Chapter 126 The Chosen Path
Edited by: Kanaa-senpai
I thought Ronim-san might be busy with morning work preparations and instructions, but he kindly responded to the summons. As I made my way to the reception room, I found Ronim-san and Zora sitting on the sofa, waiting.
”I apologize for keeping you waiting even though I called you over.”
”No need to apologize, we didn’t wait long. More importantly…”
Ronim-san stood up, and Zora quickly followed suit, both bowing deeply.
”Master Neil, thank you so much for saving my daughter, who acted recklessly…!”
”Oh, no, it was Niya-san and the others who rescued her. I didn’t do much.”
”In the end, that may be true, but I heard from Zora that if you hadn’t jumped in first, she might have died.”
Upon hearing those words, I instinctively glanced at Zora, who averted her gaze as if feeling guilty.
It was surprising to see her openly acknowledge being saved by a noble, considering how openly hostile she had been towards nobles. I had expected her to act more childish and throw a tantrum.
And I guess my thoughts must have shown on my face, Zora muttered discontentedly, occasionally glancing in my direction.
”W-Well, I’m a dwarf, and I won’t go against my principles. So, um… thank you…”
As Zora expressed her gratitude in a barely audible voice, I saw it as an opportunity to deepen our bond and spoke to her in a gentle tone.
”No need to worry. Protecting children is the duty of adults.”
As soon as I said that, Zora’s face turned bright red.
Initially, I thought she was embarrassed, but I quickly realized I had misunderstood.
”I’m sorry for being childish! Despite appearances, I’m already twenty years old!”
Caught off guard by Zora’s unexpected words, I observed her closely.
Her height, which appeared to be far from reaching ten, and her youthful face made it hard to believe she was twenty.
I looked at Ronim-san, thinking that this was a childish lie that would be easily detected, but the reply I received was not what I was expecting.
”There’s no way I’d have a daughter around five or six at my age.”
”But when you introduced Zora to me, you didn’t deny it when I said it was something a child would do!”
”Well… I thought it would be too bothersome to explain, and I didn’t think it would be much of a problem if you misunderstood.”
I think it’s quite a problem to leave a 20-year-old woman mistaken for a little girl.
As I pondered this, Zora’s anger gauge continued to rise, and it felt like she was about to explode.
”Zora, I have some business to discuss with Master Neil, so you should go ahead.”
”I still have plenty to say!”
”It’s important. We’ll talk about it some other time.”
”What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ronim-san said to Zora in a stern tone of voice, and Zora backed away from him.
”Fine, I’ll let it go for now. But this matter will not end there! Wait for me; I’ll make sure to show my gratitude properly!”
Before I could even question the meaning behind her gratitude, Zora left the reception room.
Ronim-san threw words at me while I stood there, dumbfounded and unable to keep up with the flow of the conversation.
”Given her personality and appearance, she inevitably looks like a child. It’s not her fault.” I’m sorry for not telling you.”
”Oh, no, she seems to have some complicated circumstances… Anyway, now that you’ve chased Zora away, can we talk now?”
Regarding the current work, communicating through Diana and Lewya has been sufficient, and there’s no pressing need for a direct discussion between representatives
Therefore, I immediately realized that Ronim-san bringing up work was just a means to get rid of Zora.
”Now, what should I start with… As Master Neil may have realized, Zora is not a dwarf. She belongs to the species called ‘Mire.’”
”I see, so that’s the case.”
I knew from the first moment I saw her that Zora was not a dwarf.
Her skeletal structure was clearly different, and if she were considered a fully grown adult in that form, it narrowed down the possibilities.
Mire, known for being particularly short in stature compared to other races, had a distinctive appearance that often led to them being mistaken for children even as adults.
Unless they aged significantly, their youthful faces remained free of wrinkles, making it difficult to distinguish them from children of other races.
Besides their physical characteristics, Mire were also known for their dexterity, particularly in gemstone craftsmanship.
While they didn’t create everything like dwarves did, they shared a close relationship with the dwarves as a species skilled in craftsmanship.
”I apologize for the impoliteness of my question, but why is a Mire like her under the care of a dwarf like you, Ronim-san?”
”Though it may sound nice to say I was asked by a former friend, in reality, it was more like being unilaterally burdened.”
”It happened on the Ice Month, a situation that happened nineteen years ago. I received a wooden box from a former friend, and at first, I thought about returning it without even looking inside. However, I became curious about why they went through the trouble of using a courier to deliver it.”
”So, the contents of that package…”
”Yes, the contents were a young child.”
I don’t need to ask who the child is.
Still, the thought of packing one’s own child into a wooden box left me speechless.
Judging from Ronim-san’s description of the former friend, it seemed like there were some problems on their side.
”At first, I thought, ‘Have they finally gone mad?’ But there was no room to question their sanity when faced with a freezing child inside the wooden box. We took the child to the fireplace, desperately rubbing her body with cloth until the trembling subsided. When we finally had the chance to think, we noticed there was a letter inside the box.”
”What did the letter say?”
”‘We can’t bring our daughter into this for our own selfishness. Please take care of her in our place.’ What an idiot! Claiming it was their own selfishness? If that’s the case, then abandoning their daughter is also their own selfish act! Why didn’t they realize that?”
Filled with anger toward his friend who was not present, Ronim-san slammed his fist down on the desk to vent his anger.
”Have you told Zora about this?”
”I haven’t, but she must have realized that she is not a dwarf. That is why Zora insists on acting like a dwarf. She even goes out of her way to express her dislike for nobles.”
Behaving like a dwarf… When I hear that, I do recall several instances where Zora exhibited such behavior.
Perhaps there was a reason behind her claiming to be a dwarf.
”Has Zora ever questioned you about it?”
”No. She probably doesn’t want to think about the fact that the people she called parents for nineteen years may turn out to be complete strangers.”
”Then do you plan to tell Zora about her real parents?”
”Of course not, what’s the point? It would only be cruel to tell her about the despicable parents who abandoned her.”
I understand what Ronim-san is saying, but I feel that his words contain some personal feelings.
It doesn’t feel like it’s for Zora’s sake, but rather, it seems to be driven by anger towards Zora’s real parents.
”Why do you dislike Zora’s real parents? According to what you said, you had cut ties with them even before Zora’s situation. What happened?”
”…Master Neil, are you aware of the time when the Mire, the species to which Zora belongs, were treated like slaves in certain noble territories?”
”No, I haven’t heard of it before.”
”Then you probably don’t know that Denarl was once referred to as the city of craftsmen.”
”Denarl as the city of craftsmen?”
In my mind, Denarl was just an ordinary city located closest to the frontier, without any particular characteristics.
But considering the past references, something must have happened that changed its nature.
”It was during the time of the previous lord who ruled around Denar, a complete fool with no talent as a ruler. In fact, he embodied all the negative aspects of nobility, like a concentrated version of their vices.”
I was already getting the gist of what was going on, but I kept my mouth shut and listened to Ronim-san’s story.
”At that time, Denarl was filled with skilled craftsmen, and people from all over flocked there for the sake of those craftsmen. It was vibrant and lively. However, that fool, as soon as he assumed the position of lord, imposed heavy taxes on the craftsmen, lining his own pockets while also paying substantial taxes to the kingdom. He would boast to those around him about how incompetent the previous ruler was and how capable he himself was.”
”That’s… It’s, well, quite ridiculous.”
”Oh, it’s a truly ridiculous tale, but it’s not so amusing for the craftsmen burdened with heavy taxes. Some immediately petitioned the lords, but they were not listened to. In the meantime, the craftsmen’s lives became increasingly difficult, and many of them fled Denarl, realizing that they couldn’t progress any further.”
That must have been the cause for Denarl losing its status as the city of craftsmen.
”Did you and Ronim-san not flee as well?”
”Of course not. If we had run away then, it would have meant succumbing to the power of the nobles. We couldn’t bear that more than the heavy taxes.”
I couldn’t help but smile at Ronim-san’s truly dwarfish response.
However, if the craftsmen fled, the tax revenues would have significantly decreased. The lord, who had been boasting about his competence and the amount of taxes he paid to the kingdom, would surely try to avoid revealing his incompetence by saying, “The craftsmen left, so I’ll reduce the tax amount.”
”What happened afterward?”
”With the mass exodus of craftsmen and the subsequent decrease in tax revenue, the lord grew desperate and took an outrageous action. He decided to confine the Mire to the mines.”
”The Mire to the mines?”
”It was to prevent the craftsmen from escaping, and the Mire, skilled in gem cutting, appeared to be a gold mine to the lord. He could have the Mire mine gemstones for him, eliminating the need to hire additional miners. They were treated like slaves, or rather, being assured of basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter was probably better than being a slave. At least the way Miele was treated in those days was terrible…”
”Were the people around the lord who witnessed these actions also silent?”
”Naturally, those around the lord voiced their disapproval of his actions. They warned him, ‘If you continue like this, ‘Gregor’ will come.’ But the lord would not listen to them. Once I tell you this much, I believe you can guess what happened to that lord.”
”According to what the others said, he was dealt with by Gregor, right?”
Ronim-san nodded in response to my words.
Gregor, someone feared not only by the nobles but even by the royal family—a figure who shaped the current empire. But now, Ronim-san doesn’t talk about Gregor.
”What happened after that lord was dealt with by Gregor?”
”Since the lord and his entire family were killed, with no successor, their house was abolished, and a new house was established to provide a replacement ruler. The man who was chosen for that role was one of the men who had been overseeing the Mire in the mines. The man saw it as an opportunity to improve the situation for his own kind, or at least that’s the official story.”
”The official story?”
”Yes. Think about it… how can a man destroy a house and start a new one? Even Gregor wouldn’t act so thoughtlessly. He must have made sure there was a replacement before taking action, at the very least.”
After the oppressive lord who mistreated the Mire died, a Mire man took his place as the lord, consolidating the Mire in the mines. There was only one possibility to consider based on this fact.
”Did the Mire secretly plot rebellion from behind the scenes?”
”Well, who knows? But it’s certain that he had a hand in it to some extent. After all, I heard it directly from the man himself.”
”Directly from the man himself? Wait, does that mean the friend you mentioned who severed ties…”
”Is none other than the current Viscount Hedmaar, who governs the entire Denarl region.”
Viscount Hedmaar, the neighbor of the settlement, a name I was familiar with.
”If it were just the problematic lord, I wouldn’t have said anything. But this man, who claims to be protecting Mire, helped to kill all the members of his family in order to take his place as lord! Even the lord’s wife, siblings, and even newborn infants!”
In the face of Ronim-san’s furious demeanor, I remained silent and contemplated.
In order to destroy the nobles, not only the lords but also their heirs must be eliminated.
If one person is left behind, from parents and siblings to children, he or she will be the heir and the house will survive.
Considering that a new house was established immediately after the old one was abolished, it was clear that the country was involved in the matter to some extent.
Even if the country had a hand in it, it was by no means justifiable from a humanitarian perspective, and I could understand Ronim-san’s indignation.
”So you severed ties because of that?”
”That’s right. Such a thing is unforgivable. No matter how noble the cause may be.”
I understood what Ronim-san was trying to convey, but based on the conversation, I couldn’t categorize Viscount Hedmaar as entirely evil.
It was probably due to his efforts that I, who was once unaware of the mistreatment of the Mire, came to know about it
And perhaps entrusting Zora to Ronim-san was not about being a noble but about wishing for her to live without being bound by anyone.
At least, I could guess that it was the result of his thought and action for Zora.
”I apologize… I’ve become gloomy.”
”No, it’s fine. I wanted to hear your story anyway.”
”Speaking of which, why did Master Neil call me here? I said I wanted to thank you, but there’s no reason for Master Neil to summon me specifically just for that.”
Ah, that’s right. I had been preoccupied with thoughts about Zora, but originally I wanted to discuss the treatment of the trio. I wanted to know what would satisfy Zora, who had been taken hostage, and her family, including Ronim-san.
”Well, it’s about the treatment of the trio. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been pondering how to make everyone around me satisfied. That’s why I wanted to hear from Zora, who was taken hostage, and Ronim-san and his family, what would make them feel satisfied.”
”I see… Master Neil, you don’t need to worry about us. The problem arose from Zora sneaking into the shed on her own. If Zora hadn’t pulled such a stunt, she wouldn’t have been taken hostage. This incident should serve as a good lesson.”
Ronim-san assured me that he wouldn’t hold me accountable for any decision I made, as grateful as I was for that. But ultimately, I didn’t receive any concrete advice or opinion. I had to think for myself, and as I wrestled with the decision, Ronim-san wore a troubled expression.
”Master Neil, you are a kind man, but you may be too kind. I understand that it’s difficult to pronounce a sentence of death, but…”
”What? A sentence of death?”
”They had that Hanahaku knife with them, didn’t they? The possession of a Hanahaku knife is a capital offense. Once they were found with it, there was no escaping a sentence of death.”
”Master Neil, don’t tell me you were so focused on the fact that they broke into the shed and took Zora hostage that you completely forgot about the Hanahaku knife?”
That was absolutely correct.
I had been so preoccupied with matters directly related to them that I completely overlooked the fact that they possessed a prohibited item.
All I had been thinking about was how we could get out of this quietly.
But now, because they had the Hanahaku knife, I had no choice but to pass a sentence of death upon them.
Yes, from the beginning, there was no room for choice. As a ruler, I had to make the decision to take lives.
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Edited by Kanaa-senpai.
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