01. What business do you have with a mere pharmacist?
Shal was seized with the impulse to shut the door at the other party’s faces, but he managed to endure it. The indoors will get wet if they keep standing at the doorway so Shal let the two of them inside the house for the time being. Then, Shal closed the door and leaned his back on it, crossing his arms in front of him. It was in order to prevent the two from running away.
“What business do two Knights have at a midnight like this?”
The Knight with small stature covered with a cloak, removed his hood. What appeared was the face of a young boy with golden hair. Blonde hair is a proof of nobility in this country. Shal is the exact opposite, his hair is dyed brown, as he is a commoner.
The young boy had beautiful features that are much more well-proportioned than any girl’s. His cheeks are white porcelain giving off sense of translucence, tinged with a slight blush due to the coldness. His also looks beautiful, I’m sure he will even be more popular if he wears proper clothes other than the Knight’s uniform, Shal let his thoughts wander in another direction for a brief moment.
“…You are Colonel Shal Hardeen, right?”
The voice that came out from the young boy is also higher than a boy’s.
“Returning a question with a question is the first thing you shouldn’t do, y’know? Answer the previous question, what business did you come here for?”
“We came because we want to ask for Colonel Hardeen’s assistance.”
Shal knitted his eyebrows.
“…Really. It’s the first time I heard someone address a veteran of their rank.”
“Then, you really are…?”
“You know even if you don’t ask, that is obviously right.”
Shal left the front of the door and lit up a lamp placed atop the shelf. The lamp dimly lights up.
“So, who are you guys?”
While he asked that, 「Where did I saw him before?」 Shal can vaguely recall the boy’s face. But it seems like they are not that closely related, he thought that he never exchanged words with the boy.
The boy straightened his posture.
“I am Alex L. Inferushia.”
“…Ah, the Crown Prince, right? It’s no wonder you seem familiar.”
Even if Shal became aware he is the Crown Prince, his attitude did not change at all.
――― Of course, he’s actually shaken inside but he never showed it in outwardly.
Then the Knight who was keeping silent from behind opened his mouth, highly offended.
“Do you not intend to change your behavior even if you are aware of His Highness the Crown Prince?”
“…Not really? I am not this prince’s attendant, and aren’t I the master of this house? Why do I have to entertain uninvited visitors?”
Alex restrained the Knight who lost his temper. Shal opened a shelf and took out two towels, handing them over by throwing them.
“You’ll catch a cold if you stay like that.”
The blunt former knight unexpectedly stated kind words. Alex blinked, but received the towel without daring to say anything.
“Thank you. Please forgive my subordinate’s rudeness.”
“I’m not so narrow-minded that I will feel offended by something of that degree. Your subordinate’s opinion was appropriate.”
“…Is that so? I see. In other words, you will not bluntly refuse or send us away.”
Even though he was easily seen-through, Shal remained silent and let the comment pass.
“Even so, you guys knew I live here, huh?”
Shal lit up another lamp and went to the kitchen, beginning to work on something.
“Well, that is…”
“I will sock that bastard Leon the next time I see him. Giving out my information without permission…!”
Apparently, Shal already anticipated it even without Alex telling him. Alex appealed towards the kitchen, where they can only hear Shal’s voice.
“Leon is in a predicament at the moment. He asked me to seek for your assistance.”
“Assistance? What the heck do you guys want me to do?”
“You were once called the strongest Knight, that military might… I would like you to lend it for the sake of our Inferushia Kingdom.”
“…I don’t know who told you those things but I am just a mere pharmacist right now. Unfortunately, I don’t intend to pick up the sword once again.”
Alex was dumbfounded. Shal came back from the kitchen. He is holding two cups with rising steam. He then placed it on the table in front the sofa.
“Don’t stand, sit down. This talk will be long.”
“Eh, ah… That is right, please let me do so. Incidentally, this is…?”
“Tisane. This is the best for a cold body… This kind of thing is currently my job.”
Shal sat down on the chair opposite Alex as he said so. Alex is sitting on the sofa but the Guard Knight remained standing. Shal did not say anything since it is a Knight’s duty. He only handed the Tisane to him.
Alex became wide-eyed as he drank a mouthful, as if surprised.
“You referred to it as tisane so I was anticipating that it tastes awful but… it may be easy for me to drink it.”
“It’s because I made it so that it will be easy to swallow. It drew the attention of people with colds coming to visit the pharmacist’s house. It influenced my reputation.”
Shal turned his eyes towards the ceiling while saying that. There is a slight blotch on the ceiling because of the rain. Alex placed the cup on the desk.
“We have strayed from the topic, but Colonel Hardeen, will you not accept my request for assistance?”
“Why? If this country is defeated, Inferushia will suffer the invasion of Theodora. Do you not want to protect this country?”
Theodora is the enemy country of Inferushia Kingdom. A country founded in the northwest desert zone, it is a historical enemy nation. After an interval of ten years, it had now become a full-scale war.
“I think my back is not big enough to carry the entire country. It’s impossible for me to have that kind of burden.”
Shal quietly answered. He sketched the map in his mind before he knew it, and pursued the subject while taking that into account. He often used that tone when persuading someone during the time he was still in active duty.
“I considered the significance of the enemy’s invasion and everything. The people of Theodora residing in that desert area want the rich nature and iron mines of Inferushia. That is what they want but those guys don’t know how to produce crops and the methods of mining. To do it, they have no choice but to use the locals. Do you get it?”
Alex meekly nodded. Shal continued.
“In other words, Theodora’s army will kill Inferushia’s army but not the citizens. They will keep them alive and make them work. The country will fall if the people will die, you know? With a pretext like that, dispute between countries is not a very significant topic for people in the countryside. The head of the nation will change, but they will do the same thing as usual. They will diligently work in the fields, transport harvested vegetables and receive money. Only that.”
“Do you think it’s heartless? Sorry, but that’s how humans are. As long as their usual way of life will not change, they will not willingly take action. Similarly, me too.”
Shal leaned his body to the back of the seat.
“I’m content with my current life. As long as someone won’t barge in and destroy that, I won’t do anything. I am not interested with this country’s fate anymore.”
“…Then if someone will intrude on that, you will take action?”
“You’ll lead the enemies to this town? I didn’t expect you had that kind of nerve.”
Alex let out a small groan, he looked like he wanted to say something but decided against it.
Alex nodded, his expression colored with some disappointment. Apparently, he judged that persuasion appears to be impossible.
“I understand your point, but I cannot go back. I promised Leon that I will come back with you. I will not return to the battlefield until you do so.”
“Did Leon told you I’ll give in if you cling to me?”
It hit the bull’s eye, Alex remained silent. Shal breathed a sigh.
“If you will let me say my opinion, I think Leon’s intention is different.”
“It’s fine if you didn’t notice. Well, do as you like. I’m not so inhuman that even I, will throw out His Highness. You can settle down here tonight, but I don’t mind if you stay here for how long if you plan to stick with me. I will take care of you while you’re here but I won’t be responsible for you after that. That’s only what you need to remember.”
The next room is vacant, use anything in the house as you want, Shal left those words and withdrew to his own room.
Closing the door, Shal softly clicked his tongue. Even if I return to the front lines, one person cannot dramatically change the tide of the war, what is that bastard Leon thinking!? He hurled curse words at his friend who’s out of sight but in fact, he saw through Leonhard’s aim.
But that is just a stopgap “for now”, he intends to draw out Shal to the battlefield eventually.
If Shal who was famed as 【Hero of Rodell】 returned, morale will rise and may be the driving force to repel the enemy. Furthermore, in addition to Shal’s combat skills, his troop-commanding ability is also high. Shal was once entrusted the role of commanding 1000 Rider Knights.
From the start, Leonhard’s aim is 『Shal must return to being a Knight』.
Five years ago, Shal retired from the military due to a certain event. That event left a deep scar in Shal’s heart, Leonhard also knows the circumstances in detail more than anyone. Nevertheless, he obstinately requested Shal to come back to service. Please consider my feelings here, he wants to say. Contrary to his appearance, Shal is awfully delicate and has a tendency to drag out things. Leonhard might think it is irritating.
『Are you still agonizing over it?』
『Will you not fight beside me one more time?』
『This country needs your strength.』
Leonhard had always written those things in the occasional letters they exchanged.
Leonhard is trying to encourage his friend who disappeared from the center stage five years ago. His worries were transmitted to Shal, too. However, the trauma still remains.
“…Leon. It’s heavy…for me.”
Muttered Shal, suddenly recalling Alex’s face.
The first time they met was when Shal received his reward for protecting the King from enemy spies during the Rodell inspection. In the Royal Palace’s throne room he entered for the first time, he remembered the demure Alex next to the King. He was probably seven or eight years old at that time.
After that, they met again after several years. It’s lucky for Shal that Alex cannot remember “that time”. If Alex ever mentioned that to persuade him, the confidence that he will keep on being stubborn has somewhat disappeared.
It has been eight years since then. With some traces of his looks from that time, Alex grew up as a dignified young man―――.
“…How do I say this, Leon is good-looking, the Crown Prince is good-looking ―― Why are all nobles so handsome!?”
The only nobles Shal knows are the two of them so it’s only natural for him to have this statistics. Even so, he thinks that both of them are even more beautiful than a woman.
What are you thinking, me!? Shal scolded himself, and threw down his body on the bed.
Alex realized that he knew nothing about the man named Shal Hardeen.
The things Alex knows about Shal are trifling. He is called the【Hero of Rodell】, he suddenly retired from the military five years ago and hid his whereabouts, he is an incomparable master of sword, and is apparently a friend of Archery Corps Commander Leonhard. Besides, all these things are just what he heard from other people.
How can he shake that man’s heart?
“Your Highness… It is already late at night, will you sleep now? You must be tired from the continuous horse-ride.”
The Guard Knight urged him. However, instead of answering, Alex threw in a question.
“Do you know anything about Colonel Hardeen?”
“Eh… no, that. I do not consider myself that well-informed.”
“I see… But I think he had a reason for obstinately refusing to fight…”
Alex was thinking when the knight incidentally recalled something and opened his mouth.
“Which reminds me, Colonel Hardeen had an older brother.”
“Yes. His rank was Major General, he also belonged to the same Knight Corps as the Colonel and was the 10000 Knights Captain. If I remember correctly, he passed away around seven or eight years ago.”
“Seven or eight years… Is his older brother’s death the reason why Colonel retired?”
He was referred to as 10000 Knights Captain, it must mean he was「A Person Who Commands 10000 Rider Knights」.
Before Alex sunk into his sea of thoughts, the Knight appealed for him to rest in the same way as a while ago. Alex nodded obediently, but it was mentioned that there is only one room. So what should they do?
“What do you intend to do?”
“I will borrow this sofa. Please make use of the room, Your Highness.”
“…Sorry. Thank you.”
Alex smiled, seemingly a little apologetic and went to the room. The Guard Knight sat down on the sofa and breathed out.
The rain had become even more tempestuous, and there’s no knowing when the lightning will cease.
It seems like the night is still long―――.