Chapter 153.1 : Encounter, And Then――
「A girl……….. Wearing a dress? 」
The village chief repeated Lucius question with a pale face. Noticing the unusual paleness, Lucius looked at the village chief with sharp eyes, and questioned the chief with unusual patience.
「Yes, a girl in her teens. Her hair color is light purple and for a noble lady, she’s a rarely seen gentle person, but……………」
As the village chief listened, his face turned even paller.
「What’s the matter？ You seem to be unwell, village chief. Was that related with you stopping all villagers from doing their work? 」
Lucius grinned as he continued to look at the village chief, eyes holding a victorious glint within it.
「N-No! This is………….. What was her name again……. Uhm………. The truth is…….」
The village chief stuttered, trying his best to either explain or find an acceptable excuse to give to Lucius.
「Oh well, there’s no need to rush. You can take your time to tell us about your story. In return, I’ll tell you about our side of things as well, however, it’s not something that could be spoken in the open, especially since we’re operating under the direct order of this Kingdom’s royalty right now. Therefore, it’s best if we go to a secure place like your house to talk to each other. Don’t tell me you’re going to make a person listen to your story without inviting him to sit first? 」
Lucius said, slyly glancing at the first prince of Paladia kingdom, Duran Paladia, in order to subtly inform the village chief of his presence.
「R-Royalty……….. Is he the prince? 」
The village chief stiffened as he looked at Duran, disbelief very apparent on his face.
Duran flashed a bone chilling smile as he looked condescendingly at the village chief.
Dread filled the village chief’s being, and it was shown through the unintentional step back that the chief took. Meanwhile, sensing the unusual atmosphere that surrounded their village chief, the villager’s face stiffened as well.
「Hahaha, as you can see, his highness is a friendly person. He’s not going to be unreasonable to the point of requiring you, peasants, to show some manners in front of him. Nonetheless, depending on your connection to the aforementioned girl, you might be executed………….」
In contrast to the content of his speech, Lucius was smiling from ear to ear.
「………… No, that’s why……….. Please come to my house first」
Exhaustion lined the village chief’s face as he had completely no idea on how to treat these kind of guests in his village. As such, he decided to follow the former order of seeking a private space to talk, hence he invited Lucius and co to his house in the end.
「I see. Then, please show us the way. Let’s go, your highness……… The rest of you guys stand by here. And while we’re at it, you should also inspect each house.」
Agreeing to the invitation on both the prince’s and his behalf, Lucius did not forget to order the knights surrounding the prince and himself to investigate the village.
「YES SIR! 」
The knights replied vigourously, displaying their excellent military might. Then, Lucius acted as if he had just realized something, and turned to the village chief.
「You’ve no problem with it right, village chief? 」
Lucius asked belatedly, as if seeking the approval of the village chief. However, it was plainly obvious that he merely asked for an ex-post-facto approval to investigate the village, and that the decision itself would stand regardless if approved or not.
「Ye-Yeah. I don’t mind. Well then, this way……….」
Knowing that, the village chief gave his consent, and he helplessly led Lucius and co with tottered pace. Just before he left though, he sent a brief gaze to the villagers who were with Lucius and co before they arrived.
That brief gaze he sent, asked them about how far had they told the situation towards these guys? However, the villagers were too frightened, as such they averted their eyes away, not answering that implicit question.
Meanwhile, Duran and Lucius just followed the village chief in silence, observing the silent exchange between the village chief and the villagers with a cold look. Suddenly, someone’s voice disrupt the strange silence that had fallen.
「B-Bring me in too, pop! 」
Will asked for permission to follow them inside.
「You don’t need to come! 」
The village chief rejected Will’s request on the spot, but――,
「Well, please don’t say that, village chief. Since he calls you “Pop” it means that he is your son right? Let him come with us so you would be able to teach him more about society, to show your parental love for him and all. After all, he’s a candidate for the next village chief, right? Or, am I mistaken? 」
Lucius easily overrode the village chief’s decision and gave Will permission to come along.
「B-But…….. While I feel sorry and extremely ashamed to say this, I wonder if you can pardon his rude behavior. He truly has yet to be taught good manners.」
「What are you talking about? His highness doesn’t mind about such things like manner. He won’t hit an ignorant peasant farmer for not knowing any manners. Anyway, I’m also not a noble, I’m a mercenary. We don’t mind about such things as well.」
In response to the adamant refusal of the village chief, Lucius nonchalantly said his piece, blocking any excuse..
「……Understood. My deepest gratitude for your generous consideration.」
The village chief bowed down his head, to convey his gratitude to them. After that though, he glared at Will severely, using his gaze to tell him to keep his mouth shut and not say unnecessary things.
Thus, the four of them headed toward the village chief’s house, leaving behind the knights and the other villagers.
「To start with, I have to inform you of her lineage, and it’s not something simple. Her full name is Flora Bertram. Have you ever heard about Bertram before? 」
Before they even reached a private space, Lucius began to talk about Flora’s lineage and identity. He even asked the village chief and Will whether they knew of Bertram or not, and the two of them could only follow along with his talk.
「……… Uhm, I only know of its name. I happened to hear that it’s the name of a Kingdom located southeast from this Kingdom.」
The village chief could only reply that with stiff voice.
「You know your stuff, it’s the name of a big kingdom. Now, you should have known about the Rubia kingdom located southwest of this kingdom, right? I believe you also knew about the hostile relationship between them and the Paladia Kingdom. However, did you know that backing the Rubia Kingdom from the shadows is that Bertram Kingdom? Plainly speaking, the Bertram Kingdom is supporting Paladia’s enemy. Now that I have explained to this point, you should be able to guess her lineage right? 」
Lucius fluently explained, smile still firmly attached on his face.
「No way……… She is the princess of this Bertram kingdom? 」
After Lucius’s revelation, the village chief’s voice was strained as he spoke.
「Yes, you’ve guessed right. While, there’s a reason for why she was forced to remain in the rural area of a warring nation, the Paladia Kingdom simply can’t ignore her existence in its territory. Rather, we are going to use all means to secure her. Do you understand what I mean? 」
「……….. Y-Yes. That’s just natural. She can be used as a powerful negotiation tools, right? 」
The village chief understood that their goal might be to use her as a hostage.
「Ah. You’re sharp, as expected of the one who become village chief.」
The village chief acted humble, refusing Lucius’s praise.
「Currently, we know that Princess Flora is hiding in the forest close to this village, however, there are many villages near this forest. As such, we were checking those village, one by one」
「I- I see. So you have been looking around for her in several village.」
「Ah. But it’s quite difficult as we didn’t get the information we were looking for yet. She shouldn’t be able to move too far away from the forest and should be stranded in one of the villages around the forest, but……….」
Lucius paused for a moment, building up the suspense before he continued speaking nonchalantly.
「I didn’t want to think that a certain village might intentionally hide her presence from us. Therefore, I could only think that this princess used her beauty, which she is famous for, to misled some innocent young villagers. After all, as long as she impersonated a noble with special circumstances, I’m afraid that simple young men would be easily fooled into believing her. Don’t you think so, lad? 」
After talking so much in such a roundabout way, he suddenly asked Will, who was silently following them up till now.
「……………. Ah, no, how should I say I wonder? She might be in a village that you have yet to visit.」
Surprised, Will replied with a shaking voice. Anxiety filled his being and it was evident from his expression. Right now, even if he wanted to say something to refute nobody would ever believe it, especially considering his extremely pale complexion. On the other hand――,
The village chief was sending a sidelong glare at Will as he basically just leaked their secret. After all, from the way Will spoke, people could infer that Flora had been in this village and he’s merely covering her.
「That’s right. There’s some village that we have yet to visit. We didn’t want to kill indiscriminately either. So shall we assume it in that way?」
Lucius agreed with a vacant smile on his face.
（You foolish child. How can you be so careless with your words………）
The village chief got even more agitated. Fortunately, Flora was no longer in the village, and he had already made his choice to feign ignorance about her existence. On the other hand―― he did considered telling them the truth, but…
There was a risk of getting slaughtered to seal their mouths if he did choose to speak. Thus, the village chief was hesitant to reveal the truth. This was no longer a problem that could be handled by a mere village chief. As he thought about all of this, the village chief’s house came to view.
「T-That’s our house. It’s just a humble abode of us, but please enter. Will. You go to the barn to tie their horse in there.」
After giving such instruction to Will, the village chief opened the entrance door and asked them to go inside with a timid voice.
Lucius and Duran gracefully descended from their horse and entrusted Will to lead their steeds to their spot.
「I-It’s nothing, I’m gonna take care of them」
Obediently, Will received the horse leashes, head hanging down unable to meet Lucius’s eyes that crossed his briefly. It was unknown whether it was because of a guilty conscience or other reasons though.
「Let’s enter the house, your highness. And then……… Ah, village chief. Can we see the inside of your house? Just to make sure」
After he entered the house with Duran, Lucius’s lips loosened from its perpetual smiling state from before. And without the slightest hint of courtesy, they asked for permission to search the house.
Caught off guard, the village chief unintentionally let out a stiff groan――,
（C-Crap! The dress and gems are in that room………）
When he thought of the gems and dress that was left behind by Flora as a reward, he fell into despair.
「What’s the matter? You certainly won’t mind us looking around your house, right? 」
Lucius looked at the village chief, a cold smile gracing his lips.
「Ah, no, I mean it’s rather messy right now………….」
The village chief couldn’t do anything else except make such lame excuses.
「It’s okay. We don’t mind about it. Please wait right here for a while, your highness.」
Lucius said, then he immediately intruded into the house without waiting for the village chief’s permission. Before he could move further in though, the village chief’s voice rang out hastily.
「P-PLEASE WAIT A MINUTE! 」
Panicked, the village chief stopped Lucius from moving further into the house.
「What’s the matter? Do you have something inside that you would rather not let me see? 」
Lucius asked playfully, smile still etched on his face, however, he endured the urge to laugh out loud.
「Uhm, it’s as you say. That girl is in this place indeed…………..」
Finally, the village chief admitted defeat and confessed with a haggard face. After that, while bracing for the punishment that might befall him and his village, he heard something that was totally out of his expectation.
「Ha~, against my expectation, you gave up rather fast.」
Lucius said, scratching his head while making a disappointed expression, confusing the village chief.
「She is in this village indeed. This gamble. Is mine.」
Smiling, Duran finally opened his mouth and spoke to Lucius.
The village chief looked at their exchange with a dumbfounded face.
「Your wit isn’t bad, village chief. However, do you truly think that you caould hide that fact from us? It was obvious that you were trying to hide something from the first glance though, your village’s suspicious activities didn’t exactly hide it, you know. Since that was the case, his highness and I decided to make a bet about what you were hiding from us.」
Heaving a sigh, Lucius then moved to the bedroom of the village chief and opened it.
Meanwhile, the village chief was at a loss for words. However, before he could gather his wits with him,
「Where is princess Flora right now? What happened to her? Don’t try to hide anything from us and be brief. If you tell another lie, you’re dead. Do you understand? Now, answer me. 」
Duran spoke with piercing cold voice.
「B-By the time she arrived in our village, it seems that she’s contracted some kind of disease and decided to rest for a while in our village! When she still did not get better after a while, I suggested her to rely on our local lord. However, before I could do that, she was already gone from her room this morning! 」
Hurriedly, the village chief started to divulge the exact situation, not sparing any detail so that the village might be spared.
「…………….. Humph. So that was the reason for the uproar that happened when we’ve just arrived in this village」
「Well, that might be the case, but……………. From your tone, you have yet to find her right, village chief? 」
Lucius agreed with Duran’s word, then turned to the village chief and asked another question.
「Eh, no……… We found her, but we judged that she’s beyond saving, so……………」
The village chief averted his eyes away, not speaking further.
「KUH-HAHAHAHAHA, YOU ABANDONED HER HUH! RIGHT! ? 」