“Hey, Noel, it’s about time we head back!”
金金金After shouldering his weapon the young man surveyed the area, and called out in a loud voice. Today was the same as always for he had hunted vigorously from dawn till dusk. His name was Mirut, and helping him were his fellow hunters Fraser and Noel. Fraser was wiping his sweat while resting on a nearby stump.
“What, already done? And there are still tons of game left. It’s kind of a shame, you know,” somewhere above the tree line a dissatisfied voice could be heard.
“Today’s earnings are already too much. It’s no good to be so greedy, anyway just get down from there already.”
“Right, I get it.”
金金金Before Mirut’s eyes Noel elegantly jumped down and landed amongst the corpses of countless small animals that were strewn about on the forest floor. Each animal had an arrow brilliantly protruding from one of its various vital organs.
“Impressive as always. That’s some monstrous skill.”
“I don’t even like bows though, without arrows it’s impossible to fight.”
金金金Mirut had nothing to gain by responding. Even a skilled hunter couldn’t do what she’d done consistently, let alone the fledglings Mirut and Fraser. He didn’t want to hear someone as skilled as she was say that it wasn’t even her specialty.
“Oi, wait. I thought we were going to take down a small boar together. If it’s like this, isn’t it as though you’re the best one?”
金金金Fraser poked the dead boar. Since it was small, there wouldn’t been much praise anyway.
“Come on, isn’t it amazing?”
“Oh yea, it’s amazing. Totally amazing. You’re amazing.”
“All right! I’ll take it.”
金金金Innocently smiling, Noel tossed some berries to Fraser for the complement.
“Oh thanks. …shit, this is as sour as ever,” Fraser scowled as he chewed the seeds.
金金金Complaining about being hot, Noel began to loosen the top of her shirt. Mirut felt his gaze begin to drift while Fraser was happily enjoying the view.
金金金She’s always the same. Don’t you have any awareness of yourself as a woman?
金金金Irritated by her defenselessness, Mirut tossed a cloth over her to cover it up, and Fraser quietly clicked his tongue.
“… You could catch a cold, so wipe your sweat. Go on.”
金金金After sorting out her breast, she moved on to wiping her hair. Mirut was fascinated by her ruffled, gently swaying, fiery red hair. It was mysteriously captivating.
“Thanks for that, here’s the towel back. Well then, let’s head back and eat some food! Good food and rest are the first steps to happiness right?”
金金金Noel took a notebook from her breast pocket to confirm her suspicions. It was one of her treasures: the happiness memo. It didn’t matter who she asked, every detail of every method to find happiness was written down. Whatever she didn’t think would work out was crossed off with a diagonal line. She always put in a great deal of effort, but still hadn’t made much progress, and she lamented each time a method had failed to succeed in practice.
“That’s how it is. All right then, let’s head back. Fraser, gather up the game.”
“Right. With just this much, we’ll eat a feast today!”
“Well, good luck boys.”
“You help too. Get the rope out of that bag.”
“Okay, I get it.”
金金金They fastened their prey to wooden poles for the journey back. The mountainous region created an environment in which very few agricultural crops could grow, so the village populations were instead sustained by what the hunters brought back each day. That dependance on hunters was what allowed Noel to reside in the village. Their food surplus wasn’t great enough to support useless individuals which forced the men and women of all ages to work hard every day in order to scrape by.
金金金The people were frustrated with the heavy taxes. Even though they worked their hardest, a life of comfort was out of reach. Most of the harvest was stored for sale in the nearby town, and the rest of it was levied as tax. With a life expectancy of only several decades, their continued existence slowly caused their thoughts and moods to darken. There was a rumor that a rebellion had started.
金金金Despite all this, the people never thought to take up their swords. They had neither the will, nor the means to effectively rebell. In the village’s dilapidated bar, good friends complained to each other with their remaining energy. In that stagnated, dwindling mundanity, suddenly, an optimistic girl had materialized. With oversized clothes like those of a peddler, and a bident on her back, she appeared with a full faced smile.
金金金For a small village, it was a serious affair. The village elder called everyone together for a discussion on what to do. Noel told them her circumstances, but since she was alone there was no easy way to confirm her story. That being the case, she boasted that she could do anything they could while thumping her chest. The elder had never before heard such shocking words, but they eventually became something that had to be accepted. Noel was approximately 16, and as she was both young and attractive, if she turned out to be useless they had planned to sell her off. It wasn’t surprising when some of that sentiment lingered in the village; however, the villagers’ children didn’t concur. Against all expectations, Noel was granted permanent residence. She found a home within a withered old building, and quickly began a life as a clever hunter. With the old bow, and few arrows that Mirut had lent her, she showed them the contents of what she had hunted in the mountains.
金金金Her productivity was comparable to what the village’s most skilled hunter could do in 3 days time, and if she continued to hunt at that rate, it would harm the ecosystem, so she had to give the animals a “head start”. That was how she became a fully fledged member of Zoim Village.
“Hey, why are you so good at hunting? What’s your secret? Maybe some kind of trick to spotting the hidden animals?”
“Not really. I just, know, you know? I can tell where they hide, and where to shoot to bring down a bird. Wait, aren’t I amazing?”
“You are, it’s truly incredible. If you get it, how about giving me a hand?”
“Haー, this one’s the type with inborn talent you know. Isn’t it enviable? If you got her as a wife, you wouldn’t have to worry about food for the rest of your life.”
“I don’t know about that…”
“It’s totally true, there’s no mistaking it.”
金金金While Fraser was making jokes, Noel had an expression of cluelessness, and like that Fraser continued on, “… Hey, about what I was saying earlier, isn’t it about time you started thinking about that?”
“That being who I’ll marry?”
“Yea, that. I said that seriously, so what about it? I’ll say this now, but I’m serious.”
金金金Fraser enquired with an unusually serious look. Noel was the number one choice for most of the young men in the village. Her looks were outstanding, and her hunting skill was unparalleled. Already, many of them had fallen for her charms. The one who gained her as a wife would gain considerable status in the village, but that wasn’t something that she was going to notice on her own. She had a total lack of the “femininity” common to others of her age.
“No, I appreciate the sentiment, but can you stop?”
“But, why not?”
“Well, I don’t know if the marriage will keep me from finding happiness. The women of the village were seriously complaining about their own marriages you know.”
金金金She pulled out her happiness memo to confirm. Peeking at it from the side, Fraser could see that the marriage entry had unfortunately been crossed out.
“Don’t listen to those disgruntled old hags. It’ll be fine if it’s me, and we’ll definitely find happiness!” Fraser countered vehemently.
金金金He’d checked to make sure he was truly in love, and amongst the girls in the village, there had only been one conclusion.
“Who I like, and those kinds of questions, are things I have absolutely no idea of the answer to. There isn’t really anyone I want to live with right now, so could you hold off on asking me for a bit?” Noel smiled while clearly rejecting him.
金金金She’s that kind of woman, I guess. Totally different from the others. I have no idea what she’s thinking.
金金金She was usually aloof and lighthearted, but sometimes her expression changed. From time to time a darkness would show through her cheerful demeanor. It was most distinguished on rainy days. During the nights that followed, it was as though she’d been possessed by another, more gloomy, personality to the point where it became difficult to speak to her.
金金金It once rained heavily for a day, and during the night that followed, a drunken hooligan had tried sneaking into Noel’s bed. The man had run to the village elder in fear of retaliation, even though he knew there were ramifications for what he had attempted. He drew a picture of what had scared him, and after some time, the figure of Noel could be made out. It now felt as though the tale had been the drink speaking; however, the morning after the incident, the man had been found half-dead, and sprawled out in the village square. It had been so bad that it hurt to look at, and since then, the man had avoided Noel as much as possible. He had the eyes of a frightened dog, and after being driven from the village, no one knew what befell him.
金金金Fraser was well aware of this, and so he made himself clear. Mirut sighed to himself, as he was unconsciously upset.
金金金While they were heading down the mountain to return to the village, a tall young man called out to them. The lanky, docile man was named Kraft. He rose from working the field with a hoe in his hands.
“What is it Kraft? If you stand around there, we won’t have any food.”
金金金Fraser clapped him on the back. Their personalities, polar opposites, but they clearly got along fine somehow.
“It’s not like that. It was so noisy in the village. I think something happened.”
“We’ll find out soon enough.”
“But, what if bandits attacked?”
金金金It wasn’t rare for bandit clans to attack the village. The villagers worked together to defend themselves in their own way. They would obediently hand over their money to avoid unnecessary casualties when confronted with a large company of bandits; however, if the bandits were few in number the villagers would quickly reverse the situation and reappropriate their belongings instead.
“Wow, it really is noisy eh. Yup, maybe it’s a festival. Festivals are always fun right?”
金金金Noel was as optimistic as ever.
“Any way you look at it, there’s no way a festival would happen this time of year.”
“Festivals are fun, right? There’ll be tons of lovely treats to eat. There will be drums, and flutes, and it’ll be interesting. I did some practicing, so I’m pretty good at…”
“Now is not the time for your positive interpretations. Look at the flames billowing into the sky!”
金金金Fraser and Kraft’s faces went pale. From the direction of Zoim Village rose black smoke. There weren’t any bandit clans that would resort to arsony in the surrounding area, as that would diminish their future earnings; however, it was still possible that a new band was passing through.
“W-w-what do we do? Hey, Fraser, we… what direction should we run in?”
“Don’t fuck with me! We can’t just abandon our people you dumbass!” Fraser swatted Kraft in the back of the head.
金金金Naturally, Mirut was of the same opinion. He had no intentions of sacrificing his family. Either of them would have tried to help, even if it meant going alone.
“Okay, it’s about time we headed back then. I can tell from your words you have good intentions.”
“Noel, y-you too? If those bandits are a violent bunch, you might be killed.”
“You don’t have to worry, I’ll be okay. I’ll just kill everything that gets in my way. Otherwise things would get way too out of hand.”
金金金As she grasped the bident on her back in her right hand, Noel’s smiling face let out a short laugh. Kraft was left speechless at the sight. He almost couldn’t believe in what he was seeing. There was no way that a bunch of peasant farmers, and hunters could take on an organized bandit group; only if the ones in question were normal.
金金金This stupid woman is seriously going to fight them? It’s like she doesn’t realize the difference between humans and animals.
金金金Humans don’t think like animals, they are not so easily hunted. He’d never killed people before, but even Mirut knew that much. To top it all off, despite Noel’s skill with a bow, she chose to use a spear; her skill with which had never been confirmed. While she’d always carried it on her, it hadn’t ever been useful during a hunt, and overcoming such a difficult situation wasn’t a joke.
“Noel. We don’t know who we’re up against just yet. We can’t let this get out of hand. You might be able to recklessly die out there without worries, but those of us with families absolutely can’t get involved right now.”
“Right, I get it.”
“Yes, I understand.”
金金金Noel curled her right hand into a fist in front of her chest in a military style salute. She over-exaggerated the movement in a joking fashion, but then her back straightened out, and her expression became serious. She no longer appeared to be a hunter, and instead looked like a professional soldier.
“… A-am I doing it right?”
“Ah, should I do it too?”
金金金Making eye contact with each other, Fraser and Kurt mimicked her. Even without pointing it out, the differences between them were clear.
“Why don’t we all just fool around then!? Look, if you’re going to say something stupid, just leave.”
金金金Mirut then started towards the village while shrugging his shoulders.
金金金Upon reaching to the village, they found many men with red cloths wrapped around their arms. It didn’t seem as though any looting had occurred, and the sound of screams was totally absent. From the elder’s house, which towered over the village, the usual flag was hanging at a different angle. However, they did not understand why the flag now consisted of two red, diagonal lines displayed on a field of white.
“Fraser, you’re safe!”
“Uh, yeah, but what’s all this?”
“I don’t really know either. Suddenly, so many of them appeared.”
金金金Fraser had confirmed his mother’s safety, but Mirut was still searching for his only remaining family member. When his eyes met with the one he was after, they rushed to each other.
“Cal! They didn’t do anything to you did they?”
“No, but it was scary.”
“It’s all right now. Onii-chan is here.”
金金金Mirut hugged Cal, who finally showed a smiling face.
“You seem so happy that I’m a little jealous. Hey, can you make families without getting married?” Noel asked something ridiculous as she pulled out her memo.
金金金She closed in on the defenseless face, but was waved away by a hand.
“Oi, wait. What’s the situation? It’s nice you’re happy and all, but this might be seriously bad.”
“Yup. The village has been occupied by some unknown people after all.”
金金金Noel understood, and nodded firmly.
“If you understand, behave yourself!”
金金金Mirut left the tomfoolery to the others, and headed off to observe the bandit-like men who had come to the village. Each of them had a red cloth wrapped around his arm, and they were all armed with spears, swords, and the like. Their outfits were tattered, and they lacked a sense of unity. They were also disproportionately mixed, and seemed to foster a wider spread of demographics than the usual roaming bands.
“But still, who are these guys? They seem somehow different from raiders.”
“They seem kind of mish-mashed. Look at that guy, he’s holding a bamboo broom. Do you think he’s using it as a weapon?”
金金金Noel hurriedly pointed out.
“If you’re so loud, we’ll stand out.”
“Nobody heard, and we haven’t been spotted yet.”
“It’s still a problem even if the chances of them noticing are 10 000 to 1.”
“I guess so.”
金金金While that was happening, one man stepped forth from the group. Different from the others, his figure was a size larger, and his equipment was of a higher quality. Rather than a bandit, he had the demeanor of a seasoned mercenary. He was distinguishable at a glance. The boisterous lot went silent the instant he called for it. The man who represented them surveyed his surroundings, and spoke in a great, resonating voice.
“We are the ones who arose in opposition of the Viceroy of Coimbra, Grohl Wardka and his oppressive regime; we are the army of the Red Circle!”
“Eh, the … army of the Red Circle?”
金金金The village elder asked while bowing, and Ristih nodded.
“That is correct. They call me Ristih, and I serve as the head of the Red Circle’s army. We have shed much blood before this point. To remember this, we rap a red cloth around our right arms. We carve our red wheels from the flags of our foes, and covet the readiness to hand down judgement on the ones we oppose!”
“Our Red Circle army aims to take the capital, sweeping down from North Coimbra, and we do nothing less than work towards our destiny each and every day. Our efforts are proof of the gross tyranny of the despotic Grohl. By now our exploits should have made themselves known to the Emperor himself! When that happens, the maggots in charge will receive their just rewards.”
金金金Unlike the prideful, assertive Ristih, the village elder had only become perplexed. If what he said was true, then the secluded village was entirely unrelated. The only time that politics ever mattered there was when the tax collectors made their rounds, or when the military enlisted the young men.
金金金Mirut had the feeling he knew where this was going, but he stayed silent. He kept his eyes peeled in case it was to happen. Noel, meanwhile, had her eyes closed. From time to time, her body tottered such that Mirut thought she might actually have been sleeping. He wanted her to be more cautious, but remained silent because he didn’t want to cause a disturbance. Cal was hugging Noel with both hands from behind. Mirut’s little sister was very attached to the carefree Noel.
“What do you want with this atrite village? Despite our hospitality, our stockpiles are paltry.”
“Amongst brethren, such extortion is unthinkable. Were we to do such things, we’d be no better than the ones we fight. We only have one request. We simply would ask that those of a mind with us step forward and join our cause. Anybody can help, for without such support, we wouldn’t be able to change anything. We’ll accept those willing to take up their swords, for now is their time!”
“Basically, you want us to take up arms in revolt against the Coimbra administration.”
To the concerned elder’s further wrinkling brow, Ristih sharply pronounced, “Put simply, yes. However, we have no intentions of opposing His Imperial Majesty, or the empire at large. Our only goal is to remove the parasites from their leadership over Coimbra. Never shall our noble cause be misconstrued as treason!”
金金金In case they were refused, the soldiers spread out in preparation for looting. Although the rebel leader had promised not to kill anybody, there had been a strong emphasis on how other people had generously supplied them. Rebellion, however, was still a serious crime. If the village provided support and the rebellion was a failure, they would surely meet with a tragic fate. The elder hesitated for some time, before capitulating with a helpless expression.
“I understand. Some of our young will participate, so please show mercy.”
“I’m grateful. To go forth in opposition of the misdeeds of the Grohl, and live our lives for the betterment of the people is our mission. Elder, we will be sure to prove your judgement to be correct!” Ristih exclaimed before mounting his horse.
金金金With those heavy words the cavalry advanced, and the rest of the Red Circle army began to march in a loose formation. They had only been the vanguard of the rebel army and the remaining corps were to arrive later. With so many people arriving, maintaining order was becoming an impossibility. While Mirut was thinking about such things, the elder trudged back to the villagers with his shoulders stooped.
“Everyone, it’s as you’ve heard; I won’t force you to comply. Unfortunately, more soldiers will be passing through.”
“What!? What could they fix, rebellion is a serious matter! If we lose our workers we’ll lose our lives!”
“Even so, our village would have been destroyed had we not allowed this. Is there anyone who could have made a better choice!?”
“Elder, what if we secretly informed the military?”
“There is no way they wouldn’t notice. They might pretend not to, but they know. If we did that, by the time help arrived from the south, we’d already be dead. I had no choice. I understand it will be hard to survive, but survive we must.”
金金金The elder let out a quivering voice while lowering his head. No voices of opposition arose. Even with the current situation, their village wasn’t one that the national army would attempt to protect, instead, they would probably wait and see how it all played out. It was true that the people harboured resentment towards the Grohls’ rule. There would likely be a few who would wish to improve things by participating in the revolt. If the army enlisted soldiers from fellow northerners who also suffered from poverty, they wouldn’t have a strong will to destroy the rebellion, but rather feel that the rebels were a mouthpiece for their own complaints as well.
金金金The elder who had made up his mind, and those who were in agreeance with him gathered together and spoke in an uproar. They were discussing who to send off with the rebels. The participants began to focus on Mirut and the hunters, and eventually turned their gazes to Kraft and the farmers as well. In total, ten were called. Of course Noel was chosen as well. In such times it was a given to offer up the strangers and second sons.
“Hey, could everyone listen for a bit?”
金金金Noel turned to them all with a serious face, and said.
“Uh, well, I say it’d be better if you collected your families, and fled to somewhere safe.”
“… what’s that supposed to mean?”
“I agree with her. Why is it that we aren’t allowed to tell others to run away with their families? Do we have to join the army of the Red Circle?”
金金金Kraft tilted his head in curiosity. The others were also making puzzled expressions. It was only natural that they were supposed to join so that the village could avert destruction. It was also ridiculous to assume they would fight for an army that had taken them away from their families. Neither Cal, nor Fraser’s mother could defend themselves; without help they would die.
“Yupyup, and somehow, I get the feeling that at this rate, once we’ve left the remaining troops might just pillage anyway.”
“Oi, wait. That kind of retarded thing couldn’t possibly happen!”
金金金Fraser may have shouted, but Noel didn’t care for what he had to say.
“Well, even if it’s been stated by the Army of the Red Circle, they’re pretty disorganised. They are more like roaming bandits than a well disciplined military corps.”
“In order that you don’t regret anything, I recommend fleeing with your loved ones. Not that I’m forcing you or anything…”
金金金As Noel spoke, she grabbed Cal’s hand and began to walk.
“Hey! What are you doing with Cal!?”
金金金Mirut began to shout, and Noel smiled gently at him.
“Cal’s my friend, so I’ll protect her. Right?”
“Thank you Noel-chan!”
“Yup. Ah, do you want to read my picture book together? It always has a new story in it, so you’d better prepare for whatever kind of story we’ll discover.”
“I do! Make sure you’re ready too, okay!”
“Hey, stop! Don’t just do things like that!”
金金金While standing there Mirut was hesitant. Taking his sister despite usually not thinking much, Noel’s words did hold some truth. He was unsure of what to do.
金金金Damn, what do I do!?
“That’s a pretty amusing face, Mirut. Like you just ate something sour. Hey, it’s fine if I laugh right?”
金金金Noel had a habit of asking permission to do things after she had started, and this time was no different. Mirut was so frustrated he simply shouted, “Shut up! I’m thinking so stop!”
“Okay, I get it.”
金金金Noel again saluted in perfect form; however, the smile on her face hadn’t vanished. It was as though she couldn’t understand the gravity of the situation she was in. He found himself unable to come to a conclusion. He needed to stop focusing on Noel’s antics, and to refocus on the task at hand.
金金金We could probably head towards the southern Rockbell district. We’d also have to make sure to escape at an appropriate time. At any rate, it would be best to keep this hidden from the other villagers.
金金金Following the highway south would bring them from Zoim village to the Rockbell district which was halfway between the northern and southern regions. The area was relatively large such that the rebel army couldn’t possibly comb its entirety.
“Alright, I guess I’ll go talk to the elder. What Noel’s saying might not be impossible, I think.”
“It’s true that we won’t know what’ll happen, eh. That Ristih guy’s story’s suspicious too. We can’t trust him for now.”
“Is it like that then? He seemed like a pretty diligent guy to me.”
“Life’s not so easy that you can tell between good and bad just by looks.”
金金金Fraser brushed those words aside as nonsense, and Mirut was of the same opinion. Ristih had claimed to be frantically fighting the tyranny, but it seemed only superficial. They didn’t seem desperate at all, and their actions so far hadn’t been ones that the poor would readily support.
“But, the surrounding villages have probably had this happen. W-what should we do?”
金金金Kraft’s large body was shaking. Despite his imposing build, Kraft had less spirit than most. Mirut knew Kraft was beyond help, and offered some advice. He was the type who had to help the people that he knew.
“For now we’ll hide ourselves in the mountains. We won’t have to worry about food if we stay at the hunting shack. We should be able to last for some time.”
“That’s it! You’re so smart Mirut. I’ll get my dad and mum now!”
“I will too.”
金金金Several others followed after the gangly Kraft.
“Noel, I’m sorry, but can you look after Cal until I get back. I’m counting on you to protect her.”
“Okay, I’ll do that.”
金金金Noel nodded in affirmation, and turned to face the elder’s underlings. It was reckless to keep the little sister who had just recently turned ten, for she could easily become a burden during their escape. They planned on leaving as soon as Mirut returned. If it was only a small group that ran, it would take some time before the other villagers noticed people were missing.
“Sorry, but it looks like I’m in charge of babysitting. Think it’s time for the picture book? Somehow, it seems like it.”
“It’ll be okay when we’re out of the village. Such a special thing should be read a time when we can fully appreciate it. We can’t let it go to waste, right?” at Cal’s nervous words, Noel smiled.
“Noel-oneechan, aren’t you scared? Even though all of the people here are panicking?”
“I guess I’m not scared at all right now. I mean, it isn’t even raining, and the weather is great.”
金金金Noel raised her gaze to the sky. The sun’s form was absent, but in its place, a half-moon illuminated the world.
“It’s all right if it isn’t raining?”
“Yup. Falling rain heralds rising horrors. It has always been that way… Rainy days are full of bad things.”
金金金Noel spat in irritation.
“Rainy days do get you down. You’re always smiling on sunny days, but on rainy ones you make a really scary face.”
“Clear skies have only good news. Aaーh, I wish it would always be cloudless.”
金金金The sun brought energy to Noel, and her prided hair shared its colour. She had been anointed by sunlight upon choosing her name. The moon and stars set her heart at ease; their lazy, shimmering light brought down an easy mood which was good for sleeping. So it was that Noel extolled such cloudless days.
“But, wouldn’t the crops all die?”
“… Yup, that’s true.”
“See, see, rain is important. When it rains, we don’t need to water the fields!”
金金金While listening to Cal’s words, Noel remembered that day; the hellish scene she had failed to push from her mind: the putrid smell that assailed her nose, the harsh buzzing of the flies, the hole packed with haplessly abandoned corpses, and the lifeless bodies of her precious friends. Such was the end of those unable to find happiness; blanketed by a cold rain that veiled the world. She came to hate the rain, and she felt her existence chip away with every drop.
“Even so, I still don’t like the rain. In fact, I hate it.”
I don’t understand how this site generates its post links yet, but I already don’t like it. These computers are a shifty bunch.
The editor has yet to write a note here. He didn’t do the re-edit.