Tsurugi no Joou to Rakuin no Ko:Volume 1 Chapter 7
Chapter 7 – Santuario
Rhythmic footsteps unique to those with a graceful demeanor echoed in a long corridor in the royal palace.
The high ceiling was made of rocks, while tapestries depicting magnificent illustrations were hung on the walls, forming an interlacing arrangement with the carved dragon torches that were hanging on the walls as well. The owners of the footfalls were two men wearing court clothing and a black-haired man in front of them donning a purple cape on his shoulders, looking somewhat younger than the two men behind him. His expression gave off a sense of domineering arrogance.
The trio stopped at a large door at the left side of the corridor.
“Archduke Cornelius, good afternoon!”
The two sentinels standing before the door retracted their spears blocking the door and saluted the black-haired man together. The man addressed as Archduke Cornelius nodded and turned around to speak to his attendants: “Wait here.” After that, he walked into the room supported by cold rock pillars.
In the room, two men wearing purple capes similar to that of Cornelius’s were already sitting before a large table with a map spread over it. The two of them had the same status as Cornelius: they were all Royal Consorts. One of them was Galelius Neros, a bald, middle-aged man over the age of fifty with a hooked nose. The other had a tall figure reminiscent of a stone sculpture, and was chosen to succeed the position of Royal Consort five years earlier than Cornelius, Lucius Gregorius. In other words, the trio gathered there were the three Patriarchs of the Three Great Duchies of the Celestial Kingdom.
The Three Great Duchies branched from the Celestials during the early days of the Celestial Kingdom’s founding. As time passed, the blood ties between the three duchies had already weakened. However, the three of them had the same resolute personality while their eyes that were as cold as steel marbles gave off a presence so similar that people unfamiliar with the details might mistake them as members of the same family. As he was aware of the fact, Cornelius hated the meetings with the three of them gathered there.
(The blood was too strong, I suppose…)
With extreme displeasure, Cornelius straightened his back and walked towards the table with all eyes on him.
“For the Golden Cart of the heavens.”
Speaking the Holy Edict, Galelius stretched his hand out to draw a triangle before him.
“For the deep cart trails of the heavens.”
Lucius continued the Holy Edict, drawing a triangle before him as well.
“…… For the eternal Nail of the heavens.”
Cornelius continued the unfinished edict, shifting his gaze towards the table after that. Large amounts of cobblestones painted in different colors were placed upon the large map on the table, signifying the troops stationed at various locations.
“This expedition is of the utmost importance.” Galelius said in a low voice: “With this, the remaining eyesores in the Bishop territory will be unable to raise an army to cause trouble anymore.”
“I heard that the Principality’s reinforcement army is just a sham as well.” Lucius added quietly.
That moment, Cornelius swept away the cobblestones in front of him and said: “What a meaningless battle. Even if Galelius fits in a trip into his schedule of herbal baths, he probably won’t be able to pacify this chaos without two months’ effort.”
Galelius snorted in amusement.
The said Bishops were elders of the Church who were in charge of managing the Palkai religion that spread throughout the Celestial Kingdom before it was founded. During the early days of the Kingdom’s founding, as the Celestial Kingdom was worried that uprooting the power of the Church would cause civil unrest, they chased the clergymen out of the Queen’s land and silently allowed the existence of these churches, but thus sowed seeds of disaster, causing the Seven Countries of the East to rebel against the Celestial Kingdom after two hundred years in the name of the Church.
(Perhaps the Church really was powerful enough to gather the Seven Countries of the East to attack together, then a battle might be slightly meaningful…) Even though that was what Cornelius thought in his heart, he did not let slip his opinions.
“If so, we now have enough reason to eradicate them all.”
Lucius grinned at a side. This sinister man once strongly requested Cornelius to let him carry out all executory work involving the Bishops, and was a filthy, despicable man one would rather avoid.
“Didn’t the Archbishop escape to Medoccea?” Lucius asked.
“It will be better to spare this person’s life, as it will be more beneficial to us.” Cornelius glared at Lucius as he spoke— the Archbishop was still the person leading the Churches in the whole country, so if he were to be publicly executed, it would bring about negative impact on the public support in the borders of the Celestial Kingdom. It was the main obstacle of the Goddess Tucae unifying the religion in the whole country.
“In any case, Cornelius’s expedition this time successfully recaptured land of the Archbishop before the Weneralia Celebration, so His Excellency is sure to be pleased.”
And of course, the ‘His Excellency’ mentioned by Galelius definitely wasn’t the Queen of the Celestial Kingdom, but the Emperor, the Queen’s father, and at the same time, Galelius’s elder brother.
(Actually, the Queen won’t be happy for a battle won, will she?)
With a snort of amusement, Cornelius said: “As a matter of fact, I was planning to completely vanquish the Union Army before the Weneralia Celebration.”
“Isn’t that rather forced?” Galelius shrugged while smiling.
The said Weneralia Celebration was the day a groom was chosen for the Queen of the Celestial Kingdom, and the day of their wedding as well. It was the most important celebration in the Celestial Kingdom.
“When will the Oracle of the Goddess Tucae be?”
“Time flows slower in the heavens, so it will probably be around new moon.”
“If the Queen’s groom is chosen from the Patriarchs of the three Houses, you will have to adopt a son to succeed you.”
“If Her Majesty allows it, I shall have my nephew succeed the position of the Patriarch.”
Galelius and Lucius discussed the succession of the Patriach of their Houses.
In fact, even though it was not widely known to the common people, there weren’t any so-called struggles for power among the Three Great Duchies who were at the zenith of the nobles. After all, nobody could interfere in the process of choosing the Queen’s groom. Apart from that, the succession of the position of the Royal Consort was always decided through oracles as well. For instance, after Cornelius’s father was expelled from the House due to overindulgence in women, Cornelius, as the fourth son of the second-eldest son, was chosen as a Royal Consort when he was twenty four, and thus succeeded the position of his uncle as Patriarch of the House. In other words, even if the noblemen tried their hardest to gain power, whether they could keep it was an unknown factor.
Cornelius believed that this succession system of the noblemen and Patriarchs formed the basis of stability of the central power in the Celestial Kingdom.
(If it wasn’t power obtained through support of the Gods, but rather, status gained through their own struggles, its weight would be as light as a feather. And I was one who was chosen by the Gods. Well then, next……)
Cornelius believed that he would get the position of the Queen’s groom, attaining the nation, and then he would eradicate everyone in his way.
“That’s right, I forgot to say something. I found out something during my expedition, regarding the troublesome daughter of the Duke of Zaccaria.”
Cornelius suddenly raised his head and said to the other two Royal Consorts.
“Oh…… That something Order, is it correct?”
Galelius’s eyes moved as he thought, and then he voiced out his thoughts regarding Cornelius’s topic, while Cornelius nodded as well.
“It seems like she only sent her troops because of a request from the Bishops, and her troops escaped from a siege of my design.” Cornelius said.
“Oh? Looks like that Vixen is rather good at fighting retreating battles.” Galelius smiled while answering.
In truth, what Cornelius wished to convey included the ingenious stratagem of the Order’s commander, but more importantly, there was a swordsman in her unit……
“She is truly in that Order, isn’t she? There’s no mistake anymore.” Lucius leaned closer as well.
“A red-headed girl in her teens who can’t be harmed no matter how many arrows or spears were aimed, and clothed in white as well…… I thought that it was impossible, but it’s undeniable now.”
Cornelius thought back on the reports regarding the ‘Soul Reaper who sprays salt on the battlefield’ from his subordinates after the battle and formed such a conclusion.
That moment, he suddenly recalled the Star Eater as well.
He trapped the Beast in the vanguard unit that was doomed to annihilation just to confirm if the Brand on the Star Eater was authentic, and he did indeed survive. Because of that, Cornelius’s suspicions were confirmed. However, he heard that the Beast joined the Order of the Silver Egg in the end. Fate was indeed wondrous.
(Although that fellow is rather bothersome, he should not be mentioned here.)
After shaking his head to banish his original thoughts, he silently awaited the other two to change the topic. Not a while later, Galelius closed his wrinkled eyes, “…… Say, I never thought that she would switch to Zaccaria. What do you think we should do? Bring her back?”
“Shouldn’t we just kill her? If her presence is realized by the people, the standing of us nobles will be in danger.”
“Of course we have to bring her back. Her powers are much stronger.”
Cornelius objected to Lucius’s opinion, causing Lucius and Galelius to sink into silence at the same time.
They were probably having a headache over the matter. Ever since the rebellion of the Seven Countries, the reason the Celestial Kingdom faced so many disturbances was as Cornelius said, due to the fact that the Queen’s powers of clairvoyance was not strong enough.
That moment, Cornelius nonchalantly stretched his hand out to pick up one cobblestone after another, placing them on the area to the east of Santuario that was surrounded by hills, “I shall defeat Zaccaria. Please give me the military power to do so once again.”
The meeting ended. Cornelius walked in the corridor and reached the depths of the palace. The area with beige pillars was unbelievably silent. However, when he headed towards deeper areas, the silence gradually disappeared, and when he reached a large door with a winged wheel carved on it, priests and shrine maidens hastily pushed the said door open and exited the room.
“Did anything happen?” Cornelius halted one of the shrine maidens and asked.
The young-looking shrine maiden ran towards Cornelius in tears.
“The Queen— An ominous divine revelation descended upon Her Majesty, but we cannot tell anyone else—“
After hearing that, Cornelius pushed her away and walked into the Queen’s bedroom. The bedroom was extremely spacious, and with the sunlight falling through the glass ceiling, walking inside would give one the illusion of being in the courtyard. At the center of the room, there was an elevated space surrounded by four levels of stairs used as a bed stand, and a mattress covered by a translucent veil was placed on it.
“Is Lady Hieronihica not back yet?” “She is supervising the Harvest Festival……” “Hurry up and get her, quick!”
The flustered appearance of the priests in the bedroom really didn’t look like something that should appear in the royal palace, as the holy ground of the Goddess Tucae.
(I see, so Hieronihica is not here.)
Hieronihica, the administrator of the Inner Palace Division in charge of managing the priests and shrine maidens in the palace, left the palace to pray for a bountiful harvest. Because of that, the Inner Palace was lacking leadership. That was an extremely good opportunity to Cornelius.
(I have to do a bit more before this spreads to that person’s ears.)
“Lord! Please wait!”
“Lord, you cannot enter now!”
Seeing Cornelius’s actions, the surrounding priests gathered around him with startled wails. However, Cornelius continued to walk to the Queen’s bed stand. He saw a diminutive silhouette rise behind the veil, quailing towards the end of the bed after that.
“Your Majesty, Cornelius is here to visit you. Please allow me to open the veil and see you.”
Without awaiting the Queen’s answer or heeding the surrounding priests’ objections, Cornelius flipped open the veil covering the bed. On the mattress, there sat a girl who had just rose. Her slender arms were trembling frantically. With her red hair as vibrant as flames cascading onto her white, delicate shoulders, her eyes that were like black pearls teared up in fear and confusion.
Her lips were trembling as well.
“Your Majesty, please order the others to vacate the room.”
Cornelius’s voice was as sharp as a dagger penetrating flesh. The girl in distress could not stop her lips from trembling, but still gave orders in accordance to Cornelius’s instruction in the end. After hearing that, the priests exchanged looks of unease, but seeing Cornelius frown at them, they obediently exited the Queen’s bedroom.
Cornelius turned around to gaze at the girl lying on the bed, kneeling down before the bed stand at the same time.
“Your Majesty…… Lady Silvia, are you alright?”
While he spoke, he glanced at the girl sitting at the end of the bed— Queen Silvia. Silvia clutched her white blanket, her trembling unable to be quenched, like she was in convulsions. The exposed shape of her slender feet and smooth skin looked very alluring.
Cornelius narrowed his eyes to gaze at Queen Silvia’s delicate, charming face and figure while making such a conclusion in his mind.
When Cornelius was chosen in an oracle as Royal Consort, his perverted father once said to him— If you are chosen once again next time, you will be able to own that enticing body, and then taint her with your own two hands……
In truth, Cornelius inherited next to nothing of his father’s perverted personality. However—
(When I think about it, this girl’s beautiful appearance is a divine symbol of being blessed by the Gods.)
Cornelius indulged only in power and status. His obscene father was someone that he would never think of emulating in his whole life.
(But if things go well, I might have the chance to obtain another woman more beautiful than her.)
(Although both of them have similar beautiful appearances, the latter owns a strong body and a determined spirit incomparable to the former.)
Cornelius thought to himself that the person had stronger powers of foresight as well.
“…… I heard that divine revelation descended upon you, is that right?”
He suppressed the desires in his heard and asked.
“…… Ah, um, yes……”
Queen Silvia’s continually trembling shoulders finally stilled that moment, and she finally squeezed out words to speak.
“I saw…… without use of medication…… but everything was so clear…… that is…… t- that is…… that…….”
She raised her hands before her chest, and continued to clutch the white blanket covering her chest as though in convulsions. On the other hand, Cornelius raised his brows and gazed intently at her every action.
Queen Silvia’s ability to receive divine revelations— Oracle Decrees from the Tacae Goddess was rather weak, and thus required the usage of a profuse amount of medication with severe side effects to compensate for the weakness in her ability.
— She said that the divine revelation this time was seen without aid of medication?
“What sort of scene did you see?”
Cornelius couldn’t help but stand.
“…… Death.” Silvia said.
“This does not need to be repeated once more. More importantly, what sort of death was it?”
“By…… By sword.”
“It was…… a clear, luminous sword…… like an ice pick…… piercing through…… m- my brows!”
Halfway through her words, Silvia could not hold her emotions in anymore, and raised her voice in a shriek at the end of her sentence. Cornelius thought, the current situation was not one to fuss about royal etiquette. Thus, he stood up and walked towards the bed, embraced Silvia in his arms, patted her back and gently stroked her thin chest.
“Your Majesty, please breathe in deeply. Do not think of anything, and try to forget the pain.”
After awhile, Silvia’s hurried breathing and the throbbing on her chest finally eased.
“…… Thank you…… You may leave now.”
As she spoke, Silvia turned her head away. However, Cornelius did not follow her orders, and instead pressed his face closer.
(A future of being killed by a sword appearing in a divine revelation isn’t something that should appear under normal circumstances…… Can it be……)
“Your Majesty, please inform me of the details of the divine revelation.” Cornelius said.
“In the divine revelation that descended, was the person killed really you, Lady Silvia?”
Cornelius’s question made Silvia freeze, as though her subject before her was clenching her heart with his hands, causing her heartbeat to still temporarily.
“…… W- What did you say……”
Silvia asked as though she was moaning.
(That’s right, if she receives divine revelation at this time—)
All of it was originally just Cornelius’s speculations, but the speculations turned into firm belief after Silvia’s reaction.
(If a divine revelation descends at this time, then it is definitely related to that matter.)
“What are you saying? I- I am……”
“In the divine revelation, the person pierced with a sword was actually your elder sister, is that right?”
It was as though Silvia’s frozen face would turn into fragments with a gentle push of a finger. Cornelius felt extremely satisfied and pleased with his accurate speculations, and proclaimed to the queen before his eyes: “Lady Silvia, your sister— Lady Minerva has been found.”
Cornelius excused himself from the Queen’s bedroom and returned to the white, deathly silent corridor once again. He saw a crowd of shrine maidens gathered at a corner. Among them, the one standing at the foremost in tiptoes ran towards Cornelius with light, almost soundless footsteps. The shrine maiden had her face veiled with a blue sash, and there was a badge of a swan embroidered on the knee of her white gown, symbolizing the follower of the Goddess Tucae, Goddess Smeulna.
“Lord Cornelius, does anything require your presence here at the inner palace? I have told you countless times, if you wish to have an audience with the Queen, you must allow us to inform Her Majesty of your request!”
The shrine maiden stopped a few steps from Cornelius and complained with her voice as clear as a plucked string.
“I heard that an ominous revelation from the Goddess Tucae descended upon the Queen, so I came to give my regards. Incidentally, it is more besmirching to Goddess Smeulna’s name for Hieronihica to be absent from Her Majesty’s presence at these times.”
Cornelius saw her wince below her veil.
Cornelius’s meeting with Hieronihica this time made him recall his inconceivable sense of unpleasantness whenever he met her. He once asked Galelius of the reason, and Galelius told him that from his memories, Hieronihica maintained her beautiful, unblemished appearance without a trace of wrinkles from about twenty years ago.
“Even if you are the leader of the court, this is still not something that you should be worried of!”
Hieronihica ignored Cornelius’s sarcasm, and instead berated him with a stern tone.
“Besides, why did you not submit an official report?”
“What report?” Facing Hieronihica’s question, Cornelius tried to force through with a look of feigned ignorance. Seeing his reaction, Hieronihica asked the shrine maidens behind her to leave. After hearing her order, they glanced at Cornelius with a look of unease, but still left their side quickly.
“It’s regarding Lady Minerva. It is my belief that you already know of this matter.”
Currently, only Cornelius and Hieronihica were left in the area. That moment, Cornelius lowered his voice and answered her question.
“I do not think there is a need for people of the Inner Palace to know of this.”
“I shall be the one to decide whether there is a need after I hear it. After all, the severity of this matter involves the survival of the Celestials! And you still say that this matter does not need to be reported to the Inner Palace?” Hieronihica said in a firm tone.
(It seems like this person has already considered herself a member of the Celestials.)
Cornelius strongly thought, for a mere priestess like Hieronihica only in charge of serving the Queen to actually hold such immense power, it was a colossal mistake of the Three Great Duchies.
“Then what is the Inner Palace planning to do? We are in charge of sending the military to search for her, so regarding the handling of this matter—“
“The Queen should be the one to decide what to do!”
Hieronihica directly interjected without waiting for Cornelius to finish his words. However, while that was what Hieronihica herself said, it could be seen in her eyes that what she was truly saying was that the power of decision should be in her hands. In other words, although Silvia was the Queen, she did not have any power to decide things by herself at all.
“In any case, we will bring Lady Minerva back to the palace. After all, she is an indispensable presence to the Celestials. Although Her Majesty’s emotions might be troubled right now, I believe she will make the same decision after she calms down as well.”
“No, you cannot bring Lady Minerva back to the palace!”
Hieronihica abruptly denied Cornelius’s opinion, causing him to frown.
“Lady Minerva abandoned the Celestial Kingdom, and was a person who grew up on tainted soil. If she is brought back without further considerations, it will only cause meaningless confusion— No, it will only bring disaster if she is allowed to live on!” Hieronihica said.
(I understand now.)
Cornelius laughed to himself in his heart.
(Currently, although the Queen’s power of foresight is weak, the priests of the Inner Palace does not care about that. Instead, an easily manipulated queen like Silvia will be more to their benefit.)
“Then what do you think should be done, in your opinion?” Cornelius asked.
“I do not know. That will be for Her Majesty to decide. However, I am of the opinion that if Lady Minerva was never born in this world, perhaps the world might have been more peaceful.”
(In other words, we should kill her?)
“…… Nevertheless, the military will be in charge of searching for Lady Minerva for the moment. People from the Inner Palace should not get ahead of theirselves and do as they wish.”
With his sense of unease escalating, Cornelius added a proclamation to pin down the Inner Palace leader before him— Priests in the Inner Palace had numerous means that was hard for the dukes, as Royal Consorts, to grasp or guard against. Because of that, if he did not attach a warning to his words, they might take action as they please.
“As for you, Hieronihica, as the administrator of the Inner Palace, shouldn’t you have more urgent matters that require your attention? Please hurry up and decipher Her Majesty’s divine revelation— Who was the one to kill Her Majesty? After all, this matter might be related to Lady Minerva as well.”
Cornelius’s words caused Hieronihica’s face to cloud over.
“…… Where is Lady Minerva, currently?”
Facing Hieronihica’s question, Cornelius thought that telling her that question should be fine, and thus answered: “She left the battlefield with her unit, and should be at Zaccariesco right now.”
The great wall of Zaccariesco was known as the best in the Eastern countries.
It would require a journey of around five days to cover the distance between the city and Santuario. However, a mountain range stretched out between them. The warm climate here was almost a different world compared with the severe cold at the center of the Celestial Kingdom. Apart from that, an abundance of silver mines were buried in the mountains, while the part facing the sea had deep, wide coastlines that could serve as harbors. The advantageous geographical conditions allowed Zaccaria to become the richest country among the Seven Countries of the East.
There was a large market on the main road in the city district directly outside the Zaccaria Castle. Even though the country was currently engaged in precarious warfare, the scene in the market was unimaginably lively. There were crates stuffed full of fruits, pots of salted marine products transported directly from the harbors, smoked meat made of animals such as cows, pigs and deer, and also silk and woven products from far-sailing ships. Chris was walking on the streets. The sword decoration on his chest was exceptionally eye-catching, and there would even be girls hailing him wherever he walked to……
“You’re a member of the Order, aren’t you? I can give you a nice discount!”
“Just give these babies to the people in the city. It’s free of charge, as long as you bring more people over here tomorrow!”
“Boy, us big sisters have a shop just around the corner. Do you want to play with us?”
“…… It’s okay, I don’t have any money.”
Some time before, Chris painstakingly found a skilled smith, and used up all his money to pay him to patch up all his armor, and since he was wearing high-class products, the maintenance fee was exceptionally hefty as well. Because of that, he declined each and every one of the people thinking of fishing money out of him, and walked directly towards the castle gate. Seeing the small sword on his chest, the two sentries guarding the castle gate allowed him to enter without a word. That was rather convenient to him, but he still hadn’t got used to such treatment. In truth, even the articles he was wearing, clothing with delicate textures favored by noblemen, the hat with a wide brim, each and every one of them on him caused him great unease. However, due to Francesca’s personal preferences, she forcibly stipulated that every member of the personal guard was required to wear their best.
The infantry of the Order was undergoing training in an orderly manner at the spacious courtyard outside the castle. As Chris stood in the sweet air and warm sun while gazing at the soldiers wielding spears on the castle wall, the anxiety that surfaced in his heart surpassed the feeling of liveliness he felt in the market.
— Is this really fine? Can I really stay in such a place?
— Shouldn’t I be waving my sword in a fight on the battlefield with my body stained in blood? Isn’t that place where I belong to?
He walked into the castle with his head drooped. Francesca’s bedroom was at the top of a long flight of stairs. He knocked the door and heard an imperious shout behind him……
“— Back!— Everyone, prepare for battle!”
Chris turned around in surprise, seeing from the corridor the silhouette of a girl standing on the terrace. Her golden hair waved in the sun, and she was holding…… a command staff? Was it Francesca?
Chris thought that it was somewhat odd, and thus walked towards the terrace to reaffirm the person.
“Annihilate the enemies— This voice doesn’t sound right……”
“…… Paola? What are you doing?” Chris asked.
Hearing the call behind her all of a sudden caused Paola to jump in fright. She hurriedly removed the golden wig, hid the command staff in her hands behind her and squeezed out a smile: “Ah, um, it’s Chris…… Your injuries seems to have healed. That’s great……”
“Um…… You were just—“
“N- N- N- N- Nothing at all!”
Before Chris finished his words, Paola hurriedly pushed him into the corridor, and the object she was holding was indeed the command staff used by Francesca.
“T- This is a secret, so you can’t tell anyone!”
“I won’t tell……”
What Chris meant was, even though he saw Paola imitating Francesca, he didn’t know anyone to confide in, and didn’t know how to talk about it as well.
“…… Where is Francesca? Isn’t she in her room?” Chris asked.
“She doesn’t seem to be in, but I think she’ll be back very soon.”
Chris sighed after hearing that.
Previously, he told Francesca that he had something to tell her, and it was precisely the time they agreed on. However, from his conversations with the other soldiers, it seemed like she usually wouldn’t remember her promises with other people, and such a situation was already commonplace.
Paola looked at Chris and seemed to take pity on him, and thus quickly put on the wig, saying to Chris: “T- Then let me take Lady Fran’s place. Just treat me as her and tell me if there’s anything you wish to speak of— No, I should say, just tell me if there’s anything!”
She even raised the command staff and erected it on the ground. Chris couldn’t help but look at her with a chilly gaze.
“S- Sorry……” Forlorn, Paola removed the wig with a tearful expression, a depressed expression showing on her face at the same time.
“It’s fine, my bad.”
However, Chris just couldn’t understand why she prepared a wig, and did such idiotic-looking actions……
“Actually, I was enlisted into the Order as Lady Fran’s substitute at first.”
Paola sat down on the bench on the terrace and muttered.
“That’s right. Lady Fran and I were raised by the same nanny, so we grew up playing together. After that, when Lady Fran became the Captain of the Order, her father, that is, the Duke, was worried of her, so he asked me to accompany her as her substitute, saying that I look like her as well……”
After hearing that, Chris thought of asking how she resembled Francesca, but before he spoke, he stared at Paola’s face. After a close look, Chris thought that their noses and eyes might look somewhat similar, but the aura given out by the two of them wouldn’t make one link them together as the same person.
“But Lady Fran told me to ignore something as unstylish as being a substitute, and then asked me to join her personal guard. I told her that I couldn’t use weapons and refused, but she was determined to have me join, saying that I could lead the troops in her stead during necessary moments…… How could that even be done…… Last time, just running frantically with the troops while holding a flag made me think that I couldn’t do anything……”
Paola recalled the battle where the Order of the Silver Egg faced enemy cavalry in pursuit while her shoulders continued to tremble.
“You did well, so don’t worry. Actually, it’s all thanks to you that we were saved.”
Seeing that she looked rather downcast, Chris sat by her side, thinking that doing so would cheer her up.
Paola covered her face while looking at Chris with her obviously uneasy eyes hiding behind her fingertips. Chris nodded. He heard the soldiers praising the accuracy of Paola’s timing for the unit to turn back.
“…… If it’s true…… Then it’s great.”
Chris looked at her, thinking that with her shy smile on her flushed face and continually waving legs, she looked just like a child. He guessed that Paola should be younger than him.
“Actually, I stayed the longest in the personal guard, but I just feel that I can’t help out in anything at all……”
— This girl should not stay in the army.
Chris thought, it was impossible for the people in the army to think if they could contribute to the others, because the people who are truly useless would be naturally eliminated on the battlefield.
— No, that’s not right…… Judging by the standards of the Order of the Silver Egg, I am the oddity instead.
The so-called soldiers are people who act on their superior’s orders, earning a living on the battlefield, only thinking of how to survive. Apart from mercenaries, the trials faced by knights would be much harsher. Chris saw numerous noblemen paying to exchange merits with mercenaries to earn more fame so that their House’s standings could be improved. However, things were not the same with the Order of the Silver Egg. From the top to the bottom of the Order hierarchy, nobody held a weapon to fight because of hunger. Everyone fought for Francesca…… Chris looked at Paola, knowing that she was one of them. On the other hand, Francesca strived to defeat the Celestials, and it was the same for Minerva.
— That’s why this place feels so suffocating to me.
“Actually, I thought of fighting as well, going to the battlefield holding a sword with the others. But, I just couldn’t…… couldn’t become as strong as Meena……”
Chris looked at the side of her drooped head.
Minerva’s overwhelming strength was not totally due to the fact that she could predict the enemies’ attacks. Her arms strong enough to wave huge swords and quick reactions on the battlefield were all obtained through long-term training.
— For what reason does a girl like her fight so hard to defeat the Celestials?
“…… You know when Minerva joined the Order of the Silver Egg, don’t you?” Chris asked.
“Eh? Ah, yes. I know.”
“When did she join? I never heard her mention anything about her.”
“Looks like Chris only cares about Meena.”
Chris tilted his head with his jaw agape, making Paola cover her mouth in a fit of laughter.
— I only care about Minerva?
— Indeed…… After all, I am staying in the Order just for her.
Chris could sense that Minerva started to avoid him ever since the night she foresaw her death once again. Actually, it was not unreasonable that she would have such a reaction. After all, Chris was the one destined to kill her.
— Why does she own such cruel powers?
— And why is she unwilling to tell me?
“Probably about four years ago.”
Paola gazed at the soldiers undergoing training while shouting and started the story that Chris wished to learn of.
“It happened some time before our Order was formed. Lady Fran came to my room, saying in excitement that Master Carla brought a very beautiful girl with flaming red hair, and that we should go meet her. That girl was Meena.”
“Gilberto’s teacher of swordsmanship, and also Meena’s as well. Master Carla ran off somewhere some time after that without any trace whatsoever.”
“Minerva and Gilberto’s teacher? T- Then, this Carla is stronger than both of them?” Chris asked in surprise.
“Master Carla? Well, I think that person probably won’t lose even if Gilberto and Meena attack at the same time.”
Paola’s words made Chris shiver. A person who is able to deal with Gilberto and Minerva at the same time, isn’t that a monster? That’s right, I remember now. Nicolo seemed to have mentioned a teacher or something. Was he referring to Carla?
“Master said, it’s about time for me to go for a trip, and just like that, thought of leaving Meena temporarily in the care of the Duke’s family. In the end, Francesca had one look at her, and immediately dragged her back to her room.”
— It seems like Francesca always thinks of claiming beautiful things as her own, a bad habit from the time when she was little……
“After that, when Lady Fran walked out with Meena again, she said that they’ve affirmed an ‘accurate subject-ruler relationship’.”
Chris thought that it just didn’t make sense. He wanted to know what Francesca and Minerva said when they were in the same room. Why else would Minerva promise to become Francesca’s subordinate the first time they met?
“These are actually just my speculations, but I think Lady Fran might have known Meena from long ago.” Paola said.
After hearing that, Chris crossed his arms and thought—Having a subject-ruler relationship when they just met. Francesca already knew Minerva from before…… Judging from this, Minerva should be the daughter of a Duke or something similar. If not, saying that Minerva was actually borne of a Knight’s family or lower class noble’s House would be incongruent with her noble behavior and refined tastes……
However, Chris’s deductions were unable to explain the source of her mystical power.
— It seems like I have only Minerva or Francesca to ask regarding this……
— But Minerva and I are enemies, and I might even be the murderer to kill Minerva in the future……
— If so, it’s understandable if she hates me. And her being unwilling to share information related to her is probably nothing as well.
“You feel concerned about Meena don’t you?”
Paola looked strangely happy when she asked. Chris nodded in affirmation while his mind was in confusion.
“But here’s a question for you, would you tell me the answer if I ask you the reason you became a wandering mercenary at such a young age, and the reason you met Meena, joining the Order after that?”
Chris noticed Paola gazing at him and looked away.
And of course, Chris could not tell her anything about that. He definitely couldn’t reveal that he was a filthy beast stained in blood and his life of struggling on the battlefields.
“Is it because you hate me? You don’t want to tell me because you hate me?”
“T- That’s not it, it’s just that—“
Chris’s words were stuck in his throat halfway through. Paola looked at him with a gentle smile and said:
“I think, Meena is probably in the same situation as you.”
“In my opinion, she doesn’t hate you, but she feels scared as well.”
Chris did not know how to answer. Paola’s words were like an arrow accurately penetrating his heart.
That moment, the sounds of the soldiers’ training suddenly abated. Paola immediately jumped down from the bench and leaned towards the railing of the terrace.
“Lady Fran seems to have returned!”
Hearing her words, Chris hurriedly rose from the bench as well and lowered his gaze to look towards the courtyard. He saw a girl with gold hair elegantly passing through the surrounding soldiers who were saluting her—
“Hmm? Ehh? She’s walking to the West Hall?” Paola said in surprise.
Francesca was not heading towards the main castle where they were at, but another Hall at the back of the courtyard.
“…… I think Lady Fran really forgot about her meeting with you……” Paola said.
After having a look, Chris sighed and turned around to head towards the stairs.
That moment, Chris was still unaware that the West Hall of Zaccariesco Castle was the so-called ‘inner palace’, which meant that it was the place where the bedrooms where women of the Duke’s House served the master of the house. As long as they were male, even important nobles could not approach. However, the Hall’s security wasn’t really strict. Chris headed to his left when he reached the courtyard and walked into the hall at the west side of the castle without being seen, and thus halted by other people. All of the servants there were women. Although they seemed surprised when they saw Chris, they did not think of stopping him, and just like that, he successfully reached the stairs in the Hall.
The reason Chris could reach Francesca’s room so easily was probably because of the emblem of Francesca’s personal guard on him.
“Ah, my apologies. I completely forgot about you, Chris.”
“You really did forget, huh……”
Chris leaned on the door outside the room and sighed deeply. They were actually still speaking through the door. As for the reason, it was because Francesca was currently changing into casual clothing of the court. Before that, she even asked Chris to enter to help her, but Chris thought that her joke was going a bit too far.
“Alright, you may enter.”
Francesca finally finished changing her clothes, and thus Chris entered the room. The resplendent dress with its elegant design resembling petals that emphasized a woman’s curves indeed suited her more than armor of military men.
“Seriously, being unable to change my clothes even though you’re one of my personal guards. It’s the same for Gil as well. You men are truly useless.”
“…… How do you define the work of a personal guard?”
Chris was dazed by her statement, and tossed his swan down hat on his head to the chair after sighing.
“I say, this is already a team with much experience of fighting on battlefields, but picking members of the personal guard still needs to go with your interests. Don’t the other soldiers say anything?”
“Why do you think Paola took my place as the Commander when I wasn’t in the unit?”
— What? Why mention this all of a sudden?
“Come here and I’ll tell you.”
Chris doubtfully approached, but saw Francesca lean over abruptly as well, sticking his hand into his shirt. That gave Chris a shock, making him back away over ten steps in a hurry, pressing his body close to the door, even forgetting that he was not carrying his blade, and kept searching his waist for it.
What do you think you’re doing!— was what he wanted to shout out, but his voice jammed in his throat, and was unable to be voiced out.
“Even though you’re a mercenary, you’re unexpectedly innocent when you’re facing women.”
Francesca stuck her tongue out and showed a radiant smile.
“How’s that? Having a woman’s hand sticking directly to your chest, this feeling is just like your whole heart was stolen, wasn’t it?”
“…… What are you trying to say?”
Chris felt his body burning as he asked her of her true intentions, and thus pulled at his shirt to evaporate the heat.
“Humans are actually a very simple species. Capturing a person’s body actually means that you’ve captured his heart as well.”
— W- What is she saying?
“In the Order, there is this one person who touched the skins of every member of us.”
Chris froze with his face rigid—Someone who touched the skins of everyone in the Order…… Medics? It’s impossible for Nicolo to treat female soldiers, so it’s a female medic!
“So that is why I allowed this person to hold the flag. She grew up with me from the time I was little, so she can understand my thoughts from my angle, it’s actually this simple. Even I, myself, don’t know when I will die on the battlefield, so I have an obligation to find someone who can succeed me and lead everyone here.”
After hearing Francesca’s description, Chris was relieved, and could finally breathe normally.
— How serious is this person in the war? No, she was serious from the start, at least the matter regarding Paola was arranged as she said. After all, she did indeed lead the unit she was commanding to turn back, earning a great win for the Order.
“While I am still alive, perhaps peace cannot descend easily. After all, the power of Three Great Duchies and the priests of the Inner Palace are giving it their all to counter us. Thinking from this angle, even effort of a hundred years might not be enough for us to burn all the old coins and to recover the true colors of the Celestials.”
Chris swallowed, raising his gaze to stare at the young Captain before her.
“— The Dukes and priests of the Inner Palace are my true enemies.” Francesca said with a smile: “My flag of rebellion is not directed at the Celestials, but the nobles and priests of the Inner Palace who are trampling on the people and distorting the national political system. People who do not give it their all to protect the people do not have the right to lead a country.”
From the time when he was little, Chris, who only knew of fighting, never had the awareness that the Three Great Duchies were creating political chaos and suppressing the people. However, the strong will of the Francesca that moment made Chris feel that she was extremely dazzling, lowering his head with a sense of inferiority at the same time.
— I- I never had a reason enter the battlefield.
— Even now, what I wish is just to stay by Minerva’s side.
“I cannot use swords, spears or bows. But, I have sharp eyes, a mouth that can speak, a crowd of comrades risking their lives with me, these are my weapons to victory. That is why every person, thing and object are in the position they are supposed to be at. Paola is one case…… and you are another.”
Chris raised his head in surprise and saw Francesca smile happily. She stretched her hand out to give him a push, “You came to tell me that you want to quit my personal guard, didn’t you? Wanting me to switch you to the assault unit?”
“Why…… do you…… know?”
It was indeed so. Chris felt as if his thoughts were completely seen through by Francesca.
“It’s because you’re always wearing an anxious expression, looking like you’re in so much despair that you are almost going to suffocate as long as the people are you are living people.”
Francesca laughed meaningfully, her laughter sounding like the tinkle of bells. Chris felt ashamed when he saw her smile, and thus looked away.
“Don’t you have an obligation to stay by Meena’s side? If so, isn’t staying in my personal guard the best choice?”
“But…… even if I stay by her side…… it might all be meaningless……”
Chris suddenly remembered the his conversation with Minerva with a wall separating them on that night.
— Perhaps I am unable to do anything…… The only thing I can do is to hold her hand…… Even so……
— Will I kill her?
— There might be one day when I will bring an end to Minerva’s life with my very hands……
Chris knew that he was staying by Minerva’s side just to swallow the omens of death that she predicted. However, that moment, he couldn’t help but think that Minerva might be able to live longer if he stayed far, far away from her. However, if he stayed in the personal guard, he might not be able to turn even this into reality.
— But speaking of which, why must I kill Minerva?
— We’re not even enemies right now.
Chris was puzzled. Right now, whenever he touched Minerva, she wouldn’t even look at him, so they didn’t have any proper conversations at all.
“You are still unwilling to tell me? What in the world happened between you and Minerva?”
Facing Francesca’s questions, Chris raised his head and nodded.
“Why? Is it because you are afraid that you will be unable to stay in the Order if you reveal it?”
Francesca’s reaction caused Chris to freeze.
She lied down on the chair and giggled. “You really don’t know how to hide anything. And I only used a tiny bit of trickery as well.”
Chris felt his ears heating up, his fingers tangling up unconsciously as well.
“Oh well, Minerva was the same at first as well, unwilling to tell me anything.”
— Minerva as well?
Chris was still completely clueless regarding Minerva. He felt that all of the deep fog hidden in his heart was already known to Minerva, but he was still unable to perceive the dark surface at the same level, or perhaps even deeper, in Minerva’s heart.
That moment, a call came from outside the room.
“Fran, I’m going in!”
Chris was dazed for a moment, then he quickly turned around. It was Minerva’s voice.
“You may enter.”
Minerva walked into the room. That moment, she was wearing sleeveless pajamas. The pajamas looked extremely cute as well. Chris was shocked, as it was something that he never saw before on the battlefield or during training. When she saw Chris, her brows furrowed, “Why are you here? The West Hall is a place prohibited to men!”
“Eh? I- Is that so?” Chris was somewhat taken aback.
“It doesn’t really matter for Chris, he’s my personal guard after all. Besides, he’s cute.” Francesca spoke up for him.
“Those are completely irrelevant!”
“What does it matter? Besides, he has to learn how to change my clothes for me as well.” Francesca said.
“What?! Chris, y- y- you didn’t—“
“Please don’t agitate her anymore, Fran……”
Chris sighed, and then hunched his shoulders, pushing back the huffy Minerva dashing forward, “I was here to tell Fran that I’m quitting as a personal guard.”
“Quitting the personal guard? Why!”
When she heard Chris’s explanation, Minerva suddenly cried out while wearing a tearful expression, making Chris’s heart skip a beat.
Chris could see his own reflection in her wet, black eyes……
— These eyes…… saw the fate of me killing her just like that?
“Because, if I come too close to you…… it’ll be too dangerous……” He said.
“T- That— That won’t change no matter where you stay at, because it’s a fixed destiny. Anyway, fate won’t change, so it’s better if you stay fore—“
Halfway through her words, Minerva suddenly noticed Francesca’s delighted gaze and hurriedly stop.
“What’s wrong? You finished? Tell him, tell him that you want him to stay by your side forever.”
“Fran, why do you always make trouble!”
Minerva bared her fangs at Francesca, but then turned around to look at Chris with an uneasy, wandering gaze, “A- Are you really quitting as a personal guard…… Even if you- even if you don’t do that, I…….”
“I have no intention of switching him to other units. If he plans to leave the Order of the Silver Egg, I do not have any right to stop him as well. Everything is up to him.”
Francesca told Minerva with a relaxed expression.
“No, you are my property, I forbid you to do so!”
Chris heard Minerva’s tone and her sincere request hidden in her heart, breathed in deeply and shook his head, “…… I’m sorry. I won’t mention this ever again.”
Hearing Chris’s promise, Minerva breathed out deeply. Even her rigid shoulders relaxed visibly.
“Now you can relax, Minerva. Right?” said Francesca in a teasing tone.
“What do you mean I can relax, like I’m really worried about it……”
“You were obviously worried. You looked like you were about to cry.”
“I did not!”
“Sorry, Minerva. It’s all my—“
“Enough! I did not come to discuss this kind of topic!”
Chris’s interruption was halted by Minerva, and at the same time, she rammed into his shoulder. She quickly walked towards Francesca and said: “Fran, hurry up and send for the troops. As quick as possible. It will be best if we can depart tomorrow!”
As Francesca asked, Minerva glanced at Chris. Her eyes were actually holding in moist tears, looking visibly pained.
“Some sort of an assassination unit is heading our way.” She said.
“…… Assasination unit?”
“I do not know how things stand, because I could only see us being surrounded, and when my hand was cut, the blood that trickled out was purple…… It was probably a poisoned blade.”
Minerva’s appearance and her tone when she was describing the matter was like a servant reporting that the harvest of wheat was moderate, lacking growth, making Chris shiver all of a sudden.
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