“For what purpose was he spying on us?” Kasser asked.
“I questioned him, but he did not give an answer.” The warrior replied.
Kasser had a disturbed expression on his face.
“How dare a wanderer invade the Holy Land. Dispose of him in principle.” Kasser commanded.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Then the warrior bowed and left to do his bidding.
While listening to the conversation silently, Eugene felt troubled. The fact that there was a suspicious person in the middle of this desert, frankly made her nervous.
‘Wanderers? Were they not the people of the kingdom?’ Eugene thought to herself.
Eugene turned and looked at the warrior who had finished reporting. From a distance, she could see the warriors surrounding someone. The figure with hands tied behind and kneeling looked like a man. He was bowing his head as if he had been treated quite harshly.
Eugene called Sven who was sitting in a simple tent and eating a snack prepared by the maid.
“Sir Sven. Do you know who the wanderers are?” Eugene asked him.
“Yes, my queen. They are those who wander outside the kingdom.” Sven replied.
According to Sven’s explanation, the wanderers were not citizens of any state. They did not settle and rather, they wandered the world constantly. They were seldom encountered as they traveled through dangerous areas beyond the real rulership of the kingdom. So there were many people who did not know the existence of the wandering tribe at all.
Nothing is known about the origins of the wanderers.
They were so isolated that they married themselves, gave birth to offspring, and did not interact with people who were not wanderers.
“Then you mean the wanderers live in the desert?” Eugene asked.
“I heard that they live not only in the desert, but also in rough mountains and forests.” Sven replied.
“That’s understandable during the dry season, but during the active season as well? Do they cross the borders and hide among people during the active season?”
“No. Even during the active season, they do not enter the boundaries of the kingdom.”
“How is that possible? Are you saying larks don’t attack them?”
“That’s… I apologize. My queen. I do not know.” Sven answered while lowering his head in embarrassment.
“Are you the one that doesn’t know Sir Sven, or does everyone not know?” Eugene clarified.
“I don’t know if anyone knows the answer.” Sven said honestly.
“Have you ever tried to figure it out? Not for personal curiosity, but for national policy?” Eugene asked. The fact that they were able to survive on their own even with the threats of Lark was news to her.
“I think it would be difficult. Even where they live is unclear to us.”
‘That’s weird.’ Eugene commented.
Eugene didn’t understand. If the wanderers knew how to escape Lark, that was a huge trick. Isn’t it something worth risking one’s life for?
It was a reality that all the wealthy nobles of the kingdom went to the Holy City during the active season to escape the monsters. But here was a community of people who had done so for years…why did no one ever try to find out their secret to surviving?
The closed nature of the wandering tribe was no excuse for them to remain ignorant. If negotiations were not available, there is a means of blackmail, afterall their knowledge seems valuable.
It was unthinkable to her that they did not try their best to find out their secret. The nobles will not hesitate to sacrifice the powerless people without nationality for the sake of their comfort after all, they could even resort to pawns.
“Dispose of him in principle.” Eugene recalled what Kasser had said to the warrior a while ago.
“What kind of punishment will he face?” Eugene asked Sven referring to the wanderer the warrior captured earlier.
“He will be executed.” Sven answered.
Eugene’s eyes opened in surprise and asked, “Execution? What kind of execution? You mean to kill him?”
“Yes, my queen.”
“Isn’t it too much punishment? He didn’t really hurt anyone.” Eugene commented.
“As soon as they are discovered, the wanderers are captured and sent to the Holy City. However, if there are circumstances such as that the distance to the Holy City was too long, they are subjected to execution at once. It would be too burdensome for us to accommodate them on our journey.” Sven informed her.
Eugene found herself speechless. She thought he was punishing him because he was a suspicious spy. But the fact that being a wanderer was a sin, it seemed unreasonable to her. They should instead befriend wanderers and ask their secrets to survival.
“To send to the Holy City… Is it the Holiness Sang-je who decided what to do with the wandering tribes?” Eugen wondered.
“Yes. His Holiness said that the wandering people are the evil that disturbs the order of the world. He said that their existence will one day bring a gloomy future to this world, so edification was absolutely necessary.” Sven replied.
Eugene wondered if any of the wandering tribes sent to the Holy City survived. If they couldn’t bring them, would Sang-je, who ordered them to kill, really saved them?
This was reminiscent of the witch hunt that existed in the dark history of the world where Eugene lived.
“I do not get it.” Eugene could not help but voice out her thoughts.
Mara’s servants were simply expelled, so why was Sang-je, who showed generosity, so harsh to the wandering tribes? Compared to the followers of Mara, who deceives the people for the expansion of their church, the wandering tribes only quietly lived as fugitives. What caused this prejudice then?
“How can you tell who are the people part of the wandering tribe?” Eugene asked.
“They have peculiar physical characteristics. They tattoo their whole body with strange patterns and drawings.” Sven informed her.
“A pattern or drawing?”
Suddenly, Eugene remembered the old book she had received after meeting Rodrigo just before she went out into the desert.
While preparing for the ritual, there was not enough time to carefully read the old book that Rodrigo had promised contained a lot of incantations. When she came back, she just took a look at it with the intention of taking a closer look. Inside, a peculiar pattern of unknown meaning was drawn across several pages.
“Wanderers and incantations… … are they related?”
A thought suddenly entered her mind and Eugen jumped up from her seat. She had to meet him, she had to talk to the wanderer. To do that, she had to hurry before he was executed.
* * *
The warrior dragged the wanderer into the tent. The inherent disdain of the warriors towards the wanderers was revealed by the way they roughly handled him.
The warrior approached the king and knelt down on the floor in greeting.
“Your Majesty. I brought it.” The warrior announced.
Kasser looked at the wandering tribe with an unpleasant gaze, then turned to the queen who was sitting next to him. Eugene had requested to meet the wanderers and seeing her ask something so desperately broke his resolve and so he allowed the meeting, but he was still reluctant to have that sinister thing being near her.
The one who was brought in had both hands tied behind his back, and his mouth was gagged. He crouched, terrified, and looked small before them.
“In that state, he can’t answer the question.” Eugene commented, and Kasser understood the implication of her words.
“Release the gag.” the King commanded.
The warrior hesitated. The king realized the warrior’s reluctance to obey him and so he said again, “It’s alright. Release his gag.”
The warrior grabbed the head of the wandering tribe and pulled it back roughly. Eugene’s eyes shook when she saw the face of the wanderer who revealed to her for the first time.
‘He’s young.’ Eugene thought.
Although he was older to be just a boy, it seemed that he would have about four or five more years to reach adulthood. His face was swelling up as if he was beaten up pretty badly. His eyes were bulging, and his lips bruised, and red blood appeared on the corners of his lips.
His expression was impressive though.
His resigned eyes were dimmed without feelings of resentment or poison. She felt sorry for his appearance and seemed to have given up on life already.
The warrior pulled out a dagger, bit it in the mouth of the wandering tribe, and cut off the string tied to the back of the head. As the gag was cut off, a red line was drawn on his cheek by the sharp blade.
Eugene frowned and stared at the blood flowing from the wandering cheeks. She felt malice was in the way the warriors dealt with the wanderers.
‘If it’s not because of a personal grudge, it would be hate.’ Eugene thought to herself as she observed their poor treatment.
Sang-je declared that the wandering tribes could be caught and killed as soon as they were seen. It means that the Sang-je induces them to become objects of hatred.
‘Sang-je… Why does an entity, who represents a righteous god’s will, do this?’ Eugene asked herself.
“I heard they have a peculiar tattoo on their bodies. I was hoping to see it.” Eugene requested.
After hearing this, Kasser instructed the warriors to take off the wanderer’s top. When the warrior tried to take off his clothes, the wanderer, who moments ago was lying like a doll, suddenly twisted and avoided the warrior’s hand.
His once expressionless face turned into one which sported a defensive stance.
The expression of the warrior became cold. Perhaps if it happened when he wasn’t in front of the king and queen, he would have punched the wanderer.
One of the warriors who was watching at the sidelines came to aid the former to stop the wanderer from moving and took off his clothes. If Eugene was honest, his clothes did not seem like proper clothing, rather it looked like a rag that barely had the form sufficient to cover the body.
The skinny body of the wanderer was full of tattoos.
“Come a little closer.” Eugene said.
Two warriors firmly held the wanderer from both sides and dragged him in front of the queen. The hand of one of the warriors firmly clasped the sword around his waist, in anticipation of any violent reaction from the wanderer that would harm the queen.
As Eugene requested, the warriors turned the wanderer’s body so that the front and back of the body could be seen clearly. His chest, back and forearms were full of tattoos. The unique geometric patterns were quite similar to those seen by Eugene in ancient books.
“What’s your name?” Eugene asked.
The wanderer did not respond and kept his head down to the floor.
“It’s useless.” Kasser commented. “They never open their mouths. Even before death.” He added.
“All wanderers?” Eugene asked.
“Yes.” Kasser replied.
If so, Eugene wondered why he was gagged. The reaction of the warrior who hesitated when he told him to remove the gag also came to mind.
“Do they not know how to speak?” Eugene wondered out loud.
“That’s probably not the case. They do scream however.” Kasser told her.
Eugene took a look at the tattoo drawn on the body of the wanderer. Why are the wandering tribes putting such peculiar tattoos on their bodies and putting themselves at risk?
The man’s appearance was no different from that of Mahar’s followers. Without tattoos, no one would be able to distinguish them when they mingled together.
Even at the risk of death, there may be an important reason why they chose to get tattoos.
‘Was it tradition? However, no matter how important tradition is, is it more precious than life?’ Eugene could not help but ask herself.
At that moment, an idea came to her mind. What if a tattoo was carved so they could live?
“Is that tattoo a technique?” Eugene asked.
The wanderer who still bowed their head did not respond.
“Is that your method, of how you could run away from a Lark?”
It was small, but the wanderer’s shoulders flinched. But even more surprising were the warriors who held the wanderer. With their wide-open eyes, they glanced up and down the wanderer.