The fragrance of freshly baked bread is the smell of happiness.
Who once said this?
One day, in a corner of the small mining town of Organbaelz, the Tockerbrot bakery was filled to the brim with that smell of happiness.
"Alright, try a bite."
The owner of the bakery handed the freshly baked bread to the two young customers visiting his shop.
"This bread... it's actually very pretty."
One of the customers—Jacob—let out a gasp of admiration, as if the slice of colored bread he was looking at was a box of jewels.
"This is called 'pain desigle noix raisins.' It's rye bread with walnuts and raisins baked inside, but ... I went even further and tried adding oranges, raspberries and cherries as well."
The reds, oranges, and purples were beautiful, as if they were painted on a rye bread canvas, and together with fruity fragrance, it aroused one's appetite.
Munch, munch... "T-This is delicious..."
Jacob's eyes widened in surprise.
"It isn't sickly sweet at all. You think the fruity fragrance will attack and overwhelm your nose, but a delicious sweetness expands inside your mouth... and yet, the aftertaste doesn't last, and it's actually quite refreshing!"
It was like a magnificent dance, performed by a woman of peerless beauty.
It was so wonderful that a sigh would escape one's lips after finishing the last few bites.
Unexpectedly, after hearing Jacob's extravagant praises, there was no change of expression on the young owner's face.
If anything, his stern face only stiffened, looking even grimmer.
"Hearing you praise my work makes me very happy!"
Or one would think he looked stern, but actually his face showed the man's utmost happiness.
Lud Langart, the young owner of Tockebrot.
He was a very warm-hearted man, and trustworthy and serious almost to a fault.
The greatest joy in this life was seeing the smile on a person's face as they ate the bread he baked.
One could say he was a stalwart and good man.
However, he had one enormous fault.
Lud's face was frightening.
He had a sharp gaze and his mouth was tightly shut in a thin line.
A large cross-shaped scar was carved into his left cheek.
On top of this, he had a massive physique, one that was remarkable even among the people of Wiltia, who prided themselves on their strong, stout bodies.
Lud's legs were as thick as logs of wood, and the mass of his chest was visible even through his work clothes.
His thick arms and giant hands looked like they could break an iron fire poker in two.
Finally, what he found to be the most difficult of all was —
"Um... you're happy right? Yeah, that must be it."
Jacob nodded, as if Lud's stern demeanor was the same as always, and too familiar to be shocking.
At a glance, his stiff, stone-like expression didn't change, but his heavier breathing was a sign that he was euphoric because someone praised the bread he had worked hard to create.
This was Lud's defect: He was extremely bad at smiling.
It wasn't that he was born with this surly and unfriendly look.
Immediately after he was born, he cried, of course, but he smiled too.
However, because of events in his part, by the time he turned twenty, consciously making a smile had become almost impossible.
And because of his inability to smile, up until just a few months before, Tockerbrot had been in danger of going out of business.
If an elderly customer with a weak heart walked through the door, seeing such a large, intimidating man would be quite enough to send her into a fit of convulsions.
"Milly, what do you think?"
Lud asked the other customer, a young girl from the orphanage on the hill near the outskirts of town.
Munch, munch, munch... Munch munch munch...
The young girl with her hair tied in two impressive braids was completely focused on stuffing the 'pain de sigle noix' into her mouth.
"This isn't really worth all that praise, actually."
Despite being a few years younger, Jacob shrugged his shoulders and looked at Milly as if he was looking at a baby.
Milly then noticed the two people starting at her.
Although she looked younger, Milly was fourteen.
Little by little she was growing more aware of herself as a woman, so it was very embarrassing to be seen gorging herself on the delicious bread.
"What the heck are you two looking at?!"
Milly shouted, her face turning red.
"S-Sorry... Um, what do you think? Did it taste good?"
"W-Well... You're on the right track."
Milly answered Lud's flustered apology with a sulky look.
Hearing this from her was high praise, since until a few months before, she had hurled cutting words at Lud any chance she had, often telling him that she would "never eat any bread made by someone like you."
"Is that so... In that case, this should be fine, shouldn't it?"
That day, Lud was testing out his newest baked creation and had asked his two young regulars, Milly and Jacob, to sample it.
This wasn't to say that there was no one else to try it for him.
He specifically wanted the opinion of people their age.
"Is this because of that thing? You're planning on using it for that?"
"Yeah, that's it... After all, children like sweet food, right?"
Lud answered Jacob's question with a grave look and a serious tone in his voice.
His expression was a grave to begin with, but it seemed to cloud over and become even more solemn.
"What... Did something happen?"
"Oh, you didn't hear, Milly? You see, we have a new job to provide lunch to the elementary school."
It was difficult for a privately owned bakery to turn a profit if it only served individual customers.
Lud, in particular, required larger clients because he had taken a considerable loan to offset years of financial strife and his initial startup investment.
"They're started giving out food now? That's awesome."
Milly quietly muttered this to herself.
Milly attended school during the era of the economically fragile Republic of Pelfe, at a time when the country couldn't afford to concern itself with the nutritional needs of the nation's school children.
This was one of many benefits that had come about with the country's annexation by Wiltia.
"Weeelll, I wouldn't say that. The bread was hard and tasted bad. It was really awful."
"I see... That's probably because they used old grain and shoddy milling. Using cheap ingredients is the quickest way to cut costs and increase profits."
Lud replied to Jacob, who was shaking his head in disgust at the memory of the terrible bread.
"More than likely, they struck a hard bargain to buy grain stored during the war for nothing more than a trifle, It's a terrible story."
"That's it, that's it! Being handed bread like that feels like punishment more than food."
The supplier that the Ogranbaelz elementary school had previously hired did business solely based on low prices, and was said not to be of high quality.
"I didn't mean it like that..."
Milly had meant something different in saying that the school serving lunch was awesome.
"Hm? Then what do you mean, Milly?" asked Lud.
"Shut up! Stop asking me about every little thing!"
Milly yelled back at him.
"So, then what happened?"
"Right, right, so then, instead of that horrible bread, we started getting Lud's bread."
Trying to suppress his grin, Jacob continued.
"The kids around my age are fine with the old stuff. We've gotten used to it. But it was different for the kids in the lower grades."
When Lud visited the school to drop off the bread, the smell that floated from the bread case had delighted the children.
Hearing the children's voices, Lud instinctively turned around to see where they were coming from.
The children saw his face—the same face that could paralyze a grown man if he came across Lud on the street at night.
"Maaaan... Its incredible hearing forty kids all crying at once, let me tell you. I could hear it all the way from my classroom."
"I... really screwed up..."
It might have been fine if Lud was wearing his usual stiff expression.
But at that moment, Lud made an effort to show off the brightest smile he could muster.
He marshaled all the muscles in his face and tried to create an expression that looked like a smile.
"W-what the heck kind of face did you make for that to happen?"
Milly said, slightly exasperated.
"Hmm, well did you ever read the book, 'The Troll under the Bridge'?"
"Oh, Marlene read that to me."
The Troll under the Bridge was a classic picture book to read to all children brought up in the region.
"I heard that Lud looked almost exactly like the troll in the book when he tries to eat the travelers who cross over his bridge."
They all screamed out "The troll's here!" and the whole group of children become slightly hysterical.
"It was even enough to cause one child to piss himself. So, after that, the school asked for someone other than Lud to deliver the bread."
"Oh, that's why she ain't around..."
Milly understood now why the girl who should have been in the store was absent.
"That's right, that's why it was so easy for you to come here, right?"
"You got something you want to say to me?"
"No no. nothing at all."
Jacob feigned ignorance as Milly glared at him, her cheeks tinged with red.
"Anyway with this and that happening, Lud ended up with quite a shock."
"I was just... happy. That's all..."
For the man who, until a few months ago, had spent all his days baking bread that no one ate, seeing children charmed by the smell of his bread and running toward it with a smile was like a scene from his dreams.
"Yeah... When I think about how I caused all those kids to cry..."
It was profoundly shocking to him that he had erased their smiles with his own terrifying face.
"Ever since then, this guy's been absorbed in making his latest creation."
In order to bring smiles back to the faces of those children, Lud had tried many different ideas, and through trial and error, finally arrived at the 'pain de seigle noix raisins' he served today.
"So that's what it was... But—"
"Yeah, I know what you're going to say."
Jacob looked at Milly, who finally understood the situation, and nodded his head as if the next words were too painful to say.
Even taking their biases as Lud's friends into account, his baking was the best of the best.
Lud had worked in a bakery ten years ago, and while he already had the basics down, during Tockerbrot's business slump, he continued to single-mindedly polish his skills.
Not only would one have a difficult time finding a bakery of this caliber in the former Pelfish capital of Ponapalas, it would even be hard to find a shop to rival Lud's in Berun, the capital of Wiltia.
"There isn't a problem with the taste..."
Even the crying children didn't hate Lud's bread itself.
In fact they ate all of it, without leaving even a crumb.
"There has to be a way... a way to convey that I'm not scary..."
The large man nodded to himself with his arms crossed, deep in thought.
This guy really is earnest.
Jacob gave a wry smile.
Lud's extreme sincerity was, little by little, starting to be appreciated, and while there were still many people who were scared of him, the number who had grown to love his breads was increasing as well.
And while it could be said that it was only because of his role in solving a certain incident there, Lud had even managed to win over the workers at the mine who had been standoffish and threatening toward him before.
"It's fine right? I mean... I don't... really think you're that scary, anyway..."
Milly mumbled as she chose her words awkwardly.
Just like the miners, until recently Milly had an intense loathing for Lud, but now she spoke warmly to him as well.
"Thanks, Milly... for cheering me up."
Lud gave a friendly smile—well, it was actually quite far from friendly, but Lud gave the gentlest expression he could summon as he thanked Milly.
"I t-told you... that's not what I meant!"
Milly yelled with her reddest face of the day.
Well this guy won't give up anyway...
Super good-natured, serious to a fault, and unbelievably stubborn.
Jacob knew that this was the type of man Lud Langart was.
The small bell on the bakery door rang.
It had been set up to announce when a customer came in, but the shop had yet to open for the day.
A young girl wearing a black skirt with a pure white maid's apron entered, with a beautiful silver hair trailing behind her.
"Master! I've returned!"
She gave a wide smile that seemed to sparkle and twinkle.
She looked the polar opposite of Lud—not only in her physique and gender—but particularly in her smile. She was Sven, the waitress at Tockerbrot.
She had just come back from the delivery she had completed in Lud's stead.
"Oh Jacob, you're here. Thank you for your patronage♪. And it seems like we have one more, too..."
Sven's million-watt smile clouded over in an instant as she looked suspiciously at Milly.
"W-What? You're saying that I can't come here?!"
"No, not at all... Let's just make sure you aren't making any passes at my Master, okay?"
Sven's cold answer warned Milly.
"How many times do I have to tell you?! It ain't like that!"
"There's nothing more horrendous than a young girl with a mouth like that!"The two quarreled as if they were each about to bite the other's head off.
"How can I put it... It's tough being such a lady-killer, isn't it?"
Sipping the milk tea that had come free of charge, Jacob looked teasingly at Lud.
"Hm? Yeah... wait, what?"
The lady-killer in question tilted his head, looking as if he didn't understand what Jacob meant.
"This guy's hopeless."
Lud's cluelessness was considerable if it was enough to exasperate even a child.
"Master, I finished the deliveries! This goes without saying, but your bread was popular with everyone today, too♪."
Sven sounded triumphant, as if she was announcing her own grand achievements on the battlefield.
"Really? That's good... Oh, leave the empty case to me, I'll clean it up."
Lud reached out toward the case Sven was holding.
At that moment, the tips of their fingers brushed lightly against one another.
"Oh, umm... sorry!"
In a panic, Lud seemed to leap back as he moved his hand away from Sven's, but a smile appeared on Sven's face that was slightly different from the one she had earlier.
"Please... that wasn't worth apologizing to me about, was it?"
It was a smile that said even her master's flustered figure was lovely and charming.
"I uh... gotta get back to the kiln. Excuse me!"
As Sven approached to try and touch him again, Lud retreated to the kiln area further inside the bakery, like a child running in fright from a puppy.
"Oh Master, whatever am I going to do with you?♪."
Despite her chiding, Sven giggled in glee.
"What's up with you?"
"Oh nothing, nothing, Master is in high spirits today."
Sven looked both embarrassed and delighted as she answered Jacob, who titled his head in confusion.
A fast three months had passed since Sven first came to the bakery.
She was the driving force behind Tockerbrot's revival from earlier financial struggles, due to her experiences during a certain incident and through it, the young girl had finally come to understand her own feelings.
She loved the owner of Tockerbrot, Lud Langart.
After becoming aware of her feelings, she could no longer control herself.
One day, leaping at him and almost forcing herself on him, Sven gave him her precious first kiss.
Oh come now, Master, it's been three months since that happened, you don't need to be so wary. But, but, but that's also proof that Master looks at me as a woman... And that means, oh that means, that's just...
"W-where'd that come from!?"
Jacob pulled back from Sven who had been so overcome by her emotions for Lud that she raised her voice suddenly.
"Oh, um, my apologies."
Seeing the person she loved puzzled, embarrassed and flustered by her advances gave her an unspeakably good, almost sadistic, pleasure.
Well honestly... I might have gone a bit too far
With this thought, Sven became a little more level-headed.
Even so, I thought he would be more mature about it than he has been...
She took pride in the fact that she was closer to Lud than anyone else.
This wasn't overconfidence. She and Lud once had a physical relationship when they were of one body and once mind.
But that was only for a two or three year period in Lud's life, and there was no way to know about the time before they met.
Nevertheless, when Seven considered his age, and wondered what personal relationships he had formed, she was sure he had dated other women, and it wouldn't be strange if he had previous relationships, as well.
Has Master really gone through life without any female companion.
In that case, even a normal junior high school student would be more worldly and experienced than Lud.
But, but... you could say that his naivety is part of his charm...
"W-What is it now?!"
Jacob moved further away from Sven as she abruptly started to giggle to herself again.
Well, I suppose that just means that no one has had eyes sharp enough to recognize Master's special appeal.
Coming to this conclusion, Sven gave a slight snort through her nose, looking triumphant and proud.
Milly looked somewhat bored, and got down from her chair, attempting to quickly leave the bakery.
At that moment, Lud returned with great haste from where he was hiding in the back of the shop.
He was holding a takeout bag stuffed with the leftover 'pain de seigle noix raisins'.
"If you like, you can share this with everyone. Thank you... for coming sampling these for me."
Lud handed the bag to Milly.
She lived in a small church orphanage at the top of the hill.
The orphanage was very poor and the children were starved for something sweet.
Convinced that the children would be delighted by his new bread, Lud handed her the bag with only good intentions.
"Um... uh... wha... tha... ah..."
However, Lud's fingers slightly brushed Milly's, and the young girl's face grew red and she cast down her eyes.
It was just like Lud's exchange with Sven moments before.
"U-Um... Marlene's... she's studying... how to... make tea and... said... to c-come visit..."
"Is she now? Tell her that I'm looking forward to it."
Lud gave a warm reply to Milly's faltering and incoherent words.
Marlene was the sister at the church, and she acted as both a mother and an older sister to Milly.
"Um... then... I'm leaving!"
Then, exactly as Lud had done moments before, she ran out of the bakery as though she was trying to escape.
Sven's mouth twitched in anger.
Lud's frightening look was enough to send the elderly into convulsions and to make children cry, and his life had been colored by a fair amount of misfortune, but that didn't mean that someone couldn't glimpse beyond his face and see him for who he was.
Examples could be found in this young girl who used to yell at him and swear that she'd never eat his bread, and the terrorist agent who concealed her true identity by hiding in town, or...
"How incredibly annoying."
Or the AI installed inside the humanoid war machine that Lud had previously piloted.
During the Great Euporean War that continued for over ten years, there was a man admired as a hero.
That man was none other than Lud Langart.
Piloting one of the humanoid assault weapons known as the Hunter Units, the "Silver Wolf" was spoken with fear by his enemies and with pride by his allies.
However he left the military the moment the war ended, and moved to the rural town of Organbaelz in the Wiltia-annexed nation of Pelfe, and opened a bakery.
There was also a girl who followed this man.
The girl never spoke about who she was or where she came from, and Lud never asked.
He thought that, much like himself, she had something in her past that she didn't like talking about, and so he didn't pry further.
That girl name as Sven.
She had another name that she could never tell Lud — Avei.
She had been the Hunter Unit pilot-assistance AI installed inside Lud's unit.
Consumed with thoughts of her master and growing soul within her, Avei was given an artificial body as part of a top-secret military experiment, and now a young girl named Sven, she set off to find Lud.
Her greatest joy was to support him and help to make his new dreams come true.
And yet, Sven realized something.
Why exactly did she desire to see Lud happy?
That answer was that she loved him.
This is a modest tale, sure to be lost in the turmoil of history, about an awkward baker and automaton girl nurturing a soul inside her mechanical chest.