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“You idiot simply ignored such a serious matter!?” Kuffner howled the instant the village chief finished giving them a rough rundown of the events.
The village chief shrieked lightly, and curled himself up.
“A-Absolutely not! We have properly informed His Lordship about all of this!”
When Kuffner roared, “Are you speaking the truth!?”, even while being pinioned by Rudophus, the village chief nodded his head furiously many times over while replying, “However, His Lordship ordered us to not disclose this…”
The second he heard this, Kuffner shook his arms free from Rudophus’ hold, and stormed out of the house with rough stomps.
“Hey, Kuffner, where do you plan to go!?” Rudophus yelled after chasing after his comrade in a hurry.
In response, Kuffner snarled, “Don’t ask the obvious! To this territory’s lord!”
It’s still going to take some time for the soldiers to catch up with us, but I won’t be able to settle down unless I can directly tell the lord my opinion in the meantime. It’s bloody obvious that we wouldn’t have needed to hurry all over the kingdom if the lord had informed the capital as soon as he drove away the dwarves after hearing about their presence from the villagers.
Thinking all that, Kuffner couldn’t ignore the lord who had simply overlooked the dwarves and zoan.
“Got it. But, I’ll come with you.”
Rudophus could understand Kuffner’s feelings on this very well, but even if they started a dispute with the local lord, it wouldn’t lead anywhere. Thus Rudophus decided to accompany Kuffner to intervene if things went south.
The two arrived at the lord’s residence in no time after spurring on their horses. However, although you could still describe it as a mansion, it clearly showed that they were out in the backlands. The building was shabby, looking almost as if a small fort had been turned into a dwelling. In the eyes of Kuffner, a resident of the capital, it looked decent enough to register as the home of a somewhat affluent commoner.
When Kuffner hammered against the mansion’s food, an old, male servant showed up. After Kuffner and Rudophus first stated their own names and ranks, and then asked for a meeting with the lord, the servant quickly rushed back into the mansion. A little while later, a woman introducing herself as the lord’s wife came out to meet Kuffner and Rudophus.
“Just what kind of business might you have with us?” The lord’s wife confronted the two, sudden visitors with a steadfast attitude despite her fingers shaking lightly.
However, even the fact of the wife and not the lord himself receiving them rubbed Kuffner in his current state the wrong way.
“It’s pointless to talk about this with a woman! I want you to have His Lordship meet with us!”
Even while looking daunted by Kuffner’s threatening attitude, the woman answered, “My husband is absent. If you have any business with us, I shall keep you company.”
Kuffner’s irritation only grew worse because of that.
Does the lord of this place intend to hide behind his wife, or does he believe that a royal knight won’t treat a woman too harshly? Either way, he’s obviously looking down on us, Kuffner assessed. In such a case, I won’t show any mercy, even if the other party might be a woman.
“Very well, then let me ask you: why did you ignore the dwarves and zoan who trespassed into your territory!? Out with it!” Kuffner demanded in a way as if he was holding a sword above his head while being about to slash at her straight from the front.
However, the woman’s reply was something unexpected.
“Just what might you be talking about? I have never heard anything about this.”
Kuffner flew into rage. Leaving aside if she had honestly admitted her fault and apologized, he hadn’t foreseen that she’d try to play dumb like that.
“Someone in the village mentioned that they notified you. Are you still insisting that you don’t know anything despite that!?”
“…I can only repeat myself that I don’t know what I cannot know.”
“As I thought, talking with a woman won’t lead anywhere! Have your husband come out!”
“Just as I have told you before, my husband is absent…” The lord’s wife desperately protested even though her face was so pale that she looked as if she’d faint at any moment from Kuffner’s menacing hounding.
Rudophus, who had merely watched the whole scene so far, suddenly noticed something from the woman’s behavior. He forcibly pulled Kuffner’s shoulder back, who was about to harangue once more, and wedged himself between the two. Then Rudophus bowed at the lord’s wife.
“Milady, please accept my apologies. My colleague has been terribly rude to you. I am certain it must all be based on some kind of misunderstanding.”
Rudophus shut up Kuffner, who was about to complain about the sudden apology, with a single look of his.
While skeptically scrutinizing Rudophus who had completely turned his attitude around, the lord’s wife said, ”
“It must be the silly blathering of one of our people. Didn’t they simply make some sort of mistake?”
Rudophus exaggeratedly nodded at this forced excuse, showing his agreement.
“I dare say, it must be so. ――Either way, we have been very impolite. Ah, please do not worry. We do not intend to inform His Majesty of something so trifling.”
Hearing that, the woman plainly revealed a face full of relief, “It is a big help for you to say so.”
“No, do not mind me since it is only natural, don’t you think so as well?”
The woman deeply bowed many times over with tears visible at the outer corners of her eyes in response to Rudophus’ remark.
After this, Rudophus dragged Kuffner, who didn’t understand the circumstances, along as he left the lord’s mansion. As soon as they returned to the tree near the mansion where they had tied their horses, Kuffner snarled at Rudophus.
“Oi, Rudophus, just what in Genobanda’s name was this about!?”
No matter how you look at it, that woman clearly knew about the zoan and dwarves having come to her territory. To overlook this on his own accord is inexcusable even if he might be my colleague.
Being grilled by Kuffner who looked like he wouldn’t forgive him if he didn’t come up with a good reason, Rudophus curtly said over his shoulder, “Consider the position of that lady.”
“Haah? What are you talking about?” Kufner barked back with a somewhat sharp voice.
“You don’t understand? The lord is really absent.”
“Just where would the lord be messing around during this serious affair!?”
Rudophus answered gently so as to soothe the raging Kuffner, “Did you forget? Right now, the lords have gone to the capital with their soldiers in response to His Majesty’s call.”
As Kuffner had finally remembered, Rudophus further added, “Very likely the lord of this place has taken all the young, battle-able men with him to participate in the army to suppress the revolting slaves. What do you expect the roughly 30 people to do about the dwarves? If they had meddled with them recklessly, not just that village, but the entire territory would have been turned into wasteland.”
Now that Rudophus mentioned it, Kuffner recalled that he hadn’t seen a single young man in the village.
“B-But, they’d have still been able to at least inform the capital, right?” Kuffner insisted, apparently unwilling to yield, but Rudophus coldly shot his objection down.
“Inform the capital about what?”
Kuffner could only respond, “Huh?” at that while looking befuddled.
Rudophus said with a grim face as if keeping it as simple as possible, “Should they have said: ‘We’ve spotted suspicious people in the territory you entrusted us with, but since we can’t chase them out on our own, please come and save us’?”
At that point Kuffner also realized at long last.
“Do you understand, Kuffner? If they had reported something like that to the capital, it’d have been equal to declaring that they weren’t able to properly govern the land they were entrusted with. It’d still be fine if things came to an end with just the lord’s honor taking a hit. But, if things went wrong, his ability to govern would be put into question, and the family would have its territory confiscated!”
“H-However! It’s an emergency! If they explained that…”
At this point, Rudophus lowered his voice, “Do you believe this would fly with His Majesty?”
Kuffner was at a loss for words. King Warius was known to give his emotions free reign as soon as he lost his temper after getting agitated. It was hard to imagine that he’d take the circumstances into consideration. The lord and his family would likely find it intolerable to have their land confiscated because they went out of their way to properly inform the capital of the situation here. It was a problem far too heavy to decide upon for the wife and the male servants who had been entrusted with the territory during the lord’s absence.
“Correct! They haven’t seen any dwarves and zoan, nor have they heard about the passing through the territory! They won’t have any choice but to insist on not being aware of this! Very likely the lords of the other territories further down the side road will handle it in the same way.”
Rudophus, who currently was a commissioned officer of the royal army, originally was the third son of a rural lord. As his two older brothers were in good health, he had enlisted in the army because he believed he wouldn’t get a turn in succeeding the fief. For this reason he could fully relate to the complicated position of lords in the countryside.
Rudophus loudly clicked his tongue, and kicked a stone on the ground away.
“Shit! If this is a plan based on having anticipated this, the Divine Son of Destruction or whatever he’s called, who came up with it, has a completely rotten character!”
It was unusual for the gentle Rudophus to raise his voice and curse like that. And then he retrieved the map from the knapsack tied to his horse, and spread it out while pressing it against the saddle.
“It’s not said that all lords are going to close their eyes and ears. Hence, they should choose a route that would avoid notice as much as possible.” The place Rudophus pointed at on the map was the area before the mountain range located north of Luomi, the westernmost city of Holmea. “It seems like there exists a side road along the northern mountains, connecting all the villages up there. I have no doubt that we’ll find them there!”
“…But, are we going to be in time?”
Quite a few days had already passed since the dwarves ran away. Kuffner was worried that they might have already left Holmea’s territory and escaped into Bolnis’ sphere of influence.
“The difficulty of a path goes up in proportion to how remote they are. The pace of women and children on such a path would be no different from that of a snail. In such a case, we’ll be in time. ――No, we’ll make sure to be in time!” Rudophus put the map away with those words, and jumped on his horse. “Let’s go, Kuffner! We’re going to catch up with the slaves!”
Just as Rudophus had predicted, the dwarves of Marven were still within Holmea’s realm.
Standing atop a small hill located slightly away from the side road, Garam looked down at the dwarves who headed west in a long line while muttering, “…How damn slow.”
It was only natural for Garam to complain like that. On top of the road’s condition being bad, the dwarven women and children were shouldering quite the luggage, albeit having limited it to the absolute minimum. Under these circumstances, it was already decent for them to proceed one kuili (approx. three kilometers) per koku (approx. two hours).
Moreover, the road was narrow, only allowing for two dwarves to walk side-by-side. If they formed a line on such a road, the length from beginning to end of the line would be half a kuili when adding one melt (approx. one meter) space between the dwarves. Because of this, it had the side effect that the end of the line finally started to move after half a koku since the first dwarves left the camp site. A ridiculous situation Garam couldn’t really laugh at.
Having heard his grumbling, Shishul quickly justified, “I’m terribly sorry, 《Ferocious Fang》. ――I have the warriors help the dwarves, but the dwarven women and children are far slower than I had expected…”
Noticing his absentminded verbal slip because of her words, Garam shook his head, indicating that she didn’t need to mind it.
“Don’t worry about it. Dwarves are different from us zoan.”
Instructing himself rather than Shishul, Garam ordered her to make sure that the women and children wouldn’t collapse from forcing themselves too much. Shishul cheerfully approved, went down on all four, and ran off in order to pass on Garam’s order to the zoan warriors watching the long queue of dwarves.
At the same time, as if replacing her, Zurgu, who had been entrusted with the rear, arrived.
“Hey, Garam, at this rate things could become really bad, you know?”
Zurgu didn’t specify what could become bad, but Garam still understood very well what he wanted to say.
“No helping it. If the dwarves got injured because we hurried them on, the situation would just become worse.”
It looked like Zurgu had merely come here to whine, seeing how he obviously understood their current situation. Without objecting to Garam, Zurgu roughly scratched his head.
“Good grief, it’d be so much easier if we had only zoan with us.”
Garam strongly shared Zurgu’s feeling on this. Dashing across the wild plains was the zoans’ forte. With zoan legs, they would likely be able to run back all the way to Bolnis in three days. Also, if it came to zoan with their good sense of orientation, Garam would be able to get them to independently gather in clan or family units by just telling them the location of the meeting spot. Because of this,it didn’t take much time and effort to choose a route for everyone, and prepare the provisions in advance.
Besides, the zoan were a race specialized in combat that capitalized on their leg strength. Leaving aside the raid of Marven, they were ill-suited to escort non-combatants like this. Garam believed that someone else was surely more suited to this job than him as a zoan.
He had frankly told Souma as well. However, thanks to Souma’s insistent plea that he’d like Garam to do this, Garam had not much of a choice but to accept.
The time when I only led the zoan was much easier and relaxing than this here, Garam unintentionally spat out a sigh, causing Zurgu to look flabbergasted.
“What, you haven’t noticed?”
“What do you mean, Zurgu?” Garam asked while wrinkling his nose and eyebrows.
Zurgu grinned broadly, “You see, I just want to put Sir Grand Clan Chief on the spot for a bit. ――That’s how it is.”
Garam understood less and less what was going on. Zurgu guffawed at Garam whose forehead wrinkles had only deepened even further. Garam was looking for the right words to somehow talk the red giant down, but then a harpyian girl landed next to him.
“Sir Garam, Holmea’s soldiers are heading this way.”
She whispered this message so that the dwarven women and children wouldn’t fall into panic after hearing this, but this much was enough to create a serious expression on Garam and Zurgu’s faces.
“They’re more than 2,000. It’s a unit mainly centered around cavalry and light infantry. I think they might catch up just past noon at this rate.”
Garam and Zurgu looked up to the sky. The sun was still somewhat east from its zenith. If the enemy hurried, they’d likely catch up in one koku.
“Oi, 《Ferocious Fang》, what are you going to do? Are we going to abandon the copper?”
Garam pondered about Zurgu’s question.
If we have one more day, we can reach the river flowing between Holmea and Bolnis. If we’d still have needed two or three days to reach that place, I’d have decided to throw the copper away at once. Even for Soma, the copper is no more than an additional gain, and he’s clearly told me to prioritize the safe return of us zoan together with Marven’s dwarves.
However, ever since he had started to mingle with humans, Garam had also learned that this metal called copper was very valuable. Simply discarding something so valuable would be a waste. Besides, Garam felt like delivering a heavy blow against Holmea which had driven the zoan out of the Solbiant Plains and tried to eradicate them.
“…Alright, let’s go with Soma’s plan.”
Garam had been sent off with a single backup plan by Souma in preparation for the time when Holmea’s soldiers would catch up with them. Zurgu slapped his fist into his own palm due to Garam making up his mind to put that plan into practice.
“That’s what I wanted to hear! ――Great. Grand Clan Chief, leave the battle formation to me.”
Garam smiled wryly at Zurgu taking the best part for himself without any hesitation. However, Garam didn’t know any other man who was so reliable when it came to battle. Once Garam accepted by telling him to do as he pleased, Zurgu headed away at a light pace to get everything ready.
Garam watched his trustworthy back slowly leaving, but he decided to make sure just in case.
“Hey, Zurgu! Don’t forget to borrow the kettles and pots from the dwarves!”