Chapter 5: Kuro, Secret path, and Castle Town I
“Ah, good evening, Mr. Kuro.”
The 7th prince of the Greisis Kingdom, Herscherik, had become 4 years old this spring. And yet, it would not be an exaggeration to say that he addressed the intruder with great familiarity, like he would a friend.
He spoke like he was calling out to an old companion, who he had just coincidentally run into. However, this casual meeting just so happened to be at midnight, in an armory belonging to the Order of Knights.
“Thank you for your hard work this late at night~”
Herscherik gave a quick bow to the intruder and went right back to his own work.
(I had completely thought that no one else would be here though…..)
A half a year had passed since the meeting between the prince and the intruder, whom the prince had arbitrarily named ‘Kuro’. With the quick growth of a child, Herscherik’s height had increased, and the immaturity was gradually leaving his face.
Why was the intruder so interested in this prince’s growth? It was because Kuro had been taking requests to infiltrate the royal castle for almost half a year. For one, he accepted a request to gather information. For another, he was to recover proof of a certain aristocrat’s forgery. He received such jobs from the underground guild and snuck into the royal castle night after night. Incidentally, his task this time was to deliver a certain lady’s letter to someone in the castle, with whom she was having an affair. As this lover of hers was a knight, he infiltrated the dormitory, which doubled as a storehouse, and was next to the Military Bureau.
But he had sensed a unexpected presence in the area, and peeked inside the armory. There, he saw a tiny shadow, darting about. The only one in this castle he could imagine doing such a thing had to be the one he met in that night: the 7th prince.
In any case, the intruder headed to the knight’s room and inserted the letter into the gap under the door. It was likely that, in the morning, the letter would turn the lover pale-faced, but that was no concern of Kuro’s. When he returned to the armory, he found the prince having a staring contest with a note, with a serious look on his face.
(Recently, it’s no longer a surprise to me that I keep finding the prince in these places….)
One time, he was found skulking about the Military Bureau Director’s private room; the next, he was inside a document cabinet in the Financial Bureau. Another time was in the royal castle’s food storehouse…..Even the intruder, Kuro, who preferred to wander through neglected areas, found this to be weird.They were all locations so strange and out of the way, that meeting someone there, even by chance, would surprise anyone. Not to mention, Kuro would bump into the child at times and places generally unoccupied by young kids. As a result, such encounters became the norm for him.
Kuro took a peek to see what was on today’s agenda, and it appeared that the prince was investigating the armory inventory. Herscherik was checking off items from his handmade note, but it seemed that not all of them were accounted for, causing him to knit his eyebrows.
“As expected, they don’t match…..It could just be a late delivery. Or was it falsified?”
Kuro called out from behind the prince, who was wracking his brain over the issue. Herscherik looked up at Kuro, not the least bit surprised.
“Mr. Kuro, is your work done? Just to make sure, it’s not something bad for the country, right?”
“Yeah. Well, it’s pretty bad for the receiver, heh.”
To a lover in an illicit affair, a letter demanding an offer of marriage was probably the worst. He was a knight who laid his hands on a married woman. Unless he resolved this matter, his future as a knight was over.
“Well, that’s fine then.”
Unless the action would negatively affect the country, his father, or the rest of his family, Herscherik wasn’t particularly concerned. Moreover, he didn’t think Kuro would easily answer him, if such was the case.
Besides, there was hardly any fallout from Kuro’s contracted work during this half year. And since this was Kuro’s livelihood, Herscherik had no means of stopping him.
Herscherik quickly lost interest in the topic and decided to ask Kuro for clarification on his current problem.
“Mr. Kuro, can you tell me a little about this? It’s doesn’t matter if it’s just in general, but does the delivery of weapons and equipment take some time?”
“Depends on the object. The stuff the Order of Knights and army use are, to a certain extent, of a higher quality, so there are times when the delivery takes longer.”
“…..Even 4 months?”
Kuro answered the prince’s question with silence.
For the delivery to be that slow, it was certainly strange. That thought slipped out through Kuro’s silence.
Herscherik took the silence as an affirmation of his doubts.
“Even though the payments have been settled, the delivery is non-existent. There were also no traces of them being used……”
(No matter how you look at it, this is a falsified transaction. Really, thank you so much.)
Herscherik was exhausted. The closer he looked, the more he found; pieces of overpaid invoices and incomplete requests were constantly uncovered, piling up like a mountain.
(If this was an ordinary business, we would’ve long since gone bankrupt…..)
Though, this may not seem like a problem to the Finance Bureau, as taxes and the national treasury were still exceeding projections. No, there’s also the possibility that the Finance Bureau was purposely overlooking these inconsistencies. They were probably fine with the situation so long as they were receiving the tax money.
In this half of a year, Herscherik had conducted his “Charge In ☆ It’z an Unofficial Internal Auditz 1” in each of the bureaus. His conclusions were that each bureau was hiding questionable parts, to some extent.
But that was a conclusion based only on the intuition, experience, and abilities of an office worker in his previous world, that he had cultivated while he was Ryouko.
(In this world, I lack too much experience and information.)
Perhaps what he found to be questionable could actually be quite ordinary here. In addition, there might also be superfluous positions that would make anyone ask, “Is that necessary? It’s pointless, you know,” in any other workplace.
That’s why he concluded that he must quickly bridge this knowledge disparity.
“Mr. Kuro, I have a favor I want to ask.”
(To me, the most important thing in this world that I need right now, is experience and knowledge. That’s why it’s about time I move on to the next stage.)
Herscherik looked up at Kuro with his head tilted to the side. That gesture, paired with his smile, was truly very cute.
This was the first time he had visited the castle town, and it seemed to be flourishing, with many people all around. Stores were scattered here and there, selling their wares, and cheerful voices echoed out, inviting customers.
(This is the castle town!)
Herscherik gawked around like a tourist.
He had Meria make him some clothes that he could get dirty, and they were bit more modest than the ones he usually wore. He hid his face with the hood attached to a poncho-like cloak. No matter how one looked at it, he didn’t seem like one of the children from the town, but it would be a stretch to assume that he was some young master from a rich family.
The other day, Herscherik asked Kuro to show him a secret path that would lead to the castle town..
No matter how skilled of a spy Kuro was, there was no way he could easily go to and from the royal castle, that supposedly had a barrier erected, directly. As such, Herscherik suspected that he must know of some secret and, hopefully, safe route.
Herscherik pressed Kuro with a flurry of words to try to blackmail….er rather, persuade him.
“The first time we met, I saved you, you know?”
“…….No, the information I supplied you with later on made up for that.”
“But I also showed you where the document was, right? If I didn’t point that out to you, you would’ve taken much longer to find it, right?”
In the end, Kuro raised up the white flag. He knew that, regardless of the rejections or complaints he gave, Herscherik wouldn’t give up. As such, he informed the prince about the several cracks in the barrier that one could go in and out from, and the one Herscherik should take.
It was behind the building that housed the laboratory and archives. That area was now hidden by trees, and there was a waterway that was no longer in operation. It was an unmaintained place where no one thought to go. The crack was as tall and wide as a child standing upright or an adult bending over, and either could pass through as such.
There were a pair of iron bars placed over the entrance, but as Herscherik rotated a spot as Kuro had instructed, the iron bars moved, allowing Herscherik to pass through. The waterway was dried up and had been neglected for several decades. There was no dampness, and the smell barely bothered him at all. And when he again rotated another spot on the iron bars on the other side, he was able to leave the premise. The area in front of the exit was also behind trees, making it unnoticeable.
(Everything should be fine since I don’t have afternoon classes, and I told Meria that I was going to the library.)
While thinking of excuses, such as he was playing hide-and-seek or had a secret hideout, in case he was discovered, Herscherik took his first step out of the castle.
(The prices are cheaper compared to Japan……?)
Herscherik compared the values written on the price tags to the ones in his previous world.
Take the sale of this red fruit for instance. It was called an apple in his previous life and was 10 copper coins in this world. Then, he went to what looked like a discount clothing store, and all the clothes there were 50 copper coins. If he assumed that 1 copper coin was equivalent to about 10 yen, then a 100 yen apple could be considered to be quite a bargain.
(But the ones stored in the castle were 50 copper coins apiece. That’s 5 times the market price. That price inflation is way too unnatural.)
Did this strange surplus end up disappearing inside someone’s pocket?
Herscherik sank into the abyss of his thoughts when a piercing sound reverberated through the marketplace.
“Hey, this again?”
“Yeah, looks like the folks from the Patrol Bureau are making more false charges.”
The owner of the general store right next to Herscherik asked a passerby.
“The Patrol Bureau and the commercial guild are fighting now. I feel bad for that fruit seller…..They say her husband isn’t here today, which is why they’re ganging up on-…..”
Ignoring the rest of the conversation, Herscherik jogged towards the center of the turbulent crowd.
With his tiny body he easily maneuvered around the wall of people and popped out near the stalls. Just as he did, a red fruit was thrown onto the ground in front of him.
A scream echoed out.
It had come from a healthy and attractive woman, roughly in her mid-thirties. From the look of her sunburnt skin and the well-muscled arms extending from her sleeves, she seemed like a hard worker.But there were still visible traces of a feminine charm; it was a beauty very different to those of his father’s consorts.
But this woman was now surrounded by three officers from the Patrol Bureau, and her face warped into a pained expression.
“But you know, ma’am. You cannot cross over and place your goods beyond the established boundary.”
“I didn’t leave them there!”
“But we saw them left there.”
“Those are just your words! Where’s the proof that they were left there!?”
The three men snickered at her words.
“Then conversely, can you give us proof that they weren’t left there? In that case, it’ll be better if we got a third-party to weigh in. Is there anyone here with proof that she didn’t cross over the line?”
The officers from the Patrol Bureau looked around the area, but curious onlookers who had previously gathered around, turned away, avoiding eye contact. There was no one who volunteered themselves. No one wanted to get involved.
(Alas, how pitifully cliché….)
Herscherik sighed softly. He didn’t expect the commotion to be something so easy to understand. It was like a third rate play from his past life, one that sickened him.
The Patrol Bureau was in charge of maintaining public order within the country. If this was Japan, they would be called police officers.
Their primary job was to protect the citizens, so to see such stupid behavior from them, wouldn’t cause only Herscherik to let out a sigh.
Maybe the surrounding people didn’t want any trouble, but it was becoming obvious that they weren’t planning to help. Even though they all seemed sympathetic, in truth they didn’t want to be connected with this absurdity in any way.
“If you wanna resolve this amicably, you can give the full details of it at the Bureau, ya know? Well, that’s if you show us some… ‘sincerity’…..heh heh.”
(Asking for even more bribes….)
Herscherik was at his wit’s end, looking at the corruption of government officials right before his eyes. If these men, who were supposed to be the most concerned about the lives of the citizens, acted in this manner when under the employment of the monarchy, then how must the royal family be regarded? Even trying to imagine it was dreadful.
He put on a face like that of an employee at a prestigious company.
It could be said that it was like the one he would use in his past life’s workplace. The impression a customer or contractor had of a company was influenced by the actions of their employees, and those actions were a facilitator for trust and profit directed to the organisation. The opposite was true as well. The actions of a company also affected the conduct and impressions of the employee.
To one extreme, this also applied to a country’s government officials. How could a country hope to gain the trust of their citizens, when their own employees acted in such a way towards their people.
Moreover, Herscherik wasn’t an apathetic and dispassionate person; he had always hated the people who did such things even before he reincarnated.
“Miss! I’m here~!”
Taking off his hood, Herscherik cheerfully jumped out from the crowd. A friendly, well-mannered smile appeared on his face.