Kei had become the champion.
It was a grand victory where the contestants dropped out one after another as he displayed his overwhelming difference in skill.
Kei received his share of the reward, personally awarded to him by the Archduke’s grandson and successor, Hereditary Duke Dietrich Aurelius Urvan Acland, and then returned to the HangedBug where they were currently holding a lively victory party.
“Now, may the fame of Kei, the top hunter of the duchy, keep growing to new heights. Cheers!!”
Holland took the lead, raising a toast in the center of the tavern, and the rest of the party attendants followed up in unison. Present were Kei’s acquaintances like Mandel and Edda, other contestants that Kei got to know during the tournament, and even random regular customers that used the chaos to join the party.
Surrounded by them, Kei cheerfully raised his own cup, already being slightly tipsy.
“You were spectacular, Kei! You overwhelmed everyone!”
“Hehehe… I suppose I was!”
Kei felt a little embarrassed from Aileen’s praise who stood to his left, but still answered with pride.
“The preliminary’s challenges were more or less what I’d expected, so I wasn’t overly nervous.”
“…Good lord, it was a disaster for the other contestants.”
Mandel muttered seriously from across the table where he sat with a cup of distilled liquor in his hand.
“I could handle it somewhat since I already knew about your skills. But the others who had to compete against you for the first time… probably tasted true despair.”
“I decided to go all out seeing how I was participating anyway.”
Mandel smiled wryly at Kei’s aloof attitude.
“Geez. I can’t blame the folks who withdrew in the middle of the tournament. Normally, your heart would break if you witnessed such a gap in skill.”
“But you were quite amazing yourself, Mandel. I didn’t know you could use your short bow like that.”
“Oh please, that was more like a street performance. You can do it as well if you try, Kei. At the end of the day, it was no more than a petty trick. I was no match for you.”
“Still, I honestly respect your guts for attempting that under those circumstances and the nerves of steel to actually pull it off. I wouldn’t be able to copy that. To be honest, I was really drenched in sweat there.”
“Pft, then I suppose I succeeded in putting up a little bit of a fight. I feel honored to receive your praise.” Mandel shrugged, but in reality, he had won the second prize.
It led to the unexpected outcome of an outlander and a commoner obtaining the two top spots and thus leaving all the military archers and mercenaries in the dust, despite it being a tournament sponsored by Urvan.
“Though to be honest, I think I’m glad that I lost to you, Kei. Just imagining what would’ve happened had I advanced to the finals makes me shiver.”
“Oh yeah, that part was really something else. I never imagined it would turn into that.”
“I didn’t realize this would be the meaning behind ‘bring your normal equipment.'”
Mandel spoke emotively, while Kei looked amused, and Aileen exasperated — each of the three thinking back on the finals in their own way.
“But I believed you’d be alright, big bro!”
A brown-skinned girl poked her face from under the table at Kei’s right side. It was Edda, Holland’s daughter.
“You defeated the Grande Urs as if it was nothing, so that much should’ve been no problem for you!”
“Well, I guess. Though I would’ve probably gotten anxious if I were to be taken to the center of the parade grounds and that thing started without a warning.”
“You looked completely composed there, big bro. You were so cool!”
Kei swayed his cup while feeling embarrassed as Edda gazed at him as if admiring a hero.
“…Thanks. But I was far better off this time compared to the time with the “Grande Urs,” as they properly warned us in advance.”
“Hahaha, if you say that, the other contestants will lose face!”
A breath reeking of alcohol reached him from behind. Turning around, Kei saw Dagmar, his face flushed red.
“Hey there, hero! You drinkin’ or what?!”
“Yeah, I am. Not as much as you, though.”
Kei showed his cup while joking. Dagmar, on the other hand, seemed to be drinking straight from a small wine jar.
“Hahaha, time to drink, time to drink! It’s free alcohol after all!”
“Huh? I was planning to have everyone pay for themselves, though.”
Seeing Dagmar’s expression fall apart, Kei burst into laughter.
“It’s a joke. Why get so serious all of a sudden?”
“…Damnit dude, you had me scared there for a moment!”
He put Kei in a headlock and grinded his wine jar against Kei’s temple. While Kei kept protesting about it being painful, he pondered whether Dagmar had really drunk so much that he was scared of the bill. But at this point, it did not matter to him much anyway.
“Okay everyone, I don’t think I need to repeat myself, but the bill’s on me today! Keep drinking!”
Kei’s declaration caused the crowd to get all hyped.
“Now we’re talking!”
“As expected of the champion!”
“Thanks, chief, you’re so generous!”
Everyone was devoted to buttering up to Kei. Getting even further full of himself, Kei kept adding orders, as many others enjoyed his goodwill. Aileen went ‘oh dear’ next to him, but she wasn’t as tactless as to stop him.
Amidst the cheerful atmosphere, the dwarf-faced tavern owner was delightfully screaming we need more booze!, while Jamie and other staff were busily running around, attending to the customers.
“Still, though, I wonder if that archer from the finals is alright.”
Returning to the topic of the finals, Kei asked Dagmar who responded with a triumphant face while folding his arms.
“It seems that his right shoulder was ripped up quite badly. Thanks to the fact that he gave up right away, and because they had expressly prepared a high-level healer to heal the contestants, he managed to cling to life. He’s apparently fully recovered without a single scratch remaining.”
“I see, that’s great to hear.”
“That said, even with his injuries gone, the sensation in his arm still hasn’t returned. It looks like he may even need to resign from the army.”
“Oh, I see…”
As Kei muttered with a sad expression, a plate of skewers was placed in front of him.
“…Your senses often don’t return once you suffer an injury.”
Following the thick arm upwards with his eyes, Kei’s eyes met with the face of a dwarf who was wearing an apron – Derrick.
“I also got hit by an arrow in the past… Thanks to that, I’m currently in this sorry state.”
Derrick clapped his right knee to get his point across. So that’s why he was limping, Kei was convinced.
“So you were a warrior too?”
“Rather than a warrior, a mercenary would be more accurate.”
Derrick looked away while awkwardly scratching his nose.
“He was actually quite famous when I was a brat.” Dagmar, on the other hand, brought his face close by bending over and spoke happily as if talking about himself. “He was a natural power fighter. During the military campaign he even demolished fortress walls with his ax. If you speak of Red Nose Derrick who worked under Giant Denner, there’s no one around these parts who wouldn’t know who’s meant.”
“You bastard, call me that one more time and I’ll rip out your tongue!!”
Dagmar’s comment triggered Derrick to yell with veins bulging on his forehead.
He looked quite pissed, but the flushed expression made his red nose stand out even more, making Kei and Aileen blast out their alcohol. While the two turned around, holding their mouths, “S-sorry about that, old man, it just slipped out…” Dagmar tried to pacify him with a faint smile on his face.
“…B-But anyway, I’ve been in his care back when I was a rookie mercenary. Right, old man?”
“Yeah, this guy used to be a snot-nosed brat back then. When I first took him to the battlefield, forget snot, he even pissed—”
“Agh! Wait! Please don’t bring up that story!”
Dagmar started to panic due to the revelation of his inglorious past which he had actually started himself.
“We’re eating here!” “Leave that disgusting talk for later!” came jeers from the other people, who started to throw wooden plates and bony leftovers at Dagmar for some reason.
“Ouch, ouch… why me…”
“HEY! You bastards, stop wasting food! Also, stop littering the store!”
“Oh shit, Red Nose is pissed!”
“Run for it!”
“Grrr, which one of you said that, huuh?! I’ll beat the shit out of you!”
Derrick rolled up his sleeves with bloodshot eyes and charged towards the source of the voice.
Along with the sounds of toppled chairs and broken plates, also came shrieks and angry yells, “Eeeekkk!” “So it was youuu!” The party had only just begun, but the place was already turning into pandemonium.
“Arggh, I wanna have fun too!”
While the storekeeper was engaged in a brawl, Jamie’s hands were full with beer mugs, tears having welled up in her eyes. She skillfully avoided the hands of the perverted old men trying to feel up her butt and glared reproachfully at Kei, the root of all evil.
Kei on the other hand observed Derrick’s scuffle while laughing with a goblet in his hand. It was big enough a brawl that someone could have gotten injured, but considering how he was still laughing, it seemed that the alcohol had already done its job.
On Kei’s left Aileen held onto his arm, while on his right, Edda was contending with her.
Aileen aside, even Edda, a girl of tender age, was trying to hit on Kei. Meanwhile, Jamie, who was stuck with filthy, harassing old men while dripping with sweat because of all the work, suddenly stopped with a distant look in her eyes. The old perverts used that chance to extend their hands for her butt and thighs.
“…Okay,” before long, she nodded, obviously having made up her mind, and put the mugs on a nearby table. “I’m done with this!” she declared with a refreshing smile.
She threw the tray away and, ignoring the flabbergasted customers, rushed back into the kitchen.
She quickly came back, holding a plate of raspberry tart.
She set it down on a nearby table, also putting down a fork and knife, and very gently called out to Edda who was fawning over Kei.
“Hey, young lady. I have a special sweet for you. It’s a raspberry tart. Would you like to eat it?”
“Ohh, it looks so good!”
Being baited by the tart, Edda quickly left her seat. Jamie revealed an evil grin and flopped down on the seat on Kei’s right.
She loosened the string of her blouse at the chest, emphasizing her cleavage, and snuggled up to him. Kei was taken aback by her sudden advances, while Edda, who was stuffing her cheeks with the tart, yelped with her eyes wide open, realizing her blunder.
“Why not leave this filthy place and have some ‘fun’ with me instead?”
She drew a circle on Kei’s chest with her index finger while giving him a flirtatious glance. It was a killer technique she had practiced mentally while no one was looking. Now that the time was ripe, she unleashed it.
Aileen poked out her head from Kei’s other side, sending a damp, freezing gaze her way. It was even mixed with some chilly bloodlust, but Jamie mustered all her courage and endured it.
She pretended not to notice Edda who had abandoned her tart and was barraging her back in protest.
Kei, on the other hand, downed his goblet with an unexpected calmness while his gaze—perhaps the nature of being a man—was drawn towards her cleavage.
I see, they are certainly worthy of emphasis.
If he compared Aileen’s to grasslands, then hers would be mountains. Her light brown skin further caused them to very naturally resemble abundant crops.
That attack is certainly not easy to handle.
In the end, Kei was a man too, so his expression carried a tinge of lewdness. But even so, it ultimately was limited to interest, and strangely enough, his heart was not moved.
Perhaps he became broadminded because of the alcohol. Or maybe it was due to his left arm creaking from Aileen tightening her entwined hold on it.
“…Sorry, but I can’t.”
At any rate, Kei put down his goblet and gently pushed Jamie away.
“It’s a wonderful invitation… but I already have someone I love.”
He spoke with a very serious attitude and kissed Aileen’s forehead, who was holding his left hand.
Aileen was befuddled for a moment, followed by her cheeks flushing red. The guys around them started to cheer at that. Jamie was astonished, never imagining that she would be shot down so swiftly. Behind her, Edda’s expression was also colored by despair.
“I…I have confidence in my figure.”
Thinking that emphasizing her cleavage was not enough, she slightly raised her skirt to show off her beautiful slender legs. Edda behind her looked down on her body and felt dejected.
“Well, I can see what you mean…”
“You might lose interest if you stick to just one girl, you know? How about some fresh stimulus, hmm?”
She realized her primary goal would be impossible, so she quickly lowered her target to being his mistress. But even then, Kei shook his head.
“I don’t think I would ever lose interest. I’m crazy about Aileen.”
She could not say anything else after he declared this with a straight face. Following that, Kei embraced Aileen and started flirting with her in front of everyone.
“K-Kei, it’s embarrassing. Everyone’s looking…”
“Like I care. I don’t care about anything else as long as you’re with me.”
“Oh, Kei, come on now…”
Everyone around had their fill of the sweet and picturesque lovers atmosphere of the two.
As Edda looked at them in envy, Jamie prostrated herself on the table.
“Ugh, there’s no place for me to slip in…”
She gritted her teeth, mumbling, “And here I had finally found an ideal person too.”
The other men around started going, “There are other good men around, you know!” but they did not appear to be on her radar.
“…Argh, fine! I’ll just drink! I’ll drown myself in booze!”
Becoming desperate, she started screaming, “Bring me booze!” However, a large shadow grabbed her by the neck and carried her off.
“What are you blabbering about? You’re the one who needs to carry them.”
It was Derrick who had wrapped up his fight. Wiping blood spurts from his face, he spoke with a refreshing smile, “Okay, break time is over. Time to work like horses!”
“N-Noooo! I wanna have fun too!”
“Hahaha, this is our peak period, no way we can waste it.”
“Grrr… I’ll slip away… I’ll definitely slip away.”
“For now, go wash the dishes. Rejoice, there’s a lot of it.”
Jamie struggled and whined as Derrick shouldered her towards the kitchen. This spelled her retiring from the front lines. Or rather, dropping out.
Edda took the plate with the tart she had only taken two bites of so far, and reoccupied Kei’s right side.
“…Hey, big bro, wanna eat tart? It’s super good!”
“I-It does look tasty. I guess I’ll have some of it.”
Kei stopped flirting with Aileen in response to Edda’s innocent words. He probably decided that it wouldn’t be good to keep messing around in front of a child.
As the corners of Edda’s mouth went up with her eyes pinned on Aileen, Aileen’s brows twitched.
“Here you go. Say aah.”
He could not bring himself to say, “I will eat it on my own,” when presented the tart with such an innocent smile, so he awkwardly bit into it.
“Mmm, this is really good.”
As Kei chewed in satisfaction, Edda sent a provocative smile towards Aileen.
Aileen also counterattacked with a calm smile of her own.
The party had only just begun.
On the next morning Kei heaved his sluggish body up on the bed, tormented by a hangover.
“Ugh… I drank too much…”
“You’re so weak to go down from so little, Kei.”
“You seem quite lively on the other hand.”
Aileen, who was laughing at him while all dressed, had stayed up late into the night, having fun with Kei, but she did not seem tired at all.
Is it just my imagination that Aileen seems to be much stronger when it comes to fundamental stamina or vitality?
If Kei were to be honest, he wanted to spend some quality time with Aileen since he had obtained a good amount of cash as a prize for his victory, but considering the citizenship procedures, he could not act so carefreely. He had to finish everything while the tournament’s heat had not died down and the officials still remained motivated.
“…Oh, good morning…”
As they headed down to the dining room, they saw Jamie cleaning with the eyes of a dead fish.
For some reason Jamie was already down for the count, but seeing Kei and Aileen show up so happily together gave her the rest. She started staggering and used her broom to prop herself up instead of a cane.
“…Are you okay?”
“Uggh… I am. I am. It’s nothing…”
“I-If you say so…”
Kei had drunk a lot last night, but he was the type to retain his memories no matter how much he drank. So naturally, he clearly remembered her attempts of hitting on him, but the person concerned was apparently pretending that it never happened. He was perfectly fine with that too.
Served by her who was acting like a zombie, they had their fill of fruits, vegetables, and a soup made from the leftovers from last night’s party.
After that, they ended up wasting the entire day dealing with the citizenship acquisition procedures.
First, they headed to the resident administrative bureau in the city’s east with the victory certificate of the tournament.
Since they went there first thing in the morning, the bureau was not packed with people, allowing them to enter without any problems. Everything would be finished easily once he handed over the certificate—or so Kei had hoped, but unfortunately, or perhaps, as expected, this was not the end by far.
What Kei was requesting was the “honorary citizenship” of Urvan. It had “honorary” attached to it, but it was fundamentally the same as a normal citizenship. However, the formal procedures and the juridical responsibilities were somewhat different.
The achievement of winning the martial tournament, the ability to pay taxes, and the prepayment for various other procedures—he had met all those requirements, but the most essential part of it, namely, the official handling it, was not used to dealing with special procedures like the acquisition of honorary citizenship, so it took even more time.
After he and Aileen listened to explanations about rights and obligations for an hour, and he was almost done signing the documents, the official in charge said, “I do not know how to format a certain special document.”
The official took several dozen minutes to confirm the regulations, and after that long wait, returned with a depressing ‘it can be substituted with a normal document’ answer. And just as he finished signing that document, it turned out that the procedure somehow exceeded the jurisdiction of the residents’ administration office, resulting in Kei and Aileen being told to head for the municipal office instead.
At that point, it was already almost noon, so there was a big line in front of the municipal office. They lined up and after close to an hour, finally reached the counter, only to discover that there was an exclusive counter for handling honorary citizenship requests. Realizing that they had wasted all the time waiting for nothing, the two got pissed that no one had explained it to them in advance.
Even after that, Kei had to fill out several documents, and had to go to the guard station to get a certificate proving his clean criminal record. Then they found a flaw in the documents so they had to trek back to the residents’ administration office. After running around in Urvan for a while, it was already getting dark by the time they finished all the procedures.
And yet, the ID would not be issued right away. First the officials would inspect the documents on the next day and following, and after an interview and some more procedures, his ID would be officially issued. The honorary citizenship procedures were prioritized over normal ones, so it would take three days at most for everything to be concluded, or so was expected.
“…So yeah, today was tough.”
“That’s what you’d call red tape I guess… Quite unfortunate for you.”
Kei and Aileen were complaining while having dinner together with Mandel at HangedBug.
Tonight’s dinner also served as a farewell party. Mandel was staying at a different inn, but he apparently planned to leave Urvan by tomorrow. Holland was heading to Satyna just then too, so with Kei’s referral, he would be accompanying him as a guest.
“By the way, Mandel. Have they approached you in regards to government service?”
“They have. The military authorities were saying something about making me the commander of a squad consisting of hundred archers. I rejected it, though.”
“Oh, so they have. And you rejected huh, expected as much.”
“Yeah. You can’t retire so easily once you get employed by the military, and I would have to move to Urvan too. Being a hunter suits me better.”
He shrugged without a care.
“Of course, the pay was tempting. But still…”
“You prefer Tahfu, huh.”
“Having a lot of money certainly doesn’t guarantee an enjoyable life,” said Aileen while shoveling the salad into her mouth.
“Yeah, just between us, if you asked me whether I preferred Tahfu or Urvan, even I’d choose Tahfu. I only stayed there for like two days though.” Kei declared emotionally.
The small rural village surrounded by the greenery of forests and grasslands was still vivid in his memory. Thinking back, though Kei and Aileen were currently in Urvan, their journey had begun at that village. Kei believed Tahfu to be far more comfortable, compared to the exclusive Urvan, albeit with the exclusion of getting attacked for revenge by bandits.
“That village is easy to live in, in various ways. It’s richer compared to other villages too. Speaking of which, what about you, Kei? About government service.”
“So far as it goes, they visited me as well. They wanted to hire me as an archer just like you. However, they did not offer me the commander of hundred post like you.”
“Huh, I see… That’s weird.”
“Even though you won, Kei. I was like, As a civilian? Are you serious? I wonder if it was discrimination or something.”
Aileen frowned, looking rather displeased as if this was about her. Kei did not plan to enter government service, regardless of the post offered to him, but being treated unfairly still did not sit well with him.
“I wonder. Perhaps they immediately saw through your lack of experience. I did work my way up to commander of ten in the past, so perhaps they judged it based on that record.”
That was unexpected for Kei. He had not known that Mandel had been enrolled in the army.
No wait, Kei reconsidered. When they were recovering the bandits’ possessions back in Tahfu, only Mandel was not affected by the sight of the gruesome corpses. Apparently Mandel might have participated in that military campaign a decade ago.
“But that was it, Kei? Someone as skilled as you should be in great demand.”
“Oh, on a private level, several people did call out to me. Stuff like being a bodyguard of a whimsical noble, or escorting caravans, also some warrior from the eastern border invited me to join his clan. Though I rejected everything for the time being.”
“I see… By the way, what kind of mercenary clan was it?”
“If I remember correctly… it was called something like… Bronze Rose, I think.”
“Ohh, Bronze Roze! That’s a pretty major clan, you know? They were known as a great clan that rivaled the Giant’s Wings during the military campaign, though I guess you wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.”
“No, well, I can roughly imagine. No wonder they looked so surprised when I turned it down. So they were famous, huh…”
They continued their idle chat and grumbling related to the government service, military, and such, and then, when they had had enough to drink, the farewell party came to an end. It seemed that Mandel would be leaving early in the morning, and he also said they did not need to see him off, so this was their parting for a while. Kei asked Mandel to pass his greeting to the Tahfu shaman, Anka, the Cronen couple, and the arrow craftsman from Satyna.
I wonder when we’ll meet next.
Kei pondered while wasting time together with Aileen in their room.
Meeting Mandel during this tournament was already unexpected.
This world had no simple means of communication or movement. Their next meeting could happen in a few months, a year, or maybe…
Three days had passed.
He had had an interview with Urvan’s mayor, and he also had to fill out more papers and other bothersome things, but he finally obtained the ID.
It had a palm-sized rectangular shape, and was made out of tough parchment. Above Urvan’s seal was an exaggerated statement about the honorary citizenship rights of the individual known as “Kei,” and it also had the mayor’s signature. On the backside was Kei’s personal information, a portrait for identification purposes, and a section for his own signature.
The signature did not mean you needed to be able to read—what they wanted was something that was hard to imitate by others. After a lot of deliberation, he just decided to write Nogawa Keiichi in kanji. For the residents of this world, it would be extremely difficult to decipher or imitate it at a glance.
“Finally the day has come, Aileen…”
“Yeah. I feel like we waited for a really long time…”
The two walked along the first rampart wall with empty looks in their eyes.
One month passed since they were turned away at the gate when trying to enter the first-class district to go to the library. It was hard to tell whether one month felt like a lot or too short, but either way, it was quite moving for both of them.
While feeling strangely proud about the ID in his pocket, the two finally reached the gate’s guard post which they had visited last time.
“Ohh, it’s you two.”
“We watched the tournament. Congratulations on your championship.”
The young and the old guard were the first ones to call out to them.
“Thanks, thanks. But yeah, I got my citizenship.”
He took out the ID out of his pocket and handed it over to the elderly guard. He raised the visor of his helmet and, apparently suffering from farsightedness, held the ID away from himself, scanning it.
“…I see, Nogawa Keiichi, it is certainly you. You may pass.”
He returned the ID with a smile.
“Oh, only the owner can pass with that ID, so that girl…”
The younger guard suddenly interjected.
Indeed, the owner of that ID was Kei, and its effect did not extend to Aileen.
In other words, Aileen had no right to pass through the gate.
Having said that, Kei was not flustered.
Do you know how much time I spent dealing with those annoying procedures…!
He had expected for this to happen from the start. And he had also come up with a solution.
He slowly embraced Aileen’s shoulders and declared.
“—She is my wife.”
A married man. If a citizen owning an ID was the family head, his wife, as long as there was only one of them, would be promptly granted the citizenship rights and obligations, even if they were not the Urvan citizen.
In other words, if Aileen was Kei’s wife, she would share the same rights.
Aileen folded her arms with a blush at his declaration.
This was merely a means to pass the gate this one time, however…
I want to hold a proper ceremony someday.
Kei thought. Aileen still had not decided whether to stay in this world or not, so he could only wait, but he wanted them to have a proper marriage someday.
…But I wonder how marriages work in this world.
He wondered. This world had all kinds of elemental Spirits existing as if it was normal, so the religious conceptions were quite weak. Perhaps they thought about it like Japan with its myriad gods, but at the very least, it was certain that their way of marriage was not the you absolutely have to swear before the god type of thing.
…Oh right, maybe they are holding the marriage ceremonies at the Water Spirit’s temple in Yulia. I’m guessing brides wear a dress here too…
Imagining Aileen in a wedding dress, his cheek muscles loosened naturally.
He started grinning as he imagined Aileen’s future bride appearance, who was blushing with both hands on her cheeks.
The young guard had a dejected expression hidden beneath his helmet, while the older one was smiling wryly.
“…Well, okay. If she’s your wife, then the rules certainly say that she shares your rights.”
Kei and Aileen nodded in satisfaction at the old guard’s words.
With this, they would finally, finally, be freed from the bothersome procedures—
The old guard held out his hand. Kei almost took it, thinking he was asking for a handshake, but then he spoke those devastating words:
“Please show me your marriage certificate.”
And Kei howled.
Sasuke: “We haven’t had a turn lately.”
Sasuke: “He’s supposed to be a mounted archer.”