After agreeing to stay, Diana went inside with James while Howard followed them. Kira had already set out the plates and stew on the dining table. Seeing her, Diana paused, but her grandfather pushed her forward. James took the seat beside Kira’s left and Howard sat right of him, leaving a free chair between the two. Kira scooted her seat closer to James.
James asked, “Everything all right Kira?”
Kira’s ears flattened as her hand nudged James’s knee beneath the table. “Who is she?”
James gently laid a hand on hers. “Meet Howard’s granddaughter. I met her whilst paying my taxes. She’ll be staying here a few days.” Kira let go reluctantly.
Diana sat between Howard and James. After their moment ended, Diana criticized, “So, you own a Hersha girl. I thought you had more dignity than that.”
James chuckled, “Well, it’s a long story.”
Sipping her soup, Diana found it rather tasty. “I’ve got all night.”
Sighing to himself, James took a deep breath. “To begin with, this is not my homeland. There was an… incident: an amateur [Mage]’s portal experiment synced with a damaged portal device I was working on, causing me and my home to be brought here to this hill. It took me months to refine my trade and assimilate it with this land. During that time, I found Kira for sale, chained to the general store’s counter. She looked so sad and drained, so I made a deal with the shop owner. Ever since then, she’s cooked and cleaned for me as well as kept track of my finances and meetings.”
Diana looked at Kira, surprised that she had the capability to do those kinds of things. Hersha were notorious for barely able to exist in domestic society. Ignoring her looks, James continued. “Honestly, I need her, and in case you think I’ve kept her against her will, she is free to go any time she wishes to.”
Diana became aggravated as she raised her voice after swallowing her stew. “So why doesn’t she leave if she’s free?”
Insulted, Kira rose and slammed her hands on the table. “Where else would I rather be?”
Diana paused, allowing Kira to continue. “My master is a good master. He never lays a harmful hand on me, and he spent many days teaching me how to read and do numbers. If I left, I would only be captured and treated badly like what happened to my brothers and sisters and Mom and Dad.” James placed a hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
Jerking in surprise, Kira was surprised as tears streamed down her face. Calmly staring at Diana, James spoke, “Yes, we have been together, but I never forced myself onto her.” Diana’s face went bright red again, and James sighed, grabbing his bowl and plate of food. “I’ll eat in the workshop. I apologize. I do not get pleasant company that often.” James left. They heard several consecutive slurps as Kira quickly gulped her soup and left as well.
When it became apparent Howard and Diana were alone again, she put her spoon down. The two tensely stared at each other. “Grandfather, you must come home. We wish to see you with the others before you die and allow you to join eternal rest with our ancestors.”
Howard looked at his nearly-finished stew. “Diana, I wrote that letter to tell you and the others that I had found a place to spend my last days. It’s what, four months to get back to Bandrisen? An old man like me barely made it this far in ten years. You do not expect me to go back, do you?” Diana didn’t meet his eyes. It had taken her almost six months to get here by accompanying a political caravan most of the way.
“Why do you want to stay grandfather? What shall I tell father when I go back?”
Howard reclined and loosened his belt. “I would not be alive today if it were not for Master James and many others. Many times did I have to borrow money for food or lodging. The kindness of others… well, I want to repay it in some way. Being here, I have a meaning in life. Master James is a good man. He keeps to himself and appreciates his neighbors, something I have forgotten many times. I think he deserves better than growing old alone like how I did.”
Diana blushed. “So he and the cat are not…”
Howard smiled, noticing it now. “He is her master, but he does not see her like that.”
Diana blushes even deeper. Laughing, Howard teased, “Don’t tell me you have fallen for Master James so easily?”
Diana shook her head rapidly. “No, no, I mean, it’s not like that. It’s that time in my cycle, and I’ve been seeing Hentai everywhere all day. It’s driving an innocent girl like me crazy to see that.”
Diana paused, seeing her grandfather turn white. “How old are you, granddaughter? The month and the day.”
She became a little puzzled. “I turn eighteen in thirty-one days.” Howard was afraid of that. “Tell me honestly. What are your plans for your future?” Diana stuck out her chest proudly. “I want to be a proud [Knight] like my father and grandfather.” Howard felt a little disappointed by the expected answer. This girl truly had been steeped in tradition. He quickly stood but stopped after a moment, almost out of breath, and Diana rose to quickly catch him. Howard sighed, “I am quite tired now. Let us talk further of this tomorrow.”
After seeing her grandfather to bed, she went upstairs to the only room with an opened door to find the bedroom surprisingly sparse. For such a rich man, he seemed surprisingly spartan. Unlike the rest of the house, where each room seemed to be littered with machinery of some form or another or, at least, tools for their creation, this room lacked anything like that except for a few machine lights that gave the room a bright glow despite that only one was currently on. This bright light stood beside the larger of two beds, revealing an orange figure. “Want help going to bed?”
Diana jumped as she turned to face Kira who was in a tank top and underwear. She grabbed an armor stand that was beside her that Diana would have sworn had not been there when she had first entered. Taking a second glance, she realized it had been hidden behind the doorway. After calming down, Diana relaxed and loosened the straps on her armor before setting it on the stand. With a sigh, she stretched her tight muscles and began to wear her pajamas… or rather due to the complications on her travels, lack of them. Diana could not help but stare at Kira. The cat girl was completely indifferent to her as the [Knight] too became stripped to her underwear. Before she knew it, Kira was lying in the small bed, and Diana was just standing around, not sure what to do next. In the end, she decided to go to sleep in the other bed and did so.
In the morning, Diana woke to the sound of running water. The sun was barely up, so it took a moment for the haze in her eyes to fade and for her to discover the steam coming from the glass box in the corner of the attached bathroom. She paused, wondering who would put the effort of hauling water to the third floor and heating it for such an unusual bath. Just as she was about to realize where the water was coming from, it stopped, and the towel on the edge vanished. After it returned to its position, the glass wall opened, revealing a naked Kira shrouded in steam. Seeing Diana awake, she smiled happily.
“Master took the liberty of paying the fees for your horse and belongings. I am sorry, but I have not yet cleaned out a room for you.” Diana could not help but look at Kira’s chest, unconsciously grabbing her own to compare. Kira’s were almost twice as big as hers! Diana frowned, which Kira noticed. “If you like, we can measure you for new armor.”
Diana blushed and shook her head. “No, no, it’s okay; that’s not what I was…” Diana paused and sadly looked away. “Why are you so nice to me?”
Kira gave it a moment of thought. “Well, I guess it’s because you’re not like other [Knight]s. You don’t act like you’re atop a pedestal with a stick up your ass, and you have not asked my master to make you anything. He doesn’t mind making things; it’s just the way people ask for them, I guess.” Kira turned to a table beside the bath. “If you decide to wash up. There is an egg with a dial and several black marks in a circle. Turn the dial to the right one-quarter of the circle. That will set a timer. When it goes off, finish up your bath. That will save enough hot water for Master’s bath. Also, I’ll try to find you something as I heard you lost most of your belongings.”
After drying off from her bath, Diana put on the summer dress laid out for her. It was not as flamboyant as many female dresses except for the relatively high hem of the skirt. With her hair wet and sticking to the back of the dress, she hoped James would not catch her at a bad moment as she went downstairs and saw Kira and her grandfather sitting at the same spots as last night. This time, there were a variety of plates set out with flapjacks, eggs scrambled, toast, fruit and a black drink that smelled of coffee. Diana felt a small rumble from her stomach. A bit embarrassed, Diana quickly took her seat next to Howard. Kira was already done and getting up, but Howard was not more than half a jack into his meal. Diana said a quick prayer before she took her own food. Her eyes widened in surprise. The food was truly delicious.
With a cough, Howard pushed away his plate. Looking at her, Howard began, “Purity or righteousness: being a knight means you have to pick one. I hope your father told you that.”
With a silent groan in her head, she suspected she knew what would happen next. Diana shook her head as she put some cream on the jack. “I always thought I had to live by the [Knight]’s code.”
Howard sipped his cup of coffee. “One day, you’ll come to a time when you must make a decision. The knight’s code is a hindrance to righteousness. You will be forced to compromise. On that day, you will have to choose purity or righteousness. Sometimes, the rules are not right.”
Diana did not know what to say. “Most girls your age have been with a man by now.”
Diana paused before taking her first bite. Her grandfather stared at her seriously. “I shall make you a deal, granddaughter. I will go back with you, but only if Master James comes back with us. You shall marry him and return here with him to take my place here.”
Diana lowered her fork, unsure of how to respond. She was not sure whether this was his way of paying back James for saving his life. She ignored the slight fluttering in her stomach and choked back the immediate angry retort she had been about to spit out. Why was she some object for him to repay the man with? Being a [Knight] was supposed to have given her the strength to make her own decisions! Clenching her fist, Diana stopped before she could bend the fork with her |Enhanced Strength|.
Diana murmured, “And if Master James does not want to go?”
“Where would I not want to go?” Diana nearly jumped out of her seat as she reached for her sword before realizing that she did not have it on her. With a mutter, she realized Kira must have attached it to the armor stand this morning.
Diana’s face went bright red as Howard responded, “Good morning, Master James. We were discussing going back to my son’s. I am an old man, and she is only a lass. In addition, we do not have the means to make such a long journey. I know you have been wanting to know more about the surrounding lands. This could be a perfect time…”
James moved around the table to find a seat, oil smearing his bare chest. Diana became distracted before she realized something. “How long were you listening in?”
James put a pair of jacks on his plate, smothering them in syrup. “Heard the whole thing.” Diana shook her head in embarrassment as James laughed loudly.
“I am sorry; I joke. I just walked in from checking on Jeffry. He played a little too hard yesterday with the ladies it seemed.” Diana sat down with a thud and shot a look at her grandfather.
Diana asked, “Who is Jeffry?” Howard took a moment to finish his plate, smiling as he got up and headed for the door without responding. Diana realized that not only was she alone with James, but she was also dressed in more revealing clothes than before. Not only that, he was half-undressed.
“So.” James stopped looking at a paper laying to the side. He glanced at her, “Apologies, I was reading over some requests. Hmm… our day-to-day operations haven’t changed that much. It’s all in acceptable bounds.” Focusing on Diana, he spoke, “Sorry, business distracted me for a moment. You’ll get used to it I hope over time if you choose to stay a bit longer here. So, I assume you are still trying to take him back with you?”
Diana nodded and felt a bit better as she finally ate some food before responding. “Well, he is correct. I do not mean to impose. I mean, my father can compensate you for your troubles.”
James sighed. “He said I should marry you, didn’t he?”
Diana opened her mouth in surprise, and he rubbed his temples. “I swear that man needs a new hobby. Last week, he tried to get me to go out with a Ghoul. Seriously, how are we even supposed to make a life together?”
Diana felt both relieved and jealous. “So he was thinking more about you getting with a woman than finding me a good man when he suggested marriage.”
James paused upon hearing her say that. “Honestly, I am not opposed to the idea of finding a woman. Kira is nice, but I want to have a kid one day.”
“Well, with that type of lukewarm attitude, don’t be surprised if you don’t find women swooning over the ground your feet tread.” Diana teasingly mocked.
James looked a bit surprised. “Oh, oh. It’s not that. I just haven’t found anyone who really fits me…”
Diana blushed a little and looked away. “And your opinion of me?”
James stopped eating to look at Diana. “I know nothing about you. We just met yesterday.” Diana was somewhat surprised by the response. She almost expected an unconditional confession of his feelings or an outright rejection. He thought for a bit before asking, “Do you even know anything about me?”
Diana answered, “Well, you are a kind man, well liked as well.” James paused at the response before taking another bite.
He chuckled. “Where I’m from, the next words that come out are a rejection.”
Diana managed a wry grin, a bit confused at his response. The rest of the time together was spent silently because they both had a lot to think about before James finished and went upstairs. From down below, Diana could hear him roar, “Son of a b*@ch! Who used all the hot water?”
Diana blanched as she hurriedly got ready and rushed out the front door.