Wortenia Senki (LN) - Volume 5 - Chapter 3

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Chapter 3: Leader of the North 

A single carriage clicked against the flagstones as it rolled forward. It eventually stopped in front of the entrance to Count Salzberg’s estate, located in the south side of Epirus. The sun had already set and the area was lit up by candlelight. 

The black two-horse carriage was only barely adorned on the outside with the most minimal decorations. It wasn’t shabby or simple, as its exterior was certainly polished and well-maintained, but it certainly couldn’t be called magnificent. 

In a word, it seemed to prioritize functionality over appearances. And frankly speaking, it didn’t seem like the kind of vehicle a noble might use. But its owner didn’t much care for that. With the task of developing the Wortenia Peninsula ahead of him, appearances were the last thing that concerned him. 

“Here you are, sir.” Mike, who accompanied Ryoma as the carriage’s driver, opened the door for him. 

Ryoma got off the carriage and stepped onto the ground, turning to face a row of servants who bowed their heads to greet him. 

“““We welcome you, Baron Ryoma Mikoshiba.””” 

They bowed in a single, fluid motion. A perfect welcome performed by servants of a noble house. And as if prompted by their words, two figures appeared in the estate’s door. 

“Well met, Baron Mikoshiba!” said a man spreading his hands out in a welcoming gesture. 

It was the master of this estate and the ruler of the citadel city of Epirus, Count Salzberg. He was over one hundred and eighty centimeters in height, and looked to be in his mid-thirties. With him approaching midlife, his gut was starting to stick out. But perhaps owing to his role as the ruler of a border town, his stance and form were clearly those of a warrior. 

I’ve heard the Salzberg house dates back to Rhoadseria’s founding, but apparently he’s not just some stupid, laid-back noble... Why is he being so cordial towards me, though? It’s giving me the creeps... 

In terms of title, Salzberg was a count while Ryoma was a baron — he was two ranks above Ryoma. They were both nobles of Rhoadseria, true, but their positions were in no way equal. Ryoma was like an employee promoted to section manager, while Count Salzberg was like the superior to a branch manager. 

This wasn’t Japan, where the class system was abolished. For better or worse, there was a clear, distinct hierarchy between the two of them. Ryoma was a vagabond who was promoted to noble status, while Count Salzberg was a noble of a famous house. Being welcomed so warmly struck Ryoma as exceptionally odd. 

I should be cautious of this man... 

Ryoma strained his consciousness. He did misjudge Queen Lupis’s intentions, so it would be only natural for him to exercise caution. Not that he intended to let it show on his face, of course. Ryoma smiled broadly and lowered his head respectfully, just like Laura and Sara taught him to act in the presence of other nobles. 

“Please accept my humblest apologies for the sudden visit. I may be young, but I hope our future relations will be of mutual favor to each other, Count Salzberg.” 

The outfit Ryoma was wearing that day was far from gaudy. He still had plenty of the money he got from killing Azoth the slave merchant, but considering the future he would need to save as much money as possible. With that in mind, insisting on ordering special clothes felt like a waste. 

Nobles had their dignity and honor to consider, though. Ryoma felt it was a foolish thing to obsess over, but even he realized meeting a noble in his usual hemp black shirt and trousers would be unfitting. Getting into trouble over something as simple as not being dressed for the occasion wouldn’t do. 

And so, Ryoma was dressed in a somewhat handsome outfit of a black silk shirt and pants, held up with a belt with a golden buckle. He also had a cloak which he wore outdoors, like now. But for a noble, it was the absolute minimum. He only maintained the least possible manners required. 

Count Salzberg didn’t seem to look down on Ryoma for his appearance, though. 

“No, no, I’m honored to have a hero of the rebel war visit my humble abode. House Salzberg is a family of warriors, and so I am proud to have you. I apologize that we haven’t much to greet you with, however. Your visit was a touch sudden, but we’ve prepared a fine dinner. You may find my hospitality somewhat lacking, but do enjoy whatever we may offer you.” 

With that said, Count Salzberg took Ryoma’s hand and led him in. 

“Your words are wasted on me... I’m greatly obliged.” Ryoma swiftly lowered his head. 

“Now, now, raise your head and come on over. Allow me to introduce you to my wife. Go on, Yulia, introduce yourself,” Count Salzberg said, prompting the blooming young woman behind him to step forward. 

She seemed to be edging into the age of thirty. Her braided hair was a shining shade of gold. She was about a meter and seventy centimeters tall, and had voluptuous, attractive limbs. Any man would have his heart stolen by her attractive appearance. She was a bewitching woman, indeed. Ryoma did not miss the intellectual glint in her eyes, though. 

“Well met, Baron Mikoshiba. The journey from the capital must have been quite taxing. You may take your time and rest tonight in our estate. Right, beloved?” 

Count Salzberg nodded magnanimously at Lady Yulia’s words. 

“As my wife says, I hope this visit allows you to rest from your arduous journey. After all, once you enter Wortenia, there will be no villages or cities to rest in... You’ll have no choice but to bring in supplies from Epirus in the near future. This is in the name of our friendship as ones who rule over neighboring lands! And I hope it will be a longstanding friendship, at that.” 

“Erm... I’ll gladly accept your invitation, then... I hope you will be able to guide me in my future duties.” Ryoma meekly lowered his head to the count. 

Hmph... He read my intent already. From what he says, he’s willing to help me with the supplies... First order of business is to figure out his intentions. 

Ryoma’s eyes glinted sharply. 

“Now come along, Baron Mikoshiba. I’ve ordered my head cook to put together a special feast to welcome you,” Count Salzberg said. “Sadly, my land is much more of a backwater region compared to the capital, so we haven’t much in the way of local specialties. But it is a bountiful land, thankfully, so we do have plenty. Do relish it.” 

Confirming that Ryoma had taken a seat, the count declared the beginning of the banquet. At his words, the doors swung open and maids walked in, pushing carts lined up with dishes. 

“This is all very...” 

Ryoma was taken aback by the many dishes being placed on the table. Chicken, beef, fish, and a whole roasted pig were served as the main dishes, surrounded with an abundance of salads, seafood, and vegetables. Cold fruit chilled by lumps of ice was served in gold cups, filling Ryoma’s nostrils with the pleasant, chilly scent of the fruits of the season. 

Just the three of them were seated at a dinner table that had enough food to accommodate at least twenty people. And all of the dishes were delicacies that were by no means inferior to what Ryoma was served in Pireas during the feast celebrating the civil war’s end. 

Just how much money was squandered on this feast? As the guest, Ryoma couldn’t help but ask himself that question with a hint of concern. 

“No... I am somewhat beside myself with shame here,” Count Salzberg said, scratching his hair. “A guest from the capital might not know of this, but it is customary here to greet guests with more food than they can eat... I do not mind if you think of it as some foolish backwater custom and play along with me here.” 

“No... I am simply surprised you’d hold such a feast for an upstart like myself. I’m quite grateful, Count Salzberg.” 

“Ahaha! An upstart, you say! There’s no need for modesty, Baron Mikoshiba. Your exploits in the last war are varied and great. I hear Queen Lupis holds a great deal of trust in you... During the civil war, I couldn’t afford to leave this land because of the threat of an invasion from Xarooda.” Count Salzberg concluded his words with a hint of self-deprecation. 

“I’m afraid that it’s you who is being too modest, Count Salzberg,” Ryoma replied with a forced smile. “I truly believe your protection of the north is what allowed the civil war to end without interference from another country.” 

“Beloved, I do believe that’s enough chatter. Do you intend to have our guest eat a cold meal?” Yulia chided her husband. 

“Oh! My apologies... Is Baron Mikoshiba’s glass empty? Have it filled at once!” 

At the count’s order, red wine was poured into Ryoma’s glass. 

“Now then... Let us raise a glass to the flourishing of House Mikoshiba! Cheers!” 

Ryoma downed the glass. The first thing he felt was the rich aroma filling his mouth. It was soon accented by a slightly spicy, stimulating taste. After relishing the wine for two or three more seconds, the thick flavor of the wine washed over his taste buds. Finally, he felt the pleasing sensation of the wine slipping down his throat, as smooth and sleek as quality silk. 

The grapes are amazing... This must be high-quality wine. 

A high-schooler like Ryoma wouldn’t normally be very keen on the intricacies of wine, especially wine like this that was so far removed from the cheap bottles one could pick up at a convenience store. But owing to his grandfather’s uninhibited nature, Ryoma had tasted alcohol during his life in Japan, and drank it daily since coming to this world. 

And from his experience, the wine the count served him was of the highest caliber obtainable. It was made of fine, hand-picked grapes and produced by the finest wine-makers. He was provided with fine wines during his stay in Pireas, and these were in no way inferior to that. 

Between the cooking and the wine... What’s his angle? No, forget that, where does he even get all this luxury? Can plain riches really afford all this? 

The same could be said for the dishes they were served. The ingredients were excellent, hand-picked and garnished with the finest spices. Even if he did want to welcome Ryoma warmly, it was far too extravagant for some upstart baron. 

Is this really their idea of normal hospitality...? 

Ryoma snuck a glance at Count Salzberg, who was happily eating away. 

His outfit is pretty flashy, too... It’s got an elaborate design, and made of high-quality silk... His ornaments are incredible, too. 

Ryoma wasn’t jealous of the man, but there was no denying that in terms of outfit he stood in stark contrast to him. 

But oddly enough, there isn’t any vulgarity about him... 

True to his status as a born noble, Count Salzberg wore ornaments graced with gemstones that showed off his position. His shirt’s buttons used pearls, and the brooch on his chest was designed in the form of an elaborate flower. But for how gaudy they all were, Salzberg somehow managed to make them appear natural. 

Of course, in terms of sheer brilliance, the dress adorning the woman beside him, Yulia, far outmatched his outfit. It had a striking, novel design that covered her entire body, but still bared her cleavage. The white fabric harmonized well with her golden hair. 

She had a small silver crown on her head, and her fingers were adorned with ruby and sapphire rings. A large diamond necklace hung from her neck. Overall, she gave the impression of a gemstone chiseled in the shape of a woman. 

From a modern man’s perspective, it felt as if she was too decorated. But watching Lady Yulia smile warmly right in front of him gave Ryoma an impression of noble dignity and a jewel’s balanced beauty. 

If nothing else, it doesn’t feel like they’re pretending... They’re used to this. 

There were plenty of people out there who would put on airs so others wouldn’t look down on them. But most of those people weren’t able to properly maintain this facade, making it easy for others to tell they were acting. It was the difference between simply putting on the clothes of a noble and truly wearing them naturally. 

But Count Salzberg and Lady Yulia didn’t give off the atmosphere that this was a facade. They seemed perfectly natural. 

But if that’s true... 

That raised the question of how Count Salzberg obtained and maintained all this luxury. Their outfits were truly high class and it was obvious with a glance that they must have cost a fortune. Their meals were a match for the capital’s feasts. 

This... doesn’t make sense. Taxes alone aren’t enough to maintain this lifestyle. And if that’s the case... 

Ryoma couldn’t say for certain. He didn’t have information yet, but if what he had in mind was true... 

I guess it depends on what the others can dig up... 

“Ooh. You don’t seem to have much of an appetite, Baron Mikoshiba. Does the food not suit your palate?” Count Salzberg asked Ryoma, who fell silent after sipping some wine. 

“He must be exhausted from the long journey,” Lady Yulia remarked. “Does the meat have a bit too much oil...? Anne, give the baron some cold fruit. I’m sure he’ll like it.” 

A maid placed a golden cup full of fruit in front of Ryoma. 

“My apologies, I didn’t mean to worry you,” Ryoma said, bringing a cold orange from the cup into his mouth. 

He was actually just contemplating things, but he didn’t feel inclined to correct Salzberg’s misunderstanding. 

“You must really be tired...” Count Salzberg said. “I’ve heard you were a first-class warrior, Baron Mikoshiba, but it takes half a month even on horseback to reach Epirus from the capital. I suppose it stands to reason.” 

“Beloved! You’re being rude... I’m sure having been made a noble so suddenly must be exhausting for him. Isn’t that right, baron?” Lady Yulia turned a considerate gaze at Ryoma. 

“Yes... It’s all too sudden.” Ryoma said, picking a piece of beef from his plate and bringing it to his mouth. “I’ve lived as a commoner so far, so I’m honestly not all that sure how to handle ruling over a territory...” 

“I see... But I hear you’re quite intelligent and blessed with wit,” Count Salzberg replied. “I will do anything in my power to be of assistance. Our ruling adjacent territories must be some sort of fate at play. I’m sure we’ll help each other in the future... Hmm? Is something wrong with your food?” 

Count Salzberg suddenly eyed Ryoma suspiciously as he chewed on the meat. 

“No... The salt is just a bit stronger than I imagined. Between the salt and the spices, it’s all so different from the weak flavors I know from the capital.” 

The spices aside, salt was a fairly rare commodity on this Earth. Salt was fundamental for everyday life, but this world didn’t have any saltpans or rock salts to mine. Territories that were near the sea had a source of salt, but Count Salzberg shouldn’t have had any lands that fit that description. That meant he either managed to dig up some rock salt, or brought it in from another land. 

“Ahaha. I suppose a man that’s grown too used to the capital’s blandness might feel that way.” 

Ryoma then chose to cut to the heart of the matter. His objective was, of course, to shake Count Salzberg. 

“I don’t believe any of the lands you govern is adjacent to the sea... Did you find a vein of rock salt? Or did you trade with the nearby territories for it?” 

“No, actually...” Count Salzberg was about to answer Ryoma’s question with a smile, but... 

“Yes, precisely... We’ve found a large vein of halite last year.” Lady Yulia cut into his words. 

“Oh. That’s quite fortunate. I can’t say I’m not envious.” Ryoma accepted her words with a smile. 

He had no intent of criticizing the couple here. 

Salt, huh... This is something else I should look into... Ryoma thought to himself as he swallowed another mouthful of well-salted beef. 

The dinner party ended rather uneventfully after three more hours, after which Ryoma and the count moved to a parlor. They talked over trivial matters and deepened their friendship. Count Salzberg opened a treasured bottle of wine, during which Lady Yulia also started participating in the conversation. The couple didn’t show any of the conceit Ryoma came to expect out of the nobility, and welcomed him warmly the entire time. 

As night approached, Ryoma made to leave, upon which Count Salzberg insisted he spend the night at his estate. Ryoma obliged out of courtesy. As he was being led to his room by the maids, he couldn’t help but let out a sigh. 

The furniture was all masterfully crafted, and the curtains and sheets were of course made of high-quality silk. The walls and shelves with paintings and vases left a striking impression even in Ryoma, who was detached from the arts. The room wasn’t unlike a high-class hotel’s suite room. It was a veritable mountain of treasure. 

“Wonder if they’ll blame me for taking one of these,” Ryoma whispered as he cast himself into the large bed and reached for one of the vases on his bedside. 

With how pressed he was for money when it came to developing his territory, being in this room was bad for Ryoma’s heart. 

Guess this is proof of how strong his economy is... But when I looked into him in the capital, all I found is that these territories aren’t producing anything too noteworthy... 

Something didn’t quite click about Count Salzberg and Lady Yulia’s attitude. On the surface, they seemed to be a kind, friendly couple, but Ryoma couldn’t help but feel like there was something behind the scenes with those two. 

“Baron... May I come in?” a woman’s dainty voice suddenly called out from behind the room’s door. 

“Yes... What is it? The door isn’t locked.” 

“Thank you... sir.” 

At Ryoma’s permission, the door opened and a maid walked into the room. 

“Did the count tell you to do this?” Ryoma picked up on the situation the moment he saw the way the maid was dressed. 

“Ah... Erm... The Lady told me to... Baron...” 

The maid’s skin was hidden behind a white negligee, which was transparent enough to give a glimpse of the pink bra and panties beneath them. It was quite the sensual, seductive sight. But a glance at how her shoulders shivered and the way her expression seemed to be enduring something would make any man understand the meaning of her attire. 

“Would it cause you trouble if I were to insist this isn’t necessary?” Ryoma asked. 

The maid’s expression colored over with despair. 

“Ah! Erm... I’m, uhh... Well... This would be my first time, but... Ah... I’ll do my best to... Erm... Am I... no good...?” 

Perhaps the way he’d put it was a bit too forceful, because she earnestly insisted. Seeing her blushing face made it impossible to push her away. 

“You’re fine... Come here.” Ryoma said as gently as possible, so as to not frighten her. 

Of course, Ryoma wasn’t experienced with women. But turning timid here would harm his dignity. 

“Yes...” The maid timidly took hold of his extended hand. 

Hearing her delicate response, Ryoma pulled her body gently against his own. And as he did, a faint, floral aroma filled his nostrils. It wasn’t long before the room’s candles were blown out, and darkness fell over the room. 


While Ryoma Mikoshiba was enjoying a night of lovemaking in his room, in another part of the mansion, Count Salzberg and Lady Yulia were having a private conversation. 

“My word... Perhaps we shouldn’t have been this welcoming,” Count Salzberg complained to his wife as he sipped tea. “Does that boy really have enough value to match all the extravagance we spent on him?” 

The pleasant smile that was on his face during the dinner party and up to the moment he escorted Ryoma to his room was gone without a trace. His expression was filled with a noble’s arrogance and scorn towards the common rabble. 

“Yes... Well, he apparently is bedding the maid, so I would say everything is going in our favor,” Lady Yulia said with a smile. 

Count Salzberg directed a bitter glance at his wife. 

“See, that’s what I’m displeased with! I’ve had my eye on that girl, and you throw her to that upstart?!” 

It was perhaps natural for Count Salzberg to make his displeasure clear after having a maid he’d been pining for allotted to another man, but Lady Yulia shrugged away his complaints as if they were the most trivial thing imaginable. 

“Does it really matter? We can get more maids than would last you a lifetime... And you’d get bored with her within the month, anyway.” There was a hint of exasperation and reproach to her words. 

Count Salzberg’s lecherous skirt-chasing had been a constant source of concern for her. 

“That’s besides the point! Even if I do get bored of her and cast her aside, I wouldn’t tolerate another man taking her! And I haven’t even laid hands on her yet... Blast! Women like her aren’t easy to find!” 

With that said, Count Salzberg took another sip of tea, his feet absolutely shivering with anger. His irritation likely wouldn’t die down for a while. 

“Fine... I’ll have my people look for another girl tomorrow.” 

“I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ve no need of used women!” 

“Yes, yes, beloved, don’t worry... I’ll find a girl to your liking.” Restraining the desire to roll her eyes, Lady Yulia tried to placate the count. 

I swear... Why must his sexual appetite be so obnoxious? There’s plenty of slaves and professional women he could call, but he keeps looking for inexperienced virgins... And after two or three times, he gets tired of them and sells them off to slavers... 

Thinking of her husband’s preference for virgins made her gaze turn icy cold. If he were to have concubines for the sake of leaving heirs, she could accept that this was part of a noble’s duty. Count Salzberg only did this to sate his lust, however. He dragged in any young woman in arm’s reach, but never made them into his concubines. Even if they did conceive children, he never allowed them to give birth. 

After a few weeks, a month at best, he would cast any girl aside. That was what always ended up happening. Even if this Earth was a world where the strong feasted upon the weak, few people acted out that rule as blatantly as this man. 

He was the worst possible kind of husband one could have, and the worst possible person one could hope to associate with. But Count Salzberg never let those aspects of his personality rise to the surface. 

I can’t afford to earn his ire now... No matter how absurd the things he says might be... 

Lady Yulia had to sacrifice many things up to that day. Giving up at this point wasn’t an option. 

“Hmph, fine... I’ve no interest in that commoner’s leftovers, anyway...” Apparently deciding he’d complained more than enough for the time being, Count Salzberg took a deep breath and sunk his body into the sofa. “Was it necessary to tell him about the mine, though? It wasn’t just to draw his interest, was it?” 

His eyes, which were clouded over with carnal lust until now, glinted sharply. He may have been a despicable man, but he was a skilled ruler and commander. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be able to govern over this border zone and hold Xarooda’s military aspirations in check. 

“Hmm... I suppose that it wasn’t quite necessary... But I think it was really all the same. He wouldn’t blindly swallow anything we’d tell him... He wouldn’t deny our words, but he wouldn’t believe us, either. And if the matter of the salt drew his interest, he’d look into it on his own. In which case, hiding it would mean little. If anything, this might actually dissuade him from looking into it.” 

Lady Yulia could tell Ryoma Mikoshiba wasn’t an ordinary man. 

He’s a troublesome one... Throughout the dinner party, he’d been gathering information discreetly, so we wouldn’t notice. 

She could pick up on that owing to her own skills as a shrewd merchant. Count Salzberg, however, scoffed at his wife’s appraisal of the man. 

“Hmph... I doubt he’s that sharp. How would he even find out, anyway? He’s just a hired sword that performed well during the civil war. How would he look into where we get our salt? I hear the so-called retainers he has are the filthy mercenaries that worked with him during the civil war, and that he had them forcefully named knights. The only thing people like that are good for is war.” 

From Count Salzberg’s perspective, Ryoma was just a well-built young man. At Lady Yulia’s advice, he welcomed him as lavishly as possible, but his innermost impression of Ryoma was utter disdain. 

With his physique, he probably is a skilled warrior... But his face doesn’t strike me as all that intellectual. 

He seemed upright and collected, but not at all bright. His amicable behavior seemed indicative of a weakness of character, while his gentle demeanor came across as lacking in resolve. Count Salzberg’s opinion on the young man was that aside from his body, he was entirely unacceptable. 

“I agree that he didn’t come across as extremely intelligent, but there’s simply no possibility that could be true,” Lady Yulia said. 

“Tch... Yes, I’ve heard the rumors...” Count Salzberg clicked his tongue audibly at his wife’s words. “Though who’s to say if they’re true. If you ask me, he just curried favor with Helena Steiner. After all, it’s been ten years since she was called the Ivory Goddess of War. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s started going senile.” 

Lady Yulia laughed off this idea, though. 

“Do you really believe Lady Helena would allow for that...? And true, she isn’t young anymore, but apparently her abilities haven’t fallen in the slightest. She even slew General Albrecht while he was trying to flee the border.” 

“Hmph... I guess it’s all just speculation... And? You sent that girl to him, but did she fetch any information?” Count Salzberg spat out hatefully. 

“She wouldn’t gain any information that quickly. Tonight she really is just making love to him... But tomorrow, I’ll ask him to take custody of her.” 

Ryoma didn’t turn down the maid she sent to his room. He was either weak to women or simply did so out of consideration of her position. Whichever it was, they should have currently been in the middle of the act. 

But well, he probably is just weak to a woman’s wiles... And most men leak information in the bedroom... I can’t see Ryoma Mikoshiba being cold to a woman he slept with, after all... 

Lady Yulia turned a cynical glance in her husband’s direction. She was more capable of hiding her lusts than he was. And unaware of his wife’s thoughts, Count Salzberg finally started complaining about Queen Lupis. 

“Good grief... To think I have to curry favor with a filthy commoner... It’s so irksome... It’s all because of that stupid princess... The damn symbol should have been put in her place and made into Albrecht’s second wife...” 

Needless to say, those were dangerous words indeed. Should they be caught by the wrong ears, Count Salzberg could find himself and his entire family executed for them... Lady Yulia didn’t so much as furrow a brow at his comment, though. 

“She’s not a stupid princess, beloved, but a stupid queen... She’s recently been coronated as Queen of Rhoadseria.” 

It seemed Lady Yulia wasn’t keen on arguing against Queen Lupis being called stupid. As insolent as it was, both of them were in agreement on that point. 

“And now she even gave the Wortenia Peninsula to someone else... She’s utterly blind to all our efforts, and had to go ahead and do this!” 

“Come now, beloved, that’s enough grumbling...” Lady Yulia chided him, trying to quell his anger. “The only thing we can do now is keep an eye on that man and make sure he doesn’t do anything unnecessary...” 

“You’re right... And should the worst case scenario come to pass...” 

“I think you know full well what will happen then,” Lady Yulia replied. “The peninsula’s monsters are always hungry for new prey. And look at how large he is... I’m sure he’ll fill their stomachs.” 

“Yes, yes. They’ll have plenty to chew on.” Count Salzberg regarded her words with a cold smile. 


“Aye, lad, I’ve heard you’ve had quite the night!” The middle-aged man sitting at the carriage’s driver seat raised his voice at Ryoma. 

The other mercenaries recently took after Boltz’s example and started calling Ryoma “lad.” They’d fought alongside Ryoma in the Rhoadserian Civil War, and so they were already on friendly terms with him. 

“You heard about that? Where from, Mike?” 

Mike spoke to Ryoma as soon as he left the count’s estate. It was a short trip that only required going down Epirus’s main road to the estate. Perhaps because it was in the middle of town, the horses appeared somewhat bored, as they could only move at a slow pace. 

“Aah, the servants were whispering about it... And I kept me ears peeled, is all!” 

Ryoma cocked his head quizzically. 

“Did Boltz tell you to do that?” 

“Aye...” Mike answered while combing through his beard with his fingers. “When he told me to drive you here, he said that if you end up spending the night I should mingle with the servants and try to draw some information out of them.” 

“Gotta hand it to Boltz... He doesn’t leave a single stone unturned.” 

“Sure doesn’t. Sis is the stronger warrior, but she isn’t much for all the cloak and dagger... That’s where Boltz shines and covers for her!” 

Mike was a middle-class mercenary among the Crimson Lions. He was of course skilled with a weapon, but also proficient at scouting and construction work. And despite his grim appearance, he was also sociable and friendly. He had a strong sense of duty and was tight-lipped, which made him perfect for intelligence work. 

Apparently, he was given the task of driver and bodyguard for Ryoma during this visit, while also gathering information behind the scenes. 

“Still, I didn’t think he’d be right and you’d end up spending the night... Though I said yes all the same.” 

Ryoma met Mike’s words with a wry smile. He was indeed given a perfect welcome, but unfortunately, that didn’t mean it was necessarily a pleasant stay. 

“Yeah, well... The food and drink were all the highest class possible. They must have given quite detailed instructions, because they kept putting out one plate after another. Honestly they treated me so nicely it felt disgusting, and I only ended up feeling all the more uncomfortable...” 

“Same for me... Though they didn’t give me a woman. But the booze and food they gave me wasn’t something for a servant... The bedroom was luxurious, too.” 

“You too, huh...?” 

“Aye... It was eerie, honestly.” 

Ryoma nodded at Mike’s words and closed his eyes in contemplation. They both felt the same thing. 

“Why did they go so far?” Mike asked, looking at Ryoma’s silent face. “I mean, I’m not as smart as you or Boltz, but... I can only tell you what my gut is telling me. If you’re alright with that...” 

After pausing for a moment, Mike spoke of his impressions. 

“I think they either want to ask you for something, or drive you out of this land before you do something they don’t want you to do.” 

“They want me to leave, but they don’t want to fight me... It’s possible.” 

In that case, it was possible Queen Lupis was pulling the strings behind the scenes. Ryoma and his group would be a source of anxiety for her until they went into the Wortenia peninsula. She may well have ordered Count Salzberg to make sure they go in. 

Whichever it is, I don’t have too many choices... No good... I need more information. I can’t make any judgments until I hear what Boltz and Gennou find... 

“Can’t imagine them treating the damn carriage driver that nicely...” 

“So they have an angle...” Ryoma muttered. 

“Aye... Probably.” Mike nodded carefully. 

The two fell into silence for a few moments. 

“Uhh, by the way, Mike, could you keep what happened last night a secret from Laura and the others?” 

Concluding that brooding over the matter now wouldn’t produce an answer, Ryoma elected to change the topic. There was no way of knowing what Count Salzberg’s intentions were at the moment, so for now he’d have to do whatever he could. 

Which was, in this particular moment, making sure Mike kept his mouth shut. 

At Ryoma’s question, Mike’s stiff expression melted into a smile. 

“Aye, I figured you’d say that. If they hear about the fun you had last night... Just thinking about it makes me shiver! Those girls would go mental.” 

Civilization wasn’t as developed in this world, and so sexual intercourse was one of the few sources of entertainment available, as it were. Ryoma had gone with the other mercenaries to pleasure districts before, of course. Thankfully, this world had nostrums that prevented sexual diseases, as well as medicine that prevented pregnancy when taken. 

In that regard it was actually more developed than Ryoma’s world. This was one boon the monsters granted to this Earth. There probably wasn’t a world more suited for a group of men to go out on a night of pleasure. 

The only problem was what came in the morning that followed that night. 

“Hey, don’t even joke about that!” Ryoma found himself nervously raising his voice at the man. “I don’t even know why, but I can see them seriously getting mad at me!” 

“I’ll be honest, lad, but that’s just how it goes. You’re aware of how they feel about you, aye?” 

Mike spoke to his master, who was effectively young enough to be his son, giving him a piece of fatherly advice. 

“Well... I guess...” 

It truly went without Mike having to say it. The Malfist twins’ feelings were clear and evident. 

“Then you probably understand that those two want you to take them as well. They want that from the bottom of their hearts.” 

Ryoma saved them from the slave merchant soon after he was summoned to this world, and it had been nearly half a year since then. They’d always operated together, and so it was natural for romantic emotions to form. Ryoma was conscious of them as members of the opposite sex, too. 

“I know that...” 

Ryoma didn’t know if this was something to be thankful for, but this world didn’t forbid polygamy. Men were free to have as many wives as their personal fortune could finance. So with that in mind, he didn’t have to worry over having to pick one of the twins over the other. Except... 

“You can’t cut away your attachment to Rearth?” 

The Crimson Lion mercenaries were already aware of Ryoma’s circumstances. He told them when they met Gennou and the term “Hinomoto” came up. 

“I suppose... I understand this already, at least in my head. But... I just can’t come to terms with it, or, well...” Mike’s question left Ryoma uncharacteristically noncommittal. 

Ryoma’s reasonable mind had already realized he had no choice but to stay in this world, but his heart couldn’t accept it that easily. His friends and family were still back in Japan. Ryoma may have had a severe personality that showed no mercy to his foes, but he was still an ordinary man who lamented and agonized. 

Sleeping with them would take... resolve. It would mean choosing to stay in this world with them... 

He wasn’t as troubled when it came to bedding a prostitute. It was just a case of money solving a problem, as it often does. But the Malfist sisters displayed selfless affection for Ryoma. Would he be able to bring himself to go back to Japan after making love to them? No. He couldn’t bring himself to be that heartless. 

“Well... You made us into knights and decided to develop this land. I think you’ve already made that choice,” Mike said. 

“Yeah... I can’t go back after getting all of you mixed up in my mess...” 

The gears of fate were already in motion. What would Lione and the others do if Ryoma were to suddenly go back to his world? 

Even if I had a way back home, I... 

He’d already come to his conclusions. He’d already steeled his resolve... 

“Well, don’t worry, I’ll keep last night a secret from those two... But in exchange! Buy me a pint next time around, eh?” Mike said, his bearded face contorting into a smile. 

“Sure thing... I’ll get you as many drinks as you want!” 

Mike only changed the topic out of concern for Ryoma, and that wasn’t lost on him. The consideration warmed Ryoma’s heart. 

It all depends on me, huh... 

Jolted by the carriage as it rolled through Epirus’s streets, Ryoma sighed to himself. 

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