Chapter 3 – Omen


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If you were to walk around ten belsta south from Silesia, and then head east after leaving the road, you’d arrive at a hilly plain called Śrem. A river gently meandering its way through the undulations, and a small forest could be found there.

This area was a hunting ground of Zhcted’s royal family. And although it was called a hunting ground, it wasn’t as though it was fenced in. However, rangers serving the royal family would regularly patrol the area, punishing anyone who hunted there without permission.

The residents of the neighboring towns and villages knew about this, and didn’t approach Śrem. The only ones getting close were unknowing travelers or poachers.

On a certain day, a big number of people visited Śrem for the first time in a good while. It was a group of approximately forty people, including Ruslan. All of them were mounted. They were noble lords who had followed Ruslan’s invitation, their attendants, and the knights guarding them.

Not only Eugene, but Tigre, Elen, Lim, and Olga were among them as well. In addition, Gaspal, Gerard, and Rurick. All of them clad in thick overcoats.

The number of horses surpassed fifty. Forty to carry the people, and some more to carry various goods such as wine, provisions, and other baggage.

It might be also owed to the season, but not all of the participants looked forward to the hunt. Because of that, some of them didn’t even hold a bow or a spear. Ruslan said that he didn’t mind. After all, the objective of this hunting festival wasn’t just the hunt in itself.

Because they had left the capital early in the morning, the sun still hadn’t reached its zenith when they reached the hunting ground. A middle-aged, plump ranger went on his knees in front of Ruslan beneath the calm, clear winter sky.

“Your Highness, I am deeply honored by your visit today. I have heard about your fortunate recovery, and I am very delighted to see you in such a fine health.”

The ranger wore a leather undergarment, and had a horn hanging at his waist. In his hand he held a bow with the quiver being affixed to his back. An alert, clever-looking hunting dog cowered at his feet.

Ruslan dismounted, grabbed the ranger’s hand, and helped him up.

“Thank you, I appreciate it. But then again, I’m not the one who will play the leading part during today’s hunt.” The blond prince looked back, and beckoned Tigre over.

“His Highness is calling you.” Elen urged Tigre on with a smile, obviously teasing him.

The youth quickly got off his horse, and ran up to Ruslan. The prince introduced Tigre to the ranger with a worry-free smile, “He’s my friend Earl Vorn. He’s a Brunian, but possesses a remarkable skill in archery.”

“Your Excellency, allow me to welcome you. I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

After the greetings were over with, the ranger led the party to a hill allowing for an unobstructed view over the hunting ground. The ranger took the lead, followed by Ruslan and Eugene riding next to each other, and Tigre right behind them.

“Looking at them like this, the mood between the two doesn’t seem bad, but…” Elen brought her horse up on the right of Tigre with a frown on her face. Her eyes pointed at the backs of Ruslan and Eugene. Both were cheerfully chatting about something. “I’m slightly worried about His Highness’ complexion looking to be under the weather, though.”

That was something Tigre had also felt when he saw Ruslan’s face earlier. Compared to their meeting in Sofy’s mansion, exhaustion was now clearly visible on the prince’s face.

“It seems His Highness has been working on governmental affairs without so much as a rest since Valentina was put under house arrest. Sofy told me after having heard from several people.” Olga said so quietly that only Tigre could hear after moving up to his left.

She wore an overcoat with designs characteristic for horse-riding tribes stitched into it. The draconic tool, Muma, hung at her waist. Bow and quiver were affixed to her horse’s saddle.

“I see…” Tigre grimaced.

When Ruslan heard about the noble lords having ordered their private soldiers to the capital, he apparently instructed them to send their soldiers back home right away. However, Tigre had heard that some of the nobles were unwilling to abide while excusing themselves for various reasons. This had increased Ruslan’s workload even further.

I wonder whether I’ve placed an unnecessary burden on him with my request during such a busy time.

“──Tigre.”

The youth returned his focus to reality after being called out to by Elen. Her eyes, tinged with a cheerful radiance, were fixed on him.

“It was Lord Eugene who informed me, but His Highness has apparently been looking forward to today’s hunt very much. It’s because he would be able to take a breather to entertain his friend, despite it being official business. What’s the point in his friend pulling such a sulky face?”

It was just as Elen said. If Tigre looked like he didn’t enjoy himself, it might hurt the kind-hearted prince.

“You’re right. Now that we’ve come this far, we’re going to have some fun with this. ──By the way, are you going to hunt as well, Elen?”

Tigre asked her this because a bow was affixed to Elen’s saddle.

“No, Lim and I will stay at Lord Eugene’s side. I’ve only taken this bow with me since it’s officially a hunt.”

“Really? Too bad. I wanted to watch you use a bow.”

In response to Tigre’s comment, Elen let her eyes wander through the air, as if brooding about his words. However, a moment later she shook her head, letting her silver hair fly, “Cut it out. I can use a bow, but it’s not like I’m good at it. I don’t really want to show this embarrassing side of me to you.”

At that moment, Olga pulled the hem of Tigre’s coat. When he looked in her direction, he was met with two big eyes, reminiscent of black pearls, looking up to him.

“I’m confident.” Olga said while puffing up in pride to her very limit.

Her objective was pretty evident. She tried to cheer up Tigre, whom she believed to be depressed, with her words.

“Thanks, Olga.” Tigre gently stroked her head.

The pink-haired Vanadis squinted her eyes as if feeling ticklish, and revealed a smile after relaxing a bit. Tigre knew her skill in hunting quite well. Back when the two traveled to Asvarre with Matvey, she had displayed her truly skillful abilities in hunting and preparing game for cooking.

“Alright, Olga, you come with me then. First we’ll go around the hunting ground.”

It’s probably going to be alright if we leave Eugene and Ruslan in Elen and Lim’s hands.

Soon after, the party arrived on the hill. Just as the ranger had mentioned, they could take an extensive look over the entire hunting ground from atop the hill. Because it was winter, the plains were dyed in a dull yellow, but the forest, visible in the distance, and the river, cutting through the plain, caused Tigre’s eyes to sparkle.

“I’d have loved to bring Sofy and Mila along as well.”

Those two should currently be wrestling with mountains of books in the archive of the royal palace. Sofy had been given permission by Ruslan to access the archive. However, since the permit only allowed for Vanadis to enter the place, Mila, Sofy, and Liza had to handle it.

──At long last I feel like everything is moving in the right direction.

Tigre spurred his horse on after checking the condition of his bow. At that moment, he spotted a wild bird soaring across the azure sky. The others also looked up after noticing it, but not one of them nocked an arrow. They had judged that the bird was too high up for their arrows to reach. Tigre tightly grasped his Black Bow, and nocked an arrow onto it. Leaning his body back in the saddle, he drew the bowstring to the limit. Some of those seeing him frowned, and some even snickered at him.

With a trembling of the string, the arrow sharply cut through the air. The arrow continued to fly as if being drawn towards the sky, and stabbed through the bird which was about to pass above the humans high up in the sky. The bird fell down in the distance while rotating and being carried by the wind.

“Magnificent, Lord Tigrevurmud! The first game of this hunt is yours!” Rurick yelled with a smile plastered across his whole face alongside a loud clapping.

Probably because of the chilly air, the radiance of his bald head looked dull, but his eyes gleamed with admiration towards Tigre.

Elen and Lim didn’t clap their hands, but both smiled proudly. As if not wanting to lose to Rurick, Gerard, and then Gaspal clapped as well. Eugene, Ruslan and some Zhcteds followed their example, but the rest stared at Tigre with dumbstruck looks. The ranger as well.

As might be expected, Tigre got embarrassed, quickly mumbled, “I’m going to check out the place a bit while picking up the game,” and made his horse gallop downhill. Olga silently chased after the youth.

 

◆◇◆

 

Lim didn’t miss the look full of envy and jealousy Elen sent towards the pink-haired Vanadis around the time when Tigre and Olga raced down the hill together.

“Eleonora-sama, I will keep an eye on Lord Eugene, so…”

“Thanks, Lim.” Elen shook her head, despite thanking her friend. “His Highness Ruslan mentioned it earlier, didn’t he? That Tigre would play the leading part in today’s hunt. My duty is to make sure that he can hunt without any worries. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of opportunities for me to hunt with him in the future.”

Immediately following, Elen called Rurick over.

“Lim and I can’t leave Lord Eugene’s side. Make the name of Leitmeritz known to the lords in our stead.”

“As you command!”

Possibly having waited for that very order, Rurick saluted, immediately turned the neck of his horse around, and galloped downhill. And, seemingly incited by Tigre’s previous display of exquisite skill, several of the noble lords took up their bows, pinned their quivers to their waists, and disappeared off the hill after spurring on their horses. The only ones left were those who didn’t have any interest in hunting from the very start. They spread carpets out on the ground and began playing chess, or strummed the harps they had brought with them after flopping down on the spot.

Ruslan and Eugene got off their horses, and chatted leisurely while gazing out over the hunting ground.

“At any rate, that was a truly superb shot.”

“Indeed, my friend had also praised that youth’s talent in archery, but…even as someone not knowing much about martial arts, I can easily tell of his amazing skill.”

“I’m happy to see that I was able to grant him a great present. Come to think of it, I heard that my father was also fond of archery in his youth, but I wonder whether he’d be able to pull off something like Earl Vorn did just now.”

The way of Ruslan’s topic shift might have been somewhat forced, but Eugene didn’t point it out. After all, both understood that the late King Viktor served as a link tying them together.

“When I started to serve His Majesty, he had already stopped hunting with bow, falcons, and hounds. And thus I can only guess, but I don’t think that his skill was up to the level of Earl Vorn.”

“Hoh,” Ruslan’s blue eyes lit up. “Why do you think so?”

“That’s simple. If a king of a country or a prince, who was supposed to become the next king, were to be such a master archer, his fame would have spread among the surrounding countries.”

After fixedly staring at Eugene for a moment, Ruslan laughed, answering, “No doubt.” Being infected by it, Eugene’s stiff expression loosened up as well. Next the blond prince asked, “Earl Pardu, no, Lord Eugene, what would you have done if I had gotten angry, blaming you for insulting my father?”

“I’d taken my time to explain to you that it wasn’t that much of an issue for His Majesty whether he excelled in martial arts or not. If you allow me to add one more thing: His Majesty had many flaws, but he was also endowed with many virtues.”

“──Finally you’re acting like yourself..” Ruslan fully turned around to Eugene.

The cold winter wind blowing above the hill stirred their hair and the hems of their coats.

“Eight years ago, your and my thoughts were similar. We approved of His Majesty’s wish to make this country flourish abundantly, and to protect its peace and stability. We were willing to serve His Majesty until death.”

Eugene nodded at Ruslan’s statement. At that time, King Viktor was healthy, and Ruslan piled up achievements, albeit plain ones, as next king. Eugene ruled over Pardu, and while giving his love to his wife and daughter, he gladly put in any effort if King Viktor ordered it.

“Now His Majesty isn’t of this world anymore. Our positions have changed quite a bit as well. However, our wish from back then shouldn’t have changed. To succeed His Majesty’s will, protecting the peace and stability of this country.” A powerful gleam appeared in Ruslan’s eyes, and his voice teemed with passion.

Eugene widened his eyes. The prince’s sincerity and passion reminded the gray-haired Earl of the King Viktor of 20 years ago. Just as Eugene had said himself, King Viktor had many flaws, but there was no doubt that he always kept thinking how to make his country prosper as king. Eugene tightened his expression, and bowed his head.

“I’m terribly sorry for having acted so pathetically in front of you, Your Highness.”

“The same can be said about me.” Ruslan stepped up to Eugene with an apologetic smile, clapping his shoulder. “Even though I was finally able to come back to the palace, I failed to notice many things while being swamped with governmental duties. I must fix this from now on. Can I count on your help?”

The elderly Earl bowed even deeper than before in response to the prince’s plea, “I shall offer you my full assistance, as humble as it might be.”

 

◆◇◆

—————- End of Part 1 —————-

 

Around one koku had passed since the hunt started. Looking down on the plains from atop the hill, one could see people giving their horses free reign. Eugene and Ruslan chatted about various matters while watching them going about their business. The two spoke about Zhcted’s future, exchanged views on ruling, and laughed together as they recalled all kinds of past events, never running out of topics to talk about.

However, once their conversation shifted to their families, it was Ruslan who inserted a break to bow his head in apology.

“Eugene, I’m sorry, but please give me a bit more time. It’s a delight to hear that your daughter, Alyssa, has apparently grown into a fine girl, but… My child, well you know…”

Ruslan’s son Valeri was ten years old. He was two years old when his father fell ill. Thus the 30-years-old prince didn’t know much about his son’s childhood.

“I have met with Valeri twice, but…it looks like it’ll take some time for us to find a common ground. Thus I’d like to leave the engagement between our two children at the level of it being His Majesty’s arrangement for the time being.”

King Viktor had decided that Eugene’s daughter would become the wife of Ruslan’s son while he was still alive. With the prince bowing to him, Eugene had not much of a choice but to consent. Besides, as he spoke with Ruslan, his thinking also kept changing. Compared to the shock when King Viktor decided the engagement arbitrarily, he could come to terms with it now, as just the prospect of talking it over with Ruslan made it much better.

After another quarter of a koku, their conversation came to a halt as malice suddenly filled the wind blowing across the hilltop.

Two riders rode uphill. They were clad in thick coats, and had leather hats on their heads, seemingly to fend off the coldness. Both riders stopped their mounts just before scaling the hill. The reaction of the noble lords, who spotted them, was sluggish as they believed them to be returners from the hunt.

However, it immediately became apparent that this wasn’t the case. Those two readied crossbows, which they had apparently affixed to their saddles, and targeted Ruslan. Both bows were already loaded with thick bolts.

“Your Highness…!” Eugene stood up in front of Ruslan, both arms spread.

He made it clear that he’d try to block the bolts with his own body. But the crossbow users pulled the triggers without a care. The two bolts rushed off with a force that seemed to crush rather than pierce the air. But, neither of the bolts hit Eugene or Ruslan. A gust that suddenly arose around the two men caused the bolts to veer off into a different direction.

“──How bold of you to openly attack straight from the front in broad daylight.”

Without even hiding her rage as her silver hair fluttered in the wind, Elen advanced her own horse. In her hand gleamed Arifar, clad in wind. What had blown away the bolts was, obviously, a wind barrier released by this draconic tool. Lim also moved her horse in front of Eugene in silence. A rage not losing out to Elen’s in any way burned in her blue eyes.

The assailants’ judgment was quick. They threw away their crossbows, pulled their horses around, and galloped downhill.

One of the lords shouted, “After them!”, causing those present to toss away their chess pieces and instruments, and straddle their horses in a hurry.

Even if they had no plans to join the hunt, they still had at least short swords for self-defense with them. Above all, it was unthinkable that they’d silently watch an assassination attempt on their own country’s prince. The ranger blew his horn in order to call back those currently enjoying the hunt.

Elen and Lim didn’t move from their spot as it was possible that other assailants lurked somewhere. It was necessary for someone to protect Ruslan and Eugene.

“Still, even though it’s great that His Highness and Eugene are alright…” Elen’s face was colored with anxiety as she deployed a wind barrier with her draconic tool.

She thought about her lover who wasn’t present right now. Lim let her eyes vigilantly wander, but she still nodded at Elen’s comment.

“This spells the end of the hunting festival, I suppose. Lord Tigrevurmud would say so as well.”

Although the assassination ended at an attempt, it didn’t change the fact that the prince’s life had been targeted. At this point, they couldn’t keep going with the hunt. And even if Ruslan were to vouch for a continuation, Tigre would likely refuse.

Soon afterwards, Tigre and Olga showed up. The youth sensed that the hilltop’s atmosphere was strained with tension, and brought his horse close to Elen’s with a serious expression.

“What happened?”

Elen roughly explained the circumstances. In the meantime, the others who had left hunting such as Rurick and Gaspal trickled in as well. At the end, the pursuers of the assailants returned with mortified looks. They knelt in front of Ruslan, apologizing for letting the two riders get away.

Not only were the two assassins masters at horse-riding, but they were also familiar with the hunting ground’s terrain, allowing them to disappear as soon as they plunged inside the forest. Their true identities remaining shrouded in mystery.

Tigre finished listening to Elen, and then made his horse trot to Ruslan. He informed the prince, who looked apologetic as soon as he noticed Tigre, with a smile, “Your Highness, let’s head back soon.”

“We’ve been here for only around one koku, right? The sun is still out as well. Isn’t that way too early?”

It was Ruslan’s strong sense of responsibility that spoke out of him. But Tigre shook his head, “My Dad used to say: A hunt is something you stop as long as you can still smile. Before it comes to nothing because something happens.”

And then the youth pointed at the saddle of his horse. Three wild birds hung there. One was the first kill, and the other two were kills he had brought down within this short period of time.

“I see,” Ruslan smiled lightly. “I shall abide by your father’s words this time.”

“Thank you. If we can find another opportunity, we will roast the game and enjoy its taste on the spot.”

“I will arrange for such an occasion as soon as possible. Please look forward to it.”

Instructions were handed out to the retinue, and the noble lords began to load their baggage on their horses. Even if they might feel disappointed, no one openly showed it as the situation was too serious. The ranger felt sorry, regarding today’s incident as his own ineptitude, but after being told by Ruslan, “Even if it’s your responsibility, I shall forgive you,” some color returned to his face.

Of course the prince didn’t believe that it was the ranger’s fault. Still, he deliberately forgave him to ease his worries.

The forty people left the hunting ground. Since Ruslan didn’t yield on leading the procession, Elen and Olga secured his sides. Like this, even if a dragon were to attack, it probably wouldn’t be able to put the prince in danger.

Tigre rode behind them, just for Eugene to ride up to him.

“Earl Vorn, could you spare me some of your time?”

His thin body wrapped in a thick overcoat, a gentle expression peeked out from between his gray hair and beard. During the hunting event their exchange was limited to a simple greeting at the departure, but looking at him from nearby, Tigre felt like he had become even more haggard than the time they last met. However, right now a calm smile clung to his face.

The two fell back to the end of the line, and then Eugene spoke up, “I have heard the story from His Highness. It looks like I owe you a thanks.”

“Please don’t mind it. It’s something I also did for the sake of Brune.”

Tigre said, but Eugene shook his head, “It was also for our sake, right? Thanks to this, we were able to remember many things that were almost forgotten.” Staring at Tigre, the elderly earl continued, “What’s important for a ruler is to inherit the will of his predecessor. No, I guess it’s the other way around. Exactly because it’s someone who has inherited the will of his predecessor, they qualify as ruler of the next era.”

“Inheriting the will, you say…?” Tigre blinked several times.

While it sounded like something very obvious, it reverberated in his ears as it carried a mysterious freshness. Eugene nodded slowly, “Humor me for a bit, will you?” With that preface, Eugene started to say, “I’m no blood relative of the royal family. And this didn’t disturb me in the least when I was a noble ruling over the land of Pardu. But, when I was designated to become the next king, I got scared for the first time, asking myself whether I would really be able to handle this huge responsibility decently as someone not of royal blood.”

Tigre silently listened. This wasn’t someone else’s problem as Tigre would be in the same position as Eugene once he returned to Brune.

It was at that time that a calm determination entered Earl Pardu’s voice.

“Today I talked with His Highness, and remembered. I won’t say that blood relationship doesn’t matter. But, if you ask why inheriting the blood matters, it’s because it also means the inheritance of a spirit. Though, if you manage to inherit the will of your predecessor, it’s unnecessary to obsess over blood relationship.”

“What do you mean by inheriting a will?” Tigre asked.

With a smile, Eugene replied, “I heard a bit about you from Limalisha, but you’re well aware of your father’s love towards Alsace, right? And after studying what your father had done, you continued doing what you judged had to be continued. That’s what inheriting the will is about, I believe. It’s not about doing as you’re told.”

Tigre felt bashful, revealing an embarrassed smile. Eugene’s tone somewhat sounded like that of a teacher, but it had not the slightest sliver of a high-handed feel to it as he had been talking while maintaining a proper level of politeness.

“And the one who inherits a will must add his own will to his predecessor’s will, and pass it on to the next generation. I think you should always keep this in mind if you tread down the path of a statesman.”

Suddenly having thought of something, Tigre hurled a question at Eugene, “What would be the best to do if you must inherit even while not knowing of the predecessor’s will?”

“You either support someone who has already inherited the will, or you study it while standing next to that person. ──Commenting on a foreign country’s king might be disrespectful, but King Faron was a magnificent man. Of course he also had his faults, though. I believe that Her Highness Princess Regin is also someone who has properly inherited the king’s will.”

Tigre blushed after being splendidly found out despite having intended to keep his words as ambiguous as possible.

“You knew?”

“I heard from Eleonora that Her Highness confessed her feelings to you. I’d like you to not be angry with her since she probably told me while trusting that I wouldn’t disclose it to anyone else.”

Tigre nodded. The other lords were more than a dozen strides ahead. Their conversation couldn’t be heard by other people, thus Tigre judged that it might be no problem to talk about it.

“His Highness Ruslan will likely be delighted if you were to become Brune’s king. The same applies for me as well. If there’s one downside to it, it’d be Eleonora and Limalisha stopping to be appropriate partners for you.”

Tigre choked violently. Even if the elderly earl might already be aware of his relationship with Elen, Tigre didn’t have the courage to confirm it. Looking at Eugene, he saw him smiling a way different from before, possibly because he meant it as a joke to some extent. However, Eugene immediately became serious again.

“I won’t tell you that I’m correct in everything I say. However, I’d be happy if you could remember my words as an opinion. And, if it should become useful to you one day, I’d be very delighted.”

“Thank you very much.” Tigre expressed his heartfelt gratitude.

Tigre had inherited the title of Earl Vorn and the land of Alsace thanks to his bloodline. And he was trying to succeed the throne without the proper bloodline. In his position, Eugene’s words were as reassuring as a flame that got lit up within the darkness.

The youth who might become king in the near future, and the man who couldn’t become king quietly rode along the road with their horses lining up next to each other. At this time Tigrevurmud Vorn had partly inherited Eugene Shevarin’s will.

 

—————- End of Part 2 —————-

 

After his return to the capital, Tigre headed over to Sofy’s mansion. Currently he was in a room equipped with green and light blue curtains and carpets, giving the whole place a calm atmosphere. A bright red fire was crackling inside the fireplace installed on one side of the room, providing more than enough warmth.

Tigre and Olga had arrived at the mansion around half a koku ago. They believed that they should inform Sofy and the other girls about what had pertained during today’s hunt. However, the three Vanadis still hadn’t come back from the palace, and since they were expected to return around sunset according to a maid, the two decided to wait.

Elen and Lim didn’t come to the mansion. Informing Tigre and Olga that they’d stay in Eugene’s mansion for the night, they had parted ways with them after entering the capital. Seeing how there had been an attempt on Ruslan’s life and since they didn’t know the identity of the assailants, it was more than reasonable that the two were worried about Eugene’s safety.

Gaspal and Damad went ahead to their lodging house, and Rurick also headed back to his inn.

Tigre sank back into the sofa, allowing himself to get lost in thoughts.

──Now that I calmly think about it like this, it’s definitely somewhat regrettable.

His thoughts were focused on the hunt.

The weather was fine, and as might be expected of a place run by a royal family, the hunting grounds were superb, too. The size of the hunting party was fitting as well since we’d have had no issue eating up everything even if we had killed some deer or wild boars. But then again, since the hunt only went on for a short time, I don’t really know whether deer and boar can actually be found on those grounds.

As he looked outside the window, he noticed how the sun was starting to glide beyond the horizon.

Sofy, Mila and Liza will be back soon, I think.

Looking up to the ceiling, Tigre sighed. Normally he would have been able to think about the hunt much more, but what occupied his mind now was the conversation he had with Eugene on their way back.

──Inheriting a will. Or, supporting someone who’s inherited a will. Not merely inheriting it either, but instead incorporating it into one’s own will.

Until now Tigre had always feared sitting on a throne as something terrifying. It felt to him as if being swallowed up by something mysterious. But Eugene had taught him that this wasn’t the case.

──I just need to use all the power I possess to support Her Highness Regin. Of course it wouldn’t be okay to leave the inheritance of King Faron’s will to Regin alone either. I must grasp King Faron’s will by talking with her, and also discussing things with Mashas and Prime Minister Badouin.

It’d likely be a thorny path, but just like Tigre had decided to support Regin, there existed many who would try to support Tigre. The same applied for Gaspal and Gerard, who had gone as far as accompanying him to Zhcted, and Olivier of the Navarre Knight Squad, who had actually put his support into words.

──Me, a king…

When his thoughts had reached that point, a knocking could be suddenly heard from the door. Once he fixed his sitting posture and stared in the direction of the door, Titta, wearing a maid uniform, shyly peeked inside the room.

“Do you have a moment, Tigre-sama?”

“I always have time for you, Titta.”

As soon as she heard the youth’s reply, Titta’s face lit up, and she entered the room with her ponytail swaying back and forth. In her hand she was carrying a round tray. And following behind her was Olga. The Vanadis with the rosa hair was likewise carrying a tray while still wearing the same attire she wore during the hunt.

“Me too?”

Tigre assessed her asking this after having entered as Olga’s very own way of acting spoiled. Seeing him nod, Olga became slightly bashful as befitted a woman of her age.

The two placed their trays on the table. A sweet fragrance drifted to Tigre from Titta’s tray, and he spotted steam rising from Olga’s. Titta’s tray carried a flat plate with variously shaped sweets. It was filled with plenty of bite-size sweets such as thin bread slices made out of buckwheat with a layer of jam, baked sweets with apple fillings, and honeyed cookies containing walnuts. Olga’s tray carried three porcelain cups, a small iron jar with a spout and handle, and something similar to herbs which were cut into small pieces and then dried.

Thinking back on it now, Olga didn’t follow Tigre around as usual when they arrived at the mansion, but instead headed to the kitchen – apparently for the sake of preparing this.

“Good work today, Tigre-sama.”

“We brought things that you should like, Tigre.”

As Titta thanked the youth with a smile, a gentle smile also formed on Olga’s lips.

“Thanks, you two.” Tigre smiled.

He wasn’t that exhausted, but it was a fact that he had traveled quite a bit today, and above all, he was grateful and happy about their consideration for him.

“Since it’s said that sweet things remove any tiredness, we borrowed the kitchen here to make various sweets.”

Next to Titta who explained this, Olga pinched some of the herbs off its small plate with her fingers, and sprinkled small amounts into the three cups. It reminded Tigre of how Mila had brewed black tea for him, but the aroma and color of the herbs was different.

“These are medicinal herbs as they’ve been passed down within my tribe for many generations. It’s not the black tea Ludmilla brews for us.” Olga explained after noticing Tigre looking at her with keen interest.

“Medicinal herbs?” Tigre asked.

In response, Olga said while pouring hot water from the jar into the cups, “You soak several medicinal plants in water for several days, then you dry them for several days, and afterwards you chop them up finely. Next you add the entrails and bones of sheep to the herbs after drying and grinding them into powder. The aromas of the medicinal herbs calm your mind, and the sheep entrails and bones alleviate fatigue. That’s what I’ve been taught. In reality I had planned for us to drink it during the hunt.”

“Heeh, the entrails and bones of sheep, eh?”

Tigre had carefully listened to her explanation, filled with admiration. He also knew about medicinal plants that got boiled and drunk, but he had never considered adding something to the plants.

It doesn’t stink, and above all, Olga is recommending drinking it, so it should be fine, I think.

Tigre offered Olga to sit down on the opposite sofa, but she simply ignored that, sitting down on his right side. Since the sofa was rather big, there was no problem with that. Tigre revealed a wry smile, having accepted his fate. He believed that she had to also be disappointed about their quick departure from the hunting grounds, and thus he felt like going along with some of her selfishness.

Titta looked at Olga with an envy seeping out of her eyes. Then her checks took on a red tinge, and she fixed her eyes on Tigre as if expecting him to say his opinion. And as might be expected, even Tigre understood what Titta wanted to say but couldn’t. Even though she was the youth’s lover, she’d act reserved in situations like this. Then again, Tigre considered that part of her to be adorable.

“Titta, are you going to sit down over here as well?”

“Y-Yes. Please excuse me.”

Once Tigre patted the free space on his left with a hand, Titta replied with a somewhat excited, joyful voice, and sat down on Tigre’s left while curling up her shoulders. Now it had become quite cramped on the sofa, but because Olga and Titta had both small body builds, it didn’t go as far as them being unable to move altogether.

At once Tigre grabbed a cookie and tossed it into his mouth. The consistency of the walnuts and pastry stood out, blending with the honey’s sweetness spreading in his mouth. Once he honestly praised its taste, Titta’s face burst into a smile of happiness.

Next Tigre lifted one of the porcelain cups. Under the candle’s lighting, the medicinal herbs had a red color, but not as vivid as that of black tea. The herbs themselves had settled down in the cup. After tasting it with a sip, Tigre blinked several times. Going by the fact of Olga calling them herbs, he had expected for the tea to taste bitter and astringent, but instead it was gentle and mellow. Its fragrance also soothed his mind.

 

 

“How nice,” he muttered a short comment.

In response, Olga threw out her chest in pride. Just to shift her eyes to the sweets on the table in the next moment.

“Tigre, give me one as well.”

That childish naive but pleading way of speaking was very typical of her. Tigre grabbed a sweet, and passed it to Olga. But, the Vanadis silently open her mouth, apparently telling him to feed her. With a bitter smile, the youth put the sweet into her small mouth. Olga carefully enjoyed its taste with her cheek slowly grinding away while she blinked in surprise.

“Umm, Tigre-sama.”

Being addressed by Titta, Tigre turned his face in her direction. Holding a cookie in her left hand, Titta looked at the youth with a serious expression. She said, “Ah,” and after hesitating with a blush showing on her face, she continued saying, “Ahnn,” with a cramped smile. Startled, Tigre stared at her with a dumbfounded look, resulting in her saying “Ahnn,” once more. All the while, the blush on her face continued to deepen.

Smiling wryly yet again, Tigre opened his mouth, allowing Titta to stuff the cookie in her hand into his mouth. It was a different cookie from the one he had eaten moments ago, but this one was sweet and very delicious, too.

“This one tastes great as well. Thanks.”

Titta smiled cheerfully after hearing him say that, causing her ponytail to shake lightly. Next, Tigre grabbed a sweet and carried it over to Titta’s mouth. After looking back and forth between the sweet and Tigre, Titta closed her eyes and opened her mouth. And once Tigre put the sweet into her mouth, she smiled with an overjoyed face while chewing.

“Tigre, I’ll also reward you. Give me a sweet.” Olga badgered Tigre while pulling at the hem of his clothes with her left hand.

“The sweets and herbal tea are great, but it’s your presence that makes me feel at ease, you two.” Tigre said while passing a sweet to Olga.

The three of them fed each other until all sweets were gone, and when they finished drinking the tea, they simply relaxed on the sofa.

“…It’s regrettable, the hunt.” Olga muttered disconnectedly while staring up to the ceiling.

Tigre cupped her small hand with his, expressing his agreement.

“Let’s ask High Highness once more once the situation has calmed down. His Highness also looked devastated about it. I’m sure he’ll happily go along with it.” And then he shifted his eyes to his beloved maid, “Then I’ll take you along as well, Titta. Please look forward to it.”

“O-Okay! Hunting with Tigre-sama…somehow it feels very nostalgic!”

Deep emotions blurred Titta’s eyes for some time as she dwelt in memories with a broad smile plastered all over her face. Afterwards she rubbed her cheek against Tigre’s shoulder, her highest expression of love.

Tigre thought back on Ruslan’s smile. He recalled the promise of grilling the hunted game, and offering it to the prince, all while following the fun daydream of taking down some big game.

However, Ruslan would never again hold another hunt.

 

 

You couldn’t say that the hunt itself succeeded, but the ill feelings between Ruslan and Eugene had been resolved, resulting in a strong bond of trust tying the two together. Hence, you could at least say that this part of Tigre’s objective worked out well. The sight of the two walking through the corridors next to each other while chatting intimately with Eugene having actively started to serve the prince as advisor seemed to have blown away the anxiety that had infested the palace. However, this was no more than a temporary reprieve.

In the early afternoon around ten days after the hunt, Tigre was casually chatting with Gaspal, Gerard and Damad in the lodging house’s room they had borrowed as envoy delegation. Sitting on the carpet spread out on the floor while leaning against the bed or walls, the men were talking about everything and anything while chewing on the roasted beans that had been served on a large ceramic plate. But then again, their topics revolved too much around serious matters for it to be called a casual chatter.

“Midgets have been spotted. Fairies as well… It’s all the same stories, but they’re growing in numbers by the day.” Damad said to Tigre with a bored look.

The various strange phenomenons taking place in the capital showed no hint of waning at all. Gerard confirmed so as well.

“Thanks to His Highness Ruslan ordering the lords, the number of feudal army soldiers loitering around the city has decreased, but instead another disturbing rumor is gaining in strength. It says that the lords have obediently sent back their soldiers to cause rebellions all over the place…”

Gaspal couldn’t add any cheerful reports either, “The matter of the assassination attempt at the hunting ground is also spreading among the people. It’s being dramatized just like the case of the Vanadis battles.”

Listening to the depressing news of those three, Tigre groaned weakly.

Sofy’s group, who had been studying documents in the palace’s archive, didn’t manage to produce any outstanding results yet either. But then again, they knew from their experience in Brune that they had no choice but to tackle this patiently.

“Somehow it doesn’t really feel like we’ll be able to go back home come spring.” Tigre sighed.

In response, Gerard answered with a tinge of sarcasm, “Please go back once before spring. Just where would you find a hero who would attend the Sun Festival but skip the Circle of Light FestivalJeux Grâce for two years in a row? We’d also get scolded by Her Highness Regin.”

The Circle of Light Festival is the New Year’s ceremony in Brune. Tigre had spent last winter in Zhcted and attended the Sun Festival, Zhcted’s New Years ceremony, this year, but naturally he didn’t appear at this year’s Circle of Light Festival. And of course it’d be bad for him to miss another year.

“You might say so, but…”

Just as Tigre searched for the right words while looking up to the ceiling, the lodging house’s manager announced a visitor, a civil official working at the palace. Even though Tigre cocked his head in puzzlement, he still went out himself to receive the unexpected guest.

The official, who had been led to another room, finished some simple greetings, before announcing something surprising. Support the translator by reading this at Infinite Novel Translations.

“His Highness Ruslan collapsed…?” Tigre’s face was white like a sheet with his eyes wide in shock. “How is His Highness condition…?”

Tigre’s voice was teeming with nervousness and anxiety. Although this would be already bad news under normal circumstances, Ruslan’s being bedridden now would accelerate the confusion already afoot all over Zhcted.

“It’s overwork. He’ll probably recover by tomorrow. Because Your Excellency has a close relationship with His Highness, Earl Pardu told me to inform you at once…” The official replied with a smile, but there was a stiffness visible on his face he couldn’t hide.

Tigre asked the official to pass on his best wishes for a speedy recovery to Ruslan, and also said that he’d visit the prince at a later date when things had calmed down since right now might be too hectic a time for that. Afterwards he could do no more than seeing off the official, who left after bowing, with gloomy feelings plaguing him.

 

◆◇◆

—————- End of Part 3 —————-

 

 

It was just past noon when the whole situation revolving around Ruslan’s collapse started. On that day, a civil official visited the prince’s office to seek Ruslan’s authorization. Several of his colleagues with similar desires had already gathered in front of the office. Upon the new arrival’s question about what they were doing out here, they told him that they were waiting for Ruslan to come back.

“There was no reply when I knocked on the door, so he’s possibly taking a rest or has gone out to the courtyard.” The expression of the official explaining so showed his liking of the prince.

Ruslan’s diligent attitude had become quite well-known. As if to recover the eight years lost through illness, he had been engaging in governmental affairs without so much as a rest. He went at it with such a fervor that attendants, who were worried about his health, actually asked him to take a break every now and then. Eugene, who now worked as his advisor, had suggested likewise on many occasions, but Ruslan didn’t listen to any of them.

For one thing Ruslan was driven by the worrisome, on-going maneuvers of the noble lords.

Julian Kurtis, son of the late Ilda and current ruler of the Bydgauche Dukedom, claimed that his father’s death was no accident, and there were rumors going around that he was secretly amassing soldiers. He openly refused Ruslan as the new ruler.

Egol Kazakov, who had provided the secret information that triggered the battle between the Vanadis, didn’t follow Ruslan’s summoning to the capital, and remained in Polus. He had never stopped insisting that Eugene, Liza, Elen and Sofy were the root of all evil.

Ruslan took the approach of trying to gain their trust by sincerely striving in his governmental work.

“But, maybe he’s simply nodded off inside his room.” Another official suggested.

One of them quietly opened the door, and just as thought, Ruslan slept on his office’s desk. Or to be precise, it looked as if he was sleeping. The officials looked at each other, chuckling under their breaths, and approached the prince while making sure to stifle their footsteps.

It was then that they finally noticed Ruslan’s pained expression, and the documents scattered at his feet, probably having fallen off the desk. The officials lost their heads over this unexpected situation, kicking up a huge racket. On top of calling the guards, court ladies, and even maids, they shouldered Ruslan and carried him all the way to his bedroom.

At this time, many of those serving in the palace were reminded of Ruslan’s eight years of sickness. Moreover, those who knew what the prince had done before those eight years were assailed by intense pangs of anxiety.

For the present, it was decided for Eugene to handle the governmental affairs as regent, and to also take over the things Ruslan had been working on.

Two days after Ruslan’s collapse, the civil official from before visited the lodging house, and informed Tigre that the prince had recovered. The youth’s expression relaxed in relief, and he requested an opportunity for a short sick visit. Eugene had likely foreseen that Tigre would ask, allowing the official to immediately answer that Tigre could do so in the evening of the very same day. Since there ought to exist many others wishing to visit the prince, you could very well describe this as special treatment.

In the evening Tigre headed over to the palace, accompanied by Gaspal and Gerard. The sky was cloudy enough for the sunlight to be completely blocked. It looked as if it’d start raining anytime soon.

Ruslan and Grand Chamberlain Milon were in the bedroom to which Tigre’s group was guided. The prince had sat up on the bed, and was looking their way. His blond hair was a mess, but he looked calm on the surface, and his complexion wasn’t bad either. Having Gaspal and Gerard wait at the door, Tigre greeted Milon with a nod, and walked up to Ruslan.

“Back when I heard about you having collapsed, I was quite surprised, but it pleases me to see that you have recovered without any problems, Your Highness. Being able to see your lively face truly gives me peace of mind.” Now that he was in front of the person himself, only trite words came out of Tigre’s mouth.

Ruslan showed a worry-free smile, replying, “Earl Vorn, huh? It looks like I’ve caused you to worry, but as you can see, I’m doing fine. However, the civil officials keep pestering me about resting up properly, and don’t even allow me to get close to anything that looks like a document. I reluctantly compromised, and decided to spend my time at leisure until tomorrow.”

“I feel envious of you. Someone like me is always getting scolded about sleeping too much or taking too many breaks.”

By Titta and Lim. But then again, it was unmistakably Tigre’s fault, too.

“It sure sounds like you have your own share of troubles to deal with.” Ruslan laughed.

Afterwards, the two exchanged some silly bantering, albeit only for a short time. Ruslan’s tone was firm and stable, and his complexion didn’t worsen either. It seemed to Tigre as if it had really been no more than overwork.

Compared to their talks at Sofy’s mansion or the hunt, Tigre was slightly bothered by Ruslan’s somewhat formal attitude, but he assessed that this might be owed to Milon’s presence.

“Well then, it’s about time for me to excuse myself.” Tigre stood up from his chair when close to a thousand breaths had passed after stepping into the bedroom.

At that moment, Ruslan suddenly said, as if just having thought of it, “Earl Vorn, if I remember correctly, your name was Tigrevurmud, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Tigre answered with a puzzled expression.

“That is definitely a long name for a Brunian. Doesn’t it cause you trouble in your daily life?”

The youth’s expression froze. That line was something that Ruslan had mentioned as a joke during their first audience one month ago.

“I’ve had those close to me use Tigre as a nickname…” Tigre finally squeezed this out as an answer, seeing how Ruslan was waiting for his response with a smile.

“Would you allow me to use that name on unofficial occasions as well?”

That line was yet another one he had heard back during the audience. Ruslan seemed to interpret Tigre’s behavior as tacit agreement.

“Earl Vorn, no, Tigre, I know that you’re a busy man, but please visit me soon again.”

“…Gladly, whenever Your Highness calls for me, I shall visit you.” Tigre put on a smile while answering, and left the room after bowing.

However, the youth’s expression was so stiff that it actually caused Gaspal and Gerard to look at him suspiciously.

 

◆◇◆

 

When they left the palace, the outside had turned completely dark, and rain had started to fall. The pitter-pattering of the raindrops drumming against the ground sounded bleak. Even the air surrounding the three felt chillier compared to when they had come to the palace. Tigre informed the other two about Sofy’s mansion being their next destination, and the three pulled the hoods over their heads, and tucked their overcoats together in front of their chests. And yet, they couldn’t stop the coldness from seeping in through the gaps in their coats.

“I can fully understand the Zhcted for loving to drink vodka on days like today.” Gaspal said in a quiet but confident voice.

Walking next to him, Gerard broke into laughter. “I think they’d handle this level of coldness with wine or mead. Even Earl Rodant’s Aude would get this cold in winter, no?”

“Leaving aside when snow is falling, it doesn’t get this chilly on rainy days.”

While only listening to their conversation with half an ear, Tigre brooded about Ruslan.

──’Tigrevurmud Vorn, huh? It sure is a long name. The prince said the same thing when we met for the first time. The way he phrased it didn’t sound as if he was merely reminiscing on what he had said previously. But, His Highness is a busy man as sovereign. It might not be all that unusual for him to immediately forget such a trivial joke.

The youth tried to persuade himself like this, but in the end he couldn’t come to terms with it. In Tigre’s eyes it looked as though the darkness engulfing the capital was deepening.

──His Highness is a good man. I don’t want to blurt out anything careless about him.

The three men quietly left the dark main street. Gaspal grumbled about not having prepared any lamps in advance. They were walking while relying on the illumination leaking out of the houses and inns, but because of the rain, all of those had tightly closed their windows, keeping the light escaping outside at a minimum. And yet the three walked on without tripping.

Suddenly Tigre stopped. He felt like someone had called his name. Apparently he didn’t imagine it either as Gaspal swiftly caught up with Tigre, lining himself up next to him. Gerard realized that something was wrong after watching Gaspal’s movements.

At that moment Tigre noticed the figure of a person. Someone was standing several steps ahead of them. Their body was covered by a dark reddish-brown overcoat, and their face was hidden beneath a hood, just like Tigre’s. A lit lamp dangled in their right hand.

“──Tigrevurmud Vorn.” The person spoke Tigre’s name with a low, husky voice.

Gaspal stepped forward, “Pull back the hood, and show us your left hand. Then introduce yourself.”

The person showed their left hand, but neither named themselves nor pulled the hood back. Going by the small size of the left hand and the slenderness of its fingers, the stranger seemed to be a woman. Gaspal asked the person to pull back their hood once more, but they only shook their head in response.

Tigre held back Gaspal with a hand, and closed the distance to the person. This was the limit of what he was willing to concede.

The person put the lamp down, thrust their hand into their coat, and retrieved a dagger. The blade was still in its scabbard. And then the person held out the sheathed dagger to Tigre, pommel first. Gaspal walked up, and received the dagger cautiously. The other person was also cautious about not allowing him to see their face.

Tigre accepted the dagger from Gaspal after he came back. As soon as he saw the scabbard, his eyes widened. A part of the white painted scabbard was dyed light blue. A big circle had been drawn into that part. Half of the circle was black whereas the other half was white. Tigre recalled having seen this design in the past.

──So that’s why she doesn’t want her face to be seen.

“Both of you, head back first.” Tigre said while grasping the dagger in a way that wouldn’t allow Gaspal and Gerard to see the mark.

The two directed surprised looks at Tigre. Gaspal spoke up in shock, “Are you saying this for real? That person has obviously lain in wait for us.”

Tigre stared directly at the other person without answering. That was his reply. Silence swooped down on the group. Only the sound of the rain hammering against the ground could be heard now.

“──Got it.” Gaspal gave in.

Gerard looked at him with eyes full of objection, but the second son of the Rodant family shook his head with an expression as if admonishing Gerard.

“I didn’t understand, but I think it told Tigre something. Right, Tigre?”

Tigre nodded. Seeing that, Gerard agreed with obeying Tigre’s instruction, albeit very unwillingly.

“Please don’t try anything unreasonable. But then again, no point in telling you at this point, I suppose.”

Tigre’s two attendants vanished into the darkness that had accompanied them all the way here. The other person picked up the lamp, and started to walk. Tigre also walked, heading towards her. When they had approached each other at an arm’s length, Tigre held out the dagger, pommel first, to her. She accepted it with a giggle.

“I thought you might not give it back to me.” She lifted the hood with the hand that held the dagger.

A beautiful face with violet eyes and bluish hair appeared from underneath. Tigre looked as if he had drunk a very bitter tea.

“Long time no see, Lord Tigrevurmud.”

The woman was Valentina Glinka Estes. The design drawn on the dagger’s scabbard depicted the insignia of Osterode, the principality governed by her. Tigre recalled having seen it during the battle against Sachstein.

“What business do you have with me?”

Tigre owed her, and even though he was aware of it, he couldn’t quite muster a friendly attitude towards the Illusory Princess of the Hollow Shadow. In the first place, regardless of her wrongdoing to have challenged Sofy to a duel in the palace, Tigre thought that she was supposed to be under house arrest.

“I want to have a little chat with you. But, since I’m not very fond of standing in the rain while doing so, I was wondering whether you’d be inclined to come to my mansion.”

“That’s quite the brazen proposal, isn’t it…?” Tigre looked at Valentina in astonishment.

If Gaspal and Gerard were still to be here, they’d have vehemently protested. And in the case of Elen, Lim, or Mila, it might have likely developed into a battle. However, Valentina only tilted her head to the side with a rather daring smile, waiting for his reply.

Sighing, Tigre nodded, “I got it. Let’s go then.” Valentina blinked in surprise. Tigre added with a frown, “You’re the one who invited me, no?”

“That’s true, but I was sure you’d be a bit more hesitant about it.” Smiling once more, she leaped at Tigre with a cute yelp. Taken by surprise, the youth found himself in her slender arms. “Oh my, did you get careless after getting charmed by me? That won’t do, you know?”

“Yeah, whatever. Now let go.” Tigre tried to tear her off, but she remained stuck to him.

And that wasn’t all. Tigre sensed an abnormal presence from her left hand.

“──Come to me, Ezendeis.” Valentina solemnly muttered with a low voice.

At the edge of Tigre’s sight as he inclined his head formed a distortion in space. He could clearly perceive how a tear in empty space opened up while being illuminated by the lamp in her hand. Soundlessly that appeared from the other side of the tear. That, which shouldn’t be there, affixed its existence after getting grasped by Valentina. It was a long-handled scythe possessing a mystical ambiance and at the same time a sinister form. Its curved blade was composed of jet-black and deep crimson colors, emitting a dull gleam as it reflected the lamp’s light. Its sharp end, which reminded Tigre of a crescent moon’s end, made him swallow his breath.

“Please stay still, okay?” She cast an impish grin at the youth, and poured power into the hand holding the draconic tool. “──Space CorridorVuoldohl.”

Suddenly Tigre’s body got caught in a weird sensation, similar to floating up. In the next instant, Tigre and Valentina had vanished.

 

◆◇◆

—————- End of Part 4 —————-

 

Everything turned black in front of his eyes. Yet, his shoe’s soles were definitely standing on something. Just when he felt air brushing against his face, Tigre found himself inside some room. Of course Valentina was with him.

“We’ve arrived. This is my room.” Smiling, the black-haired Vanadis separated from Tigre.

A sigh escaped Tigre’s mouth.

“That just now was a draconic skill, huh.” He had heard that Valentina possessed a draconic skill allowing her to travel space in an instant. That’s what Tigre experienced moments ago.

“Since I’m under house arrest, this is about the only means for me to secretly invite men over.”

When looking around, Tigre noticed that this was a bedroom. The fire burning bright red in the fireplace illuminated the room, and kept it warm. Books had been piled up next to a canopied bed.

“What are we going to do if your guards find out about me being here?”

“It’d be a serious matter for me, but the same would apply to you. I’ll say something along the lines of you having embraced me tightly with those strong arms of yours.” Valentina said as if it was plain obvious.

I’m pretty sure she doesn’t intend to let it end at just that, Tigre assessed.

Valentina walked up to the sofa, and looked back at Tigre.

“I’d like to carry this in front of the fireplace. Please help me, will you?”

He wondered whether they’d sit next to each other, but his body was still chilled. Reluctantly Tigre followed her instruction. After placing the sofa in front of the fireplace, they sat down next to each other.

“──Won’t you join my side?” Valentina bluntly asked, without any kind of preface, while staring at the crackling fire. She then continued while continuing to show Tigre, who was surprised, her face in profile, “The reason why I attacked Sofya is simple. Our interests don’t align.”

“And they align with mine?”

“It depends on what you want from this country.”

In response to Valentina’s words, Elen’s face crossed Tigre’s mind. It’d be a different matter as next king, but what he wanted from this country as an individual was just her, if he thought it over very carefully. And there was no doubt about Sofy and Liza being precious partners for Elen.

“If you say that you’re going to continue targeting Sofy and Liza from now on, our interests won’t align either.”

“That’s a tough condition.” Valentina covered her mouth with a hand, and let her eyes wander as if brooding. “I’ll leave Sofya alone if she doesn’t get in my way.”

“What do you want?” Tigre asked straight.

Valentina looked at him as if wanting to call his blunt question unexpected.

“You haven’t heard anything from Sofya? I was sure that she had gotten an inkling.”

“If she does, she didn’t tell me anything, so, no.”

Tigre believed that Sofy had likely decided to withhold talking about her suspicions until she obtained some solid proof, but he had no obligation to inform Valentina about this.

“My goal is to make Osterode prosper.”

“If this were all you wanted, it’d be next to impossible for your interests to not align with Sofy’s, don’t you think?”

Polesia, the principality governed by Sofy, was in the south of Zhcted, far from Osterode.

“There doesn’t exist any way to make Osterode prosper by just governing it smartly.” Returning her look to the fire, Valentina went on, “The only way is to obtain an appropriate post at the royal palace and set various things in motion. For example building a road between Osterode and Silesia to get an active traffic going between both. Building a road costs time and money. You won’t be able to achieve this as anything but a long term project, but if I can influence the progress from the royal palace, it might be possible to significantly cut down on the time needed. Haven’t you also thought of such an option as noble governing over land?”

“It’s not that I haven’t, but…” Tigre answered evasively.

It sounded simple when putting it into words, but that was an endlessly long journey. In the first place, just the part about gaining a position at the royal palace was already quite difficult.

“But, it’s troublesome if a single Vanadis sticks out by holding authority and power. Having said that, it’s something that has often happened in Zhcted’s history. Sofya hates such unbalance, though.” Suddenly coldness crept into Valentina’s voice, “I want to change the current state of the Vanadis. Away from seven Vanadis equally lining up beneath the king, to a system of two Vanadis counseling the king and the other five following beneath.”

“With two you mean yourself and Figneria, right?”

Valentina didn’t answer, but simply shrugged with a smile. Tigre groaned. Probably because it was a very pragmatic approach, he wasn’t overly surprised. It also agreed with the dream of Figneria which Lim had told him about. It was also the reason why Valentina’s interest didn’t match with Sofy’s.

“As expected, I won’t be able to cooperate with you. It was your side that picked a fight first.”

“Wouldn’t you at least be able to take a neutral stance then?” Valentina asked without the slightest hint of disappointment, seemingly having anticipated this to be Tigre’s answer, “If I can have you do that, I might be able to give you some information about Duke Ganelon.”

Tigre turned a surprised look at her profile, but he immediately recovered his composure. He simply hadn’t expected to hear that name being mentioned in this place.

“Come to think of it, you were that guy’s acquaintance, weren’t you?”

“Acquaintance? True, that describes the distance between us rather well.” Valentina giggled.

“Is that man a demon?” Tigre asked directly.

Thinking back on Ganelon’s unworldly, physical abilities and his abnormal aura, this was the only conclusion Tigre could draw.

Valentina looked in the youth’s direction, and bent her head adorably to one side.

“That’s not quite correct.”

Tigre frowned, wondering what not quite might mean.

“Let’s see, if it’s around this much, it should be fine, I suppose.” Muttering this to herself, Valentina began to explain, “That person possesses the power to lock up demons within himself. With that power he has captured demons such as Baba Yaga and Vodyanoy whom you should know as well.”

Tigre felt horrified. He was also surprised about her treating something so crucial as a topic for mere gossip, but Tigre couldn’t help but feel shaken to the core by what she was saying.

“According to him, no further demons exist anymore. You have destroyed some, others were captured by him. And yet, as you’re well aware of, strange incidents continue taking place all over the capital. Why do you think is that so?”

 

 

The way Valentina was asking somehow sounded like an elderly woman teasing a youth.

“Because Ganelon is doing what the demons were trying to do?”

Remaking this world.

“You got it,” Valentina clapped her hands lightly. “I think you should meet and ask him about any further details.”

“Do you know where I could find him?”

When Valentina readily answered, “Yes,” Tigre stared at her flabbergasted. The black-haired Vanadis inclined her body, leaning against him.

“Can I have you keep a neutral stance?”

Tigre sank into a brooding silence. Not being able to simply confirm here even if just as a lie was part of his character. But then again, it wasn’t as though he didn’t think of it.

──That’s why she told me about Ganelon, huh?

If Tigre learned of Ganelon’s power and objectives, he might try to stop him. Foreseeing that, Valentina had deliberately taught him what he needed to know. Tigre ransacked his dull red hair.

How would Elen or Sofy answer in this situation? What might Lim or Mila have said? If Liza or Olga were here...

Tigre hesitated for a time of around thirty breaths, then he finally shook his head.

“I can’t promise you that.”

Valentina had told him her own objective. Leaving aside the matter of its authenticity, she had likely judged that she wouldn’t mind Tigre telling Elen and the others. In short, she intended to directly confront Elen and the other Vanadis anyway. In spite of still being under house arrest.

In that case, Tigre had to help Elen and the others. It was difficult to tell how he could capitalize on his position as hero of Brune, but there likely existed many ways to put it to use. That’s why Valentina had called out to Tigre at this point.

“You don’t want to know Duke Ganelon’s whereabouts?” Valentina asked, obviously provoking the youth.

He made sure to not look at her, continuing to stare at the fireplace. He felt like he might end up nodding otherwise.

Valentina shrugged her shoulders, “No helping it then. Could you tell me your plans from now on?”

Tigre knitted his eyebrows, “My plans from now on?”

“Please tell me what you’re going to do in Zhcted, when you’re going to go back to Brune, and what you’re going to do once you get back. It’s useless to make up lies, just so you know.”

Tigre was at a loss for words, and ransacked his hair again. Although he had no duty to tell her, he felt like he should do so. He believed he had to talk about his own decisions to her, just like she had told him about her own ambitions.

Tigre spoke up, making sure of each single word, “I want to protect those precious to me. In the past it was alright for me to only look at Alsace. But now that’s not an option anymore.”

“In contrast to your appearance, you’re a greedy man, aren’t you? Don’t you have too many people who are precious to you?”

“I’m well aware of that.” Tigre answered curtly. “But, I can also hope for assistance. Even if it’s a situation I can’t handle by myself no matter what I do, I can overcome it by having others help me out.”

Elen’s smile crossed Tigre’s mind. The first time he had borrowed her power was during the battle against Zion Thenadier who had attacked Alsace. Ever since then he felt like he had been continuously borrowing her strength.

Erasing the smile that accidentally formed on his lips, Tigre continued to speak with a serious expression, “I will fight for those dear to me and the things I want to protect.”

“You’re in Zhcted, not Brune.”

“I know.”

“Even considering the fact that your current actions could very likely drag Brune into this?” Valentina confirmed the youth’s will once more.

Tigre nodded, “It was the same until now as well.”

If the Silver Meteor Army led by Tigre had lost in Brune’s civil war two years ago, Alsace might have been reduced to ashes. There was no doubt that Alsace’s population would have been treated like slaves either.

“Even if Brune gets dragged into this, I’ll fight. I think that’s very likely the best option.”

“…How regrettable,” was all that Valentina answered while shrugging.

At the end, Tigre asked her about Ruslan. Probably as could be expected, Valentina was already aware about the prince having collapsed.

“The medicine I had His Highness take heals the mind, but puts a burden on the body. If he continues to work without rest, it’s a foregone conclusion that this will not only affect his body, but also his mind. Taking care of governmental duties without having plenty of aides assisting him is too much of a strain.”

The way she explained this sounded cold-hearted and detached, as if she was speaking about a puppet that didn’t interest her any longer.

With this they had run out of topics to talk about.

 

 

 


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5 Comments

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