The outskirts of the city of Nazioni
Even there, the stone-made streets, stores, and houses were no different from the rest of the city.
The carefully and firmly built stone-made homes were unlike those wooden-made ones with cracks found in Siena.
Despite that, was it due to the lack of conservation? Somehow, their surrounding gave off a lonesome feeling.
The moment Eiji confirmed a house in front of him, Dante spoke.
– This one here is Katharina’s house.
– Thank you, Dante. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but, don’t tell Katharina about my arrival here.
– Got it. I don’t go back on my words, so I promise.
Dante’s manner of speaking was curt, but nevertheless, he made a deliberate promise and guided Eiji while being careful not to grab any attention from the public.
There was no way for Dante to be inconsiderate to toward others’ needs.
I’ll expect the same from you when we return – Leaving those words behind, Dante walked away. Once he left, Eiji knocked on the door of the house.
After a while of silence, the door slightly opened.
The inside of the house was dim, which felt as though its atmosphere reflected the image of the house’s owner.
A man with an unshaved face stood in the doorframe.
His eyes were dull with no signs of life, and his cheeks became skinny from exhaustion.
Despite Katharina being an ingenious person, is this how her father looks like?
Eiji received a deep shock inside his heart without realizing it.
Get hold of yourself, Eiji. You’ve come here to carry out an urgent talk. – Eiji thought so as he
braced himself and strived to make a smiling expression, to the best of his ability.
– Are you by any chance, Katharina-san’s father?
– Yes. Did something happen to my daughter?
– There’s something important I need to discuss with you regarding her future. May I enter inside?
– ….Please come in.
The man seemed to hesitate in inviting Eiji, but, he opened the door as if being prepared.
Following that, Eiji noticed one of the man’s arms bending in a false way.
His arm was most likely fractured without receiving a proper treatment.
The front of his elbow was twisted from its original place as well, which emitted a strong sense of discomfort from looking at it.
Was the man’s leg also in bad shape? He was dragging along one of his legs and swaying with his body while limping.
Eiji didn’t know what was the reason of the man’s injury.
However, what he could think of the best was a war.
That’s because an after-war injury would continue to remain like this.
Or could it be that the man sustained his injury from a work accident? Or perhaps, from falling from high places?
Even if his fractures were to recover t, the man would still be forced to live somehow.
No matter how much of a burden his injury was, he would have to carry on his daily life.
Naturally, each person has their own circumstances.
And everyone suffers, more or less, in an unnoticeable way.
Nonetheless, this man’s life is indeed a struggle by itself – Eiji thought.
– Please take your seat. With my condition like this, I cannot offer you much of a warm reception, but….
– No, you don’t have to mind about that.
– Then, what kind of a talk do you wish to have? Somehow, it appears to be related to my daughter, still…
– Before that, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eiji and I come from the village of Siena. Right now, Katharina is working at my blacksmith workshop as an apprentice.
– O, Oh.
The man seemed to be flustered at Eiji showing his manners.
Good grief – that person responded while shaking his head lightly from side to side.
And then, adjusting his sitting posture, he displayed his good behavior.
– I apologize for losing some of my composure. My name is Stephan. So is it true that my daughter has been in your care at your place? Has she been causing you any trouble?
– No, she has been working with much diligence and has helped me a lot in everyday tasks.
– You mean it…? It makes me feel at ease. Is that girl currently in the city?
– No, she remained in the village due to her own circumstances. I’ve come to discuss with you on that matter.
– She won’t be coming back….? Please tell me more about it.
Stephan nodded in agreement while putting an agonized face as he listened to Eiji’s story.
Eiji told him about Katharina receiving Nazioni’s order and becoming his adopted child, as well as marrying Eiji.
As Stephan listened carefully to his talk, his expression turned gradually stiff.
– Is that so….? It may be because she wants to protect me.
– Protect, you?
– Yes. I cannot move properly with this body of mine. For that reason, my daughter has decided to receive the ruler’s protection and have him exempt me from taxes.
When someone is impaired and unable to work, it’s necessary for that person to receive care.
It appeared that some sort of reparation was needed for that person to survive in a rough world.
Even in the present Japan, there probably aren’t many organizations that can provide its people with public assistance.
Certainly, it was a rough topic.
– So this is why she aspired to become my disciple, right?
– It is most likely as you say.
– Then, Stephan-san, what’s your opinion about that?
At his question, Stephan remained silent for a while.
Just what’s the matter…..? – Eiji wondered
Stephan’s eyes were slowly sinking inside.
They were gloomy and reminiscent of a deep sea where no light could reach its bottom.
– Stating one’s opinion, I, have no such grand privilege. Whenever that girl makes a decision, I can only accept it.
– No way…. Why are you saying such thing?
– That’s because I’m someone who’s lived in my daughter’s shadow. Are you telling me that a person who can’t take care of himself, like me, is in position of expressing my own view? Eiji-san, you are a big-hearted person. If, there is something that makes my daughter struggle with, would you please assist her? I beg you.
Eiji felt at a loss for words as Stephan deeply bowed down in his direction.
Judging from his point of view, it was quite an unusual scenery that unfolded before his eyes.
Why does a parent, like Stephan, overlooks his own child being used for political purposes?
– I do understand your viewpoint, Stephan-san.
– Were we able to reach an understanding?
– Yes. That’s why, it cannot be helped. I will just convey to you what I think.
– What could it be?
– I’m already a married person. What’s more, I don’t intend to enter into another marriage with Katharina-san. Therefore, I am here today to refuse the ruler.
– R, Really…..? However, will he let your decision pass unnoticed?
– It’s not about whether it will pass or not. I will have him agree.
His statement was filled with spirit.
That’s right. Eiji couldn’t let the ruler do as he please, if not, Eiji himself would be fed up with being exploited.
– You seem to be unusually strong-willed….. Otherwise, you would not be able to deny the ruler’s order.
– If possible, I want to ask you, Stephan-san, for any advice in dealing with Katharina-san. Still, that too looks to be a hard task.
– …….I don’t think I will be of any help.
If only this body was perfectly healthy. – Eiji had the feeling as if Stephan wanted to mutter something of that accord.
– Understood. I will give it some thoughts so that nothing bad occurs to her.
– Forgive me for being insistent, but that girl is truly a good child who cares for her father. Please help her by any mean.
– She is also my disciple, you see. I won’t neglect my responsibility after taking care of her.
– Thank you very much.
Being deeply bowed down at, Eiji could no longer find a response.
To be honest, Eiji wanted to have Stephan cooperate with him and convince Katharina not to enter into the marriage. Nevertheless, that wish didn’t look like it will come to fruition.
So as not to become any more of a burden to Stephan, Eiji decided to leave that place.
As soon as he announced his intention, Stephan guided him to the exit while having hard times with moving by himself.
And then, the door closed down slowly.
I wonder, what is it?
Eiji felt a bit empty inside of him.
That’s because the reality was quite different from what he had expected as a response from Stephan.
He believed Stephan would do whatever it would take to save his daughter.
Later, Eiji thought about having them move to Siena and looking after the both of them.
But, he didn’t obtain the result he desired.
I guess it can’t be helped. – Eiji, who thought so while just about to leave, suddenly heard a small voice from behind the door.
– Katharina, I’m sorry….I’m sorry….! I failed you as a father. Please forgive me….!
A subdued voice mixed with slight weeping leaked through the door.
Eiji turned around and left the spot as if pretending not to hear.
As he clenched his fist, Eiji swore inside his heart he would do anything in his power.