After that, although Kazuki quietly retrieved the sword and went back to his room, maybe since he was feeling uneasy in his heart, he couldn’t sleep.
After turning and tossing over the bed for quite a while, he finally got sleepy when there wasn’t much time left for sunrise. Squinting and looking at the sky which was growing lighter, Kazuki thought- a little bit more, and fell into the deep abyss of sleep.
It seemed as though the abyss was very deep, and so by the time Kazuki opened his eyes, it was already past noon.
He got up as though dragging up a heavy body. There was a possibility that yesterday’s damage was still remaining.
(Not to the body though)
He patted the cheek slapped by Erika. Physically, there was no pain remaining.
The pain was remaining inside the body, in his conscience.
Even though a night had passed, his heart was pained by the guilt of making a very young girl cry.
That said, even if his mouth tore, there was no way he could have said 「I didn’t kill them」. That was not only to protect himself, but also for Erika.
Murmuring “Can’t be helped” mixed with a sigh- even this whining wasn’t allowed by Harold’s mouth. If this was Harold’s root, Kazuki was in admiration of his mental toughness.
It was also possible that he was simply egotistic.
As soon as he stood up, his stomach which had missed breakfast and dinner indicated his hunger, but to clear his mind which was dull since he had just woken up, he decide to take a shower.
By the way, there was no bath in the Stokes mansion. Because the culture of bathing itself hadn’t taken root.
It would soon be 4 months since he had possessed Harold. During that, the only time he had taken a bath was only when they had stayed the night at the Sumeragi’s mansion.
That too, the large public bath which seemed like Japanese cypress baths was installed outdoors and rather than calling it a bath, it was luxurious enough to be called as a hot-spring. He swore in his heart that if he got the chance to once again step into it, he would confirm whether it was a hot-spring or not.
While craving for wanting to enter a bath, Kazuki who had showered stepped towards the dining hall to sate his hunger.
On the way, he met Juno who was walking from the opposite side in a corridor.
She stopped and bowed towards him, but there was no need for Kazuki to expressly talk to Juno who was just an attendant.
But as Erika’s crying face flashed in his mind, by the time Kazuki realized it, he was already asking Juno about Erika’s condition.
「How’s the condition of the girl with the weak constitution?」
Before he knew it, in Harold’s view, Erika had undergone a class change from sheltered girl to girl with weak constitution.
This was him being worried about her so it couldn’t be helped.
「That is, today her condition has gotten worse ～. As Harold-sama had told, it might be good to consider going back to the Sumeragi territory so that she gets better ～」
Even though what Harold had called Erika was too much, without changing her expression, Juno let it go. Saved by her magnanimity, and thinking when she would get angry already, Kazuki, who was scared, secretly wiped away his cold sweat.
Returning back because of falling ill at the place they were staying at seemed like a waste of time, but since he was running around due to the situation of Erika staying being outside his expectations, for Kazuki he felt that if they returned speedily, it would be a relief. For a reason different from the one for his parents, he didn’t want them to know about Clara’s case.
「By the way, does Harold-sama know about the cause of Erika-sama falling ill ～?」
「As if. I’m not a doctor」
That was a lie.
He didn’t know about the past 2 weeks, but there was no doubt that her condition deteriorating by another level today was due the agitation last night.
Adding to that, it was unknown to Kazuki, but the reason for her falling ill was because of receiving shock after hearing the rumor that Harold had killed Clara and her daughter. In other words, from 1 to 10, Kazuki was the cause.
But if Kazuki knew about that, his conscience might have taken even more damage. Kazuki wasn’t a failure of a person who had a personality of being happy by giving a hard time to a girl who was only 10 years old.
With an abnormal situation breaking out in her own territory, her family was running about thinking of how to deal with it even while being exhausted, and yet since there were no results, many of the commoners were suffering, and then as though to grip onto that weakness an engagement was suddenly decided. And the fiancee was a person who didn’t even consider people as humans and would easily kill them, the worst kind of scum beyond help. When this was the case, the amount of stress Erika had was quite large.
Considering the environment she left behind and the current state of her mind, it would be cheap getting slapped any number of times was what Kazuki could declare.
In exchange, he wanted to request for her affection points for him to fall to the lowest level.
「That’s a pity ～. Since you could create that medicine, I was sure that you were quite knowledgeable in illnesses ～」
Juno indirectly tried to probe. She was very anxious since she still hadn’t grasped the origin of that medicine.
Kazuki, completely not realizing her intentions, thinking- 「I was thought of like that?」, was surprised at how he was assessed.
「If you’re worried, ask your family doctor to examine her. Even if you stay here, it’ll simply be needlessly prolonged」
It wouldn’t be odd for a family as large as the Sumeragi to have 1 or 2 exclusive doctors. If they were anxious of keeping her in their own territory, it could be settled if they just sent her to a secondary residence or a holiday villa with the doctor tagging along.
Without doing that, since they were hanging on like this, even Kazuki had already perceived that they had some kind of objective. But it was still unknown as to what they were aiming for.
Juno’s objective, roughly divided, was to investigate Stokes house’s internal affairs and Harold’s background. The former wasn’t tough, or rather, since the Stokes family was hated, the servants easily opened their mouths, and just by playing the role of the listener to their complaints, she was able to obtain the information that she wanted.
But for the latter, the guard around Harold was abnormally high.
Firstly, since the said person himself was cautious and given that his ability to sense the presence of people was high, she wasn’t able to decently approach him. It was to level of seeing through Juno’s presence and giving a warning on the very first day of her observation (First Action).
Due to this, Juno couldn’t help but change her target.
For that, though she attempted to get in touch with the 3 servants who repeatedly gathered around him, all of them continued to evade her. There was a single instance where Zen, who seemed to be the easiest to take advantage of, let his mouth slip, but still, so far she hadn’t been able to get hold of a likely trail.
Even including that he was being careful to not make her feel that something was out of place by just engaging in everyday idle chatter, Juno felt that he was made conscious of thoroughly controlling the amount of information he could give out. The current status was that she was at a loss about how to continue when she wasn’t clear whether it was because of loyalty or being threatened or something similar.
(From the report given by the scout division, it seems as though he has been frequenting the agricultural sector ～………)
Although she was exchanging information with the scouts who had infiltrated the Stokes house, what he was doing going there was still not known. Establishing a minority community by gathering individual farmhouses and then having them infiltrate would be difficult.
If they had to do it, it would require a span of few years to arrange for it, and in this case they didn’t have that much time for preparations. It could also be said that due to being too hasty, the orders given by Tasuku to have the scouts concentrate in the inner district where the population was high was a mistake.
After that, finishing the conversation after exchanging a few words, Kazuki resumed advancing. The places where one could have food in the mansion were at the dining room used by the Stokes family, the reception hall where they would dine together with the guests, and the general cafeteria exclusive to the servants.
Kazuki headed towards the dining room.
Without even knocking, he rudely opened the door. Since the time had already passed 14:00, his parents couldn’t be seen and the maid-clothes wearing girl who always served the meals, was in the middle of changing the tablecloth.
The girl was surprised by Harold suddenly appearing, and then became flustered.
(She isn’t able to move due to the fear and confusion)
Fundamentally, the people who knew Harold’s face, no matter whether they were men or women, young or old, all of them would be afraid, so he was already used to this kind of reaction. Let alone receiving a shock, he even had the room for observation.
While thinking over it, he sat down in a place where he wouldn’t get in her way.
「After finishing that, inform the kitchen to prepare a light meal. And also, call Norman here. Don’t tarry」
Receiving the order, after quickly changing the cloth, the girl left the dining room with flurried steps. The flapping sounds in the hallway got distant.
After that, without even 10 minutes passing by, she came back carrying the meal. Maybe due to being in the middle of some work, by the time Norman arrived, Kazuki had almost finished eating.
「I’m sorry for being late」
「Sit down and wait」
Tossing the remaining piece of bread into his mouth, barely chewing it, he washed it down with the soup. It was bad manners, but since the only people present were Norman and the maid, he paid it no mind.
Having the maid clear the dishes, Norman spoke when the 2 of them were alone.
「You woke up late today. Maybe the fatigue is piling up?」
「There’s no problem. I just had some trouble falling asleep」
「Then, it’s fine」
「Well, because of that, I had some time to rack my brain」
Kazuki (Harold) raised the corners of his mouth. Looking at that expression, Norman understood.
「Is it regarding the shortage of personnel?」
「Right. We talked about bringing in people from the outside and having them co-operate, right?」
「Is there a plan we could use?」
「I called you here to confirm whether it wold work or not」
Without going with the classical way of counting sheep, although he thought that he might get sleepy if he started thinking about the solution for something troublesome, against his expectations, without feeling sleepy even for a bit, until dawn he was totally submerged in a sea of speculation.
Though it was worth it since he had thought of something, after all, it was just some shallow thinking of an amateur. Whether it was possible to implement it or not, he wouldn’t know the answer until he asked for Norman and Jake’s judgement.
「So, regarding the people co-operating from outside, is it possible to form a contract with merchants based on the rights of LP farming method after showing how beneficial it is?」
Even Kazuki who wasn’t very knowledgeable in trade was convinced that harvesting the vegetables of LP farming like this in a cycle, and also the technique itself would yield profits. The cost would be somewhat a bit more than the conventional methods, but the efficiency would increase remarkably.
Due to the difference in the taste, they could aim for that differentiation and it might also be possible to create a new market.
Selling the technique of LP farming to the merchants who would further sell it to farmhouses. The farmhouses would then pay a contract fee to the merchants for utilizing the LP farming method, which would then be divided between the merchants and Harold- was the form of Kazuki’s idea.
But at this stage, there was a need to intentionally hold down the volume of harvests, and so that the farmhouses don’t oppose against that, if the scope of the company wasn’t large enough to send people to inspect regularly, it would be difficult.
Norman, while admiring Kazuki’s (Harold’s) plan, enquired about the part which bothered him.
「So, do you any leads regarding a company?」
「No. Including that, I wanted to hear Jake’s and your opinion」
「With no intermediary, if we suddenly approach a company with the proposal, they wouldn’t accept it. If it is an administration by an individual merchant, as expected the manpower wouldn’t be enough……」
If it was an intermediary, Harold’s parents knew many of them. However, for the proposal to be properly conveyed, they must make the existence of LP farming known, and Kazuki thought that it was still premature for that.
「So, this means that we still haven’t found a way to implement it at the present state」
「Unfortunately. But I think that allying with a merchant is a good plan」
「Then, we’ll concentrate the talks towards that direction. Convey the plan to Jake too」
「Understood. The problem is how to find a merchant who can be trusted」
After that, the 2 people talked about this and that, but the discussion didn’t progress any further.
While making rattling sounds, the carriage following the path between the crop fields passed through the gates of the mansion. Exchanging light chatter with the soldiers who were standing guard at the gates, the coachman who came in was Zen, with a carefree smile plastered on his face.
Zen, who had finished shopping for some items, unloaded the luggage and after returning the cart to its assigned position, he went towards Harold’s room. If Kazuki (Harold) had seen that, 「Just like a mongrel dependent on its owner」- he would’ve made a fool out of him by telling that.
But the person himself, who seemed as though he wouldn’t even mind that poisonous tongue, walked with a pace as though he had gotten used to it, until he came in front of the door and though he knocked on it, strictly ordered to do so by the owner of the room recently, to check whether he was present inside, there was no answer.
「Harold-sama? Are you there?」
If it were a normal servant, they would have left with this, but Zen, who was peerless in acting overly-familiar with Harold, opened the door and peeked inside.
Even though he knew it, it was empty as expected.
Thinking of coming back later since if he wasn’t here at this time, it meant that he was practising swordsmanship, he caught sight of a small figure standing in the hallway.
From looking at the small figure which seemed to be dispirited, without being able to bear it, Zen strained himself to speak out in a cheerful voice.
Turning around with sluggish movements, as though noticing Zen’s existence only due to that voice, Erika widened her eyes by a little.
「Good day. You are………」
「Ah, I am called Zen. What happened to Juno-san?」
Seeing Erika alone which was unusual, he asked that question. No way, maybe she got into an argument and is dispirited- he guessed wildly, but it was completely off the mark.
「She is going towards the town for some personal business」
If told without concealing, she had left to exchange information with the aforementioned scout division. Since she had just left for today, she wouldn’t be back for another 1 ～ 2 hours.
Though, she couldn’t tell that.
「So it was like that. And so, why are you here……… maybe, do you have some business with Harold-sama?」
Since she was near the room, it wasn’t unreasonable for Zen to think like that. But the instant Harold’s name came up, Erika’s expression clouded up even more.
Right now, he was the person she wanted to meet the least.
But Erika suddenly realized that the person standing in front of her held no hostility towards Harold.
Maybe he didn’t know about that rumor. When she thought like that, Erika reflexively asked Zen about it.
「Don’t you know?」
「Err…., regarding what?」
「That Harold-sama killed a servant by using magic」
「Re, regarding that, how should I say it……..」
This time, it was Zen’s turn to be shaken.
Seeing that reaction, Erika was convinced that he knew about Harold’s brutality. And simultaneously, a question bubbled up.
Even after knowing knowing it, how could he still deal with Harold. She thought that he was just putting up a front, but from the hesitation in his words, it seemed as though he didn’t feel any fear or hate towards Harold, but a kind of frustration of wanting to support him but not being able to was oozing out.
「Aah………..although I have heard that kind of plausible rumor being spread about in public, it can’t be confirmed whether it is really true or not and since its authenticity isn’t definite, I’m hesitant to ask Harold-sama………」
「Harold-sama confirmed that that rumor was true. In the first place, since the one who was killed was a person working here, even you should know that it is the truth, right?」
It was as Erika had told. Zen had dug his own grave with his incoherent explanation and was at a loss for words.
Frankly speaking, Zen wasn’t eloquent enough to turn around the situation by creating a smokescreen and confusing her.
Norman had chosen him because he was good-natured, that is to say, because he was a person who could understand Harold’s real feelings and become an ally.
But it wasn’t as though his good-natured character would only manifest in front of Harold. Erika right now was depressed enough to stimulate his softhearted nature.
「And yet, why do you……..No, by doing what could one follow Harold-sama like you do?」
Those words which were spoken out in a grave voice seemed as though it was a supplication while also being a question.
No matter what his nature was, for the sake of the Sumeragi family, Erika had to marry Harold. Her will which couldn’t pardon him was an obstacle.
Although she understood it, wavering between her responsibility and emotions, Erika didn’t know how to convince herself.
From the time she was aware of her standing, she had given up on things like love and marriage. Knowing that the person she was going to be engaged to belonged to a house which supported the pure-blood principle, and that they were oppressing their populace, she was filled with rage.
But still, Harold gave hope to the Sumeragi who were suffering.
But in the end, even he didn’t think of people who didn’t have noble blood, as people.
If it could be said that she got her hopes and then despaired at her own convenience, then that was it. She had no words to return.
But the reality that the thread of hope extended in the complete darkness was just an illusion, was more than enough to push down Erika to the bottom of despair.
Even while being crushed in the gap between duty and emotions, and yet trying to earnestly grope around for the exit, Erika’s appearance was too heartless.
But Zen knew. That the despair she was drowning in was an illusion that was intentionally created.
Surely, the world that was waiting for her was very kind.
Because there was no way that he, who was being hated and scorned, and had even resolved to shoulder the sin of being called a “murderer” to save 2 lives, would just abandon Erika like this.
And it could also be thought of like this.
For the sake of her family and the people, the girl who was trying to kill her own emotions was also, like Harold, a person who had strength and kindness.
Even while being young and carrying a heavy burden, Harold and Erika were trying to stick true to their own wills. It was way of living which was very clumsy and where they would always run into walls.
These 2 who were very similar shouldn’t just pass one another, instead they should face each other and expose the real themselves (feelings). The other party was the one and only person they could do that with.
「Erika-sama, can you come with me?」
That was why, even though the unreliable adult (himself) had poor ability, if he could support them, then even if he incurred Harold’s displeasure or even if he was abandoned, he wouldn’t mind it.
「Just a little bit, please give me your time. There is a matter that I want you to listen to」
For the time being, the plan is to have the misunderstanding regarding Harold completely solved next time.