In Love With the Strongest Man

Translator: Shizukuku

Editor: Evelet

Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!

Arc 1 The Strongest Man and the Cursed Merchant

Chapter 2 Nightmares

* * *

More than twenty years ago

I had failed to complete a job that a nobleman ordered me to do.

“You worthless imbecile! How dare you fail me?! How dare you talk back to me!?”

We were in a dark, damp basement lit only by torches.

I was bound to a wooden stand and the nobleman who was my client let his raging emotions take hold, whipping me brutally, over and over and over again.

I was twelve years old at the time, my body was still immature, and the severe beating left scars all over.

“Damn… this isn’t enough to settle my stomach… Right! You bought something interesting the other day, didn’t you? Bring me that.” the nobleman said to his lackey.

“That…? For a child like this…?!”

“I shall remind you firsthand what happens when you disobey me. Bring it here!”

I heard the nobleman say something to his servant.

How much time had passed?

I was knocked out by the pain of the whipping, but I was woken up by a pain that was far more severe than that.

“Gyaaaahhhh!”

“Hahaha! Go on, cry more! You will truly regret disobeying me”

My eyes, which were so wide from pain that they almost popped out of their sockets, reflected a horrifying sight.

A bright red metal branding iron was being pressed against my ankle.

And just when I thought it was over, it was reheated and pressed into me again.

I struggled desperately, trying to escape the pain, afraid that my leg might be cut off.

But my whole body was restrained and all I could do was scream.

“Aa……ga……aaaaaaaaaaaah!”

“Did you think once would be enough?! I’ll engrave it into you again and again and again!!!”

Thinking back, the curse must have come into effect at that moment.

The nobleman branded my leg over and over again, his eyes glazing over, intoxicated by my pain.

Round and round, over and over again, until there was a permanent scar, like a wide shackle around my ankle.

“This is a cursed branding iron. Anyone branded by it will become a hated and disgusting existence to those around them. You won’t be able to tell anyone about the curse, nor will be you able to commit suicide. You will spend the rest of your life crawling through the mud, regretting your foolish actions!”

* * *

“–Hah!”

When I awoke, my whole body was drenched in sweat.

I must have been thrashing around in my sleep. My whole body creaked and I could taste blood in my mouth.

“That dream again…”

I crept out of my dwelling, which couldn’t even be called a hut; it was just a board propped up against the outer wall of the town.

Fortunately, it was still early in the morning. I could probably take a bath in the river before people started waking up.

“…I should go take a quick dip and stock up on medicinal herbs for today…”

After rinsing my mouth out with river water and washing my face lightly, my bad mood improved a little.

I’d been having the same recurring nightmare for twenty years. At some point, I’d gotten used to it. 

The after-effects of the whipping had left my hands severely weakened.

Barely able to hold a small knife, the best I could do was go into the woods outside of town each morning and pick soft medicinal herbs.

My hands were the worst, but the rest of my body wasn’t much better.

After the torture, I was tossed into the street naked. Having received no medical attention, my broken bones fused back together as they were.

As a result, my whole body creaked and contorted, making it difficult for me to walk long distances.

I couldn’t even hold a heavy object like a pickaxe or a sword, so I could only live a meager life as a merchant, regardless of whether I was exploited or hated.

Even begging was impossible because of the curse that made people disgusted by me. 

When I tried to get in line at the church’s soup kitchen, the nun, who had smiled at everyone before me, instantly twisted her face and coldly told me, “The soup kitchen is closed for the day.”

It seemed that the curse placed on me was so powerful that even faith could not overcome it.

You will spend the rest of your life crawling through the mud, regretting your foolish actions!

“…I don’t regret anything, though.”

I still vividly recall the words of the nobleman.

I certainly crawled through the mud and lived.

I never forgot the pain and suffering I felt that day, nor the fear that made me panic at the mere sight of a noble, which was ingrained in my bones.

My heart became more worn out each time I received hate and disgust from others, and it didn’t take long for me to give up and accept that this was how my life was going to be from now on.

–Still, I had failed that job on purpose — and I’ve never regretted it.

“I wonder how that child is doing…”

Wary of any nearby people, I entered the river in my tattered robe.

As I soaked myself in the cool morning water and looked up at the sky, the remnants of the dreams floated away and my chest became lighter.

That incident had drastically changed me, but the sky remained as blue as ever.

Somewhere out there, under this continuous blue sky, the boy I saw that day might possibly still be alive and well.

Being able to think that way was why I loved the sky.

“It’s not safe to go in the river with your clothes on, Shuka-san.”

“–!?”

I barely registered the voice behind me, before I was pulled up out of the water. 

My robes, heavy with water, along with my body, which was small but still that of an adult man, were lifted so lightly – by a beautiful man who shone even more radiantly under the azure sky.

“Ideal?! What are you doing here…? Didn’t you say you were going to be away for a few days?”

After bringing in the flame wolf pelt, Ideal had blabbered on about his future plans, even though I didn’t ask.

He said he was planning to go farther away this time because he couldn’t seem to find what he wanted in the area.

He told me that he might not be back for as long as ten days, but it hadn’t even been four days since then.

“I came back because I discovered that I might be able to get what I want through a different outlet. Anyway, what was Shuka-san doing here?”

“…As you can see, I’m bathing in the water…”

“With your clothes on? …Oh, your body is so cold. It’s already fall. There’s a particularly chilly breeze blowing this morning too.”

Due to my childhood injuries and subsequent malnutrition, my body was considerably smaller than average. When the much taller Ideal picked me up, I couldn’t even touch my toes to the ground.

“Put me down–”

“Why were you bathing in the water with your clothes on? So far downriver, too?”

“Eh…”

I didn’t take off my clothes because, if my scars were seen, the townspeople would gossip about me behind my back.

I had been kicked out of six towns because of rumors that grew more malicious every time they crossed people’s lips.

I’d also had my robes soiled, torn, and thrown away.

I was bathing downstream simply because it was on the outskirts of town and out of sight. It was a narrow river for domestic use, but the flow was constant, so it wasn’t that dirty in the early morning.

However, I was hesitant to tell this beautiful man my reasons. 

I didn’t want to show any more of my shabbiness to Ideal, who innocently called me Shuka-san.

“Hey, what the hell? Put me down!” I demanded.

“…Alright then.”

“Huh? Whoa!”

Ideal skillfully kept me afloat as he reached under my knees and scooped me up.

With one hand supporting my back, he held me horizontally in his arms.

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RavenIsis
8 months ago

Man, imma cry..