5 The Little Stowaway
At the airfield in the center of Nazalenka—
The airfield was built on a large plot of land with the expectation that one hundred-meter airships would be coming in and out, but this was the first time a ship as large as the Defairdead had visited.
Today, most of the scheduled flights had been cancelled and the immense airfieled was on display for the ship's big event.
"Yes! of course♪! Many Pelfish customers come to our shop, and they have nothing but the highest praise for my master's bread... Yes, yes, that's exactly right. It's all made using traditional Wiltian recipes."
There were many different booths lined up on the airfield, some with performers to entertain crowd.
In addition to the citizens of Nazalenka, people from the surrounding cities gathered to get a peek at the Defairedead, purported to be the largest aircraft in the world.
"Originally, Pelfe and Wiltia had a very intimate relationship, so much so that one could even say they were one country, historically and culturally. This is true for their food as well. It is my master's idea that the empathy born from food—so closely connected to our origins as human beings—is proof that the people of two countries can have everlasting prosperity as one country."
Among the stalls, on top of a raised stage, Sven was being interviewed as a stand-in for Lud.
There had been a steady stream of boring speeches from people like the mayor of Nazalenka, the commanding officer of the airport base, and top officials of the governor-general of Pelfe and the Wiltian government, and having a stunningly beautiful young girl like Sven—even with her new getup—on the stage encouraged the press corps to flash their cameras
"I'd never be able to imitate that."
Lud muttered, struck with admiration as he watched Sven from afar.
He had done espionage work as a part of the special forces, and at that time, he could speak like Sven, Now that side of him was gone.
Lud was sure that if even a little of that skill remained inside of him, he would be able to smile properly to customers, and Tockebrot would be prosperous, even without Sven.
But Lud believed that it wasn't that he had changed but that he had just returned to normal.
He had always been withdrawn by nature, known for being a crybaby, and had silently cowered when the bullies in his neighborhood teased and picked on him.
That story was long in the past.
Back then, his parents were still alive, and he was living with them, and...
Is it because of the bad things I've done?
Lud asked silently to himself.
"But, she really is clever, isn't she?"
Sven's speech—which was now less of an interview and more of a one-woman show—wasn't just well-spoken, it was downright shrewd.
After all, the point of this party was essentially propaganda.
Its goal was to spread the word, inside and outside the country, that Pelfe had become a much happier and more comfortable place to live since its annexation by Wiltia.
The media was reporting on the event with this purpose in mind, as well.
Knowing that, Sven was deliberately framing her statements to be easy for them to put in their articles.
"The people of Pelfe are crazy about Wiltian bread."
"They are happy now, thanks to the culture brought to them by Wiltia."
"Giving joy to the people of Pelfe—that is Wiltia's greatest wish."
If she could rattle on like this, the reporters would delightedly write it all down.
So, to Lud, she was "clever".
But Sven wasn't just throwing bait to the reporters out of the goodness of her heart.
"Now then, please take a pamphlet that has all the details about our bakery, It has both our menu and our prices. We are able to offer consultations for catering requests you may have, so please do not hesitate to ask us for further information♪!"
With exquisite timing, she made sure to advertise the store whenever there was a spare moment.
Lud could only stand in admiration.
"Now then, let us have a word from Mr. Olfen Borowich."
The head chef of the Defairedead's kitchen took the stage.
He was originally a chef at a world-renowned restaurant in the Wilitian capital of Berun.
From his large, well-built frame and the color of his beard, it was immediately obvious that he was a pure-blooded Wiltian.
"Mr. Lud Langart's bread is quite delicious, and tasty enough for me to serve it in my own restaurants. It's the result of his enthusiasm for building a bridge between the people of Wiltia and Pelfe."
Not to let himself be outdone by Sven, Olfen gave the reporters the answers like they were looking for, with a similar level of eloquence.
And yet, Lud suddenly cocked his head to the side in confusion.
Lud was thankful for his praise, but wondered when exactly Olfen had eaten Tockerbrot's bread.
A public relations person from the governor-general's office had visited Tockerbrot, and maybe he brought some to give to Mr. Olfen, but Lud found it strange.
"Master, over here! The reporters all want to take pictures!"
Sven interrupted his train of thought and urged him onto the stage.
However beautiful Sven was, now that the head chef for the party had appeared on stage, Lud had present himself as Tockerbrot's representative.
"Well now Mr. Langart, I'm looking forward to working together today. I'm sure we'll set up a splendid banquet together."
Olfen said, with a big grin.
"T-Thank you... I'm looking forward to working with you..."
Lud awkwardly joined him on stage and returned Olfen's handshake.
With it, the flashbulbs flared intensely around him.
Lud couldn't calm down.
Part of it was his discomfort with these open public performances, but he also had a bad feeling about everything.
He was still wondering about Sophia's challenge and the alarm bells inside him were a warning about something.
Does this mean something's going to happen?
Lud looked up at the giant Defairedead, ready to takeoff.
Despite the distance, the magnificent airship was barely able to fit within Lud's view, and silently waiting for lift off, it gave no answer to Lud's apprehensive question.
Then, filled with guests and all their anticipation, the Defairedead took off.
As it rose, a band on the ground, prepared especially for the event, played music, and spectators watched it soar into the sky.
However, in contrast to the uproar on the ground, the ship was surprisingly silent.
"This ship is pretty quiet, isn't it?"
Lud observed to Sven as he watched the ground recede outside his window.
"Airships are said to be the quietest vehicles in the world. that would include a hovering airship like the Defairedead."
Sven answered as if this was obvious.
In a waiting room prepared for them, Sven and Lud took in the unusual lift off together.
Usually passengers are instructed to strap in with a seatbelt during the takeoff.
But the guests on the Defairedead hadn't even been told to sit down, let alone put any seatbelts.
On the contrary, the party had begun, with glasses tipped and raised in a toast.
Unlike airplanes that take off, hovering airships use their buoyancy to rise up into the air.
The navigation propellers weren't entirely silent but the craft was so calm that the water in the passenger's glasses didn't even ripple.
"Just as the name says, it really is a ship that flies through the air."
Floating on the water was certainly different from floating the air, but as Sven said, the Defairedead did seem more like a ship than aircraft.
With close to one thousand people including staff aboard, the passenger rooms were equipped with all the luxuries of a first-class hotel, and the airship contained a large party hall, bars, a casino, and even a large communal bath, all prepared for the guests.
It was filled with supplies to service all the guests, and had more than enough on hand to accommodate a one thousand kilometer trip without resupplying.
Even among the most luxurious cruise ships, there were only a few able to match everything the Defairedead had to offer.
"This is quite something else, isn't it?"
"It really is."
"Now, what in the world is this all about?!"
Sven asked with a sour look on her face, after the lift off sequence had ended.
"This is a waiting room... Or at least that's what it's supposed to be..."
Lud answered, unable to conceal his own confusion.
"This is clearly a storeroom!"
Along the unfinished wall were wooden crates that had been left carelessly after being unloaded. The floor was caked with dust.
Neglected rope and rusted nails were left around, as though someone didn't have anywhere else to put them... It definitely didn't seem like a place to house the tradesmen invited to a party like this.
"Did they not have adequate space for us..."
"No, no, no, that doesn't even begin to explain this! Even the flight's crew nap room would be better than this!"
Sven retorted as Lud tried to put a positive spin on the situation.
"There might have been some sort of mix-up. We can check later. For now we gotta get over the gallery."
The two of them weren't on the ship just to enjoy a trip through the sky.
They were there to make sure that guests had enjoyable time.
Changing into their work outfits, they quickly headed toward the gallery.
The defairedead was equipped with a full-scale gallery worthy of its luxury.
It had an oven big enough to roast a large bird and whole pig, a massive cutting edge electric ice box, and even an ice making machine.
Of course, it was also equipped with a kiln to bake bread.
Because it had to service several hundred guests at a time, it's scale was even greater than a first-class restaurant.
However, before entering the galley, Lud and Sven were stopped.
"This area is off limits for anyone except galley staff."
A stout cook standing in front of the entrance declared, with a cold, unfriendly gaze.
"Huh? Um, I'm the uh, I'm from Tockerbrot, so ..."
Lud timidly explained who he was, thinking that there had been a lack of communication, but the cook's face didn't change.
"You're the baker from the sticks they brought on? So what?"
He said, knowing exactly about Lud.
"What is the meaning of this?! We we're asked to come here, you know!"
Sven angrily objected, but as if he was making fun of them, the cook gave a big yawn and didn't even try to listen.
"Um, could you get Mr. Olfen for us? It seems like there's been some mistake... Hello?"
The cook ignored Lud's desperate plead, as well.
"Just how long are you going to treat us like fools?"
Sven's cheeks started to convulse in anger.
At this rate, she was likely to force her way through even if meant hurling the cook out of her way.
"P-please! Get out of the way! Before you put yourself in danger!"
"What was that!? What kind of threat is that!?"
"It's not a threat; the danger is right in front of you!"
Lud appealed to the cook, genuinely concerned for his safety.
If Sven became seriously angry, even Lud wasn't sure he could stop her.
She was even more dangerous than Sophia.
"What's all this noise!?"
Chef Olfen stood in the open door to the galley."Mr. Olfen... Finally!"
Lud hoped that the misunderstanding could now be resolved but those thoughts were immediately shattered by Olfen's words.
"Oh, it's just you two. Why are you here?"
His demeanor looked completely different from the friendly smile he had shown on the stage earlier, and he now wore the glare of a stray dog.
"What do you mean why? We came to bake bread. That's why we're here."
"Wait, wait, hold up... What the heck are you saying? Don't you get it?"
Sneering at Lud, Olfen and the cook behind him, acting as the galley's gatekeeper, both laughed.
"What... is this?"
At Lud's question, Olfen clicked his tongue with a spiteful look, sometimes characteristic of tradesmen.
His arrogant attitude told Lud and Sven to figure it out for themselves, and to stop asking questions.
"Listen up, the party on this ship is filled with nobles, millionaires, and top-ranking government officials. I don't need any redneck bakers for such an important event!"
Olfen declared abrasively.
"Those damn idiots at the government -general's office, sticking us with these damn outsiders all of a sudden. Don't they know how busy we are?! Anyway, this galley is my castle. I'm not looking to get any help from the two of you."
Lud thought to himself that Olfen wasn't even aware that he's committing the worst mistake a person could commit.
For Olfen, it was unthinkable for someone as important as himself to allow a nobody from the middle of nowhere named Lud Langart to enter his domain.
He thought he could say anything to someone like Lud, who didn't understand what, to Olfen, was just common sense.
"You role is done. Go find yourselves something to do. But don't go get near any of the guest areas or the party hall, got it? We aren't letting the guests to be exposed to some hick from the backwards of Pelfe. Go take a tour around the storehouse and engine room!"
As if there was nothing more to be said, Olfen waved his hands at them like he was shooing away a dog.
"So... That's how it is..."
Lud muttered, as if the words were being forced out of him.
Finally, he understood what Sophia had meant.
Lud and Sven were just an advertisement—No, just a decoration to add to the advertisement for the party.
All of the governor-general's office wanted was a line on the advertisement that the bread baked by a Wiltian was popular among the people of Pelfe.
It was just to reinforce the purpose of this event and to promote the merging of the two countries, simply a message for the press.
For getting someone to say it's delicious, we won't even able to get them to eat it... Hell, we won't even get the chance to bake the bread.
Lud felt humiliated and insulted.
But he was sure that neither Olfen, nor the governor-general of Pelfe's office, thought anything of it.
They were probably thinking that a backwoods baker like Lud must be happy just to be a part of such an event.
"P-please, let me borrow you kiln! Even for just a little while is fine!"
Even then, Lud persevered, bowing his head.
There was still Sophia's challenge to worry about. But more than that, not being allowed to bake anything was too painful to bear.
Olfen let out a sigh as if he was looking down on a profoundly pathetic man.
"You know we're kind a busy right now. Get out of here."
Not a shred of Lud's plead got through him.
"Master, let's go."
It sounded neither pained nor anger. It was a calm and natural voice, so much that it didn't sound like Sven.
All signs of her blazing anger had disappeared.
The extreme complacency of her words left Lud confused.
"Nothing will come of us staying here any longer. We're getting in the way of these gentlemen as well, so we should leave."
Normally, Sven would turn into a vengeful demon to exterminate anyone who wronged Lud in anyway—including women and children—but now Sven spoke with an unnaturally composed and cool attitude.
Olfen gave a snort through his nose, as if to say, "Well, at least one of them has some common sense," when—
"Oh look, you've got some dirt on your nose."
With a movement barely perceptible to the eyes, as if she was cutting through the air, Sven wielded her hand like a blade, and threw a knuckled punch at the tip of Olfen's nose.
With a foolish sputter, Olfen's eyes rolled back in this head and his knees buckled.
"C-Chef?! What's wrong?! Chef?!"
The cook's face grew pale and he held on to Olfen's unconscious body.
Sven's strike hit not simply his nose, but more precisely, the philtrum right below it, so before he even felt any pain, the shock of the blow passed through the medulla oblongata that controlled the nervous system, and instantly knocked unconscious.
The people around him, and even Olfen himself, had no idea what happened.
"Well then, let's get going."
Grabbing Lud by the arm, Sven lightly walked away from the galley.
Although he didn't see everything, Lud was the only one who sensed what Sven had done.
"Please forgive me for that, Master! If possible, I would have liked to turn those damn pigs into mincemeat, but I was able to hold myself back!"
Sven said, puffing out her cheeks.
"Hahaha, well that..."
No matter what reason there might be, Lud didn't like to resort to violence.
However, taking a peek behind him and seeing Olfen unconscious with a stupid look on his face, drool rolling down his chin, was a little bit, just a tiny bit—
"I guess... the felt a little... satisfying?"
Lud couldn't deny that this was what he felt.
"But, what are we going to do now?"
Sven's minor revenge had lightened Lud's mood slightly, but that didn't change their situation.
"At this rate, all we can do is go back to that storeroom."
With that, they would sit idly until they were returned to Organbaelz, like cargo being delivered to its destination.
It was too wretched to think about.
"Oh? Did you not listen to what I said, Master?"
However, it seemed Sven wasn't going to let it end that way.
"Did I mention anything about 'going back', or 'returning to the store room'? This battle is only one of many more to come!"
When saying the word "retreat" would dampen morale, a commanding officer might say such things to gloss over the defeat.
However, Sven wasn't saying this to improve morale.
She had some ingenious scheme to break through roadblock, and was leading Lud to a suitable location.
Which was also why staying in the galley arguing with two ignoramuses like Olfen and his gatekeeper was a waste of time.
"What exactly... are you planning?"
"Kekekekekeke, you'll see~♪"
Sven gave a wide, mischievous grin.Meanwhile, Sophia sat in one of the guest room on the upper level.
"They should be discovering the truth right about now."
The room that she sat in was luxurious, even compared with many other rooms on the ship.
Having a bed, chairs, table and dresser, it was even equipped with her own private shower and toilet.
From the large window, she could enjoy the rolling clouds in the sky.
With the telephone in her room, she could call a steward to bring a drink or some food, whatever she wanted for a pleasant and comfortable experience.
"He still doesn't get it... He doesn't realize that society is teeming with scum who don't even realize that they're scum."
Immediately after Sophia learned of Lud's participation in the party, she used her connections and authority to thoroughly check everything behind the scenes.
But, if one took a minute to think it over, it was easy to figure out.
There were number of reasons why Wiltian and Pelfish people were at odds.
There was the anger of the Pelfish people for being deprived of their cultural identity and pride in their country.
There was the latent discrimination among the Wiltians toward the people of Pelfe.
Wiltia was the victor in the previous war, and a developed nation.
The conviction that they had taken the inferior nation of Pelfe under their wing, and had given them privilege of joining their country, was deep-rooted in the minds of Wiltia.
This belief caused them to look down on the culture and customs of Pelfe without exception, including their food.
"Even if he's from Wiltia, did Lud think that a famous Wiltian chef would let some baker approved by the 'Pelfish cretins' into his galley?"
Even if he could actually bake his bread, a majority of the guests at the party were upper-class Wiltians.
Sophia thought it highly unlikely that they would put their prejudices aside and eat a single bite.
Just getting the bread in their hands would be hard enough.
Sophia's condition that Lud had to find at least one person to say his bread was delicious had been given with these facts in mind.
I wonder if this will be enough to make him realize...
Holding on to his life as a baker wasn't worth risking that life.
Whether he was finding redemption or atonement, the only thing he could do to make use of his life experience was the military.
"U-um, excuse me..."
A young girl behind Sophia spoke.
"I need to be going soon... Miss"
The young girl stood there uncomfortably, as she used the polite but unfamiliar language.
"Oh, you do, don't you... Wait a second, I must change."
Answering the young girl, Sophia pulled across the curtain partition in the room and began removing her clothes.
What am I gonna do... This soldier lady isn't letting down her guard...
With her two hair braids swaying, the young girl—Milly-paced the floor at her wit's end.
Milly's surprising journey to Sophia's room on the Defairedead began at the church on the hill, the night before Lud and Sven headed to Nazalenka.
"Oh Milly, you're still awake?"
The night had darkened and all the younger children were sleep.
Unable to fell sleep herself, Milly stared up at the night sky from the window of the chapel, when Marlene called to her.
Her face looked a little as if she had been caught misbehaving.
She wasn't actually doing anything wrong.
She was only lost in her thoughts.
But they were thoughts she didn't want Marlene to know, as she was both a mother-figure and like a sister to Milly.
"...Hey, will you join me for some tea?"
Perhaps picking up on Milly's mood, Marlene smiled as she invited her to a nighttime tea party.
After the incident from a few months before, the truth that Marlene had been part of a terrorist had been cleverly covered up.
In fact, her involvement had been rewritten to suggest that she had actually protected the children's lives and had been forced into helping the terrorist. She then was so concerned that the town would be in danger that she reported it all, thanks to which the entire terrorist group was rounded up and arrested.
Lud used his influence to make sure this story accepted, while it was Sven who thought it up herself.
Lud testified to the commanding officer at the military base that Marlene pretended to join the terrorists, supplied them with information, and tried to find a solution.
This most likely wouldn't have been believed coming from an average ex-soldier, but Lud was a hero known as the Silver Wolf. His powers of persuasion were on a whole different level.
Originally, Lud didn't like using his past authority, but he was more than willing if it was for the sake of Marlene, Milly and the rest of the children.
"How is it? I think I've finally been able to get the hang of it."
"Yeah, it's good... It's really gotten better."
Milly gave her honest impression before swallowing the tea Marlene had made for her.
"I see, so you also thought my tea was bad?"
"Uh, no, I didn't mean that at all!"
Marlene's tea had been dreadfully bad, so bad that even a softhearted and good-natured person like Lud compared it to, "almost a declaration of war".
But Milly and Lud hadn't confessed this for a long time to spare Marlene's feelings.
"It's just that the tea itself was bad! It was all musty!"
Panicked, Milly tried to gloss over her words, to which Marlene replied.
"I don't know, these leaves are only slightly better than what I bought before."
Marlene had avoided joining the terrorist group, but the church on the hill was having more and more difficult scraping together the money to survive.
She had just managed by collection enough money from the terrorists as a collaboration fee for allowing them to use the church building to store their weapons.
But after the incident was resolved, that also dried up.
Then, a little bit of luck came their way.
Neither the Wiltian military, nor the offices of the governor-general of Pelfe, were completely filled with heartless and incompetent people.
The commander who had believed Lud's testimony was a military man who had climbed up the career ladder through his efforts during the Great War. He praised Marlene for the brave actions she took for the sake of the Principality, and was deeply moved when he heard that she looked after homeless orphans.
The commander not only personally gave them a sizable donation, but he also appealed to an understanding official in the governor-general's office to give the church a fixed subsidy every month.
The children in the hilltop church now had three meals a day, and no longer had trouble buying notebooks and pencils.
Soon they had enough left over to buy lamp oil and black tea leaves.
"Hey, Milly... Do you remember what we talked about before?"
Marlene spoke as the two of them sat together drinking tea.
"You know, about finding you a job."
Milly expression stiffened slightly.
Typically, unless they were part of a very affluent family and could devote themselves to learning, most children left home to work at fifteen years of age.
Depending on the region, it wasn't rare to have even ten-year olds become apprentices.
Milly was fourteen, soon to be fifteen.
Up until now, she had to care for the younger children in the orphanage, but those children were growing up, and able to look after themselves.
It was a suitable time for her to leave the orphanage.
"There's a city called Nazalenka. Have you heard of it? There's a tailor there, you see, and he is looking for a live-in assistant. The town mayor introduced me."
For children whose families had no land to work, or who didn't complete their education, the best way to put food on the table was to learn a specific skill.
Even if Milly started as just an assistant, in time she could become a seamstress, and if she did well for herself, she would be able to earn money.
It might even be possible for her to open her own store one day.
It was a good opportunity.
"This city, Nazalenka... is it far from here?"
"It's not super far, but it isn't nearby either... If you left early in the morning, you get there around noon; You'll need to take the train."
This opportunity meant she would have to say goodbye to Marlene and the other kids, who were like family to her.
And at the same time, it meant that Milly wouldn't be able to clear up acertain concern of her own.
"N-No, that ain't it at all!"
It was harder than one might think to find a work for an orphaned child.
Milly was sure that Marlene had only found this job after negotiating with a number of different places.
Understanding all the work she had put in, Milly certainly couldn't say that she didn't like the idea.
"Hey, if that's the case, how about you go and see the shop for yourself? We'll be able to cover the train ticket one way or another."
"W-Wha... Oh, sure..."
With that, Milly was on her way to meet the tailor in the military city of Nazalenka, and a potential new job.
She didn't say a word about the plan to anyone at Tockerbrot, especially Lud.
Even though they were both going to Nazalenka, and could have gone together, Milly took the train after Lud and Sven left.
Somehow, she didn't want them to know.
However, it was the first time she had been to the town, and she was trying to figure out where she was going, a steel trash can flew up and hit her on the head, knocking her unconscious.
"Crap! Hey, are you okay?!"
Sophia, who had sent the trash can flying in a fit of rage, and feeling responsible for Milly, had frantically rushed her to the doctor on the military base.
The injury was only a minor bump, but Sophia wasn't sure what to do.
"I've done it now... I have to get on the ship, but I can't just leave this girl..."
As Sophia said this, Milly realized that the female soldier in front of her was a passenger on the Defairedead.
Lud was also aboard that ship.
Before she knew it, Milly had opened her mouth to speak.
"I'm also supposed to be boarding that ship... Miss!"
She said the first thing that popped into her head.
Milly had come to Nazalenka to introduce herself to the tailor in the shop where she was expected to work, so she was wearing her best clothes, well-cleaned for the occasion. She wouldn't have been mistaken for a homeless child.
Nevertheless, she didn't look like someone capable of buying an expensive ticket for the famous Defairedead, either.
However, Sophia unexpectedly went along with Milly's story.
"Perhaps... Are you one of the choir members singing in the chorus onboard the ship?"
At the party in the sky, there was to be a choir performance to sing songs praising Wiltia.
Since they were all amateurs, the choir was made up of children from common facilities.
"So... because of some sort of trouble... was your train delayed, so you arrived late?"
"And you came here to meet up with your group, but you don't have any way to board the ship, and now you're in trouble, is that it?"
"Yes, that's correct."
The way the conversation went, rather than Milly having to lie; Sophia continued to misinterpret the situation.
"Everyone's... boarded the ship already... Miss."
These words, at least, were true....Sniff.
Listening to Milly's reply, Sophia wiped tears from the corner of her eyes.
"You're so young, and yet you feel you have to fulfill your duties so you won't betray your fellow choir members... What an admirable sense of responsibility you have! That's how all children of Wiltia should behave!"
Sophia grew deeply emotional.
I'm... from Pelfe, not Wiltia, though...
She was about to retort but kept the words to herself.
"Very well! I will make sure you get on that ship! Rest assured, whether it's one ticket, or two, it doesn't matter! Leave it to me!"
With that, Milly did leave everything to Sophia, and in an unexpected turn of events, she was in Sophia's room stowing away on the Defairedead.
"Give me just a few more minutes. As soon as I change, I'll take you to the other choir members."
On the other side of the curtain, Sophia took off her uniform, and changed into her dress for the party.
If I'm gonna escape, now's the time...
No matter what the circumstances were, Milly had deceived Sophia about who she was, and she was a stowaway on the Defairedead.
If she was brought to the choir, the truth would be out in an instant.
That's right, stowaways found on boats get thrown overboard, don't they...
Milly had heard a story called, "The Fate of the Stowaway".
Right now, she wasn't aboard a boat, but an airship in the sky.
Wait, are they gonna throw me overboard from the way up here?!
She could see through the window that they were already high enough to fly alongside the clouds.
While they were boarding, and on their way to the guest room, Milly had repeatedly tried to escape.
It was a little ironic, but Sophia firmly held Milly's hand without taking her eyes off her, to make sure her young fellow traveler didn't get lost again.
As a guardian, Sophia was perfect, but to Milly, it was the worst outcome possible.
Just as Milly prepared to run away while Sophia was changing, she heard a heavy thud and could see Sophia place something on top of the table.
It was a holster, with a gun snug inside.
It was the M908 Parabellum Pistol. Invented by Wiltia, with their world-leading technology, the gun had a distinct cartridge mechanism that used the newly-developed 9mm bullet with improved power in close quarters combat.
Milly didn't know any of this, of course.
What she did understand was that if a bullet was shot from the barrel of that gun, and it her, she would die.
She's a soldier after all... She acts like she's a good person, but she's still used to killing people.
Milly hated soldiers, She loathed them.
She thought soldiers were nothing but murderers—bastards who joined the military because they wanted to kill people.
Suddenly, Lud's face came into her mind.
A good-natured man, who had bravely put his life on the line to save Milly, and who had been happy from the bottom of his heart when he saw that Milly was alive and well.
That man had also been a soldier.
"Sheesh, changing into something you're not used to is such a pain in the ass."
While Milly was thinking, Sophia had finished changing and opened up the curtain.
Crap, there goes my chance to escape!
Milly came close to shouting this out loud, but she was captivated by Sophia standing in front of her, and her mouth hung open, her eyes wide with surprise.
"Hm? What's wrong?"
The words slipped out of Milly's mouth.
That was how beautiful Sophia looked in her dress.
The dress emitted a pale yellow luster that seemed to match Sophia's blond hair, and without any gaudy decorations embroidered on it, the simple fabric served to promote the dress' beauty.
Sophia was a beautiful woman even when she was wearing her military uniform, but Milly now saw that when a beautiful person wears beautiful clothes, the synergy greatly increases their elegance and splendor.
"Hmph! I'm cleaned up, sure but it doesn't mean anything on the battlefield!"
Unfortunately Sophia's personality hadn't changed in the slightest.
"If being pretty could win wars, the battlefield would turn into a beauty contest! That just goes to show you how meaningless this is!"
There is a saying that, "God doesn't give with both hands."
For example, when a person is blessed with exceptionally good looks but is lacking in some other capacity, or vice versa.
However, there are also those like Sophia Von Rundstadt, who are gifted with two of God's blessings, but completely indifferent to one, let their gifts become unused treasure.
"But you're really pretty... You look like the fairytale princess come to life..."
Nevertheless, Sophia was still human.
Being so admired by the honest and innocent child in front of her made her feel embarrassed in her own way.
"Hmph... But, has it actually done any good? Regardless of how much I am complimented, if the person I want to look doesn't turn his head my way, it's all just a wasted effort."
"The person you want to look at you?"
Without thinking, Milly repeated Sophia's words.
It was a surprise to her that a man existed who wouldn't turn his head at a woman as beautiful as Sophia.
"There was, you see... there was a small party where I wore a dress like this, and I stood right in front of him, but... that idiot! He told me, 'Don't worry, Commander, you look like a proper woman.' What the hell was that supposed to mean?! How was that moron looking at me before, huh?!"
Milly was at loss as Sophia reminisced and grew angry at the memory instead of laughing fondly.
"Oh, sorry... I got carried away... Really, half of it is thanks to this dress... What do they say, 'the dress makes the woman'?"
"That's not true... if I could be even half as pretty as you wearing something like that, then even I'd want to wear a dress..."
Milly spoke without thinking.
For the first time, Milly admitted her desire to look pretty, having never wanted to be fashionable in her impoverished everyday life.
Sophia's eyebrows twitched.
Sophia held her finger up to her mouth deep in thought, then she grinned as if she had a scheme in mind.
She picked up the telephone and called the ship's steward.
"Do you have a child's party dress? Please pick out some suitable accessories and shoes to go with it, and bring them to me immediately."
Milly didn't understand at all.
A child's dress. Only she and Sophia were here, and Milly was the only child.
"It's perfect. Since you're already running late, would you come with me to the party for a while?"
Milly hadn't even though about attending a party filled with the nobility and rich elites.
"I have to at least show my face at that party because of my position, but going alone, you see... It's a little bit pain. You could really help me out. How about it?"
Milly thought that no matter how she was dolled up, it would be like wrapping a stone in ribbons.
In her case, the dress wouldn't be able to make the woman.
It wasn't just embarrassment. She didn't want to experience her own misery.
"Hm... I see, well I can't force you... In that case, we'll get you back to the choir before I go."
For Milly, that was an even worse outcome.
I-If it's in the party hall... there'll be more people and it'll be easier to run away...
For now, she needed to avoid being caught.
"U-Um t-that, um, p-party I'd actually like to... go...I think."
Flustered, Milly tried to cover up her previous refusal.
"That's right, that's right. Children don't need to hold themselves back, you know?"
Despite Milly suspicious behavior, Sophia just thought that she had refused to go out of embarrassment, and cheerfully laughed, putting aside any doubts.
Then, after a few minutes—
With Sophia's help, Milly changed into new dress put on the highest heels she had ever worn, attached ornaments to her hair, and even wore make-up.
"You're still a child so the make-up shouldn't be too flashy... Hmph! It's all done!"
Dressed up, Milly looked like an almost completely different person, with her braids undone and her combed smoothly.
"Well, well, well! I'd say you look suited to this stuff, wouldn't you? Polish you up a little and you can see the shining jewel beneath!"
Sophia's comments weren't just flattery.
"Even though I had to pressure them, I'd say the staff managed to find something good."
Sophia looked satisfied, and as proud as if she was talking about herself.
"Uh, um... Why'd you... do this?"
But, Milly was unable to relax, and looked down, not knowing what to do.
She felt as if a spell had been cast on her by a mischievous fairy.
"Now, that won't do. You're attending a party, you know? You don't have to lay the charm on too thick, but you absolutely can't look down like that! Be confident. Don't worry, you're very cute! You have to be dignified, and look up with your back straight."
At Sophia's cheerful smile, Milly responded with a forced laugh, unsure what she should do.