?"
Gwendal waved for Jilda to approach him and thrust a handful of banknotes into his hand.
"Use this to buy some alcohol, a drink without alcohol, and something for dinner. You can keep the change. Can you do this without losing the money?"
"I'm already ten," said Jilda.
He didn't look that old at all. I would have thought him to be no more than six. Or maybe he had a long life expectancy and so he developed slower than a human child? Without a trace of fear of the demon General, the boy nodded.
It was probably because of the boy's puppy eyes that Gwendal suddenly became so unusually amiable. Since this scary blue-eyed man had a soft spot for anything cute, his heart must have softened.
Shas the bald man and I responded in surprise.
"Listen, you don't need to trouble yourself for me," I said. "It doesn't have to be mineral water. At home I drink water straight from the tap."
And Shas said in protest to Gwendal: "You are our guests. We do not accept charity!"
"The same applies to us," Gwendal replied. "We also do not want to accept charity."
"That's why you only need to bring me some water," I tried to appease both parties. "If there's no tap water, I'll drink well water. That's okay."
"There is no water in Suveria..." Nicola said in a soft sorrowful voice.
The tears that she had shed for Huber had dried up quickly and left white streaks on her cheeks.
"There has been no rain for almost two years. Even the groundwater has slowly run dry. We have no choice but to import alcohol and fruit from other countries. There are a small ration of drinking water for everyone, but it's only enough to survive. "
"You can't get water from any neighboring countries?"
"Our country is finally independent! All others around us are enemies," cried Nicola.
Never in my life would I have expected that I would hear from this girl, who still wore her wedding dress and whose smile felt like a ray of sunshine, the word "enemy" spoken in such horror and hatred.
Meanwhile Jilda rushed out of the house.
Nicola continued: "If only it would rain! Then even poor children and their parents would have enough water to drink. The crops would grow; the cows would produce milk... Huber was searching for an object that could make it happen. He has promised that he would help us."
"Did Gegenhuber really say that he would himself use this object to help the human?"
Gwendal voice had regained its usual threatening tone.
"Yes, he did," Nicola affirmed.
"I swear I'll break his neck!"
"Why do you say such awful things? What do you have against Huber? He was the one who showed me that demons are actually good-natured. Through him I learned that when you're in love, it doesn't matter if the other is human or demon. To save Huber, I was even willing to get married to this soldier whom I have no feeling for. They promised me that they would then release Huber."
She started crying again.
Gwendal looked grim, arms folded on his chest. Despite Nicolas' desperate tears, Gwendal's composure didn't change one bit.
"Please don't worry," I tried to calm the girl. "Under no circumstances will I allow anyone to take your lover's life. I know it doesn't look that way, but I do have a little bit more authority than this guy here. By the way, even though he always says nasty things, as soon as there is something small and cute in front of him, he will become quite gentle."
"Really?" sniffed Nicola.
"Stop that nonsense immediately!" Gwendal snorted.
"He will not take my baby away?"
"Good heavens, no! Babies stay with their mothers!"
Wait, what was that? A baby? Which baby?
"You have already planned for a baby? When?"
"Quite soon. The baby is already growing inside me."
Nicolas' smile brightened up her face again.
"But please don't think anything bad of me. It is of course Huber's child," she said.
What? She wanted her bridegroom to foster the baby of another man? The world burst and shattered into pieces in me.
"This... this damned bastard!"
The color on Gwendal's face kept changing. First, it became pale, then dark red. Any moment now, the veins on his temples would be swelling and throbbing.
"Stay calm, Gwendal! Take it easy, cool down! "
"Shut up," he snapped at me. "I'm as cool as a cucumber! It does not concern me at all if this girl brings Huber's brat into this world or if the bastard himself kicked the bucket!"
I grabbed his arm. We looked like the couple in the bronze statue "The Golden Demon" I had seen in Atami.
Nicola stared at Gwendal, her mouth half opened in horror. The fingers she pressed against her lips trembled slightly.
"Gwendal, you can't frighten her like that! It is not good for the baby! Oh my God, the baby," I shouted in panic. "How are we supposed to take care of him? I have no experience with such things. What do we do now?"
"How should I know?" Gwendal roared.
That was of course a justified question. After all, men don't have babies. Except, of course, Arnie in the movie.
"You surely have one or two secret children with your mistresses, don't you? Having love affairs is hardly avoidable. Besides, you have two younger brothers. You must have been probably there when they were born."
"No," said Gwendal.
"What, no? But you're still an older brother," I replied.
"Everything is just fine. Stop making a fuss there," our host suddenly said.
Gwendal righted his fallen chair, while Shas looked thoughtfully at Nicola with a warm smile. What did he see in her, perhaps his own daughter, who also had a child with a demon? In any case, his dark face visibly brightened.
"How have you ever got into such a complicated situation?"
Nicola turned her attention to Shas.
Gwendal had finally decided to sit down again, but his fingers fidgeted on his knees as if he was operating a joystick. He always did that when he was irritated.
"I lost my parents during the civil war, so I grew up in an orphanage near Zorasia. At sixteen I was to marry into a family chosen by the Church and lead a normal life. In the village there was a mine of exorcist-stones; all the women worked there. You surely know that only women can harvest these stones."
"Why?" I quietly asked my handcuffed companion, but received no answer.
"About half a year ago, while a terrible sandstorm raged through the area, Huber came to my village. Everyone was afraid of him because he was a demon, except me. After all, it was a demon messenger who brought my fallen father's remains back to us. Our souls have found each other quickly."
"Not to mention your body," I heard Gwendal mutter through grinding teeth next to me.
"A dark past weighed on poor Hube. Great pain in his soul had left its mark on him. He was afraid to love, but together we have overcome that fear."
"Did he tell you?" asked Gwendal.
"What do you mean?"
"Did Gegenhuber tell you what he had done in his past?"
Nicola frowned and slightly shook her head.
"No, Huber didn't say anything."
Gwendal let out another growl.
"Now calm down already! This is not good for your blood pressure," I tried to soothe the bad-tempered man. "I have an idea. Whenever you get angry, you should caress something soft and fluffy to calm yourself down."
Gwendal grabbed my head between his huge hands and squeezed.
"Arrrgggghhh!" I shouted. "Not me! I'm not fluffy!"
Nicola went on, "One day Huber told me that he was looking for a precious treasure. He had already found a part of it and hidden it in a safe place. No one could ever find it there. The missing half was rumored to be in my village. He said the treasure would be a wonderful instrument, and when the right person plays it, it would rain. So, I stole the key from the church, and we sneaked into the excavation site a couple of times. There, we found the second half of this legendary treasure."
"I can't help thinking that this man used you," I sighed.
The girl, deeply in love, ignored my comment.
Could this instrument really be the famous Magic Flute Gegenhuber had been searching for?
"What does it look like?" asked Gwendal.
"It's a dark brown pipe," she said.
"A pipe?" I repeated.
"Yes. And I think it has affected the place somehow. Since we removed it, there are no more exorcist-stone in that excavation site. Not the smallest speck, nothing. You could dig as much as you want, you wouldn't find anything. People from the village did not know that we were the cause; still we had no choice but to run away. Otherwise we would surely have been arrested, sooner or later."
Big tears were rolling down again from Nicolas' large and lively eyes. She was like the weather in the mountains, sudden rain, then sudden sunshine. No girl in my class let their feelings run so blatantly unchecked.
"They discovered we were an eloping couple and they distribute the arrest warrant for us all over the country. Huber wanted to take me to his homeland. He said that his Queen was very tolerant of love affairs between humans and demons. There we could be together as a couple openly in front of everyone. In my dreams, that place was paradise."
Well, I thought. Was it really? Was the empire of the demons really paradise? It still did not deserve this name, but had I helped to make it better?
You need to know, Nicola, now I am the king of your dream land. At least I try to make it a better place...
Suddenly, I wish someone would pat my back encouragingly. I wish someone would tell me that everything would be fine. I longed for the crazy praise of Conrad and Gunter - even if they were mostly thin air.
Nicolas' fine and clear voice brought me back to myself. "We wanted to bypass the capital and make our stop at another city. There too, the wells had dried up. When I saw that even the children had to suffer from the thirst, I could no longer contain myself. At a hostel, while Huber was not there, I brought this tube out, examined it, rubbed it, and tapped on it. At last, I tried to play it. But nothing happened, the rain didn't come. And unfortunately, the village elder caught me right then. He said that would be the Magic Flute of the Demon King! And since it was in my possession, I must therefore be the Demon King himself! "
"Then you tried to escape from the hostel!" I said.
"Yeah! But we were immediately captured. How do you know? "
I couldn't answer her question, but that was the only way the story of the arrested double who bolted without paying could be explained."
"Then you were almost executed," I said.
"Yeah! But the son of a prominent person in the capital had strangely taken a liking to me. They told me if I marry him, maybe they could release Huber as well. That is why I was at the wedding..."
"So you are the double!"
I jumped up. Nicola fell silent in surprise.
The surprise, however, was rather on our side. Who would have thought that the primary mission of this trip - to save the double - had already been carried out successfully? And that my double was actually a girl!
"But we don't look one bit alike, do we? Gwendal, could you see any resemblance?"
"No," he said curtly after taking a quick sharp look at both of us.
"So I said! There is absolutely nothing to mistake one of us for the other! I am a boy, Nicola is a girl. We may be about the same size, but the shoulders, upper body and the muscles give us completely different builds. "
"Hair and eye color are somewhat similar," Shas said cautiously.
But only a little! The people from Suveria were confused because they had no idea how the 27th Demon King Yuuri Shibuya really looked like. And because Nicola had the Magic Flute.
"Do you mean to say that... that I was mistaken with you?" Nicola was astonished.
"That's right! And then Gwendal and I were mistaken with you and Gegenhuber."
"What happened to the pipe?" Gwendal interrupted.
"Don't you want to know what happened to your cousin Huber?" I replied.
"You're the cousin of Huber? This is Huber's cousin?" Nicola was absolutely over the moon. Hopefully, the excitement didn't harm the baby.
"Oh, good heavens! It never occurred to me. I'm all confused now. I am very happy to make your acquaintance. My name is Nicola. I have allowed myself to enter into a serious relationship with Huber. My God, Yuuri! Do you also end up being a relative of Huber? If you are Gwendal's treasure, then... "
"I'm not his treasure!"
"What happened to Gegenhuber and the pipe?" Gwendal impatiently interrupted again.
"They should have released Huber, but I haven't seen him for the last two weeks. The pipe..."
Nicola had lost all the excitement and was again on the brim of tears, as she put her hand through the neckline of her dress.
"It's here," she said and pulled something out.
"What? This strange object?" I exclaimed in surprise.
The dark brown tube was a little thicker than a thumb. On the front there were three holes, and on the back, one hole. It was at most four inches long. If my memory did not deceive me, I had seen something very similar once before.
"Huber and I have tried to make it rain in this country, but the pipe has brought no miracle. I think a treasure of the demons would only give the demons its blessing."
'Well, do you really?"
If Nicola was right, this thing was damn stingy. Perhaps it had indeed a soul...
Nicola gave the object to Gwendal. After he examined it carefully, he put it in my chained left hand.
"What do I do with it?"
"It's yours," said Gwendal.
"But I cannot handle this thing anyway. I would feel better if you take care of it. "
"It was made just for you. It only listens to your commands. Remember Morgif?"
Morgif was the legendary sword that only the Demon King could handle. It had a weird face, from which it had spat a yellow liquid all around. It could moan pitifully and it had bit my finger before. The experience was very unpleasant.
What should I do if this treasure turned out to be just as rebellious?
"All right. I'd try my best to elicit some tune from this thing. Watch out, maybe I'll ignite even a storm!"
The size of this flute was more like an ocarina than a piccolo flute. I carefully placed my lips on one of the holes and tried to play it as I would a flute.
But wait...! But that wouldn't be an indirect kiss, would it? The idea that the lips of this cute girl had also touched this flute drove me crazy. Blood rushed to my head and my face turned red.
"Are you really sure this is a flute?" asked Nicola.
The stupid thing did not make a sound. Even the whistle of our sport teacher was more of a flute. Even the fart of my brother was more melodious. The demonstration was more painful than expected. It was fortunate that Wolfram wasn't there. Imagine the insults he would have hurled at me if he had witnessed my poor performance. But I could not allow myself to back down.
"Maybe you didn't hold the flute correctly," Gwendal said. "Try playing it from the end, not from the side."
"Lengthwise? Like this?" I mumbled, and I put the flute as a stick in my mouth.
I took a deep breath, filled my lungs with air, then blew violently into the pipe. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that to play wind instruments, I had to draw air from my abdomen.
"Damn, what was that?" I shouted out in shock.
A flute that uttered a cry of alarm when we played it? How disgusting!
(This translation was originally posted here. Please do not repost elsewhere.)
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