It felt like it was sweltering. It felt overbearing.
If you had to describe the feeling, it would be unpleasant.
Still half asleep, Aileen shook it off. She roughly pushed it away and thought she heard a small, “Umph—”
She opened her eyes a crack and saw the bare wooden beams across the ceiling. Oh, I was sleeping.
Slowly, she sat up in bed.
She mumbled to herself and drowsily looked around the room.
“…Oh, you’re up now.”
Her eyes met the plump, sweaty man who sat in front of the green door—Danny.
Shocked, her drowsiness completely disappeared.
Why is he here?
Some man she didn’t know was in the bedroom with her. Even if it was the home’s owner, it still made her feel uncomfortable. Then she remembered the thing she shoved away when she woke up. A chill ran down her spine.
Aileen wrapped the sheets around her as if to protect herself, silently staring at him with narrowed eyes. The color in her face drained even more and Danny said, “Wai-, breakfast is ready,” and quickly left the room.
The door closed behind him.
After a minute, she started to feel herself all over, making sure nothing was wrong.
—She was fine. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong.
“What’s with that guy?” She got goosebumps on her arms. “…So gross.” The gross feeling came instinctively. She wrapped her arms around herself.
Unable to calm herself down she looked around uneasily and happened to look outside.
The green forest gave her a small sense of calm and she suddenly thought, I should go meet up with Kei.
She got out of bed and put on the wooden shoes she’d been lent. The simple shoes didn’t match her size, so her feet slid around in them. However, the wood was smoothed out, so they didn’t feel bad.
Aileen didn’t want to run into that greasy man if he was in the living room, so she climbed over the windowsill and went straight outside.
Her shoes clacked against the dirt path as she walked in the soft sunlight.
I feel light now… she realized that she clearly felt much better than yesterday.
She should have realized when she climbed out the window, but now she could feel the strength in her legs.
A small smile snuck onto her face and she giggled to herself as she lightened her step. Hmm, I wonder where Kei went. If I remember right, he was at the village leader’s second son’s place. Cronin, or Cronen, or something.
She remembered that. Although, she had no idea where that was.
“…Umm.” She wondered what to do and paced back and forth when she saw a group of women carrying baskets and leather bags coming from the center of town talking loudly.
The one at the front of the group took notice and called out to her. It was Cynthia with her gentle smile, “…Oh, Aileen-sama. Did something happen to bring you here?”
The others noticed her too, and stopped their chatter, quickly putting on polite expressions.
“I was on my way to see Kei, but… I don’t know where he is,” flustered, she avoided looking them in the eye.
Aileen felt a little embarrassed when she answered them honestly.
The women teased her innocence, “Oh, are you now~?”
Aileen felt even more embarrassed and her cheeks grew bright red.
“Ah, if it’s Kei-dono then he’s at my house!” A young, freckled woman waved her hand energetically.
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Tina, Cronen’s wife!” While she held a jar of water, the freckled woman—Tina gave a quick bow. She brought Aileen with her to her home, their shoes clacking along the way. The house was disappointingly close by. “It’s small, but please,” she invited Aileen in. “Kei-dono left early in the morning to go hunting, but it’s the middle of the day now so I’d imagine he’ll be back soon.”
“Oh, alright.” Aileen sat at the table in the living room and casually looked around. Like Tina said, it was small compared to the village leader’s house. However, it was so clean that there wasn’t even a speck of dust.
It’d even be fine to go barefoot, she thought as she clacked her wooden shoes together under the table to kill time. Tina looked busy as she went about her work, changing the water from the jar to a pot and lighting a fire underneath it.
“—I’m heating some water for tea, if you’d like some.” Tina smiled and held some dried herbs in her hand.
“Sure. Thank you.” Aileen realized Tina was going through the trouble for her and slightly nodded, grateful.
They were quiet for a while. The fire crackled and popped.
Aileen spaced out with her head propped up by her hand, and of course, that came to mind.
That greasy man’s face crossed her mind, but was soon replaced by a skinny woman smiling lovingly.
“…Why did Cynthia-san get married?” She muttered to herself.
Cynthia and Danny. At least from appearances, they didn’t seem like a fitting couple. Danny didn’t seem that charming, and Cynthia was quite pretty. She was genuinely curious as to why Cynthia chose to marry Danny of all people.
“Ah~… My sister-in-law is a bit unfortunate, isn’t she?” Tina answered, looking triumphant.
“She wanted to marry someone else. It’s like she sold herself.”
“…What do you mean?” Aileen tilted her head slightly in interest.
Tina lowered her voice, indicating that the conversation shouldn’t leave the room, “It’s something that happened almost ten years ago. My sister-in-law’s younger sister came down with a fever. The town had the medicine we needed, but it was much too expensive… Her family was poor and didn’t know what to do. That’s when that man,” she spoke those last words with spite, “—said, ‘If we were related I could save her…’ as he showed his money. He even knew that she had a lover!”
In other words, she threw away her lover to be at Danny’s side if it meant her sister would be saved.
Aileen groaned and furrowed her brow with an expression that said she regretted asking. “So… Did he save her sister?”
“…Yes. That time, he did.” Tina nodded, looking bitter. “Not even a month after she recovered, she was attacked by a group of wild animals and died.”
“And then he said, ‘What a waste of money,’ while Cynthia was present. That pig-faced bastard.”
She put it frankly, and she wasn’t wrong. Aileen’s face twitched, even though she was asleep she’d felt the same.
Since Tina called Cynthia her sister-in-law, that would make Danny her brother-in-law. Even so, she clearly hated him.
“You don’t like him, do you?”
“Of course not! Not a single person in this village does!” She put her hands on her hips and puffed her cheeks out angrily. “He puts other people to work like he’s in charge, and then he doesn’t even do his own work! He’ll just stay holed up in his home all day, and when he finally does come out it’s only so he can take a stroll or go have fun in another town. Furthermore, depending on who you talk to, they say he’s going to brothels. Even after he married by buying his wife… I do feel bad for my sister-in-law though. People say the reason she can’t have children anymore is divine punishment.” She sighed. “I feel depressed thinking that he might be the next village leader… They should just make my husband the leader.”
After she finished her rant, Aileen’s expression also turned bitter.
Matrimony brought by money. Hated by everyone. Frequented brothels.
Aileen’s impression of him was bad to start with, and now it was even worse. The thought of staying one more day in the village—the village leader’s house—made her feel uncomfortable.
“The truth is, this is only between us,” Aileen lowered her voice and told Cynthia about that from earlier.
“What!?” Her eyes widened and her face paled when she heard that Danny was there. “W-w-were you okay!?”
“I think so… I don’t think anything else happened to me.”
“There wasn’t anything sticky or slimy on you, was there?!”
“I-I don’t think so…” She scowled and looked a little sick as she shook her head.
Tina sighed in relief and pressed her fingers against her temples, “I can’t believe that he would go for visitors, too…” Her brilliant eyes slowly fell onto the butcher knife in the kitchen. “Rather… That’s right. If I do that, then Cronen will be the village leader…”
“N-No! I just wanted to ask if I could stay somewhere else!” Aileen yelled in a panic after she saw the longing beginning to show in her eyes.
Tina smiled brightly as if to say, ‘Oh my, I was just kidding!’ Whether she was joking or serious, she seemed close to making a bad decision.
Then the door made a noise as it opened.
“Heey, Tina! Are you—huh?” Cronen entered the house. He was wiping his sweat on a towel in one hand and held a gardening sickle in the other. His gaze stopped and he blinked a few times at Aileen sitting in a chair in his living room. “Oh, she’s here…?”
“Perfect timing, dear! Listen to this, it’s terrible!” Her eyes gleamed and she shook her head before she ran up to him as quick as an animal pouncing on its prey and explained the situation. “—That’s what happened! This is your chance, dear!” Her breathing was rough, “Let’s spread what happened and end his shot at being the next village leader!”
Cronen remained silent and just looked up as if he was trying to weather a headache. He gave a small sigh and hit her on the forehead with the flat of his gardening sickle.
“…Sorry, miss. Just wait here for a moment.”
He grabbed Tina by the arm, who had her hands to her forehead, groaning, and pulled her outside.
“Ye-, sure…” Aileen was left alone and slightly dumbfounded.
The sound of steam quietly escaping from the pot lid filled the room.
“…Oh, the water is done.”
† † †
“Hey, that hurts! What are you doing?”
“Quiet down, don’t be so loud!”
It was outside. Tina, with a red forehead, was raising her voice. Cronen undauntedly scowled at her.
“Please, just don’t make a scene…!”
“Why not? This is a once in a lifetime chance!”
“Chance? It’s a chance?!” Cronen smiled dryly. “Forget the girl; that Kei is a monster! If we mess up who knows what he’d do to us!”
“We just put all the blame on that pig. It wouldn’t bother me if he was killed.”
“You…!” His face twitched when she said that. “Be that as it may, he’s still my brother!”
“I know! I love you, but I don’t like him. I hate him.” Tina looked away.
She still held a grudge from when Danny used to make fun of her. He would say that she smelled like a pig because she helped her parents raise their pigs as livestock. Even though it was regular farming, those insults were the reason she became such a clean freak.
“I know that you hate him. But these are different matters. If he died, who would succeed the village leader?!”
“…You! Who else could there be!?” Tina said in disbelief, her voice cracking and her cheeks flushing.
In contrast, Cronen appeared slightly annoyed, but also disheartened.
— It was impossible for him.
He hated knowing that he couldn’t do it.
Cronen was self-conscious of it. He could never replace Danny.
Although, it was true that Danny had many flaws.
To start off, the younger generation didn’t like him. He also sometimes lost all reason when dealing with women. On top of that he was a glutton, greedy, and a cheapskate. Truthfully, many of the villagers couldn’t stand his haughty attitude.
‘Even I might be fit to be the leader.’
‘In fact, everyone thinks that I would be better than Danny.’
Cronen had thought about it before. Maybe he got overconfident because his friends flattered him. Maybe it was the dislike he held for Danny that pushed him. Or maybe he was simply rebelling against his father recommending Danny and not him. In any case, once he grew up he decided to believe that he was best suited to be the village mediator.
However, he realized it when he first dealt with managing the village.
There was Danny, who studied books and spoke with merchants in the pursuit of knowledge since childhood.
Then there was himself, who abandoned study to run around the hills and fields with his friends.
His knowledge, his mental capacity—the gap was too large.
Of course, Cronen could still read, write, and perform arithmetic. Even though he was thrown out for slacking off, Bennett had still tied him to a chair and beat some lessons into him. He could do the minimum a village leader should be able to, such as calculate taxes or manage a ledger.
But in the end it was just the minimum. There were more important affairs that the representative of a village should be able to perform. For example, buying goods from merchants at a reasonable price. Also, selling the village’s manufactured goods at a fair price. Or even making connections with people to accomplish the trade.
It all needed things that Cronen wasn’t good at; knowledge, experience, and a quick wit. And yet Danny could do such a complicated job as easily as if he were a shopkeeper.
He saw it himself, his own worthlessness and the difference between his and his brother’s abilities. It crushed him.
Furthermore, Danny didn’t neglect making money either.
He analyzed information that he picked up from peddlers and overhead conversations to anticipate the prices and trends at the marketplace.
He also had other tasks such as regulating their crop planting, anticipating spikes in prices for goods so he could buy them ahead of time, and preparing medicine before a disease hit them—from Cronen’s perspective, Danny’s ability to interpret information was on an entirely different level.
One day, Danny muttered, ‘I should’ve been born to a shopkeeper.’ He certainly did have the skills for business. It was a pity. That talent was too good to waste simply as the leader of a rural village. Even Cronen felt it was a wonderful talent from the bottom of his heart.
If he wasn’t the eldest son, or if Bennett hadn’t taught him the responsibilities of being the next village leader, then maybe Danny would have left the village as a merchant long ago. But in reality, he stayed in Tahfu and thought about the village in his own way.
Compared to nearby villages, Tahfu was considered wealthy. They had good farming tools and luxuries like alcohol and sweets. When it really mattered, he procured various medicines in the event that someone fell ill or got injured. Many of the villagers lived through such matters thanks to him.
The villagers had mental and physical reassurance. However, Cronen knew that this abundance was because of Danny. Cronen personally saw him buying the goods with money that he earned.
The elderly who witnessed the change in leadership also knew it. There was a clear improvement in the standard of living since Bennett’s time. But by no means was Bennett incompetent. Danny was simply better at earning money than Bennett was. Cronen accepted Danny’s haughtiness and supported him to become the village leader because he knew all of this.
“It’s…impossible for me.” Cronen slowly shook his head. “I can’t replace my brother.”
“Why?! You can do it. I can help, and everyone else says you’re better for it—!”
“That’s not the issue.”
It was simple. He just lacked the ability. It didn’t matter how much Tina helped nor how cooperative the villagers seemed, the gap between himself and Danny couldn’t be closed.
Although, perhaps it would be best if Cronen posed as the village leader for the sake of his mediator role and Danny worked behind the scenes.
However, that would never happen. The reason Danny was still in Tahfu was to become the next village leader. Danny was brought up thinking that he would be the next village leader, and on occasion had accepted it as natural. It was a sense of responsibility, an understanding. The thought that, naturally, he should be the village leader, kept him here.
If that thought were to disappear, what would happen?
In all likelihood, Danny would leave the village. His pride wouldn’t allow him to work in his unsatisfactory younger brother’s shadow. He wasn’t too attached to the village in the first place, and with the connections and skills that he already had, he could easily make a living as a merchant.
Cronen saw no reason for him to stay.
If Danny left, the village would be left with only the unreliable Cronen.
The medicine and the alcohol would eventually be used up. The farming tools would someday need to be replaced.
When that time came, Cronen wouldn’t be able to come up with the money. Tahfu would inevitably fall to the same standard of living as the neighboring villages once again. They wouldn’t be poor, but neither would they be wealthy.
He had to do his best to avoid that—it was the right thing to do.
“I’ve said it countless times. Even if you helped, it wouldn’t be enough!”
“Why… Why do you have to say that!? You don’t know until you try!”
“Because I already know! Danny is much smarter than the two of us put together!!” Cronen grew indescribably irritated, yelling at Tina who contorted her face in frustration.
Tina probably thought that what her husband didn’t like the most was that the man she hated the most was superior to him. It most likely wasn’t just that Danny was superior, but that Cronen himself recognized it and couldn’t stand it. That’s why he lost his temper.
That was what frustrated Cronen the most.
The younger villagers, Tina included, couldn’t understand Danny’s achievements. They didn’t even try.
He was haughty. He worked people too hard. He didn’t do any physical labor.
They were all bad points, but that was just the surface. No one tried to dig any deeper.
Even when Cronen tried to explain that Danny was more capable, they would get swept up in emotion and deny it.
‘Even we could do it if we tried.’
‘It can’t be that hard.’
With no experience, no knowledge, and no basis they just let their emotions speak for them. Their childish ignorance made them beyond help. Even Cronen grew tired of it.
And so they just kept mocking Danny and his attitude, unable to comprehend him.
“Haa… That’s enough. This conversation is over.” Cronen flicked his hand from side to side and ended the conversation without further explanation.
—He was fine being the one to work in the shadows. He’d resolved himself to do so. As the village mediator he would listen to the younger generation’s complaints and act as the intermediary between them and Danny.
He believed that was the best thing he could do for the village.
At the very least, Cronen wanted his beloved wife to understand—although, looking at her extremely displeased expression he lightly sighed again and shook his head.
“Tina… I know that you said that you wouldn’t mind if my brother was killed. But if it came to that, you know that it might not stop with just his life, right? That’s why we need to just peacefully apologize without excuses.”
“Like I could just do that!”
“You idiot! Do you think you can just end it like that!? Even if that Kei demanded something ridiculous of us, do you think there is anyone in this village that could stand against him!? Even Mandel can’t! Will you take the responsibility!?”
“If you get it then shut up… I’m going to go apologize to the girl. Danny…no, she probably doesn’t want to even see him, but if she wants an apology from him then I’ll make him… At any rate, we’ll just have to hope that this is resolved peacefully. I wonder if anyone other than us has a room to spare…” Cronen brooded with his hands to his head.
Tina just silently stared, her gaze was full of spite. Then her gaze suddenly slipped past him. “Ah… They’re back.”
“What?” Cronen spun around. Kei and Mandel were riding through the entrance to the village on their horses. “Back already…”
What perfect timing, he thought and smiled dryly. He shifted his gaze between the two riding in side by side and Tina, sighing.
—If only she could follow Mandel’s example, he wished.
Mandel was a particularly reputable person around here for his expertise with his bow and short sword. He had even performed acts worthy of medals during wartime. He was prominent and held a large influence over everyone in Tahfu, and the one he supported wasn’t Cronen. It was Danny.
His reason was, ‘Danny is better.’
Of course, this was in comparison to Cronen himself, but that didn’t bother him. Rather, he wanted to cry tears of joy because Mandel was smart enough to understand.
Mandel should have been the one that hated Danny the most—Cronen just wanted Tina to take a lesson from him, since she just allowed her feelings to control her.
But, now isn’t the time for that. For now, he had to do his best to apologize to Kei without provoking him. Cronen sighed, why am I the only one who has to worry about it…
Even though it was something he decided for himself, he wasn’t sure he could go through with it. He took a quiet, deep breath to calm himself down, “Haa…” And then he lightly sighed again, he’d sighed too many times to count today.
† † †
Upon returning to the village, Kei found himself quite confused when he saw Cronen prostrating himself in front of him.
Cronen told him that Danny attacked Aileen in her sleep.
“What…?” Kei’s expression turned dark as if he was about to deliver divine wrath upon them.
Aileen saw it and quickly cut in, “Wait, Kei! Wait!”
According to her, rather than Danny attacking her, he was just in the same room as her when she woke up.
Kei had his doubts about that, but if Aileen didn’t mind, then there was no reason for him to do anything serious about it. Since she wanted to stay somewhere else, they decided to just swap the houses that they were staying in. Jessica was very happy when she heard that Aileen was going to be staying there instead of Kei.
Even though Aileen didn’t mind, when he went to Bennett’s house, Kei put pressure on Danny any time he saw him. Dinner was entertaining; the air was so thick with nerves that Cynthia broke out in a cold sweat.
After dinner, he’d planned to stay up and alert like the night before, but the bed in Bennett’s house was so comfortable that he fell sound asleep even while wearing all of his equipment.
Luckily, the bandits didn’t attack that night.
The next morning Aileen was out in front of Cronen’s house stretching in some baggy pants and a leather vest that made her look like one of the villagers.
“How is it? Are you feeling better?” He asked as he watched.
She just smiled slightly instead of answering him.
Crunch. The scuffing of gravel. A gust of wind blew through and Aileen kicked off the ground.
Step in. Cartwheel. Round off. Double backflip.
Crunch, louder than the other steps, she jumped up. She jumped high enough that Kei almost had to look up.
She did a skillful triple twist and landed perfectly. With a mischievous smile she slowly raised her head. “Not too bad!”
“Is that so.” Kei nodded with his arms folded, looking satisfied.
Next to him, Tina and Cronen had watched intently, standing stock still and slack jawed.
“Wow! That was great!!”
“Hehehe, right?” Aileen looked proudly at Jessica, who played by her feet. She kept showing off somersaults and backflips to Jessica’s delight.
If she’s this energetic, I suppose she’s fine now.
It was all right to say that she was recovered now. Even if the worst was to come, Kei believed that they would have more options now.
Kei decided that it was time to leave.
Aileen soothed Jessica. She started to cry when she heard that Aileen was leaving. Bennett gave Kei the food and other living necessities that were asked of him.
There were some delays, but they somehow managed to finish their preparations before noon.
“It was short, but thank you for your hospitality, Bennett.”
Some of the villagers came to the edge of town with the pair to see them off.
Kei looked behind him at the woods. If they went past the grove to the brook and traveled along it to the road, they could follow that east to the town of Satyna. Their final destination was Urvan, the fortress city, but to be on the safe side they decided to take the highway and go through several other towns.
“Kei, it wasn’t long, but I had fun.”
“Yeah, me too, Mandel.” He grinned as he shook Mandel’s hand.
“Oh my, it’s sad to part ways,” Bennett said as he stroked his beard and made a very sad expression. He was actually relieved that they were leaving so soon, but he didn’t let that slip out.
Still smiling, Kei replied, “It really is a shame that we’re leaving already.”
“And about the letter, thank you. I’ll leave it to you.”
“Of course, it’s an easy task.”
Bennett rustled around in his pouch and pulled out an envelope as he bowed.
It seemed that his daughter was the wife of a craftsman in Satyna. Since they were already going there, Bennett asked them to deliver the letter. He was originally going to ask a peddler to deliver it, but he likely wanted to scrimp on the fee it would incur.
“I’ll make sure she gets it. It’s Kiska-jou, right?”
“She’s not at the age to be called ‘jou’ anymore.” Bennett laughed merrily.
Next to him, Anka hobbled a few steps forward. “Kei-dono,” she pulled some crystal fragments out of her robes and chanted in a hoarse voice, 『Bondezirojn. La grandaj spiritoj benos vin.』
The crystals cracked and a gentle breeze blew by. The shards were picked up by the wind and twinkled as they flew into the sky.
Kei thought he heard innocent laughter.
“—The best of luck to you on your travels,” she finished her blessing and looked pleased.
“Thank you, Anka…”
Kei and Aileen bowed before they mounted Sasuke. Kei took the front and Aileen sat behind him, clinging to his back.
With both them and their supplies, Sasuke looked back at Kei as if saying, ‘H-heavy,’ but since they weren’t going at full speed, it shouldn’t be a problem.
“Sorry Sasuke, but please bear with it.” Kei rubbed Sasuke’s neck.
Sasuke snorted as if sighing and saying, ‘Oh well, I suppose it’ll be fine.’
Kei spurred his flanks and Sasuke slowly started forward.
“Goodbye, everyone!! Stay well!!” Aileen waved and yelled back to the villagers who saw them off.
“Take care of yourselves!” Came their reply.
Clack, clack. They entered the grove and Aileen fixed her position when she lost sight of the villagers.
“They were nice people… weren’t they, Kei?”
Kei relaxed his shoulders after he heard her innocent tone.
“Will we be able to come back again?”
After a short while, he quietly answered, “Yeah…”
“Let’s come back again!”
But Kei didn’t listen.
It had been around two days. Two days since they arrived in this world.
With their rest finished, they made their way toward Satyna.
- Villagers (Afterword)
This marks the end of the Tahfu arc.
-jou: A respectful way to refer to a young or unmarried lady.
Illustrations courtesy of Mr. NAKA. Find him at https://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=4377278 (opens in new tab).