“It’s kind of late, but thank you very much for having rescued me.”
Having finally finished putting on his clothes, Kisa deeply bowed his head in front of the girls.
For his cheeks having become red is not just owed to him being illuminated by the fire.
Since the girls are elves, they are probably a lot older in reality. However, Kisa didn’t have the courage to boldly put on his clothes in front of the girls who simply look like little girls and young women by their outward appearance. Accordingly he tried to dress in the shadow of a rock or a nearby thicket, but being told that he’s not allowed to go to a place where they can’t keep an eye on him, he had no other option but to unwillingly do so in front of them. Moreover, even now he’s under their cautious surveillance.
Kisa instinctively looked up to the sky and grumbled, “What kind of shame play is this?”, but that instead resulted in him being watched with even colder eyes by the girls, and earned him, “What strange stuff is that guy talking about?”
On top of only him having been shamed by putting on his clothes, Kisa had secretly his pride as man hurt by not only Erika but even the other girls not even taking any notice of him.
Kisa stated words of gratitude while using it to cover up his embarrassment, but the reaction of Erika and the others wasn’t favorable at all.
“If you are going to thank someone, then do it to that guy.”
Erika pointed at a burial mount, which had been set up in a place slightly separated from the rock, with a jerk of her chin while trying to not match her eyesight with his. A single helmet that had been polished until it sparkled has been placed on top of the burial mound which had been piled up densely.
“This and—,” first Erika points at the crossbow in her hand and then on the big helmet, “—that belonged to the dwarf.”
What was placed on top of the burial mount is a big helmet in the shape of a metallic bucket that was riddled with countless holes for ventilation around the mouth part and a slit for seeing around the part where the eyes are.
“That guy heaved you on the shore while sacrificing his life. If he hadn’t done that, you would have died a long time ago. I didn’t even have any intention to help you.”
Kisa stares at the burial mount without saying anything for a while.
He remembered that helmet.
Kisa, who went down on his knees without minding getting wet, places a hand on top of the burial mound and asks the person likely sleeping thereunder,
Of course there’s no reply.
Kisa recalled the face of the dwarf who smiled all over his beard-covered face while wearing that helmet.
“He…Knurl was a man who loved booze and who taught me about construction. That always hung at his waist. And, his favorite phrase was apparently A dwarf will always return a favor of alcohol…”
Those were words intended to soothe his own raging emotions rather than to give Erika and the others an explanation.
“Ah, I remember. Knurl jumped towards me who fell from the cliff and we fell into the river together…and then he seized my body in the river and told me to hold onto a tree that drifted along…even though dwarves can’t swim, and yet…”
He couldn’t put the rest into words any further.
Kisa placed together both his hands in front of his chest and offered a silent prayer.
Seeing that, Erika tilts her head to the side while looking mystified.
She can grasp that he’s mourning over the dead, but such praying custom of putting both hands together was nothing Erika knew about.
Finishing the silent prayer after a while, Kisa once again bowed his head deeply towards Erika.
“I lack the words to express my gratitude for you having buried him so courteously albeit him being a dwarf.”
Elves and dwarves are bitter enemies since the era of legends. It’s unexpected for them, who are elves, to have buried Knurl, a dwarf, despite that. Kisa thought that it would be wrong if he didn’t give them his heartfelt gratitude for just that.
Seeing Kisa bowing his head deeper than before, Erika sighs slightly as if feeling relieved. Then she shook her head and said,
“Your gratitude is unnecessary. After all we also have a debt to this dwarf.”
In front of Kisa who tilted his head to the side wondering whether something had happened with Knurl during the time he was unconscious, Erika lightly taps the crossbow hanging at her hip.
“Thanks to this, I caught prey. Besides, I had him allow me to borrow various tools.”
“I see,” Kisa comprehended.
Taking a proper look, I indeed remember the crossbow held by Erika, the water bag hugged by the girl called Ilsa, the fire pan to be placed on live coals and the portable fire set pouch that contained the tool for triggering a fire that was lying next to the bonfire. All of them are Knurl’s possessions.
Even though they were soaked by water after being flooded by the muddy stream together with Knurl, the fact of them properly working is probably proof of them being belongings of a dwarf.
“Rather than that, are you a human of the city called Bolnis?”
Kisa’s body trembled with a start due to Erika’s question.
Due to Erika’s look of staring at him as if to say “I won’t forgive you making any excuses,” Kisa was thoroughly lost and at last returned a question without answering.
“A dwarf who rescues a human while risking his life and a human who mourns over that dwarf aren’t very common. If they were to exist, it would be limited to the city of Bolnis one hears about in rumors.”
It’s been a few years ago that the name of Bolnis, which was no more than a relay point located in the south of the Solbiant Plains on the trade route towards the Ocean State Jeboa, had become well known on the streets.
Holmea, who tried to reclaim the huge Solbiant Plains at that time, cornered the zoan, the local race of the plains, with armed might. Even the zoan, who excelled in individual military prowess, couldn’t oppose the systematic battle style of Holmea’s army. It was believed that the zoan would perish in the near future at this rate.
It was at that time that it happened.
A single human man appeared in front of the zoan who were in a pinch.
That man first reduced the hundreds of soldiers of a subjugation army, which invaded the mountains, to ashes with a raging conflagration while possessing terrible powers. That man, who brought the zoan together by demonstrating his fearsome strength, next captured the fortress of Holmea in the Solbiant Plains and then even forced the city of Bolnis to surrender.
Holmea’s king, who learned of the zoan’s large-scaled counteroffensive reaching this far, ordered General Darius to subjugate the zoan.
At first no one doubted that the zoan counteroffensive would be suppressed in a flash by the punitive force consisting of 10,000 soldiers led by General Darius, who was hailed as Holmea’s best general.
However, the punitive force that shouldn’t have lost suffered an overwhelming defeat.
The completely unexpected news of General Darius’ defeat quickly spread not only within Holmea but even to the neighboring countries, causing many to be astonished.
However, that was immediately superseded by a new shock.
The Divine Son of Aura, the Goddess of Death and Destruction.
That was the true identity of the man who defeated General Darius by leading the zoan.
The name of that olden goddess, who wasn’t known by anyone but the elders, who inherited the folklore, and those concerned with religious service until then, and the news of the appearance of her divine child propagated not only among those in the center of the country, but also among the people on the streets as rumors that lacked any confirmation whether they are true or speculations.
According to those rumors, he is a dreadful monster devouring human flesh and sucking lifeblood.
According to those rumors, the citizens regard him as the reincarnation of Genobanda, who eats feces.
According to those rumors, the farmers are suffering under heavy taxation and cruel manual labor under him.
According to those rumors, there’s almost everyday an exhibition held where people are executed at the gallows at the central plaza.
Whenever the people of the western cities and villages came together, they gossiped about the pitiful state of Bolnis and the dreadfulness of the Divine Son of Aura, the Goddess of Death and Destruction.
However, recently – according to merchants who actually visited Bolnis – the current state of the city, which is completely different from the rumors, had been passed along.
One of them is “It’s a city where humans and the former sub-race slaves coexist.”
“You’re a human from Bolnis, aren’t you?”
Kisa, who was asked that once again by Erika, nods as if having resigned himself. Thereupon Erika leaned her body slightly forward.
“Why is a human from Bolnis in such a place?”
“Umm…to investigate upstream of the river with my friends, for a bit…”
Erika widens her eyes due to Kisa’s way of speaking.
“Friends you say? Are there possibly other colleagues of yours? This close-by!?”
The girl grabbed the shoulders of the youth with a force as if swooping down on him.
“T-T-They were, but as for where they are now….!”
When Kisa answers while shaking his head back and forth as both his shoulders were jolted violently, Erika calms down. Even though she had already accepted that Kisa, who had been washed away by the muddy stream, doesn’t even know where he is right now, she unintentionally lost control of herself due to the imaginary ray of hope.
Erika was obviously disappointed. Due to that dejection, Kisa feels guilty even though it’s not like it’s his fault.
“Umm…what’s wrong with the city of Bolnis?”
Erika hesitated to answer for a short moment, but reconsidering that there’s no point in hiding any longer either, she honestly said,
“We tried to go to Bolnis.”
From that answer Souma realized after a short pause,
“…Ah, you guys are runaway slaves?”
Right as he said that, not only Erika, but also the little girls, who listened attentively, feel extremely shaken.
Slaves are living assets. If one damages or steals the property of others, they will be severely punished by the law, and of course that applies to slaves as well. For that reason indiscriminately oppressing or hurting others, even if they are slaves, isn’t allowed in many countries where slavery is practiced.
However, it’s a different story where runaway slaves are concerned.
In the countries that practice slavery slaves are precious manpower who support the foundation of the livelihood. If they allowed for such slaves to run away, not only would it very likely shake their very foundation, but it might become a primary factor for a rebellion. Hence the fleeing of slaves is regarded as serious crime in all of these countries.
Even if that wasn’t the case, the slaves, who are living assets, will end up as criminals, who made their owner lose property by just running away.
Also, it’s normal to pay prize money for runaway slaves. That’s because the owner will never forgive a slave that ran away and it also serves as warning towards the other slaves.
Thus runaway slaves won’t be only hunted by the country’s lawkeepers, but also by those aiming for the reward put on their head.
After clearing her throat in order to hide her unrest, Erika flares up at Kisa obviously vexed,
“W-What makes you say that we are runaway slaves!?”
Kisa shifts his attention to the children who are looking their way from slightly away.
“Their speech and conduct, I guess?”
As Erika frowns as though telling him that she doesn’t understand the meaning of what he’s saying, Kisa explains,
“Those girls speak in a far more grown up way than one would expect from their outward appearance, right? I was taught by an elven acquaintance, that children, who were raised among elves, don’t have that much of a difference between appearance and personality. But, if they are raised while surrounded by humans, their personality apparently becomes adult-like even though their outward appearance is that of children.”
The children raised in elven villages are treated as children by the adults around them, therefore their personality matches with their outward appearance.
However, because the elves, who were raised among humans, witness how the humans, who had been children just like them until just a few years back, behave like adults, one can observe the tendency of their personalities growing up faster than their outward appearance.
Reflexively nodding in consent towards Kisa’s reply, Erika tried to immediately gloss over, but unable to come up with a good excuse, she ended up becoming even more flustered instead.
“It will be fine even if you aren’t that much on guard. The people from races other than humans and zoan in Bolnis are mostly former slaves to begin with. Even former runaway slaves, who escaped from Holmea like you guys, aren’t unusual.”
For the sake of calming Erika down, Kisa deliberately explained all that in a simplified manner.
“I see, then it’s good.”
It was a curt way of answering, but Kisa noticed that the tension had left Erika’s stiff shoulders. Given that it would be like poking a beehive if he pointed that out, he doesn’t brave the foolishness of mentioning it. Instead he tells her about what he recalled regarding the emancipation of slaves.
“Ah, it’s sometimes misunderstood, but even Bolnis doesn’t accept people who fell into slavery due to crimes.”
Seemingly recalling some bad memory, Kisa said that with a bitter tone. However, since he hasn’t realized that he’s putting his hand into a snake pit, although he should have avoided to poke a beehive, the youth called Kisa is a big fool.
“Don’t look down on us! Although we haven’t done anything, we were caught by humans and turned into slaves!”
Sure enough Erika had a fit of anger and shouted at him.
Erika, who reconsidered, It’s inevitable for me to yell at this guy, due to Kisa’s appearance of repenting while making his body as small as possible, changes the raging emotions in her chest into a long sigh and composes herself by spitting that out.
“But I guess the rumors were true after all. Different races that got turned into slave have been freed in Bolnis…”
With eyes that seemed to look into the far distance, Erika asked,
“Hey, is it true that people are living in the city without being asked about their race?”
“Yeah, but no matter what, trouble—no, friction between people happens. However I think it never happens that people are pressured into doing something they hate, exposed to violence or made into slaves just because they aren’t humans?”
Erika thought that she can believe in the words of Kisa, who honestly tells her that there’s not only good things about living in Bolnis, but also bad things.
“With only that much, it’s a paradise-like city in our eyes.”
What she recalls are the painful memories when she was property of a human.
The face of the human man twisted in carnal desires as he came to indulge in her body every night. The disgusting sensation of his hands as they crawled across her whole body. And the humiliation and hate as he thrust that foreign body into her nether region.
Many weeks have passed since she escaped from the place of her human owner together with her brethren, but she never could forget the memories of her sad and gloomy past. Not only that, as if telling her that she will never be allowed to forget them, those memories have taken the shape of nightmares, making Erika vicariously experience those repulsive memories over and over again. It’s not rare for her to jump up late at night and vomit while crying due to the fear and disgust.
“…Really. It’s really a dream-like city.”
Erika muttered seriously from the bottom of her heart.
Once she does, Kisa turns away while softly moving his mouth as if resisting for a smile to show up on his face. Somehow it also looks like he’s proudly puffing out his chest.
Due to that Erika thought, If someone who’s only a citizen feels proud of his city with only that much, it must be a better city than I thought.
“I’m slightly relieved since I also heard bad rumors about the city’s ruler.”
Kisa widens his eyes in surprise.
Erika recalled the details of the rumors and said with an expression as if she had swallowed a bitter bug,
“Yeah. While insisting on the liberation of the various races, he seems to surround himself with many beautiful elven sex slaves. He gathers those girls and every night indecent banquets are held—”
Kisa declared distinctively.
“I mean, elven woman work in the ruler’s residence as court ladies, but not once were they told to do something like that by using authority. It’s a truly terrible rumor.”
Due to Kisa’s indignant look as if it was a talk about himself, Erika was overpowered and said to smooth out the situation,
“Yeah…okay. However such rumors immediately vanished.”
After saying that, Erika remembered another rumor that spread after those bad rumors. Without thinking too deeply about it, she vaguely said,
“In reality he seems to prefer burly, male slaves such as zoan, dwarves and dinosaurians over beautiful elven women. He gathers those men and every night indecent—”
“That’s definitely impossible!!”
Just as she was in the middle of mentioning the rumors, she was rebutted with a very threatening attitude.
Contrary to before, Kisa grabbed Erika’s shoulders and complains with a fervent expression,
“Don’t believe that! That he likes men! That he eats feces like Genobanda! That he collects the lifeblood of animals to perform shady rituals! Not only that. That he spits fire from his mouth! That he has two heads! That he has horns! That he has seven arms! All of it is complete and utter nonsense!”
Erika is overwhelmed by the sudden change of Kisa, who looked totally harmless, and nods her head lightly. Seeing that, Kisa sighed in relief and Erika came to her senses. She immediately shakes off Kisa’s hands and takes distance from Kisa who is about to hug her seized shoulders.
Kisa also came to his senses due to Erika glaring at him with eyes as if she’s seeing a beast.
“E-Excuse me…but, even I don’t clearly know why I’m thinking of all those bad rumors as nonsense or rather misunderstandings—”
Erika was utterly amazed due to Kisa frantically justifying himself and moreover seemingly respecting the ruler of Bolnis quite a bit.
“I got it. It’s fine already.”
Because Kisa was still looking her way with eyes that seemed to doubt whether he really got her to understand, Erika roared “Too persistent!”
Due to that Kisa felt despondent just like a child that got scolded by its parents, causing Erika to once again strongly acknowledging, “You are a weird fellow.”
However it doesn’t seem that he’s a bad fellow.
Erika felt relieved for having apparently resolved the biggest concern.
But, at the same time, a bitter and cold emotion wells up within her chest.
Erika revealed a fleeting and yet so beautiful smile that Kisa was taken aback after seeing it.
“I also wanted to go to Bolnis, you know…”
Kisa was bothered by Erika speaking in past tense. He wanted to ask her about that, but before that he confirms one thing.
“Say, this place, on which side of the river is it? Bolnis’ side? Holmea’s side?”
Kisa inclines his head to the side in doubt upon Erika’s reply.
“If we don’t have to cross the river, there’s only little way left. I don’t know where this place is, but even so I think we will arrive in Bolnis within a few days?”
Due to Kisa asking curiously, Erika answered while laughing at herself,
“My friends have been caught by bandits.”