Extra release this month thanks to patrons /o/
However, contrary to his expectations, the soldiers remained quiet. Radka was sure that they would laugh vulgarly, but they were silent as if they had withered and Radka felt suspicious. He slowly raised his face a little and tried to peek at the soldiers.
Just then, a sizzling, hot skewer of meat was presented to him and he couldn’t help but jerk back in surprise.
“… It’s yours.”
The young soldier, who had presented the meat to Radka, was a silent, young man who shared the room with him, named Igor. Normally, he would ignore Radka completely, but for some reason, today he was pushing the skewer at Radka, who was hesitant to take it, while averting his gaze. The meat on the skewer was bigger than any of the other soldiers’ portions, so he was even more confused about whether he should accept it.
“It’s definitely for you, hurry and take it. You haven’t been hunting for your dinner, right?”
Igor said again oppressively while Radka was hesitating on what to do, and Radka froze at once. Once his emotions were elevated, his mind filled with his juvenile thoughts and beliefs.
“――― Shut up. I don’t need charity from idiots who happily wag their tail at the girl who tormented them so much.”
As soon as he uttered those words, the soldiers around him gasped and fell silent.
(That’s right. They’re always going on about Tsar. She’s the daughter of a noble, the daughter of the feudal lord who tormented his people.)
His head and heart went numb like ice had been poured on them.
(If you side with her then one day you guys will…)
The same dark feelings he had when he threw the rock at the little girl on the horse erupted from within him. Then he gritted his teeth.
“――― Who wagged their tail at that brat and when?”
Igor let out a low and cold growl with his face contorted with intense emotions. He glared at Radka as if he could see through him and Radka was surprised by his threatening attitude.
Radka was speechless since there was someone here who held the same hatred as him.
Igor suddenly shook his head, and got rid of the expression on his face, then he quickly turned around and moved away. Then, Radka realised that a bug had settled in his hand.
“Good grief… There really are a lot of hopeless guys here.”
Calvin had watched the series of exchanges and let out a bitter laugh.
“Jeez. Everyone’s making a big fuss because of one or two brats.”
Radka heard consent from beside him and his shoulders jolted. When he turned around to the voice, which came from opposite him, he saw Gunter standing there looking sullen and with a frown on his face like usual.
“Ah, you haven’t made any progress since Eliza-sama’s time.”
“He’s not making any progress, he’s getting worse. That brat didn’t care no matter how much people made fun of her, but that kid over there does, right?”
Radka bit his lips since he could guess a bit about what the two adults were talking about.
(That feudal lord’s daughter was also subjected to foul-mouth ridicule like this… It’s unthinkable.)
Still, that’s probably the truth judging by how Igor is acting. When Eliza was staying at these barracks, the soldiers directed their hatred and disgust at her.
Now… most soldiers refer to her as ‘Tsar’ and no one challenged the person who called her this. Not even Igor, who was enraged a few moments ago. That was, in other words, the best proof to show that he recognised Eliza as the new feudal lord.
Radka bit his lips even harder. Hatred raised its head every time he pictured her in his mind, but somehow, now a completely different emotion was swirling around in him like a haze.
Radka had no idea what that feeling was ――― I don’t even want to know, he muttered in his mind.
But that hazy emotion didn’t disappear within him from that day onwards, and it grew little by little.
Calvin’s small scolding made the soldiers reconsider their treatment of Radka, and from the next day onwards, the soldiers began talking to him somewhat, along with their usual banter.
The first couldn’t even be considered a conversation. It was a one-sided comment made by a seated soldier at breakfast, “There aren’t many ingredients.” Then, after being beaten around by Gunter, and receiving the usual banter, they would awkwardly encourage him.
The extremely awkward soldiers took the same actions as they had before, but they learnt how to respond based on their dialogue with Radka. They exchanged a word or two with each other while being confused, and a few days later, they spoke more to him. Gradually, the soldiers began to complain about the feudal lord and the harshness of their training, and finally, they started talking about deeper topics, such as their villages and families.
The things that Radka heard from the soldiers were all shocking to him.
For example, most of them became thieves after they became broke and they hated the feudal lord as much as Radka did. Therefore, the soldiers treated Eliza quite harshly when she first entered the barracks. He heard that she was knocked down by Gunter more mercilessly than him and the others, that she was subjected to verbal abuse instead of banter, and so on.
“It hurts to talk about it now, but Tsar was scared the whole time she was here. She always braced herself for when we would kill her. In fact, she’s even been strangled once and nearly died… Oh no, that’s just what I’ve heard.”
The hard feeling in Radka’s chest mysteriously disappeared when the man in his room told him that.
His hatred for Eliza hadn’t disappeared. But every time he heard a story like that, the haze in his mind widened and his icy feelings of irritation and murderous intent were pushed away.
He was bewildered by the change. He couldn’t keep up with the strange shift in emotions that occurred every time he had a conversation with the soldiers.
After march training, someone shook Radka as he sat down to rest in the shade of a tree with his eyes closed, so he opened his heavy eyelids. The glare of light that instantly entered his vision made the back of his eyes ache.
It was Igor. Igor tossed the cloth he had used to wipe of Radka’s sweat at him, then crouched down and looked at his face.
“Are you so tired that you can’t even walk? Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine…”
Radka replied indecisively, and Igor frowned. Realising that he didn’t look alright, Radka quickly added.
“I’m not lying. I’m more hot than tired.”
He was partly sitting here because he was tired from training, but the heat was more exhausting. It was the height of summer and the sunlight, which was shining down on them every day, was tediously hot and dazzling. The white-skinned Radka was weak against the sunlight.
“Then hurry back to the barracks. If you stay here forever, then you’ll miss lunch.”
“Hmm… I want to cool off for a little longer.”
The sun was shining brightly outside of the shade, and he hesitated to go out there. He knew that the barracks were cooler, since the wind blew through there, but he didn’t even have the energy to move from this spot right now.
“Igor-san, you go ahead. I’m not really hungry, so I don’t need lunch.”
Igor sighed in amazement. Then, another voice cut in.
“Hey Radka, you alright?”
It was Calvin, who should have already gone back to the barracks. Radka tilted his head in confusion, since Calvin had returned, and Calvin laughed cheerfully while handing them both a cup, “Here.”
“We have to rehydrate after training.”
Radka silently accepted the cup that was filled with water. The haze in his chest suddenly widened at the fact that Calvin had gone out of his way to bring him a cup of water since he wasn’t able to move.
Since the giant fallow deer incident, Igor and Calvin spoke to him the most. They worried about him a lot due to the age difference between them, and one-sidedly took care of him. But even so, they still bothered him a lot.
The distance between him and Igor disappeared in this short period of time, probably because they both had the same feelings towards Eliza. Radka didn’t lose his temper when he was with Igor, so he didn’t have to use any unnecessary energy. They began to act together on a daily basis, since they slept and woke up in the same room, and Radka gradually began to recognise him as an older brother figure.
Radka tilted the cup and quenched his throat with the cold water. That alone made things easier.
“Do you feel more comfortable?”
“… Yeah, I feel a little better.”
Igor had finished drinking his water, and the moment Radka agreed, he reached out and lifted Radka over his shoulder, as if he was some kind of package.
The sudden floating sensation caused Radka to quickly cling onto Igor’s clothes.
“The cool water cooled you down a bit, right? You should at least have a proper lunch, since you didn’t eat anything last night. Otherwise, you’ll always be short and thin no matter how much time passes ‘Ojou-san’.”
“You can leave me here,” Radka began, and Igor quickly interrupted him. Radka’s mouth bent down reflexively at the word ‘Ojou-san’.
“… I’m sorry for causing so much trouble. Well, thanks.”
――― However the words that came out of his mouth were completely different from the ones he had in his mind.
Radka quickly covered his mouth in surprise. In the past, he would definitely have shouted in irritation, “You’re noisy!”
Igor and Calvin were also looking at him in surprise. Neither of them had expected that Radka would say such a thing.
“… Well. That honest side of you, it’s nice that you still have the innocence of a child. It’s annoying and gross to not see you act like a brat, even though you’re so small.”
Eventually, Igor muttered as if he was spitting out the words. It was easy to tell who he was talking about, even without being told their name. Out of the corner of his eyes, Radka saw Calvin gently close his eyes.
(… No matter what he says, Igor still recognises that girl in the end. Though he probably hates her…)
Thinking of Eliza’s icy face, Radka let out all the air in his lungs in depression.
Eliza who spent her time being careful not to depend on the kindness of others and not showing any weakness to the soldiers. If Igor didn’t recognise her, then he wouldn’t say the words ‘not like a brat’.
(She certainly didn’t seem to act like a child at all, despite being younger than me.)
Radka recalled the day of Eliza’s birthday celebration. She seemed extremely calm towards someone who was trying to kill her. That was clearly not the behaviour of an ordinary child.
He even recalled her fiery eyes and was instantly enveloped in a feeling that felt as if he was choking.
(… What is she planning to do with me?)
『According to the words of the shrine maiden Xia Fema, a sinner must be made to atone for their crimes with the appropriate punishment to cleanse the soul of impurities. So, I can’t give you the death penalty here, now can I?』
The horrifyingly cold, yet searing voice resounded at the back of his ears and made it difficult for him to breathe.
Eliza took Radka’s life and name away from him. Since she had given him a replacement name, it was hard to believe that he would spend the rest of his life in the barracks as Radka.
What will happen to me? Will I suffer even worse than death?
… Would that suffering include cutting off what little connection I have to others, and force me into complete isolation? He recalled the dark room in the dungeon where he was chained up after he was captured. The next time, I might be locked up until I die… The moment he thought that, a chill went down to his gut, as if he had swallowed a huge piece of ice.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Are you going to puke?”
Igor must have felt his slight shiver, so he gently patted him on the back.
“Eh, ah, no, nothing, I’m alright.”
Radka quickly denied, and Igor nodded, “Ok.” But his hand continued to pat Radka’s back.
Radka felt as if the warm haze in his head got a little warmer. And at the same time, the cold, hard feeling in his chest faded a bit. For some reason, the emotion that shouldn’t have mattered before felt like it was trying to freeze his surroundings, and Radka gently bit his lips at the slight pain to endure it.