‘I have one assignment for all of you.’
This was what Stein told his three sons two days ago.
He had never gave his sons any assignments directly like this before, so this was practically their first assignment.
‘Most of the nobilities are away from their places due to the invasion by the Ansyrium. I’m sure you all know about this well. My assignment for you is to go to estates or villages that became unstable due to their absences.’
One of the rules of the Iphelleta was being impartial.
Although Ryan and Lloyd’s mother was kicked out of the mansion, Stein added that the competition for the successorship will be carried out fairly.
“This might be good for us. Riley had been acting suspicious lately.”
Ryan mumbled with a serious face. Recently, Riley received a medal of honor from the Solia Castle. Also, with Nainiae entering the scene, Ryan was concerned he might be behind in the competition.
“It would be best if that lass died, but that runt claiming to be a Doctor from Rainfield took her, so…”
Ryan clicked his tongue as he mentioned Nainiae, the Six Circles mage that Riley brought in.
“It would be good for us if she came back as a corpse.”
Although the competition was supposed to be fair, having or not having Nainiae in the scene could be a significant problem that may decide who would become the successor.
“Anyway, I have exploits of my own that I have accomplished so far… Father wouldn’t decide the successor based on just this assignment.”
Ryan, who had been fiddling with his chin, compared his own exploits to Riley’s. Ryan looked at Lloyd and asked,
“Lloyd, what are you thinking so hard about?”
Having heard the voice, Lloyd woke up from his useless thoughts. With somehow vacant look on his face, Lloyd answered.
“Ah, it’s nothing. It’s just…”
“You don’t need to worry so much. Father’s assignment is the kind that I’m already well versed in.”
Based on the vacant look on Lloyd’s face, Ryan thought his younger brother must be concerned about the competition. Ryan smiled and told Lloyd that he didn’t need to worry.
“Ha, haha! That’s right, right?”
In fact, the assignment that Stein gave to the sons was the kind that Ryan had been actively working on a lot before Riley received the medal of honor.
“Still, I can’t let my guard down. There must be a reason why father said he will conduct the competition ‘fairly.’”
Ryan supported his head with his hand and thought about the old butler who was looking after Riley.
“Ian will be a big obstacle.”
Ian was the former Mercenary Hero.
Now, he was Riley’s butler.
Ian was certainly going to be a big advantage to Riley in this assignment.
That was because Ian was definitely more experienced in this kind of work than Ryan.
Ryan was organizing his plan in his head. Having heard Lloyd’s downed voice, Ryan looked at Lloyd and asked,
“Lloyd, is there something else you are worried about?”
“You are not acting like your usual self. You are slow in responses. Tell me. What are you worried about?”
Lloyd was avoiding eye contact and had been fiddling with his fingers. Having heard his brother’s concerned voice, Lloyd carefully said,
“That is… It’s about our mother.”
Lloyd looked vacant somehow. He said while looking like that. Lloyd continued.
“Big Brother. If you win the successorship, then really… will you be bringing our mother back?”
Having heard the question, Ryan vacantly blinked.
“Why are you asking about something so obvious? Seasons may have changed, but I still remember her face clearly… Do you think I would abandon our mother?”
“Haha. You were worried about that. I have forgotten that you are a devoted son to our mother.”
Ryan smiled refreshingly, patted Lloyd on the head, and said he didn’t need to worry.
“Big Brother, really…”
“That’s right! Trust me.”
Ryan patted Lloyd’s head to say Lloyd can trust him. Feeling his patting, Lloyd slowly lowered his gaze and fell to thoughts with a blank look on his face.
* * *
It was middle of autumn.
Riley headed out from the mansion. Just like how Nara was, he lie down on the top of the carriage and looked up the autumn sky.
“We are currently headed to a small village with less than 100 people living there. Just think of it as a village half the size of Iffa Village.”
“The village is called Alieve. It’s surrounded by big forests… I heard there had been suspicious orc activities nearby. We are going there to stop those orcs.”
“Young Master, are you listening?”
Ian, who was driving the carriage, broke cold sweat and asked. Riley, as if he was listening, said in stretched out voice,
“Yes, I was listening.”
“What is the name of the village?”
Riley paused for a moment. Riley responded with a voice to act as much as possible to look like he was not fazed by it.
“It’s Olive, right?”
“No. It is Alieve… Alieve Village.”
Ian quickly corrected Riley. At a loss for words, Riley lie down vacantly.
As if he thought it was an honest mistake, he whistled and said,
“It’s just a few letters off.”
Ian sighed big enough to make the ground sink. While he was driving the carriage through the forest, he reached for a bag tied to the driver’s seat.
“Young Master. I think it would be good to eat lunch soon.”
“We will be arriving at the Alieve Village soon. We may not have the time to eat lunch when we get there.”
Riley was going to say ‘let’s just take it easy.’ However, Riley saw that Ian lowered his shoulder all the way down, so he spared the words as if he could not help it.
“Here. Take this.”
Ian brought out a sandwich from the bag and tossed it toward Riley sitting on the top of the carriage.
‘If Nainiae was here, getting the sandwich would have been easier with her dimensional storage on the leather bracelet…’
Riley snatched the sandwich from the air as he thought that.
“Did you catch it?”
Because Ian was driving, he couldn’t look back, so he asked.
“Yes, I definitely got it.”
Riley responded while cringing.
It was because the paper wrap on the sandwich was wet. It seemed the sauce inside the sandwich leaked.
‘It cannot be helped.’
He carefully opened the wrap and bit the sandwich. Feeling the taste inside his mouth, Riley cringed.
“Yes, Young Master.”
Ian was driving the carriage with one hand and held a sandwich on the other hand.
“Was this seasoned correctly?”
Ian casually turned his head to look at Riley sitting on the top of the carriage. Ian nodded and said,
“It’s the same as how I usually make for you?”
Ian took another bite out of the sandwich and shrugged his shoulders as if there was no problem. Riley, who was keeping silence with an uncomfortable look on his face, said,
“… It does not taste good.”
Riley complained that the sandwich that he ate on the way back from the Rainfield, the ones that Nainiae made, were better. As if he was saying he had enough… Riley wrapped the sandwich after eating just two bites.
“… Young Master.”
“Ah, nothing… It’s nothing.”
From the top of the carriage, Riley looked down toward the driver’s seat. He could see Ian’s shoulder was shaking a little. Riley realized he made a mistake. He cringed and said,
“Hey, Ian. I was just kidding. Your specialty is meat, isn’t that right?”
“I’ll wait for a meal you cook with meat, okay? Hey?”
They said an old man’s heart was like reeds.
Riley felt that this old saying was very true.
It seemed Ian was pissed. Having noticed this, Riley, with an awkward look on his face, looked at the front.
‘Ah, is that the place?’
It felt like the number of trees rapidly passing by the carriages was gradually declining. All of sudden, the view to the front of the carriage widened significantly.
“Ian, is that the place?”
Ian, with a pissed look on his face, looked to the front. Having heard Riley’s question, Ian nodded with his lips pouting all the way out.
“Yes, that’s the Alieve Village.”
It seemed Ian was seriously pissed. He was driving the carriage faster. The scenery of the village in the distance got close to Riley all of sudden, and before even five minutes passed, they arrived at the entrance of the village.
“… Now, we are here.”
“Ian, don’t be angry anymore. Everyone have different tastes, you know? When we go back to the mansion, let’s ask Sera. I bet she will say your sandwich taste better.”
Riley was certain that consoling this old man was going to be harder than consoling a child. So, Riley used his triumph card called Sera and patted Ian on the shoulder.
Riley apologized to Sera inside. He smiled big and said,
“That’s right! I bet she will say yours taste better if we asked.”
The look on Ian’s face started to relax.
No longer appearing to be angry, Ian did some fake coughs. It was at that moment.
“Uh, excuse me. By any chance…”
A middle aged man, who they have never seen before, carefully approached them.
“Ah, we are from Iphelleta House. We heard that Alieve Village needs help, so… There should have been a messenger to tell you about our arrival?”
Ian explained why he came to the village with Riley. The man was tearing up as if he thought he was saved. The man lowered his head.
“Ah! You are from the Iphelleta House! Finally… Thank you. Thank you!”
The man repeatively expressed gratitude to Riley and Ian. As if he realized he didn’t explain himself yet, the man awkwardly scratched his back and introduced himself.
“I’m Malto, the Alieve Village’s leader. Thank you again for coming.”
The man quickly grabbed on to Ian and Riley’s hands to express his gratitude by shaking their hands. Malto said he will guide them to his home and started to walk.
“By the way.”
Riley was following Malto to the village. Riley casually looked around the surrounding and asked,
“I’ve heard that there are less than 100 people living here, is that right?”
“Yes, to be exact, there are 97… No, Finya gave birth to her son two days ago, so there probably are 98 people now.”
Riley was counting the number of houses and people that he could see. It seemed this was not making sense to Riley. He tilted his head side to side.
“There doesn’t seem to be enough people here, is there?”
“I’ve heard that there are suspicious orc activities nearby. It seems like they didn’t invade here yet, but… the number of people here is a little…”
On the way back to Malto’s home, Riley saw a little over ten people.
“No, not a little, but there are too few people. Don’t you think?”
The village was in danger because of orcs. However, it was a little weird that only so few people were coming out to see outsiders entering the village.
“Even if they are all hiding in fear…”
This place was not a city.
It was a small village with less than 100 people living in.
Riley widened his senses and checked the population. Riley tilted his head as if this still didn’t make sense to him.
The village’s leader said there were 98 people here, but when Riley checked it himself, it was not matching with the number.
“There are about thirty people missing.”
It wasn’t just a few people. The difference was around thirty people.
It meant there was a problem.
Having heard Riley’s mumbling, the village’s leader stopped walking and turned his head around.
“You… know very well.”
“He is from Iphelleta.”
Ian shrugged and answered for Riley. The village’s leader bit his lips. He looked desperate. Malto said,
“Yes, as you said… there are about thirty people that have gone missing.”
Malto nodded and started to walk again.
“It started around nine days ago. Initially, when I realized there were two or three people missing, I thought it was just because of the atmosphere, but number of children going missing started to increase.”
Malto explained the village was concerned because of people disappearing without a trace. Riley wiggled his eyebrows.
Malto nodded with a desperate look on his face.
“Yes, all thirty children of Alieve Village are… currently missing.”