“Looks like a war is going to start again… how unpleasant, how unpleasant.”
“What’s so unpleasant ’bout it? I had hoped for that. Something like the empire ain’t allowed to exist.”
“Right, right. Thinking of how many of my family were killed by them. They are murderers!”
“The imperial soldiers killed brave-sama. Those imperial soldiers were killed by the evil man. That evil man was killed by the kingdom.”
“Ooh, haven’t you said something nice there. Just as you said, the strongest are us without a doubt.”
The cattle is making sounds. While eating their fodder, they are sprouting useless noise. Even if a poet feels gracefulness in the voice of the wind, they won’t show any interest in the barking of this mob. However, the phenomenon of either world is definite, or rather, this side has a deep flavour of truth… The man, who is drinking from a sake cup at a stall, listened to the gossip of the people from within his hood while being by himself.
Bertrand of the Green Cloth. He is currently sitting at the rear side of the hustle and bustle in Chitoga City.
“They are late, aren’t they? It would have been great if they attacked far earlier.”
“Hey! You are going too far! Our houses and cities were tattered.”
“That’s the frustrating aspect. Although we won, we didn’t raid even a single of their cities.”
“Guess so. Though I don’t think it can be helped. The evil man was there after all.”
“That’s it . If we didn’t take it out on the evil man to begin with, we wouldn’t be able to live peacefully.”
This area, where dozens of stands are lining up next to each other, gradually draws people in the evening and is engulfed in the heat of people and meals once the sky becomes dark. Lights are making people and the plates they eat from stand out here and there, but those are blotted out by the night making it a dim sphere. Not accepting the darkness and yet being unable to completely refuse it, it’s an ambiguous district which insists on its vitality.
“Is the church our ally this time, too?”
“Well that’s only natural, I guess. Why would they be our enemy? We defeated the evil man, didn’t we?”
“No, but you know… there isn’t a brave with us, this time, I mean. Why isn’t there one though?”
“That is, you… isn’t that because braves don’t appear that easily?”
“Princess-sama ended up marrying as well. Well, there are two more though, Princess-sama’s that is.”
Everyone is tossing out words intended for anyone, huh? While being aware that they are a part of their own country, is that for the sake of their country or is it a country for their sake? Even while investigating the answer to that very interesting thought from within the timbre of the surroundings… Bertrand smiles. There is a joy filling his heart.
It’s a nice atmosphere. This is an exceedingly nice mood.
Rather than hesitation they are choosing vigour. Society has a feverish desire to start running any time soon. Bertrand knows that passion very well. It’s an intoxicant disease that reduces one’s thoughts and outlook to what one desires for themselves.
“Ah, damn it! Just when is it going to start, I wonder?”
“Indeed, indeed. I’m itching for it!”
“This time it definitely our turn to invade them!”
It’s a fever. The illness of belligerence. Predicting their victory and desiring violence, they dream of overrunning their enemy believing in their own justice. They are likely already savouring the feeling of omnipotence. That’s the way it is. Bertrand cannot bear it. That overestimation of their ability will certainly result in war!
There was someone who approached him from behind with their feet making no sounds. Even though he notices it, he doesn’t react. Bertrand wets his lips with a free drink. Showing only their profile to Bertrand, someone peeked into the stand and murmured in a low voice 「Everything’s arranged」. He doesn’t give an answer. Simply putting a nickel coin on the tabletop, he stood up.
As if making sure to receive the illumination and heat of the bonfire in his back, Bertrand walks into the darkness of an alley. The night’s wind is already tinged with coolness. However, quickly advancing without hesitation into the turbulent air brought about by the wind, he stopped once a single building entered his view.
It’s a wooden, two-storied building. Light is swaying at the house’s frontage with its brown and rusted façade. What are they selling in a place that hasn’t any proper pedestrian traffic? The old signboard is displaying the store’s name of so-and-so, but it’s difficult to discern between dirt and characters in this darkness. It has an appearance similar to crouching due to the darkness filled with dangers.
There is someone lurking in the shadows stretching from the sides of the door while erasing their presence. It’s not common to have a completely black attire. What they are wearing at their waist is a blade for killing people. But, that’s also the same for Bertrand. It’s really an unreliable long sword compared to his favourite large sword, but the naked blade, which appeared to be thin, long and slender, reflects a cold intent to murder. It’s single-edged.
Giving a nod towards the shadow, the shadow silently opens the door. A green gale blew inside.
The man, who was immersed in the account book, had round eyes and a round nose as well as mouth, but before he squeezed out the inhaled breath, his head is cut off with a *splat*. A back is visible in the kitchen. There is a presence in the toilet. No sooner than him having identified that, two people in complete black come rushing in from behind Bertrand.
While listening to the outcome being decided in his back according to the sounds, he ascends the stairs. The door at the side was opened. The head, which just peeked out from there, drops to the ground as is. Making sure to shift around it and step over it while it’s gushing out dark redness, he quickly stepped into the room.
“Wh-!? Y-You are”
Severing the arm which grasped the scabbard of a sword, he cuts open their throat by overturning the katana. Kicking that which had become no more than moaning and wheezing sounds, he cleared away the sword’s point which came lunging from his flank. Did the slight response mean that they lost a finger or was that prevented by having attacked immediately? It turns into a fierce crossing of swords.
“You bastard… of the Sand Polishing Shop!”
Returning only one glance at the man’s remark, he knocks down the man’s sword with the guard. He prepares his body so that he won’t step on the flesh-coloured things being scattered around. Although the man came grabbing at him with the hand which was missing a finger, he mowed down at his belly in order to make him pass out. He forsakes that, which started to mumble something about giving up. The hand affixed by the blade’s point transmitted a heat as it suffered something red dripping down.
He looks down on that skinny man who wore a habit. With his butt appearing to be tied to the ground, he tries to desperately retreat his body with both arms. He seems to have given up on using both his feet as they aren’t reliable. He will probably even use his jaw in the end, Bertrand anticipated with a little admiration. The attachment to life turns into dread towards death.
“I wonder who you are. You don’t look like a person of the Ship’s Arrival Shop either.” (Bertrand)
Without waiting for an answer, he looks back at the man, who still groans with a voice that isn’t one… and the one who has his finger and various other things scattered around on the floor, and cuts off their heads. The sounds which came from the direction of the entrance have already become silent as well. Nothing can be heard from outside anymore either.
“A person from the church, eh?” (Bertrand)
Once his interest was aroused, the skinny man tried to nod yes with his head with enough force to make it seem as if it was about to be torn off.
“I see, a person from the church, huh? In that case let me ask you, why are you in this place? Do you know who this man is?” (Bertrand)
With the sword’s point, which is painted red, he hinted at the person who was the owner of that red. This period of time spent tonight crossing swords; that meeting has already finished with both dead and living. However, Bertrand knew this man well.
The Ship’s Arrival Shop… publicly they are water transportation merchants of Chitoga City doing reputed work as river-craft transportation on the eastern and western river branches. But behind the scenes they are laying waste to the Eastern Dragon River as river pirates. It’s a violent organisation with that job being their core business. There are several similar lawless organisations, but even among them the Ship’s Arrival Shop is extremely ferocious. Their boss is this man.
“I-I, him who has given in to temptation, broken the laws, as mission of the church…hii!?”
Bertrand interrupted the started speech by shaking off the blood of his sword. Next he takes out a cloth and wipes the blade with it. While wiping, he squats down next to the skinny man.
“If you tell me an official story, I will have to kill you. Since I’m a devout man… I’m unable to stand the fact that injustice was committed in front of an apostle of god. If you are to chase after me officially, there’s no choice but to pretend that all of it didn’t happen. It’s something regrettable.” (Bertrand)
While he is examining the condition of his sword’s blade, he makes that statement as he also watches the other party across the blade. Even as he looks, the skinny man shivered and became pathetically pale. That kind of person is weak to pain. Even if a tiger hides its skin under its fur, its body under that fur has a soft skin and is sensitive to pain and cold. Bertrand suddenly remembered his old days. Foxes are everywhere.
“I-It’s different… right, the truth is different!”
“Hoo, it’s different, huh?” (Bertrand)
“That’s right, it’s different. I came to negotiate with him … with the pirate him!”
Within this room filled with the stench of iron rust, the skinny man cried.
The church has tried to form a connection with the river pirates. Since the front lines are supported through both, the land route and the water route, in regards to goods and soldiers, they want to expand their influence on one of them eventually. The church is aware of their influence even though they are river pirates, but if you combine it with the political strength of the church, it will give birth to an unexpectedly large effect. It will become possible for them to take hold of the war’s framework.
(It will be possible to seal off the fortresses on the inland’s water side… or even drying them out.) (Bertrand)
Appropriately ignoring the voice which is crying with high-pitched peeping sounds, Bertrand was reminded of the blue eyes which should be feared. The living god, who is looking far ahead and predicting all of it, has talked about all of the details, which are right now mentioned in front of me, in advance while even depicting the inner details and how it will proceed beyond that. It’s presumptuous to confirm it at this time. Bertrand is simply waiting.
He simply had a secret feeling of satisfaction. He has personally experienced that his own work was useful for his master’s foresight.
In the first place it was just by chance as Bertrand was travelling to search for Jikil Rosa.
Bertrand, who widely traveled the kingdom’s territory in his pursuit after her footprints, experienced a single abnormality. A hint of his own native land, which he vaguely notices in things like the behaviour and the accent in speech… an uncountable number of imperial people are living within the kingdom. Moreover they aren’t slaves from the previous war. Bertrand, who looked for such slaves possessing the same past of being slaves, was able to clearly perceive it for that reason.
They are illegal immigrants. Furthermore, they are people who came in after the “Festival of the Holy Flame.” He understands that from the way they live their lives.
The land, which connects the Asuria Kingdom and the Eberia Empire, is only the Plain of Wandering Calamity. The front-line armies of both countries aren’t stupid enough to miss strangers crossing there. Having said that, further up north than the Plain of Wandering Calamity, a small part of the demonic domain “Impure Illusionary Forest” in the Northwest of the continent is extending. Beyond that part there is the steep, wall-like Heaven’s Boundary Mountain Range. In the south there is ocean called “Purple Cloud Sea”, which is also a demonic domain, and it doesn’t allow any ships to sail through its territory.
If one talks about the sole way to enter both countries, it’s the Holy Island. That island, which is owned by the church and lies south of the Purple Clouds Sea, secures a sea route connecting the South’s of both countries via the eastern and western capes.
However, with there only being one special ship which was obtained by the miracle of a “saint”, there are many restrictions except sailing around the island. Not only is it unable to cross the Purple Clouds Sea, which is the shortest route from one cape to the other, but depending on the situation at sea, even the long route is difficult as well.
Even so, it’s not impossible. Only the church is able to transport people without both countries noticing. And if there is a part telling those illegal immigrants to gather military intelligence, one is able to clearly see the church’s ulterior motive.
“The church doesn’t want the kingdom to win.” (Marko)
No one was surprised when they heard those words from Marko. It’s something close to 5 years before now. The location was the conference room of the Hakkinen guard corps in the territorial capital of the Helrevi territory. All of the leaders were together as they took an oath as retainers. Bertrand was there as well. Marko, who was 8 years old at that time, came to the territorial capital from Kikomaru in a hurry. Right after he reported on the details and failures of the investigation trip, he was given an urgent order.
Those were terrible words.
The church, which rescued the kingdom in the previous war, was strongly and largely expanding its influence in the kingdom thanks to its close relationship with the First Princess at that time, just like it is now as well. In these several years the church’s influence has only increased. The brave faith has been widely circulated among the people. Most recently there are even rumours about reinforcements by the Holy Knights, but… Marko has consistently drawn the conclusion of the church’s situation. Whether they are an existence affecting the war. Whether they are an existence that should stay neutral.
That’s why, Bertrand thinks. Marko continued to always act without standing out until now, however that was not only because of the influential people of the kingdom but also in order to hide from they eyes from the church, wasn’t it? Since that’s the case, the matter of miracle investigators will stand out as the foremost reason, but it might not only be that. There might be other concerns.
I don’t know. I don’t know, but, while not knowing I enjoy being able to serve him without hesitation.
The reason is that Bertrand isn’t a retainer but a believer. And I’m also an apostle. It’s my highest pleasure if I can serve as eyes and ears as well as hands and feet of my own master. Even if I’m used as disposable tool, my delight won’t change. I want to be useful to him. Bertrand’s life is fulfilled by the joy of devotedly offering all of himself.
“… Is that so? I see. It’s a saving thought for me to be able to hear your real intentions as well.” (Bertrand)
Facing him with a mouth depicting a content smile, Bertrand addressed the skinny man. He sheaths the completely clean sword into the scabbard and suggests,
“Won’t you join hands with me?” (Bertrand)
Once he gave a sign with his hand, 5 to 6 completely black men enter the room. The skinny man looks at the black and white in their eyes. Bertrand presses him to answer with the words he had prepared.
“I’m running a business as shipping agent called Sand Polishing Shop, but actually I’m the boss of that place who is accompanied by many such troops. We are expanding our business in various ways. It’s the same for us coming here tonight, I have heard from a small friend that the boss of the Ship’s Arrival Shop is trying to be the strongest among the pirates… well, that’s why we did this.” (Bertrand)
Sitting on something that quickly looses its heat, he smiles.
“Do you understand? I’m also talking about my real intentions. Isn’t this a chance for both of us? The church wants the pirates who are able to operate in this city. I’m deeply involved with both, the eastern and western river branches as well as the southern main stream, and want to make a profit. How about it? I think that we can share the profits.” (Bertrand)
Bertrand appeases the skinny man, whose eyes have selfishness, relief and greed flickering within them even while they are darting about restlessly, with another remark from the bottom of his heart.
“It’s alright. Although we look like this, we are deeply religious. It’s to an extent that you can even call us religious fanatics.” (Bertrand)
He smiles with his lips taking the shape of a crescent moon.
A dark contract was established here. Without talking any further the hand, which represents the church in its desire to expand its influence in the underworld, and the hand, which was adorned with a green cloth, grasped each other tightly. The hand is connected to the arm, the arm is connected to the shoulder and on top of the neck a green glint is glittering in the eyes.
Bertrand can hear Marko’s voice.
“There are two overland routes, the one going through the Helrevi territory or the one going through the Yurihalshira territory, heading towards the front-line from the kingdom’s centre, but the former is completely in our hands and that man won’t give the latter to church enthusiasts easily. Since that’s the case, only the water route remains, but Chitoga City has an important position in the water transportation. It’s only natural for the Asuria Kingdom, but the Eberia Empire used it as well before. Even after the Empire withdrew by moving the front, there should be lawless organisations left behind in what one can call their remains. And those will be the pirates who disturb the transportation in the most radical ways. Since the church will likely try to contact them, aim at them and crush them. And then take their place. Your name and career will probably become useful as well.” (Marko)
He is pleased.
Bertrand came to hold a strong clout in Chitoga City.