Chapter 3: Secret… Part 1: The Debt Owed by Whom
Today was the day of Teacher’s return.
Elaro was extremely happy. There were many questions he wanted to ask his teacher. Although he was very worried that Hungri would get punished, and that it might even result in him getting replaced, Elaro believed that his teacher would be able to prevent something like that from happening. Therefore, he was actually not all that worried that Hungri would be replaced.
Although he knew he should not rely on his teacher—after all, someone his age should already be assuming responsibility—Elaro currently had too many worries. That included Hungri, who didn’t want to see his face at all and was constantly avoiding him. The Judgment Knight Platoon was even helping Hungri avoid him. This gave Elaro quite a big headache. In addition, he was always busy with a lot of things whenever the Twelve Holy Knights weren’t at the Holy Temple, so he simply wasn’t able to think of any good solutions, or find time to discuss things with Hungri.
For example, Elaro was currently walking along the corridors of the palace. Only Dili followed behind him. Although he was already busy enough recently, if the king wanted to see him, he still had no choice but to set aside all of his tasks and go to the king’s court as quickly as possible.
When he reached the hall’s doors, Elaro smiled at the two royal knights guarding it. They did not smile in return, but Elaro wasn’t unhappy because of that. The royal knights had always been this way, and his teacher even claimed, “Originally, they were already as unyielding as rocks. After getting a good king, their hardness is now rivaling diamonds!”
Elaro had already entered the palace many times, and the people of Leaf Bud City, prestigious or otherwise, all commended him for his personality. Even diamond-hard knights could not help but soften a bit and speak to him politely, “Before meeting His Majesty, a search must be conducted.”
Elaro raised his hands and turned around in a circle, allowing the other person to sweep him over with his eyes. Dili, however, did not receive such good treatment and was directly searched.
“Please enter,” the royal knights said and smiled slightly. No matter how stiff they were, when facing the future Sun Knight, who always wore a smile, and who had a kind and approachable bearing, their solid defenses would be breached. They had very good impressions of Elaro.
“Thanks for your trouble.” After giving his thanks, Elaro entered the great hall and immediately saw His Majesty, the king.
The king was already over fifty, his hair streaked with white. Although he didn’t have too many wrinkles, the groove between his eyebrows was particularly deep. It made him appear like he was always frowning and troubled. However, with Elaro’s understanding of the king, he could tell that his expression was not one of worry. This allowed Elaro to relax a bit. Nothing major should have happened.
He went down on one knee and said in a clear voice, “At your service, Your Majesty.”
After the king indicated for him to rise, the king buried himself in his documents again. This was normal. The king never spoke much. Two knights stood by his sides. Originally, it was one old and one young, but now it had become two young knights, and there was also another person who sat close by…
Elaro smiled at the person to the side. “It’s been a few days, Marquis Elijah.”
Elijah chuckled openly and said, “I bet you don’t want to see me at all!”
“Hahaha—“ Elaro answered with a laugh as well.
“…You should at least say it’s not like that, right?”
Elaro’s tone was apologetic. “Sorry, Marquis Elijah, but I don’t want to tell any lies.”
“Could I ask for you not to be so honest?” Elijah rolled his eyes at him and took out a stack of papers. “His Majesty has a mission for you. The faster you resolve it, the better. These are the details of the mission.”
Elaro moved forward to take the stack of papers. After he finished looking them over, he actually apologized. “Your Majesty, please forgive me for being unable to carry out the mission.”
When he heard this, the king lifted his head. Even Elijah, who was off to the side, furrowed his brows. The mood immediately turned strained.
Elijah said sternly, “Such disrespect! Even the Sun Knight does not have the power to refuse the king!”
Elaro stilled. Although Elijah was the one who had spoken these words, Elaro could see that his eyes held no fury and instead held concern. It was the king whose face was full of anger… Startled, Elaro was about to explain, when he heard a call from outside.
“Her Majesty has arrived—”
The queen entered the great hall, holding hands with a little girl. The girl, who had originally been demure, immediately struggled free of the queen’s grasp upon seeing Elaro. She jogged right in front of him.
“Big Brother Elaro!” She looked at Elaro expectantly, as if waiting for some kind of reward.
“Your Highness.” Elaro bent down and gave her a smile. However, he did not rub her head like he usually did, because the young princess currently had her hair done up in two buns. It made rubbing her hair inconvenient.
The young princess waited for a long time. Then, she touched her head and realized that she had two buns on top of it. Of course her head would not get rubbed like that.
When he saw the queen and the princess arrive, the king’s expression relaxed. He didn’t want to frighten the two most important women in his life: his wife who had accompanied him through half of his life already, and their precious daughter, the next heir of the royal family, whom they hadn’t managed to have until they were already advanced in years.
Elaro was grateful to the queen and princess. Their arrival had immediately improved the mood. When he saw the young princess pouting, he said, “Pardon my rudeness,” and lifted her up. In a split second, he abruptly remembered that the person he was currently hugging could very well become the queen of the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound, which was a rare thing indeed!
Years ago, the entire kingdom had been betting on when Princess Jasmine and Marquis Elijah would bear the heir, and whether the first born of the royal family would be a princess or a prince. However, the king suddenly announced that the queen had given birth to a princess. Countless people had lost a fortune then.
That year, Teacher had also lost a lot of money, and he had confronted Marquis Elijah for it, choking him until he foamed at the mouth. He yelled at him for being a useless, money-losing commodity, and that he really should have let the Pope scheme him to death back then and be done with it.
Elaro was very curious about what exactly had happened “back then,” but his teacher claimed that it was just a boring, trivial matter. His teacher had no intention of clarifying anything, so Elaro didn’t ask further.
He lifted his head to look at the king, and explained apologetically, “Your Majesty, the Holy Temple is very willing to carry out the mission you have tasked us with, but to carry out this mission, one must leave Leaf Bud City. Right now, the Twelve Holy Knights are out on a mission and have yet to return. I have currently assumed the Sun Knight’s duty of leading the Holy Temple. Is it possible to wait for the teachers to return before carrying out this mission?”
In actuality, the king had already thought that this might be a misunderstanding—the person before him was Elaro, not Grisia—so when he heard the explanation, his expression relaxed. He glanced at Elijah, and the latter said, “So that’s how it is. According to my understanding, they should be returning today. Waiting until they return to the Holy Temple to carry out the mission will not be too late.”
“Thank you very much for understanding, Your Majesty.”
Elaro noted the mission down in his mind as part of his itinerary. Although it was the Holy Temple’s duty in name, it was actually his teacher’s responsibility.
In all, his teacher owed the king one hundred missions—the Judgment Knight had been the one to write the IOU, so that the king would pay the army to crusade against the Demon King. The Pope had been the one to stamp the seal, so that he wouldn’t have to pay as much of the army fees; the Sun Knight was the one who had to pay off the debt, and all complaints were ineffective in front of the Judgment Knight’s churlishness.
The king assigned all sorts of missions. The only commonality among them was that they were all “littered with challenges.” Even though the king knew that the Sun Knight could not leave Leaf Bud City, he didn’t take that into consideration at all because he knew that the Sun Knight had a lot of resources on hand. His location didn’t matter.
When the Sun Knight completed the 38th mission, he finally blew his top. From then on, he completely refused to acknowledge that he owed any debts. He could even point at the IOUs, including other ones written by himself, and say that he was a blind person who could not see.
Lying with his eyes open! The king had seethed with anger, but he hadn’t dared to pressure him too much. If they caused the Demon King to resurface over a piece of paper, anyone who knew the truth would probably split their sides laughing and burst into fury at the same time.
In the end, the king could only seek out the Judgment Knight, the one who had written the IOU. He would definitely not allow this IOU to be buried, like it had never happened.
When the Judgment Knight received the mission tasked by the king, he happened to be extremely busy, so he had Elaro tell that to his teacher. However, the Sun Knight refused to take on the mission, and had Elaro return to tell the Judgment Knight. Then, Elaro discovered that the Judgment Knight had already left the city on an investigation, but the mission’s deadline was drawing near. One side was adamant on disregarding the debt, while the other side had nothing to collect. In the end, Elaro had no choice but to complete the 39th mission himself.
Once the king discovered that the one reporting back was actually Elaro, he then assigned all missions to him from that moment on. Once the Sun Knight discovered that his student was already capable of completing such difficult missions, he then refused to take on any missions from Elaro, using the excuse, “There’s no such thing as a student assigning his teacher missions.” After that, Elaro could only obediently complete the 40th mission, the 41st…
If an IOU written by the Judgment Knight has to be paid off by the Sun Knight, then having the student pay off the teacher’s debts is even more right and proper!
When the Judgment Knight came to criticize him, that was how the Sun Knight had replied.
At the time, to prevent the Demon King from resurfacing… or the danger of having the Demon King get killed, Elaro hugged an enraged Judgment Knight tightly, stopping him from rushing out to beat up the leader of the Holy Temple. He even emphasized that he was very willing to complete the missions, and that it had nothing to do with Teacher, and so on…
The Judgment Knight gave Elaro a piercing look, and then he turned and clobbered the Sun Knight. Only after that did he turn and leave, washing his hands of the whole affair.
From then on, Elaro began entering the palace frequently. He became friends with Marquis Elijah despite his age, and he played with the cute young princess, becoming her favorite big brother. Later on, even the queen doted on him, for she had no sons of her own.
The king was quite fond of this serious and responsible child as well, though that didn’t mean he ever cut back on assigning missions.
If it wasn’t because it would be a big problem for the royal family to adopt the future Sun Knight, Elaro would have become the adopted son of the royal family. The king simply could not approve the queen’s suggestion.
“Elaro, you’re not that young anymore.” Elijah asked, “Has the Church of the God of Light decided on when the next generation of the Twelve Holy Knights will take over?”
Elaro reported back truthfully, “It hasn’t been decided yet.”
“Why hasn’t it been decided yet?” The king actually spoke, his tone disapproving.
“My other companions are still young. It’s not yet an appropriate time for succession, so the teachers have no plans to pass on their positions yet.”
The king said calmly, “Deciding on a time does not mean succession must happen right away. It’s best to decide on a ‘definite time for succession.’ This way, trainees would have the awareness of the heavy responsibility they will eventually carry.”
Elaro agreed whole-heartedly, “Your Majesty is right.”
Although he knew that His Majesty’s words made sense, Elaro was not someone who could open his mouth to call attention to this. He had always been very careful to never ever bring up any suggestions that sounded like “urging.” After all, he was the one whose age was too far apart from everyone else’s…
“Big Brother Elaro.” The young princess wanted attention. “Let’s go to the gardens together to eat cake, okay?”
Elaro smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry. I’m currently a little busy. How about I eat cake with you next time?”
The little princess’s face fell, but even though she was young, she was relatively mature because of her royal upbringing, so she did not cry or complain. She merely nodded and buried herself completely in big brother’s embrace.
Big Brother is really busy. He’ll definitely leave soon. She had to take the opportunity to have him spoil her. He always gave off a faint fragrance, one that couldn’t be smelled if you weren’t close enough. However, the little princess had discovered the fragrance ever since the first time Elaro had lifted her up. She liked this scent a lot, so whenever Elaro came, she would always plaster herself to him as much as possible.
Big Brother still isn’t rubbing my head. The little princess touched her head, coming across the two buns again. She was a little frustrated and vowed that she would never tie her hair in buns again.
Elaro noticed the young princess’s actions and smiled as he lightly pinched her cheeks. She then started beaming.
The queen thought it amusing, watching these two interact just like siblings, or even father and daughter, and then seeing the king with his brows furrowed, apparently a little jealous. She smiled as she said, “Elaro, when you’re finished and have time, come and have some tea.”
As Elaro walked back to the Holy Temple, his posture remained tall despite the blistering heat, his back as straight as a sword. Although he didn’t look hurried or slow, he was tall and had long legs, so his large strides were the same as a normal person’s jogging speed.
Dili hurried to follow by his side. Although he wasn’t short, he had no choice but to break out in a jog every now and then to catch up with Elaro’s strides.
Actually, no matter how fast they walked, riding a horse would be faster. However, the sun was truly bright today, and it was precisely noon at the moment, so Elaro would never let himself be in the sun for longer than five minutes. Therefore, he could only walk, and he walked under roofs the entire time. If he had no choice but to walk under the sun because there were no roofs, he would hasten his steps so that his time under the sun never surpassed ten seconds.
Dili had always thought this habit of Elaro’s to be very strange. It really didn’t seem like the behavior he would have, but it was true that Elaro really did not like being in the sun.
Dili took in the color of his captain’s skin. Although it wasn’t as white as snow like the current Sun Knight’s skin—using such a description to describe a man truly had a strangeness to it that was hard to voice— it could be considered fair, fairer than many girls’. To people who knew Elaro, it didn’t feel like Elaro would care about something like the color of his skin.
Besides, with Captain’s build, a bronze color would match him better! Dili deeply believed so.
“Is something wrong? Is there something strange about my appearance?”
Sensing Dili’s gaze, Elaro grew nervous, especially since his teacher would return today. If his teacher were to discover that Elaro’s appearance wasn’t perfect, then even if the punishment was light, he would still have to apply ten days’ worth of facial masks. He was already almost out of money to buy the essential oils… Come to think of it, he still needed to buy the essential oils on the way back.
He should have applied facial masks yesterday, but it wasn’t until nighttime that Elaro remembered he had forgotten to purchase the essential oils. He could only guiltily vow that he would definitely apply facial masks the next day!
“Nothing, my mind just wandered for a moment,” Dili hurriedly answered.
Relieved, Elaro nodded. Immediately after, he suddenly coughed once. With his vice-captain’s suspicious gaze on him, he said, “Dili, I need to buy some things. Wait here for a bit.”
Dili knew inside his heart that his captain was going to go buy “that thing” again. Rhonelin had also experienced “stay in your original spot and wait for Captain to return for you.” Dili had always been very curious what exactly his captain was buying, and he’d discussed it with Rhonelin before. Although Rhonelin was not very interested in probing into people’s private matters, he still had his own guesses.
“Should be perfume.”
Dili had been stunned. “Captain uses perfume? I’ve never smelled it before.”
“One time when I sparred with Captain, I smelled the fragrance he gave off. The scent is very faint, so you have to be very close to smell it.”
“Does Captain like perfume?” Dili’s feelings were mixed, as he had discovered yet another habit that really didn’t match his captain. However, who didn’t have at least some sort of strange habit? It was just that his captain’s… strange habits were a bit numerous.
On his next birthday, maybe I should give Captain a bottle of perfume? I wonder what kind of perfume Captain likes?
“Floral!” Rhonelin was very certain. “What I smelled was a floral fragrance!”
Recalling this “past event“ that had happened not too long ago, Dili abruptly remembered the matter he was recently distressed about—should he buy a rose or a lavender perfume? The shop assistant said that these were the two most popular perfumes in their shop, and the scent was pretty good… coming from a girl, that was.
When Dili considered Elaro having these two fragrances coming from him, he was left completely speechless. Maybe he should go together with Rhonelin to the perfume shop so that he could smell and figure out just what kind of perfume their captain used…
Elaro turned his head to look around. He felt that there were eyes staring at him from behind, but he had been over thinking. There was no one behind him, only an empty alley.
Teacher had instructed him thousands and millions of times never to let anyone realize that his fair skin was the result of facial masks. Otherwise, it would destroy the public’s view of the Sun Knight. Furthermore…
If all the women in the city fought with us over the materials for our facial masks, then the prices of the materials would definitely greatly increase! That is definitely something that cannot be allowed to happen! My salary is already low enough! I already owe enough debts!
If the price of the materials keeps increasing, I’d rather go back and be the Demon King!
At the time, Elaro had thought his teacher to be too emotional. Then, as he grew older, he began carrying out missions, and later took on his teacher’s debt. The missions assigned by the king were all highly difficult, but because they were not part of the Church of the God of Light’s duties, the Pope was pretty much unwilling to provide any financial help, so Elaro could only use his own salary to complete them.
The expenditures grew explosively just like his own height, but his salary was more like Hungri’s height… Perhaps he shouldn’t make such a comparison. In short, whenever there were any years with subpar harvests, causing the price of essential oils to rise by three percent, he would have the urge to serve as the Demon King’s subordinate.
Luckily, he had Ludia, who could help him a bit, no matter if it was a cleric’s ability to heal or… his sister’s salary.
Ludia had gotten into the habit of directly handing Elaro half of her salary whenever she got it. Even so, he was often still unable to make ends meet. There were several times when he had to borrow money from Shuis. Shuis never asked any questions.
There was once when he really had no choice and even had to borrow money from Valica. However, when Elaro saw how hard Valica had to try to squash the suspicion in his eyes, Elaro vowed that he would never borrow money from Valica again, unless he was completely cornered. Three months later, the king assigned him two missions at the same time, completely cornering Elaro.
Elaro had an endless amount of things he had to do, frequently cornered with no way out, and only able to complete the tasks assigned by the king on his own, since there was absolutely no way he could explain to other people why he had to take care of these matters. Sometimes, he wondered if he might be able to lower a lot of his stress if he told Dili and Rhonelin about things like applying facial masks. Then, at least he could borrow money when necessary.
“For the sake of whitening my skin, I apply facial masks every week. Actually, it’s not exactly ‘facial masks,’ since I have to take off all of my clothes. That’s why the amount of essential oil necessary is alarming. I often can’t make ends meet. Please lend me money…”
No, no, I better keep it a secret from them for now! Elaro felt a headache coming on.
The moment he entered the essential oils shop, the shop assistant greeted him familiarly, “Good afternoon, holy knight Elaro. Are you here to buy the oil for your sister today as well?”
Elaro smiled brightly as he said, “Yes.”
“It’s being used up so quickly!” The shop assistant exclaimed, “Your sister must love this type of oil, huh? This type isn’t cheap at all!”
“…It’s true that it’s not cheap.” Elaro’s smile faded a bit.
“Elaro, do you know what the Sun Knight’s number one task is?”
Elaro nodded at his teacher. “Recruit worshippers!”
“Wrong, that’s the most important task, but not the first task you must do! ‘Whitening’ is the true first task. Your skin is really very dark. You must be in the sun a lot, right?”
“Every day during daytime, I’m in the sun.” Elaro felt that this was a given.
“I’m sure you aren’t maintaining your skin?”
Elaro was a little puzzled, but he didn’t receive an answer. Instead, his cheeks were grabbed and kneaded.
“My God of Light, your skin is as rough as sand! Aren’t you a child who should have soft skin and tender cheeks? You—“
Elaro, whose cheeks were currently pulled into a deformed shape from both sides, stared at his teacher with wide eyes, not understanding why his teacher had suddenly stopped in the middle of his words. In the next moment, his cheeks were released. Elaro rubbed his face and heard his teacher’s question.
“You and Ludia are orphans, right? How did you solve the problem of eating and staying clothed?”
The jump in topic was too big. Elaro was stumped for a moment before he could respond. Then, he recounted the means one by one. “There are lots of fruits that can be picked during the summer. I know how to make traps to catch rabbits and squirrels. I can also use rocks to hit them. Sometimes, the hunters would be in a good mood and lend me a bow. I could shoot down a lot of prey and exchange for bread, clothes, and blankets. That’s how we escaped the cold during the winters.”
Elaro paused, remembering the winters he went through during those times… He sucked in several deep breaths before he could continue. “Winters are troublesome. They’re cold, and I can’t catch any animals. It’s very hard to get anything to eat. When we really had no choice, we could only seek the villagers out.”
Teacher stayed silent for a long time. He didn’t say anything and only took out an entire row of bottles the size of a pinkie from a cabinet. He said, “Following the usual practice of the Sun Knight, choose your favorite scent.”
Following that, Elaro fought bravely through the various fragrances. Suddenly, he smelled a very familiar fragrance and exclaimed, “Teacher, is this the scent you give off?”
“That’s right. This is lavender essential oil. It has many uses, but most importantly, it’s quite cheap among essential oils—”
“Teacher, this one smells so good!” Elaro cried out in surprise, holding a small bottle in his hands.
“This one is… Are you sure you really like this one?”
Elaro made sure by smelling it again. He nodded his head up and down. “Yeah! I only like this one!”
“Only like this one?” His teacher was silent for a moment, and then muttered, “At least, it’s a little cheaper than ‘roses’ which my teacher picked… Elaro, remember this!”
“Yes!” Elaro was very serious.
“This essential oil was chosen by ‘yourself.’ Don’t hate me in the future!”
But Teacher, sometimes I really do hate that you didn’t stop me then… Elaro took hold of the familiar small bottle, smelling the fragrance that he’d liked then and still liked now, his heart conflicted.
“Three bottles, like usual?” The shop assistant smoothly took out the essential oils.
The shop assistant said apologetically, “However, the harvest this year hasn’t been good. The prices of the essential oils have all risen by around ten percent, while this is the only one that has risen by twenty percent. Do you still want three bottles?”
Teacher, I, I really want to hate you!
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