Imperial Calendar ― Year 430, Middle of May.
“Yep, just as I thought, I can’t see with it.” Chrono muttered gloomily while looking up to the ceiling of his sickroom.
The doctor had told him that high-ranking holy arts would be able to heal his eye, but the number of divine art practitioners within the Empire was limited. Much more so if it came to practitioners capable of using high-ranking holy arts.
It was equal to having announced the loss of his eyesight.
“I gotta make up my mind soon.”
One week had already passed since they repelled Holy Kingdom Argo. Although there had been no signs of them resuming their invasion, Chrono couldn’t afford to mope around all the time.
“…Guess I’ll get up.”
Chrono got off his bed and put on his blackish military uniform. Once he stepped out into the corridor after throwing a mantle over his shoulders, he found Mino standing there.
“Good mornin’, Captain.”
“What’s the plan for today?”
“The same as yesterday…visiting our injured men.”
“In that case, I’ll accompany ye.”
Taking Mino with him, Chrono walked across the corridor where one door followed the next. The hospital was located in a stone building. The second floor was reserved for private sickrooms while a hall with close to a hundred beds had been set up on the first floor.
Despite that, they couldn’t accommodate all of their wounded soldiers, and thus had to also rent out an inn.
As Chrono and Mino went down the stairs at the end of the corridor, they could hear all the noise from below.
“It sure sounds like they’re lively today as well.”
“Sorry. I’ll have the folks, who are healthy enough to kick up a fuss, leave the hospital.”
“Don’t mind it. It’s their justified privilege, so let them unwind a bit.”
“Thank you very much.”
As soon as Chrono entered the hall, the noise died down all at once. His men stopped what they were doing, looking his way. Some of them were laying on their beds, but quite a few of them were up and about.
“Stay at ease.”
His men started to move again, somewhat awkwardly. While casting a fleeting glance at them, Chrono walked up to a nearby bed. Spotting him, the elven girl lying on it trembled with a start.
She had bunched up her long blond hair on the left side of her head. Many elves were rather good looking, and they often gave Chrono the impression of being coldhearted, but the girl in front of him had a cute appearance.
Considering that she’s so adorable, she should have left a lasting impression on me, but strangely I can’t remember her at all.
“Is it our first time to talk with each other?”
“I-It seems like I h-happened to go outside for some r-recreation, and I also frequently v-visit the t-toilet, so y-you must have m-missed me.”
“I see. It might be unnecessary for me to ask, but how are you doing?”
“F-Fortunately I’m doing much better!”
“――gh! N-No, my w-wounds still hurt a bit! I need to r-recuperate a bit l-longer!” The elven girl unnaturally held her stomach, gasping.
“Then take your time and heal up, okay?”
When Chrono turned around, he heard her breathing out behind him.
“Now then, next is…”
Chrono let his eyes wander, and then headed over to the bed where Goldi was resting.
“How are you doing, Goldi?”
“Things have improved quite a bit.” Goldi sat up with his face screwing up as his wounds painfully tormented him.
“It looks like they still hurt.”
“Well, I got injured all over. But, my hands, legs, and eyes are fine.”
Once Chrono tilted his head in confusion, not quite grasping the meaning behind Goldi’s comment――
“I have a dream of opening my own smithy.”
“Oh, so that’s the reason.”
Chrono had heard about smiths heavily using their eyes and legs.
I see, if he aims to become a smith, it’s only natural for him to worry about those.
“Ah, but your dream of opening a smithy means that you’re going to retire from the army, doesn’t it?”
“First I must earn enough money. I guess it’s a story five or ten years further down the line. Though it’ll all come to nothing if I don’t survive until then.” Goldi said and laughed.
“Alright, once you’ve set up your smithy, make weapons for me. I’ll buy them off you at a fair price.”
“I will work hard!”
“I’m not rich enough to buy them at a high, congratulatory price though, okay?” Chrono shrugged his shoulders.
Goldi smiled wryly, “I will comply with your request then.”
“Thanks. Anyway, make sure to rest up well, also for the sake of my weapons.”
“Then please allow me to take you up on your kind words.”
Goldi laid back down on the bed with a grimace, and Chrono returned to the passage between the beds.
When he scanned his surroundings once again, his men turned their faces away or looked downwards. As he couldn’t help it, he headed over to the beds where Leo, Horus and Lizad rested.
As usual, Chrono had difficulties discerning them, but he had remembered the locations of their beds. First he went to Leo.
“I’m here for a sick visit. How are you doing?”
“Like yesterday. I’m sorry, but it’ll take some time for me to be able to fight again.”
“Okay, that’s a bit unexpected now.”
“I just took you for someone who’d try to force himself, Leo.”
“I’m a warrior.” Leo mumbled while looking up to the ceiling. “Grasping one’s own condition is one of the important skills of a warrior. If I can’t tell the state of my own body, I won’t be able to hold the line either.”
“Is this something like you telling me, leave this place to me and go ahead?”
“You got it.” Leo bared his fangs, apparently laughing. “Still…leave this place to me and go ahead, eh? What an awfully corny and hotblooded line.”
“It’s hotblooded, but I could do without situations where I’d need to tell you that.”
Then again, Chrono might not be able to keep back the enemy anyway.
“I’m with you on that. But it’s always necessary to assume the worst in advance.”
“Well, sometimes I’ve made such assumptions as well.”
“Hoh, I guess you’re a warrior then, Lord Chrono.”
“I don’t really think that this description applies to me, though.”
Around the time when I was a second-year student at middle school, I also indulged in such delusions, getting all fired up about it. It was a youthful indiscretion ― or you could also call it, the crazy ideas of a boy in his puberty.
“What’s wrong?” I called out to Leo since he suddenly fell silent.
“…I’m sorry, Lord Chrono.”
“Sorry for what?”
“Your right eye. I wanted to apologize earlier, but…”
“Ah, this? It’s not your fault.”
“No, if I had been stronger, I could have prevented it. Next time I’ll make sure to show you that I can flawlessly protect you, Lord Chrono.”
I don’t really want to go through something like this a second time, but I think I should still accept his feelings.
“Well then, I’ll take a nap. I want my injuries to heal up as quickly as possible.”
“Okay, sleep well.”
Leo closed his eyes, and very soon started to peacefully snore. Chrono went back to the aisle while making sure to not wake him, and headed over to Horus.
“Uugh, it hurts!”
“You’re looking as bad as usual, eh?” Chrono muttered while staring at Horus moaning with tears in his eyes.
“Horus, the captain went out of his way to visit ye. Shape up some, will ye?”
“Even if you’re telling me all that, my whole body is in pain.”
Getting scolded by Mino, Horus shed big tears.
“Now, now, Mino. It’s obvious that Horus is doing his best.”
“Right, right, I’m doing my best.”
Horus immediately got carried away as soon as Chrono covered for him.
“Captain, ’tis bad for Horus if ye only pamper him.”
“Hmm, you do have a point there.”
“That’s so mean! You gotta treat me kinder!”
“My gentleness will quickly run out if you push it.”
It might be just like aid. If you’re told to give more aid despite already providing it out of good will, you’ll quickly get fed up with it.
“Lizad is…as quiet as usual.”
“Aye, so much that I’d like Horus to follow his example.”
Looking at the neighboring bed, Chrono saw that Lizad had sat up and was directly staring at them.
“Are you alright, Lizad?”
“……Sleepy.” Lizard answered after quite some time.
“Are you going to sleep?”
“I feel like our conversation isn’t quite meshing.”
“‘Tis inevitable, Captain. Lizardmen have a peculiar tempo.”
“Even for you, Mino?”
“Aye, even for me.”
The first person to ever have encountered a lizardman was probably quite stunned.
“Lizad, what’s your favorite dish?”
“Okay, it looks like communication is possible.”
“Not like ye needed to expressly test it out.”
“I wanted to confirm it myself, no matter what.”
Maybe it was a bit childish, Chrono scratched his head.
“Get well soon.”
Lizad didn’t answer. It looked like he ended up falling asleep.
“Now then, next is…”
Once Chrono looked around himself again, his men faced away or cast their eyes down. Chrono called out to his subordinates, before ultimately leaving the hospital.
Chrono and Mino traveled towards the residential quarter in order to visit the subordinates who were recuperating at the inn. They passed through the administrative district, the area with the hospital and the marquis’s mansion, and the business district, where one branch office of a renown company after the other lined up.
As they crossed the plaza――
“Do you think I should abstain from making sick visits?”
“Why are ye askin’ all of a sudden?”
“The men always turn the other way whenever I go to visit them.”
“That’s just them bein’ uncertain how they should face ye.”
“They can simply treat me normally.”
“Captain, ye might not know, but everyone’s gone through some tough experiences with noble officers. Even if ye told them to treat ye normally, it’d be askin’ too much.”
“I see, something like that happened, huh?”
“No, well, no need for ye to feel responsible, Captain.” Mino scratched his head awkwardly.
“Marquis Erakis didn’t do anything for you?”
“The marquis doesn’t hold a sliver of interest in us. And even if he did, it’d be limited to just the elven and dwarven women.” Mino spat out.
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No, nothin’. And even if there was, I do not wish for ye to do anythin’ that’d put ye at disadvantage, Captain.”
A refusal as reply, no, Mino was considering Chrono’s future.
“We’ve gone off-topic, but I just wanted to tell ye that lots of folk aren’t quite used to bein’ treated nicely.” Mino said cheerfully, apparently having pulled himself together.
“I don’t consider myself to be overly kind, though…”
“Captain, ye might not know, but…ah, it’s not like I’m tryin’ to make fun of ye, ok?”
“I know that you aren’t.” Chrono smiled wryly.
“Even when bein’ shown kindness and goodwill, many of ’em won’t trust ye and turn it down, thinkin’ that it might be some trick, as they’ve gone through a cruel life.”
“I’ve understood that yer a good person, Captain, but sometimes I’ll end up puttin’ myself on guard ‘s well.”
“Does the same apply to Layla too?”
“Ye interested in Layla, Captain?”
Layla was the silver-haired elf who had held together the detached force and accomplished its mission after its two centurions had died in action.
“I thought ye didn’t like her.”
“It’s not that I don’t like her. It’s just…”
“I don’t know what to talk about with her.”
Layla was so expressionless that Chrono was troubled how to respond. On top of him feeling bad about having tried to push the blame on her, he didn’t know how to deal with her.
“What does Layla think about me?”
“Hmm, I don’t think she dislikes ye.”
“Is that so?”
Chrono breathed out in relief.
“Well, Layla also went through lots, and I believe she’s confused ’bout some parts. I’ve――”
“Sirs, how about some flowers?” A lovely voice interrupted Mino, and a bunch of flowers was held out in front of the two.
Chrono stopped, and stared at the girl holding those flowers. She wore her brown hair in braids. Her simple dress was slightly dirty, but her hair was well-tended.
It made Chrono feel sick at heart that such a small girl had to work.
“It is one brass coin per flower.”
Chrono retrieved a leather bag out of his pocket, and checked its content. Inside he saw copper coins, silver coins, and several gold coins.
By the way, brass coins were the lowest coinage in the Empire. The exchange rates were: 10 brass coins for one copper coin, 10 copper coins for one silver coin, and 20 silver coins for one gold coin.
“I got no brass coins.”
“I see,” the girl said with disappointment in her voice, and then suddenly lifted her face. Immediately following she bowed as if frightened, no, as if feeling ashamed. “Please forgive me, kind Sir.”
“No need to apologize.”
Thinking that she might not be able to sell much without having change at hand, Chrono stared at the bunch of flowers in her hands.
“Oh well, keep the change then.”
“I-Is that alright with you, Sir?”
“Sure, go for it.”
“Thank you very much.”
The girl respectfully lowered her head when Chrono passed her a copper coin. Even though he should have done something good, feelings of guilt welled up in him for some reason.
“Sir, here are your flowers.”
After receiving a bunch of flowers, Chrono started to walk again.
“Captain, there’s limits to bein’ soft-hearted.”
“Visiting the sick while coming empty-handed is also a bit…”
After they proceeded for a while, the inn, where Layla was recuperating, came into sight. The inn itself was made out of wood with the first floor being reserved for the dining hall and the second floor housing the guests.
“Hmm?” Chrono’s nostrils twitched. A fragrant scent had blown over to the two.
“Mino, let’s use the opportunity of the sick visit to grab a meal here.”
“Then I’ll wait outsid――”
“It’s my treat.”
“…I shall gratefully take ye up on yer kind offer.” Mino agreed, seemingly after having considered Chrono’s honor.
“Welco―― Ah, Lord Chrono?”
Once they entered the inn and went inside, the woman behind the counter called out to them with her eyes sparkling happily. But as soon as she realized that it was Chrono who had come in, she slumped her shoulders in dejection.
She wore her long, brown hair up, and although her eyes tended to droop, her gaze was sharp. Any men preferring voluptuous figures might have their eyes drawn by her bountiful chest. Her name was Shaela. She was the landlady of this inn and diner.
As she had apparently lost her husband to illness five years ago, she was nowadays running the business by herself.
“Shaela, that’s no proper attitude, is it?”
“Back at you. Could you stop calling me by name and instead call me landlady?” Shaela snarled huffily.
“Sorry, my bad, landlady. So, what about your attitude?”
“Look, even I would welcome it a lot if you could eat something here. Lord Chrono, you’re always just doing sick visits. So wouldn’t it be okay to drink at least an aromatic tea every once in a while?” Shaela puffed up her cheeks, sulking.
“We’re here as customers today.”
When Chrono pointed with a thumb behind him, Mino entered the inn while making the wooden floor creak.
“I sure hope the floor doesn’t give in.” The landlady folded her arms, directing a rude stare at Mino.
“Captain, I’ll wait――”
“Don’t mind it.”
“Well, a guest is a guest, even if they look like they might break through the floor. Grab one of the free seats.”
“There are no free seats, though.”
“That was one comment too many. For heaven’s sake, you truly and utterly lack any kind of cuteness.” Shaela said sullenly, and turned her back on Chrono and Mino.
“Hmm, okay, then sit down at the counter.”
Chrono and Mino did as told.
“Here, some water.” The landlady placed cups filled with water in front of the two. “So, what are you going to eat?”
“What do you have to offer?”
“Just veggie scrap soup and bread with lots of additions.”
“Then give us that.”
The landlady tossed firewood into a stove ― a big box ― behind her, and ignited it.
“How are things going for you?”
“As you can see for yourself.” Shaela turned around to the two, bent herself over the counter, and rattled down without a pause, “When my husband was still alive, business was going well. But, for the last few years it’s always been taxes here, taxes there, so I don’t even know what I’m toiling away for. Sheesh, Marquis Erakis is really worthless scum. He makes us pay taxes like no tomorrow, but as soon as push comes to shove, he tucks his tail between his legs and runs away. Anyway, how are things on your side?”
“What do you mean?”
“How is Argo moving these days? Are they going to attack us again?”
Chrono looked at Mino, asking him with his eyes what he should do.
“We haven’t heard any detailed information, but I think it’s unlikely that they’re goin’ to attack ‘gain.”
“That’s how it is.”
“Why are you, an officer cadet, looking so triumphant about it?”
“I believe he’s got at least the right to be proud.” Mino’s shoulders shook as he was apparently laughing.
“Well, that’s because Captain, no, Lord Chrono chased away the troops of Argo instead of Marquis Erakis who had run away.”
“Haah? What was that?”
“I said that it was Lord Chono over here who drove away the folks from Argo.”
“Yeah right. You’re telling me this boy drove away Argo?” Shaela looked as if she couldn’t believe a word of it.
“I guess one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. On a closer look, he does have a cute face.” The landlady leaned over the counter even further.
Chrono’s stocks with her had shot up within mere minutes. But then again, they might come crashing down right away since she hadn’t accompanied them at the actual battle.
“Umm, what about our meals?”
“Acting so bashful is really adorable. The dishes are going to be a bit longer. How about you finish your sick visit in the meantime?”
“Okay, I’ll take you up on that.”
Chrono grabbed the flowers and stood up, heading for the second floor ― towards the room where Layla was sleeping. After climbing the stairs located deeper inside the store, he passed through a dim corridor, arriving at the last room. He knocked on the door, but no reply came back.
“Layla, I’m com――nh!”
As soon as he opened the door, Chrono gasped. Layla was kneeling on the floor, wiping her body. His reason told him that he should close the door and wait outside. But, he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
She was drying her body while avoiding the freshly stitched wounds. Just that action alone looked strangely alluring.
Suddenly Layla’s hand stopped――
“Ah, no, sorry it’s not like I intended to peep on you. I just opened the door because you didn’t answer when I knocked.” Chrono frantically explained as he entered the room.
“Could I have you close the door?”
Chrono closed the door and froze in that position. He cursed at himself for not having gone out on the corridor. As Layla was probably putting on some clothes, he could hear rustling from behind.
What should I do? He asked himself. It might have been possible to justify me having seen her naked body as an accident, but me not having stepped outside right away makes it inexcusable.
At that moment, a good idea hit him.
Dogeza ― the highest form of expressing one’s apology. I’ll dogeza at the same time as I turn around. Yep, let’s do that.
“I finished changing.”
Chrono turned around and tried to go for a dogeza, but――
“Please forgive me, Lord Chrono.” Layla bowed her head before Chrono could even perform a dogeza.
“I am terribly sorry for showing you such an unsightly, seedy-looking body.”
“T-That’s absolutely not true!” Chrono said with a shrill and nervous voice.
In response, Layla lifted her head, staring his way with a look as if she was seeing something unexpected, or rather, incomprehensible.
“I-It was very beautiful!”
“There is no way for that to be true.”
“No, I mean it! It was really beautiful!” Chrono walked up to Layla who had cast her eyes down. “I’m not lying. I truly thought that it’s pretty.”
“…Lord Chrono.” Layla fixed her golden eyes on Chrono.
Somehow her eyes are looking moist.
“Ah, h-here, a present for my sick visit!”
“Thank you very much.” Layla took the flowers Chrono held out to her, just to have a smile form on her lips, but so faintly that you wouldn’t notice it unless you watched very carefully. “Umm, Lord Chrono?”
“W-What is it?” Chrono responded shrilly.
“Why are you treating a half elf like me so kindly?”
Chrono looked at Layla’s ears. Now that she had mentioned it, he felt like her ears were shorter than those of the elf with the side ponytail at the hospital. Half elves were the result of pairings between humans and elves. In fictional stories they were often targets of persecution and discrimination. Chrono didn’t know what kind of treatment they received in this world, but he suspected that their treatment wasn’t all that different from those fictional stories going by Layla’s tone and way of phrasing.
“Did you not know?”
“No, I hear about this for the first time.”
“I see.” Layla looked down with a sad expression.
Maybe she was thinking that Chrono’s attitude towards her might change now. Of course that was impossible, but Chrono’s feelings on the matter wouldn’t be passed on to her if he didn’t voice them out.
“I…consider you a brave woman, Layla.”
“――gh!” Layla lifted her face in surprise. “Even though I am a half elf?”
“My feelings on this won’t change even with you being a half elf. I can’t be proud of myself, but I feel very proud to be blessed with a subordinate like you, Layla.”
“――nh!” Big teardrops rolled down from her eyes.
“You’re wrong! That’s not what it means!” Layla wiped the tears away with the back of her hand, but no matter how much she wiped, new tears kept spilling out. “E-Excuse me, Lord Chrono. Right now…right now…”
“I understand. I’ll be back later.”
Chrono left the room and closed the door behind him. He could hear Layla sobbing on the other side of the door.
“I’ll be back again, okay?” Chrono muttered under his breath, and went down to the first floor.
“Lord Chrono, you have a guest.”
When he looked towards the entrance door, he found a man standing there. He was short with a big pot belly. His lips were very thick, and his eyes were mostly drooping. His grown-out hair had been put to the front in what you might call a combover so as to hide his receding hairline. He was the very picture of an unattractive middle-aged man.
“Sir Chrono, I beg your pardon. My name is Sitter Window. I’m a subordinate of Her Highness the Imperial Princess.”
Because Sitter had bowed, Chrono followed suit with a bow as well. It was only after he had bowed that he wondered whether he should have gone with a salute as typical of soldiers.
“What kind of business do you have with me?”
“Her Highness is calling for you. And thus she has sent me to fetch you, yes.”
Chrono almost instinctively asked back whether it could wait until he had finished his meal, but swallowed his question at the last moment. This would have been something Tilia would have likely pardoned, but it might be pointed out as disrespectful by Sitter.
“I understand. I shall go at once. Where can I find Ti――Her Highness?”
“She is at the office in the marquis’s mansion.”
“Mino, stay here and eat your lunch.”
Mino was about to get up, but sat back down after hearing Chrono’s words.
When Chrono entered the office, Tilia was already waiting for him in her seat. With her elbows on the table, she had put her hands together as if to hide her mouth. 1
“You’re late, Chrono.”
“I already hurried, though.” Chrono pulled the door closed behind him, and walked up to the middle of the room. “By the way, what about Marquis Erakis?”
“I’ve left him behind in the forest.”
“We must be vigilant of another invasion.” Tilia answered nonchalantly.
“So, why did you call for me?”
“I never told you the reason why I’m currently in Marquis Erakis’s territory, did I?”
“…” Chrono silently made a full turn.
He had a bad feeling about where this was going. It might be disrespectful, but he preferred to be regarded as rude over getting dragged into trouble.
“Don’t run away!”
Something grazed his neck, embedding itself in the door. It was a quill. White light billowed from it like steam. It was a divine art skill of the God ruling over Pure White Order.
“Using your divine art for something like this?”
“It’s important. I’m certain the God ruling over Pure White Order will kindly forgive me.”
Guessing that he wouldn’t be able to get away, Chrono turned back to Tilia.
“So, what’s the reason for you having come here?”
“I’ve obtained secret information that Marquis Erakis is embezzling military funds. I came here to investigate that accusation.”
“Embezzlement of military funds?” Chrono reflexively asked.
Military funds ― the costs for the soldiers’ rations, wages, and equipment ― were covered by imperial taxes. The official stance was that it served as a reduction of the burden on the territorial lords, but in reality it was a measure to not allow military factions to form.
For this reason, the Empire had determined the monthly wage of soldiers to be two gold coins. This was an amount of money a fairly skilled craftsman could earn, but for ordinary people it was an extraordinary pay. This would also become the lowest amount of money needed to pay when hiring a soldier for a private army. If you considered that mercenarism wasn’t regarded a legitimate occupation within the Empire, you could say that this measure had achieved a certain success.
Of course it put a heavy burden on the Empire’s budget. The Empire had to invest almost half of its entire tax income to maintain its standing army. Putting it another way, this showed the extent of the Empire’s unwillingness to let military factions form.
If Marquis Erakis had truly been embezzling military funds, he wouldn’t be able to escape the death penalty.
“Do you have any proof?”
“It’s an investigation that also includes securing evidence.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
Tilia didn’t answer. If the embezzlement was a fact, Marquis Erakis might do everything in his power to not let her grab any evidence of it. Since it’d be a matter of life and death for him, he might not shirk away from using violence to achieve his goal.
“If something happens to you, I could launch an investigation without any scruples, you see.”
“Whoa, scary! I thought we were friends?”
“I also consider you my friend, but…”
“That’s not set for eternity.”
“Don’t try to gloss it over with some cool phrases!” Chrono retorted while Tilia smiled cynically.
“Okay, enough with the joking.”
“So it was a joke.” Chrono felt relieved.
“Obviously. There’s no way that I’d let you go through something dangerous, is there?”
“You’re so damn distrustful. In the first place, even Marquis Erakis should be aware of the merits and demerits of killing you.”
“Can you put that much trust in a man who might be embezzling imperial taxes?”
Tilia’s line of thinking is reasonable, but I can’t stop feeling uneasy about this.
“I think it’d also be a viable option to hit him where it hurts by hiring hoodlums. I’d appreciate it if you could suppress him with military force, though.”
“Why? You’ve got a testimony, don’t you?”
“I can’t move the army based on a testimony alone. It’s a pain, but I must follow proper procedures.” Tilia snarled with a tone making it clear how much it irked her.
“…Chrono,” Tilia looked at Chrono with a meek expression, “Won’t you help me with the investigation? Of course I’ll take your safety into account, and I’ll also reward you.”
“…I got it.” Chrono agreed after a while.
“I knew I could count on you, friend.”
“I’ll put some effort into it, but don’t expect too much out of it, okay?”
“Your low self-esteem is definitely one of your shortcomings. Wouldn’t it be just fine for you to be more confident, seeing how you won against me and made Argo’s army under the command of General Igniz scurry back home?”
“I’d have died during my first battle if I had brimmed with such a confidence.” Chrono sighed very deeply.
Once Chrono stepped out through the main gate of the marquis’s mansion, Mino walked up to him.
“Good work, Captain.”
“Yeah, it tired me out quite a bit.” Chrono sighed lightly.
“Let’s retire for today if yer feelin’ exhausted.”
“Our men who are waiting for me――”
“Captain, if ye keep visitin’ them, they won’t be able to rest up even if they want to.”
“So it was a nuisance after all?”
Mino didn’t reply, and that in itself was the answer. It wasn’t as though Chrono didn’t think, Even though you told me earlier that they were just uncertain how to act around me.
“Captain, yer unusual.”
“I think I’m totally normal, though.”
“Nah, ye stick out among the humans I’ve seen. Ye put yer life on the line for demi-humans, and ye even arranged a hospital for ’em.”
“I was only able to arrange a hospital because of Tilia.”
“I doubt Her Highness would have moved a finger if ye hadn’t proposed it.”
“You think so?”
“After all, we’re brutes who chose to work our blades for a gold coin over workin’ a decent job. I can’t believe that Her Highness would even waste a thought on people like us.”
“Something like that…wait a moment.” Just when he was about to deny Mino’s claim, Chrono noticed something. “Did you just say a gold coin?”
“Aye, I did.”
“You know that soldiers get a monthly salary of two gold coins?”
“I do, but this much is a common occurrence. Just bein’ paid a gold coin is already good.”
That’s the thinking of a salaryman who got used to his exploitative environment, Chrono groaned. Even if a system to crack down on illegal acts exists, it’s meaningless if they don’t know how to use it. Anyway, it looks like the embezzlement of military funds is true. All that’s left to solve now is how to obtain evidence.
“Somethin’ wrong, Captain?” Mino worriedly called out to him as Chrono had fallen silent.
“Mino, as a matter of fact…I was told by Tilia to find evidence for embezzlement of military funds.”
“Captain!” Mino raised his voice into something similar to a scream, and checked their vicinity in panic. “What did ye plan to do if someone had heard you? And even before that, if I betrayed ye――”
“I made a bet, or rather, if you were to betray me, it’d mean that I had no eye for judging people.”
“Does that mean yer trustin’ me?”
“It’s unthinkable for me to not trust my own adjutant.”
“Bwwhht,” Mino breathed out through his nose. “Is it okay for me to ask several questions?”
“Go for it.”
“What’s there to gain for ye?”
“Improving Tilia’s impression of me, I suppose.”
“As far as I can tell, ye don’t have much interest in yer career. So why would ye dabble with somethin’ like this?”
“I was asked by Tilia, and I have no reason to stand on Marquis Erakis’s side. Also, I think it’d be nice to fix the treatment you guys receive a bit. Also,” Chrono continued, “I want to become a son Dad and Mum can be proud of.”
Mino remained silent, apparently reflecting on Chrono’s reply.
“Gotcha. I’ll accompany ye on this, Captain.”
“Alright, let’s storm the room of the one in charge of the administration then!”
“Now?” Mino threw his eyes wide open.
“Strike while the iron is hot, right?”
“No, such things should be tackled carefully――”
“It’s hard to tell a poor thinker from a sleeping one.”
It’ll be fine to seize the evidence, even if by torture. Even if it causes some issues, I’ll get Tilia to somehow handle it for me.
Taking Mino with him, Chrono passed once more through the gate of the Marquis’s mansion. Entering the building through the entranceway, they passed the entrance hall, entering a corridor. They reached their destination ― the room of the one in charge of accounting ― so easily, without being questioned by anyone, that it was actually a let-down.
“Sir Chrono, is something the matter?” The chief accountant left his seat and approached the two as soon as they entered the room.
He was a man with no particular, outstanding features. He had a medium build, and gave others the impression of being a diligent, serious bureaucrat.
Then again, it had become difficult to call him diligent and serious at the moment it became clear that he was participating in embezzlement――
“Do you possibly desire an advance of your salary――”
“Hyooooooooooooooo!” With a weird outcry, Chrono kicked the man with all his strength.
The chief accountant performed a magnificent somersault before crashing onto the floor. Using the opportunity of him laying on the ground, Chrono went on the offensive.
Chrono kept kicking him while giving off those strange cries of his.
With Chrono showing no signs of easing up on his kicking, the accountant curled up like a hedgehog.
“W-Why are you kicking me all of a sudden!?”
“Fork it over!”
“Fork what over?”
“…Haah.” Chrono sighed, and drove his boot into the man’s side.
The accountant choked violently, and glared full of hatred at Chrono.
“The secret accounts, of course. We already know that Marquis Erakis has been embezzling military funds.”
“I don’t know anything about secret accounts.”
“Mino, we’re going to break his fingers.”
“Okay,” Mino extended his right arm and grabbed the accountant by the scruff of his neck. “Captain, he’s clenchin’ his fists.”
Chrono jumped lightly, landing on top of the man’s fist. The intermittent crunching indicated how the hand’s bones broke. At the same time, the accountant shrieked in pain and terror.
“Usually you do stuff like that by breaking one finger at a time, don’t youuu!?”
“I did it all in one go since it’d be too much of a hassle otherwise.”
“Fuck, fuck, fuck! Don’t screw with me! I’ve fucking told you that there are no secret accounts, didn’t I!? If you think that Marquis Erakis is going to stay silent about you doing something like――”
“Shut your damn, fucking flap! You’re so annoying! I’m gonna set your home on fire, if you keep getting on my nerves!!”
“――gh!” The accountant gasped in response to Chrono’s shouting. “M-My family has nothing to do with this!”
“As if I’d care!”
Chrono kicked the man’s face, causing broken teeth to whirl through the air.
“Do you really believe that such an injustice would be overlooked!?”
“Her Highness the Imperial Princess has kindly promised us to look the other way. Even when it comes to cruelly butchering your whole family.”
“You’re lying! That’s a bluff!”
“Wanna try me?”
When he saw a smile forming on Chrono’s lips, the accountant’s body violently shuddered.
“I don’t mind accommodating you if you cooperate with us, you know?”
“Who’s telling me that you’re not lying?”
“If you hand over the secret accounts, I’ll allow you to go scot-free. Just for today, mind you.”
“And where’s the proof that you’re going to keep your word!?”
“I’m telling you that you’ll have the chance to start over in a new region.”
The accountant hectically looked around him and then――
“……I understand. I’ll give you the secret accounts.”
――he squeezed out after remaining silent for a long time.
Once Mino let go of him, the man stood up unsteadily. He tottered to his desk, pulled out a bundle of parchments from a drawer, and held them out to Chrono.
“What are you doing!?”
Having this angry yell hurled at him from behind, Chrono looked back, just to find Marquis Erakis standing in the door. Tilia had mentioned that she left him behind in the forest, but that apparently didn’t mean he would stay behind.
Marquis Erakis approached without even knowing that his fate was about to be decided here and now.
“Sir Chrono, what is going on here?”
“I’m in the middle of obtaining evidence for embezzlement.”
“W-What are you talking about? I would never do anything like embezzlement.”
“Hoh, that sounds like a very interesting story.”
Once Marquis Erakis turned around, he found Tilia standing in the door.
“Your Highness! This must be some kind of misunderstanding!” Marquis Erakis shouted.
“I’m possessing evidence of his illegal activities!” The accountant thrust the secret accounts high into the air.
“Y-You bastard! You’re planning to betray me!?”
“I have no interest in dying together with you! Your Highness! I shall hand you the evidence of his embezzlement! Of course, I shall also testify against him! So, please spare me! Even if it’s just my life!”
Chrono reflexively looked at the chief accountant. The instant he had judged that he wouldn’t be able to get away, he had back-stabbed Marquis Erakis with such a speed that Chrono couldn’t help but to take his hat off in admiration.
“I-I’m the head of a Marquis household that has continued throughout seven generations!”
“I’m well aware.” Tilia answered, obviously fed up.
“My father, uncle…and many of my relatives all died for the sake of allowing your father to take the throne! And this is how you reward our loyalty!?”
“That’s the very reason why you were allowed to hold the posts of battalion commander and territorial lord at the same time! It’s a special exception as it’s normally not allowed to hold two posts concurrently!” Tilia roared back at Marquis Erakis who was raging albeit being the offender here. “It’s you who betrayed my father’s…His Majesty’s trust. Atone for that crime.”
“U-Uughh!” Marquis Erakis groaned with his face bright red.
“But, I’ll show you some mercy. I’ll carefully listen to your story at the capital so that you won’t be falsely accused.”
“U-Uuh, it’s all over!”
The marquis crouched down on the spot, holding his head.
“…I think we’re done here for the moment.”
“No, well, how to put it…I’m kinda lackin’ the words.”
Mino seemed to not be quite satisfied with the outcome, but all was well that ended well.
At that moment, White rushed into the room, “Lord Chrono, we, huge problem!”
“What’s it this time!?”
“Layla, saying, she quit, army.”
“Eh? Why all of a sudden?”
“Layla, say, being unable to become your pride, Lord Chrono. I, not understand.”
“Huh? Anyway, I’ll hold her back!” Chrono decided even while being confused. “Where’s Layla right now?”
“Hospital, hall, being restrained.”
“Why is she at the hospital?”
“She thought, Lord Chrono there.”
Apparently Layla believed that Chrono had returned to his sickroom.
“No, this isn’t the time to stand around here!” Chrono jumped out into the corridor.
When Chrono arrived at the hospital’s hall, Layla was surrounded by her comrades. Wearing old, tattered clothes, she had just a single bag with her. Chrono suspected that it held all of her belongings.
Having her name called by Chrono, Layla’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Why are you suddenly talking about quitting the army?”
“…” Layla refused to answer, keeping her face flat and expressionless.
“…What do you mean by not being able to become my pride?”
“Who told you that?”
Maybe having noticed that White had tattled, Layla cast a glare at him.
“I’d like you to tell me the reason. Otherwise I won’t be able to go along with it.”
“…I was born in the slums of the capital as the product between my mother, a prostitute, and a customer of hers. I got raped many times over until I enlisted in the army, and even after coming here… There’s no way that such a filthy half elf like me can become your pride, is there?” Layla smiled sadly.
Chrono was sure that she had given up on all kinds of things during her life which must have been so harsh and unrelenting that he couldn’t even begin to imagine it. He estimated that she had no choice but to persuade herself that her being a half elf and the daughter of a prostitute was the reason, each time she experienced pain and suffering after being raped over and over again. For this reason, she was about to give up before Chrono learned of her past, before things took a bad turn.
Chrono couldn’t find any words to refute her. He knew that he had to say something. That he wouldn’t be able to hold Layla back if he didn’t tell her something. And yet, no words came out of his mouth.
I feel proud of you. Those words had expressed his true feelings. If they hadn’t been genuine, you could call Chrono’s whole life a lie. However, even those words had only achieved to corner Layla.
What can I do to restrain Layla? What should I do―
While Chrono’s thoughts went around in circles, Layla started to slowly walk away.
“Wait!” Chrono grabbed Layla’s wrist on reflex.
“Please let go! I was truly happy when you told me that I am beautiful, Lord Chrono! But, that is wrong! I cannot believe it! I cannot believe in words that lack any basis!” Layla yelled in quick succession.
“…hts.” Chrono muttered.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Being half in panic, Chrono recalled what he had learned at his junior high in a desperate effort.
“Umm, all people are free by birth…they’re equal in dignity and rights, I think it was? A-Anyway, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the basis of my words.”
“I have never heard anything about a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Layla mumbled in confusion.
And now Chrono fell into panic for real.
“A-Ah～, that’s because I’ve come here from another world.”
“Are you lying to me now?”
“It’s no lie! In my previous world, commoners or nobles didn’t exist, it was wrong to discriminate or beat others no matter their origin. That’s what I’ve been taught. That’s why…umm…” Chrono frantically lined up word after word.
At the same time, he felt an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. No matter how you looked at it, saying that you came from another word was just too absurd. It wouldn’t be weird for Layla taking this as him making fun of her.
“Why do you go as far as even lying for my sake?”
“It’s no lie. Ahh, no, it’s okay even if you don’t believe me about my having come here from another world, but…my feelings of wanting to keep you here are definitely true.”
“Is it alright for me to stay at your side, Lord Chrono?”
“Of course it is.”
“I’m a half elf, the daughter of a prostitute, and I got raped many times, and yet…”
“I don’t care about your birth and upbringing. Layla, you’re clearly a victim of what took place in the slums… Sorry, I have trouble putting it into words properly.”
“I’ve understood.” Layla wiped her tears away with her index finger. “…Lord Chrono, please give me some time to sort out my feelings. I want to answer your feelings after carefully thinking it over.”
“Take your time. There’s no need to rush things.”
Layla silently nodded her confirmation.
“Today was really tiring.” Chrono sighed wearily while sitting on the bed in his sickroom. “I wonder whether I got Layla to stay.”
If possible, I’d like her to stay with us, but in the end, it’s her decision. I can’t force her.
“It’d be great if she can make her decision without being rash.”
Just when he muttered that, a knocking could be heard from the door.
“Who could it be?”
Chrono stood up, and went to the door, opening it. The one standing outside his room with an expression that betrayed the worries tormenting her mind was Layla.
“…Umm, Lord Chrono.”
“What’s wrong for you to visit me at this late hour?” He had intended to gently ask her, but Layla’s body stiffened up.
She looked just like a kid who got scolded.
“The hospital should be closed for visitors around this time, but…did you possibly sneak in?”
Footsteps could be heard further down the corridor just when Laly hung her head in shame. Apparently it was a guard, making his rounds.
“For the time being, come in.”
Chrono let Layla into his room and closed the door.
“I had told you to take your time to think it over, so I had expected for you to require more time.”
“I am very sorry. But, I brooded over it again and again ever since you told me that.”
No sooner than finishing saying that, Layla leaped into Chrono’s chest.
“I-I think that I love you as well, Lord Chrono!”
“Is that an annoyance for you?”
“No, I’m happy to hear that.”
Wrong! How did it come to this!? Chrono asked himself while hugging Layla. Anyway, I have to clear up the misunderstanding.
Chrono pulled away from Layla and sat down on the bed.
“Sit down where you like.”
“…Okay.” Layla nodded shyly and sat down right next to Chrono.
Chrono felt how sweat suddenly gushed out across his body. Once he looked to the side, he was met with Layla staring at him anxiously.
Somehow it looks like her ears are drooping. No, wait, that’s not the point here, Chrono turned his eyes away, looking in front.
Just as he started to wonder how long they had been sitting on the bed like this, something soft was pressed against his arm. When he looked to his side once more, he encountered golden eyes staring at him.
“Lord Chrono, I won’t mind being one of your mistresses. Please…please allow me to stay by your side. My love…will be yours alone.”
That was the finishing blow for him. Chrono pushed Layla down.
“…Lord Chrono, I’d be happy if you could be gentle with me.”
Chrono softly kissed Layla.