Several torches flickered in the dark of the night. Mixed in were a number of small monsters called phosphorescent moths flying around while pulling phosphorescent light with them. The movements of those lights were the only things that could be clearly seen from on top of the high hill. There seemed to be a lot of phosphorescent light coming from their tails.
It has almost been an hour and a half since Theomer headed out to search for the bandits with his warriors.
Borrowing one of the simple tents, I let Radka go to sleep first. I haven’t said a word to him since yesterday’s incident. I was also sleepy, but I wanted to stay up until I received the first report, so I was standing outside of the tent.
Suddenly, I heard the heavy sounds of wings flapping from above me, and when I looked up, I saw Rashiok flying towards me with his wings outstretched. How did he know that I had returned?
He landed right in front of me with a glide, and his huge draconis body was already bigger than that of the army horses. Although it was still too early for him to mature, his body had already finished growing.
Rashiok slowly laid his elegant body down in front of me. He purred sweetly, perhaps because I’ve been away from Golden Hill Mansion a lot lately.
“Thanks for coming to greet me, Rashiok. I didn’t plan on returning until late autumn.”
I stroke the base of his ears as you would a dog. I gently glided my fingertips over his scales to keep them from flaking off. Rashiok squinted his eyes in content.
“It seems that a group of bandits from Densel Dukedom have trespassed on the fief… The neighbouring kingdom doesn’t give us much of a break. It would be nice if they showed some consideration for Earl Thelesia’s age.”
I said sarcastically and Rashiok snorted lightly in reply, as if he were human.
Bandits. I let out a slow breath at the word that had popped up in my mind. They were a common presence in this world. However, Arxia is the only exception to that rule.
Bandits aren’t people who only make a living from stealing. Normally, they are people who farm, but they attack strangers and neighbouring land out of hunger and poverty.
Just like Gunter and the other soldiers, they leave their fiefs since they wouldn’t have money, food or clothes if they didn’t steal from others.
The bandits who had trespassed into the fief this time have come from across the border. And in addition to that, they invaded Arxia, which is much safer than Densel. I don’t think they’re simply here to loot, nor do I think that they’re doing this on their own.
Which meant they were after something else, but I don’t know what. Hopefully, we’ll be able to catch them.
――― Should I take out the tools that I’ve stashed away at the back of the dungeon? I thought while following the flickering torch light that was below my eyes.
A group of bandits from a neighbouring kingdom, whose relationship with us was deteriorating, have invaded my fief. They passed through Jugfena without causing any harm. Junas has refused to cooperate with me. As long as we capture them, it will be Earl Thelesia’s and my right to have them in custody and get information out of them.
It would probably be me who would use those interrogation tools, which were mementos from my sick father, that I had stuffed into the innermost section of the dungeon to ensure that they would never be present to the people of my fief again.
The memories of the year in which I was shown how to use them were still fresh in my mind.
I know how to toy with a person’s life and mind. I am a daughter from the Kaldia House no matter how repulsive and unpleasant that is.
I felt Rashiok’s ears twitch at my fingertips, and turned the road coming up from the bottom of the hill. Several horsemen were coming up the hill with Gunter leading them.
The fief soldiers, led by Gunter, stopped in front of me and dismounted their horses. Gunter laughed a little at Rashiok, who was next to me, but quickly changed his expression and said forcefully, “I have something to report.”
“Good work, did you find something?”
“The warriors from the Sill Tribe who went along the border line found hoofprints near Junas’s border. Loucks Village and Neza Village are there, and a member of the vigilance committee has reported that two girls who live outside of Neza have gone missing.”
As I thought, it seemed that the bandits went back into Junas once more after they trespassed into Kaldia. Once they were able to cross the fief border, the soldiers couldn’t leave the fief and pursue them any further. The bandits were cunningly poking through the security holes.
“Look for them. Have the sharpest tracker in the area follow the hoofprints closely… Oh yes, take Rashiok with you. He’ll be helpful. Claudia and I will head to Neza Village. Prioritise the safety of the two girls.”
“Understood. I’ll leave three guards with you.”
He said, before jumping onto his horse, since he had heard what he needed to hear. The heavy sounds of the horses’ hooves moved away as they ran faster. Rashiok rubbed his head against my hand and almost soundlessly followed after the horses.
I instructed the remaining three soldiers and Claudia, who was standing next to me, then mounted my horse. We left the sleeping Radka behind without waking him up. I also instructed the remaining Sill Tribe warriors to gradually narrow the search area to the southwest side of the fief, and then turned the reins of my horse towards Neza Village.
――― Nomadic tribesmen were excellent herders. Once they’ve surrounded something, they will never let it escape, and I also had no intentions of letting people, who had laid their hands on my citizens, escape that easily.
I finally let my body rest for a bit in Neza Village. I still wanted to stay awake, but it was still impossible to force my young body to stay awake. I felt incredibly sleepy as the night went on. The moment I didn’t remember anything after I laid down in the room that I had borrowed from the village chief. In exchange, I also woke up early. My body woke up on its own when it was dawn.
I went through my bag and changed my clothes. Then, I soaked a cloth in the pail that was brought in last night and wiped my face and neck. I also used a cheap cotton cloth to brush my teeth. When I finished getting ready and left the room, Claudia, who was sitting in front of the door, greeted me, “I hope you got some rest, Elysia-dono.”
“It’s Eliza, Claudia-dono. Good morning. I’m fine, I don’t feel tired.”
“That’s good, Eliza-dono.”
Claudia had spent the entire night guarding me, and her voice sounded a little unambitious. She hasn’t been able to get a decent amount of rest since we left the royal capital, since she was acting as my bodyguard.
I’ll have her rest as soon as this commotion subsides. ――― It’s too much to have her guard me alone in the first place. It’s fine when I stay in the mansion, but it’s tough on her when we move around a lot like now.
I went downstairs to find that the village chief’s wife was preparing breakfast. She let out a small shriek when she saw me and tried to prostrate herself on the ground.
I quickly stopped her before I saw something distressing. I didn’t want to see a woman, thirty years my senior, prostrate to me if possible. I had her stand up and thanked her for the lodging and meal, but she was shivering pitifully the whole time.
I ate the breakfast that had been especially prepared for me in the dining room/kitchen after the wife left to escape. There was no poison or foreign matter in the food, it was just ordinary black bread, egg soup and sausages… Sausages are preserved food, and are considered a luxury item in Kaldia since the farming industry hasn’t recovered yet.
They were being considerate ――― no, were they just worried that I would do something to them if they weren’t hospitable towards me? That bitter thought spread around my throat. At any rate, good will must be returned with good will and sincerity.
“You’re quite ――― calm.”
“Nothing, Ena-dono… I mean, even from what I can see, you’re very devoted to your people, Eliza-dono.”
“Ah,” I replied to Claudia, who had unusually noticed that she had mispronounced my name in the middle of her sentence. She expected me to be more impatient and resentful.
Of course, I was aware that it wasn’t odd if I were. I was aware of this and was endlessly repeating, “Stay calm,” in my head. Only two nights have passed since I thought that I had to control my emotions.
“It’ll be a weakness,” Priestess Faris’s advice stabbed at the back of my chest. “Distance everything from you if necessary, or put it away so deep that no one can reach it,” those words weighed heavily on my mind.
“… It’s not good to show the citizens or soldiers that I’m upset, right?”
Claudia blinked once at my answer, then suddenly smiled sadly at me.
Paul and three other soldiers, who had been my guards since last night, were waiting for me when I left the village chief’s house.
“Good morning, My Lord.”
“Morning. Do you have anything to report?”
“Apparently, Rashiok found some traces. They’re tracing those now.”
Paul answered clearly. Although he was a squire who had just joined the army last year, I felt that he had grown a lot as a soldier after returning from Jugfena Fortress.
Speaking of growth, Rashiok had grown bigger than a horse now, and I, who was still small, was no longer able to straddle him comfortably. That wise draconis was aware of that and was trying to use its other abilities to help me.
… Bringing my attention back to the report. “And then?” I urged him to continue. He hesitated for a bit before speaking again.
“And… We found a bunch of hair that is thought to belong to the missing girls along the way.”
A bunch of hair had fallen onto the road in plain sight? I felt extremely uncomfortable at the circumstances the girls could be in because of this. The fact that the girls’ hair was found on the road where the bandits had left their traces meant that the missing people were kidnapped by the bandits.
I felt as if it had turned red in front of me. I felt anger rise up in me as last night’s suspicions are confirmed. I don’t know any other way to describe the emotion, which was neither irritation nor resentment, that burnt inside my body, except anger.
“… My Lord?”
Paul called out my name in a confused and frightened tone.
I held my head, almost wobbling with anger and replied, then Paul mumbled, “Nothing, hmm…”
Did I look that tense? Although, I don’t think the expression of a mere seven-year-old child is going to be that intense. I rubbed the corner of my eyes and Paul looked relieved.
“Alright, thanks for the report. Tell them to rush and continue tracking the bandits.”
Paul replied cheerfully, then I watched as he rode off before turning to Claudia.
I took out a bundle of memos and thin charcoal wrapped in cloth, out from a pouch that was hanging on my belt, and wrote some simple instructions down.
“Claudia-dono, you are temporarily relieved of your guard duties. I would like you to take Elize, who is staying at the Sela River mansion, and send her to Lady Marechan at the Golden Hill Mansion. Also, I need you to prepare something for me while you’re at it.”
I didn’t want to leave Radka alone for any longer. Honestly, I wanted to keep him where I could see him, but it was tense when we were around each other. It wasn’t good to have the seeds of a tantrum by my side in this situation, since I didn’t know when he would explode.
… Besides, considering the items that I asked Claudia to prepare, I don’t think it would end with just that.
I tore out the note that I had just finished writing and handed it to Claudia. She read the note and frowned. The note only said that I wanted her and the soldiers to take out the whips from the back of the dungeon and have them ready for use.
“You want the soldiers to see them? Are you sure?”
“It’s necessary since I’ll do the same thing in the future if I need to interrogate someone again.”
“You’ll have to think about how you use them, so that they won’t think you are your father.”
“… I know.”
“Then, alright. As for Elize-dono, well, I suppose it might be a good idea to keep a little distance for a while.”
Claudia gave a small nod and gave the three remaining soldiers straightforward instructions. Then she turned around to the stables.
My vision was still simmering red and yet my head was strangely cold as ice. I even felt as if I was in the ice, holding boiling water.
I pushed those feelings sharply and deeply into the depths of my stomach while thinking of the moment when it would hit me and the pain I would cause to those people.