༺ The Lord Is With Us (18) ༻
Based on Mr. Gilford’s description, the orphanage was in dire straits.
The number of children under their care far exceeded two hundred, a figure that would normally require several full-time volunteers. However, ever since the demonic beast’s raids, there was not a single volunteer left at the orphanage.
Under normal circumstances, they would have hired part-time staff, but the Gilford Orphanage had long been plagued by financial difficulties with no spare money to do so.
The damaged building was one of the consequences of this. There was no money left to properly take care of the children, let alone maintain and repair the building.
The only saving grace was that the children took turns cooking and cleaning. Otherwise, Gilford Orphanage would have been impossible to continue.
Mr. Gilford mentioned how that was one of the things that broke his heart. The children were at an age where they should have been focusing all their energy on learning and growing, but instead, they were already maturing beyond their age as they divvied up the chores.
All so they could live. They had nowhere else to go if they were forced out of the orphanage.
The reality was cruel. Gilford Orphanage still stood as one of the better, if not only, options for the orphaned children as there was no other place where children without guardians could find food, clothing, and shelter.
Children without parents were thoroughly helpless, remaining true even within the walls of the orphanage. They were so grateful that they were simply being fed and housed that they never complained.
Some orphanages even exploited the children under their care. It was not uncommon for them to be fed only one meal a day and then be forced into labor on farms owned by the director.
The continent teemed with orphans and orphanages, making it difficult to subject them all to scrutiny. Oftentimes, the nation even turned a blind eye to alleged crimes.
But regardless of terrible conditions, orphanages remained sanctuaries, places of refuge for the children, and the fact was that the continent needed more of them.
Orphanages were the only places capable of housing a vast number of orphaned children. However, assisting those kids required additional investment in administrative and security policies.
There wasn’t a country in the world that wanted to bear such a burden. Even if they could afford it, it made more sense to allocate those resources elsewhere.
Nations had many other pressing matters to attend to, be it maintaining public order in cities, subjugating demonic beasts near villages, and even maintaining the roads. They were simply lacking in both funds and manpower to do so.
Under such circumstances, no nation wanted to shoulder the added complications that came with orphans.
Nevertheless, the Holy Nation did its best to financially support orphanages and even send a large number of devotees as volunteers. However, as proven by the Gilford Orphanage, this was far from enough.
Even then, it was better than nothing.
With a heavy sigh, Mr. Gilford continued.
“It’s an embarrassing situation. We can’t even properly treat the people who came to assist us…….”
It was dinnertime.
My gaze shifted to the bowl in front of me.
Mr. Gilford had been particularly generous with the serving, but the amount still wasn’t nearly enough.
There were barely any visible chunks in the soup. It had a sparse amount of dried toppings and was disappointingly lacking in meat.
But even such a meal was gobbled up by the children as if they had been eagerly waiting for it. This meager diet was the main reason why the children never left Gilford Orphanage even with the threat of demonic beasts.
Leaving meant either starving on the streets or being forced into another, substandard orphanage. As such, they thought it was better to stay at Gilford Orphanage even while bearing the risk of abduction by demonic beasts.
The food was left untouched as I lost my appetite, disheartened by the whole situation.
On the other hand, the Saintess and Yuren remained composed. They had mentioned earlier that they came from an orphanage, so they had some idea of what to expect.
Both of them had been working with me all day, assisting the children and preparing the meals, and yet, neither of them showed the slightest hint of dissatisfaction.
I couldn’t tell if they were being genuine or pretending, but it was clear that their actions provided Mr. Gilford with a renewed sense of strength.
The Saintess traced a holy cross and consoled Mr. Gilford with a compassionate voice.
“Please be at ease, Brother Gilford. The grace of the Lord is like sunshine, embracing all without discrimination. I, too, was born and raised in an orphanage. There is no need for you to apologize for the circumstances at Gilford Orphanage, for I understand its plight.”
Mr. Gilford bowed his head with his voice brimming with emotion.
It was a beautiful sight. Yet, as I observed the exchange between the Saintess and Mr. Gilford, another voice tore through that very heartfelt scenery.
All eyes turned towards the voice—Mine, the Saintess, Yuren’s, and even Mr. Gilford’s.
Our sights converged at a single spot—Towards Senior Delphine and Senior Elsie, who were seated next to me.
Senior Elsie’s face was scrunched up as if she were about to throw up, while Senior Delphine was stirring her porridge in disgust.
Mr. Gilford’s eyes gleamed with embarrassment as anger flushed my face.
A strained voice escaped Senior Delphine’s lips.
“There’s nothing as stupid as being picky with food on the battlefield, but this isn’t right. It’ll be almost impossible for me to exert my full strength with a meal like this.”
“Hmph. Are you sure you didn’t accidentally mix up our food with horse food?”
Senior Elsie commented in tandem with Senior Delphine. They usually didn’t get along, but all of a sudden, they seemed like best friends.
Both Senior Delphine and Senior Elsie were of high nobility and often made insensitive remarks, having spent the majority of their lives indifferent to others’ opinions and feelings.
But none of that mattered to me. I already knew what they were like, and if need be, I also had my handy hatchet to fix any problems.
They shouldn’t have said that in front of Mr. Gilford.
He was the least influential person here, and even without their inconsiderate remarks, he was already burdened with an apologetic heart. Complaining when he was doing his best was simply an act of venting their anger and discomfort.
Mr. Gilford immediately began to squirm uncomfortably. It didn’t sit right seeing an old man tiptoe around girls who could easily be his granddaughters’ age.
“S-Sorry, you three are nobles, right? I’m sure you’ve never had a meal like this in your lives…….”
It seemed like he would drop to his knees if I didn’t intervene. I hurriedly raised my hand to stop Mr. Gilford and began making up excuses as best as I could.
“It’s okay, Mr. Gilford. Senior Delphine and Senior Elsie have a hard time being honest with themselves, so they occasionally make weird jokes like that to lighten the mood. Hahaha…….”
It went without saying that nothing I said was believable.
The Saintess’ pink eyes that were coldly staring at me seemed to be saying, ‘You can’t even come up with a decent excuse?’
I felt wronged. It wasn’t even my mistake but the seniors’.
Amid that frustration, Senior Elsie senselessly made another demeaning remark.
“What are you saying? If you’re a noble, you should- Hiiek?! I-I was kidding! It was a joke!”
The solution was simple.
Gritting my teeth with a murderous glare, I put my hand on the hilt of my hatchet, and Senior Elsie rushed to correct herself.
While sneaking glances at me, her tiny hands darted back and forth as she scooped up the soup into her mouth.
“Nyam-nyam, yummy… I-it’s good… F-for reals!”
She even went so far as to add sound effects. Satisfied, I released my grip on the hatchet.
On the other hand, Senior Delphine stared incredulously at the ridiculous sight and snorted.
“It seems the Rinella family has fallen to the ground. No matter what, I, Delphine Yurdina will ne-.”
I softly called out her name in a request for her cooperation, but her crimson eyes shook wildly as she locked gazes with me.
Then, she slightly lowered her gaze with a quivering voice.
“I-I, D-Delphine Yu-Yurdina will…….”
That was the last bit of resistance.
Senior Delphine’s eyes twitched as she struggled. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, she closed her eyes shut and bowed her head.
She thoroughly bit down on her lips in frustration as she forced the words out.
“……I-I like to joke around… Yeah, I was just kidding.”
A sigh of relief escaped me. Somehow, I managed to pull it off.
I turned my proud gaze to the Saintess, but the mood between her, Yuren, and Mr. Gilford was strange.
Mr. Guilford glanced back and forth between me and my two seniors while Yuren was scratching his cheeks with an awkward smile.
The Saintess, however, was gazing at me as if I were some irredeemable trash.
She traced a holy cross over her bulging chest and pursed her lips as she whispered to me.
She went the extra length for the confirmed kill. Murdered by words. Shrugging it off, I refocused on my meal.
I felt wronged. So, I decided I would bully Senior Elsie later.
Such was life at Gilford Orphanage.
And I believed these simple days would at least continue for a few days.
Until Senior Elsie was mysteriously attacked the following day.
It was an incident that occurred when it was just the two of us alone together.
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