The evening of the day on which Harold and Tasuku confirmed their cooperative relationship .
The veil of darkness had descended and within the darkness where moonlight didn’t reach the ground due to heavy clouds, as though to run away from that darkness there was a single room within which a bright light was burning .
In that room, starting with Tasuku in the chief seat, his wife Koyomi and daughter Erika, personal attendant Kiryuu, and with the cooking outfit, on which there was not the least bit of dirt, as her trademark, Juno, were all silently sitting .
As though to loosen the tension, the head of the mansion, Tasuku, started talking .
「Well then, It seems like you have some report . Juno?」
「Yes . There’s something that I have to inform Master and also Erika-sama about」
Although she spoke in a calm voice, it wasn’t in her usual slow manner of speaking .
「Indeed . Since I was moving under the orders of Erika-sama」
With those words, all gazes other than Juno’s gathered on Erika . Receiving that, she lowered her head deeply .
「I’m sorry for mobilizing them on my own, Father . But there was something that I absolutely needed to confirm so I ended up borrowing Juno’s strength」
「Something you absolutely needed to confirm, means something regarding Harold-kun?」
「That’s right . Father, are you aware of the rumor that Harold-sama killed a servant and her daughter?」
「Yes, a report that some rumors like that were floating around the streets of the Stokes territory did come」
Even the scouts, who had disguised themselves as traders and travelers to infiltrate into the Stokes territory, had heard about the matter of how the mother and daughter were killed . Maybe because, since before there was hatred towards the Stokes family among the populace it was quite widespread .
「……… . The possibility that it was untrue came up」
「False? In other words, the 2 who were killed in the rumors are still alive?」
「To ascertain the truth, I had Juno and the others cooperate with me」
And now, Juno was here to report the results of the investigation .
This time, everybody’s eyes were on Juno . All of them were waiting for her next words .
Towards that, Juno didn’t try to put on any airs and started talking .
「Regarding this time’s affair, the rumors being circulated are wrong . The servant Clara and her daughter Colette who should have been killed are still alive」
To that report, Tasuku narrowed his eyes and Erika bent her head down and strongly clenched her fists, which were on top of her knees . She was attacked by feelings of guilt .
While looking at her as though she was worried about her, Juno continued her report .
「Currently, the 2 of them are living in a small village called Brosch village which is under the jurisdiction of Viscount Ballack . Although it was quite difficult, I was able to obtain testimony from the person herself」
「What do you mean by difficult?」
「Since they hadn’t changed their names, it was easy to find them from asking the villagers, but she stubbornly refused to talk about what had happened during that time」
Receiving that report from her colleagues who had gone there before her, Juno headed towards the village herself . When she personally tried talking to Clara, it wasn’t to the extent of turning her away at the door, but it seemed as though Clara had no intention to talk about the real situation .
But it also wasn’t as though Juno could simply back away with 「Then it can’t be helped ～」 . And while exchanging words with Clara, she realized about a certain thing .
It was that Clara felt a huge amount of gratitude towards Harold .
While insisting that he had personally killed the 2 of them, Harold had covered up their survival, and even while knowing that there were rumors of him killing them, he gave no signs of wanting to stop these rumors . Adding onto that, it was unknown as to why the person who was supposed to be killed was feeling a sense of gratitude towards Harold .
When she thought until there, Juno formed a certain hypothesis . In the case that the hypothesis was true, she had a good idea to shake Clara .
And simultaneously, it was something that would trample all over Harold and Clara’s feelings .
But even if that happened, Juno didn’t have the choice to hold her tongue . Stifling the bitter feelings, she continued on .
『Harold-sama is taking on the dishonor as a murderer and is continuing while affirming it . Due to that, the populace are being hostile towards him, and although it isn’t being shown on the surface, Harold-sama was becoming extremely haggard .
I don’t have any intention to expose the hidden truth under broad daylight . But if you talk about the truth, Harold-sama would be able to gain a sympathizer behind the scenes . Please provide some assistance by thinking of it as helping him』
Those imploring words which were exaggerated here and there were instantly effective . When Clara heard Juno’s words, her face became ghastly pale and she covered her mouth with her hand . Her eyes filled with tears and after a few minutes of agonizing silence passed, she finally told Juno everything that had happened on that day clearly .
And she regretted . That she could do nothing other than talk due to being compelled .
「……… . What did she say?」
「It seems that it all began about 5 months ago, when Clara almost injured Harold-sama by mistake」
From there, Juno conveyed everything that she had heard from Clara accurately without any excess or deficiency to everybody in the room .
With that as the impetus, Harold’s parents had gotten enraged and had almost killed her .
Harold had lied to them by telling them that he would experiment with magic on her and had then locked her up in the dungeon .
And while buying some time, he had devised a plan to save Clara .
So that the daughter wouldn’t be left all alone, he had put them together .
He had prepared for a large amount of money, a carriage and household goods and provided it to them free of charge .
He had been taking on the dishonor even until now was most probably to ensure their safety .
「……… . . She talked about it while in tears」
Listening to Juno’s report, all of them were at a loss for words .
Behind that arrogant attitude, Harold was very strong and kind, and at the same time it was because he knew about the suffering that he had done this .
And Clara who knew about that, even though it was for the sake of saving him, must have felt pain as though her body was being cut since she had talked about the truth ignoring his feelings .
Erika stood up abruptly and extended her hand towards the sliding door . Tasuku stopped her by asking her .
「Erika, where do you plan to go?」
「……… . No matter what, I have to apologize to Harold-sama . Without knowing anything, without even trying to know, I cursed at him just based on my emotions, and moreover I even raised my hand . Although it’s something that can’t possibly be pardoned, but still at least…… . . 」
It wouldn’t do if she didn’t apologize in all sincerity .
But those thoughts were obstructed by Tasuku .
「That isn’t acceptable」
「He’s doing this much, putting everything on the line, to protect them . Now that we’ve come to know about it, the behavior we should choose isn’t sharing the secret but to scrupulously adhere to the secret . If he comes to know that there has been information leakage to the other party, when we still can’t completely trust each other, we’re talking about Harold-kun, he’ll become cautious of more leakage and become even more solitary than he is now」
If that happened, there was a danger of Harold who had been fighting alone so far being driven into even more solitude . Though it seemed that Harold would do something even then, even so it was thorny path .
Under that thick mask, he might have been hurt an innumerable amount of times, and at times he might have also cried .
「It is obvious that Erika wants to apologize . But is that really coming due to being aware that you have wronged him? Can you declare that you just don’t want forgiveness for the cruel treatment?」
That was why Tasuku stopped her . Even if he had to say some unreasonable and harsh words to his own daughter .
Erika also understood what Tasuku was trying to say . In her head at least, she understood it . But her heart, her emotions couldn’t be put in order by reason .
「……… . Then what should I do? What do you want me to do when I can’t even correct my mistake, when I can’t even apologize!?」
Erika’s figure which was screaming like that suited a little child’s, where she was acting her age . Towards Erika, who was normally more mature than required, but who was showing this childish behavior now, although he was aware that it was extremely inappropriate, Tasuku smiled pleasantly .
Standing up quietly, Tasuku went towards Erika, and gently stroked Erika’s head which was around the height of his abdomen .
「Become a person who can support Harold-kun . He is exceptional, but he is too excellent . Sometimes that strength will isolate him」
Exchanging words with Harold, Tasuku instinctively perceived a certain thing . Most probably, Harold was looking at the world with a different point of view from his, or rather from a normal human’s .
If that wasn’t the case, the words “It’s something that nobody other than me can understand” wouldn’t have come out .
When he said that in a somewhat lamenting manner, he must have understood his own future that Tasuku had been worried about . But fortunately or unfortunately, Harold also had the strength to endure that solitude .
If it were him, no matter how precipitous the path, he would continue to walk on . Tasuku felt that strong will from Harold .
「If you are thinking of wanting to repent for your actions, don’t beg for forgiveness, but whatever he’s trying to accomplish, watch over, support, get closer to him and try to become a person who truly understands him」
「Getting closer to Harold-sama, becoming a person who can truly understand him……… . . 」
「That would be something very difficult to do . Because of how exceptional Harold-kun is, although he might want colleagues, he might not need friends . Can Erika accompany him, who can perform many things alone, and trust his arbitrary judgement?」
Above all, it was obvious that Harold himself was trying to push Erika away . Tasuku didn’t think that he would take such an attitude without any reason .
He might have such a reason to do that towards Erika .
That is, no matter how much Erika tried to devote herself to him, there might not be anything rewarding . And that again would be walking on a harsh path .
And Erika wasn’t immature enough to assert with a 「Yes!」 like a child with naive thinking . This was because, how much her own actions were self-centered, and how different it was from the ideal form that Tasuku talked about, she understood it so well that it was painful .
Bending over and matching his eyes with Erika, who was gnawing at her lips as though she was mortified, Tasuku admonished her in a kind voice overflowing with affection .
「There’s no need for you to give an answer immediately . It’s fine for you to decide what you want to do by learning from his figure . Well, I do think that you have to apologize that you went too far for raising your hand against him」
He sent Erika, who appeared to be dispirited, back to her room after she uttered a 「Yes…… . . 」 in a tiny voice . He decide that even if he said anything more today, she wouldn’t be able to organize her emotions .
After Erika left the room with Juno following her, Tasuku smiled wryly .
「When the engagement was decided, she was considerably depressed, but this time too it’s the same」
「But the reason is completely opposite though」
Compared to him, Koyomi chuckled in a voice like tinkling bells .
Just 2 months before, although Erika was behaving firmly, towards an engagement with a person she didn’t wish for, inwardly she was feeling dispirited .
But now, she felt regret at hurting the said person, and even had thoughts of wanting to be recognized by him . Although, it seemed as though she herself still wasn’t aware of that feeling .
「Children continue to mature like this………」
「What are you saying so seriously? Shouldn’t this be the first time you have personally experienced our child’s growth」
「It is especially so if it’s the feelings concerning your own daughter . By the way, Kiryuu, what was Itsuki’s reply?」
「It seems that he’ll be back by tomorrow morning」
Towards Kiryuu’s words, who had refrained from speaking and was silent for a long time, Tasuku again smiled wryly .
「Well it’s about him . I knew he would say that」
「Since that child loves Erika . Even if it’s training, wouldn’t it be too much to make Harold-kun fight against him?」
「It’ll probably be fine . From Juno’s report, it seems like Harold-kun is quite skilled . It shouldn’t become one-sided」
Nonetheless, even Tasuku didn’t think that Itsuki would lose . Anyway, those 2 clashing will be quite amusing- that sudden impulse which had a touch of youth flashed across his face .
「You’re making a bad face, dear」
「Unthinkable . It’s just that my heart is dancing looking at children who have a bright future」
「Master is also still youthful, is it?」
「Ha ha, no mistake」
「Haa, no matter how old, boys will be boys」
Koyomi felt exasperated and sighed at Tasuku and Kiryuu nodding and grinning .
Harold, who wasn’t even aware that the adults were talking about these things, was satisfied that things went well even though there were some unexpected situations, and savoring the feeling of the futon which he hadn’t felt in a long time, he went to sleep .
And then, the next morning .
With a cold expression, Harold, who didn’t seem to be in a good mood even in the slightest, had breakfast together with Tasuku, Koyomi and Erika . And this happened after they had finished breakfast .
「That’s right, Harold-kun . About yesterday’s matter, I’ve prepared a fitting opponent for you」
While drinking green tea after the meal, Tasuku said so . At those words, Harold frowned .
「You act quite quickly even though I mentioned it just yesterday」
「It’s just that by some chance a strong person was nearby . As soon I asked about the bout, he immediately acknowledged」
「Who the hell is it?」
「That is an enjoyment that will have to wait until you meet him . He just came back this morning, but how about sparring right away?」
「Naturally . You’ve prepared the place, right?」
Without being able to suppress his impatience, Harold stuck on . Looking at that appearance, Tasuku deepened his smile .
「Obviously . We’ll travel in the carriage so can you make your preparations?」
No sooner had Tasuku finished speaking, than Harold left his seat and returned back to his room . Japanese clothing1 — because it would be hard to fight in clothes like yukata2 given in Japanese inns3, he went to change .
「Even yesterday, but Harold-kun is fine with sitting in seiza」
「Even without listening to the servant’s explanation, he wore Japanese clothing . The way to use chopsticks and wearing garments too, it seems that his knowledge regarding the Sumeragi culture is quite deep」
「……… . . Come to think of it, he knew about the cherry-blossoms too」
The Sumeragi family gazed at Harold’s empty seat in wonder . A few minutes later, Harold’s figure with his usual outfit was present in the carriage . The ones who were riding with him were Tasuku and Kiryuu, and for some reason Erika too .
Erika who was sitting next to Harold seemed to feeling extremely awkward . Harold also understood that feeling well .
There was no mistake that she hated this . Most probably, Tasuku had some kind of plan .
Reasoning it out like that, Harold didn’t unnecessarily open his mouth and continued to be rocked by the carriage .
After a while, the place they arrived at was a huge arena4 . The first thing that came into his sight after he got down from the carriage was a 10 meter entrance . It gave off an imposing air, and when he entered into the grounds after passing through the entrance, in the huge space there were various facilities lined up, and from here and there he could hear shouts and ‘don’ sounds as though hitting the floor even without straining his ears .
Among these, the one Harold was led to was a dojo which had an especially stately atmosphere and it had 2 storeys .
Similar to its appearance, they climbed up the wooden stairs attached outside and entered the dojo through the front door established in the 2nd floor .
With light from the sun flowing through the grid patterned windows, that floor didn’t feel gloomy and was like a rest area . In one corner, many adults were laying out the tatami mats which were placed horizontally and taking up some space .
The instant Tasuku and Erika entered the rest area which was clamoring and overflowing with energy, it became silent and in the next moment, everybody lowered their heads and took a posture of bowing .
「Sorry for visiting all of a sudden . I’ll be borrowing the lower dojo for a bit . Has Itsuki come?」
「Yes . I saw him this morning」
Tasuku talked to the people inside the dojo in a familiar manner, and the adults who were addressed also answered as though they idolized him . Their relationship of trust was apparent .
While looking at that scene, with Kiryuu in the lead, Harold and the others followed after him and descended to the 1st floor .
There was a kendo5 hall present on that floor . There were 2 match courts, and the ceiling wasn’t present .
There were spectator seats present on the 2nd floor, and maybe due to Tasuku visiting or something, the number of people who were peeking on the situation on the 1st floor started becoming more and more .
But for Harold, those spectators were trivial . His eyes were already glued to a certain point .
There was single boy swinging his shinai6 in the middle of the kendo hall . He was older than Harold, maybe around 12 or 13 years old, and he was silently repeating practice swings . With that itself, he had the power to draw one’s gaze .
When Tasuku called out his name, the boy stopped his practice swings and turned towards them .
He had black hair and eyes like a pure Japanese person . He was about 10 cm taller than Harold, and with his refreshing and handsome features, he could live as an idol even in Harold’s original world .
The stunning pretty boy7 Itsuki, said this as soon as he opened his mouth .
「Ooo, Erika! In the short amount of time I haven’t seen you, you’ve become even more beautiful!」
Ignoring Tasuku, he rushed to Erika in a straight line, and gripping her hands, he earnestly started praising her . Erika turned eyes which seemed as though she was embarrassed, towards Itsuki .
「…… . . Oi, don’t tell me, this guy is my opponent?」
「Although I know what you want to say, his strength is real . Relax」
「I was sure that I told you to “arrange for a strong guy” . No matter how you look at it, he’s just a kid」
「Even you’re one, right?」
Nothing except Erika in his sight- although that was how Itsuki appeared to be, it seemed as though he had properly spared some of his consciousness towards Harold too . Completely different from the one towards Erika, with a somewhat dark smile, he turned towards Harold .
「First, let me introduce myself . I’m Itsuki Sumeragi, Erika’s elder brother」
「That’s it? That’s not it, right? Aren’t you omitting the most important part」
With a plop, Itsuki placed his hand on Harold’s left shoulder .
「You’re Erika’s fiance, right? My! Prideworthy!! Sister’s!!!」
While feeling his shoulder being gripped tightly by Itsuki’s right hand, Harold realized .
That this guy, without a doubt had a heavy sister complex .
I couldn’t include the fight .
1 . Wasou – Traditional Japanese clothes like kimono and yukata .
2 . Yukata – Japanese garment worn by both men and women, although there are some differences . It’s like a casual summer kimono .
3 . Ryokan – It is a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period .
4 . Budokan –
It is a training facility that houses a number of arts sharing a similar culture origin or perspective .
5 . Kendo – a Japanese form of fencing with two-handed bamboo swords, originally developed as a safe form of sword training for samurai .
6 . Shinai – a weapon used for practice and competition in kendo representing a Japanese sword .
7 . Bishounen – Japanese term literally
meaning “beautiful youth (boy)” and describes an aesthetic that can be found in disparate areas in East Asia: a young man whose beauty (and sexual appeal) transcends the boundary of gender or sexual orientation .