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“Just what in Genobanda’s name is going on here!? Where have those little worms crawled to!?”
As Kuffner screamed out his rage, Rudophus put his confusion into words, “No clue. Maybe those buggers flew away or dug a tunnel.”
They had thoroughly searched the main road, leaving no stone untouched. At this point there existed no place where the 3,000 dwarves could have hidden themselves to evade detection. And yet they hadn’t found a single trace of the dwarves, let alone a single clump of copper.
“I’ve heard that they’re in contact with Romania. Perhaps they outwitted us and ran east.”
The one offering this suggestion was an officer who had arrived with a reinforcement of 200 light cavalrymen after the palace received the notification that the dwarves disappeared alongside the copper from Marven. Immediately following, he jumped on his own horse, announcing that he’d search eastwards.
“His Majesty the King is on the verge of exploding. It’d be best for you to resolve yourself for the worst in case you don’t manage to find the copper.” Leaving those words behind, the officer galloped away.
However, his warning caused Kuffner and Rudophus to tremble in fear. The two were close to completely freaking out, but the exhaustion of the soldiers under them had almost reached its limit.
For the time being they let their soldiers rest while putting their heads together to discuss the possible whereabouts of the dwarves and copper. However, they only went through a cycle of repeated conjectures and denials of said conjectures, unable to reach a conclusion. After a while, their deliberations hit rock bottom, and both finally fell silent.
As an awkward silence hung in the air, Rudophus mentioned something he had come up with on the spot, “Isn’t it possible that they’ve been using side roads?”
Side roads were paths away from the main roads which were connecting city with city. They weren’t recorded on maps, but if they had followed such roads, they might have headed west without using the main road. However, most of the side roads were no more than residential roads connecting small villages with each other. It’d be more correct to call them animal trails that had been trampled down by people.
Even the main roads would turn into quagmires during the rainy season. In years when it got really bad, huge amounts of rain would transform the roads into raging rivers. All the more so if it came to the residential roads of this world.
Kuffner shook his head at Rudophus’ idea, “The zoan and dwarves alone might be able to handle it, but the copper would be a huge problem!”
It was copper that had been prepared to be handed over to Jeboa’s metal dealer Cornelius. The amount was by nothing to scoff at. If you wanted to transport it, several huge wagons pulled by oxen or big dragons would be necessary. But, it was unthinkable that such wagons could travel narrow side roads that weren’t maintained. For this very reason, the two had excluded that option from the beginning, and focused their efforts on the main road.
“Kuffner, try to think about it. The zoan launched a surprise attack against Marven’s mine town. It’s hard to imagine that they arrived there along the main road. Don’t you think that they could only have used side roads?”
Kuffner could agree with that view.
“I know as much. ――But how are they supposed to transport such a tremendous amount of copper?”
“There should be several thousand runaway dwarves. Wouldn’t they be able to carry quite a big amount if each of them held a share of the copper?”
Kuffner immediately refuted, “Don’t be silly. Although there might be several thousands of them, most are women, children, and old dwarves.”
If you force women and children to carry copper, it’d further slow down their pace which is already close to that of a snail under normal circumstances. In addition, there’s likely many sick and old dwarves among them who have trouble walking by themselves. Carrying all of those people also requires manpower. I can’t believe that they’d travel along side roads while carrying copper, which is no more than baggage to them, despite knowing that they’re being chased by us.
“Then, how about the possibility of the zoan and dwarves being the only ones escaping along the side roads? They could have hidden the copper somewhere or, if they use the river, they’d be able to transport it on boats with few people.”
Kuffner folded his arms and brooded over Rudophus’s suggestion.
Given that they’d get close to the capital if they travel downriver on boats, that possibility is low, but it’s not unthinkable that they’re traveling after having stashed the copper away somewhere.
“Kuffner, we won’t find a solution if we stay cooped up here anyway. I’ll try to check the side roads together with several cavalrymen who still have some strength left. You let your soldiers rest for a while.”
With those words, Rudophus took several riders with him and galloped towards a nearby side road.
Afterwards, within less than a day, a messenger from Rudophus arrived at Kuffner’s location, who had continued to search for the copper while letting the soldiers rest in shifts, bringing the news that Rudophus had discovered the dwarves’ whereabouts.
After instructing the soldiers to follow him later, Kuffner mounted his horse and raced across the side road while guided by Rudophus’ messenger. And when they reached the end of the road, hitting upon a small village, which consisted of five houses that could be described as shacks, they were greeted by one of Rudophus’ soldiers whom Kuffner remembered having seen before.
“Where’s Rudophus!? What about the copper!?”
He had spotted fresh traces of a huge number of people having traversed the road up until this village. There seemed to be no mistake about the zoan and dwarves having used this side road, just as Rudophus had mentioned in his message.
Despite being overwhelmed by Kuffner’s threatening behavior that clearly exposed his fretfulness, the soldier answered, “Commander Rudophus is currently questioning the village chief, Sir.”
According to the soldier, the villagers had apparently tried to hide the fact that the zoan and dwarves had passed the side road. Accordingly Rudophus had gone to question the village chief in person.
“What a waste of time. They’ll immediately spill the beans if we behead one or two of them.”
The soldier frantically tried to soothe Kuffner who had snarled such an atrocity. This was no territory under the direct rule of the royal family, but one of the noble territories. If a royal army soldier committed acts of brutality in such a place, it’d very likely sow discord between the king and the lord in charge.
Even a hotblooded, rough man like Kuffner could understand as much. After telling the soldier that he was joking, he headed to the house of the village chief where Rudophus was supposed to be.
On the way, Kuffner felt eyes looking at him. Once he followed them, he found villagers staring at him with bated breaths from inside their homes or under cover. As all of them were women, children or elderly, feelings of contempt over this village being very irritating welled up within his chest.
Further losing his patience over such things as well, Kuffner entered a house that looked somewhat better than the other shacks around here, just to find Rudophus facing a seedy-looking old man.
“Oh, you’re just in time, Kuffner. I was about to have him tell me the details.”
Kuffner turned down the chair offered to him, and leaned against the wall with his arms folded and a sullen look. Rudophus guessed that he still felt like listening despite his contrary attitude, and prompted the village chief to talk.
“Just as I told you earlier, we don’t intend to blame you for whatever you’re going to say. Please honestly tell us everything that happened.”
Rudophus had used a pacifying tone, and yet the village chief still faltered while speaking up, “Okay. ――It all started several weeks ago…”
The village chief mentioned a strange human peddler visiting the village. He called him a peddler, but that was only because the man had introduced himself as one. But it wasn’t as though that man carried any goods with him. He had apparently visited this remote village by himself. The villagers were puzzled why he had come to their poor village when he wasn’t even trying to sell goods. But the peddler offered a large amount of money, saying that he wanted to rent a patch of land at the edge of the village for some time.
The field in question was communal property and fallow ground. As it was currently used as pasture for the farming oxen, the village readily agreed with renting out the land for a short period in exchange for a hefty sum of money.
And then, some time after the peddler left, the villagers, who woke up one morning with the sunrise, noticed that a huge amount of wooden boxes had been placed on the rented field. The villagers felt spooked by this having happened during the night after they went to bed, as if to evade being watched.
But, it wasn’t as though anything had been stolen. All that happened was boxes being set up on the field. Nothing else happened back then.
However, several days later, an uncountable number of zoan and dwarves arrived. Completely frightened by this, the villagers hid themselves in their homes, and only wished for the strangers to leave as soon as possible. Maybe because of that, the sub-humans didn’t cause any problems, luckily, and went off somewhere on the next day, the village chief explained.
“It looks like food had been stored in the wooden boxes. Those people ate that, and went away.”
Once Kuffner and Rudophus looked outside the window the village chief was pointing at, they could catch glimpses of small stone-built stoves dotting a vacant land that had been trampled by a great number of people.
“All of this doesn’t matter at all!” Kuffner interrupted the old man with a yell. “Rather than that, did those bastards have copper with them!? Or anything else that looked like it’d be heavy!”
Right now, the movements of the zoan and dwarves are secondary. We must locate the copper that disappeared from Marven.
Despite being surprised by Kuffner’s snarling, the village chief had an idea about that, “Now that you mention it, they were definitely transporting something heavy, yes.”
Kuffner and Rudophus’ eyes suddenly lit up due to finally having found some information about what could be the missing copper. Both quickly drew close to the village chief.
“How many heavy things did they have with them? How were they transporting them?”
“Did they use wagons? Or did they carry them by hand?”
Even while feeling frightened by the frenzy looks in the two men’s eyes, the village chief replied, “No, they were using something like thiiiis.”
The old man swiftly drew something on a wooden board with charcoal. Seeing the picture, Kuffner and Rudophus exchanged looks, and then said simultaneously, “”What in Genobanda’s name is this!?””
“This thing is really handy.” Norðri commented full of admiration while holding onto a wheelbarrow.
It was a single-wheeled handcart that had been in use for the reclamation of the Solbiant Plains. Five years back, when the reclamation started in the plains, there didn’t exist a proper road, let alone Soma’s Road that used Roman concrete. What became a major asset in transporting materials during the reclamation of the plains was this single-wheeled handcart which Souma had introduced after getting the idea from the Wooden Ox said to have been invented by Zhuge Liang from the Annals of the Three Kingdoms. Now that the reclamation of the plains had reached a stopping point, Souma had requisitioned the excess handcarts for this operation.
This wheelbarrow could easily traverse rough, narrow side roads similar to animal trails unlike regular wagons. Also, using it was far more comfortable than a person carrying the load by hand, and the handcart could transport a lot of things on top of that.
While pushing the handcart which was loaded with copper to the brim, Zurgu bragged about it as if it had been his plan, “It was Sir Soma’s idea to use these wheelbarrows to transport food on the way to the village and transport the copper and people who can’t walk on the way back from the village.”
By preparing a resting place with food provisions in advance, Souma had made sure that the dwarves could migrate with just the necessary luggage. Moreover, not only had Souma provided the dwarves, who had to abandon their home, with Marco’s special food to give them a little reprieve, but he had also prepared plenty of liquor he had scraped together beforehand. The dwarves, who were extremely fond of alcohol and food, were highly pleased by that treat alongside the provided resting place. For this reason, their faces were bright, as far as Zurgu could tell, despite having been forced to desert their hometown. On the contrary, their strides actually appeared to be light and bouncy as they headed for the next resting place.
However, the handcarts drew the interest of the dwarves around Norðri a lot more than all the plans Zurgu told them about.
“I see, I see. Indeed. A single-wheeled one is quite convenient for a narrow path like this. It’s a brilliant invention. Moreover, its structure is also very interesting.”
Norðri and the other dwarves praised while personally experiencing the cart with their hands in actual use.
“I’m sure the city called Bolnis must have developed far more than I expected if it has things like these in use.”
Technology was nothing that was born in a day. Craftsmen required many generations to slowly refine their techniques. Because of that, Norðri believed that his clan was ahead, if only in technology, after having heard that the dwarves living in Bolnis were former slaves who had been brought into the city from other lands. However, once he actually saw these handcarts, he grasped that he couldn’t have been any further from the truth.
“I’m utterly baffled. For you to build such things and use them in daily life…”
“Something of this level is just the beginning.” Dvalin proudly cut in while likewise transporting copper with a handcart. “There’s also water wheels that rotate through the power of the wind, towers that store grass, machines that thresh bundles of wheat ears in the blink of an eye, and pipes for blowing glass. Our place is filled with things you’ve never seen and heard of!”
In the end, dwarves possess an extraordinary conceit when it comes to crafting. They boast about their own creations while holding their dumpling-like noses up high.
“Oohh! That sounds very fascinating! I’d love to have you teach us about all of it by all means!”
Hearing Norðri’s request, Dvalin’s face darkened despite having been so smug moments ago.
“…I think you’ll probably be forced to learn all of it even without explicitly asking for it. To the extent of puking, that is.”
What crossed Dvalin’s mind at that moment were all the unreasonable requests of Souma up until now. However, not knowing any of it, Norðri laughed it off.
“Fuhahaha! What is there to agonize over learning new techniques! I’m looking forward to it!”
Upon Norðri’s hearty guffawing that caused his beard to tremble, the dwarves, who had come from Bolnis including Dvalin, looked into the far distance all at once, and said, “There was a time I embraced the same idea,” while remembering that they had said similar things in the past.
Garam smiled wryly as he cast a sidelong glance at the exchange between the dwarves, but then a harpyian landed next to him.
“Sir Garam, please lend me your ear.”
With those words, the female harpyian whispered something into Garam’s ear, and flew up into the sky again by loudly flapping her wings.
Shishul noticed the grim expression on Garam’s face as he watched the harpyian fly away, and called out to him, “Is something wrong, 《Ferocious Fang》?”
“Order our warriors to make haste and help the dwarven women and children.” Garam ordered with a grave tone. “It looks like Holmea has noticed that we’re advancing along this side road.”
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