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The little girl’s blonde ponytail swayed as she skipped in front of Kei and Aileen. She turned around and gave them a smile. “Over here is Satyna’s symbol, the San-Dirk Clock Tower.”
Kei and Aileen looked up at the stone clock that Lily pointed at with an awe-filled, “Oooh.”
“Forty-two years ago, the previous lord built this to celebrate the birth of the current lord. It spins the gears by using a system of counterweights! Every day, the servants look at the lord’s magic timepiece and adjust the time, so it’s really accurate!”
“Wow~, that’s cool!”
“You sure know a lot, Lily.”
“Ehe,” Lily said with pride after their praise.
It was the day after they found Montand’s shop.
Lily was giving them a tour of the city.
Of course, even though they were walking around the city, it wasn’t just for sight-seeing. They were following Lily to some craftsmen that were close with Montand. They had already been to an armor shop. On his back Kei carried a thin wooden shield predominately made from metal alloy. It was light and would be easy for Aileen to use to deflect arrows. Since they were acquaintances of Montand, they even got a small discount.
“Then next is Connor-ojisan’s place!”
“What kind of craftsman was Connor again?” Aileen asked.
“Leather!” replied Lily cheerfully.
In the end, they stayed late at Montand’s shop so they stayed for dinner too. While Kei was hitting it off with Montand, Aileen got along really well with Lily and Kiska. In the small garden out back they played games, sang, and even took a bath together. Kei was grateful for their kindness.
“Hmhmhmmhmhm tutuluu kachuushaa~.” Lily hummed an old Russian song that Aileen had taught her.
Yesterday, she wore the blonde hair that she inherited from Montand in braids, but after bathing she copied Aileen’s ponytail. As she held Aileen’s hand and briskly walked their faces looked similar enough that they could’ve passed as siblings.
“You sure are cute, Lily~,” said Aileen with a smile.
Originally, Montand was supposed to have been their guide. However, in the morning a noble came by with an urgent request, so both Montand and Kiska were busy with preparations.
Therefore, Lily acted as his replacement. Since she seemed to idolize Aileen, she gladly showed them around. It was also a good chance for her to show them the highlights of the city. They watched over her as they cheerfully followed her.
“And this here is the bronze statue of the first lord, Count Patrick Heimeroth Satyna Balquet.”
“Oooh,” said both Kei and Aileen said in awe once again as they looked up at the statue.
The statue was a man with an excellent smile, pointing toward the sky as he stood in a daunting pose.
They continued their sightseeing for a while longer.
As they walked through the craftsmen’s section after most of the sightseeing was over, Kei said “Lily, you really know the history of the city, don’t you?” with a look of admiration.
It wasn’t just empty praise, but how he actually felt. Lily was still young, so she wasn’t too good at expressing things in a roundabout way. Although, she still frequently used technical terms when explaining the famous sights, and she seemed to have a firm understanding of the historical background surrounding them.
Aileen, whose parents were both English, was bilingual and understood Lily’s explanations perfectly fine. On the other hand, Kei, who learned it later on, felt a little pathetic asking a ten-year-old to explain the many words that he didn’t understand.
Lily smiled elatedly as she pulled Aileen’s hand and walked. “Hehe. McDonnell-sensei teaches us a lot at cram school!”
“Yeah. He’s a specialist at the Cornwell company. He knows a lot about history!” she looked proud.
Kei slightly tilted his head to the side. Speaking of Cornwell, it came up in conversation at dinner last night. It was Montand’s biggest customer, if he remembered right.
“I see, so you’re going to cram school then.”
“Yeah. About a year ago, one of dad’s friends introduced us to McDonnell-sensei. After mom taught me how to write and spoke with him, sensei said, ‘She looks promising.’ Now I’m learning history and arithmetic! I even made some friends…” Lily’s excited expression clouded over. “But, sometimes the rich kids make fun of dad… I don’t really like them…”
“They make fun of your dad, huuh? Those are bad kids!” Aileen said cheerfully as she playfully rubbed Lily’s head with her hands.
It looked like it tickled as Lily squirmed around and then reached for Aileen’s sides to get revenge.
“Ahahaha, stop! That’s where I’m ticklish! Ahahaha!” Aileen retreated behind Kei and looked out with a warm expression.
“Good job! That’s good.”
“Lily is so mature…”
“Ehehe, I’m mature!”
They reached their destination, the leatherworker’s shop on the east side of the craftsmen’s area.
“Connor-ojisaan! You have customers!” shouted Lily as she opened the wooden door.
The air filled with the smell of leather. In the back of the faintly lit room, a leatherworker that was sewing with a large hook recognized her and smiled. “Oh my, if it isn’t Lily. Are you doing well as usual?”
“Yep! And you?”
“Of course!” He put the leather on the desk and with a hmph, flexed his large biceps. The man looked to be in his early fifties—Connor the leatherworker.
His leather apron fell over his protruding beer belly. The grey hair on either side of his head had retreated substantially. It made him look like what was commonly called an M-head.
“So, you said there were customers?”
“Yeah, dad told me to introduce them to you.”
“I see, I see. Welcome, you two. I can’t turn down someone from Montand, now can I?” He held out his right hand and gave a hearty smile.
“So, what can I do for you?”
“I’d like to have you work this piece of hide—“ as Kei pulled out Mikazuki’s hide, the clock tower bells rung, gong, gong.
“Ah.” Lily tugged Aileen’s sleeve. “Onee-chan, onii-chan, sorry. I should get back home now.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah. I have cram school in the afternoon. I need to eat and get ready.”
“Okay then.” Aileen said regretfully, “Should I bring you home?”
Lily shook her head. “I’m fine. It’s not that far anyway. I can go back by myself!”
“Alright. Got it, be careful!”
“Yep! Connor-ojisan, take care of them! Onii-chan, too, see you later!” She hurriedly ran off, her ponytail flicking behind her.
“Is she really going to be okay…?” asked Aileen, worried.
“The Old Town has a lot of guards. All the neighbors are friendly too. No one will do anything. Don’t worry about it,” responded Connor as he clapped her on the shoulder.
“Okay…” she reluctantly agreed.
“Getting back on track, what was it?”
“Ah, yes. This hide has a lot of sentimental value, so…”
They spoke for a while after, which resulted in Connor telling them that the hide was of good quality and that he would make them each a leather purse.
“So, how long will it be?”
Connor played with the small silver coin and copper coins he received from Kei as he answered, “Hmm… To give some leeway, around four days.”
“Four days… That’s a little longer than I expected. Did we handle it poorly?”
“No, it was handled very well. It just needs to tan, otherwise it won’t last long. Since it’s good hide and has some meaning to you, shouldn’t you spend time on it? Well, if you need me to, then I’ll have it done sooner. What’ll it be?”
Kei looked at Aileen. “Well… I think that we should put the time into it too.”
“Yeah, that’s what I think too… Let’s do that.”
“Got it. Then I’ll get back to work.”
Kei called to him, “Just a moment, please. Sorry, I have one more thing. I have eight complete sets of plains people armor that I’m looking to sell, do you know anyone who would want them?”
“Eight sets… How did you get these?”
“On the way to Satyna we were attacked…but, we managed to kill them and take it from them.”
“Armor from the dead, and plains people at that… Sorry, but I don’t think I know anyone that would want to buy it.”
“Alright…” Kei looked bitter. The armor shop they visited earlier turned them down as well.
He brought the topic up with Montand last night after dinner, and his reaction was just like the others so he began to suspect something.
There wasn’t any demand.
It wasn’t popular.
Plains people’s armor was entirely unwanted.
“The quality of their gear isn’t that great in the first place. Their scimitars cut very well, but because of the hardened edge, they break very easily. Even though the ornaments on the leather armor are great, the softness from the tailoring method leaves it with unsatisfactory defenses. However, their compound bows are good. They’re easy to handle even on horseback; even some of the guards prefer them. But even so, the ones that do like them usually already have one…”
“So selling the armor and the equipment will be tough…”
“Yeah… Not to mention armor prices have a tendency to fall. If someone can get their hands on a cheap, new set of armor then—”
“—no one would go out of their way for a used set,” said Kei with a resigned expression. He scratched his lowered head and sighed. “Actually, when we took it all I thought that it was of okay quality… But, I suppose that someone else wouldn’t want it if I wouldn’t even want it.”
“Suppose so. Perhaps in a more rural town, but it’d be tough here. There are a lot of works by apprentices or goods damaged during manufacturing floating around. Poor quality second hand goods don’t stand a chance.” Connor sighed and looked distant. “This neighborhood sure is tough… During war, craftsmen were a dime a dozen, but now their numbers have really gone down. Some second-rate craftsmen fell by the wayside, some gave up and returned to their farms. Some ran themselves into debt by trying to sell too cheap—there are all kinds.” He threw his hands up and then patted his leather apron. “Even me, recently I’ve only made everyday items and no leather armor. At best, I get the occasional guard that needs their armor repaired. The time of living by just making armor and weapons as one pleases has long passed.”
“Is there a recession now?”
“Not a recession, but peace. To put it simply, there’s no need to buy armor and weapons. For a short time after war you can still sell some for replacing destroyed equipment, but now… Because they don’t use it, they don’t break it. Because they don’t break it, they don’t need to replace it. Because they don’t need to replace it, they don’t buy new ones… Well, it’s to be expected.”
“But, it’s not like they don’t sell at all, right?” Aileen asked, pointing at one of the mannequins dressed in a full set of leather armor in the corner.
“Hmm, you’re not wrong, jou-chan. What sells, sells. However, it’s not enough to live off of. I can get by since I live alone, but recently everyone has a side job now. The same goes for me, the same goes for Montand…well, he still makes a lot from his main job, but he’s an exception.”
“As I thought, he’s rather skilled at what he does.”
“Yeah, of course! He’s probably the only one to keep up sales after the war ended.” Conner shrugged his shoulders and gave a silly smile. He pulled a pipe from the apron’s pocket and put it to his mouth. “Huu… There’s a limit to how cheap an arrow can be. All the others around him lowered their prices and quality, but he alone chose to raise the quality. Thanks to that, he managed to get nobles and big merchants to become his customers. After hearing of his success, others raised their prices as well, but without the same quality it didn’t mean anything. While the few skilled ones survived, the others immediately died out. He had the guts to go against what everyone else did and had not only the foresight, but the ability to meet the demands of the customers… That guy really is something.” In the light of the lamp, Connor blew out some smoke before patting off his butt and sitting down. “Owwowow… Your bones start to hurt once you get to my age.”
“Ah, sorry. We made you talk for so long,” Kei said while looking apologetic.
“Haha, I just rambled on, don’t mind it.” He waved his hand. “We got off topic, sorry about that. But, I can’t buy that equipment off of you.”
“Is that so… It’s unfortunate, but I’m glad I got to hear the story in detail. We should—“
“Ah, wait a second. I can’t buy it, but if you don’t mind selling it dirt cheap then I know of a place.”
Connor used a piece of charcoal and paper to write something down.
“Here you go, it’s the address. In the north part of the Old Town, it’s number five on Benoit street. Right by the entrance to the slums. There’s a recycle shop there. You won’t get a lot for it, but it’s better than throwing it away. It’s not a good area, but with an-chan it should be fine. However, you should be armed, just in case, since there aren’t many guards there.”
“Benoit street… In northern Old Town, right? We’ll drop by later, thanks.”
“Don’t sweat it. Sorry that I couldn’t be of more help.”
They took the paper from Connor and before leaving said, “We’ll see you in four days.”
† † †
The sun had set.
A little girl quickly scampered through the dimly lit main street, the sunlight blocked by the rampart walls.
We ended a little late this time…
Lily’s ponytail flicked back and forth as she hurried on home, turning down a side street and passing by guards and drunks while wearing an uneasy expression.
She pushed open the back door and entered the living room. “I’m back!”
Without any lights on, both of her parents lay strewn across the table, exhausted.
“Welcome home, Lily…”
“You’re later than usual today…”
They spoke with no energy.
“We studied history today, so Mcdonnell-sensei’s bad habit kicked in.”
“Aah, so that’s why you were late. That man really loves history…”
“You’re one to speak, dear.”
“How did it go for you and dad?”
Montand and Kiska smiled tiredly. “It was hectic… Seriously, even though we only have twenty, they wanted 30 ornamental arrows. It was ridiculous. This was the first time we ever made ten in one day…”
“It’s not good for my heart… At least we managed to make it in time somehow.
“Good work today, mom and dad!”
The two of them, like lifeless corpses, tried their best to speak cheerfully, “Thanks. It really was tiring. I wonder how long it’s been since I’ve worked this hard… Oh, it’s gotten this dark out already? Sorry, Lily, I’ll start making dinner now. Just wait a little.”
“No, don’t worry about it, Kiska. It’s been a while, let’s all go out to eat.” Montand brightened up as he stood up from his chair and patted the wood chips off of his apron. “We might as well be luxurious, how’s Miranda sound?”
“Really!?” surprised, Lily and Kiska spoke at the same time.
“Are you sure, dear!?”
Miranda was easily one of the top five restaurants in Satyna. You could say it was the number one restaurant for the masses. They had a first-rate chef who could make even nobles’ tongues moan. There were even rumors of the feudal lord’s family members occasionally traveling incognito to visit.
Then suddenly, from a commoner’s perspective, the prices soared high enough to make their eyes pop out of their heads.
However, Montand tried to ease their concern, “Don’t worry about it. Today we made a lot of money, and yesterday Kei bought most of the prototype models. We have some wiggle room.” He smiled as he used a flint to light the lamp.
“You’re right… It might be nice to be extravagant now and then.”
“Yaay! Thanks, dad!!”
“Hahaha, I knew that Kei was an archer from the case he had, but to think he was that much of a spender. I’m glad that we brought him inside.”
In the faint light of the lamp Montand stuck his tongue out like a playful child. Although he invited Kei in to talk to Kiska about her hometown, in the end they didn’t speak a word of it.
“Now, I suppose we have to dress up, don’t we? I doubt they’d let us in with this get up!”
“I’ll go and change. Lily, go ahead and get dressed up, too!”
“Hurray! I will!”
Montand and Kiska had a spring in their step. Lily’s excitement and happiness seemed to blow away their earlier fatigue.
Montand wiped his body down with a wet cloth before he put on his only good suit, the one he used when he dealt with important people, and adjusted his hair. Kiska wore a simple dress that was nice enough to be out of reach for most people. Lily merrily wore a red ribbon in her hair and a cute apron dress.
“Alright, no one’s forgetting anything?”
Montand stuffed his knife that he carried for self-defense and his purse in his shirt, snuffed the lamp, and firmly locked the door behind them.
After asking the neighbors to keep an eye on their house, Montand and the others headed off into the sunset streets in high spirits.
They went west of the craftsmen’s area, to the high class urban section.
“So, what to get…?”
“I wonder what’s on today’s menu.”
“I want to get a beef stew!”
They walked cheerfully down the main street with Lily in the middle, holding both of their hands. The previously lonely, dusk town took a turn and felt livelier. A luxurious meal was something that Lily could rarely look forward to.
Kiska lovingly watched her daughter as Montand smiled at them both. They were a happy family.
The three of them shone pleasantly bright.
Even in the now-dim streets.
Almost like they were truly shining.
From far down the street, in a daze.
Or perhaps, dejected.
A man stood in the darkness and stared.
Borris, who until recently had risked his life to hide a small metal case, stared as if he were boring holes into their backs with his gaze.
A sound creaked.
“Keh…” Borris swallowed the words that were on their way up.
He spun on his heel and ran the other way, down the slightly dirty road. He ran as fast as he could.
The place he arrived at was a small, unpopular pub.
He sat down in a chair as if it were the same as always and curtly ordered, “Ale…”
Bam, the bartender put a mug down right in front of him. Just as soon as he got it, he chugged the bitter ale. His stomach warmed and growled.
“—Hey, bro. I like how you drink,” said a slender man who sat down next to him as he was about to order his second drink.
The same guy as always. It was the man that Borris always sadly slipped a case to under the counter.
“Haha what’s up? You’ve got a long face there.”
As he smiled, he placed a leather bag in front of Borris. Half-ignoring the overly-familiar man, Borris checked the contents of the bag.
It was lighter than usual. He could see the dull copper and hardly any silver. After a moment of surprise, he looked closer to find that they weren’t actually silver coins, but small silver coins instead. All together it almost totaled one silver.
Such a tiny amount.
“What’s wrong, you look unsatisfied with that?”
The man’s ill voice came from right next to his ear. Taken aback he looked to his side. The skinny man smiled at him treacherously.
“N-no, that’s,” he tried to dodge the question by picking up his mug, but immediately realized it was empty and muttered, “Not at all…”
Borris hung his head and clenched the mug so tight that his knuckles turned white. The man next to him didn’t miss it.
He gave a thin smile and lightly tapped the counter with his fingertips, tap tap. He tossed a few copper coins in front of Borris and said, “Follow me, Borris.”
With those few words, the man got up and left the pub.
Startled, Borris stared at his back as the man left.
However, he realized that the money the man put in front of him was to cover the ale. He also realized that, for the first time since taking this job, he was called by his name. Hurriedly, he got out of his seat.
“You’re slow. To think that I had to wait for you.” The man leaned against a wall outside the pub and wore a cynical smile.
“I-I’m sorry.I was a little surprised, I-I couldn’t move. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.”
“Well, whatever…” the man scornfully laughed at Borris’ frantic apologies and started walking again after repeating, “Follow me.”
Borris silently followed after him.
Silence. Only the sound of shoes hitting stone rang out.
That pub, on the darker side of Satyna, was a place where ruffians usually got together and shouted over each other. It was a bad spot for a conversation.
To take him out of that scenario meant—
Borris felt a strange exalted feeling welling up inside of him, a feeling of neither fear nor expectation.
“You know…” the man in front of him suddenly started talking as they walked, “I used to be a carrier, too. Just like you are now.” He stopped and leaned on the wall of a building in a dark alley. “So I get what you’re thinking. ‘Isn’t one silver too little? Is this all my life is worth?’ Or something.”
It looked like he was enjoying himself, but at the same time like he was testing him. The words were stuck in Borris’ throat.
Rather than let the silence go on, the man spoke, “Don’t be so stiff… I’m not insulting you.” He smiled. His usual, malicious smile. Almost instantly he changed his smile into a stern expression and said, “To be clear, Borris, your life is worth less than a silver.”
With such a cruel statement, Borris was suddenly at a loss for words.
“However,” the man continued, “that’s the Borris of right now.” He pulled out a metal case from his shirt and waved it in front of him. “This. I don’t know what you think of it, but it’s something that will blow any reasoning out of your mind. This is on an entirely different level from the powder that the boring small organizations carry. With even just this much, you can sell it for a gold coin.”
Borris’ jaw dropped. The price was higher than he could’ve imagined. That was enough to feed a commoner for a decade. A gold, a gold, a gold, the thought that he had been carrying something that valuable floated through his mind, a chill ran down his back.
“But, you only get less than a silver. Do you know why?”
He looked Borris straight in the eye, who shook his head.
“I’ll tell you. That’s because it didn’t have to be you. The one carrying this that is.”
Borris had to let the words sink in. But the man continued, “Borris, you are certainly putting your life at risk. However, the one that puts their life at risk didn’t have to be you specifically. It’s a big thing, putting one’s life on the line. But, even a kid could do it if they were prepared, no? There’s an even more important job than that. For example, who buys-out the guards? Who sells the goods once they’re in? And who makes this in the first place? Who brings it all the way to Satyna? The one that manages the entire process? The one that funds the operation? Too many to think of… If you could do this all on your own, Borris, then you’d have the entire gold to yourself.”
“T-that’s impossible… Doing all of that… alone?”
“Exactly. It’s impossible. Therefore it has to be broken up. And you’re doing the lowest; the least concerning job.”
“That’s…” His merciless words brought forth anger, sadness, and emptiness like Borris had never before felt, all twisting around inside of him. At a loss, he hung his head.
The man put the metal case in his shirt again and instead pulled out a metal flask and pulled out the cork.
It made a nice pop! He took a swig and held it out to Borris, “What about you?”
With the flask still in the man’s hand, Borris drank. As soon as the liquid hit his tongue, his eyes went wide.
“It’s good…” as Borris muttered the fragrant scent of the sweet alcohol entered his nose.
It had been a long time since he tasted such high quality alcohol.
“Borris. Until now, you’ve done the shit job that no one cares about.” He closed the lid and put the flask away. “But, that ends today.” Looking straight at Borris, he said, “The organization has decided to pull out of this city.”
The man’s words hit him like a punch to the face.
“Shh! Don’t shout, stupid.” He grimaced and quickly put his hand over Borris’ mouth. “Listen carefully… okay? To be honest, the security here recently has been too tough. Bribing and all has gone on well enough, but frankly, it isn’t worth it here.
“Well… I can understand that…”
—In that case, what about him?
Borris had yet to pay back his loans. He wasn’t entirely satisfied with his own portion, but even so, he needed this job. It felt like the ground was crumbling beneath his feet.
“And so, Borris. Come with me.”
His head couldn’t keep up with everything the man was telling him.
“What…? Come with you, as in… Leave the city? Why?”
When he finally understood, the feeling that followed wasn’t happiness, but bewilderment. Why him? He was filled with thoughts of doubt. He couldn’t believe it, he couldn’t have confidence in it.
“You have a good chance… Well, that’s a little misleading. It’s not that great of a deal.” He shrugged. “Borris, haven’t you realized it yet? This was your tenth time carrying.”
“Now that you mention it…”
“You’ve done it all this time, but this job has a low survival rate. There’ve been other carriers, just how many were caught…?” He drew his thumb across his neck.
The blood drained from Borris’ face.
“Well, with that said, whether it was luck or whether it was your own skill, you survived an astounding ten times. That’s one reason. Another reason is the trust that you can keep it a secret. Lastly, the most important reason,” the man smiled maliciously, “I can’t just let someone who knows about us live.”
When Borris understood what he meant, his face turned as white as a sheet. “Rather than a proposal, it’s my life, huh…”
“You could veto it, you know? Though the price is extremely high, so it’s not really worth it.”
“But… I have debt…”
“Just skip out on it. What’re you being an honest person for at this point?”
Thoughts swam around in Borris’ head.
The reasons he didn’t leave the city in the first place was because he had his own house, and he only had his lacking skill in making arrows.
Even if he did default on his debts and ran away, he couldn’t live in a city with no connections and only half-baked craftsman skills.
“In the next city… will I still be a carrier?”
“Nope. You’ll be doing a slightly better job… Basically, you’ll be my assistant. Helping with work, odd jobs, and what not.”
The man gave a wicked, but not disagreeable smile, as if saying, simple, right?
“I-is that… true?” For Borris, who had already walked across the thin ice ten times, compared to continuing to put himself at risk this was almost too good to be true. “I can’t believe it… I’ll do it, I’d like to do it!”
“Alright… Well, it’s not going to happen right away. At the soonest, it’ll take another week. Just prepare your belongings in that time.”
“Y-yes!” Borris shook with excitement.
“Oh, that’s right,” said the man, remembering something, “I forgot… I have one last, easy job for you.”
Borris froze with a suspicious expression.
“You don’t have to make such a face. It’s a lot easier than carrying.”
“What is it…?”
“Well, honestly, the slave that was supposed to deliver goods to a certain someone died recently.”
“Slave…?” The sudden use of the word ‘slave’ instead of someone related to medicine made him tilt his head.
“We have slaves work for us too… Of course, they’re illegal. It’s sort of an urgent matter, we need a replacement for the job.” The man sighed through his nose. His expression turned dark.
This was the first time Borris had ever seen this man without that terrible smile plastered on his face.
“That ‘certain person’ that I mentioned… Basically, they’re a pervert. If it’s not a good looking little girl, then they won’t be satisfied. We have plenty of good looking women, but at the moment, we don’t have any good-looking kids…. So, I was going to go on the hunt in the slums, and you’re coming too, right?” He asked carelessly, almost as if inviting Borris to a picnic.
While it was illegal—compared to sneaking in narcotics, it definitely was an easier job.
But, Borris stopped listening partway through.
In his head, something came up.
A certain, almost shining, happy family.
The man smiled maliciously at Borris while he waited.
“What’s wrong, Borris, you’ve got a weird look?”
“Do… do the kids,” his eyes turned to a dark, dirty look, “Do we have to get the kids from the slums?”
“Checking out each and every one of those dirty begging kids takes time. So I guess it doesn’t really matter?”
Borris smiled deeply and choked out an evil laugh, “Heh. Heheh. I know someone.”
The night wore on.
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Illustrations courtesy of Mr. NAKA. Find him at https://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=4377278 (opens in new tab).