The lodging of Tigre in the capital of Silesia was a boarding house located at the edge of the royal palace’s compound. Or to be precise, it should be called the lodging of Brune’s delegation, but a few days ago, the youth had sent the majority of the delegation back home. Seeing how they had finished their official duties, Tigre had no intention to have them stay around for what could be called private reasons.
The ones still using the boarding house were three men who could be called Tigre’s direct subordinates: Gaspal Rodant, Gerard Augre, and Damad. The three met in front of the house at dawn on the day after the battles of the Vanadis. The rain had ceased during the night, allowing for a cloudless, azure sky to dye the firmament.
“In the end, Tigre didn’t come back last night, huh?” Gaspal commented.
Possessing black eyes and black hair, which recently had started to show traces of gray, he was acquainted with Tigre since childhood. In the first place, it’d be more appropriate to call Tigre and Gaspal sworn brothers than friends. For this reason, the timbre of his voice carried worry about Tigre as his big brother, and not so much as his subordinate.
“Indeed. A messenger arrived late at night, telling us that he’d stay over at Lady Obertas’ mansion.” Gerard answered while rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
His clothes were put in order, but his quirky, dark brown hair had clear traces of messy bedhair.
Damad, the sole Muozinel among the three, hid his body beneath a thick overcoat. Him staying gloomily silent since a while ago wasn’t owed to him being dissatisfied with something, but rather him getting affected by the chilly weather. It wasn’t so cold that he, who had trained himself as a soldier, wouldn’t be able to bear it, but it was cold enough to lower his communicativeness significantly.
“What should we do? Head over to the mansion for the time being?”
“Let’s grab a bite somewhere first. I’m not talking about wine here, but I’d like to drink something warm.” Gaspal suggested out of concern for Damad.
The Muozinel smiled faintly, but didn’t comment on it.
The three men stepped out on the streets. A thin layer of ice blanketed the roadsides, a frozen memory of last night’s rain.
“Are we going to pace around the capital today as well?” Damad asked no one in particular after they took around ten steps.
These three, and Rurick, a knight of Leitmeritz, had been putting effort into gathering information in the capital in the same way as Tigre. They had formed two-man-cells, Gaspal with Rurick, and Gerard with Damad, heading into streets different from those visited by Tigre’s group.
“I’d say that depends on Tigre’s situation.” Gaspal answered while blankly gazing at the people frequenting the streets.
“If he’s been placed into troublesome circumstances, we have to help him out.”
“I thought the circumstances were already troublesome enough, though.” Gerard flashed a sarcastic smile, lowered his voice, and continued, “For Vanadis to fight each other in the city, albeit in a back alley, wakes the wish in me to tell Lord Tigre that we ought to pack our things by today and head back to Brune.”
“I agree with you on that one, but he definitely won’t make such a call. We should get ready to be prepared when push comes to shove.”
The person crossing both Brunians’ minds was Princess Regin, the ruler of Brune. Rumors said that Regin became so angry that all those seeing her cowered away in fear, back when Tigre went missing on his way back from Asvarre. Gaspal and Gerard hadn’t personally experienced it. Moreover, for those knowing the usual Regin, it was a sight extremely difficult to imagine. However, both of them were aware that she loved Tigre as a woman. People like Prime Minister Badouin also anticipated Tigre to become Brune’s next king.
If something should happen to Tigre, the two likely wouldn’t be able to escape responsibility.
“If you hate it so much, you just need to tie him up and drag him back to Brune, don’t you?”
In response to Damad’s words, Gaspal shook his head, and Gerard shrugged his shoulders.
“It depends on the situation, but if we did something like that, he’d never listen to us again.”
“I’d like to excuse myself from incurring the wrath of our future king.”
Even while saying all that, it wasn’t resignation or dissatisfaction that showed on their faces. If one tried to put their expressions into words, it’d be something along the line of, “That’s why I must stick close to him.”
“By the way, what about you? You’re not planning to head back to your homeland?” Gerard looked at Damad with curiosity gleaming in his eyes.
Tigre had promised Damad that he’d release him once their duties were over before leaving Brune. And since their official duties were done now, Damad should be free to go. It wasn’t necessary for him to walk through Zhcted’s capital with Gaspal, Gerard, and Rurick.
After letting a time of three beats pass, Damad answered with a frown, “I need to ascertain Zhcted’s state of affairs with my own eyes.”
In the last few days, Damad and Gerard had visited the Muozinel merchants and craftsmen living in Silesia, and listened to their stories. According to them, infighting seems to have broken out in Muozinel. Or it might be armed disputes by now. Of course the condition of the neighboring countries should be of interest for Muozinel, and anyone holding detailed information on such things would likely be welcomed with open arms as a valuable asset. For that reason, Damad had to remain in the capital for a little bit longer.
Hearing that explanation, Gerard laughed out as if having heard something comical, “I guess we’ll keep it at that.”
Damad looked glum because of that reaction, but he didn’t file any protests. Achieving military exploits under his lord 『Red Beard』 Kureys Shahim Balamir, gaining fame, and living in luxury had been the dream of Damad who was born as fourth son of a poor farmer family. Even nowadays, this dream remained unchanged. However, he had reached a point where he thought that it might be okay to make a little side trip on the way to realizing his goals. He felt that she should have at least that much leeway.
Sofya Obertas’ mansion was wrapped up in a hectic atmosphere. Thanks to an unexpected visitor. Seeing Sofy entering the hall to welcome him, the visitor revealed an apologetic smile.
“Sorry for dropping by so early in the morning, Sofya.”
“No, not at all. I feel honored to have the opportunity to welcome you in my humble abode, Your Highness.” Sofy bowed respectfully.
The one standing in front of her was Prince Ruslan. It was yesterday late at night that Ruslan’s messenger had visited Sofy’s mansion. After confirming Tigre’s presence, the messenger had asked whether they knew about Liza’s whereabouts.
After Sofy informed the messenger about Liza’s stay in her mansion, he left after saying, “His Highness the Prince is going to visit tomorrow.”
──Still, I hadn’t expected him to show up here so early in the morning.
It was a time where the city’s residents would still take their breakfast. Ruslan had hidden his identity by wearing an overcoat with the hood lowered deeply over his eyes, and came here from the palace, accompanied by merely two attendants. It was a carefreeness unthinkable of someone holding the position of prince.
Once Sofy instructed a maid to lead the prince’s attendants to a guest room, she guided Ruslan to Liza’s room. As Rainbow Eyes only woke up a little while ago, some pain and languidness still weighed down on her body, but after hearing about the circumstances from Sofy, she had decided to put a shawl on top of her night clothes, and meet the prince.
Ruslan watched Liza raising her body on her bed with a pitying look after entering the room, and told her to lie back down without any need to mind him.
“Elizaveta, it’s great to see that you survived. I’m terribly sorry for my incompetence to have put you through such troubles.”
“I feel grateful for Your Highness’ deep consideration. But, it’s nothing you would need to worry about. It’s a fact that I suffered a shameful defeat as a Vanadis. Besides, no one can predict what other people think or how they’re going to move, and cope with it appropriately in advance.”
Ruslan nodded with a bitter smile at Liza’s words, “I’ll keep it in mind. I ordered Figneria under house arrest. Currently I’m having the person, who provided the secret information, investigated, too. Depending on the evidence, I plan to decree a fitting punishment. I won’t tell you to calm your anger because of that. But I’d like you to contact me first should you have something on your mind.”
Ruslan implicitly told Liza to not act rashly. This might have been the very reason for his visit, but Liza decided to heed his request.
“I also don’t feel like deliberately starting wars. If things can get resolved by talking it over, I will gladly choose that method under Your Highness’ mediation.”
As a matter of fact, rage and enmity towards Figneria lurked in Liza’s heart. However, the prince of her country had made the effort to come all the way to her while only bringing two attendants along. Moreover, early in the morning. She thought that she should honor his sincerity, and besides, her not wanting to start any wars was true.
Ruslan left the room after telling Liza to properly rest up. Him not spending too much time on his visit was likely his consideration towards her as an injured person.
After thanking Sofy, who had been waiting in the corridor, Ruslan asked her, “Could you lend me a room? There’s something I’d like to discuss with Earl Vorn.”
Thus it led to Tigre, who had been woken up by Titta moments ago, meeting with Ruslan in one of the guest rooms. The maid with the chestnut-colored hair had quickly fixed Tigre’s bedhair with practiced hand moves. Tigre and Ruslan sat down on leather-covered chairs, facing each other in the room with its calm atmosphere. Maids carried in a bottle of wine, two silver cups, and plates filled with cheese and roasted beans, placed all of these down on the table next to their chairs, and left.
“I guess it’s the first time for us to talk like this ever since you arrived at the royal palace with Brune’s delegation.” The prince’s tone and expression were somewhat stiff.
Tigre showed a gentle smile to soften the mood as much as possible, and replied, “Your Highness, we aren’t in public here, so please feel free to call me Tigre.”
A smile crept on Ruslan’s lips. He stood up from his chair, stepped up to Tigre, and shook his hand. Tightly grasping Tigre’s hand while overlapping both his hands, Ruslan bowed deeply.
“Tigre, allow me to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having saved a precious Vanadis of our country.”
Tigre was confused before feeling happy. Ruslan’s hands were dry, and he had a stronger grip than his outward appearance gave away. It seemed as though his feelings of gratitude were contained in the warmth passed on to Tigre through his hands.
Pulling himself together after a very short pause, Tigre honestly expressed his feelings while paying attention to not grimace out of pain, “Your Highness, I thank you for your kind words, but I didn’t do much more than protecting an important comrade-in-arms.”
“Comrade-in-arms…?” Ruslan lifted his face, casting a curious look at Tigre.
The youth nodded, “Elizaveta Fomina is my benefactor and someone who stood on the battlefield next to me.”
“I’ve heard that you’re close to the Vanadis of our country, but…” Ruslan spoke up with keen interest dyeing his voice, and let go of Tigre’s hand.
After sitting back down on his chair, he poured wine into the two cups before passing one to Tigre. Tigre accepted the cup with a short word of thanks as it was unimaginable for him to refuse it. Ruslan lifted his cup at eye level and toasted. As Tigre wasn’t overly fluent in the Zhcted language, he imitated the prince.
“Tigre, if you like, could you also tell me about the other Vanadis besides Elizaveta?”
“Very well. I’ll shorten it down a bit to not take too much of your time.” Tigre responded with a smile.
He believed that Ruslan must be curious about the Vanadis, who were chief vassals of his country, being close with someone from another country. Wetting his lips with wine, Tigre began to talk, starting with the Battle of Dinant two years ago. He then continued with Brune’s civil war, his trip to Asvarre, and the period of him working for Liza after losing his memories. He omitted the part about the demons as he judged that it’d be too complicated to fully explain them to Ruslan.
Ruslan carefully listened with a serious expression without interrupting even once, but in the middle he became lost in the stories with his eyes sparkling. He asked Tigre to expand on certain details so often that it caused the youth to be baffled.
As Tigre eventually came to an end of his recount, Ruslan leaked a sigh full of admiration.
“I see. Comrade-in-arms is a perfectly fitting term.”
“In regards to this matter, I didn’t have any intent to save Lady Elizaveta as chief delegate of Brune’s delegation, but as someone saving their comrade. I’d like you to think of it like that, if possible.”
Tigre’s remark also made it clear that he had no plans to divulge the incident publicly.
Understanding that, Ruslan smiled, “I’ve understood your wish. Well, I’d like to give you a private present for your friendship that you exhibited towards a chief vassal of our country. Is there anything you wish for?”
“I’m very grateful for your kind hospitality. However, since I can’t come up with anything on the spot, would it be alright for me to think it over for a while?”
Tigre said so because he guessed that the private present mentioned by the prince also served as a bribe for secrecy. Apparently he had no choice but to come up with something.
After putting on a stiff expression, Tigre carefully spoke up, “Your Highness, about Lady Valentina…”
—————- End of Part 1 —————-
The instant Ruslan heard her name, deep wrinkles formed on his middle forehead. Tigre flinched in his mind, but bracing himself, he continued to speak.
“Normally it’s nothing I should concern myself with, but please pardon this little interference of mine. It looks like there are some who harbor feelings of anxiety of Your Highness’ heavy reliance on her.”
Tigre felt how a bitterness, which was difficult to describe, spread within his mouth. Of course he felt angry at Valentina, but she had saved him many times on the battlefield. Thus Valentina was yet another of his comrades-in-arms. Above all, Tigre wasn’t a Zhcted. It would be a different matter if Valentina were to target Brune, but since this wasn’t the case, he was in no position to readily voice his opinion.
Ruslan silently closed both eyes. He had the option to get angry and harshly rebuke Tigre. Even if he did, it’d be Tigre’s fault for interfering with another country’s domestic affairs as an outsider. Moreover, Tigre wouldn’t be able to protest against getting remonstrated for trying to meddle under the guise of an advice.
However, without doing any of that, Ruslan took a sip of his red wine, and then replied calmly, “I’ve been told the same by other people. Speaking of others involved in this matter, Earl Pardu gave me his counsel many times as well. Do you know of him?”
Tigre nodded while feeling lightly surprised, “His Majesty Viktor was as kind as bringing us together previously.”
“I see. It’s because father…His Majesty deeply trusted Earl Pardu.” Ruslan narrowed his eyes, obviously fondly reminiscing of the past, but immediately tightened his expression. “I wonder if you’re aware of it, but there are fairy-tales describing how children, who strayed into the world of fairies, came back from playing with the fairies for around half a day just to find that 50 years had actually passed with their parents and friends long gone.”
Tigre blinked several times, baffled by the sudden topic change. He confirmed Ruslan’s claim while still unable to grasp where he was going with this.
A light shadow crossed Ruslan’s eyes, “I’ve heard that my mind had actually been ill over a period of eight years, but…I don’t remember any of what happened during that time. No, I think it’s more precise to say that I don’t understand it.”
Grave irritation, distress, and anxiety dyed Ruslan’s voice. As Tigre didn’t respond due to the strong, surging emotions in Ruslan’s eyes, the prince continued, “On that day eight years ago, I had been working on official documents in the palace from morning till noon. His Majesty had entrusted me with a part of the governmental affairs back then. After taking lunch with the civil officials, I was assailed by a strong sleepiness, and thus laid down for a bit. It was scheduled for me to meet envoys of various countries in the afternoon…” Ruslan pointed his blue eyes at Tigre, but he didn’t look at the youth, “However, when I tried to get up, I found myself resting in a temple’s room. My body felt quite sluggish and stiff. My head didn’t work either. I even thought that I might be watching a dream. The one who appeared there was Tina…Valentina.”
Ruslan described how Valentina nursed him, and informed him of the current state of affairs. At first Ruslan didn’t want to believe her, but after being shown his own face in a mirror and leaving the temple to see an acquaintance of his from far away, he accepted her words as truth. Or rather, he had no choice but to do so.
“Apparently Valentina looked for someone, who got healed despite suffering from the same illness, and arranged the same medicine as they had taken. She told me that I’d need to take the medicine for roughly one month.”
Ruslan shifted his eyes to the window which was brightened by the sun. While gawping in that direction, he continued, “I hadn’t expected that the same thing as in the previously mentioned fairy-tales would happen to me. All those dear to me have grown old or passed away…”
Each time he learned something new from Valentina, Ruslan received another shock. Without hurrying him, she proceeded to slowly talk to him, waiting for him to regain his calm. And then she arranged Ruslan’s return to the palace, and made sure that he would be able to receive an audience with King Viktor.
“At the audience with His Majesty, I was surprised first and foremost rather than happy. The King Victor in my memories was someone who emitted dignity and vitality by just sitting on the throne. However, the man in front of me he had visibly weakened, thinned, and shrunk.”
Once the audience came to an end, Ruslan considered leaving the palace. He had painfully realized how many things he had lost during the eight years of sickness. What dated back several days for him was a matter of eight years for the other people. He believed that he wouldn’t be able to fill this wide gap. However, while answering to the various questions asked by King Viktor, something changed in Ruslan’s heart. He decided that he must support the king as a prince, and as a son.
“It was easy to imagine that it’d cause chaos at the court if I were to return now. But once I asked Valentina and others, I heard that Asvarre was fighting against Sachstein, that Brune was ruined because of wars against other countries, and that Muozinel had just recently been defeated by Brune. I also anticipated that Earl Pardu would cooperate with me. Above all, I had Valentina with me.”
Ruslan’s expression clearly told Tigre that his trust in Valentina was close to absolute.
──I guess that’s only to be expected.
Tigre stared at the prince with understanding written on his face. When he was completely locked up in his own world, Valentina had shown Ruslan a path he could tread on to walk towards a new future. It was unimaginable that he wouldn’t trust her. If Tigre had been in Ruslan’s shoes, he might have relied on Valentina in the same way.
“So far there had been precedents where Vanadis served as the advisors of kings and princes. If that girl used her relationship with me to get her family high-ranking positions at court or to fill her own pockets, she and I should be criticized for it, I believe. But, that’s not happening. It’s not strange for me to appoint personnel to make it easier for me to run the government, don’t you think?”
“Excuse me, Your Highness. I’m terribly sorry for having caused you discomfort while not being aware of these circumstances.” Tigre bowed sincerely.
Of course there were some questions left unanswered. How could Valentina have known of the symptoms of Ruslan’s illness? How could she make this country’s prince take medicine for a whole month despite him being confined in a temple?
However, it was plain as day that Tigre would offend Ruslan if he pressed him for answers. In the worst case, Ruslan could interpret it as slander against a loyal retainer and friend. In such a case, things wouldn’t just affect Tigre alone. It might even be seen as Brune having taken a hostile stance towards Zhcted.
“Valentina might follow her very own plans as well.” After a pause of several breaths, Ruslan spoke up again, “Her influence will naturally grow if I’m installed as the next king. I plan to treat the other Vanadis as impartially as I can, but I don’t intend to slight those who are supporting me.”
Tigre nodded in reflex. Two years back, when he fought to protect Alsace, Elen lent him her strength because of her trust in him, and her own interests. If he were told by someone else that she was shady and that she might have had some ulterior motive in helping him, he’d likely become angry.
──What I should do isn’t to keep Valentina away from this man.
Suddenly Tigre came up with a certain idea. Taking a sip of the wine in his cup, he left a little pause, before saying, “By the way, Your Highness, about the reward you said you wish to give to me…”
“Did you think of something?”
Partially because he was relieved over the change in topic, Ruslan leaned forward while biting into a piece of cheese.
Tigre answered with a happy smile, “Could I have you hold a hunting feast?”
“During winter…?” Ruslan dubiously looked at Tigre, obviously unable to infer the real intention behind this. “We will likely find little game even if we visit the usual hunting grounds, and the lords must be busy with their winter preparations, so I don’t think that we’ll be able to find many willing to participate. Wouldn’t it be better to choose something else?”
In addition, Ruslan found it difficult to do anything too flashy since they were still observing the mourning, although he didn’t voice it out. Such a sad hunting feast wouldn’t serve as much of an entertainment.
But, Tigre shook his head, “Please leave the hunting of the necessary amount of game to me. It might not seem so, but I do have a bit of confidence in my hunting skills.”
If Elen and the others were present at this moment, they’d have probably smiled wryly at Tigre’s comment. But, since Ruslan wasn’t aware of Tigre’s hunting skills, he kept it at a little nod.
Tigre continued, “It’s also unnecessary to gather many people. Lets keep it at a modest hunting feast, including the permission to use the hunting grounds managed by Zhcted’s royal family. Would that be fine with you?”
“What is your aim?”
“I’d like to provide an occasion for you and Earl Pardu to deepen your friendship.” Being directly asked by Ruslan, Tigre answered without hiding anything. “I think that Your Highness is aware of my country’s current situation. The wars have finally come to an end, and we must focus our power on restoration. We wish Zhcted, our friendly neighbor, to remain peaceful. For this reason it’s necessary that people learn of your close friendship with Earl Pardu. That’s what I think.”
Silence spread between the two men once Tigre finished speaking. After around ten breaths had passed, Ruslan moved. Entrusting his body to the backrest, he exhaled deeply while looking up to the ceiling.
“Don’t give me so much trouble.”
As Tigre was puzzled about the meaning behind the prince’s words, Ruslan showed a somewhat bitter smile, “I also worried whether nothing could be done about my relationship with Earl Pardu. Although it can’t be helped under these circumstances, I’ve approached this issue too reservedly. It’s because I’d like him to return to his former self.”
“Former self, you say?” Tigre asked, having his curiosity piqued.
In reaction, a gleam of nostalgia crept into Ruslan’s eyes.
“He was a man of integrity who didn’t shirk away from saying what he believed he had to say, even while knowing that he’d incur His Majesty’s wrath. It’s something that happened in the past, but when a servant terribly dirtied His Majesty’s clothes out of carelessness, His Majesty had a fit of anger, and was about to slay the servant on the spot, but Earl Pardu stopped His Majesty by wedging himself between the two.”
“How did Earl Pardu persuade His Majesty?”
“Earl Pardu meticulously listed all achievements of that servant. And when His Majesty asked, 『Are you telling me to pardon the wrongdoing of this man?』, the Earl boldly answered, 『Please reconsider, Your Majesty』, while standing in front of His Majesty who had drawn his sword.”
The staring contest between king and retainer ended with King Viktor giving in. The king asked, “Then tell me how to resolve this.” Eugene replied, “How about giving him one of your attires as reward for his achievements so far?”
“Basically he told His Majesty to give the servant the clothes, if he couldn’t stand the dirty attire to such an extent. His Majesty yielded while laughing, but if Earl Pardu had only interrupted from the side without standing in front of His Majesty, I don’t think that His Majesty would have complied.”
Tigre sighed in admiration. Once again he realized the reason why King Viktor had appointed Eugene as his successor. Ruslan watched the youth’s reaction gleefully, but quickly put a serious expression back on.
“My current authority is anything but stable. That’s why Earl Pardu refrained from giving me advice. While thinking that we must meet sooner or later, both of us delayed it under the pretext of being too busy… I’ll gladly accept your assistance. Thanks”
“I’m the one who has to thank. You have my gratitude for lending an ear to my opinion.” Tigre placed his hands on his knees, and bowed.
Ruslan extended a hand, “Could you become my friend, Tigre?”
Tigre looked full of surprise at the prince due to the sudden request. Ruslan continued speaking in a way that made it clear that he wasn’t joking, “I’d like to chat with you again, once things calm down a bit. Next time I’d like to hear your hunting stories. I didn’t hunt myself overly much, but His Majesty often talked about it. You and I could be parent and child going by age, but if you don’t mind it, I’d be happy to listen.”
Tigre hesitated for around two breaths, then he roughly wiped the sweat of his palm with the hem of his attire, and clasped the prince’s hand.
“Come to think of it, His Majesty mentioned that he held hunting dogs and raised falcons when he was as old as I’m now.”
Ruslan replied, “I see,” with a broad smile. Tigre also beamed a smile on his face as he nodded.
I’m looking forward to getting along with you, Your Highness.”
The grip of Ruslan’s hand was powerful, just like a while ago.
The one dispatched to Valentina’s mansion as an observer was Baron Pergament, currently 27 years old. Without a territory, even a baron wouldn’t be able to receive a governmental position at the court. Hence he used the last few years to amass achievements by serving as governor in towns and villages. Rather than capable, he had a quite diligent character, and was selected for this job for his evaluation as being neutral, neither belonging to the Ruslan faction nor to the Eugene faction. He himself was also quite aware of that fact.
It was the day after the battle between the Vanadis that he visited Valentina’s mansion accompanied by ten soldiers. Valentina welcomed him in her bedroom because “her physical condition had deteriorated.” Pergament had the soldiers wait in front of the mansion, meeting with Valentina by himself.
Valentina had entrusted her draconic tool to an elderly attendant and had him wait in a corner of the room. Sitting up in her canopy bed, she bowed to Pergament as soon as he entered her bedroom.
“I’m terribly sorry that my ineptitude has led to troubling you, Baron.”
Pergament nodded with an expression he deliberately kept formal.
“Please take good care of yourself. But, I’d like you to understand that our side can’t neglect the duty assigned to us out of consideration for your health, Lady Vanadis.”
Explicitly putting all this into words might be, for better or worse, very typical of this man. Valentina answered, “I will keep it in mind,” with a meek attitude.
“Sorry for the suddenness, but could I have you hand over your draconic tool?”
The baron’s eyes wandered from Valentina to her attendant and the draconic tool he was propping up with his shoulder. Draconic techniques couldn’t be used without a draconic tool. Thus confiscating the draconic tool from a Vanadis held a profound meaning. The attendant lifted up the long-handled scythe, shouldering it, and stepped forward. Pergament received the draconic tool with its frightening shape in both hands.
Fixedly staring at the scythe, he voiced out his surprise, “Hmm, it’s not as heavy as it looks.”
“Allow me to tell you one thing in advance, Baron.”
Valentina’s violet eyes had a cold gleam.
“That draconic tool ── 『Tearing Void of the Sealed Calamity』 Ezendeis is mine, but at the same time it’s a priceless treasure of Osterode. It’s a weapon I succeeded from my predecessor alongside the principality, and which I’m going to hand over to the next Vanadis.”
“I’m aware of that. What about it?”
As Pergament looked up, knitting his eyebrows, Valentina squinted faintly.
“If something should happen to Ezendeis while it is under your care, Osterode itself will become your enemy.”
“Are you intending to threaten me?” Pergament’s face stiffened and he glared at Valentina.
Exactly because he didn’t possess an official rank or a territory, he reacted to those words very sensitively. Valentina shook her head, causing her black hair to sway.
“No. I’m just asking you to treat Ezendeis with utmost care. Besides, nothing I told you is a pretense. I’d be troubled if you blamed me later for not having told you ahead of time.”
“I shall keep it in mind.” With that curt reply, Pergament left the bedroom.
He headed to the living room, and stored the draconic tool in a wooden box that had been prepared over there.
A Vanadis could summon her draconic tool at will. Based on that, they adopted the measure of Pergament checking the box three times a day. If the draconic tool were to be gone, it’d be regarded as Valentina having summoned it, resulting in her receiving further punishments.
“House arrest for a Vanadis who’s said to only bend her knee in front of His Majesty the King, huh? I guess it’s at least a grace for her spending the arrest in her own mansion.” Pergament muttered to himself.
The harsher versions of house arrest involved having to stay at the house of another family, which could force an even stronger mental strain. For Valentina’s house arrest not having taken that shape might have been Ruslan’s concern to not agitate the people and soldiers of Osterode too much.
Afterwards, Pergament called the ten soldiers, and confirmed several things with them, such as the number of maids and servants, the mansion’s plan, and the number of exits. Although he had heard all that information in advance, Pergament wasn’t satisfied as long as he hadn’t checked everything with his own eyes.
──One elder servant, one old and one young maid.
With all three living in the mansion, the old man and woman basically didn’t leave the mansion while the young maid was in charge of things like shopping. The number of exits amounted to three: one at the front, one at the back, and one in the kitchen.
Lastly, after he personally checked every room, Pergament gave the soldiers their instructions. Although he had ten of them at his disposal, it might be better to consider the number to be five since he was going to use them in night and day shifts. He stationed one soldier at each exit, and had the remaining two be on standby inside the mansion. Should something happen, those two would be the first ones to move.
Pergament himself would stay in the living room. Three times a day – morning, noon, and evening – he would visit Valentina’s bedroom to make sure that she didn’t act strangely. He also had to check the box with the draconic tool.
This was the beginning of Valentina’s house arrest.
—————- End of Part 2 —————-
After Pergament left with the draconic tool, Valentina threw herself down on the bed in bad manners, and started to flip the pages of the book she had put down next to her pillow. Her expression was cheerful, lacking even the slightest hint of bad, physical health.
The elderly attendant breathed out in relief after seeing the state of his lord, and left the bedroom after bowing. Confirming that the door had closed, Valentina stopped flipping the pages, and peeked underneath her bed. A long-handled scythe of jet-black and deep crimson colors laid there, hidden in very dim light. It was her draconic tool Ezendeis.
“Still, I think it’d be safer to wrap you up in a big cloth or something similar.” Placing a finger on her lips, the black-haired Vanadis revealed a beautiful smile.
What she was looking at right now was the real draconic tool, whereas Pergament held onto a fake that looked completely identical. She had a skilled craftsman create the fake in secret around the time when she got used to her life as Vanadis. No one besides her knew of its existence. Even not the maids and servants in this mansion. She believed it’d be better for her to be the only one in the know.
Valentina raised her body, and laid back down on the bed.
“I suppose I’ll stay obedient for around two or three days.”
She had already played her next hand. It was the reason why she had attacked Sofy yesterday. Her being ordered under house arrest, and a man like Pergament being chosen as her overseer was well within the range of her expectations. She had also arranged everything so that she could get the information she needed without leaving the mansion while also being capable of giving out instructions as necessary.
Moreover, depending on the abilities of the soldiers serving as her warders, she believed that she might be able to slip out of the mansion without even relying on Ezendeis.
After reassessing the general outline in her mind, she raised her body once more, and returned to reading. Valentina happily enjoyed the time of her turning the pages while immersing herself in the story.
Ruslan’s permission was necessary to meet with Figneria Alshavin who was under house arrest in a room of the royal palace. But then again, as there didn’t seem to exist anyone in the capital who would try to expressly meet with her, Tigre was immediately granted permission for the next day, once he requested it.
In the morning of that day, Tigre and Lim visited the palace while wearing formal dresses. Tigre wore a blackish, silken attire. His hair had been carefully put in order, and a dagger of very high quality hung at his waist. Thanks to Titta’s efforts, Tigre looked like a proper noble youth.
Lim wore the bluish uniform of a military officer. Instead of a skirt, she had put on trousers, and a rapier was visible at her hip. The rubies used for her silver hair ornament and her tunic somewhat softened the overly stiff impression.
The one welcoming the two was Grand Chamberlain Miron. The plump chamberlain, whose body was clad in a loose version of the governmental official attire, answered Tigre and Lim’s humble behavior with the expression of a good-natured old man, “Please do not worry. With you being a friend of His Highness, I could not leave this task to a normal servant.”
After handing over their weapons, the two were led through a very long hallway by Miron.
“By the way, what did you talk about with His Highness, Earl? As you might expect, I was surprised when I heard that His Highness became your friend.”
Miron’s question was very reasonable. Tigre replied with a smile, “I told His Highness that I had protected my comrade-in-arm during the recent event. Also, about how I stood by her side on various battlefields, fighting together with her. I dare say that His Highness was very pleased with that.”
A person in the position of Grand Chamberlain should be well aware of the battle between the Vanadis. Hence Tigre believed that Miron would understand him if he phrased it like this.
“I see. His Highness is in a position which makes it difficult for him to become friends with others. It is impertinent for me to speak of this, but please take good care of His Highness.”
Eventually, Miron stopped in front of a certain room. Armed soldiers stood on both sides of the door. The chamberlain spoke with one of the soldiers, resulting in the soldier unlocking the door.
“Lady Vanadis has been staying beyond this door.”
After thanking Miron, Tigre and Lim entered, just to run into a long and narrow passage with stone walls on both sides. Lamps were suspended from the ceiling. Their illumination made it obvious that two chairs had been set up in the middle of the passage. A small hole was drilled into the nearby wall.
“I guess they’re telling us to speak with her through the wall.”
“It makes sense since she might take us hostage.”
Of course Figneria’s weapons had been confiscated, but a Vanadis could always summon her draconic tool. Besides, considering her quick-wittiness and agility, they couldn’t lower their guard, even with a wall between them.
Lim and Tigre sat down on the chairs. The hole in the wall was right at the height of their faces, and had a size of around two clenched fists lined up next to each other.
Peeking through it, one could immediately tell that the room on the other side was fairly spacious. A small table was set up in the middle of the room, and the lamp placed on top of it offered enough brightness to illuminate the whole place. A carpet had been laid out on the floor, and a fireplace was installed on one side. Likely it was a room for the sake of locking up nobles, seeing how it had been prepared as a guest room.
However, with the absence of windows, there existed no light sources besides the lamp and the fireplace. Close to the table were two chairs and one big sofa. Figneria was sitting on the sofa, staring in the direction of the hole.
“Elen isn’t with you, huh?” Those were her first words.
Suppressing her emotions, Lim answered, “Under the current circumstance, it was judged that it wouldn’t be smart to have you meet with her.”
It wasn’t a lie. But, it wasn’t the only reason. Lim had judged that their conversation wouldn’t lead anywhere if they let Elen meet with Figneria.
In the past Figneria had killed Vissarion, the leader of the Silver Gale Mercenaries and the foster father of Elen. Although it had happened in a one-on-one battle on the battlefield, Elen and Lim couldn’t come to terms with it.
Figneria seemed to laugh under her breath at Lim’s reply. But she immediately subdued her laughter, and turned her almond eyes at Tigre. The youth calmly took on her fierce, stabbing gaze that might have caused any timid person to flinch away.
“There’s some things I’d like to ask you. If you can answer me, I’ll listen to your story.”
“Figneria, the one wanting to talk with you is me.” Lim barked at her with a harsh voice.
However, Figneria didn’t care at all.
“So what is it going to be?”
Tigre gently restrained Lim’s arm as she was about to get up from her chair in reflex. Taken aback, Lim looked at Tigre’s face, and sat back down with an apologetic look. Her dull, golden hair weakly hung down within the dim light. Lim put in an effort to remain calm, but it seemed hard on her since she had a fateful bond with Figneria.
Tigre called out to Figneria through the hole, saying, “Go ahead.”
Considering the issue with Elen, and moreover, the incident with Liza, Tigre didn’t think all that well of Figneria, but picking a fight with her would kill any meaning in coming here.
“How long have you been using the bow? When did you touch one for the first time?” Figneria’s question was straightforward, and very concise.
“According to my father, I apparently used a bow as a substitute for toys when I reached an age where I knew what was going on around me. Personally I don’t really remember when, but I went on my first hunt at the age of nine. Back then my father protected me, and there were many companion-like people with us as well.”
“When did you go hunting by yourself? And what did you kill?”
“At the age of 12. I left the mansion early in the morning, rode a horse through the mountains until the sun went down. Many animals managed to escape, but I brought down one dove and one weasel.”
“So you’re a genuine hunter despite being a noble, huh? What was your biggest game so far?”
Tigre hesitated how he should answer that.
“If limited to bow and arrow, I think it’d be the snow leopards or big bears living in the Vosges Mountains.”
Four years ago Tigre encountered an earth dragon during his hunt. He managed to barely defeat it by using the terrain to his advantage, but he didn’t feel like counting the dragon as “game.” Figneria continued her questioning without trying to probe any deeper.
“I’ve heard that you can shoot an arrow over a range of 300 alsin, but since when did you become capable of that?”
“──Figneria.” Unable to just watch, Lim cut into the conversation from the side.
A strong wariness dwelt in her eyes. To Lim it was obvious why Figneria was curious about all this. She was certain that Figneria was trying to look for Tigre’s weaknesses in preparation for the time then she’d fight him.
“A little bit more.” Figneria bluntly refused Lim’s warning without even looking in her direction.
Wavering to decide, Lim turned her eyes towards Tigre. The youth told her that it’d be alright with a smile, as if to give her peace of mind, and turned his attention back to Figneria.
“As far as I can remember, it was around the age of 15. But──” Tigre calmly told the truth, “──right now I can shoot an arrow up to a range of 400 alsin.”
In this instant, Lim witnessed something extremely valuable: Figneria’s eyes widened, and she became speechless.
In the first place, being able to shoot an arrow over a range of 300 alsin was already plenty weird. But, suddenly adding another 100 alsin to that value wouldn’t make only her flabbergasted.
“That’s a nice bluff. You’d be good mercenary material.” Figneria cracked a joke after several moments had passed.
Her putting on a disappointed look right afterwards was owed to her thinking of her own remark as childish.
“If you prepare a location, I can prove it to you, you know?”
“No, no need,” Figneria shook her head, “If you say so, I’ll believe you. It looks like my information was completely outdated.”
Now it was Tigre’s turn to shake his head.
“I ended up acting all high and mighty, but it’s been only recently that I became able to extend my range. I think it’s inevitable for you to not be aware of that.”
Upon hearing his words, Figneria stared at Tigre with a marveled look.
“You’ve been answering quite honestly despite me being the one asking. Why? Are you confident that you can prevail even if I come up with a move to win against you?”
“Because this was our deal.” Tigre replied without losing his composure. “You said you’d listen to our side if I answered your questions.”
“What if I lied about that? And even if it wasn’t a lie, I might simply give you random answers.”
“I don’t mind. As we interact, I’ll learn about your character.”
Figneria widened her eyes a bit, and a smile crept on her lips.
“You’re right. It’s just as you say.” After saying so with a voice full of admiration, Figneria closed her eyes as if to ponder about something.
Tigre and Lim didn’t say anything either, waiting for her next words. When around ten breaths had passed, Figneria opened her eyes again. Different from moments ago, seriousness shone in her black eyes as she gazed at Tigre.
“It’s my last question. ──When your arrow hits albeit it usually shouldn’t be possible, do you believe the victories gained by it to be your own?”
Tigre knitted his eyebrows. Even more than the strangeness of the question itself, it seemed as if Figneria had her very own idea of an answer for this. Without answering right away, Tigre pursed his lips and pondered. Figneria silently observed the youth without hurrying him.
──An arrow that hits albeit it usually shouldn’t be possible, huh?
He had experienced this on countless occasions. Even before he got used to handling the bow, and also afterwards. In his battle against Duke Thenardier, he shot and hit an arrow that truly shouldn’t have hit under normal circumstances. The wind had slightly altered the arrow’s trajectory. The duke’s sword cut at empty air, and the youth’s arrow embedded itself in the duke’s forehead.
“Those victories…no, even without winning, I think that what I’ve gained is my own.” Tigre said at the end of his pondering and worrying. With his usual attitude, dumping the polite speech.
“Why do you think so?”
“My will dwells in my arrows.”
Figneria smiled. It was unclear whether she had accepted Tigre’s answer, but at least she appeared to be satisfied with it.
“You allowed me to hear something very interesting.”
And then Figneria shifted her eyes to Lim, “I’m grateful to the Earl, but if you’re planning to bore me with tedious talk, I’ll ask you to go back now.”
“That part of you hasn’t changed at all, has it?”
—————- End of Part 3 —————-