“Ah, welcome back Eliza-sama!”
On the days when I wasn’t participating in army training, I would return to the new citizens’ tent at noon to eat lunch, and do the work assigned to the tent that I was staying at, before returning to the mansion to practice martial arts again.
“Eliza-sama, aren’t you tired from working?”
“It’s started to snow, aren’t you cold?”
“You’re a little wet! Come closer to the stove.”
As soon as I entered the tent, a few of the children inside instantly walked up to me. One of them took my hand as soon as they spoke to me and pulled me to the central stove.
“Oh, it’s alright. Rashiok gave me a ride today.”
Although Rashiok had finally stopped growing, he was taller than a warhorse. My small and young physique didn’t allow me to straddle him, so I had him wear a saddle even if he hated it. I don’t know if I’ve grown enough to straddle him with a saddle on, or if this means that I’ve gotten better at it than I was a year ago.
“Raishok is a draconisha, right?”
As soon as I mentioned the word ‘Rashiok’, the children started buzzing. I think I only talked about Rashiok during my inspection, but they had remembered him.
“Yes. But we call them draconis in Arxia.”
“Is he still here?”
“Yes. He’s waiting outside of the tent.”
The children seemed very interested in Rashiok, and they shouted in joy when I pointed at the entrance of the tent.
“I want to see him!”
“I knew you would say that. It’s cold outside, so I’ll call him inside.”
I smiled because their eyes were brimming with curiosity and my heart felt slightly warm. Their straightforwardness was radiant, and I felt very jealous of them.
That was the kind of personality I couldn’t have. Neither could Radka, who had a distorted upbringing, or Elize, who was born sickly.
Their image overlapped with Claudia’s. She’s a straightforward girl, which was unimaginable for a noble.
Then I suddenly realised. I felt a little uncomfortable around her when she had first come to this fief, to the extent that I felt exhausted from each and every one of her actions.
Thinking back, maybe it was the flipside of being envious. I will never be like these children, nor will I grow up to be like Claudia.
I’m so glad I left the mansion.
I envy them. But now, I can honestly admit that they’re different from me, and that I can never be like them.
I’m sure that I need to know myself to get rid of my distorted mind.
――― And so, I’ll learn how to become an adult on my own. I will learn how to be an adult not from adults, but from children my own age.
I called Rashiok into the tent. The children timidly, yet cheerfully surrounded the draconis.
“It’s alright. He’s like a horse or sheep. He’s a good boy as long as you don’t do anything terrible to him.”
I smiled wryly at the children who had frozen from the overwhelming pressure of their first time seeing a draconis, and stood next to Rashiok first and rubbed his nose. Rashiok was perplexed since he wasn’t used to being surrounded by this many children, but he sprawled on the spot in the meantime.
“Eliza-sama, can I touch him?”
“Rashiok doesn’t have fur, he has scales, so pet him gently.”
A few of the older children timidly stepped forward and touched Rashiok in turn. They were being very cautious.
“Wow, he feels so slick.”
“He’s not like a horse at all.”
The other children concluded that Rashiok wasn’t dangerous, so they began approaching him and reaching their hands out. They have been brought up with livestock since they were young, so they got used to him after a while. I’m not sure if it was because their touch felt safe, but Rashiok began to relax.
Some looked at him curiously, some continued to pet him as if they liked the feel of him, others were fine with just glancing at him, and some were satisfied with keeping their distance.
I grabbed the reading stone from my pocket and called out to the children who had lost interest in Rashiok.
“Say, do you guys know what snow looks like?”
They all looked at me blankly and I felt a little excited. I nodded my neck and they shook theirs. Someone even said, “Doesn’t it look like grains of dirt?”
“Let’s go take a look.”
“But how? We can only see drops.”
“I’ve brought my secret tool.”
I said, then held out my palm and spread my fingers. I couldn’t help but laugh when I used the word ‘secret tool’ and let the muscles in my cheeks do the work.
“What’s this? Wow. It’s like ice.”
“It’s not. That’s probably glass?”
“Why does Eliza-sama’s hand look funny?”
“You’re right. It looks bigger. Oh, are you going to look at snow with this?”
I nodded at the child who seemed to have understood the gist of what I had said, and the children’s eyes began to glow with curiosity again.
“I want to see!”
“Yeah, me too! Let’s go outside.”
The children nodded in unison and each began to wrap their scarves tightly around their necks. Even though I didn’t really need one, since we were only going outside for a little while, the most caring girl quickly wrapped a scarf around my neck too .
We creeped out the tent after we wore warmer clothes, and even though not a lot of time had passed since I got here, it had already gotten dark and the snowy clouds were hanging in the sky. It was dim around the tent and the snow on the ground was only dimly lit.
The children circled around me this time. I laughed a little, remembering how they had surrounded Rashiok earlier, and caught the falling snowflakes with the palm of my mittened hand.
I put the reading stone on top of it. Now then, I wonder if the snowflakes in this world are also shaped in hexagons like flowers. I stared at the chunk of glass in my hand and saw beautiful snow shapes, just like I had envisioned.
“I can see it.”
When I held out my palm to the children, they all looked at it with interest, and then all got excited.
The adults peeked out from nearby tents in curiosity when they heard the children’s screams and yells.
“You know, snow is amazing. They look like flowers.”
I suddenly got happy when I saw the girl’s expression as she proudly explained this. This hexagon shape apparently did look like a flower.
“Where, where? … Oh, you’re right. This is the shape of a snow grain? That’s amazing.”
The man, who had peeked at the reading stone as he said this, patted the girl’s head and praised her. Oh, I see. So, it’s better to pat someone’s head when you praise them?
I remembered that I had never touched Radka when I had shown appreciation for his efforts. Children should be praised like this. I now realised my mistake.
The man patted the head of the nearest child for a while, then looked at me in confusion. I took a step back and he dropped his hand in hesitation. He looked as if he was about to open his mouth to say something, but his gaze quickly returned to the children.
“… Don’t catch a cold.”
The man chuckled softly, then returned to his tent.
I watched him silently and someone suddenly patted my head from behind.
“Eliza-sama. Wow, amazing.”
After that, all the children came running up to me and started patting me on the head. I was squeezed and squished from all sides and thought, it’s a bit like a push and shove game.
“Hey, it’s nearly time for lunch!”
A child, who had stayed where Rashiok was, peeked out from the tent and said. The children cheered and walked towards where the food was cooked. As usual, someone held my hand, but there were too many children around me today, so I didn’t know who was holding my hand. I could feel the high body heat through my mittens on my left and right.
“――― Ah, it’s warm when everyone sticks together.”
Someone noticed and said, then the children decided to move in groups like this from now on.
Today’s lunch was pumpkin potage with sprulpa and a yoghurt-like substance called mamiya.
I’ve never had fermented dairy products or anything like that in Arxia. At first, I felt like I was ‘eating something precious’ every time I put it in my mouth, but I’ve already gotten used to eating it, since it was served once every two days.
Sprulpa was made of roasted, ground black rye powder, which was kneaded with butter, or butter tea, and had a very simple taste. I liked eating these things since they had textures that weren’t present in a typical Arxian meal. It seemed like the pumpkin potage would have a nice sweetness to it if I added sugar to it.
As I was munching on my food, the children around me started to chatter about their plans for this afternoon.
“You know, today, the adults are going to teach the army soldiers how to take care of their horses.”
“Oh, even I know how to take care of a horse.”
“Eliza-sama said that the people of Kaldia don’t raise horses much, right? They’re like the farmer kids.”
The ‘farmer kids’ are the orphans who are staying in the next tent. The nomadic children and the farmer children have very different jobs and lifestyles, and it was impossible for the two groups of children to live together in the same tent under the current tent management system.
The children nodded at each other in agreement as they had remembered that it wasn’t necessary for others to need horses like they do.
“It’s not the same. The army is the King’s soldiers.”
One of the children sitting behind me sharply remarked.
“They are lowlifes since they can’t become warriors. Don’t compare them together.”
“God, why’re you saying that, Aslan?”
The children around me rebuked him in frustration and I turned around and looked at the child who had remained silent.
The child, named Aslan, had blue hair and was looking down sullenly. There was a shadow around his eyes, and yet there was a strong light in the depths of his silver eyes which looked similar to light cyan.
He hardly approached me, so I couldn’t match his face with his name. I see, so he’s Aslan.
“Aslan’s mum, you see, is from the Jugal clan, but his dad was a farmer.”
The girl sitting next to me must have noticed that I was staring at me, and quietly explained this to me. She glanced at Aslan and continued hesitantly.
“When we started fighting more with Densel, Aslan’s father tried to become a Jugal warrior. But only men from the Sill Tribe families can become warriors. So, he couldn’t fight at all, and the Densels killed him along with Aslan’s mum…”
“… I see.”
I thought it was a sad story.
There was a clear distinction between those who can fight and those who couldn’t in the Sill Tribe. Fighters, who are called warriors, are given two horses, which are community property, and are trained in the art of spears and bows from an early age. The requirements to become a warrior vary slightly from clan to clan, but they all have one requirement in common: the person must be a male from the clan.
The Jugal clan is a clan with male lineage. Aslan’s father came from a different clan, so he couldn’t become a warrior no matter how much he wanted to.
Now that I knew about Aslan’s situation, there was one more thing that bothered me. I spoke to the girl who was about to return to her meal and asked her a question this time.
“… What did he mean by lowlifes?”
From the flow of the conversation, he was probably talking about someone who wasn’t born into the Sill Tribe ――― and was probably referring to the farmers. But I didn’t feel like there was that big a gap between the Sill Tribe and the farmers for him to call them by a discriminatory title.
And now that the Sill Tribe have moved to Kaldia, they had to abandon their nomadic lifestyles and follow the lifestyle of farmers. They couldn’t afford to discriminate between people’s origins.
“Ah… Well… A long time ago, the Sill Tribe were the King’s spears (Muchaitrel) and protected the kingdom, so they had a higher status than the farmers.”
The person herself didn’t seem to understand her answer, but I understood the origin of the word ‘lowlifes’ from what she had said.
The King’s spear was a noble rank in Artolas; they were words used to describe a ruling class. It was the remnants of a status in Artolas when it had existed.
I put down the sprulpa that was in my hand and stood up. I could see the girl next to me blink from the corner of my eyes. I ignored that and walked up to the Aslan boy.
The eyes of the children were naturally drawn to me since I had stood up alone. Aslan didn’t realise that I was standing in front of him since he was looking down.
His head jumped up when I called out to him. His silver eyes widened in surprise as he looked up at me.
“I heard a little bit of what you said before. Did you say ‘lowlifes’?”
Aslan nodded nervously. He looked confused since he didn’t understand why I was talking to him.
“Don’t use that word again. Both the Sill Tribe and the Cellions are now… my people. There are no differences between them. They are all equally commoners under the Arxian King.”
I explained in a slightly stronger tone; pointing out that while there was a being who was above them, there was already no humans below them. Perhaps he understood that he was being scolded. Aslan muttered reluctantly, “I understand” while frowning.
… “My people”, this was the first time I had said those words. I didn’t say this to point out this fact to anyone, but for the sake of the people. I said it so he wouldn’t be trapped in past social status, and degrade himself among those he lives with.