As though to sweep away the atmosphere which was a little heavy, Juno changed the topic.
「By the way Erika-sama, what do you plan to do for the date tomorrow ～?」
「Naturally, I’ll go. Since it is the perfect chance to get into contact with Harold-sama」
Erika showed her spirit by clenching both her fists with a 「Mun!」 near her torso. When Harold told them not to approach him as soon as they met, she was flustered as to what she had to do, but a chance came her way due to Hayden’s statement. Although Erika didn’t feel good to get on with Hayden’s proposal, she couldn’t let it get away.
「Then, it is a must for you to dress up ～. And in that case, how about wearing Western-style clothes which you rarely wear ～」
「There’s no reason to be so enthusiastic about it………..」
Juno was cheering her on since this was a date, but the partner was that Harold. It was hard to think that the situation would turn out to be that romantic.
Practically, it would just be to the level of lightly going around the inner district. More than a date, it would be more fitting to call it an inspection.
「That won’t do ～. A maiden should be charming no matter what the time ～」
Like an elder sister, Juno was advocating about how a maiden should be, but rather those words should have come from Erika.
Even though it couldn’t be helped during work, spending even the day off in cooking wear, Erika couldn’t help but think how a young maiden could dress like that. In Erika’s memories, there wasn’t a single time where Juno wasn’t wearing cooking wear.
If she wanted to remonstrate her about how maiden should be, the persuasiveness was almost non-existent.
(TL – Cooking wear – kappōgi , you know, she’s wearing it on the cover)
「How about you yourself dressing fashionably once in a while? Even though you’re beautiful, it’s such a waste」
「Fu Fu Fu ～, that is a strategy ～. At the critical moment, with the appeal of me being different from normal, I’ll catch the other party’s heart ～」
「Then, even I’ll keep it in reserve until the critical moment」
「Eeeh ～, it’s your first date, alright ～? If it goes well, you might be able to make Harold-sama fall for you , alright ～?」
「He shouldn’t be a person who would bend down to another by something of that level」
No matter what, Erika couldn’t imagine a Harold who would be soft on a girl. But it was easy to imagine him hurling abusive words at her without any mercy, even if she went all dressed up.
「Yesterday, I found such a cute one piece dress ～. Wear it, Erika-sama ～!」
「When did you buy such a thing……..」
Juno took out a one piece dress with frills from inside the luggage, and asked Erika. That appeal went past wanting to maintain a maiden’s dignity or ensnaring Harold, and it was just her personal wish to see Erika wear the dress.
「Juno, we haven’t come here to play around. Even you should know that, right?」
「Mmmm, it’s a pity ～」
Deciding that there was no more room for negotiations, Juno returned the dress to the luggage.
Of course, it wasn’t a serious exchange. Juno did it intentionally to break the mood, so as to reduce Erika’s nervousness.
And because she had guessed that, even Erika didn’t show too strong an interest in it, but there was no way she could keep on being relaxed.
「Then, let us return to the real issue ～. I’ll tell you about the points you need to keep in mind when in contact with Harold-sama ～」
Under a single roof, the two’s motives intersect. Probing around for each other’s true intentions, the lock on the gun was removed.
Kazuki was forcefully asked to play the role of a guide for Erika, but to accomplish this mission, he had a huge flaw. It was that he hardly knew anything about the town, where he needed to act as the guide.
In the first place, the Stokes territory was only described in a part of some conversation and in an event scene, and since in the actual game it wasn’t even inscribed on the map, if Norman hadn’t given him the map he wouldn’t have been able to grasp the accurate position of it.
And since Kazuki had been spending all his time on avoiding the flag for the past 3 months, the number of times he had gone out to the town could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. That too, his travel had only been stopping by the temple, and he had never gone even once for shopping or sightseeing.
Rather, it was at the level where he himself wanted to be guided around.
However, Kazuki decided to treat it as a chance.
Kazuki didn’t know anything about the town, but it wasn’t known whether Harold knew anything about it or not. If there were any places Harold frequented, and if it became that he didn’t know about them, it would be suspicious.
But this time, he had the excuse of being restricted to “Showing Erika around the town”. It wouldn’t be unnatural for him to ask about the town, if he took the stance of wanting to know about places suitable to guide someone to rather than for his own enjoyment. Thinking that his hypothesis might be correct, Kazuki successfully procured information from the people in the mansion, indirectly.
(Well, it’s not like I can make use of it though………..)
From the start, he had no intention to guide Erika properly since he didn’t want to raise her affection points. It was just about how he would be able to firmly secure the chance of obtaining information which might become useful in the future.
Even so, this situation was a little off of his anticipation.
「Uh, um Harold-sama……….」
Erika awkwardly called out to Kazuki (Harold).
She was genuinely confused.
「……….No, it’s nothing」
To Harold’s reply, which seemed as though he was fed up, Erika kept quiet without another word. The insides of the carriage was dominated by an awkward atmosphere.
The cause of it was outside the carriage, due to the residents of the town.
She noticed the abnormality when they first got down from the carriage.
No, the atmosphere had probably changed as soon as they had entered the town.
The thing that was there was silence, quiet enough to hurt their ears.
If Kazuki had to pick a situation similar to this from his memories, it came close to the moment when he had frozen up in junior high school, when the guidance counsellor, who was the gym teacher and who was feared by all the students, had found items banned by school regulations spread out in the classroom after school.
And in the gym teacher in this case was Harold.
As soon as Harold’s figure appeared, people stopped moving, and when he walked, as though to avoid him, the crowd split. The faces of shopkeepers who were called out became pale due to fear, and the looks of the residents who were examining the situation from afar, were filled with clear hostility.
Anyway, the town wrapped up in a bizarre silence was uncomfortable. That attitude started completely scraping away Kazuki’s mental state.
(Neglecting the rumor that I killed Clara became a disadvantage……….)
Regarding that, even Kazuki had thought of doing something. But ensuring the safety of Clara and Colette, and also wanting to avoid the problematic situation of discord rising up with his parents, he couldn’t think of any measures which would be effective.
The result was this.
Looking at how much Harold, and also the Stokes house was loathed in front of her own eyes, Erika was also left speechless.
Since they didn’t know about Erika, it could be said that their reaction was obvious since she was together with Kazuki (Harold). Well, since it would soon be officially announced that Erika was Harold’s fiancée, their looks would change to be like the ones from the servants, filled with pity.
That said, if they strolled around the city any more than this, he felt that he would lose more than what he would gain. Mainly, the mental portion.
They had gone around the town for about a little more than an hour, and Kazuki was almost at his limits.
「This is enough already. We’re going back」
Looking to be somewhat in low spirits, Erika nods. Her face expressed a weariness which wasn’t small.
The cause was that she was continuously exposed to the looks containing hostility from the townfolk.
Receiving affection from her parents, and also receiving affection and respect from the people near her and the people of the Sumeragi territory, it was the first time in her life that she experienced being showered with feelings of disgust and hate.
She didn’t even think that it would be such a powerful feeling.
Therefore, she didn’t even have the will to resist Harold’s words. She chose to head back as she was told.
There were no conversations between the 2 as they went back towards the Stokes’ mansion.
「You came back fast ～」
Juno called out to Erika, who had returned very fast.
But she didn’t inquire about it.
Because, Juno had been observing the whole time from a different location.
And so, she grasped the general circumstances.
「I had heard that the support for the Stokes house from the populace was low, but I didn’t think that it was to such an extent」
In a tired voice, Erika spilled that out.
Speaking honestly, although it was little, she felt that she was in danger.
「Certainly, that type of hate isn’t normal ～. Well, as far as the talks are concerned, it is obvious ～」
The talks Juno had heard from the servants and the rumors flowing around in the district were pretty awful. Especially, almost all the profits of the populace was being extorted as tax, and the amount of people who were being made to forcefully work until they could just maintain their livelihood weren’t less.
They were even robbed of their energy to cause a revolt, and conversely compared to the nobles with the same level of territory and economic power, the Stokes had huge investments in their military. And due to that, the lives of the populace were becoming even more severe. With this, even if they were to cause a rebellion, it was apparent that they would be dying in vain.
「By the looks of it, it seems as though investigating the internal affairs went well」
「That is, obviously ～」
If the people of the mansion were asked about a single thing, 10 or 20 topics would come back. They seemed to be hated to quite an extent.
But, included within those, was information which couldn’t be ignored no matter what.
「It’s just that, there’s some worrying information ～」
「Information which is worrying, is it?」
That was something where she couldn’t help but doubt her own ears, and without even thinking she had asked – 「Isn’t it some kind of mistake ～?」. But she had gotten enough evidence for her to believe it.
She had some scruples about telling it to Erika, but by doing so, she couldn’t ignore the possibility of exposing her to danger, so Juno opened her mouth.
「Actually, it seems recently, Harold-sama burnt a servant and their family to death, using magic ～」
Without being able to process the words conveyed by Juno, Erika leaked out her breath in a daze.
「It seems that the people who were killed were a woman named Clara, who was a servant of the mansion, and her daughter, Colette-chan ～」
「W, wait, Juno! Is that the truth? Isn’t it just a rumor………….」
「There is a possibility of that, but when different people were asked separately, almost identical testimonies were obtained ～. It doesn’t seem to be totally unfounded gossip ～」
Harold’s mouth was bad, and even his attitude was oppressive. Erika herself felt that he looked down on others, held prejudice against them and avoided them himself.
And yet, Harold showed them the hope to save the people of the Sumeragi territory.
Even if he had had his own intentions in doing so, that fact wouldn’t shake.
That was why, deep down, Erika had thought that Harold was different from his parents.
To the extent that Juno’s words brought about not a small amount of shock. Both of Erika’s hands which were covering her mouth, started trembling.
「I’ll continue investigating secretly, but refrain from being with Harold-sama alone from now on ～. Since we don’t know what might happen ～」
「………..Okay, I’ll be careful」
「It’s alright Erika-sama ～. I’m here ～」
As though comforting a baby, in a gentle voice, Juno cheered Erika up. As though persuading that as long as she was there, Erika would be absolutely safe.
But still, Erika’s quivering didn’t stop for a while.