The next day, as I water the black roses, I feel that the village was awfully noisy since early in the morning.
Normally, everyone is either at their own fields, tending to their modest orchards, or even working hard at catching fish, but there were only a few people doing that.
What felt strange to me is the feelings of anxiety and bewilderment that are mixed in the hurried atmosphere of the village. This atmosphere is clearly going in the wrong direction.
From the other side of the street, I can see Cres, one of Baran’s subordinates, heading towards my house with a grim face, proving my suspicions to be true.
He’s usually a cheerful young man who is deeply trusted by everyone in the village, but there is no hint of joy in his usual happy-go-lucky face.
What’s more, his dark eyes are fixed on seeing me set the water pail I was using to water the black roses aside.
Does he need something from me?
At first, Cres seems hesitant to open his mouth to say something, but after helplessly shaking his head left and right, he looks straight at me and begins to talk.
His usual sociable attitude had been cast aside, his tone of voice being now more soldier-like.
「Dran, son of Goraon of Bern. You are required in the village headman’s residence. The Fourth Director of the northern region of Bellewill, Lord Gouda Schuttler, has summoned you.」
The Bellewill region he refers to is located to the north of this region, which contains the villages of Zanon, Borella, and Bern.
“Director” is one of the formal titles given to a royal government official for the management of the royal territories on behalf of the local lords.
The highest of these titles is the one of viceroy, and as the ranks go down from First, Second and Third official, the territories that are commissioned for control become smaller.
So this Fourth Director might have only one or two villages under his jurisdiction? It’s rather petty, if you ask me.
Following the words of the bitter-faced Cres, he and I head for the village headman’s house.
During the short walk there, Cres remains completely silent. I cannot help but let out a deep sigh from the bottom of my chest, thinking that this meeting might not be just a simple formality.
Almost as if I had some sort of second sight, my premonition seems to hit the mark when the central plaza when the village headman’s house comes into sight.
At the plaza, I can see the village headman, his daughter Shenna, Baran and his subordinates, Grandma Magul and other important people from the village, and Selina, too.
There’s no problem with that many acquaintances being here, other than the fact that they all seem as distressed as Cres.
Well, there is a black carriage parked at the very center of the plaza, someone I do not know is sitting on a chair near it, and there are several fully-armed soldiers surrounding the area.
I count ten soldiers in total. All of them are wearing full-body armor, are armed with pikes, and have long swords hanging from their belts.
But one thing I cannot overlook is that all those pikes are all circling around Selina, as if prepared to stab her at any second.
I feel an intense rage welling up from the corner of my heart, and through sheer willpower I have to make sure it doesn’t show.
The explosion of emotions that undermines my reason feels like it could match, or even be worse than, a disaster such as the emergence of the Great Demon King from the world of spirits, or any similar evil god, at full power.
I wonder if the vibrant cold man sitting on the wooden chair wrapped in silk and cotton could be the Fourth Director, the so-called Gouda.
With all due respect, his official garments and his seemingly grey clothes seem to all be too big for him, as they hang awkwardly loose everywhere.
The gray hair that adorns his head seems to have been slicked back with plenty of grease, and had a weird glitter about it.
The meat in his cheeks and in between his head and neck, are so thin that it looks as if it had been chipped off, and the complexion is not really good enough for compliments. His inexplicably meaty lips are slightly opened, which reveal a beautifully white set of teeth.
For the first time in my life after being reborn as a human, I am in the presence of someone so skinny as Director Gouda, so much that he looks like a human wire.
As Christina said, at least after I was born, Bern has never been in a situation where people suffered from lack of food, and no one had ever starved to death.
But Gouda’s eyes are what worry me the most.
They certainly look muddy, but that muddiness comes from self-abandonment, indifference towards others and self-loathing, rather than the greed or the hideous desires that naturally stem from his personality.
Taking my eyes away from Gouda, I see that he has two people around him, which I think come after him in rank.
One of them is a female centaur, whose lower body is that of a well-built mare, covered in chestnut-colored fur, and from the back and up, her human-like upper body resembles that of a beautiful young woman.
Her burning red hair is tied up at the back of her head, and pours gracefully behind her back, swaying gently in the breeze.
Her lower horse-like body is clad in steel armor, which extends to her human-like upper half, up to her bust. A cone-tipped lance rests on the right side of her lower half, and a dagger swings on each side of her hips, both of which seem to have been heavily used in the past.
Centaurs primarily live in great plains and prairies. One of their greatest advantages is that they combine horse and rider in one entity, meaning that they can use the bow and arrow while sprinting, and their forte is making the best use of their tremendous movement capabilities and their impressive strength to deliver powerful assaults with short and long spears.
Being capable of shooting arrows while striking the battlefield quickly, and collaborating to form assault groups to attack with their lances, Centaurs have an extremely high fighting ability, which makes their foes cower in fear and earns them the respect of their allies.
In addition, as a tendency of the whole species, they tend to take pride in being self-reliant warriors, and many of their mercenaries and knights come into human nations and mingle with human society.
Due to the fact that there are some countries whose knights are comprised solely of centaurs, it can be clearly seen that the relationship between centaurs and humans is deep and long.
The armor of this female centaur is clearly above the rest by a grade or two, so she must be the leader of these soldiers.
There’s a slightly challenging air about her sharp, amber eyes, which sometimes are fixed on Gouda. It looks like they don’t get along too well.
Baran, who for some time has been tapping at the handle of his favorite iron hammer hanging from his waist as if irritated, has his eyes fixed on the female centaur.
Perhaps more than just being the superior of these soldiers, she’s probably Baran’s boss from Galois as well.
Every time the female centaur noticed Baran’s gaze, she lowered her eyebrows as if apologizing.
In contrast to the young and beautiful female centaur, Baran was stern and grumpy, and even though he might have reason to be upset, the sight still caused my heart to ache.
The other one seems to be a woman approaching her fifties, and wears the simple white mantle of Mairahl’s religion, similar to the one Leticia wears, and a necklace with a religious symbol hangs from a choker that seems to have a slightly more complicated design than Leticia’s.
Her face, covered in wrinkles, has an air of tenderness that would make a baby stop crying in an instant, and is adorned by the most extraordinary smile.
That’s the impression that this woman gives me.
Her dark hair, which has some white here and there, is tied up in a bundle at the back of her head. Unlike the female centaur, she looks at Gouda with a hint of criticism in her eyes.
Leticia stands nervously next to her, and perhaps this middle-aged woman was some sort of teacher who had Leticia under her tutelage back when she was in Gallois.
Leticia seems to be happy every time she talks to her teacher. I think I would like to meet her one day.
「Are you Dran? Come here.」
There’s no point in not doing what he says. As the village headman and the others look at me with concern, I walk towards Gouda, feeling a little heavy and wondering what kind of unreasonable things he has to tell me.
As soon as I reach him, Gouda picks up a glass of liquor from a somewhat pale boy that must be one of his subordinates who had prepared it in advance, and drank its contents in a single gulp.
「Tsk, I don’t like your face. Who do you think you are, inviting a monster into this village? You allow this filthy creature to step on the sacred land that His Majesty the king has entrusted to me? How insolent!」
Hm? Does this man want to go to hell, to helplessly repent for his sins for all eternity?
As I find myself barely suppressing my emotions, a priestess that is standing next to Leticia steps in and begins to reprimand Gouda.
「Director Gouda! It has already been proven by Leticia’s revelation, myself, who’s a priestess of the goddess Mairahl, and by none other than Mother Mairahl’s own judgment, that this lady is not an evil creature! 」
Unlike Leticia’s revelation, back when Selina confronted Baran and the rest, the judgment is a high-level miracle that is used to ask a question directly to one’s god.
Even though she may be but a humble priestess, it seems that her virtue stands high above the court.
「Sister Paramis, I do not mean to doubt the great Mairahl’s judgment. I am but a humble servant of His Majesty the king, who has bestowed upon me the divine privilege of overseeing these lands. I must pluck out any sprouts of danger before they can flourish.」
「But, that argument of yours is–」
「That’ll be enough. I have already heard that you want to ascertain whether this monster is good or evil. That will be all from you. 」
Gouda looks uninterestedly at Selina.
「With all that has been said already, I will not ask further questions. However, this monster has to pay taxes, headman.」
「Yes. It shall be as you say, Lord Gouda.」
「Now, since the great Mairahl has taken a liking to this monster, I will overlook this violation of our kingdom’s laws. To pay taxes is the right of this nation’s people. Through His Majesty’s great clemency, even if you are a demon, we shall accept your offerings. However, there are things we simply cannot ignore. It has come to my attention that, as of late, elves and other demi-humans who live in Ente Forest have shown their faces in this village. Thus, various articles from Ente Forest have been getting into Galois through this village. The kingdom guarantees the right of the people to save wealth. However, it’s hard to overlook the fact that there were no plans to formally wait for the approval of the viceroy of Galois to contact with the people of Ente Forest, who had no active exchanges during the pioneering period.」
「Regarding what you have just said, Lord Director, I am certain that Headmaster Olivier, from the Magic Academy, has made a report to the viceroy. 」
With a twitch from his eyebrows, Gouda stares at me in a way I don’t really enjoy.
「Certainly. There was a report from Ms. Olivier about a certain person who came from Ente Forest. But it might be more appropriate to say that this person came from Bern Village.
At least, now I don’t have to go there myself. Well, Dran, when I heard about you, I had a feeling that you had a chance to interact with the people of Ente Forest.」
「What kind of intentions did you have when contacting the people from the forest? To hide the taxes that should be paid to the viceroy for your own gain, taking advantage of the fine people of this land’s hard work?」
「I would never have such intentions. If you could only corroborate Ms. Olivier’s report, you would understand everything. This is only about keeping good relations with the people of Ente Forest out of our deep feeling of gratitude. Despite their shortcomings, they have lent a helping hand during a disastrous situation. I pay no regard to the Lord Director’s harsh words. Naturally, we will also pay taxes related to the wealth gained during our transactions, in accordance with the strict laws set by the kingdom.」
「You have a virtuous manner of speaking, for a peasant. Once, in this land, the previous royal family, who cleared this land and created paths, has had special considerations, raising Marquis Armadia himself as head of the army. However, if there are movements being made to conspire against our kingdom, as they sit upon the privileges granted to them, then I cannot overlook this. How can you prove that, as you said, the people of this village have no shady thoughts? That they are not won over by horrible monsters such as Lamias, that they do not conspire with the so-far-unrelated people from Ente Forest, and that they don’t hide in the shadows of remote regions, embracing evil intentions?」