61. Havlin Village (2)
It was strange that there were adventurers and mercenaries gathered in the village of Halven, but in another sense, it made sense. It was a village within Demon territory. It was obvious for adventurers, who hunted Demons, to stay in the nearest village, and because there was a village here, it wasn’t strange that they employed mercenaries to defend themselves against the threat of demons. Only, the wages of mercenaries were not insignificant. Would a shabby village like this be able to prepare the money required to hire them for a fixed amount of time, or even a sustained period?
‘Mercenaries are one thing, but seeing the village has an inn as well, it must not be completely isolated. Are they trading with nearby villages or territories? That means there could be merchants that visit this place from time to time…’
If there were merchants, that means he might be able to find information about slave merchants.
Tom passed by the adventurers and mercenaries, but couldn’t take a good look at their eyes. They were all looking sunken and loose as they stared at the pair with bloodshot eyes.
Tom and Lulu were led to the Chief’s house. It wasn’t that wide, but the shabbily built shack was the largest building in the village beside the inn. Lulu looked at the interior of the house with interest. He must have imagined that a territory of the scary ‘humans’ that hunt Demons must be frightening. He had prepared himself to some degree, but reality was far off from his image of a village filed with prisons with bones of Demons rolling about everywhere with imprisoned Ains screaming everywhere. Lulu’s eyes turned to the side. The old man with wrinkled face and balding head with a bit of white hair peeking out the side gestured for them to drink the tea.
“Now, now… drink! Haha… I should serve you properly, but this is all I have!”
Lulu blinked and turned to the tea encouraged by the Chief. It was a clear and transparent tea that looked quite luxurious. He sniffed it with his nose to find a sweet and enticing fragrance.
Lulu’s eyes shined.
‘This tea! It has a good fragrance! Her highness will be happy if I serve it to her!’
As he stretched out his hand to have a taste, Tom pushed down upon his head. He felt a bit unnerving as his ears beneath the white robe became pressed.
Lulu looked at Tom quizzically, but Tom was simply smiling as he shared conversation with the Chief.
“This tea is quite curious. Is there any special effects by any chance?”
“S-special effect? Haha. It… is just good for the body. Yes, relieves stress, should I say?… like the feeling of being squeezed…”
Tom’s eyes narrowed at his reply.
‘… A lie.’
Tom, who could see through deception, felt that there was something off about the tea.
“… It isn’t poisoned, is it?”
“P-poison? How could I? To sir Holy Knight…! I-it’s a very expensive tea!”
The Chief was extremely panicked. That was the truth.
‘It’s not poison. Is it just some simple tranquilizer… Is it that?’
Tom replied with a smile.
“It was a joke. Don’t be too panicked and have a drink… I’ll pass on the tea. I don’t particularly enjoy it.”
At Tom’s words, one of the villager in the back spoke with parched lips.
“T-then could I have a drink?”
When Tom looked at the villager, the Chief shouted angrily.
“You shut up!”
Tom frowned, feeling quite suspicious. The villagers were all looking at the tea with envious eyes similar to greed. Something had been mixed in, but was it something special?
The Chief quickly spoke to change topics.
“I-is that right? Haha, it must not have been to your tastes.”
The Chief was trembling noticeably. The villagers standing with the Chief, who was having difficulty controlling his emotions, was wary of Tom.
“Well, it’s a bit difficult to ask directly, but… why have you come here? I-is it because we’re behind on taxes…? W-we don’t have anything to give. We’re not only not in the Holy Empire territory… Ah! Of course, I don’t mean to defy sir Holy Knight!”
The Chief hurriedly corrected him.
Tom understood their situation with those simple words. They had abandoned their kingdom and fled their land due to taxes. Tom contemplated on the situation and slowly opened his mouth.
“Ah, were you aware of the Hero’s allied forces nearby a while ago?”
The Chief looked surprised at his words. It was only 2 months ago. The Hero’s forces had invaded Hell, but he knew that they had ultimately lost and fled.
“Don’t you know it, they lost the battle and deserted. Due to that, the situation is that they’re wandering around the territories near Hell. Even if they went to some nearby village…”
Tom scratched his cheek, acting troubled, while avoiding the Chief’s eyes.
“… It has become quite complicated.”
“… I-I see.”
The Chief looked drained. Understanding his words, the villagers looked noticeably less wary. Tom had avoided saying the word directly, but they knew it meant ‘desertion’. If they lost and deserted, all they had to do was report back. However, lingering around Hell after 2 months time meant they were too scared of the repercussion of their desertion to report back. Tom only said such a thing because he felt that the villager was becoming too guarded around his identity as Holy Knight.
He had said something similar to ‘I am no longer a Holy Knight associated with the Holy Empire!’.
‘… I see. These slash-and-burn farmers detest the Holy Knights to the extreme. They must be wary of the Holy Empire knowing that they’ve fled and are living here.’
The Holy Empire could dispatch a small number of Holy Knights to pillage them if that became the case.
“I wish to stay here for a few days, is that ok?”
The Chief twitched at his request and dried his cold sweat with his handkerchief.
“T-that is fine, but staying in this rundown place…”
“It’s fine. Seeing as there is an inn nearby as well.”
Tom stood up. The Chief became surprised and hurriedly pulled out a pouch from beneath the table.
Tom peered into the pouch. It held a few silver coins. The Chief trembled as he spoke with his head lowered.
“I-if you leave the village, please don’t say a word about us.”
In short, it was a bribe. It would be troublesome if it came to be known that a Holy Knight left and stayed in this rundown village. As the Chief was gauging his reaction, Tom accepted the money with a smile.
“Yes, of course.”
He entered the inn and unpacked his luggage. The inn’s rooms were barebones. There was no bed and a single window covered with a piece of cloth as a curtain. There was no decoration with nothing more than a single blanket. Lulu, having entered the inn, first opened the curtain to ventilate the room and dusted the sheet before cleaning the room. Once he efficiently finished cleaning like the servant he was, he fixed his clothes and lowered his head.
“Have a good rest…”
“… Speak of, You’re not an employee of this inn. There is no need to act in this way.”
“It is only obvious for a servant to serve an Apostle.”
Tom only laughed awkwardly in reply.
‘Lily must have been quite exhausted by their actions.’
They were a pair of burdensome rabbits.
Lulu looked at Tom curiously and asked.
“Why did you not let me drink the tea from that old human’s home?”
Lulu was upset by that. As the tea had a particularly good fragrance, it must have tasted good as well.
“It’s because it was dosed.”
“Yes, only thing that I’m sure of is that it wasn’t poison.”
This mean that he almost drank a dosed tea.
“B-but why dose it…?”
“They appear to be more wary of the Holy Knights than I thought. This appears to have become complicated. I thought to kidnap a few people, but it looks like that’ll be difficult. Worst case scenario, we might have to plunder this place.”
He had wanted to resolve this as peacefully as possible, but there was a lot of issues with that with the time they had.
‘But to use drugs? It’s more bold than I thought.’
He had thought to give a Holy Knight a sleeping pill? What would they have done once the Holy Knight drank it and was knocked out? Would they have left him in the mountain side to be eaten by Demons or would they have killed him then buried him?
‘… They also expended a significant large amount of money. How was this possible? To hand over so much money after hiring mercenaries to the village.’
Silver coins were pocket change to nobles, but it was a large sum to the common man, and to give that as a bribe…?
‘… These people have more money than I thought?’
That was what was puzzling him.
“It is late, so we’ll sleep for tonight. We’ll properly begin our investigation tomorrow…”
As Tom was finishing his words, Lulu had quietly pulled out a story book.
“… You don’t have to read to me.”
Lulu was standing stiff while trembling. He was shocked to be refused.
“I-I have read to her Highness.”
“Do you read to the other Apostles as well?”
“… They all refused other than Apostle Ellin.”
Ellin accepted it? Tom sighed. It was a single room with nothing more than a single blanket made of coarse material. As Tom slept, Lulu, who hadn’t given up to the end, ended up reading him the book by his side. Consequently, Tom ended up sleeping deeply thanks to his pleasing voice. Lulu, who was nodding off sleepily with his book in hand, woke to a strange noise.
“Ey! Is this ok? There’s a Holy Knight here!”
“I don’t know! It’ll work out!”
“He must be sleeping! It’s late in the night!”
“I’m just going to participate in today’s meeting. My body is all itching!”
‘”Aah, hurry… hurry…”
Lulu tilted his head curiously. His rabbit ears shot up as he heard the villager’s voices. Lulu peeked his head out of the window. There were several people gathered in a corner in the distance. The villagers with torches were heading off somewhere quietly. There were mercenaries and adventurers among them. The Villagers were shaking with excitement.
“Aah, Finally today, the day I’ve been waiting for,…!”
“I’ll be blessed!”
Lulu muttered dumbly as he tilted his head again. Looking at it, he had heard the humans believed in some kind of religion. Was this an obvious thing to the humans? Lulu, who was unaware of the lifestyle of the humans, accepted it as an everyday thing. At the same time, there was a girl near the inn walking toward where the villagers were heading. The girl, having felt his gaze, turned to the second story of the inn. Her eyes and Lulu’s eyes met causing her eyes to grow wide.
Lulu was surprised as well as he wasn’t wearing a robe around his head.
He quickly covered his ears with illusory magic, but her face looked like she had definitely seen them. The other villagers near her followed her eyes to the second story window, but they only saw that there was nothing there and shook their heads.
“Fran, what’s wrong?”
“Just… some monster…!”
“Are you hallucinating? Let’s go. We’ll be late for the ceremony! We’re the last people!”
The villagers took the girl named Fran and left the village. Lulu, whose face has become transparent through illusory magic, tilted his head again.
Next morning, Tom was invited to a meal with the Chief. It was food made of various ingredients along with some soup and bread. It was shabby food that would feel repulsive to the nobles, but to the commoners, it was very much a plentiful meal. Lulu watched the food under his robe before turning to Tom. He was concerned whether the food was drugged. Tom lifted his utensils and tasted the food first.
‘… It doesn’t seem to be drugged?’
The taste was alright. As it was made with fresh vegetables, it also had good texture.
Once he received the confirmation from Tom, Lulu felt relieved.
“Is that so?”
Lulu ate as well. He must have enjoyed the food thoroughly as he licked his fingers as well.
“I brought more food here.”
Some girl approached and put more food on the table. Lulu, who saw her, was surprised.
When their eyes met, she jumped back in surprise and pointed at him. Tom frowned at her cry of ‘monster’, and the Chief smacked her on the head looking pale.
“You brat! Fran! Are you sane?! Calling our honored guest a monster! I-I’m truly sorry. This child has no sense…!”
“It… is okay. She looks quite young and children can do such things.”
When Tom replied with a smile, Lulu was sitting stiffly. He didn’t know what to do in case he became a hindrance. Tom noticed this and whispered to Lulu.
“T-that is… I was looking out at night and was caught. I-I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Lulu shrank as though he had sinned. Tom, listening to his explanation, brushed his head in reply.
“Did anyone else catch you other than the child?”
“Then it’s fine. No one is going to believe a child.”
Lulu looked relieved hearing his reply.
Once the meal ended, Tom shared a word with the Chief in hopes of finding out more about the village. The Chief was cautious and answered evasively.
Like that the afternoon slipped by, and the sun began to set into the evening. Lulu grew bored of listening to the two talk, and yawned sleepily. At that point, their conversation came to an end. The Chief’s final words were, ‘When were you planning on leaving?’. Despite Tom revealing himself as a Holy Knight deserter, he must have felt wary about him staying in the village.
Lulu felt relieved that the boring conversations had finally come to an end. At that point, the girl called Fran stared directly at Lulu.
“That hood. Can’t you take it off?”
Lulu looked surprised before pressing down on the robe further.
“I-I don’t want to.”
“Let me see! You have some weird monster ears!”
“It’s not a monster ear! It’s rabbit ears!”
Lulu frantically tried to backtrack.
“It’s rabbit ears!”
Lulu shrank some more hearing Fran’s shout.
“Let me see!”
Lulu sighed looking at Fran’s shining eyes.
‘Fine, let’s just show her.’
Lulu pulled his robe off. When he did, his white hair could be seen. Except, his rabbit ears were nowhere to be seen.
“See, nothing! Don’t make a fuss!”
Fran frowned before extending her hand in an attempt to find the ears. Lulu was shocked by that and barely managed to pull back. Illusory hid his ears, but it didn’t make them disappear. If something touched it, the rabbit ears might appear again.
“Why are you moving away!”
“I-it because I don’t want you to touch me!”
Like that, the boy and the girls were arguing. The Chief, sweating again, looked warily at Tom.
“I-I’m sorry. Fran is such a fussy child… Fran! Stop that!”
Lulu looked frightened and hid behind Tom. Fran frowned and stared at Lulu again.
“Don’t run! Show me…!”
“I don’t want to!”
Fran shouted. Watching her shout, Tom and Lulu froze. Fran looked at Lulu murderously as she spoke. Her voice holding something close to murderous intent.
“Show me! Show me! Show me! Show me! Show me! Kyaaaaaack! Show me-! I said show me! If you don’t show me, I’ll kill you! Show…”
At that point, a staff landed on Fran’s head. Fran turned around tearfully. The Chief looked at her intently as he scolded her.
Lulu trembled as though he received a great shock. A small human girl managed to bring Lulu such great terror.
The Chief smiled awkwardly at Tom. Tom watched Fran with a stiff expression before turning to the Child again.
“Just what is…”
“Oh my! It’s late! So… Haha… W-we’ll speak… tomorrow.”
Tom rose from his seat.
‘This village. Something is strange. I’ll have to investigate quickly.’
He might be able to discover what it was by continuing to interrogate the Chief, but he would keep trying to avoid the question. That was the limit of his eyes that could discern truth from lies.
“Yes, I’ll meet you tomorrow.”
Tom left the Chief’s house with those words. Lulu followed behind him timidly. Lulu trembled in fear and grabbed tightly onto Tom’s clothes.
“A-are humans all that scary? Do they all have that much hostility? For something that small to be that scary…!”
“… Normal humans aren’t like that. Yes. Normal humans that is.”
Tom frowned. His gaze turned to Lulu.
“I’ll be investigating a bit. Lulu, please return to the inn. It’s dangerous, so you can’t go outside.”
— Ω —