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The celebratory banquet started at noon and lasted until dusk, turning into a full success. It was a feast for enduring the battle for several dozens of days after confirming the enemy’s retreat. Be it nobles or commoners, everyone got intoxicated by peace, celebrating the victory and letting their joy free reign.
While being treated to pastry, which had been lacquered with honey, and fruit wine, the people danced, sang, and extolled the heroes in the castle town. Now that summer was ending, a refreshing breeze lightly blew through the royal capital.
People clad in fine, expensive dresses held lighthearted talks in a saloon of the royal palace towering halfway up the Luberon Mountain. The tables here and there were filled with food and alcohol, which were continuously replenished with new dishes, and in a corner an orchestra played a gentle melody so as to not disturb the conversations. In spite of the sky having started to darken if you looked outside, the saloon was heated by the many attendees.
“──The thing called makeup is really troublesome.” Eleonora Viltaria let a soft sigh escape while walking through the very long hallway leading to the saloon.
She was one of Zhcted’s prided Vanadis, commonly called Elen by her close friends. Currently she was 18 years old. She had carefully put up her silver hair into a plait at the back of her head allowing her hair to spill down as usual. Her body was wrapped up by a snow white dress decorated with silverwork and pearls all over. On her left arm she wore a silver bracelet which had a hunter engraved into it. A faint makeup had been applied on her beautiful face overflowing with gallantry.
“However, showing up with makeup in a state of being only applied at spots would be rude instead, wouldn’t it?” The blond woman walking a half step behind Elen soothed with a gentle tone.
It was Limalisha, Elen’s adjutant and also her closest friend. With an age of 21 years that made her three years older than her mistress, she was referred to with the nickname Lim by several people, starting with Elen. She didn’t don a dress, but covered her tall figure in a military uniform. Her hair being bound on the left side of her head was no different from usual. However, just like her mistress, a faint layer of makeup had been applied on her face.
The two had friendly chats with several friends and acquaintances until just a little while ago, but since their makeup had started to come off, they reluctantly excused themselves, and then swiftly reapplied the makeup.
Once they entered the saloon, returning to the place where they had held their pleasant talks, they spotted three girls cheerfully chatting about something. It was Ludmila Lourie and Sofya Obertas, both Vanadis just like Elen, and Titta, Tigrevurmud Vorn’s maid. The three of them had dolled themselves up, just like Elen.
Ludmila had the same age as Elen. She, who was nicknamed Mila, had put up her blue hair and wore a light blue dress arranged with golden ribbons and cuffs. The ruby adorning her chest increased her radiance all the more, coupled with her dress.
Sofya was 22 years old. Elen and the others called her Sofy. Her loosely waving golden hair was tied by a hair ornament using white flowers, and spilled down from her shoulder. Her body was covered by a light green dress that boldly opened up at the back.
Titta was the youngest among the five ladies with her 17 years. Until a short time ago she had an adorable, childish face, but recently her cheeks had become shapely, endowing her with a beauty appropriate to her age. Her chestnut-colored hair was put together at the back of her head, bound by a light red ribbon. Her red dress exposed the area from her shoulders to her chest.
When she saw this attire for the first time, she refused wearing it with her face bright red up to the ears. After Elen’s insistent encouragement, she made up her mind and put it on. And, her having summoned her courage showed effect. After all she was told, “It’s lovely,” by the sole person she wanted to see her wearing it.
After looking at the faces of the three in turns, Elen asked Sofy while tilting her head to the side, “What about Tigre?”
This was the nickname of Tigrevurmud Vorn. Before Elen and Lim stepped out, he had been together with the three. In response to Elen’s question, Sofy turned her eyes towards another place. At the end of her look, Tigre in his ceremonial suit was surrounded by around five or six elegant men and women.
Mila explained the circumstances with an expression that showed her disinterest, “The nobles of Brune want to extend their greetings and congratulations by all means, he said.”
“It’s the difficult part of being a hero. I wonder whether he will be able to get back here at all.” Sofy revealed a sad smile.
Those wishing to exchange words and deepen their friendship with Tigre shouldn’t be just the five of them.
Sachstein’s army this year in spring, and Muozinel’s army in summer had each launched a huge offensive with big armies, targeting Brune’s land and wealth, but both were repelled by Tigre. It was also this youth who hindered Melisande in her rebellion, aiming for Princess Regin’s life.
The troubadours sang, “There’s no one with equal deeds of arms,” but this was also something many people had realized. This celebratory banquet was held to celebrate the newly-achieved peace and Brune’s victory. It was a matter of course that Tigre would play a leading role in this along Regin, Brune’s sovereign.
Elen didn’t say anything, but she narrowed her eyes like a pouting child, twisted her mouth slightly, and fiddled around with her hair.
Titta called out to Elen, trying to console her, “We will be able to talk with him tomorrow again.”
“──You’re right.” Elen formed a smile on her lips and nodded at Titta.
A girl who’s younger than I am is enduring it, so it’s not a place for me to let my dissatisfaction show.
“But, leaving myself aside, shouldn’t you go over to Tigre, even if you have to wedge yourself into that throng, Titta? Have that guy burn your charming figure into his memory on this very occasion.” Elen incited Titta with a mean smile.
That caused Titta to furiously blush, cover her chest with both hands, and hang her head in shame. Going by her expression, she apparently couldn’t muster a voice out of nervousness and embarrassment, and not because she hated it.
Elen and Titta had one point in common. Both were people who Tigre had confessed to and who joyfully accepted his feelings. The current Tigre ─ granted that there had been various troubles and circumstances until he reached that point ─ had become aware that he was a womanizer loving several women at the same time. Both Elen and Titta loved Tigre for what he was, including that aspect. And, while both have acknowledged each other, they harbored a competitive mindset of trying to steal a march on the other, but that held no relation to the current situation.
Just as Sofy had said, Tigre didn’t return to Elen’s group even after he finished his light chat with the noble men and women. Someone always called out to Tigre, replacing the previous conversational partners and keeping him surrounded by several people. Some people were courteous, others addressed him exaggeratedly.
Even for Elen and the others it was impossible to wait for Tigre to return while having a friendly chat. After all three Vanadis, who ranked next to the king in Zhcted, were among them. Moreover, Lim was known for her bravery in the battle against Muozinel, and Titta wasn’t just Tigre’s maid, but also someone trusted by Regin.
Above all, all of them were young and beautiful. There was no way that those women wouldn’t garner any attention. After one knight mustered his courage and chatted them up, more knights and lords followed suit, calling out to them.
It was only one and a half koku later that Elen and the others were finally released from all conversational partners. And it was also at that time when Elen noticed that Tigre had disappeared from the saloon.
Another advantage of having built the royal palace halfway up Luberon Mountain were the many gardens. Among the various places with seasonal flowers in full bloom displaying all kinds of colors, there was one quiet area where stone statues, which had been erected by artists while competing in skill, lined up.
Tigre was in one of those gardens. He wore a tunic with black as basic color atop white, silken clothes. His dull, red hair had been reined in with perfumed oil, but because he had unconsciously fallen prey to his habit of churning his hair when he arrived at this place, his hair style had returned to its usual messy state.
The nature of Luberon Mountain had been left untouched here as far as possible. Trees were towering along the gentle slope, and thickets were extending across this area. The hustle and bustle of the banquet couldn’t be heard from here.
Tigre laid down on the slope while still wearing his ceremonial suit, and gazed at the moon as it was climbing high into the sky. Fatigue was written all over his face, illuminated by the moonlight. He thought that he would like to fall asleep here just like this. Because summer was nearing its end, it was cool, but not really cold. At least not as chilly that he would catch a cold.
Tigre being able to rest here was owed to the concern of Mashas Rodant. Saying that someone was calling for him, he allowed the youth to escape the saloon.
Mashas wasn’t just an authority within the royal palace, but also someone wholeheartedly trusted by Tigre. There was no one who would doubt his words.
“I guess I should go back after a little while…”
There was a plethora of people in the saloon who hadn’t been able to speak with Tigre yet. It was troublesome, but it wasn’t as though he could allow Mashas alone to bear the brunt of this difficult task.
Suddenly Tigre noticed someone approaching his location. He could hear footsteps as they pushed their way through the grass. However, he couldn’t sense anything similar to hostility.
──Well, this is a garden, so it’s not unusual for someone to come here…
The youth only pointed his eyes in the direction with his body remaining laying down. Surprise dyed his eyes. The one who appeared from within the darkness was someone unexpected.
Golden hair that had been arranged carefully, blue eyes that made one recall a clear lake, white skin, and the features of a lovely girl. A pure white dress cladding her delicate body, and countless accessories shining as they reflected the moonlight.
Regin Estelle Loire Bastien do Charles. The seventeen years old princess ruling over Brune after succeeding her late father and king, Faron. Spotting the youth, she smiled broadly.
“Is it okay for me to sit down next to you?”
With the other party being a princess, Tigre couldn’t afford to remain laying on the ground. He lifted his body in a hurry, took off his black tunic, and spread it out on the ground. Regin walked over, and sat down on the tunic with words of thanks. It was likely for the sake of not wasting Tigre’s consideration.
“Are your guards not with you?” Tigre asked curiously.
It was difficult to imagine that she, the ruler of this kingdom, would walk around all by herself.
Regin showed a smile similar to that of a child that succeeded in pulling off a prank, “I lost them.”
Tigre burst into laughter with his shoulders trembling.
Regin continued without making him feel any of her usual ladylike dignity as ruler, “Just when I wanted to take a little breather, I caught sight of your back…”
Tigre fully understood. He felt sympathy with her guarding knights, but his sympathy towards Regin won out. The Regin he saw at the saloon was surrounded by many more nobles and lords than himself while carefully listening and returning appropriate words to every single one of them.
“Let’s pretend I invited Your Highness to this place then.” Tigre offered.
In such case, it wouldn’t be just Regin who would get scolded. After intently staring at the youth in surprise, a smile bloomed on Regin’s whole face.
“Very well, then allow me to take advantage of your kindness. And, please be at ease. It’s even fine for you to lie down as you had just now.”
“Doing something like that in front of Your Highness is…”
“If you keep humbling yourself, I won’t be able to rest comfortably either.”
It was a reasonable argument. Bowing with the words, “I shall take you up on your offer then,” Tigre lied down, using his arms as a pillow. Both looked up to the moon together. The night wind caused the grass to gently rustle. After spending around thirty breaths in silence like this, Tigre thought that he should probably talk about something. Deciding to go with some jokes he had heard from his soldiers while avoiding matters concerning the war or the royal palace, he quietly peeked at Regin’s face from the side.
At exactly the same time, Regin faintly moved her head, looking in his direction. Their eyes met, and without it being clear who started it, their cheeks blushed as they stared at each other. Thinking that he must say something, Tigre got more flustered than before. However, with his nervousness disturbing his thinking, no suitable words came to mind.
On the other hand, Regin put on a serious look, obviously having resolved herself, and turned her body fully towards Tigre.
“──Tigre.” She swallowed the word about two times, and each time she put her breathing in order, but then she called him like that. Not Earl Vorn, nor Lord Tigrevurmud, just Tigre.
Strong emotions that would cause any listener’s heart to throb were packed into her clear vocal sound. Sensing that, Tigre reflexively raised his body, and locked eyes with Regin after adjusting his sitting posture. Different from the one until just now, a suffocating tension fully assailed the youth.
“I like you. I’m in love with you.” Joining her hands together in front of her chest, she calmly confessed her feelings with a tone lacking any hesitation.
Tigre widened his eyes, swallowing his breath. It was so sudden that he was taken aback. Her feelings were so sincere and concise that it didn’t allow any room for misunderstanding. That’s why he couldn’t react in any other way.
It was fine to say that Tigre harbored good will towards Regin. The current Tigre was convinced that he had grasped just how much efforts she, who had become the ruler of Brune after her father passed away in an unforeseen tragedy, had invested until today. While believing that it was presumptuous, he felt empathy for her. After all, the youth was also someone who had succeeded his territory and peerage after losing his father to sickness.
He was guessing that this apparently might also be one of the reasons for her trust and feelings of love towards him. It was impossible for him to not be happy as a man and retainer. But, despite that, Tigre couldn’t answer her feelings.
Tigre had already made love to Elen, and confessed his feelings to Titta. And, leaving aside Titta, who was his maid and a Brunian, he couldn’t tell anyone about Elen, a Vanadis and Zhcted. If the relationship between Elen and Tigre came to light, both of them would probably lose just about everything, falling into the ravine of ruin. There was no doubt that it would also have a grave impact on Alsace and Leitmeritz, their respective territories. It was a relationship they could never allow to be discovered as lords.
At this time Tigre intentionally excluded everything else attached to her confession from his mind, only facing the feelings Regin had confronted him with.
Her blue eyes were fixedly locked on him, waiting for his reply.
“──I’m sorry.” Taking on her look, Tigre answered in a deliberately businesslike tone.
Seeing as she had told him her feelings as a simple woman, he didn’t have any words besides those to offer to her as a simple man.
Regin’s eyes widened. Tigre silently looked at her heartbroken expression. He had already given his answer. No matter what he would say in addition, he was sure it would just hurt her feelings.
──I wonder, should I possibly leave this place?
The judgment of Tigre, who thought something like that in a corner of his mind, could be called naive. The youth didn’t realize that things hadn’t come to an end yet.
Regin quietly shut her eyes. As if trying to appease the raging stream of emotions ravaging her heart with a prayer. And then, after a time of ten breaths had passed, she opened her eyes. A determination that wasn’t inferior in any way to the time when she confessed her feelings dwelt in her blue eyes.
“──Tigre.” Regin called out to him once more.
The youth faced her while repeatedly freezing over his own heart. He kept warning himself to stay calm no matter what he would be told.
Without a shred of hesitation, Regin said, “Won’t you please become the king of this country?”
The layer of ice covering his heart was easily blown away. His body stiffened because of the overwhelming shock, and both his eyes reflected confusion and bewilderment. Tigre looked at Regin with a face making it clear that he didn’t understand what he was told just now.
After letting a chuckle slip at his reaction, obviously amused, Brune’s princess slightly altered her previous words, spinning them anew, “Please become this country’s king, Tigre.”
“Why…?” Tigre finally squeezed out with a hoarse voice.
Even he hadn’t expected to have those matters, which he had deliberately excluded from his mind moments ago, bluntly and directly thrust at him from the front.
———————- End of Part 1 ———————-