Since he hadn’t visited Elise in so long, looking for a reason to tell her, before he realized it all Ratoka let spill that “training has gotten more difficult so I’ve been too busy to come,” not being able to come up with anything else.
A heavy feeling, like mud, was stuck in his chest.
In Ratoka’s mind, three girls kept appearing and disappearing, changing places with each other.
“Nobles are so terrible. While the villagers are in terrible condition, they live a good life, and play around happily every day.” The sister with dawn-colored eyes and her faint smile was then replaced by Elise’s fleeting smile which turned into her sadly shaking her head.
Then, after them, the icy expression of Eliza and her blood-red eyes, and the words she said to him from across the bars of his cell that one day, kept coming to his mind.
“A country’s laws, are there to protect its people. That would include the nobility as well. The nobility aren’t regular people, they’re the gears that move this country. ……If foolish people forget that and try to hurt others, this country could be destroyed. Such as my father.”
And so, they just kept switching and swapping, replacing each other in his mind, continuing endlessly, Ratoka’s mind was going funny.
Of course, this would affect his ability to concentrate and his physical abilities.
The wooden sword in his hands was knocked away with great force, and the next thing he knew Ratoka found himself on the ground. It happened so fast, that Ratoka didn’t understand what was going on until the pain in his back started setting in.
“Oi, you’re not into it today.”
Ratoka remained blankly stunned for a while, before his voice crawled along the ground and reached a sullen Gunther.
Gunther kicked him lightly in the head, then grabbed Ratoka by the back of his shirt and forcibly raised him off the ground.
“What are you doing!!”
Even though Gunther was being rather rough and bellowing angrily at him, all that he got back from Ratoka was a blank look. Gunther glared at Ratoka, and Ratoka flinched.
“……That’s enough for today.”
“Just do what you like until the marching training.”
Gunther left with only those words, and quickly departed from the training grounds.
“……What was all that.”
Ratoka’s wooden sword that was knocked out of his hands with great force, had flown farther than it ever had before.
While Paulo smeared some medicine on his back for him, Ratoka just dazedly looked at the fields. He watched the wheat swaying in the light breeze.
“What’s the matter today? You seem to be spacing out.”
Ratoka barely responded to Paulo who was worried about him, and couldn’t stop himself from thinking about the three girls that were still in his mind.
Although he really wanted it all to stop and for the girls to go away, Ratoka himself did realize that it was all a manifestation of his own confusion.
The girl that had taught him his entire sense of values.
The girl most important to him right now.
And, the person he hates the most.
He didn’t know who to trust or believe in, Ratoka was completely lost in confusion.
His emotions hadn’t matured yet. Since he had a twisted upbringing, that distorted his emotional development. Thus, his emotional maturity is even less than average for someone his age.
Dealing with all these new thoughts and emotions, caused him great confusion.
It just went round and round inside him but he couldn’t come up with any answers, so Ratoka, still with his blank expression, asked Paulo behind him.
“……Hey. Nobles are terrible people, right?”
Many of the army’s soldiers had been forced into banditry because of the former domain lord, so they hate, loathe, and despise him. And, that should also extend to his wife and children. His wife had a mansion in the royal capital, and hardly ever stayed in her own domain, their children were fat and ugly, and they seemed to enjoy bullying and torturing the people in their own domain.
But, why does that not include Eliza, the only survivor.
“……What do you mean? Although the previous domain lord was indeed terrible, Earl Terejia has been helping us.”
Paulo replied after thinking for a little bit.
“Claudia-sama is a really good person as well. She’s nice, very fun to be around with, and not arrogant at all.”
With Paulo’s words, Ratoka recalled the beautiful girl with long blonde hair. He’s never spoken to her, but he’s seen her around many times. She’s Eliza’s personal attendant and bodyguard, that’s all Ratoka knows. If he wasn’t obedient in the barracks, maybe he would have seen her more directly.
“As for Eliza-sama…… I wonder. I would definitely hate her if she was a terrible noble like her father, but she was brought up by Earl Terejia, and I think it’s good that she does think about her people properly. Claudia-sama says that Eliza-sama is a good person, and the other soldiers all give her their recognition as well, so I think I can say she’s a good noble?”
Just as Paulo finished summing up his thoughts, he finished applying medicine on Ratoka’s back and stood up.
“Well, if you’re anxious, come to see for yourself.”
Paulo said it very frankly, and Ratoka couldn’t help but think on his words. See for yourself, he said, but Eliza generally doesn’t come out from her mansion. Besides, since Paulo is also only a soldier in training, it should be almost impossible for him to get close to Eliza as well.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing bad. You just have to come with us when we deploy to Fort Jugfena.”
It was such an unexpected word, that Ratoka could only repeat it dazedly.
Fort Jugfena would mean the country’s border.
It’s considered the most dangerous place in Arxia, bordering the unfriendly country of Densel, it’s a place where people must be prepared for death – although Ratoka actually didn’t know those things, he did somewhat understand what it meant to have to deploy troops there.
However, rather than that, more important to Ratoka right now was that Paulo would be leaving the barracks.
“-Is there going to be war?”
The words that finally came out of Ratoka, weren’t the ones he wanted to say the most. If Paulo is leaving, Ratoka wants to come along as well, but he couldn’t say it.
In the worst case scenario, Paulo might not ever return again. And so, Ratoka couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye to Paulo.
“No, I don’t think it’ll be to that extent. Because there’s some sort of uprising in the neighboring country close to Arxia, I’ve heard that we’re only heading over there to increase security. Our domain is going to take in some refugees, have you heard?”
Ratoka had indeed heard about the domain accepting refugees. The soldiers that had formerly captured Ratoka, were now all living together with him and had told him about the refugees.
“In our domain, because of the previous lord, there’s not enough population it seems? I don’t know whether Earl Terejia or Eliza-sama thought of it, but it seems that one of them decided to accept the refugees in order to help rebuild the domain and promote economic development. Having to take responsibility for that, that’s probably why soldiers have to be deployed to Fort Jugfena. Maybe some other domains also wanted to accept the refugees, some domains seem to have opposed it as well, either way, our domain won’t be able to sit things out.”
Without them realizing it, Calvin had come up next to them holding a plate of food, and entered the conversation. He seems to have brought Ratoka and Paulo their lunch portions, and sat down next to them.
“According to Kamil, it was Eliza-sama that aggressively pushed for our domain to accept the refugees. Also, she was the one that came up with the countermeasures against the fire moths as well. That’s according to the people in the mansion. If that’s true, then Eliza-sama isn’t like the previous lord at all.”
As Calvin continued his story in an admonishing tone of voice, Ratoka only muttered “you don’t know that yet.” Calvin simply agreed calmly.
“That’s right. I don’t know what Eliza-sama will become like in the future. But right now she’s definitely working for the sake of the people. ……Also, when she was here in the barracks, she tried her best with the difficult training every day. How hard this all is, you should know best, right?”
Ratoka couldn’t even nod or shake his head at Calvin who was smiling wryly at him, and could only ask him a question instead.
“Calvin…… are you also going to Fort Jugfena?”
Calvin had a blank look for a moment, then he nodded gently and smiled.
The three girls had finally disappeared from Ratoka’s mind, but in exchange, he had a premonition that he was going to part with the name of Ratoka and the soldiers.
He felt sadness, then a terrible sense of emptiness, Ratoka was lost for words.