Masked Knight - Chapter 321
"Religion is like a double-edged sword!" Rody sighed and smiled bitterly. "Of course it is useful to control people’s mind, but the more sacred it is, the more unacceptable for it to be desecrated. Once the believers realized that the bishops and the servants of Gods whom they’ve always regarded as sacred and superior are actually a bunch of conmen, such difference will evoke unusual wrath!" Rody’s tone gradually became grave, "Such wrath is enough to destroy everything!"
Nicole lowered her head and thought for a moment before saying slowly, "I see, so your plan is to seize this opportunity to defame the Church? A notorious Church will not gain continuous support from the people."
Rody slipped his arm gently around Nicole’s waist and smiled. "Okay, we’ve been on this hunting ground for one whole day, it’s time to go back to the church and visit the bishop. The bishop must have slimmed down quite a bit these few days due to depression."
Mouse, who was sitting beside them, sighed and looked at Rody, her expression complicated. "Rody, these methods of dealing with the Church, why didn’t you mention it when in the Roland Continent? You’ve never suggested it to the Sauron King too."
Rody was silent for a moment. He then said in a soft voice, "Mouse, are you blaming me? Now that war has started in the Roland Continent, many will die in this war between the Temple and the various kingdoms. Let me put it this way, the method we are using now, even if I’ve told the Sauron King about it then, he wouldn’t be able to use it against the Temple! The situation in the Roland Kingdom is different from Radiant Empire!"
Inside the West Hill Church, the bishop was very miserable. The soldiers from the public security forces surrounded the church, making it seem like a prison. Nobody was allowed to enter or leave, including those who were in charge of daily purchase of food supplies for the church.
Initially, the bishop was even afraid that they were planning to let him and the others starve to death in the church. Seeing that those who had been sent out to purchase food were severely punished after attempting negotiations but failed, nobody dared to step out again.
Fortunately, Rody did not want their lives right now. He ordered his soldiers to toss a few pieces of cheap, dried, black bread inside every day.
But since when had the bishop who was used to live an extravagant life suffered such hardship? And none of those high-ranking clergymen around him were true ascetics. After eating three days of coarse food, all of them were already whining, but they dared not make any moves as they were deterred by Marquis Rody’s authority.
However, they could tolerate everything else. Even if the food was bad, they could just put up with it, but the soldiers outside not only stopped those inside from leaving, they also stopped those who came to clean up the church, which of course included those carts which handled the toilets!
There were dozens of clergymen stuck in the church for these few days. No matter how little they ate, they still needed to defecate! The toilets in the church were not cleaned for days. Upon stepping inside, one could smell the unconcealed stench around the once-sacred church.
The bishop could only sit about and pray every day. Things were getting out of hand this time, and he knew that even if he could escape doom, he would need to bear huge responsibilities afterward...
He had been waiting for the Flame Warriors day and night, and when they finally arrived, things did not go as expected by the bishop. That Marquis Rody’s attitude was extraordinarily uncompromising. He totally ignored the Church’s Flame Warriors and the public security forces’ soldiers had no intention to disperse at all. The Flame Warriors were simply pushed aside!
Rody’s attitude was harsh. He did not even order his men to arrange proper quarters for the Flame Warriors to be stationed. He merely sent the commanding officer to greet them for show and set up a simple shelter outside the church. After Strehl failed to meet Rody, he went back to the church dejectedly, and he understood that this matter could not be resolved within a short period of time.
The first thought that came to his mind was to meet the commanding officer and request for quarters to be arranged to house his two thousand warriors.
The reasons Strehl gave was simple. First of all, whenever the Flame Warriors traveled to any place in the Empire, usually the local church would be responsible to provide for them. But now that the church was under siege, and there were never any armies of the church stationed here as West Hill was the fief of the Tulip Family, so naturally West Hill should take over the responsibility.
The commanding officer had already received secret orders from Rody. He listened to the Flame Warriors’ request quietly then spread out his hands, replying without emotion, "I’m sorry, but I cannot fulfill your request. Barracks for the Church’s warriors never existed in West Hill City. To be honest, the only barracks here is where our public security forces’ soldiers are stationed. Other than that...hehe, before this there was an empty barrack for the guards of the Tulip Mansion, but now it is occupied by Marquis Rody’s escort troops. Hence, there’s nothing I can do about your request..."
Strehl objected angrily, "So, are you saying that we, the warriors of the holy Flame Warriors, shall live in the streets?!"
The commanding officer rolled his eyes and replied lazily, "Well, to be honest, this is beyond my jurisdiction. But if you must find a place to stay, why not head to the Tulip Mansion’s barracks and discuss with Marquis Rody’s escort troops? Ask them if they can make some room for you in the barracks..."
Strehl immediately sent ten of his men there, but in less than an hour, all of his ten warriors came running back with bruises and swollen faces.
It turned out that when they arrived there, before they could even finish talking, they were ruthlessly thrown out by Marquis Rody’s escort troops. These people from the Flame Warriors had always been arrogant and looked down on local troops.
But this time, they had run their heads into a brick wall.
Marquis Rody was here in West Hill with his newly-wed wife, Miss Nicole, escorted by a troop of two thousand guards. Although they were not the Lightning God’s Whip and their combat power was also way inferior to the Lightning God’s Whip, their haughty manner was outrageous!
Those were two thousand Imperial Guards!
Who were the Imperial Guards? They were the palace guards who were specifically responsible for guarding the royals all along! In the name of the royal family, each of them had always looked down on other people. The Flame Warriors’ arrogance? The Imperial Guards were even more arrogant than them!
At that time, both parties turned against each other and the Imperial Guards hurled curses at them. ‘All this while it was only us, the Imperial Guards, who bullied others. There was never anybody who dared to come grab our territory!’
Strehl was deeply troubled. He was not a fool. Although he was a little bit ill-tempered, he immediately sensed something amiss after calming down.
It was obvious that this Marquis Rody was deliberately defying the Church!
The identity of this newly emerged dignitary of the Empire was somewhat unique. He was not only the brother-in-law of the Empire’s supreme commander, Duke of the Tulip Family, he was also a Marquis and the regiment commander of the Empire’s Northern Army. What was more thought-provoking was the fact that a Marquis of the Empire was escorted by ‘Imperial Guards’ during his travel...This honor was exclusively for members of the royal family!
He could not afford to offend such a person! It seemed that this time the Church was not well prepared enough! Initially, they thought it to only be a normal dispute within the local area of the church, so he was sent here to mediate and suppress the mob. It did not occur to them that the situation here was so complicated...
Strehl was absolutely cautious about acting rashly. Things had come up to this point where it could not be handled by someone of his rank anymore. He immediately sent his men back to the Imperial City to report on the situation here. On the other hand, he had no other choice but to order all his men to station on the square outside the church.
When this order was passed down, the Flame Warriors were stunned.
‘Stationed on the spot? How? By sleeping on the streets?’
Due to the powerful influence of the Church in the Empire, the Flame Warriors never had the need to bring any supplies when traveling to any city in the Empire. This time, when two thousand of them came to West Hill, they did not bring any forage, just some personal rations, let alone heavy supplies like tents.
These two thousand people had to be fed, and the horses needed to graze too. Where would they source for these?
At one point, Strehl even put aside his ego and beseeched the public security commanding officer. When it did not work, he then quoted sayings from the Church and tried to influence these savages in the name of the almighty God.
However, when they heard of his sayings, from the commanding officer to the soldiers, all of them rolled their eyes and replied straightforwardly, "I’m not a believer."
In the Radiant Empire, although the religion of God had established its status as the state religion, the Empire’s laws did not make it mandatory for its civilians to embrace the religion of God. Also, even though the laws dictate that one was not allowed to embrace any other religions besides the religion of God, and it was declared as the only legal religious organization in the Empire’s territory, at the same time, the civilians were given the right to be a non-believer.
This meant that as long as you did not believe in other religions, then it was a personal choice whether or not to embrace the religion of God.
Strehl was in utter despair now. He had already noticed that in West Hill, even in the whole of Westwood Province, everyone here, no matter if it were the soldiers or normal civilians, they seemed to possess an extraordinary air of superiority. In their hearts, whether it was the Empire’s emperor or His Excellency the Pope, they were incomparable to the great Duke of the Tulip Family! In their eyes, they knew nobody except the Tulip. This place was basically the Tulip’s private kingdom!
But fortunately, Rody did not really want them dead.
After the Flame Warriors spent a night on the streets, Marquis Rody finally showed his face.
At noon the next day, young Lord Rody probably woke up late. After having breakfast and washing up, he brought along the fifty men Lightning God’s Whip cavalry bodyguards and swaggered to the church on horseback.
When greeted by a weary-looking Strehl, a gentle smile finally appeared on Rody’s face. He did not dismount from his horse, but instead sat there and spoke in a kind manner, "Lord Strehl, you arrived yesterday? It must have been a tough journey. I wonder if you’ve rested well last night?"
Strehl looked helplessly at the smile on this young Marquis’ face. He had a sleepless night, and right now his stomach was also empty, but he had to smile and give some reply.
Rody yawned and said smilingly, "Since you’ve had a good rest, then we shall start handling this dispute today. I’m sure you already knew what happened a few days ago. I hope you understand that the reason I ordered my men to besiege the church from the beginning, and forbid anyone from entering and leaving, is because I’m afraid someone will take the opportunity to destroy the evidence. I did this purely for the purpose of preserving the Church’s sacred glory!"
Rody paused and waved his hands, signaling the soldiers surrounding the church to make way. He finally dismounted from his horse. He held Strehl’s hands and smiled, "Let’s go in and meet the bishop."
Upon entering the church, Rody’s expression became harsh when he saw the bishop. Rody was livid and he looked at the bishop coldly, saying in a deep voice, "Your Eminence, I’ve sent my men to do some thorough investigations these few days, and indeed some people were practicing fraud in the name of the Church..."
The bishop’s voice was hoarse, but he shouted, "We have been framed! False accusation!"
Rody shook his head and replied softly, "Whether or not you are framed, we will know soon. As the saying goes, to catch a thief you must find the stolen goods. Hence, as a gesture of justice, I will order my men to enter and search the church to see if there’s any booty. If there aren’t, this move is the most effective method to crack down on those slanders! To prove the church’s innocence with irrefutable evidence! I think this is the best solution we have now, what do you think?"
His final question ‘what do you think?’ was obviously directed at Strehl. Rody then added, "The reason I delayed the search here is to wait for your arrival. These past few days, I merely ordered my men to surround the church so that we will only do the search in your presence when you’re here. Only by doing this can justice be preserved."
Search the church? Search a religious institute of a parish of the religion of God in the Empire?
Even during the era of the Great Emperor Abbas, who was a powerful ruler who ruled with an iron-fist, he was not so disrespectful to the Church!
But then, even the Great Emperor Abbas had never sent armed forces to besiege the Church.
Strehl carefully weighed Rody’s words in his heart. Search the church? If this young Marquis dared to come up with such proposal, then he must be quite confident. Or else, what he did these few days would be totally useless.
Under the current circumstances, it seemed like he did not have any reason to refuse...
After thinking over and over again, Strehl finally scowled and replied, "Marquis Rody, the church is a place where the supreme and almighty God is worshipped. Dispatching troops to search the church is an act of disrespect to the dignity of the religion of God. You see..."
"I’m sorry," Rody replied flatly, "first of all, I’m not a believer. Secondly, I’m a Marquis of the Empire, and I only obey the laws of the Empire! The church’s rules are not suitable to be used on me!"
Though his words were short and simple, his tone was clear that there was no room for discussion.
Strehl stole a glance at the bishop. The bishop was hesitant at first, but then he nodded vigorously. Strehl was relieved.
Since the bishop had no objections, then let them search! These past few days, the church had been surrounded so tightly by the soldiers outside, it would be impossible for anyone who wanted to frame the church to plant anything here.
Rody smiled and said, "To be fair, how about the Empire’s troops and the Flame Warriors each account for half of the amount of the people who search this place?"
When Rody said so, there was an increased suspicion in Strehl’s heart. Was this young Marquis really so confident? Even the bishop had an uneasy look on his face, but he took a tough stand and exclaimed loudly, "If the search is unfruitful, Marquis Rody will need to compensate us as this is blasphemy against the Gods!"
Rody readily agreed.
Immediately, fifty men from Rody’s Lightning God’s Whip and another fifty men from the Flame Warriors worked together and started searching the church. They searched the place in detail, not even an inch of land was missed. After two hours had passed, they found nothing.
The bishop’s attitude gradually toughened, and Strehl too looked at Rody smugly.
Rody did not panic at all. He squinted his eyes and smiled as he listened in silence to his men’s report. Suddenly, his eyes fell on the statue of God right in the middle of the church’s hall. He then ordered in a low voice, "Move the statue!"
"No way!" The bishop’s face changed. Even Strehl’s expression turned into anger. He said through gritted teeth, "Marquis Rody, the statue of God cannot be moved! This touches on the issue of the dignity of the supreme God! For over centuries since the Empire was founded, no such thing has ever happened! You’ve already gone too far today!"
Rody ignored the two’s clamor. He looked coldly at his men from the Lightning God’s Whip and said softly, "Did you not hear my orders?"
The Lightning God’s Whip could not care less about the Gods. In their eyes, they only acknowledged the Tulip family! Currently, Rody was the brother-in-law of the Duke, and he was also from the Lightning God’s Whip, so they already considered him as one of them. Once they received Rody’s order, the Wolf Fang warriors immediately obeyed and moved the statue in a flurry.
Strehl’s eyes became red with anger. He was about to turn hostile and order his warriors to stop them, but Rody’s eyes narrowed and his hands were already pressed on the scimitar at his waist. His eyes were icy cold, and his murderous aura caused Strehl and the bishop to tremble in fear.
"It is best that you two do not act rashly! This is West Hill! The fief of the Tulip Family! Everything here is subjected to my orders! I repeat, I’m not a believer! The church’s rules cannot restrict me, I only obey the Empire’s laws!"
A chilling aura radiated from his body. His imposing manner caused the bishop and Strehl to stifle.
A rumbling noise was heard, and the huge stone statue of God was already moved halfway. The bishop’s face immediately changed. His feet wobbled vigorously, and his face ashen. His lips too trembled uncontrollably and it was unclear what he was muttering to himself.
"Marquis Rody, there’s something here!" one of the soldiers from the Lightning God’s Whip reported loudly.
Rody sneered and looked at the two of them coldly before striding towards the statue. The bishop’s knees went all weak and he plopped down on the floor.
There was a drastic change in Strehl’s expression. He glared at the bishop before he hurriedly followed Rody.
Beneath the statue, there was a secret compartment made of wood. Rody cast a quick look at it and unsheathed his scimitar with a low grunt. After a flash of bright, cold light, a cracking sound was heard and the secret compartment split. Countless shiny gold coins then scattered from within!
Following such a huge pile of gold coins suddenly exposed, the faces of those who stood next to it were immediately illuminated with a dazzling gold light. However, Strehl’s face turned ashen at once.
"Unbelievable! I think there are at least fifty thousand coins here...Gentlemen, the clergymen had always claimed that it is their duty to serve the almighty God, but why do they possess such amount of personal wealth? If searching the church and moving the statue of God is an act of blasphemy, what kind of behavior is it called to hide a large number of gold coins beneath the statue of God?" Rody’s voice remained tepid.
Strehl glowered at the bishop, the look in his eyes was that of undisguised enmity and despair. The Flame Warriors’ gaze upon the clergymen in the church too became disdainful.
"Eh? There’s another layer beneath..." Rody suddenly smiled. He raised his scimitar and struck it down, and another layer was split up.
Crash! A bunch of objects fell out, and those at the scene had a weird look on their faces. They looked at the bishop, stunned and unable to speak.
"Hmm...Candles, whips, iron chains..." Rody’s tone was strange. He sighed and the smile on his face was creepy. He then said slowly, "Your Eminence’s tastes are somewhat peculiar..."
The bishop finally came back to his senses and screeched suddenly, "These...these are not mine!"
Rody snorted coldly and said, "Not yours? If it’s not yours, is it mine then? Your Eminence! Now that the evidence is here, what else do you have to say?!"
Strehl’s eyes flickered and a harsh look flashed in his eyes. He suddenly roared, "I’ll kill you! Scum of the God’s religion!"
After he finished roaring, he immediately drew his sword and struck it in the direction of the bishop!
As the chilling blade was about to strike the ashen bishop’s neck, clang! Rody’s scimitar already warded off the sword. Strehl’s body trembled. He felt as though the sword was struck by a lightning, and there was extreme pain from the point between his thumb and his index finger. His sword almost slipped from his grip, and he was forced to retreat a few steps.
Rody narrowed his eyes and looked into Strehl’s. He then said coldly, "Why? Are you trying to kill to silence him?"
He gave him a ferocious stare before saying in a clear voice, "The bishop of the religious institute of the Church of God in West Hill has illegal possession of wealth of questionable origin. Immediately move these things back and arrest all the clergymen of the West Hill Church for interrogation!"
Fifty Wolf Fang warriors rushed forward and savagely tied each of them in pairs. They then pressed the terrified clergymen down to the ground.
The bishop was on the verge of collapsing. The flesh on his fleshy face trembled, and he was muttering to himself.
There were magicians among those clergymen, and they tried to fight back on the spot, but Rody was standing there, and his movements were as fast as lightning. In the blink of an eye, he had already knocked down two fellows who tried to resist arrest.
Strehl’s mind went blank.
As far as he knew, the embezzlement of high ranking clergymen in the religion of God was not news anymore. He could not understand why this young upstart in the Empire would take such a big risk to openly defy the religion of God over such ordinary matters.
Was it because the bishop had offended this Marquis Rody?
Seeing that the clergymen were already tied, Rody left haughtily without looking at Strehl anymore.
Strehl was silent for a moment before sighing, and ordered his men quietly, "Pass my order, from now onwards, all of our men should behave themselves. Do not have any conflict with them, and do not act blindly! We shall wait for the orders from the Imperial City!"
The follower beside him hesitated and asked, "Your Excellency..."
"Shut up!" Strehl’s face was pale, and he replied in a low voice, "This time, we’ve run into trouble! Great trouble!"
When he saw the whips, iron chains and candles scattered on the floor from the corner of his eyes, a sick look appeared on his face. He spat angrily and strode out.
Rody did not bother with these guys anymore. He went back straight to the Tulip mansion with his men. Those arrested were all thrown into the public security force’s prison. Rody especially told the public security forces’ commanding officer, "Do not interrogate or bother them. Keep them well-fed! But watch them tightly and keep them under tight security! None of them is allowed to die! Especially the bishop!"
Rody smiled when he saw the confused look on the commanding officer’s face. He did not bother to explain but waved his hand signaling for him to leave. He then mumbled, "They still have greater uses! By keeping them alive, they are the best evidence of the Church’s scandal! Humph! That Strehl tried to kill them under my eyes to wipe out the evidence. Does he think that I’m a fool?!"
When he came back to the mansion, Rody briefly told the ladies about what happened that day. As he reached the part where the pieces of evidence were found and the interesting expressions on the faces of those people from the Church, Diane clapped her hands and laughed happily.
Then she blurted out a question, "By the way, are those gold coins really embezzled by the bishop?"
Rody nodded and replied, "The corruption of the high-ranking clergymen of the Church in the Empire was already not a secret long time ago."
The girl’s eyes glittered. "But...those whips, candles and iron chains, what are they used for?"
Rody choked and looked at her awkwardly. He faltered for a while before finding an excuse to run away.
The girl became even more curious. She turned and asked Nicole instead, but Nicole’s face immediately reddened. Myka too seemed embarrassed to talk about it. She avoidingly answered her just to put her off.
The more Diane thought about it, the more suspicious she became. She felt that there must be some unspeakable secret in this. When everyone had run away, she suddenly called upon a servant and ordered, "Go get me a whip, a candle, and an iron chain!"
After dismissing the servant who had a weird look on his face, Diane cocked her head sideways and muttered to herself angrily, "Humph! Do you think I can’t figure it out myself if you all are not telling me about it?"