Imperial Calendar ― Year 430, Beginning of July
Chrono was lying on a sofa inside the chief accountant’s office, carefully listening to the landlady and Elena.
“What’s this stove tax or this firewood tax?” Elena asked while puzzled.
“Isn’t it self-explanatory? In this area, we’ve been paying taxes for stoves, firewood, and even the time when newly-weds have their first bridal night,” the landlady explained with a fed up voice.
“For heaven’s sake, from the cradle to the grave it’s just taxes here, taxes there. What a pest. The lord of this place did well to not have had a rebellion on his hands.”
“Since he had been adding taxes little-by-little, we never found an opportunity to go through with an uprising. If he had raised the taxes all of a sudden, even we’d have――”
“So, what are you going to do about this?” Elena asked Chrono from her seat at the desk, ignoring the landlady.
“I’m going to abolish all the ridiculous taxes,” said Chrono while pointing his eyes at her.
She had tied her red, long hair into bundles at the sides. Freckles covered her face around her bridge nose, and the expression of her eyes seemed to be brimming with conceit. A white dress hid her skinny body, and for some reason, she was wearing a leather collar.
According to the doctor, she had recovered completely, but her complexion still didn’t seem up to shape. Chrono had told her that he didn’t want her to force herself as she had just started to work after recovery, but Elena herself was teeming with motivation.
Come to think of it, Alyssa has started to work today as well. Maybe I should go and check her condition later.
“You sure are fully devoted to boosting your popularity, eh?”
“It’s just that I don’t want to be hung for the sins of my predecessor,” answered Chrono with a wry smile. “It’d be great if this could help to improve business in the marchesse.”
“You understand?” Elena asked, treating him like an idiot.
“Consumption is constrained if you raise taxes, and if consumption dwindles, so does the money in the resident’s wallets. The rest is no more than a vicious cycle, right?” He showed off his knowledge.
“Hee～, ma…Lord Chrono, you’re thinking things through properly.”
“I’m happy to have earned your praise.”
“If only you had become the lord of this area much faster, I might have been able to continue my inn.”
“I think the outcome would have been the same, even if I had become the lord a bit earlier.”
“We won’t be able to tell unless we try it out, right?” The landlady refused huffily while pressing both hands into her waist. “Saaay, Lord Chronooo.”
“Using a coaxing voice won’t help you any since I won’t lend you any more money.”
“You cheapskate!” The landlady yelled back, dropping her shoulders in disappointment, “Haah, I suppose I’ve got no choice but to endure until the one-year-period is over.”
“Rather, you’re really shameless to try adding even more to your debt despite already owing him 100 gold.”
“Why do you have a grasp on my debts?” The landlady asked with a quizzical look.
“I’ve just taken over, but I’m still the one in charge of accounting,” answered Elena while tapping on the pile of account books stacked on her desk. She obviously was telling her that she had learned of it by looking into the books. “Anyway, how can you have the nerve to lend 100 gold to such a woman?”
“That’s clearly because I have value that merits it,” the landlady pushed up her big breasts by folding her arms while grinning broadly. “I wonder, how much did you cost?”
“Well, that sounds about right, I suppose,” the landlady jeered while staring at Elena’s humble chest.
“What are you looking at!?”
“Obviously your small tits, no?”
“Ugh, it’s not like having big ones is better!” Elena crossed her arms in front of her chest as if to hinder the landlady from looking.
“How much tax yield can we expect this year?”
“Eh? Ah, this year’s revenue, right.” Elena lowered her eyes at a nearby account book. “Umm, the tax income is going to sharply fall because of the abolishment of all the incomprehensible taxes, but if you take the annual tax revenue as a basis, I think we might receive around 60,000 gold this year.”
“That’s great to hear.”
Chrono felt relieved. With this amount of money he’d be able to cover all the unpaid wages, even if his men came to claim theirs all at once.
“You shouldn’t feel relieved until the harvest ends and the crops have been liquidized into money.”
“Well, you’ve got a point,” admitted Chrono with a sigh when he imagined the long process until the crops would be turned into cash.
Taxes were paid with coins in Harshel, but farm villages paid with their produce. The former was relatively easy to handle, but the latter required to follow proper procedures.
First, official tax collectors would visit the villages until the beginning of July to make an estimate on the expected harvest. Next the tax rate would be set based on that crop estimate. Later, once the harvest finished, the tax collectors would travel to the villages once more to collect the produce. Lastly, the produce would be sold to merchants, finally resulting in hard cash.
“Besides, we don’t know whether these account books are correct.”
“That’s one scary thing to say.”
“They’ve been written by a subordinate of the guy who got indicted for embezzling military funds. It’d be asking too much to simply trust things like that, don’t you think?”
“That makes sense, I guess.” Chrono sighed once more and then muttered while dropping a paper on his face, “Shucks, problems around every corner.”
“…You’ve been fiddling around with that piece of paper for a while now, but is it that rare a sight?”
“Hmm? It’s a piece of paper that was produced in our workshop, so I was wondering what to do with it from now on. If possible, I’d love to mass produce it.”
Elena stood up silently and ran over to Chrono. As soon as she took the paper off his face, her eyes widened in surprise.
“Don’t you have more paper here than you could ever use?” The landlady glanced at the stacks of account books on Elena’s desk.
“T-The production method for paper should be a well-hidden secret!”
“Hey, let me have that for a moment,” the landlady walked up to Elena and snatched the piece of paper out of her hand, apparently having her interest piqued. “I feel like the texture and hue is slightly different, but this is paper, no doubt about it.”
Just as she said, the paper’s texture resembled that of Japanese paper.
“Hey! I’ve been looking at it!”
“Sheesh, gimme a break. It’s not like you’ll lose anything even if I check it out for a tiny bit, right?”
Elena tried to get the piece of paper back, but the landlady hindered her from doing so by blocking her with an arm. Seemingly having given up on retrieving the paper, Elena stared at Chrono.
“You said you made it in the workshop? Did the dwarves make it? From scratch?”
“I’ve provided a reeeeally rough explanation, but Goldi pulled it off anyway. He’s truly incredible to have been able to create the paper based on my explanation.”
“How did he make it?”
“He told me that he created it out of tree rind.”
The landlady sighed as she muttered full of admiration, “For paper to be made out of rind…”
“B-But, it’s expensive, isn’t it?”
“No, I don’t think so. Assuming we hire ten people at one silver per day, we’ll be able to cover the labor cost if we sell 1000 sheets of this paper for a price of one brass per sheet.”
“Well, I used labor costs as a basis for setting the price, so I expect it to be a bit more expensive than that. Landlady?”
“Yeah, you showed me something great here.”
Chrono smiled wryly while taking back the piece of paper from her.
Although he had come to this world from Japan, it wasn’t as though he had anything to do with Japanese paper back in his previous world. He thought that the world had its own share of humor, seeing how someone like him had been allowed to reproduce Japanese paper in another world.
“So, what are you going to do with that paper?”
“I’ve been pondering whether I couldn’t somehow use this paper to enrich this territory, but I haven’t decided on anything specific yet.”
You have to consider many things like the method of mass production or the sales plan.
“Lord Chrono, I’m going back to the kitchen. Elena, you’re fine with that as well, right?”
“Yes, I’ve asked everything I wanted to.”
“Can’t you at least thank me properly?”
“You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to say it a bit nicer,” said the landlady with a sigh, and left the room.
“You’re kind of amazing, aren’t you?”
“The amazing one is Goldi.”
“No, it’s you who is amazing,” retorted Elena and drew closer to Chrono. “I’m sure you’ll be able to pull off even more amazing things.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“You can do it, definitely,” whispered Elena.
Although it was a situation as if she was seducing him, her complete lack of charm probably stemmed from her eyes gleaming dangerously. Considering the circumstance of how she fell into slavery, it was easy to predict that she was trying to use Chrono for her revenge against her uncle and fiancé, but unfortunately Chrono couldn’t humor her in that regard.
As he was pondering what he should do next――
Elena jumped up when she heard Layla’s somewhat muffled voice.
“Sorry, it’s a call.”
Chrono retrieved a transparent globe ― a magic communication tool ― out of his waist pocket.
“What’s wrong? If the Picks Company has shown up to supply the provision I leave――”
『No, that’s not it! A merchant was attacked by thieves! Fortunately no one was killed, so we’re about to hear his report at the guardroom!』
“I’m on my way.”
Chrono leaped off the sofa.
When Chrono opened the door to the guardroom, he spotted an exhausted man.
Very likely he’s the merchant who got attacked.
Suddenly meeting eyes with Chrono, the merchant’s eyes flew wide open.
“Oohh! Lord Chrono!”
The man knelt down in front of Chrono. The number of merchants knowing Chrono’s face was limited. Those who bought parts of Marquis Erakis’s collection, staff of the Picks Company, Elaine, and the slave dealer who was currently kneeling at Chrono’s feet.
“Lord Chrono! My money and goods were all stolen by bandits! Please, I beg you! Please get my goods back! I-If I c-can’t get it back, I…I…”
“Yeah, okay, I got it.”
“About the stolen goods: she’s got long hair, a chest around this big, and a very seductive butt!” Sitting on the chair, the merchant vividly explained the details of his slave while supporting his case with many gestures.
Chrono felt troubled about having everything explained in such detail, but he couldn’t simply refuse him either. This man was a proper merchant who paid his taxes and observed imperial law.
As someone knowing what terrible things Elena had experienced, Chrono wasn’t all that happy about helping a slave dealer, but as local lord, he had the duty to protect him.
“I understand. We’ll make sure to get her back without fail.”
“Thank you very much, Milord.” The slave dealer kowtowed in front of Chrono, and then slowly got back up.
“Are you okay with the inn costs for today?”
“Thank you very much for worrying about my well-being. Since I have prepared myself for times like this, I will be able to somehow survive for a while. Please, please get back my goods,” begged the slave dealer while lowering his head many times over, before Chron left the guard station.
Once he looked towards the source of the voice, Chrono spotted Layla.
“Thanks for reporting it to me.”
“N-No, that is my duty.”
“Even so, thanks.”
When Chrono touched her ears lovingly, pouring his feelings of gratitude into his fingers, Layla squinted her eyes ecstatically. Suddenly feeling a gaze, he looked in the direction of the guard station, just to find elven girls staring his way from the other side of the door.
Probably because they were twins, they looked like they were copies of each other. The only difference in their outward appearance was one having her long hair bundled up on the right side of her head while the other had bundled hers up on the left.
Chrono unwillingly let go of Layla’s ear.
“The public order around here wasn’t that bad, was it?”
“No, I have not once gone out on a bandit subjugation ever since I was assigned to the Erakis March.”
“How many years ago did that happen?”
“I have been here for five years now.”
“Five years, huh?” Chrono muttered under his breath. “Are they remnants of Argo?”
“The slave dealer mentioned that he was attacked by a big number of riders, but…nevermind, I am sorry.”
“As you wish. If you consider that more than two months have passed since the invasion, the possibility for it to have been pertained by remnants of Argo is low,” Layla explained her own theory after being prompted by Chrono to continue. “Please excuse me for speaking out of turn.”
“Nah, don’t worry about it. I’d like you to keep informing me about everything you notice.”
An excellent soldier might feel offended by a subordinate giving him advice, but Chrono was no excellent soldier. Chrono’s abilities as a soldier and lord were full of flaws. He also lacked experience. Rather than paying undue attention to his honor, he preferred people telling him their honest opinion.
“Did he say anything else?”
“He reported that they wore leather armor.”
“Hmm, that would mean they can be counted as light cavalry, I guess. Maybe mercenary drop-outs then?”
“You think so?” Layla furrowed her eyebrows, looking troubled.
It might be different when it came to the Free City States, but Empire Cepheus didn’t regard mercenariness as legitimate occupation, and it was no exaggeration to say mercenaries were treated as being on the same level as bandits.
“If we consider that there hasn’t been any damage so far, I think the probability of it being mercenaries is low. Come to think of it, how did Marquis Erakis maintain public order?”
“I do not think that he was overly interested in public security. He left the policing of Harshel completely in our hands, and even the patrolling of the roads…”
“He left to Rick’s group, huh?”
It doesn’t sound like he took his job seriously, sighed Chrono. But, if you consider that bandits haven’t appeared over a period of five years, it’s hard to call it a lack of sincerity, too. You might even say that he’s done his job properly, if you only look at the results.
“Okay, let’s stop.”
“Ah, I’ve just been pondering whether Marquis Erakis and Rick’s group did their job properly, but with none of them being around, it’s impossible to make sure either way.”
The same applies to the true identity of the bandits.
“It’s just that I have a bad premonition.”
“No, I was talking to myself, sorry,” answered Chrono and shook his head lightly.
When Chrono entered his office in the mansion, Tilia widened her eyes somewhat.
“I had just thought about calling you, but that went faster than expected.”
“Since I anticipated as much, I came here before being called by you.”
“Quite cheeky of you to beat me to the punch.”
Tilia rested her chin on her hands, looking not amused.
“As a matter of fact――”
“It looks like bandits have shown up, right?” Tilia grinned broadly as she leaned back on the chair.
“How come you know?”
“It was my subordinates who took the slave dealer under their protection. According to them, the slave dealer was apparently attacked by many riders, all wearing leather armor.”
“So you know about that as well, huh?”
“Yeah, I heard that from my subordinates.”
He should have been completely exhausted by the time he left the guard station, added Chrono in his mind. Telling the same story twice in a short period of time must be tiring. Or maybe he was dejected because the problem was being handed around?
“What do you think about this incident?”
“I believe that the criminals might be Rick and his men.”
“Rick? Who’s that?”
“He’s the commander of Erakis March’s cavalry. Rick and his men are accustomed to the terrain, and two months have passed since they ran away. I think they’ve joined up with bandits to raise some funds.”
“I didn’t expect to be forced to hunt down imperial soldiers, although now disguised as bandits,” spat out Tilia with a deep sigh as she straightened up her posture.
Elena had been wrestling with the account books in the chief accountant’s office. Chrono stretched out on the sofa while casting a sidelong glance at her.
“What’s the deal with the bandits?”
“The slave trader said that they stole all his money and goods.”
“Hmmm, I see,” answered Elena with an apparent lack of interest as she flipped through one of her books.
The rustling of the pages being turned over filled the room.
“He received his just desserts for having beaten me up! Thank you very much, God who rules over Pure White Order! Serves him right! Totally! You reap what you sow, you damn slave dealer!!” Elena let her emotions explode all of a sudden and then roared in loud laughter, “Serves your right! Serves you so damn right! Eat this, you piece of shit!!! I’m sure my meal will taste wonderfully today!”
“For me it’s not that much of an auspicious event, you know?”
“If rumors about bandits start spreading around, the flow of money and goods is going to stagnate.”
Elena stood up from her chair, walked over, and sat down on the sofa.
“You’re a neo-noble, right?”
“Yes. I’m an upstart neo-noble.”
His foster father ― Chrohd Chroford ― had risen from being the leader of a mercenary band to nobility after having his achievement of quelling a riot recognized. However, nobles with a long history had been mocking his foster father and others like him as neo-nobles ― upstarts.
“I had expected neo-nobles to be more vulgar and rough.”
“That’s prejudice…isn’t something I can’t really say, I guess.”
Chrono didn’t know about other neo-nobles, but his foster had his share of rough, vulgar parts.
“Neo-nobles sound like fun.”
Elena drew closer to Chrono, lightly touching his body.
“Even though I might act like this, I’m thankful to you. On top of having bought me after I had turned into such a wretched, miserable state and even paying for my medical treatment, you also helped me out by giving me work. That’s why…”
“No need to thank me. I simply needed an educated slave.”
“I want to be grateful, though.”
Elena straddled Chrono, and pressed her forehead against him.
“Now that I’ve said this much, you understand, don’t you?”
“It’ll be plenty with you simply handling the accounting for me.”
“I’m basically telling you that you can do with me as you like, you know? Make me yours without holding back on anything.”
“Please give the pushy approaches a rest, okay?”
“What pushy approaches!? I might be a slave now, but I come from a family with a much longer history than yours! If you miss this opportunity, you might never be able to have sex with me again!” Elena rattled on while suddenly raising her body.
“Anyone would be troubled if they’re courted by a girl who’s plain obviously harboring ulterior motives, don’t you think?”
“I-I don’t have any u-ulterior motives,” Elena defended herself while averting her face.
“Well, I can pretty much guess it anyway, but what’s your goal?”
“I’ve just told you that I don’t have any ulterior motives, didn’t I!? Be grateful and accept my feelings of thanks!”
“You sure aren’t honest ― are you?”
Chrono raised his body and pinned down Elena.
Elena fell into a state of light panic, but if you considered their different physiques, it wasn’t anything surprising.
“I’m asking just in case, but what’s your objective?”
“I-It’s not like I’ve got an o-objective or anything like t-that.”
“I hate liars.”
Chrono pulled on Elena’s collar and lightly widened his eyes. Elena had completely changed. While looking frightened, she had crossed her arms in front of her face to protect herself.
“I-It’s fine for you to pull on my collar, but please don’t hit me. Okay? Please!”
“You don’t need to be so scared of me,” Chrono scratched his head while feeling awkward.
‘Even though she came on me so strongly moments ago, she’s now acting like a frightened rabbit. I guess her resistance against violence has decreased significantly after being repeatedly abused with punches and kicks.
On the one hand, he felt pity with her, but on the other, it tickled his sadistic heart.
“I won’t hit you.”
“Kyaaa!” Elena screamed loudly after Chrono traced her skin with his finger from her collar all the way down to her belly button.
“But, I’ll devour you. I’m going to eat you up.”
“Ea…shyyaaaaa!” She shrieked in a way lacking any seductiveness when Chron lightly bit her nape.
For a while she stiffened up her body, but suddenly she lost all strength.
Chrono got up from the sofa and looked down on Elena who was lying there limply. As he was watching her――
“W-W-Wh-What are you getting all h-h-hard for!?”
“Well, you see, I just got slightly horny. Anyway, let’s continue.”
“D-Don’t s-screw with me!!!”
As Chrono bent over her, Elena resisted with all her might, trying to push him away with both arms. It was almost as if she was frantically struggling against her imminent death.
“You don’t have any ulterior motives, right?”
“Don’t ask the obvious! Of course I do! Why do I have to give up my precious virginity to you without even getting any compensation!?”
“You’re a virgin? I see.”
“Why are you laughing!?”
“It’s just very unexpected, or rather, an unexpected windfall, or to be more precise, it feels like meeting an acquaintance unexpectedly at an unforeseen place.”
“None of that makes any sense!” Elena roared, her face bright red.
“Come to think of it, Elena, you’re a slave I bought, aren’t you? Then I’m free to do with you as I like, am I not?”
“You’re not! Absolutely not!”
“Slavery is legal in this country, and I think it’s a system that should be used for what it’s worth. Anyway, let’s continue.”
“Wait! Wait a sec! Stoooop!” Elena screamed when Chrono bent over her once more.
“A-A deal,” pleaded Elena with a serious look as soon as Chrono loosened his hold on her.
“What kind of deal?”
“Since I have no choice, I’ll let you have sex with me.”
“Then let’s continue.”
“I haven’t told you my condition for letting you have your way with me yet, have I!?”
For just an instant, Chrono’s visual field became pure white. Elena had hit him. Moreover, with her fist.
“It’s not such a big deal. I’ll be happy as long as you kill my uncle and former fiancé for me. Simple and easy, right?” Elena smiled.
“Isn’t that a total dud as a deal?”
“I mean look, you’re my slave. M-Y S-L-A-V-E. Do you understand?”
“You don’t have to repeat it.”
“In the first place, I have all rights to do with you as I see fit, okay? Anyway, I’ll take your virg――”
“Don’t falter there! Aren’t you just making it even more embarrassing for me!?” Elena shouted with her cheeks furiously blushing.
“Isn’t it kind of weird for you to tell me that I should take revenge for you because you’re offering me your virginity? It’s just as weird as telling someone, to whom you lent money, to lend you money, no?”
“I-It’s not w-weird or anything!” Elena averted her eyes from Chrono. “Whether I offer it to you voluntarily or you take it from me by force makes――”
“Taking it by force has a much higher rarity value.”
“It’s not much higher! Don’t you wish to win my heart?”
“No, not really.”
“Don’t be so blunt about it!”
Elena repeatedly punched Chrono’s chest.
“To be frank, aiding you with your revenge is slightly, you know…”
“Do you have some problem with it?”
“The return doesn’t match the risk.”
I guess I should have called it cost and return.
“You’re saying my virginity isn’t valuable enough?”
“Of course not. I mean, I can take it by force whenever I feel like it.”
Chrono thought that she might threaten him with death if he tried to force himself on her, but Elena only groaned in vexation.
“Why won’t you help me with my revenge?”
“Because it’s unreasonable.”
Suddenly a knocking could be heard from the door――
Once Chrono looked back, he found Alyssa standing frozen in the door she had just opened. Her body clad in a maid attire gave her the presence of a veteran soldier.
“Your meal has been prepared, but would it be better for me to come back later? Or would you prefer for me to stay as an observer?”
“…Yes,” answered Alyssa after a short pause.
It was a line stemming from her good grasp on Marquis Erakis’s nature.
“No, I’ll go to the dining hall now,” said Chrono and got off the sofa. “Elena, get up as well.”
“I know,” Elena replied and stood up, but immediately fell on her backside.
“Are you alright?”
“I lost strength because of you!!” Elena yelled, her face crimson.
One week later.
When Chrono entered the marquis’s office, Tilia was sitting in the chair while looking awfully upset.
“Why!? Why can’t we catch them!?”
“Tilia, calm down a bit, will you?”
“I’m the acme of tranquility,” Tilia objected with a fairly harsh tone.
I guess it’s only natural for her to be pissed. This week three groups of merchants have been attacked by the bandits. And yet, she hasn’t made much progress when it comes to preventing it.
It was a salvation for them that no one had been killed so far, but it’d be naive to believe that it would continue like that infinitely.
Tilia had remained silent, repeatedly glancing his way.
“Chrono, do you have a good idea?”
“Why have you kept it to yourself then!?” Tilia slammed her hand on the desk, and jumped up from her chair.
“It’s because you only talked to your men and never sought to consult with me.”
“Ugh, t-that’s…you looked so busy, and I thought we’d be able to catch them quickly,” mumbled Tilia, making excuses left and right. “Anyway! If you’ve got a plan, out with it!”
“If it was me, I’d look for the bandits’ hideout.”
“I think you already know this, but taking care of horses is quite a chore. Not only do horses require a stable, but they also need fodder and clean water.”
“Wait, are you saying that it’s possible for them to have occupied a village?”
“No way. Occupying a village without a single villager escaping is next to impossible.”
“In other words, the villagers are cooperating with them?”
“Correct. Having said that, the villagers likely don’t want the bandits to enter the village so that they can pretend to be unrelated to all this. And since the bandits don’t want to have their throats slit while asleep, they don’t want to enter the village either. However, the bandits still want to keep a distance from the village allowing them to monitor the villagers as they don’t want to be betrayed either.”
“So it’s limited to locations that meet those conditions, huh?”
“That’s how it is,” agreed Chrono with a nod.
“Alright! We’ll raid the place as soon as we find the bandits’ hideout!”
“I already know the location of their hideout.”
“I’ve said, I’ve already found the bandits’ hideout.”
“Then get ready at once!”
“I already am.”
“Just when did you become such a capable fellow?”
“I simply had some time to prepare myself,” Chrono shrugged his shoulders.
Chrono, Tilia, and their soldiers left Harshel under the cover of the night. The punitive force numbered 350 in total ― 100 heavy infantrymen led by Mino and Lizad, 50 archers led by Layla, and in addition, 50 cavalrymen, 100 heavy infantrymen, and 50 archers under Tilia’s command.
The plan’s success hinged on how fast they’d be able encircle the bandits’ hideout, so Chrono chose to move with wagons, but――
“…If I had known that the wind would be so cold, I’d have put on more clothes,” muttered Chrono on the wagon’s loading tray while pulling his cloak tighter.
Tilia, Layla, and the elven twins were wrapped up in blankets, sitting on the same wagon as Chrono.
“It’s summer, but the nights are really cold around here,” murmured Tilia from underneath her blanket, but Chrono simply ignored her.
“Why are you staying silent?”
“B-Because I have a bad hunch.”
“What are you blathering about?” Tilia said with a fed-up voice, just to seriously demand in the next moment, “It’s cold, so give me your cloak.”
“Lord Chrono, if you want, I have some room for you,” Layla interrupted Tilia.
He felt embarrassed about sharing a blanket with her, but if he refused out of honor, he’d end up freezing to death. Thus he slipped underneath Layla’s blanket.
Her breasts were pressed against his upper arm. With the Picks Company having started to provide supplies, Layla’s breasts and butt had gained in volume.
When we’re sleeping together, it’s kinda inevitable, but even while I’m teaching her, my eyes end up being drawn to her newfound fleshiness, making it a challenge to hold my horses. Anyway, enough of that――
“Please do not mind it. It is only natural for me to do this,” answered Layla with something akin to triumph dyeing her voice, causing Tilia to growl in response.
“Here you go.”
“Y-You!!” Tilia put on Chrono’s cloak while cursing under her breath. “…This cloak is quite tattered, but it’s still warm.”
“I received it from Dad when I graduated from the military academy. Dad used it during his days on the battlefield, so I guess it’s something similar to a superstitious good luck charm.”
In reality Chrono had accepted it because its tattered state made it look cool in some ways, but since he didn’t want to be regarded as weirdo, he excused it with a reasonable backstory.
At that moment, Layla spoke up, “Lord Chrono, are you still cold?”
“No, I feel warm. How about you, Layla?”
“I do not feel cold either,” replied Layla with a faint smile blooming on her lips
“”It chills my heart.”” The twins grumbled.
Which reminds me, they’ve stared at me back at the guard station, haven’t they? Chrono shifted his eyes to the two elves.
“Lord Chrono is kinda looking our way.”
“O-Oh, it appears our spring has kinda come at long last.”
The two exchanged a look, grinning broadly and slovenly.
“You two are――”
“I’m Deneb!” 1
The two energetically raised a hand while interrupting Chrono.
“We’re kinda free!”
“Call on us whenever you kinda like!”
“Sounds like he kinda prefers to deliberately have people spell things out for him despite being very well aware of what they mean.”
“But, I kinda don’t dislike such character traits.”
Through the roof, was the impression the two gave Chrono.
“In short, I’m talking about me being kinda available to share a bed with you whenever you want.”
“You could also say that I’m kinda applying to be your lover.”
“Okay, and who wants what?”
Because they were twins, both had the same type of voice. And since both of them used the same style of talking on top of that, Chrono couldn’t determine which of them was talking.
“Applying as his lover, huh? That sure is a funny prank,” hissed Tilia while cracking her knuckles.
“We’re kinda very serious about it, though.”
“But then again, we’re kinda not against pulling back when faced with stabbing bloodlust.”
The two readily withdrew.
Or so it seemed, but――
“We kinda want to be stroked as kindly as we saw happening in front of the guard station!”
“We also want to kinda receive a tiny share!”
“Please disregard that.”
“That’s the kinda line you’d say to a coworker!”
“Having said that, I’m well aware that I’d have kinda said the same thing if I were in his shoes!”
Arided and Deneb yelled while leaning forward.
“Oh well, if it makes you happy.”
“Yahooo! We kinda got Lord Chrono’s permission!”
“It might be kinda important to try asking when you’ve got nothing to lose anyway!”
The two sat down in front of Chrono.
“Okay, I’ll start with Arided.”
“As expected, the big sister kinda has the first dip in situations like this.”
As Arided was exposing her ear towards him, Chrono tenderly caressed it like he’d done for Layla. In response, the young elf giggled, obviously feeling ticklish.
“Uhehehe, thank you, kinda.”
Given that Deneb held out her ear next, Chrono did the same to hers as well.
“T-This is kinda arousing, a tad.”
Unlike Arided, Deneb’s eyes became blurred.
Suddenly feeling a piercing stare, Chrono looked around him, spotting Tilia looking his way.
“What is it?”
Since Tilia had gotten closer on all four, he caressed her ear as well. Thereupon――
“H-Hey! W-What are you doing!?” Tilia slapped Chrono’s hand away and distanced herself.
Most likely being embarrassed, her face was glowing like a red tomato.
“You were looking my way, so I assumed you wanted me to stroke you as well.”
“There’s no way that could be true, is there?” Tilia sighed very deeply, “I was checking out the half elf’s bow.”
Tilia fixed her gaze on the bow next to Layla. The bow resembled a Σ. Pulleys were attached at both ends ― the parts commonly referred to as rims.
“It’s a strange bow. It’s my first time seeing a bow with pulleys.”
“We reproduced a composite bow, but immediately grasped that they wouldn’t be quite usable with the strength of elves.”
“And what’s why you added pulleys?” Tilia examined it with keen interest, repeatedly humming. “I’d love to question you about its range and penetrative force, but I’ll soon see it in action anyway.”
“I’m sure you’ll be surprised.”
“By the way, have you decided on a name?”
“We’ve been planning to call it Mechanic Bow.”
“Hmm, doesn’t sound bad, really,” Tilia nodded, apparently satisfied with the name.
On the next day ― just as the night’s darkness started to wane ― the small force arrived at the village in question. It was a rural settlement consisting of around fifty homes.
Deeper into the village stood a hill overgrown with trees. Atop that hill something similar to a fortress had been erected.
As soon as Chrono got off his wagon, Mino, who came here on another wagon, ran up to him. He was shouldering the wind-enchanted poleax from Marquis Erakis’s collection.
“Captain, what we gonna do?”
“Let’s first demand their surrender.”
“Surrender, you say?”
When Chrono looked back, surprised by the voice, Tilia was just in the middle of jumping off their wagon.
“Chrono, no matter how you look at it, isn’t that too lenient?”
“Well, I prefer to keep the casualties as low as possible.”
“…Hmm,” Tilia folded her arms, brooding.
“What’s there to consider?”
“Who’s going to call out to them?”
“Me, I’d say?”
“Captain I think it’s not goin’ to be too late to offer ’em surrender at the fortress after gatherin’ information in the village.”
“You’ve got a point there.”
Chrono didn’t know whether the villagers would obediently talk to them, but it was still better than going into negotiations without knowing anything.
“Mino, please take command.”
“Gotcha. How should I deal with the bandits if they come out?”
“Play it by ear!”
“Roger. Count on me.”
Mino spat his affirmation out alongside a sigh as if he had no other choice, but it was a given that he’d be able to move the soldiers a lot more skillfully than Chrono.
“Captain, ye won’t mind me choosin’ yer guards either, right?”
“Ah, no, I don’t mind.”
“Lizad, Arided, Deneb, escort the captain!”
“”At your command, kinda.””
The twins jumped off the wagon upon Mino’s order. However, Lizad was nowhere to be seen.
“He’s been on standby behind you for a while now, Lord Chrono.”
“Lizardmen are surprisingly keen and nimble.”
When Chrono turned around, he found Lizad with his big mallet standing there. Because he hadn’t expected for him to be in his back, Chrono ended up startled.
“Captain, it’s possible ye’ll be attacked while gatherin’ information. In such situation, run away without fightin’.”
“I’ll do my best at running away.”
“What a pathetic conversation,” Tilia held her temples as if enduring a headache.
“Okay, we’ll be back soon.”
“Alright, let’s go,” responded Tilia to Chrono.
“Tilia, you’ll wait here.”
“Why? I’m much more of a combat asset than you are!” Tilia bragged, throwing out her chest.
‘If this was an eroge, it’d follow the standard script of her getting captured and raped senseless, but it doesn’t look like she considered that possibility for a fraction of a second.
“As you wish.”
“Captain, that really fine?”
“Time is too precious.”
It’d be a waste of time to stand around here, arguing.
“Then, let’s head out.”
Heading the group, Chrono started to walk. Tilia, Arided, Deneb, and Lizad followed him. The two twins flanked the sides of Tilia while Lizad covered their rear.
Advancing up to the village’s center, they came to a halt. Probably because it was still early in the morning, no villagers were outside.
After throwing a glance at Tilia over his shoulder, Chrono asked, “What should we do?”
“You’re really a helpless foal, aren’t you?” Tilia blurted out in response. “Don’t you have any plan at hand?”
“I thought the other side would act in some way.”
It’s only natural, but reality doesn’t seem to go as smoothly as it happens in fictional stories.
“Lord Chrono, someone is coming this way.”
“Feel free to kill or capture them as you please.”
“Okay, I say we capture them and then torture the information out of them.”
Arided and Deneb set up their bows while Tilia placed a hand on the hilt of her sword.
“So talking it over doesn’t even register as an option, huh?”
Once Chrono shifted his eyes back to the front, a figure ― a small, old man was approaching him.
“By chance I caught sight of Your Nobleship. What kind of business might you have with our humble village?”
“We came to subjugate the bandits.”
No sooner than Chrono bluntly broaching the reason for their arrival without any preface, the old man gasped.
“Could you give us some of your time for a talk?”
“Please, my home is this way,” said the old man, and started to walk off.
Chrono’s group chased after him.
“This is my humble abode.”
The destination he led them to was a slanted house.
“Arided, Deneb, Lizad, you wait here. Tilia――”
“I know. I’ll be your guard, okay?”
“I’m in your hands then.”
“Count on me.”
Tilia lightly tapped her chest.
“It is a very meager house, but please come in.”
Being invited by the old man, the two entered his home. It immediately became clear that ‘very meager’ hadn’t been an understatement. The only furniture inside the house was a crude table and some chairs. Once Chrono and Tilia took a seat, the old man also sat down, looking like it was a hassle.
“…It has been a month now since the bandits showed up at the fortress.”
“During one month――”
“Tilia, let him finish.”
“Okay,” Tilia agreed obediently.
“Sir Cain and his twenty men arrived together with young girls.”
“He is the bandit’s…boss,” the old man squeezed out in response to Chrono’s murmur.
It sounds like he’s not eager to call him the bandit’s boss.
“What kind of person is Mr. Cain?”
“I heard he worked as a mercenary in the Free City States. Because the slave dealer’s treatment was far too terrible, he ran off with the slaves.”
“I see,” answered Chrono conversationally while recalling the events with Elena.
“And then…he asked us to allow them to stay for a while.”
“Did you accept his request?”
“At first we tried to turn him down. But, out of pity with the girls…”
“Where are those slaves?”
The old man kept his silence. This told Chrono that the slaves were still in the village.
Maybe they’re in the room next door?
“Why didn’t you try to call for help back then?”
“…Our village is poor,” pressed the old man out with a low, subdued voice.
Chrono felt like his question and the answer didn’t quite match, but this applied to the entire story.
The people of this village and the old man in front of us probably sold their children out of poverty. That’s why they chose to shelter the girls.
“Besides, Sir Cain and his men never tried to make a move on the village girls or steal our belongings. On the contrary, they bought food while properly paying for it with money. But,” the old man continued, “around one week ago…”
“They joined up with another bandit group?”
“Yes. Ever since then they started to attack merchants, I believe.”
“Sir Cain…has not told us anything. Very likely he is being considerate in order to not drag us into it, I think.”
Chrono thought this to be a too positively biased explanation, but he suspected that this showed how much they trusted the man called Cain.
The old man got up from his chair, and prostrated himself before Chrono and Tilia, “With all due respect, please allow me to say this! All mistakes committed by us on this occasion are my responsibility as the village chief! I beg you, please show mercy so that no harm befalls the other villagers…and I am well aware that it is impudent, but please grant Sir Cain and his men the opportunity to atone for their crimes!”
Chrono looked at Tilia, asking her what to do with his eyes. But, Tilia remained silent. Chrono assumed that she probably wanted him to think it over himself.
“Is that the truth?”
The old man――the village chief lifted his face.
“We’re no brutes. If the other party follows our demand for surrender, I think it’ll be feasible to give them a chance to make up for their crimes. Since it’s possible for them to run away, we’ll take up position at the base of the hill, though…”
“I feel that might only be reasonable in your position.”
While calling it justified, the village chief’s words were filled with bitterness.
“The rest depends on whether the other side listens to us obediently or not.”
“In that case, allow me to talk with Sir Cain.”
“Wouldn’t that put you in danger?”
“If I get killed by Sir Cain, I will accept it as having failed to judge his character.”
So he’s trusting Cain that much, eh?
“I have heard your resolve loud and clear, village chief. I shall leave it in your hands then.”
“Yes, Your Lordship! I shall pass on your message to Sir Cain whatever it takes.”
Chrono signaled Tilia with his eyes to leave, and left his seat. After exiting the village chief’s home, they headed over to Mino and the rest of their forces.
“Do you think they’ll obey the demand for surrender?”
“If that Cain person is a character just as described by the village chief, he’s going to obey us, don’t you think? If he doesn’t, we’ll wait at the hill’s base and starve them out.”
“So it’s going to be a simple job of just waiting for our enemies to starve to death?” Tilia poked fun at Chrono.
“We must finish a little bit of work before that, though.”
“Well, our opponents probably want to confirm the terms before surrendering,” sighed Tilia as if lamenting the upcoming workload.
Chrono had the troops take up position in a way that would block the road at the hill’s base. The heavy infantry led by Mino and Lizad acted as vanguards while Layla’s archers played the role of rear guards. Tilia’s forces waited behind them to stop any bandits who broke through Chrono’s forces.
At the same time, this meant they had amassed all their troops in one place, but since there was only one road connecting the hill’s base with the fortress, it didn’t pose much of a problem.
“He’s really late, that village chief,” mumbled Chrono under his breath while standing in the front row.
Several hours had passed since the village chief had left the village, but he hadn’t returned as of yet.
“Captain, we’ve put up a tent in the back, so how ’bout ye take a rest over there?”
“I’ll wait for a bit longer.”
A short time later, the village chief came down the hill.
“I am terribly sorry for having made you wait,” he apologized and knelt at Chrono’s feet.
“No, I’m just happy to see you safe and sound. So, how did it go?”
The village chief remained silent for a long time, just to finally squeeze out, “Sir Cain said that he wishes to talk with you before surrendering.”
Things were unfolding just as Chrono and the others had predicted.
“Did he mention anything about the venue for the discussion?”
“He said that the discussion would be held in the fortress and that you could bring up to two guards.”
“Captain, ain’t no need to go along with such nonsense,” snarled Mino.
“He might be testing whether we are serious about the surrender.”
“So what do ye intend to do?” Mino whispered into Chrono’s ear after bending down.
“I’ll show them just how serious we are.”
“…Captain,” Mino sighed while rolling his eyes.
“Lord Chrono, please take me with you!” Layla yelled after having drawn closer unnoticed.
“Layla, it’s too dangerous.”
“I made my resolve back when I joined the army.”
Chrono grimaced. If this was a trap, the three of them would be left stranded inside the fortress.
As a man, they’ll probably just kill me, but Layla as a woman will――
“I am well aware of what is worrying you, Lord Chrono.” With those words, Layla drew a dagger and pressed its blade against her neck, “I intend to end my own life at such a time. But then again, if our opponents are mercenaries, it is very doubtful that they would try to catch a half elf alive…”
“Only rookies, idiots, or folk with confidence in their own skills would capture someone who can use magic alive.”
Makes sense. You can use magic arts as long as you can still speak. Taking an enemy with such a talent alive is something only a retard or a powerful magic practitioner, who can counter everything thrown at them, would do.
“Layla, put the dagger away.”
“…Okay.” Layla sheathed her dagger, albeit somewhat unwillingly.
“Layla, Mino, come with me.”
Chrono walked up the hill while taking those two with him. On the way he let his eyes wander, checking the vicinity. It wasn’t visible from the hill’s base, but the road was quite wide. Chrono suspected that two horses would be easily able to trot next to each other.
The inclination was quite steep, meaning it might be possible to break through an encirclement if one launched a wagon downhill.
They scaled the hill while Chrono hypothesized about what would happen if it turned into a battle.
“…That’s a fairly imposing fortress. I hadn’t expected to find something so well-built out here,” muttered Chrono while looking up at the gate.
The wall was covered with moss and the gate showed signs of erosion and rust, but Chrono was sure they’d need to account for many casualties if they tried to take this fortress by force.
“What should we do now?”
“Gotta wait. Someone’s bound to open it for us, I’m sure,” Mino carefreely remarked when Chrono was at a loss how to proceed.
It was obvious to anyone that he deliberately phrased it in a lighthearted, joking manner to alleviate the tension.
After a short while, the gate was opened with a screech. On the other side stood a man clad in leather armor.
Urged by him, Chrono, Mino, and Layla stepped inside the fortress’s compound. Meanwhile, they checked the state inside by just moving their eyes.
The area demarcated by the wall was quite huge with a stone building standing in its center. Chrono could also see a stable. Several men were tending to horses over there. He estimated the number of horses to be something around fifty.
I’ve expected the bandit group to number roughly thirty, but――
“Yo, so you came with three people just as promised!” A voice called out to their little group, totally sounding like they were meeting friends.
Once Chrono looked in the direction of the voice, he saw a man approaching them. He was around a head taller than Chrono, had a brawny physique, and his skin had clearly seen a lot of sun. If not for his unshaven face and the superficial smile, he might have even passed as handsome.
Chrono guessed him to be the aforementioned Cain.
“Please fall back.”
Mino and Layla had stepped forward so as to cover Chrono.
“No need to be on your toes. I’m not goin’ to bite. Look, I got no weapons on me. See?” The man lifted both hands and slowly turned around once. “I’m the leader of the bandit group. The name’s Cain.”
“I’m the lord of the Erakis March, Chrono.”
“Oh?” Cain’s eyes widened slightly, “I’d heard that Marquis Erakis is a lard-ass, though?”
“You’re talking about my predecessor.”
“Meaning you’re his son?”
“No, I’m an outsider. He was executed on charges of embezzlement, and it was decided that I’d become his successor after having fended off Argo’s royal army.”
“Hoh,” exclaimed Cain, his voice teeming with admiration. “Hmm～, I’ve heard stories ’bout Argo being sent packin’, but never would I’ve expected this to be the achievement of a youngster like you, Lord Chrono.”
Cain smiled wryly and pointed with his thumb behind him.
“You wanna talk, no? Come inside then.”
Mino and Layla obviously couldn’t come to terms with that idea.
But, Chrono told them, “I’ll go,” and started to walk after Cain, forcing the two to follow.
As soon as Chrono entered the fortress, he found himself in a single, spacious hall. A big table and chairs had been set up in the middle of the room while many beds were lined up along the wall. The bandits were sitting on those beds or leaning against the wall.
Spotting a familiar face among them ― Rick, Chrono gasped lightly. He wasn’t wearing his military uniform anymore, but a shirt with short sleeves and pants, both dirty. Probably owed to the fairly harsh life he was now living, his cheeks had deeply sunken in. And yet, a dangerous gleam was dwelling in his eyes, making him seem a lot more like a bandit than Cain.
“Sit down wherever you like.”
When Chrono sat down on a nearby chair, Cain deliberately went around the table to sit down opposite of him. Mino and Layla planted themselves on Chrono’s sides in order to protect him.
“So, accordin’ to the village chief, you’ve been offerin’ us surrender, but…”
“If you follow our demand, I’d like to give you a chance to atone for your crimes.”
“So you’re tellin’ us to surrender?”
“The one at fault is the slave trader!”
“We just did what was right!”
“You lot, keep it down.”
The other bandits clamored, but as soon as Cain raised his hand, they all fell silent.
“You’re not goin’ to tell us to pay with our lives or anythin’?”
“Fortunately, no one has died so far, so your crimes aren’t that grave. At least, they won’t result in a death penalty.”
“I appreciate the offer, but it ain’t like we can simply accept it like that.”
“Do you think you’re in any position to make demands!?” Mino stepped forward and slammed a hand on the table.
“I apologize if I’ve offended you. My men have been sayin’ that we won’t know how things will go unless we fight once, but personally I don’t think we’ll be able to win ‘gainst you people.” When Cain looked at them, the bandits ducked their heads. “But, if you don’t go along with our conditions, we’ll have no choice but to settle it on the battlefield.”
“That depends on the conditions.”
“Well, that makes sense, of course!” Cain slapped his thighs. “My condition is the protection of the slaves I abducted.”
“You’re telling us to protect them, but…”
“If it’s too tough, it’s fine for you to buy ’em and arrange it so that they can live freely.”
“That’s something I can do.”
“That’s great to hear,” Cain breathed out in relief. “Moreover――”
“You’re still not done with your demands!?” Mino shouted, interrupting Cain.
“Ah, no, this is the last matter.” Cain scratched his head awkwardly. “I’d like you to wait until tomorrow.”
“Such a demand――”
“Mino, let’s hear him out until the end.”
“Gotcha,” Mino agreed reluctantly.
“Tomorrow at the same time then?”
“Yeah, that’d be plenty. My mind’s set, but I gotta persuade my friends. I’ll be done by tomorrow.” Cain smiled in satisfaction.
“We’ll pick you up tomorrow then.”
“Sorry for takin’ up your time.”
Chrono silently stood up, and left the fortress together with Mino and Layla. After a short while――
When he looked back, Rick was approaching them.
“Stay away, traitor!”
Rick came to a halt, surprise written on his face, upon Mino’s yell.
“Mino, it’s okay.”
Chrono stepped forward while having a hand on his sword’s hilt.
“What do you want, Rick?”
“You said you drove away Argo, right?”
“Not just me. We managed to repel them because my subordinates desperately fought for me. Rick, why did you become a bandit?”
“When Marquis Erakis started to flee, I realized that a noble like him had no power to protect the country anymore,” he said cleverly, playing down his own shortcomings. “Even you’ve felt it, no? This country is already lost. That’s why we should rebuild it from scratch. Into a country that rewards those tolling away for it.”
“You’re earning funds for that sake?”
“Right now we’re a tiny bandit group, but if you cooperate with us…ah, no, you’ve been entrusted with the Erakis March, haven’t you? But still, could you give it a thought?”
“A thought, sure.”
Once they passed through the gate, Layla whispered into Chrono’s ear, “Do you plan to go along with the story just now?”
“As if. I’ve got no interest in boarding a ship made out of sand. What do you think about his idea, Layla?”
“I find the story of you having come from another world much more credible than his nonsense.”
Apparently Layla wasn’t believing what Chrono had told her, causing him to sigh lightly.
On the next day, at the appointed time, Chrono headed to the fortress by himself. The battle formation of the punitive force hadn’t changed from yesterday, but they had established measures to deal with emergencies.
“Yo, I’ve been waitin’ for you.”
Once Chrono finished climbing the hill, he spotted Cain standing in front of the gate. He had shaved his stubbles away, and his attire looked much cleaner as well.
The gate had been left open to demonstrate the bandits’ will to surrender, and said bandits had lined up on the other side. And even further in the back was Rick riding a horse while wearing leather armor.
“Don’t worry ’bout the mounted folks. They’re our guarantee in case you were to break your promise.”
“I see. In case I broke my promise――”
“If you weren’t satisfied with gettin’ just my head and intended to duke it out,” supplemented Cain with a broad smile. “You ain’t surprised?”
“Well, you did talk about the slaves you abducted,” answered Chrono with a wry smile.
“Yeah, the responsibility entirely lies with me. Please keep the punishment of my men light as I’ll offer you my head. Also, I know it’s an impudent request, but could you secretly make arrangements so that Rick and his men don’t get killed?”
“Rick and his men?” Chrono asked reflexively?
If the village chief’s words were true, Cain and his bandits should have worked with Rick’s group for around a week.
He’s probably thinking that he’s going to die anyway, but he’s still too softhearted.
“Why do you go that far for them?”
“Although it was just for one week, we’ve shared a roof. Besides, I told them that we’re comrades.” Cain laughed awkwardly.
But, in the next moment, an arrow stabbed his shoulder. Rick had shot it from atop his horse.
“Protect our leader…Captain Cain!”
“You piece of shits are betraying us!?”
“Fuck, drag ’em off their horses!”
“As expected, we shouldn’t have believed the likes of deserters!”
Cain’s men shouted all over the place, and blocked the way of Rick and his men.
“Stop! Run away!”
Cain shouted, just for Rick and his men to release their arrows all at once. Cain’s subordinates screamed curtly. Some of them collapsed on the spot, others hid themselves behind the gate.
“Let’s go!” Rick shouted, causing ten riders to spur their horses into gallop.
The one leading the charge was Rick. He drew his sword as he approached Chrono.
Cain hurled himself into Chrono, causing both to fly into the thicket.
“Lord Chrono!” Layla screamed as she watched Chrono and Cain tumble down the hill.
“Layla, calm down. Captain’s fine.”
Once Mino sharply yelled at her, Layla gave in. All while biting down on her lips so strongly that blood started to flow. Doubtlessly she wanted to run over to him at once, but this would go against Chrono’s will.
And she had to obey Chrono’s will.
She didn’t know whether this feeling stemmed from loyalty or the fear of being discarded if she disobeyed, but it allowed her to keep her self-control either way.
Still, for Layla to fall so hard for him, the corners of Mino’s mouth rose in amusement. But then again, I’ve got no time to standin’ ’round here smilin’.
Currently, the enemy cavalry was galloping down the hill, causing a cloud of dust in their wake.
“You bums, get your shields ready!”
Upon Mino’s yell, all his soldiers readied their shields simultaneously, forming a wall.
“Layla, did ye calm down?”
Layla stood in front ― before the shield wall ― while bent over lightly. Her current appearance was reminiscent of a cat that was ready to pounce on its prey. The cavalry rushed down the hill road――
“Flame Dance!” Layla shouted alongside a swift movement of her arm.
Crimson flames were born along the trajectory her arm had taken, just to immediately surge towards the two riders in the lead.
An explosion roared, and the horses reared.
Flame Dance was a spell that would scatter pretty flames and cause a loud explosion. Its lethality was next to nonexistent. Even if someone was directly hit by it, they’d only suffer light burns. Its effect on the ears was merely strong enough to dampen one’s hearing for a short time.
However, when only limited to the current situation, its effect was tremendous. After all, it caused the horses to panic from the noise, flames, and pain it inflicted.
“…Tsk!” Mino clicked his tongue.
It’d have been great if this had settled everything, but I guess I should praise ’em as knights, albeit rotten ones, seein’ how they escaped fallin’ off their horses by tightly clingin’.
“Push them down!”
Obeying Mino’s order, the soldiers charged with their shields held up. The rearing horses were pushed with shields, resulting in them falling over with their riders still on their back.
They had only forced two horses to fall, but that was plenty. Mino’s aim was to bring the following riders to a standstill.
“Open a path!”
The soldiers parted to the sides, allowing Mino to run past them with his poleax shouldered. No, 『running past』 would probably sound way too stylish. In reality, it was him noisily lumbering.
Mino planted himself in front of the stalled cavalrymen.
Lizad threw his shield away and came up next to Mino.
Mino’s poleax and Lizad’s big hammer shed green light. The shockwave unleashed from the poleax and the lightning shot from the hammer knocked down the riders.
“Fuck! I haven’t heard a thing about the demi-humans bein’ able to use magic!”
“Retreat, retreat! We’re going to fall back temporarily!”
The surviving two cavalrymen galloped back uphill――
“I kinda saw through you doing just that!”
“I’ll take your lives, kinda!”
Arided and Deneb, alongside other archers who had hidden themselves in the thickets, fired their arrows all at once.
“…I think they might be dead around now.”
“Yeah, sorry ’bout that.”
Chrono descended the hill road while lending Cain a shoulder. Although an arrow had pierced his shoulder in addition to Rick’s sword cutting his back open, his life wasn’t in danger. The same applied to Cain’s subordinates.
“Your…Lord Chrono, your subordinate has come to pick you up.”
When Chrono lifted his face, he saw Layla running up the road.
“I have been worried about you, Lord Chrono,” complained Layla with her eyes wet.
“What’s the situation?”
“Sir, we disposed of nine cavalrymen who attempted to flee!” Layla reported after straightening her back.
“What about the rest?”
“We have called out to Deserter Rick to give up.”
“…I see.” Chrono sighed and continued his descent.
Thereupon, he happened upon Rick being surrounded by minotaurs and lizardmen. He walked up to the encirclement with Cain still leaning on his shoulder.
“Chrono! Duel me! Let me go, if I win!” Rick shouted after noticing Chrono’s approach.
Lizad walked up to Chrono and Cain, his tongue flickering in and out of his mouth.
“Please take care of Sir Cain.”
“Do you plan to accept his request for a duel?”
“Lizad, I leave him in your hands.”
Chrono entrusted Cain to Lizad and stepped up to the encirclement. The circle opened up for him, and Rick drew his sword.
Rick smiled, probably quite confident in his swordplay or maybe still hiding a trump card.
“There’s something I’d like to ask before the duel. Were you serious about what you said yesterday?”
“As if that could be true. I’ve just realized that the arrogant, high-ranking nobles exploit us to the fullest, not sparing a single thought on their people. I can’t be arsed to croak for the sake of such leeches. What’s so bad about running away in such a case?”
Chrono hadn’t expected much from the start, but as he thought, Rick didn’t have the intent to remake the country.
“Where did you plan to escape with the money you stole?”
“The Free City States, of course. As long as you have cash, you can lead a luxurious life over there. The other folks shared the same idea!”
“Wouldn’t it have been better for you to quickly get away without bothering to become a bandit?”
“Shut up! You need money for the sake of surviving!”
“…True.” Chrono sighed and drew his sword.
“Hehehe, don’t forget your promise.”
“Archers, shoot him.”
“Chrono! That’s not what we promised!!”
Obeying Chrono’s order, the archers released their arrows. With his body riddled by arrows, Rick collapsed on the spot.
But, as he still seemed to be alive, he glared at Chrono, his eyes tainted with pure hatred.
“Why? What’s the difference between you and me? Why did you, the likes of you…the likes of you became the lord. Why are you staring at me with such a look?”
“I didn’t run away.” Chrono touched his right eye.
“F-Fuck, anyone w-would run away from s-something like that, no!? Even that pig bastard scurried away, and yet, when I tried to cleverly survive…fuck it!!”
Those were Rick’s last words. Chrono looked up to the sky and sighed.
“…What a sloppy end.”
As Chrono turned around, he saw Cain standing on his own feet. He walked up to Rick’s corpse, all while dragging his body along, and knelt down next to it.
“Didn’t I say I’d take the blame and make sure that you wouldn’t be at fault?” Cain closed Rick’s eyes and sat down then and there. “I might be hopin’ for too much after all this happened, but I’ll take full responsibility. So please, at least save my men’s lives.”
“That’s quite a selfish demand of you.”
The one answering was Tilia. She had been entrusted with the command of the rear guard, but Chrono guessed that she had judged it as unnecessary to carry out that role any longer.
“I know best that it’s selfish. It’s just, they’re pitiable. They lost their homes and families or had them stolen away….reaminin’ with nothing.”
“Why did you become a mercenary, Sir Cain?”
“I don’t matter, do I?”
Chrono silently stared at Cain.
After a short time, apparently having resigned himself, Cain began to talk, “…It’s a story you hear often. When we became unable to pay the taxes due to a bad harvest, my old man went to the lord together with my mother to ask for a tax reduction.”
“Did that happen in the Erakis March?”
Cain shook his head, “My Dad and Mum were killed. I heard they got stabbed to death with spears without even havin’ the time to make their appeal. My little sister and I immediately fled the village.”
“And where is your sister now?”
“She died. Afterwards, I was recruited by a mercenary band of this country…it was a gatherin’ of guys with similar circumstances who had started their own mercenary band in the Free City States.”
Empire Cepheus treated mercenaries as potential criminals, but the Free City States recognized mercenariness as legitimate occupation. At least as long as they did their job seriously in the Free City States.
“Why did you kidnap the slaves?”
“…A brat was among those slaves. I just thought I gotta come clean. In reality, I’ve done that kind of job up until now. But, the slave dealer terribly abused that girl. Shit! That brat reminded me of my sister, so yeah.” Cain roughly scratched his head. “They didn’t blame a failure like me. That’s why I gotta put my life on the line for ’em. I’m aware that I’m selfish here. Even so, please forgive ’em.”
Cain bowed his head.
Chrono drew the scabbard out of the sword belt, and sheathed his sword.
“Sir Cain, no, Cain, lift your face.”
Chrono threw his sword at the same time as Cain raised his face. In a panic, Cain caught the scabbard.
“What’re you up to?”
“If you plan to die anyway, come to my place. I need people capable of riding a horse. If you’re well-informed on underground jobs, I’d like you to give me some advice.”
“…I’m a filthy bandit.”
“You’re already one of my men. You accepted my sword, didn’t you?”
Cain looked back and forth between the imperial crest carved onto the sword’s hilt and Chrono.
“Yeah, it looks like His Majesty the Emperor bestowed this to the founding Marquis Erakis.”
“Normally a noble would treasure it, you know Chrono?” Tilia retorted.
Cain likely isn’t that much of an idiot that he can’t understand the meaning of being given something that’s treated as treasure.
“Could I have your answer right away?”
After a long silence, Cain nodded.
After having withdrawn into his private room in the lord’s residence, Chrono tilted the glass in his hand. A wine bottle could be seen standing on the table, but it remained mostly untouched.
“…That was so exhausting,” mumbled Chrono under his breath.
“Excuse me for a little moment,” the landlady had entered his room.
“How about not pulling such a face when a beauty like me is right in front of you?” She chided him sulkily before sitting down opposite of Chrono. “Oh my, you have such expensive wine at hand, and yet you don’t drink it at all?”
“Alyssa was kind enough to prepare it for me.”
Chrono felt bad since he couldn’t muster any drive to drink the wine despite Alyssa having gone out of her way for him. Then again, he wasn’t a strong drinker to begin with, and furthermore, he wasn’t the kind of guy to drown his worries in alcohol either.
“Then you won’t mind me drinking it, right?”
“Go ahead.” Chrono held out his glass to her.
She grabbed it and drained the wine in one breath, “Pheew, an expensive wine sure plays in a different league.”
The landlady totally acted like an old man, refilling her empty glass at once. This one she drank slowly, but as it got empty before long, she refilled it once more.
“So, let me guess, you’re fretting over having killed former colleagues with your own hands? It’s not like I don’t understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s anything you’d need to worry about.”
“It’s not like I’m particularly worried about it.”
“Really? To me it looks like it does gnaw at you, though.”
“That’s not because I’m worrying about Rick and his men having died,” Chrono insisted while casting a glance at the landlady who was downing wine like a machine.
Even Chrono himself believed it to be cold-hearted, but sympathy or pity over the deaths of Rick and his men simply didn’t well up in him. Part of it came from their relationship having been rather superficial to begin with, but Rick’s extreme egoism played a big role, too.
“Okay, so what’s on your mind then? You subjugated the bandits and even gained new subordinates; shouldn’t you be very happy?”
“Well yeah, I wonder why,” Chrono tilted his head.
Just as the landlady was saying, they had eliminated all bandits that were unwilling to surrender, namely Rick and his men. On top of that, Chrono was able to recruit Cain and his men as cavalry. Yet, although all problems should be solved now, something was irking him, causing him to feel depressed.
“How would I know if you don’t even know yourself, Lord Chrono?”
“That makes sense, I guess.”
Once he looked at the bottle on the table, less than half of the wine was left.
“Then again, sometimes I don’t understand my feelings either.”
“You’ve experienced something like that as well, Landlady?”
“Of course,” she answered with a sad smile.
Maybe it has something to do with her late husband.
“Anyway, to be honest, I don’t think I’m wrong that having killed your former colleagues is weighing down on you, Lord Chrono.”
“You think so?”
“I’m sure you’ve simply not come to terms with your feelings yet.”
He didn’t feel like mourning for Rick and the others, but that didn’t change the fact that he had killed people. Carefully thinking back on it now, he felt like he’d worried whether he’d be able to kill other people during his first campaign.
I think it must be the discrepancy between the values I have nurtured in this world and the ones I had cultivated in Japan.
“You should simply take everything a bit easier.”
“I’m fine just like this.”
Those words left his mouth very naturally.
“Being stubborn as a boy who’s just recently become an adult is kinda adorable.”
“Landlady, are you drunk?”
“No, not at all,” she rejected, but her cheeks were faintly flushed.
And the wine――was already empty.
“Come to think of it, why did you come here anyway?”
“I just wanted to check up on you as I felt worried. I was planning to comfort you, had you looked depressed.”
The landlady placed her elbows on the table, slumping over. Her drooping, ripe fruits changed their shape as they pressed against the hard, wooden surface.
“How about it?”
“As I thought, you’re drunk, aren’t you?”
“Hihi, who knows,” cooed the Landlady with a suggestive smile on her lips.
And then, Chrono――
“Wait a moment.”
Chrono stopped moving, looking down at the landlady. She was sprawled on the bed, freely exposing her naked body. No, it was probably more correct to say that she simply didn’t have the leeway to hide it.
“Let me rest for a bit. I don’t want to admit it, but I’m not the youngest anymore. I simply don’t have the stamina to keep up with a young…soldier.”
Chrono sensed that her amending herself to call himself a soldier was a matter of pride for her.
“What are you looking at?”
“Your tits,” replied Chrono curtly.
“Don’t stare too hard, okay?” The Landlady covered her chest with both arms. “…Why are you pulling a face like a beaten puppy?”
“Because I’m disappointed.”
Chrono liked nicely shaped breasts, even if they were on the smaller side, but likewise he liked breasts with volume.
“Hey! You’re thinking about another woman, aren’t you!?”
“You can tell?”
“It’s obvious from your face.”
Chrono touched his face on reflex, but he felt like it wasn’t anything he’d understand from just touching.
Probably it’s an intuition that’s limited to women.
“Sorry,” apologized Chrono.
“Y-You don’t need to a-apologize or anything,” the Landlady backpedaled shrilly. “But…”
“B-Because I can’t do anything about my age, I feel like running away if you compare me to other women,” admitted the Landlady, and then averted her bright red face.
“I don’t really think that you need to pay any attention to something like that, though.”
“This is why young guys are so… Women have their own complex relationships with fellow women.”
Chrono believed that the same applied to men as well, but didn’t point it out. On the contrary, he actively decided to stay silent about it to not stir up a hornet’s nest.
“Can I get going anytime soon now?”
“…You’re really unsatiable…” the landlady groaned, but telling him to restrain himself in this situation would be even more unreasonable.
“…That’s the last round.”
Chrono started to move slowly, while keeping his eyes pinned on the landlady to check her response.
On this night, the 『last round』 continued for another three times.