The girl with the wicked crest
The carriage pulled up in front of themansion where a woman stood, maids supporting her from both sides.She appeared to be in poor health. With features similar toRoxy-sama's, she was very beautiful. Was she perhaps ―
"Mother, didn't I tell you not tocome out and meet us?!" (TN: Roxy calls her mother 母上,a formal term that literally means mother above/superior, used toshow sophistication in families. Since this doesn't fit the westernculture, it has been kept as simply "mother".)
Ahh, it was indeed Roxy-sama'smother. During our usual tea parties, I had heard that her mother wasseverely ill. Who could expect someone in that condition to welcomeus?
Even now, her complexion was so sicklythat she looked ready to cough up blood, so it would not be strangefor her to collapse at any given moment. I could see this even frommy perspective, so of course Roxy-sama was even more upset as herimmediate relative. This was natural since she was the only member ofher family left… Either way, such a severe illness that even theHeart Family, one of the five noble lineages, could not cure withtheir status and financial power…
"I'm begging you, please don'tpush yourself."
"It's alright, Roxy. My conditionis better today than usual… Oh?!"
Calming down the panicking Roxy-sama infront of her, the mother looked at me. Her expression was… likethat of a child who had found a very interesting toy.
"Well well, who might this be?"
"He's… Fate Graphite. A newemployee that I hired. I wanted to introduce him to mother so Ibrought him along."
Following Roxy-sama's introduction, Ibowed my head.
"I am Aisha Heart. Thank you forcoming this time. I welcome you."
"Thank you very much. It's nice tomeet you!"
"Yes, it's nice to meet you too.Now then, come in."
Under Aisha-sama's directions, themaids who had been hanging back half forcibly pulled me into themansion. Ohh, it was this kind of welcome… At this, Roxy-sama wasleft alone outside.
"Wait, mother! He's my servant, youknow!"
I was coerced into a luxurious guestroom where they sat me down at a small table next to the window.Finally, the maids released me from their restraints. Roxy-sama'smother sat in front of me. I thought that Aisha-sama was a prettyoverbearing person.
Roxy-sama came a few moments later.With her cheeks puffed, she seemed somewhat upset at her mother foracting selfishly.
"Well, Roxy came too? Then, sithere."
Even though she said that, Roxy-samasat obediently as she was told to. It seemed like having a tea partyfirst thing when coming home was a Heart Family custom. Roxy-sama'slove for tea parties may have been influenced by her mother. As Ismiled when thinking this, Aisha-sama spoke.
"Fate, do you like Roxy?"
Ehhh?! I almost spat out the tea that Ihad been drinking. Or rather, I spluttered a little. While I wasflustered that such a question like this was the first thing shesaid, Roxy-sama's face reddened and she became angry.
"What are you saying all of asudden?"
"Oh, was that improper? I was simplyasking if he liked you as an employer. If he was working for youbegrudgingly, I can't say that I would be happy for him, right?"
Ahh, she was talking about that… Iwas surprised. I had thought she meant something else. A commoner anda Holy Knight. We were too different. No matter how I hoped that itwould be possible, it was not something that could happen.
Smiling mischievously, Aisha-samarepeated her question. I had already decided on my answer.
"I am very grateful to Roxy-sama. Iwould like to serve her for the rest of my life if allowed."
When I showed my loyalty to Roxy-sama,Aisha-sama was so pleased that she elegantly clasped her handstogether. I truly felt this way.
Hearing this while she drank her tea,Roxy-sama started choking violently. Looking at me, her face flushedred and she said, "I will be resting in my room for a while. Seeyou later," then escaped from the room.
Had I said something wrong? As Iworried, Aisha-sama spoke to me cheerfully.
"It seems like the exhaustion fromthe journey has caught up to her. She must have been busy with herduties at the capital. After a long rest, Roxy will return to herusual self so you need not be concerned."
Roxy-sama's sudden departure had leftme behind. However, Aisha-sama was a good conversationalist and shetold me many things about how they were focusing on improving newgrape varieties in the territory, as well as stories from Roxy-sama'schildhood.
"Something like that happened?"
"Indeed. As a child, Roxy was such acrybaby that she would cry even from just seeing a small insect. Forher to have become a Holy Knight, it's quite unbelievable."
At that moment, a fleeting moment ofsadness crossed Aisha-sama's face. Having lost her dear husband,she must have been worried about the heavy responsibility that nowrested on her daughter. And so I spoke with my hand across my heart.
"Roxy-sama is a splendid Holy Knight.She is trusted by many people at the capital. I think Roxy-sama isdoing a wonderful job as the head of the Heart Family."
"Is that so… I'm relieved.…Thank you."
Aisha-sama was brought slightly totears. After all, the loss of the former master must have left a deepscar on the Heart Family that has yet to heal. At least, I felt thatway.
The tea party that had become solemndrew to an end. There was also the matter of Aisha-sama's physicalcondition, so the maids who had been waiting in the corner came tomention that it was about time for her to rest.
After I had thanked Aisha-sama for thetea party, I had nothing to do so I decided to wander around theHeart Family's territory. For the time being, I had asked a maidfor permission to walk around alone to which she had told me to makesure not to get lost. I had replied with, "I won't go too far,"and decided to leave Greed with the maid at the mansion forsafekeeping.
Whew… Anyway, what a large vineyard.I could not even begin to describe the sweetness of the scenttickling my nose. Against the blue sky, the green covered earth was astunning contrast. While I sauntered along comfortably, I saw peopleharvesting grapes. They seemed very busy.
Speaking of which, Roxy-sama and I hadplanned to harvest grapes with the residents tomorrow. Since I had noexperience in doing this, I was unsure of the procedure. If I made amistake or if I was bad at it, I would embarrass Roxy-sama as herservant. I should take this opportunity to practice it here. Havingdecided this, I called out to the residents.
"Hello, my name is Fate Graphite andI'm the new Heart Family servant. If it's alright, could youteach me how to harvest grapes?"
The silence stretched for a while.Maybe it was no good… I guess I messed up. Just as I was thinkingthis,
"Ohhh, you're going to lend me ahand?! That'll be helpful. As expected of a Heart Family servant."
The aunts and uncles stopped what theywere doing and gathered around. Then, they taught me where to pickthe grapes from and how to carefully harvest them. They wereresidents of the Heart Family territory after all, so they were allnice people.
…This was what I thought at first,however, I worked like a horse until dusk before I realised it.Everyone was working so hard that I simply could not leave halfway.When I took a break in the corner of the field, a few uncles came andtreated me to some freshly squeezed grape juice.
"You've been really helpful. Here,drink this to rejuvenate."
The slightly sweet acidity spreadthroughout my mouth, taking away the fatigue from picking grapes. Ihad never drank so much juice before.
"It's very delicious."
"Hahaha, isn't it? Especially sincethe juice was squeezed from grapes that we're proud of. Well, wedidn't have this many grapes in the old days."
"Is that so?"
"Ahh, my deceased master wasdedicated to improving the soil. He called many people from otherregions who were knowledgeable about this, learning together with theresidents. It's a fond memory now. Thanks to that, we were able tomake this vineyard."
The uncles drank the grape juicesolemnly as though it was alcohol.
"How is Roxy-sama faring? We heardthat our former master passed away in Gallia, so we're worried.She's a kind person. She must be hurting inside."
"I think she felt shocked. ButRoxy-sama is very strong. She was doing many public duties at thecapital. Seeing her like that, I believe she will be okay."
I had simply told them what I trulyfelt in my heart. At this, everyone who was listening lookedsurprised and grinned broadly. Then, they began pouring grape juiceinto my cup again and again.
"Wait, I can't drink any more!"
"It's fine. Drink up, drink up."
In the warm weather, we spoke for quitea while before I decided to return to the Heart Family's mansion.On the way back in the evening, I noticed an unfamiliar girl walkingin the opposite direction. She had long, white hair and brown skin.Her appearance did not resemble that of any race in this country.Moreover, she had an axe so large that a child should not be able tocarry it.
The most intriguing of all were thewhite tattoos all over her body. Was it a ritual of some sort? Thenshe noticed my gaze and halted right beside me, remainingexpressionless.
She spoke in a cute, child-like voice.Directed at me, her eyes were red enough to stop anyone in theirtracks. I had seen eyes like these before. This… no way. Iactivated the <Appraisal> skill to confirm my suspicions.
Hm? Strange, I could not see anything.This had never happened up until now. Why?
"Hey, are you listening?"
She continued to intercept my thoughts.Contrary to her docile appearance, she seemed quite egoistical. Sheglared at me with her red eyes.
"Can I help you?"
"…No, it's nothing. Seems likeit's still too early."
No matter what I asked, she ignored itall. The conversation was completely one-sided.
"I came to hunt Kobolt, but I'llgive it to you. A loan."
"Like I said, what?"
"Until then, see you."
With that, the conversation was overand the girl left. Just… who was she? Besides, those red eyes…They were exactly the same as mine when my Gluttony skill was starveduntil it was out of control.
At that moment, my heartbeat quickened.Could it be… that girl was just like me? If so, should I chaseafter her and call out to her right now?
I was watching her disappear into thesunset, when I heard a voice behind me. Turning around, I sawRoxy-sama.
"I was looking for you. Whathappened? Your expression is scary."
"Eh, is that so? Hahahaha."
Laughing, I tried to change my mood. Ishould talk to Greed when I go back. This was my personal problem,unrelated to Roxy-sama. …I did not want her to know.
Tilting her head to look at thedirection I had been gazing towards, Roxy-sama seemed surprised tosee the girl.
"Why is there a Gallian in a placelike this?"
"Gallian? She's a…"
Monsters were constantly runningrampant in Gallia. However, they were once a great continent thatpossessed incredible military power. The Gallians who lived in such aprosperous country were an ethnic group with hair as white as snowand healthy brown skin. Their race had almost died out due to thesudden proliferation of monsters triggered by an unknown factor.Since the few surviving Gallians had mixed with other ethnicities, itwas said that there were no more pureblooded Gallians.
"I've never seen a person with suchdistinct Gallian features. Is she Fay's acquaintance?"
"No, we just spoke a little."
"Is that so…"
We watched the Gallian girl for awhile. When she had disappeared from sight, Roxy-sama laughed andsaid, "It's strange, right?"
"Fay, what have you been doing?"
"I was taught how to pick grapes.Then, I ended up helping harvest them… until the end."
"Fufufu, is that so. There's stilltomorrow, so please don't overdo it, okay? Come, let's go home."