Have another side story. This one involves spoilers for the end of Allison, but does not spoil Lillia and Treize.
Long, long ago.
Specifically, the year 3277 of the World Calendar. Around the time Roxche(the Roxcheanuk Confederation) and Sou Be-Il(the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa), the nations on either side of the planet’s only continent, began a hellish war over a tiny island on the Lutoni River.
Leaves were falling and the wind was growing chilly that autumn, when a soldier visited the house.
The building, about the size of a small schoolhouse, was much too large to just call a house. It was a red-roofed building standing quietly among trees dyed in yellows and reds. Stuck on the door beside the road was a grubby piece of plywood. The words ‘Welcome to the Future House!’ were written on it twice. Once in Roxchean and once in Bezelese.
“Please wait here until I’ve finished with my business.” The soldier said to the driver, and stepped through the door.
He was a fat man in a green Roxchean uniform, and from his badge of rank he seemed to be a high-ranking officer. He was in his mid-thirties. Blue eyes and short blond hair peered out from under his hat. There was a long mustache over his lips, but it was a poor match for his looks. The tie around his thick neck seemed tight on him, and a handgun weighed on the belt around his bulging waistline.
The soldier’s feet crunched over the leaves as he walked down the narrow tree-lined path to the house. Wisps of clouds floated overhead that late afternoon. There was a chatter in the air, perhaps from children playing behind the building.
“Nowhere near the hustle and bustle of the city, and surrounded by nature. What a beautiful place.” The soldier said to himself with a smile. When he finished, he found himself at the door. There was a small bell on the door. He pulled a string and rang it.
“Hello.” An apron-clad woman in her thirties stepped out with a confused look. The soldier introduced himself, and explained that he was no one suspicious and that he was very interested in the war orphans being cared for at the facility.
“Is Madam Corazòn Mut home? It would be an honor to speak to her in person.”
The soldier was led into the director’s office. It was at the very front of the long hallway just through the front door.
In the office, the soldier took off his hat and waited on a wooden chair. There was a simple work desk by the window. Next to it was a shelf filled with books and photo albums, and in the middle of the room were chairs for guests and a table. A teacup and a hat sat side-by-side on the surface. The clock on the wall ticked and tocked.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I am Corazòn Mut.”
Stepping through the door was a short, chubby, and elderly woman whose slightly long grey hair was tied up in a neat bun. Her relaxed tone was a perfect match for her pleasant bearing. The woman was wearing an apron over her one-piece dress.
The soldier stood, placed his hat over his chest, and greeted the woman. The woman smiled and, meeting the soldier’s blue eyes, asked him to relax. They sat on either side of the table.
The soldier introduced himself once more. He then explained that he lived and worked in the Capital District.
Then, he explained that he was very interested in the fact that the facility was founded by Corazòn Mut—who had defected from Sou Be-Il twenty years prior—and that she was looking after children orphaned by the conflicts between East and West.
He also explained that he was not visiting as part of a mission—that he happened to be in the area for work, and that he was using his own time to visit. He did not neglect to apologize to the woman for visiting out of the blue, and to thank her for agreeing to meet him.
Mut’s smile never left her face as she nodded along to the soldier’s words.
But just as the soldier cut to the heart of the matter, someone knocked.
Mut excused herself and stood to open the door. There was a brown-haired boy there. He was quite short and wore a light sweater and a pair of shorts. He seemed to be rather soft-spoken.
“Grandma! Ms. Leila told me to tell you as fast as I could.”
The boy’s words surprised the soldier. But because the soldier was very good at hiding his shock, he didn’t seem any different except for how his blinking very slightly slowed.
“That’s very sweet of you, Wil. Whatever is the matter?” Mut kindly asked the boy, also speaking in Bezelese—the language of Sou Be-Il. Of course, Mut’s mother tongue was Bezelese to begin with.
The boy went up to Mut and told her what Ms. Leila wanted her to say. He told her that Mut could take her time speaking with the visitor and that the other teachers would take over her duties for the moment.
“Thank you, Wil. Could I ask you a favor? Could you go to Ms. Leila and tell her ‘Thank you’ for me?”
“Umm, okay. I’ll tell Ms. Leila that you said thank you to her.” The boy named Wil replied, checking the message he was supposed to convey. Then he walked to the door, stepped into the hall, took hold of the doorknob, and stopped.
He met the soldier’s gaze.
The soldier flashed him a smile. The boy nodded shyly and left the room. The door thudded.
The soldier and Mut once more faced each other. Their eyes met.
“Today is Bezelese Day.” She explained. In Roxchean this time, of course. The soldier was a little surprised, but he soon nodded.
“I suppose that boy just now has also lost his parents to war.” The soldier said gravely.
“Actually, Wil is not a war orphan.” Mut replied with a smile. “Wil is a special case. The Future House houses war orphans, but he is an exception. He was left on our doorstep.” Mut said plainly.
Silent, the soldier waited for her to continue.
“Five years ago, when Wil was about three years old, the butcher came to make a delivery in the morning and found him all alone at the door. ‘Here’s your usual delivery of ham. And here’s a boy I found at the door. And no, you can’t eat him.’, he’d said. I ended up asking, ‘Er… which one is the boy again?’.”
Something seemed to occur to the soldier, but he did not let it show. Mut continued.
“So we decided to make an exception for him. It must be fate—nothing like that happened since then.”
“Er… did you ever find out who his parents were?” Asked the soldier. Mut shook her head and replied that she did not.
“But if he was three at the time—“
“At the time, Wil could not speak.”
The soldier could not reply.
“But now, he’s more fluent in both languages than anyone. He’s a sweet, clever boy with an excellent memory. I’m very grateful to the parents who gave birth to such a wonderful child.”
“I see.” The soldier agreed, his tone low.
Suddenly, Mut stood. The soldier looked up in surprise. He did not want her to end the conversation there.
“Why don’t we take a walk?”
But what she meant was that they should speak where no one could overhear them.
“That sounds wonderful.”
The soldier took his hat from the table and stood.
The small, elderly woman and the tall, fat soldier.
The odd couple walked down a narrow path in the woods, carpeted by leaves. They waved at the children playing in the backyard and walked toward the forest behind the house.
The gentle breeze sometimes became gusts and sent leaves flying. And each time, leaves rained from the sky to form another layer of the carpet.
Mut was wearing a cream-colored cardigan. A little behind her to her right walked the soldier, wearing his hat.
For over 200 meters they walked quietly, with no real conversation between them. The voices of the children no longer reached them, and there was no one around to hear them speak.
Suddenly, Mut stopped and turned. Her eyes met the soldier’s.
“I thought you’d come to kill me at first.” Mut laughed.
“What? You don’t mean—“
Very naturally, and very honestly, the soldier expressed his shock.
“Not at all. Perhaps in the past, but no one in Roxche thinks badly of you now, Madam Mut.” He said firmly. But Mut lightly shook her head.
“No, that’s not it.” She said, in Roxchean up to that point. Then, “I’d thought that if I was ever visited by one of His Majesty’s men, that would be the end of my life.” She said in Bezelese.
Leaves danced in the gust, and the soldier looked as if he’d been bludgeoned in the back of the head. As though he might keel over any moment.
The soldier’s blue eyes stared, unable to even blink. He managed a gape but could not speak.
He stared at the small woman before him—the woman with the ever-present smile—as though looking up at a legendary dragon about to devour him alive. Unable to flee from her gentle gaze, he stood as though rooted to the spot.
Ten seconds passed. The leaves began to flutter to the ground.
“H-how…” The soldier managed to muster a word in Roxchean. But he was questioning himself more than the woman. Mut smiled and waited for him to finish thinking.
Ten more seconds. Eventually, the soldier lightly shook his head. His shoulders drooped as he sighed.
He had lost.
“Perhaps the air around you… or your scent, should I say? You remind me of autumn in Sfrestus. The scent of that nostalgic altitude.” Mut said softly. Sfrestus was the capital of Sou Be-Il.
Having heard her speaking Bezelese, the soldier replied in Bezelese himself—without so much as a hint of an accent or dialect.
“It has been eleven years since I left our homeland, but… I see. A scent, is it?”
A smile rose to his face.
The fat man in Roxchean uniform looked Mut in the eye.
“I suppose there’s no reason to hide now. You are correct, Madam Mut. I am in the service of His Majesty the King. As you can see from my uniform—“
“You are His Majesty’s eyes and ears.”
“I am. But my mission is not to kill you. There is no such mission.”
“I wonder?” Mut said, turning away. As the soldier wondered what she intended, Mut spoke from atop the colorful carpet.
“After all, I came to this country with the help of people like you.”
Countless thoughts flashed by the soldier’s mind.
Mut had received the help of spies when she defected to Roxche. In other words, her crossing was a ruse approved by the government. But after her ‘defection’, Mut did nothing of use to Sou Be-Il.
“You invented a false mission to serve your true purpose of starting an orphanage. You even fooled the intelligence department.” The soldier concluded, and then added with a smile, “Incredible.”.
“It is true that I betrayed His Majesty.” Mut said, finally turning back. She was smiling gently just as she did before.
The soldier replied in Roxchean.
“I have never heard of a mission to assassinate you. And as I said earlier, I am not here on business—I came for personal reasons.”
Mut also spoke in Roxchean.
“Then let me hear it. Although I do have an inkling of what you are about to say.”
The soldier smiled and nodded.
“Of course. You see… I am going to die very soon.”
“Have you ever heard of punisher cannons? They are railroad guns used by the Roxchean army, manufactured mostly by Terreur Steel. They have the longest range of any weapon to ever exist. And in terms of artillery, Roxche’s technology is a good decade ahead of Sou Be-Il’s. That is why I have several times been asked for information on the subject from others in my line of work. And I did pass them the information.” The soldier said.
They were neither walking nor sitting, just standing on the narrow path. They were just looking at each other, not even checking to see if someone was approaching. There was another gust of wind, and the leaves were again rearranged.
“The conflict on Lestki Island is at a stalemate, with both sides losing and reclaiming the same few trenches over and over again. All fatalities are military personnel, and neither side wishes to escalate the conflict. They do not want to deploy men to match the Great War’s scale or clash head-on across the entire Lutoni. This is what analysts have concluded. No… I suppose this was what analysts concluded.”
“I assume something must have happened?”
“Yes. Last month, Terreur Steel successfully manufactured a trial version of a new model of railroad guns and ammunition. The new models have greatly increased range, and depending on conditions they could double the current range—in other words, reach distances up to 100 kilometers. If these weapons were to be placed en masse by the Lutoni River, allowing Roxche to launch a one-sided attack from a further distance than before, Sou Be-Il will be left at a massive disadvantage. And those who have the upper hand are bound to become more ambitious. Ambition is like a flame. Once it ignites, even the one who started it will be unable to control it.”
“I plan to take that information and cross the Lutoni again. I will soon obtain the detailed blueprints and potential positioning of the weapons. I will bring them with me to Lestki Island and die in these very clothes. It is a risky gamble, but if my plan is successful, Sou Be-Il will be able to develop railroad guns of similar specifications shortly. Then we would intentionally leak that information to Roxche. Once that happens, even in the worst-case scenario the deaths will be restricted to the island alone.”
Another gust of wind scattered the leaves. The soldier’s expression darkened.
“I have a daughter who lives with me in the Capital District. My wife passed away of an illness.”
“Of course.” Mut did not need to hear the rest before she nodded firmly. “Of course. I—we—will raise her here. Please, follow your beliefs. Do what you must.”
The man knelt before the woman, so much shorter and smaller than he. Dirt and leaves soiled the sleeves and knees of his uniform, but he could not care less. The man took off his hat. And he bowed his head.
“Thank you. Now I am free of the last of my worries.”
Surprised and taken aback, Mut stared at the soldier.
“Please, rise. I no longer have the right to give my blessings to a knight in His Majesty’s service.”
The soldier looked up. “I am no knight.” He smiled, his eyes narrowing sadly.
“Then… allow me to give you my blessings.” Mut replied. She rifled through the pockets of her dress and her cardigan and drew a long pencil with a broken tip. “I picked this up earlier. I don’t have a sword, so this will have to do.”
Taking the blunt end of the pencil, she quietly laid its broken tip on the man’s right shoulder. Then on his left.
“May the divine protection of the God of War and the God of Fortune be upon you forevermore.”
In the swirling leaves, they were walking toward the house.
“Is she clever and calm, just like you?” Mut asked.
The soldier shook his head.
“Not at all. She is single-minded, clumsy, and passionate about everything. Sometimes to the point of being rambunctious. Please don’t let her hurt the other children.”
“Oh my. I’m looking forward to meeting this daughter of yours. What is her name?”
The soldier replied. He looked so very happy when he said her name. Then he explained that his late wife had given their daughter that name, and that Allison looked just like her mother but had none of her character.
“She is my treasure—is what I’d like to say, but that isn’t entirely true. Allison is no possession of mine. She is a person. Please, let her walk the path she chooses for her future. I will make sure that that path will not be ended. I will do all I can to prepare a future for her.”
Mut saw off the soldier at the door.
The fat soldier slowly disappeared along the tree-lined path.
The boy from earlier opened the door and came outside. He clung to Mut’s right side. She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“Grandma, what did he want?” Asked the boy. Mut answered:
“To find out.”
“To find out? What?”
“If he could do it.”
“If he could do what? What’s he going to do?”
“He’s going to make a very important—very heavy—decision. One day, Wil, you might end up having to do something similar. But if you’ve chosen that path for yourself, follow your beliefs. I hope that, when that time comes, someone will be next to you to approve of that decision with a smile and a nod.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I suppose it might be a little difficult to understand right now. Just remember—don’t try to put on a brave front, and don’t make excuses. Be true to yourself, just like you are now. There’s no nobler way to live.”
As they spoke, the soldier grew more and more distant. He would soon step past the gate and into the road, where his car waited.
“Look, Wil. A departing knight.” Mut said out of the blue.
“A knight? Like with a ‘k’? What does a knight do?”
“A knight swears loyalty to people, does things for people, and never betrays them. A knight is someone very noble.”
“Is that man a knight?”
“Yes, Wil. Look. He is a departing knight.”
“Who does he trust? Who doesn’t he betray? What does he do? For who?”
“For almost everyone in this world.”
“Huh. Someone who does things for people and never betrays them. Someone very noble.” The boy repeated the words like a spell. Then he broke away from Mut, and facing forward, took three hopping steps back.
“What is it, Wil?” Mut asked, turning. Wil asked her to look forward.
“Oh, I see. Let’s watch him until the end.”
Mut turned back to the soldier. He was just passing through the gate.
Watching the large soldier, tiny in the distance, and the small Mut, large before him, Wil whispered to himself.
“There are two of them. Two knights.”