「What about…… the north? 」
Ardis who participated in the conversation raised a proposal. One of the escorts named Endory by Moore responded.
「North? Is there a town that can accept this many refugees in the north? 」
「Probably none but, there’re probably small villages. It’s at the valley where the 『Bell Chaser』 was at, the settlement there hasn’t progressed much yet. Isn’t manpower welcomed there? 」
What Ardis was referring was the land that the capital had only recently started developing in the past decade. Because it was originally the habitat of a demonic being named the 『Bell Chaser』, there weren’t anyone living nearby.
And thanks to Ardis who subjugated the Bell Chaser as one of the Three Great Demons, confirming the presence of Heavy Iron veins in the vicinity, there’s now a small mining village there.
「However, the Empire probably wouldn’t leave a Heavy Iron-rich area alone either. They will surely reach there. 」
Then, another escort named Jake expressed his thoughts.
「It’s not like I’m saying to live there permanently. Even the Empire will probably take some time to stabilize the capital and the Duke’s territory. It will probably be fine for half year or so. If the situation worsens during that time, it’s possible to leave. 」
Ardis raised that it was only a temporary measure. The main force of the Kingdom, the army commanded by Duke Nyrestia is probably still at the border, and it’s not like the army that went to intercept the Thoria army had been defeated yet.
Even if the capital or the Duke’s territory were taken over by the Empire, if they can defeat the Thoria army, they can make Thoria that can be said the second capital of the Kingdom as their new base.
Of course, that’s only if they can get the support of the Republic of Bronshell and the Coalition. However, if they couldn’t even get that much support from other countries, then the Kingdom is as good as over.
In the first place, Ardis didn’t care a single bit what would happen to the Kingdom. As long as Minerva and Moore, his acquaintances are fine, then there’s nothing more to be bothered with.
「However what about the food? There’s no way that an undeveloped village would have enough food to feed three thousand people. 」
Next, Moore gave a more realistic problem. Adding on the refugees from the capital and the Duke’s territory, the total is now about three thousand people.
Certainly, they can forage for materials thanks to the woods around there but, food supplies can’t be done the same way. If it’s the Duke’s territory that Minerva and the others were heading in the first place, then certainly it has the capability to accept the refugees from the capital.
Thanks to the Coalition that’s also neighboring the Duke’s territory on good terms with the Nagras Kingdom, there would’ve been at least a way to resolve the food problem temporarily.
However, that’s not possible for the settlement in the north. Since Minerva and the others don’t have the money to procure food now, even if they had funds, it’s not like they can get food from the Coalition when the Empire-occupied Duke’s territory is in between.
Leaving aside a few people, it’s too unrealistic to think that they can feed enough for three thousand people.
「I will do something about that part. It might still be a little inconvenient but, at the very least, you won’t starve. 」
However, Ardis and Rona can transport food without getting seen by the Empire. Thanks to the existence of the 『Gate』 that connects to the other world, if wasn’t for that, Ardis would’ve never raised such an idea.
There’s a limit to how much item they can stock up in the other world.
However, if Ardis bought food supplies from a big town somewhere, he can easily send them to the other world. And at the same time, if Rona stationed at the settlement retrieved the food from the Gate, then logically, there’s no upper limit to their volume of transportation.
The disadvantage is that since that it is a method that no one else knows of, Ardis and Rona will be stuck to procuring food every several days.
Also, since the method of transporting food is quite obscure, there will be a need for trusted people to help carry the food into the settlement’s storage after transporting.
The existence of the 『Gate』 would probably have to be exposed to the helpers then. Although Rona said that it’s too much work without merits but, seeing Minerva who isn’t willing to abandon the refugees, Ardis was doing the best within his capabilities.
Despite everything so far, Ardis is still somewhat soft to people that he takes care of. Though, he has no intentions of doing it unconditionally.
「However, I have my conditions. 」
Moore’s eyes conveyed to speak more.
「One, the church’s priest will be someone from my side. And those that are related to the church that can’t follow that priest will not be allowed. These two. 」
Despite the refugees in a grave spot, he has to refuse the people that believes too blindly in the church’s doctrine. Ardis didn’t even consider saving those who would treat others who don’t follow the church as evil cult members, and even more so to those that blindly hates on twins.
Originally, he would’ve even wanted to eliminate those that are with the church but, that would only cause unrest among the refugees. Luckily, in the village where Ardis is living in, thanks to Elma preaching the teachings of the church before its changes, there are now apprentices succeeding him.
Considering the size of the settlement, there’s probably no priest sent from the church yet. Taking this as a chance, Ardis thought about the plan of sending one of Elma and his apprentices there.
「Aah. Well, it’s natural considering your standing huh. 」
Remembering that Ardis was still under the heretic branding by the church, Moore was convinced. Naturally, the others are also people living in the capital.
Since they also knew about the situation, there weren’t any that opposed it. In the end, everyone accepted Ardis’s idea and headed to the north.
Although already decided their future plans, seeing the day is about to fall, the big group took preparation to set up their camp. Despite a camp, it is a gathering of people that escaped the capital without any proper preparation.
Majority of them could only rest their tired body with an empty stomach. With the surroundings shrouded in silence, Ardis and Rona were standing a little away from the group.
「You didn’t have to look after every single one of them though? 」
Rona asked about Ardis his idea of providing food to everyone in the discussion before.
「I mean, I don’t intend to save fools from the church. But anyone else other than that are just common citizens. They will be cut off if they choose to blindly follow the church’s teachings, if not, it’s fine to give them a chance. 」
If appointing one of the priest from Elma and the others for the church in the settlement, even if impossible immediately, it’s probably possible to change the refugees’ mindset in the long run.
It’s not like many of the common citizens believes in the church blindly, they’re only acting as they do because of the pressure the church has.
「And what about the church related people? 」
「I don’t know if they will follow or not, but if they do, then they will be put under Elma too. If they aren’t satisfied, then kicking them out will do. 」
Seeing a nearby large rock, Ardis sat there.
「I wonder if it will go that well. Rather, what about splitting the refugees into several villages, and only one of them will have all the church-related figures there? If so, cutting them off will be easier, and we won’t be troubled over a fight breaking out between Elma and the others and them. And if they dare to rebel, then it’s a simple task to just cut the supplies to them. 」
Rona raised another idea easily.
「Or will you make two churches in the same village, one for Elma and the others, and the other for the ones worshipping that crazy woman? And, by baiting the people with food at our church, we can make the refugees come over to our side. 」
「I doubt something like that can work though……」
Ardis showed a difficult face at the other ideas that his partner gave. Certainly, Rona’s idea will quickly quell any seeds of unrest in the future.
However, he thought that it’s ideas that are too extreme. It’s going to purposefully cause infighting within a peaceful group after all.
Ardis is not going to be merciful to any clear enemies but, it’s not like he wants to actively eliminate any potential enemies. At the very least, he doesn’t mind leaving them alone as long as they are not harmful, and as long as they don’t direct their hostility here, Ardis would turn a blind eye.
「Well, it’s a problem that had to be solved in the near future but……」
Ardis who wanted to shelf the problem for later noticed a presence approaching. Seeing the person, he called out her name.
「Minerva huh. 」
「What happened? I can accompany you if you can’t sleep? 」
Seeing Minerva’s troubled expression, Rona asked.
「Ah, no……. It’s not something like that. 」
「That so? Then I’m going to sleep first. 」
Realizing something from her answer, Rona purposefully made a yawn and walked to the direction of Moore and the others. It’s probably his intentions to be thoughtful.
「……Can I seat beside? 」
Ardis moved a little to the side and made space to Minerva who asked reservedly. The wind swayed Minerva’s hair who sat down quietly. It was not a short silence.
Without exchanging any words, the two were gazing up at the moon above. Ardis who seemed to recall something suddenly manipulated mana and clumped up a bunch in front of Minerva.
Not really for the sake of doing anything, not really bringing any effects, it’s just a clump of mana. And that mana led Minerva’s gaze.
As Ardis moved the clump of mana towards his hands, following that, Minerva’s gaze moved as well.
「So you’ve become able to see mana too. 」
「As I thought, it is mana. 」
It was a conversation between a teacher and his student.
「Since when? 」
「It had been two years already. ……At first, I thought it was just my tired eyes becoming blurry. It was half a year ago that I started thinking that it might be mana that I was seeing. 」
「I see. 」
If Ardis didn’t get branded as a heretic and left the capital, then she probably would’ve caught on it earlier. After all, even Kyrill who has excellent grades in the Mariules Academy could never come to see mana in the end.
Minerva who he thought that had talent to raise as a magician was as expected, very excellent.
「If you can see mana now, then using sword magic is not far off. Making footholds too. 」
「Is, that so……」
「You don’t look that happy. What happened? Did your interest in swordsmanship dulled already? 」
「No, it’s not like that. Just……」
Seemingly difficult to express, despite so, Minerva told what she had in her mind.
The fact that for the two years when Ardis wasn’t around, she had still undergone training with the sword under Moore.
The fact that although still vague, she came to see things that she thought might be the mana she was looking for.
The fact that despite being a noble lady, she had participated in the training of the guards, and not as the daughter of their employer, she had been acknowledged as a full-fledged swordsman.
The fact that getting attacked by the Imperial army in surprise, wielding a sword to protect the citizens, upholding the noble spirit.
The fact that several citizens had been saved by her.
The fact that she was angry with the noble that tried to escape while using the citizens as shield.
The fact that the capital fell, and that they stood against the pursuers after leaving the capital without choice.
The fact that she couldn’t leave an injured ally, and as the result, everyone almost died.
Minerva slowly talked about what happened to Ardis who was listening quietly.
「I don’t want to think that I was wrong. Taking up a sword, becoming a shield for the people, I think that it’s a natural thing. That’s why I don’t want to deny it. But because of that, Cain was injured gravely, and we were almost wiped out. If not for Shishou arriving at the last second, I’m sure that all of us would not have been alive. 」
Minerva tightened his fist.
「Should I have chosen to abandon Cain at that time? Or was it the wrong choice to fight against the Imperial army with just five of us? With my power, is it a mistake to have thought that I could protect someone? 」
She realized that she was getting a little too agitated. Slowly breathing out to calm herself down, Minerva muttered in an almost crying voice.
「…………Sorry. I know I’m saying incomprehensible things. Just that, I don’t know if what I’m doing is correct……」
Hearing the fleeting voice of his pupil, Ardis responded with a soothing truth.
「No one ever knows what is the right choice. I don’t know about a noble’s obligation or what not. However, I will say this much as a senior. As long as the result is everyone not dying, then that’s everything. 」
Where was her mistake, Ardis already knew the answer. However, telling that to Minerva now will be meaningless. If Minerva would to continue fighting on a battlefield, then it’s something she will realize eventually.
If so, what Ardis can do now is to help Minerva feel better.
「It’s possible that Minerva made a mistake somewhere. But contrarily, there might’ve been no mistakes, it might’ve even been the best choice. However, the result that you got should be not bad. Mistakes and regrets, as long as you’re still alive, they’re unavoidable. 」
「Shishou……, is the same? 」
「Mistakes, and regrets. 」
「Aaah……, Well……. Of course, too many of them. 」
Ardis’s chest was stabbed with pain. There’re things that wouldn’t be lost if he didn’t make a mistake.
The more he lived, the more regrets he had. The mistakes of the past are no longer reversible, and the weight of the regrets is never lightened.
「Is that so………」
With Minerva’s mutter as the last, silence visited again. Eventually, she sorted her feelings out, and Minerva smiled a little forcefully to Ardis.
「Shishou……, will you teach me the sword again? 」
「Yeah. But what about sword magic? 」
「Of course, that too. 」
Hearing the unexpectedly positive reaction of his pupil, Ardis mood turned better too.
「Hahaha. Looks like you became a little more greedy after all this time. 」
While raising his voice, Ardis hit Minerva’s head lightly.
「I can’t……? 」
Minerva asked fearfully while having an upwards gaze.
「No way that’s the case. It’s good that I have a hardworking pupil. 」
While roughing up the iris-colored hair, Minerva didn’t stop his hand.
「Thank you again, Shishou. Sword magic, I will definitely learn it. 」
「Yeah, leave it to me. I shall accompany until I’m free of my teaching role. 」
The teacher and his pupil’s promise after two years again. Under the light of the moon, the two shadows from those on the rock were casted onto the ground.