Urz and Damad stood stock still at a cliff with dumbfounded faces. With faces bearing a headache, the two men gazed out at the opposite shore 30 Alsins (about 30 meters) ahead.
At the steep cliff of the opposite shore, a suspension bridge which was broken here and there loosely hung down.
About a half koku has passed since they departed at daybreak. Urz and Damad were just about to go through the forest.
The two of them carefully leaned forward and looked down at their feet. A suspension bridge similarly hung down also at the steep cliff of this side. It looked like the rope had been cut in the middle.
A frozen river lay quietly under the cliff.
“We have no choice but to take a detour.”
Damad said in a troubled tone, and Urz cocked his head in puzzlement. By the way, Urz had hung a sword to his waist and he carried something which tied branches in a bundle on his shoulder. He put the branches around the bonfire all night long; letting them dry so that they became easy to burn. He was told by Damad to at least carry this.
“But, it isn’t that great a height. The river seemed to be frozen, so couldn’t we reach the opposite bank if we go down the cliff and walked on the river?”
The cliff’s height was about five or six Alsins by eye measurement. Though vertical, there were many places where they could apply their hands and feet as the surface was rugged.
However, Damad revealed a face which seemed to disagree and shook his head.
“Where is the guarantee that we can safely cross just because it’s frozen? What if the ice broke on the way and we fell into the cold water. We’d die.”
“Then, let’s try.”
As Urz surveyed the surroundings and found a stone as big as the head of an adult, he carried it with both hands. He walked to the edge of the cliff and threw it at the river below.
The stone which fell let a hard sound resound, and rolled as it slid on the surface of the frozen river. Urz looked back at Damad with a smile.
“Look, it seems to be all right.”
“No, with what you threw now, a crack could’ve possibly run to a place where we can’t see.”
Urz looked at Damad who stubbornly refused with an amazed face. After thinking “by any chance”, he asked with a nasty smile
“Are you by any chance scared?”
“As if I’m scared!”
The Muozinel young man flew into a rage and immediately retorted. But, he pulled himself together at once and coughed once. He said as to persuade.
“In my country, there is such a saying. “The one who walks on ice is a fool”.”
“You’re quite frank.”
“Every year, when winter comes, there would always be a stupid brat who’s going to run on a frozen river, break the ice and fall in. To the extent that the middle-aged men bet on who will do it first this year. Let’s go.”
While beginning to walk along the cliff, Damad continued the talk. Urz had no choice but to follow after him, and listened to him talk.
Muozinel’s winter was short, and it might be said that it was not cold compared with the neighboring countries. Of course, there were days where snow fell and also days where cold wind fiercely blew. But, such days were really few. It was totally different from Zhcted which was surrounded by snow during winter.
Even if ice formed on rivers and lakes, it was said that at most it was thinner than paper. For Damad who had lived in such an environment, walking across ice was a thought hard to understand.
“Aren’t you scared after all?”
“Just say that I’m cautious.”
As Damad retorted, Urz did not tease him any further, too.
Even if they were to safely walk on the ice, they would be sandwiched between the cliffs in the meanwhile. If bandits were to appear like yesterday, there would be no way to escape. Taking that into consideration, Damad’s cautious stance was right. Even if they made a detour, they shouldn’t have to run a risk recklessly.
In addition, Urz had not perfectly recovered yet. He felt languid as usual, and when applying his hand on his forehead, he felt he had a fever. It was wise not to strain himself.
“How long is it likely to take until the castle town?”
Being asked, Damad took out a map from his load bag.
“If we go north along the river like this, there is a place where we can cross to the opposite bank. When we crossed to the opposite bank, we will go south along the river again… It’s on tomorrow daytime that we will arrive at the castle town, I guess.”
“I caused master to worry, eh…”
“It can’t be helped, right? After all, we can’t fly in the sky like a hawk. What, even that master of yours will shed tears and be glad if she meets you alive. So, be careful not to catch a strange disease. I don’t want to be embroiled in it.”
Unlike yesterday, today’s sky cleared up. The air was also not that much cold and there was no signs of beasts, either. While walking along the cliff, the two men had a silly talk to kill time. But since Urz had not that much to talk about, Damad mostly talked.
“What surprises me most after coming to Zhcted is this cold after all. I thought that if a human feels inclined to live here, he would be able to live anywhere.”
“Is Muozinel that warm? It also snow there, right?”
“On level ground, there is almost no snow remaining for more than a day. Although there are places like mountains where snow doesn’t melt all year round, there are generally the royalty and titled nobility’s summer resorts or rough spots where even hunters don’t enter.”
For Damad who had almost travelled alone so far, it seems to be a fresh feeling to have a trip companion although only for a short time. Even though it was an opponent whom he fought yesterday, this Muozinel young man was frankly talking as if such a thing did not happen.
As for Urz; although such a thing happened yesterday, he didn’t want to build an awkward atmosphere by ignoring Damad. Even more so, now that there was at a distance of one day to the castle town.
In that case, perhaps because there was not that much a difference in age, the talk got unexpectedly lively.
“You know, I’m the fourth son of a poor peasant.”
To Urz who opened his eyes wide, Damad laughing said.
“You know, it’s quite usual that poor people have many children. We had a field of barley, but the eldest brother is to inherit it. There was nothing that the second and third big brothers could get. At most, they get a tiny share of the profits by helping with the eldest brother’s work.”
“Is that why you became a soldier?”
There are few methods for the sons of a peasant, except the eldest son, to make a living.
It was either eking out a living by hunting or fishing and the like while helping with their big brother’s work, or getting permission from the village mayor and clearing a field by himself or also becoming a soldier or mercenary.
Naturally, there was no expectation to have a bride, too. For a person doubtful of whether he could even feed himself, the people who were married were only the object of great curiosity.
Therefore, the second or third son of a peasant that dreamed of making a fortune with a stroke of luck became soldiers.
Although most were placed in the front on their first campaign and were crushed, there were also those among them who stubbornly survived, and continued fighting after that and achieved distinguished services. Damad was one of such people.
“My dream is to live in a mansion built and decorated with gold and jewelry, have so many beautiful women that you can’t finish counting them even if you use both hands served me and live by leaving everything to a clever slave.”
After asking back reflexively, Urz remembered. There was slavery in the Muozinel Kingdom. Damad responded as if talking about a common thing.
“Although slave is one word, there are various though. If there are slaves to whom you entrust with heavy labor, there are also clever slaves who act as teachers. Also slaves that cook meals and slaves that takes care of the garden. It seems that when you become a great person, you will also own slaves who go about changing your clothes.”
“I can’t even imagine it…”
Urz wondered whether it would not be troublesome to especially borrow someone else’s hands to change one’s own clothes. But, it was probably because Urz was not a Muozinel person that he thought that.
Urz likewise talked about himself. About the fact that he was saved by a girl of a fishing village near the place where he was lying down on the shore. Then, his encounter with Elizavetta.
Leaving aside the matter of Rainbow Eyes and the Imperial Palace, when he only talked about the fact that he came to work in the Imperial Palace after his bow skill was highly evaluated, Damad brightened his black pupils as he took interest to that.
“Could you show me that bow skill of yours just once?”
Saying so, the Muozinel young man held out the bow and an arrow which he was holding.
“I was just thinking that we will hunt once around here. After all, we will arrive at the Imperial Palace tomorrow at the earliest.”
“Is there not much food and water?”
While receiving the bow and arrow, the darkish red-haired youth asked.
Since Urz who fell into the forest naturally had neither food nor water, he received some from Damad’s share. If Damad didn’t have more than enough food and water as was common for cautious travelers, he might not have talked about taking Urz along until the castle town.
“There is still a day’s share. That’s why we should procure water and meat while we can.”
Damad shrugged his shoulders and turned his sight at the frozen river under the cliff.
“About water, we should light a fire and melt ice and snow. What is necessary is meat.”
“I’m convalescent, you know?”
Though Urz said so, half of it was intended as a joke. Regarding meals, he was completely indebted to Damad for the moment. He needed to return the debt.
“I won’t say “Do it until you get a prey”. You have a half koku. If you fail, I’ll do it.”
“Understood. Let’s do that then.”
And then, Urz shot down one quail and one hare.
It was after the outside became bright enough that Mashas Rodant and company came out of the rotted shrine where they spent a night. The snow which flickered during night also stopped and the sun was shining in the sky.
Though the sunlight was weak and seemed to be somewhat unreliable, Mashas felt quite at ease with just the fact that it was sunny. The castle town where they headed for was very near. They would probably arrive in the afternoon.
“I didn’t think that the talk was over only in LeitMeritz, but from there passing through Regnitza and Lebus, huh… We came quite far, eh.”
Looking at the plain where trees sparsely soared, Mashas talked to himself.
He was currently 56 years old. He wrapped his stocky body in a dark brown overcoat and put on a hat with a feather. He wore a sword on his waist. Although the overcoat was backed with fur and his movement became slightly dull, he was all right even in the cold where one’s breathe was white and grew hazy.
Mashas was an Earl ruling Aude located in the north of the Brune Kingdom. He was at an age where it wouldn’t be strange for him to hand over the title and territory to his son and retired any time now, but it looked like for that to happen there was still ways to go.
Being asked by Princess Regin and Prime Minister Badouin, he now had the duty as the Princess’s advisor.
Hearing that Tigre who should be sojourning in the Zhcted Kingdom as a guest General had fell into the sea and went missing, Mashas visited Zhcted to confirm the truth. And he heard the story in detail from the Vanadis Eleonora Viltaria of LeitMeritz.
At the end of summer, Tigre proceeded to Asvarre as a messenger. Not as a messenger of Brune, but of Zhcted.
Although Tigre fulfilled his duty as messenger, the return ship was attacked by a sea dragon and he fell into the sea.
The story did not end there.
Afterwards, the silver-haired Vanadis saw Tigre in a completely different place.
Tigre was serving the Vanadis Elizavetta Fomina of Lebus. He lost his memory and called himself Urz.
Urz was Tigre’s father’s name. In order to make sure of whether the person who served Elizavetta was really Tigre, Mashas was heading to the Imperial Palace of Lebus.
He was not travelling alone. There were two companions with him.
“Lord Mashas, preparations are over.”
Being called out from behind by one of them, Mashas turned his head. A girl with dull golden hair and blue pupils harking back to the bottom of a deep lake stood there. Just like Mashas, she wore an overcoat backed with fur and hung a sword on her waist. She was around 20.
Though her expression could hardly be called amiable, it was not as if she didn’t trust Mashas. She was basically like this towards anyone.
Her name was Limalisha. She was called with her nickname Lim by those close to her. She was Ellen’s adjutant and also her most trusted close friend.
There were three horses behind Lim. Titta was straddling one of them. She was a girl serving as Tigre’s maid.
She wore a dark brown overcoat, a hat and a scarf. Her white gloves made with rabbit’s fur got slightly dirty. Due to her small-sized body and her childish face, she looked like a 14 or 15-year-old girl, but she was 16.
When Titta looked at Mashas, she smiled to his face which had turned pale. Mashas also returned a smile while stroking his beard which became stiff by the long trip.
Yesterday, when they were resting in this shrine which was naturally an abandoned building, Titta fell. Both Mashas and Lim thought that she accumulated fatigue by the long trip which she was not used to.
“Titta, we will arrive at the castle town in the afternoon. Bear with it a little more.”
When Mashas said that as to cheer her up, Titta nodded saying “yes” as she shook her chestnut hair.
It was a little after noon that Mashas and company set foot in the castle town of Lebus. While pulling the three horses tied at length, they walked along the end of the main street.
“I thought that it will be a little warmer if the sun rises, but it’s unexpectedly not so.”
“Is that so? I think that it’s quite warm though.”
To Mashas who complained as he looked up at the sky, Lim inclined her head to the side and responded.
“Hmm. The sensation of cold might be a little different between me, a person of Brune and Limalisha-dono, a person of Zhcted.”
“There is also the difference in age and sex.”
The two people’s impressions aside, it seemed to be the usual weather for the residents of the castle town of Lebus. Children who wrapped their bodies in overcoats and hats happily ran around the street, lovers walked while snuggling up and housewives amused themselves in pleasant chats near stalls.
In the street where stalls stood in a row, merchants were raising vigorous voices.
“As expected of the castle town. It’s lively.”
Titta smile broadly. Her feelings had probably settled down a little by having entered the castle town. Fatigue could be seen on her face, but a bright shine returned to her hazel-colored eyes. Mashas and Lim felt relieved about that.
“It is as Titta says.”
Until they had arrived at this castle town after leaving LeitMeritz, they went along many towns and villages, but they had never seen a place filled with this much liveliness.
The main street was paved in stone pavements and carriages which piled various loads were coming and going. Minstrels sang a farce at the crossroads and clowns were bantering with pedestrians. Food, dolls made by shaving trees and glassworks were sold in stalls.
Even Lim seemed to be captivated by this hustle and bustle. Although it was the same Zhcted, it was after all different from LeitMeritz where she had spent her daily life.
Far away, a huge palace which piled up grayish stones could be seen. That was probably the Imperial Palace.
Each window was large and dark brown ornaments were applied around them. It was also the same for the steep roofs with a slant. Although attaching importance to the solidity which could bear snowstorms, it had not lost its coloring. It was an appearance which gave such an impression.
—Is Lord Tigrevurmud inside that…?
As Lim shook her head and pulled herself together, she suggested to her two companions.
“Let’s first look for an inn. After all, it is not a problem which will be solved today or tomorrow.”
“You’re right. It won’t also do well if we don’t let these guys rest.”
While looking back at the horses he was pulling, Mashas responded. Both of them could not voice it out, but they were also concerned about Titta.
“It’s likely to take some time if we are to look for an inn which can keep three horses.”
“Hmm. I’m sorry, but Limalisha-dono, can you look after them for a little while?”
As if he found something he was concerned with, Mashas entrusted the horses to Lim and walked to a stall.
It was a store which sold drink which poured hot water boiled to fill a cauldron in a bisque cup and melted jam and grape honey. Getting a simple furnace ready and keeping the fire burning, the hot water was prevented from getting cold.
As Mashas bought three cups of that drink, he held two cups with both hands, supported the other with his arm and returned to where Lim and Titta were.
“For the time being, let’s warm our bodies with this.”
The two girls respectively expressed their gratitude and received a cup, where steam rose, from the old Earl. When drinking a mouthful while being careful so as to not burn themselves, the smell of jam and honey tickled the nose and a faint sweetness remained in the mouth. Heat gradually spread inside the body.
While applying his mouth to the cup, Mashas said in an indifferent tone.
“There seems to be a big inn three houses away from here where we can keep the horses. They say that we should look sequentially from here.”
Lim looked at the old Earl with a blank face.
“Where did you hear such a story?”
While sipping the drink of the cup, Mashas pointed at the stall where he bought it with a finger. Lim alternately stared at the old Earl and the stall with a surprised face.
It looked like he immediately came back after buying the drinks without particularly even showing signs of having a chat, but Mashas seemed to have asked the necessary things within a short exchange.
Titta gave a small yawn, she probably felt relaxed after having warmed her body. Mashas patted Titta’s head.
“If you’ve become sleepy, you should say it without reserve. I’ll carry you on my back.”
“I-I’m all right, Mashas-sama. I can properly walk by myself.”
Though Titta answered with her face which turned red, she yawned again soon after she finished speaking. Seeing the chestnut-haired girl hanging her head in shame, Mashas and Lim smiled.
And then, they immediately found the inn. Fortunately, they were also two vacant rooms, and Mashas and company decided to stay there. One room was used by Mashas and the other by Lim and Titta. The trio gathered in Mashas’ room when they had a talk.
Titta and Lim’s room was not so wide and the lamp hanging from the ceiling was also slightly dirty. There was only a small window. The curtain was also just of a size enough to cover the window and the edge got kinked. There was neither a table nor chair.
But, there were two beds, the wall was thick and three pieces of thick blankets had been prepared for each bed.
“Like this, we don’t have to sleep wearing thick clothes against the cold, eh.”
Titta checked the condition of the blankets and revealed a smile of relief.
Although a thick overcoat protected the body from the cold, it was heavy after all. Lim and Mashas who were used to the weight of armor would be all right, but it looked like it was simply tough for Titta.
Besides, by wearing thick clothes against the cold for many days as such, the head and neck would become itchy. In the case of Lim and Titta, they were just going to be worried about the condition of their hair.
Lim put the loads near the bed and turned to Titta.
“You are tired from the long trip, aren’t you Titta? Please rest.”
“But, you will talk with Mashas-sama after this, right? I, too––”
Hiding fatigue inside her hazel-colored pupils, Titta showed a stouthearted attitude. However, when Lim shook her head, she softly told her with an attitude like a big sister admonishing her little sister.
“I understand your feelings. We have finally come so far after all. But, that’s precisely why you must not overdo it. Properly resting and relieving fatigue is your work now.”
Not giving up, Titta tightly clenched her small hands and gazed at Lim as to entreat her. Lim had no choice but to take out her trump card.
“You do not want to worry Lord Tigrevurmud when you meet him, don’t you?”
The effect was immediate. Titta answered “yes” in a voice which seems to vanish, took off her thick clothes that were for the cold and untied her hair. She then crawled into the bed.
Lim got down on a knee near the bed and gently stroked the girl’s chestnut hair.
“I will look after you until you sleep. Lord Mashas will at least wait for that.”
As Titta thanked her in a small voice with a smile, she quietly closed her eyes. She began to leak quiet sleeper’s breathing before long.
—As expected, she seemed to be considerably tired.
Lim quietly stood up so as to not wake Titta. She was careful so as to not make a sound and came out of the room.
When she visited Mashas’ room, the old Earl with a gray beard was sitting on the bed as he wrapped his stocky body in the threefold blanket after having thrown off his thick clothes that was for the cold.
“There you are. For the time being, why don’t you sit there? The floor is cold after all.”
Mashas said with a quite composed attitude, and Lim was troubled on how to react. His figure in where he was wrapped from head to toe looked like that of a fairy with a round body coming out of a fairy tale. Since she could naturally not say such a thing, Lim somehow built a laudable face. She sat down on the edge of the bed.
“As I had said before, I would like to collect information on Lord Tigrevurmud, no, the one called Urz before heading to the Imperial Palace.”
In fact, there was also the possibility that the man named Urz was not Tigre. It was for self-admonition that Lim expressly corrected herself. Mashas nodded as he agreed.
“It’s good to collect information, but what would you do specifically?”
“I will look around for someone working in the Imperial Palace and ask about it, pretending to be a traveler.”
There were civil officials and knights who finished their jobs on that day and set out together with companions to a bar, maids and court ladies who went out shopping to the castle town and also those who gave a suitable reason and strolled in the castle town for relaxation.
Waiting near the Imperial Palace for such a person to come out, accosting him in a suitable place and finding out about Urz. That was Lim’s idea.
While explaining, Lim could not repress the uneasiness welling up within her. As if reading it from the slight change of her expression, the old Earl waited that the golden-haired girl had finished her words and slowly opened his mouth.
“Limalisha-dono, aren’t you more tired than you think?”
“…Do I look like it?”
The usual serene calm was lost from Lim’s voice. Though Mashas nodded with a warm smile, since his whole body was covered with a blanket, it was seriously lacking in dignity. Lim once again gazed at Mashas’ figure and laughed, but it was a somewhat unhealthy smile.
“It is as Lord Mashas said, I might be tired. Somehow, I don’t seem to come up with good ideas…”
Until yesterday, just thinking about arriving at the castle town was enough. However, when they entered the castle town like this, she had become anxious about the upcoming events.
If he was not Tigre, what would she do? Moreover, supposing that it was unmistakably Tigre, if he were to say that he doesn’t remember anything, would she be able to keep her cool?
She had heard that he had lost his memory, but was it something that they could manage by themselves? If Elizavetta got to know of their existence, wouldn’t she do something?
She thought that it was not good like this. Ellen trusted her and left it to her, so she must meet her expectations by any means.
Even if she thought so, Lim was not able to shake off her dark imagination.
Seeing Lim depressed, Mashas rubbed his hands together inside of the blanket. And smiled.
“Then, let’s rest already for today, and think about how to deal with it in preparation for what may happen.”
“How to deal with it?”
To Lim who showed confusion in her blue pupils, the old Earl nodded.
“Let’s suppose that the one called Urz isn’t Tigre. In that case, how will Limalisha-dono explain it to Eleonora-dono? Even thinking about her attitude when she had asked us, she probably won’t let it end with us saying ‘when we checked, it was different person’.”
“Then, um, we must do what we can to persuade her with words…”
While answering at once, Lim was aware that she had spontaneously slurred her words.
Ellen would probably not doubt her report. But, when thinking of how much she would be depressed and how to comfort her, she was greatly troubled. It was again uneasiness different from the one that she harbored in her heart until a while ago.
While gazing as to confirm the change on Lim’s expression, Mashas continued his words.
“Regarding Eleonora-dono, I might not be good to persuade her. As long as you’re by her side, she will probably recover by herself. However, Eleonora-dono won’t be the only one to whom we will have to explain. Along these lines, I’m troubled even now about how I would report it to Her Highness the Princess.”
Though Mashas jokingly said with a wry smile, Lim sympathized with him from the bottom of her heart. If she was in his position, she would not be able to make the report to Princess Regin at all. She would have probably given up just on thinking about the words. Mashas put on a serious expression and continued.
“You can’t afford not to report. We can’t get someone to replace you, either. If you report too late because you think too much about what to say, it will be the worst case. On the other hand, it won’t be good to put it with common words, either. Something like that will be immediately seen through, and you will also find yourself deplorable.”
“––Thank you, Lord Mashas.”
Lim bowed her head politely. Certainly, if she continued to think about many things like that, she would be crushed by uneasiness. She was just fine as she was now.
“I will accept your words and rest today. Tomorrow, let’s bring Titta and move with the three of us.”
“Yes, let’s do that. I will also rest. It looks like my body is less able to endure a long trip than expected.”
Mashas greatly shook his body covered with the blanket. As Lim chuckled, she stood up from the bed and bowed to the old Earl. She then left the room.
When she returned to her room, Titta’s vigorous sleeper’s breathing could be heard. When she looked at her, the blanket had slightly slipped off. As she approached the chestnut-haired girl’s bed, Lim quietly straightened the blanket. Then, she crawled into her bed.
She fell asleep while thinking about various things.
After about a quarter koku had passed after Lim came out of his room, Mashas threw off the blanket covering his body. He wore his thick overcoat, hung his sword to his waist and left the room.
He went out of the inn and walked around the inn for a while. He needed to know what sort of stores were nearby and how long the street extended without delay. He wanted to check as much stores as possible which were likely to be useful in case something were to happen.
—Was it Elizavetta Fomina? I’ve yet to grasp her personality.
Mashas thought about whether in the worst case scenario, they would be imprisoned in the Imperial Palace by Elizavetta.
This was because assuming that the man called Urz was Tigre and that Elizavetta tried to keep hiding it to her surroundings, the existence of Mashas and company would be more than dangerous.
Leaving aside the case that Mashas was alone, now he was entrusted with two important girls: Titta and Lim. He had to act carefully also for their safety.
“Next, I must look for a store which serves a delicious meal.”
In order to make the two girls who will wake up sometime soon glad.
Under the sun floating in the dim sky, Mashas walked to the street where stalls stood in a line.
The curtain of night which let the stars twinkle in the sky gradually faded. The end of the eastern sky began to turn dim white and calmly informed of the dawn. The sun would soon illuminate the ground.
It was at that time that Elizavetta came out of her bedroom in the depths of Lebus’ Imperial Palace. Two days had passed since the day when she returned covered in wounds to the Imperial Palace.
Wearing a dress which piled up purple fabric and used frills and laces abundantly, and hanging the black whip, her Viralt on her right waist, the red-haired Vanadis proudly walked along the corridor.
Though a cloth which applied medicine was pasted on a cheek and her right arm was wound with a bandage, her eyes of different colors were tinged with a dignified brightness and painfulness could not be felt at all. Elizavetta lightly waved her hand to the salute of patrolling soldiers and the soldiers standing on watch.
Since her attitude was too majestic, the soldiers did not think of it as suspicious. Reporting to neither Naum nor Lazarl, they had seen their master with looks of admiration.
It was after a half koku that Naum noticed that Elizavetta had disappeared from the Imperial Palace.
The knight in his prime who hurriedly jumped into the Vanadis’ bedroom found a note on the table, and moreover, after receiving the report that one of the horses for the Vanadis had disappeared, he looked up at the sky.
Elizavetta who left the Imperial Palace ran through the highway wrapped in a very dim light on a horse.
She put on a white overcoat over her purple dress and also put on a white hat which was woven with wool. These overcoat and hat were the ones that she wore when she slipped out with Urz and went to the castle town.
Her Viralt was put in a part of the skirt of the dress here it could not be seem; she rolled up the hem and could straddle the horse without riding horizontally. A big cargo bag was tied onto the horse’s saddle and there was food, water and a map inside.
She ordered a tight-lipped court lady to prepare these outside the Imperial Palace beforehand.
—To think that the slipping out with Urz would be helpful in such a situation.
The air of when the day had just dawned was chilly, but Elizavetta thought that it was just right to maintain her clear consciousness.
After she had returned to the Imperial Palace two days ago, Elizavetta was in a state where strain was always forced on her. What she feared was that those working in the Imperial Palace would be controlled by Baba Yaga and would attack her. It was really fortunate that nothing happened.
And last night, Elizavetta received a report from Lazarl. The old civil official had investigated about run-down shrines which enshrined Baba Yaga.
—Ten places. Ten places for the time being…
Their locations were written down on the map inside the cargo bag. If it went smoothly, she would be able to visit all of them in nine or ten days.
Elizavetta suddenly removed her left hand from the reins. She touched the black whip roundly bundled and hung on her waist.
“I’m sorry, Valitsaif.”
The Flash Princess of the Thunder Swirl apologetically cast down her eyes.
“I may be disqualified as a Vanadis.”
As a Vanadis, she should have confined her personal feelings and only mobilized for Lebus.
Elizavetta did not intend to throw away her pride and sense of responsibility as a Vanadis. Besides, she also had the firm conviction that defeating Baba Yaga would unmistakably be of benefit for Lebus.
But, Elizavetta, being aware of that thought, excluded it and went after the demon only for her personal feelings. In order to satisfy the anger and pride blowing violently within her chest, and also in order to release the abominable curse dwelling in her right arm, she was riding her horse now.
“Even though I don’t intend to move as a Vanadis, I’m relying on the Viralt which belongs to a Vanadis. It’s very selfish. Despite that, can you lend me your power, Valitsaif?”
With her left hand, Elizavetta strongly grasped the Thunder Swirl.
“Only that old hag––”
As if responding to her appeal, the tip from the handle of the bundled black whip wore a dim light. It scorched the atmosphere, burst and scattered white sparks. It seemed to encourage her and support her back.
Just for an instant, Elizavetta’s expression loosened and a smile appeared. However, she immediately erased it, looked at the front and grasped the reins once again.
When about one koku had passed since Elizavetta slipped out of the Imperial Palace, two young men passed through the gate of the castle town. It was Urz and Damad.
The sky had already become bright. In the main street, merchants opened their stores and were busy with preparation; government officials, craftsmen and soldiers headed to their posts at a quick pace. There were also figures of children heading in groups to a temple in order to learn reading and writing.
Seeing the familiar castle town, Urz heaved a sigh of relief and fatigue.
“I didn’t think that it’ll take more than two days.”
While walking side by side with Urz, Damad snorted in displeasure.
“Even you probably didn’t notice that we’ve taken the wrong way.”
It was planned that the two of them should have arrived at the castle town within yesterday.
But, both Urz and Damad were unfamiliar with the geography of this area. After finding a bridge and crossing to the opposite shore, the two men had advanced to the direction opposite of the road to the castle town. It was after having walked more than two koku that Urz and Damad realized it.
“Anyway, it’s quite lively, as expected of a castle town.”
To Damad who looked around and revealed an expression of admiration, Urz asked.
“Shall we first go somewhere and eat something? When thinking about it, it might take a considerable time to give you a reward.”
“Yes. Certainly, it looks like the formalities will be troublesome when it comes to the Imperial Palace… No, wait. Won’t the Imperial Palace prepare a feast for me as the benefactor who helped you and brought you until here?”
“If you get too carried away, I will also firmly report about the fact that you tried to kill me.”
As he gave a warning to Damad’s impudence, Urz suddenly stopped. He felt a gaze and looked back.
An old man with his stocky body wrapped in an overcoat was standing there. The old man opened his mouth befuddled, and turned a look of surprise to Urz.
Similarly, Urz was also not able to take his eyes off from the old man. The moment when he took a glance at him, the youth felt a vivid nostalgia to the old man’s face. As a joy to the extent that his face naturally broke into a smile overflowed from the bottom of his heart, Urz tried to call the old man.
Soon after, Urz’s face became stiff. As if the air had become solid and plugged up his throat, the youth, who only moved his mouth flapping open and close, could not utter his voice. Joy disappeared as it melted, and confusion and irritation eroded Urz’s heart.
He did not know the old man’s name.
The figure of this old man also appeared inside his memory which was full of many fragments. He knew that the old man was a benefactor who helped him many times and that he was also an important person to him.
And yet, his name did not come out. He could not remember it.
“Um, errr, er…”
With only incoherent words coming out from his mouth, impatience and bitterness blurred on Urz’s face. The old man ahead uttered his voice.
“Tigre! Isn’t it Tigre!?”
Urz unintentionally shook his shoulders at his shout. To the extent that he took half a step back. As the old man, not noticing such a reaction from the youth, ran with a face mixed with surprise and joy, he strongly hugged Urz.
“What a relief! I’ve heard the story, but you’re really… You’re really alive!”
Urz, unable to return words to the old man, or rather not even knowing what else he should do, looked up at the sky with a perplexed face.
“––Hey, old man.”
Damad who was watching the course of events with a bored face forced his way through there. The young Muozinel man gripped the old man’s arms and forcibly pulled them from Urz.
Urz inwardly heaved a sigh of relief and was grateful to Damad. If Damad was not there, he would have probably stood upright there and be unable to move forever. On the other hand, being boorishly interrupted in an emotional reunion, the old man glared at Damad without concealing his anger.
“What do you want? I’m busy now.”
“That’s my line. What are you doing? When I was wondering why you shouted, now you suddenly jumped on him… Everybody is looking.”
When the old man looked at the surroundings at these words, several people who were walking along the street had stopped and looked their way. If there were housewives who knitted their brows, there were also children who directed wondering looks. They were also those who expected dispute or trouble.
The old man finally regained his calm, coughed once and parted from Urz.
“This isn’t good. Let’s move to another place for the time being.”
“Don’t decide on your own. There is a place where we’re going. For an unknown old man to––”
“Please wait, Damad.”
Interrupting the black-haired Muozinel man’s words, Urz stared straight at the old man.
“There is also something I would like to ask you. Let’s change the place. However––”
Urz hesitated to speak for a moment and bit his lips. However, he immediately pulled himself together and continued.
“My name is Urz.”
Urz, Damad and the old man with the gray hair and beard entered a deserted side road. Seemingly, Urz’s words being too much of a shock, the old man dropped his shoulders and hung his head disappointedly.
The two young men looked at each other. Although they sympathized with him, they also couldn’t afford to wait like this for the old man to recover. Urz resolutely accosted him.
“I’m sorry. Could you tell us your name?”
The old man raised his face. He put on an expression as if bearing a headache.
“No, that’s right. I have heard that you lost your memory…”
As he shook his gray beard and mumblingly muttered, the old man once again gazed at Urz.
“My name is Mashas Rodant. I’m from Brune and I governed Aude in the north.”
Urz looked downward with a serious face and repeated that word several times. Mashas stared at the youth with a face filled with expectation.
“H-How is it? Do you seem to be able to remember…?”
Urz did not immediately answer and earnestly explored his memory. He thought that it was a familiar name. However, that name was not connected with the old man’s figure which appeared in his fragmentary memory. He even wondered whether there wasn’t some kind of mistake, having thought that it sounded familiar.
After a time of a 100 full counts had passed, Urz bowed his head to Mashas.
Mashas covered his forehead with his hand and looked up at the sky. When he thought about how he took dozens of days from the far away Brune to arrive at this castle town and finally meet him, he reacted like this.
But, Mashas mustered energy and returned his sight to Urz. When he looked at his face, Urz showed a reaction. He still had a wish.
“I’m sorry, but could you come with me? There are people I want you to meet.”
“Hey, could you leave it for after we’ve gone to the Imperial Palace? This old man’s talk is becoming long.”
Damad broke in from the side in an annoyed tone. The Muozinel young man openly felt uncomfortable with Mashas. Urz asked Damad.
“Though I feel bad for you, could you hang with me for a little longer?”
Although he could not remember Mashas’ name, it was certain that there was this old man’s existence within his memory. Urz was positive about that.
“Please, bring us.”
“All right. It’s this way. Those people are staying at the same inn as me.”
Mashas walked at a quick pace thinking that they had to arrive before the youth changed his mind; Urz walked beside the old Earl. Damad followed several steps behind with a face which doesn’t seem to be interested.
Mashas looked at Urz with a sidelong glance, and after a pause of about two breaths, opened his mouth.
“You said that you were Urz, but where did that name come from? You have no memory, right?”
“Yes. Being thrown various questions of whether I can remember something…”
Urz talked about the story where he was lying down on the seashore, that he was found and nursed by a fishing village. Also about the events which led to him calling himself Urz.
Mashas who heard it shook his gray beard and slowly sighed.
“Urz was the name of Tigrevurmud Vorn’s father…”
As he said up to there, the old Earl suddenly looked back.
“I forgot to ask, but who is that Muozinel person?”
“That guy is called Damad… Simply put, he’s a benefactor. He saved me when I was attacked by bandits.”
“Is that so? I have to thank him later.”
To Mashas’ words, Urz had mixed feelings. He kept silent about the fact that he tried to kill him, but he wondered what kind of reaction this old Earl would show if he were to speak of it.
While walking side by side with Mashas, Urz felt a strange sensation. As expected, he felt like he had met this person somewhere. If he heard more stories or if he met Mashas’ companions, he might possibly regain his memory.
The reality of not knowing who he is became a vague uneasiness and lurked in the innermost depths of Urz’s heart. All the more so after he especially had a mysterious experience such as the black bow.
Before long, the three men arrived before a certain inn. It was an inn whose structure was a solid two-storied building. A small stable for letting horses rest was also linked to it.
When they entered the inn, there were stairs to the second floor on the right and a counter (for reception) on the left. At the center, a corridor extended straight.
“In which room are your companions?”
“It’s immediately after we go up the stairs.”
When Mashas finished speaking, Urz began to run. Mashas shouted “wait” from behind, but he ignored him and vigorously ran up the stairs.
The shock when he saw Mashas still remained in the depths of his heart. In the end, he was not able to remember, but if he saw the other two, he might remember something.
In meeting Mashas and having talked with him, some scenes within Urz’s memory became clear. But, because the anteroposterior connection (between front and back)  did not become clear, he didn’t know what he did when and where. That irritation pushed the youth’s back.
—If I meet those people, surely…!
As soon as he finished going up stairs, Urz knocked on a wooden door. He pushed it without waiting for a reply.
Having emitted a short voice of surprise was a chestnut-haired girl who was in the room. Inside, there was also one more person, a girl with dull golden hair.
The two girls opened their eyes wide and stared at Urz who opened the door. Urz also stood stock still on the spot in blank amazement and fixedly stared at the two girls.
Within the room dimly illuminated by the light of a lamp, the two girls, only wearing underwear had their white skin exposed. In their hands, thinly-made clothes without sleeves were grasped as they were in the middle of changing.
Titta’s body was slender; her bodily build was overall thin as well as both her arms and feet. However, a faint charm started to drift in the constriction of her bosom and waist and it indicated that she was growing up.
Lim, although tall, was the owner of a balanced body, and while her arms and feet looked thin, they possessed much unstoppable flexibility. It was the body of a warrior that chipped off useless meat and was well trained. But, while being so, it was beautiful and by no means rough.
The swelling of her rich chest peeped out to about the upper half, and from there, the area between the bottom (of her chest) and waist were hidden by the thinly-made clothes grasped in her hands. But, even only the upper half passed enough to imagine the size and heaviness.
Under her waist, there were well tightened, sensual thighs.
Hoarse voices leaked respectively from Titta’s and Lim’s mouths. The two of them were surprised to the extent that they dropped the clothes that they were holding. In that instance, Lim’s chest greatly bounced.
To the sound emitted when the clothes dropped on the floor, Urz finally came to his senses. He turned around, began to run, missed his footing and splendidly fell down.
A loud sound also resounded inside Titta’s and Lim’s room, and the two girls, startled, looked at each other. Titta’s face turned bright red and she crouched down on the spot. Lim also blushed and while hiding her chest with her left hand, she confusedly ran up to the doorway and vigorously closed the door.
The shock of the reunion was completely blown away to somewhere else, and until Mashas knocked on the door, the two girls had sat down on the spot silently.
After walking a little from the inn where Mashas and company were staying at, there was a bar. It was a shop which opened from before noon and served not only alcohol, but also several dishes. The five of them entered that shop.
They sat around a big square table. With his hand, Urz was rubbing his face which still hurt, Titta looked downward as she was embarrassed and Lim had a displeased look. Damad and Mashas looked amazed.
“May we order?”
“Please. And, I will pay for my own share.”
It was for precaution that Damad said this. He did not expect to meet Tigrevurmud Vorn’s acquaintances in such a place. He though that even if there was a possibility, it would be after arriving at the Imperial Palace.
Since he did not know what would happen from now on, he should not have imprudently taken out money and involved himself in this.
Mashas and the two girls introduced themselves first. Then, Urz and Damad briefly explained about themselves, too. At that time, Mashas bowed his head as he recalled.
“For having saved Tigre… this youth from bandits, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The Muozinel young man did not say anything, but he showed a slightly stained expression. Urz also had slightly mixed feelings.
The dishes arrived.
A basket filled with bread, stew served in a tureen which let steam rise, cheese finely cut, red turnip and spinach salad filled the table. Urz and Damad’s stomachs growled almost at the same time.
However, it couldn’t be called a meal in a peaceful atmosphere.
Damad silently endeavored in the meal, and Mashas made a face saying “what’s up with him?” Titta’s face was still bright red and she did not make eye contact with Urz. Lim hardly tried to speak, too.
When several plates were emptied, Urz asked resolutely.
“What kind of human being was Tigrevurmud Vorn?”
Mashas and Titta looked at each other. Lim opened her mouth then.
“I do not mind talking about him, but…”
Lim continued without destroying her calm demeanor.
“Before that, could you speak about your life so far, Urz-san?”
After Urz blinked several times, he fixedly stared at Lim’s face. He felt somewhat troubled at her utterance. Her blue pupils in her unamiable face calmly stared back at the youth.
—Ah, I see.
Urz finally noticed. This was because she called him “Urz” quite naturally. From after Mashas had met him until they came here, he had not been called by the name “Urz” even once.
It was only that, and yet Urz’s heart became somewhat light. He pulled himself together, opened his mouth and talked about how he spent his life so far.
About the fact that he was lying on the seashore, was found by a girl of a fishing village and about the name Urz from a vague memory. Then, about the fact that he lived in the fishing village for a while, but one day, they were attacked by pirates and Elizavetta who happened to pass by helped them. And finally about the fact that she ordered him to serve her.
At this, Lim opened her eyes wide and Mashas sighed while stroking his gray beard. Titta absentmindedly opened her mouth and stared at Urz.
“You started from stable boy, became an attendant and then an advisor, huh…”
“The explanation that you were promoted so fast just because your bow skill was highly evaluated doesn’t hold up. Isn’t there anything else?”
Mashas who pulled himself together and stared at Urz head on. Urz faltered.
As Mashas said, there was something that he did not say. From what he could see Mashas’ and Lim’s reactions, it looked like he couldn’t keep hiding it. Urz rummaged his darkish red hair.
“Can you keep it a secret?”
As he confirmed that all of them nodded, Urz opened his mouth.
“After I expressed my honest thoughts about Master –– Elizavetta-sama’s eyes, it looks like she took a liking to me.”
Except Lim, the three others respectively frowned. Only Lim knitted her brows as she witnessed a difficult problem and nodded.
“It’s the Rainbow Eyes.”
“Ah, the rumored eyes of different colors… A long time ago, I’ve seen a cat with such eyes.”
Mashas who finally understood muttered as he remembered. Seemingly, Titta’s memory also seemed to recall it at these words and nodded.
“There are many areas which detest the Rainbow Eyes as a fearful thing. Elizavetta-sama probably had bitter experiences in the past, too.”
After saying so, Lim shook her head as if shaking off her inward sympathy. She looked at Urz.
“It isn’t as if you have no memory after she helped the people of the fishing village, right?”
“That’s right. I properly remember from that point onwards. When I try to think about before I was saved, my mind became fuzzy and I can’t clearly remember, but it isn’t the case after I was saved.”
“Thank you. I generally understand how you have lived until now. Based on that, I would like to ask, but…”
Lim cut her words for a moment there. She seemed to hesitate about whether she should continued to speak as such, but conceiving determination on her blue pupils, she opened her mouth.
“Are you satisfied with your present life?”
“…What do you mean?”
Unable to guess Lim’s intention, Urz asked. Lim indifferently answered.
“Exactly as I stated. If you appreciated the life in which you serve Elizavetta-sama and want to continue, then we will go back as such.”
At her words, Mashas and Titta half rose to their feet from their chairs. The two people of Brune overlooked Lim with amazed faces.
“W-What do you mean?”
Titta, whose face turned pale, emitted a loud voice. Though Mashas was silent, he probably felt the same way as her; he shook his gray beard. Lim answered without breaking her calm at all.
“You may say that Urz-san has his clear memory as Urz, but he has no memory as Tigrevurmud Vorn.”
“We were also told that by Eleonora-sama…”
“Yes. But, she did not know what it was specifically. And, both we and Eleonora-sama do not know a way of regaining lost memories.”
Interrupting the words of Titta who desperately argued, Lim said plainly. Titta and Mashas gasped. Damad put on an expression as if expecting something.
“It is easy to take Urz-san along to LeitMeritz as Lord Tigrevurmud. However, will it be really good for him?”
Lim’s blue pupils gazed straight at Urz.
“If he does not recover his memory at this rate, Urz-san will be forced to live the life of another person who is Tigrevurmud Vorn. The surrounding people will call him Lord Tigrevurmud and treat him like that; he will grieve for not having his memory and people will sympathize with him. Eyes will not be turned to the person called Urz after today.”
Titta tried to rebut, but was not able to think of something. Lim said.
“Urz-san, your life can be considered to be substantial. You were highly evaluated by Elizavetta-sama, and you also have friendly colleagues. There seems to be small quarrels, but that is not only limited to Urz-san, it is something unavoidable when adapting into a foreign land.”
Urz lightly nodded. The look thrown at a stranger, whether it be in the fishing village or in the lodgings of the Imperial Palace’s stablemen, had always followed Urz around. It was something that only time solved.
“We are convinced that you are Tigrevurmud Vorn. However, as I said earlier, we do not know a way of recovering your memory. Of course, we can exert ourselves so that your memory returns, but it may never return.”
He wasn’t able to say that it was impossible. Actually, with fragmented scenes appearing, he did not think that he was Tigrevurmud Vorn.
Lim said with a severe expression.
“Therefore, I would like you to choose. Which path will you follow?”
Living here in Lebus as Urz?
Or, going away from here as Tigrevurmud Vorn?
A heavy silence flew down on the place. As a time of nearly ten counts passed, Urz asked with a painful expression.
“If I say that I will remain here, what will you do?”
“As I said earlier, we will go back.”
Without showing a shaken behavior, Lim immediately replied.
“Two swords do not fit into one sheath. You were not Tigrevurmud Vorn. Tigrevurmud Vorn fell into the sea and lost his life. That’s all. I think that Eleonora-sama also considered this and sent me here.”
Mashas had already decided to watch the course of events in silence.
Lim told a small lie. If she thought for Ellen’s sake, even if she was to drag him, she should take Urz and return. As for Mashas, when he thought about Regin who was in Brune’s royal palace, he also thought that he should pull apart Urz from here.
But while understanding that, Lim asked with a severe expression. If she were to think for this youth’s sake, she thought that she should do so.
—Did I really think about Tigre?
Mashas asked himself. No, I thought about Tigre. Though Regin would be surprised if she knew the situation, she would accept this youth as Tigre. While waiting for the day when his memory would return, she would definitely let this youth walk his life as Tigrevurmud Vorn.
There was no room for the life of the youth called Urz to enter there.
Both Mashas and Titta had thought that it was natural. That Urz was only impurities (a foreign matter) within Tigrevurmud Vorn.
However, Lim did not see it like that. In deference to Urz, she was going to let him choose his path for the future. Even though the feeling of wanting to meet Tigre should be strong even to her.
On the other hand, Urz was troubled.
—Even if she asks me which path to choose…
In that case, it was better to live as Urz. Tigre might be a hero. Probably, Titta and Mashas really thought of Tigre as an important person. After all, they came to look for him from the far away country of Brune. And he was also probably loved by many other people.
But for Urz, they were strangers.
He had also said it to Naum before, but he didn’t feel like it was about him. No matter how many uncertain scenes of his memory appeared in his mind.
Silence fell once again. Urz putting his clenched fist on his lap dropped his look on the table. Lim and company waited for the youth to open his mouth without urging him.
A time of about 30 counts passed. Urz took a small breath and raised his face.
“Could you wait until I make a decision? I won’t feel at ease with an indecisive answer.”
Urz’s face was earnest. The intent of trying to run away could not be seen in his black pupils.
“Limalisha-san. It’s as you said. Even I don’t know whether or not my memory will return in the future. Perhaps, it might stay like this my whole life. Above all, I don’t feel inconvenience in living as Urz. But––”
“Just because I don’t remember, I don’t want to avert my eyes to what I’ve probably done. I think that I should know and face the man called Tigrevurmud Vorn.”
“Though it will be after I obtain master –– Vanadis-sama’s permission, I will go to Brune. I will strive to regain my memory by visiting the land where Tigrevurmud Vorn was born and raised.”
“However”, Urz continued.
“Even if I was to regain my memory, I can’t guarantee whether or not I will return to my life as Tigrevurmud Vorn.”
“I do not mind that.”
Lim calmly answered. She looked at Titta and Mashas.
It was Titta who answered first. She tightly clenched her small hands and said.
“What is important is for Tigre-sama… no, Urz-san to regain his memory. Please let me help on that!”
Mashas looked at Titta and Lim with a bitter face, sighed and nodded.
“I understand. I think that what Limalisha-dono said is right.”
“Well then, let’s go to the Imperial Palace.”
Although holding vague uneasiness, Urz said with a resolved face. He did not know how Elizavetta would react. But, even if he were to live as Urz, he could not give up on his lost memory. He wanted the red-haired Vanadis to understand that.
The five people left the shop.
At that time, Mashas said as he recalled.
“Limalisha-dono. Sorry, but I want to look at the horses’ state. Can you come with me?”
It was about the three horses that they left in the care of the inn. Not only Lim who was told these words, but also Damad frowned.
“We can do that later, can’t we? Should we not hurry to the Imperial Palace now?”
“I understand your feelings, but if you ask me, it’s the opposite. Assuming that we go to the Imperial Palace and meets Vanadis-dono, we don’t even know whether or not we will leave by the end of today. Don’t tell me that you will temporarily excuse yourself just because you are worried about the horses. It’s best to get miscellaneous things over with earlier.”
“You’re right. I understand. What will you do, Titta?”
Lim looked at the chestnut-haired girl. After turned her look at Urz once, Titta shook her head.
“I will be waiting here with Ti… Urz-san.”
“We will finish as soon as possible.”
Lim said so and walked to the inn with Mashas. Urz, Damad and Titta were left behind.
“––Hey, can I have a minute?”
Seeing off the back of Mashas and Lim, Damad called out to Titta. Although the chestnut-haired girl shook her shoulders as she was startled, she eagerly straightened up her back, thrust out her chest and looked up at Damad.
“W-What is it?”
To her reaction like that of a small animal, Damad lifted the edge of his mouth and laughed.
“It’s not that big a deal. I’ll be borrowing this guy for a little while.”
When he finished speaking, Damad gripped Urz’s arm. Ignoring the puzzled Urz, the Muozinel young man began to walk. In a place about ten steps away from Titta who stood stock still dumbfounded, he stopped.
“What’s the matter?”
After bowing to Titta, Urz turned around to Damad.
“Shall we part here?”
Suddenly, Damad laughed and said that. To Urz who frowned, Damad continued.
“I said it, right? For what purpose I have traveled to such a place.”
In order to kill Tigrevurmud Vorn. Damad said so.
“Judging from the story of those guys, it seems that you’re really Tigrevurmud Vorn. In that case, we can no longer afford to act together.”
“…What about the reward for having brought me until here?”
Suddenly feeling loneliness, Urz asked. He was the man who tried to kill him. It was also hard to say that he had a good character. But, it was too sudden a parting.
“Let’s consider it as a loan.”
Saying so, Damad turned his back on Urz. Urz called out to his back.
“Thank you for having brought me to here.”
His back still turned, Damad replied in a dry tone.
“Listen, Urz. Don’t forget my words.”
Seeing off Damad, Urz returned to Titta’s side.
“What happened to that person?”
To Titta who shyly asked, Urz awkwardly smiled.
“It was just the right time, so we’ve decided to part here.”
Mashas who returned to the inn first checked the horses’ state. Then, after paying a silver coin to the storekeeper, he asked that he wanted him to look after them for about three days for the time being. As he finished with that, the old Earl said to Lim.
“Sorry, but can I have you write a letter addressed to Eleonora-dono of LeitMeritz?”
Mashas’ expression was extremely serious. He continued his explanation.
“Elizavetta Fomina-dono was it? I don’t know that person’s nature. In the worst case, there is also the possibility that we will imprisoned in the Imperial Palace and it’ll be pretended that we didn’t come here.”
“Such a thing…”
Lim could not deny it. This was because when she recalled the story that she heard from Ellen in LeitMeritz and the one she heard from Urz a while ago, it was clear that Elizavetta held a strong goodwill towards that darkish red-haired youth.
Besides, there was Titta. When push comes to shove, Lim was prepared to wield her sword; she had also accumulated training for that. It was probably the same for Mashas.
However, Titta had never held a sword, she was just a maid. Lim should adopt measures not only for herself, but also for Titta.
Lim nodded and then groaned as she realized a certain thing.
“Even you say to send a letter, the time to look for a merchant with a great influence is…”
In the case of delivering a letter to somewhere far away, one would give it to a servant if he’s a noble or to a messenger if he’s in an army, but the sole person a commoner could ask was a merchant. And it had to be a well-known merchant who took root in a town or city. This was because they were well known by peddlers who moved continuously from town to town.
They knew which peddler was going to head to which town or village. Therefore, they received the letter from the client with a payment and entrusted it to the peddler.
In addition, if it was a merchant with a great influence, he would always have multiple people who could have the letter promptly delivered. Even in case that there was no peddler who went to that village or town (wanted destination), he would find a way to deliver the letter.
Of course, there were probably such merchants in this castle town. But, Mashas and company just arrived a few days ago. To Lim which let impatience blur in her blue pupils, Mashas however shook his head.
“Then, there is no problem. I already looked for one. I also checked how much it costs.”
Lim looked at Mashas with a face which could not hide her surprise. And she asked in a tone to confirm.
“Have you thought about it since before we arrived at the castle town?”
“At least to the extent that there might be the necessity of sending an urgent letter. If I use the name of the touring knight Mashas Rodant, I won’t be suspicious even if I pile up money and entrust an urgent letter.”
Lim could not help but smile wryly at Mashas’ words. She did not expect that he would come to use the setup “turning knight” in such a place.
“Understood. But in that case, I think that we should send it to the Imperial Palace of Regnitza, and ask them to send a messenger from there to LeitMeritz.”
Regnitza was located in the middle of Lebus and LeitMeritz. And, the Imperial Palace of Regnitza was friendly to Ellen.
They were secretly thankful to the silver-haired Vanadis who desperately rode a horse, hid her name and was present at Vanadis Sasha’s death. It was something that both Mashas and Lim felt when they stopped by Regnitza due to this trip.
“That’s right. If it’s them, they’re definitely trustworthy.”
“Yes. By the way, what should we write for the letter’s contents?”
“That Urz was Tigre. That he did not regain his memory. And that if possible, we would like her to send someone. After all, what will become necessary no matter what, is a way to get in touch with the outside in case we are imprisoned in the Imperial Palace.”
Thus, the two of them left the hotel when Lim finished writing the letter.
Mashas who came out of the inn, seeing that there were only the two people Urz and Titta, stroke his gray beard wonderingly.
“Where is that Muozinel young man?”
“Since he brought me up to here, he said that we shall part.”
Urz answered as he let loneliness somewhat blur on his face.
“Hmm. Since he is your benefactor, I should have properly thanked him.”
Mashas who didn’t doubt Urz’s words muttered such an impression which made the youth smile wryly. He thought that it was good that he didn’t tell them about the fact that they fought in a forest. If they knew that, neither Mashas nor Lim would probably let Damad escape.
After they stopped by a certain merchant’s residence by Mashas’ request, Urz and company headed again to the Imperial Palace.
The castle gate of the Imperial Palace was wrapped in noise due to Urz’s slightly dirty figure.
It was known by many people that this youth disappeared several days ago. Also about the fact that by Elizavetta’s order, Naum had sent soldiers for his search.
Not only did that Urz return in an awful appearance, he even brought unknown man and women. It was no wonder that the place was thrown into an uproar.
“Including your awful appearance, there are various things I would like to ask you, but… Who are the three people behind you?”
The familiar gatekeeper asked Urz without hiding his suspicion. The youth answered with a wry smile.
“They were visitors to Naum-san. I am sorry, but could you pass that on him?”
Since he thought that it would become a serious matter if he gave the name of Elizavetta, he decided to have him call Naum first. If it’s him, he would manage it well.
As they waited before the castle gate, Naum appeared before long gasping for breath. He, who received the report from a soldier, had literally jumped out of his office.
But, he had still left his calm. As he drew close to Urz, Naum noticed Mashas and company standing near the youth.
The knight in his prime adjusted his breathing and quickly fixed his disorderly hair and clothes. His expression was tinged with dignity not as Urz’s boss, but one which should be called that of a knight of Lebus.
“Who are you?”
Mashas took a step forward and answered.
“I am Mashas Rodant, one who was granted the land of Aude and the title of Earl also gratefully from Her Highness the Princess in the Brune Kingdom. I came on this occasion because I would like to talk about something important.”
Naum’s face turned pale at the Bruneman’s words. Mashas’ greeting was polite without interval, and Naum was also impressed with the old Earl’s will’s strength.
But, Naum was also a man who served the Imperial Palace for a long time. As he quietly took a breath, he politely responded with a smiling face.
“Excuse me for my behavior. Welcome, Your Excellency Earl Rodant. I am called Naum and I serve this Imperial Palace’s lord Elizavetta Fomina-sama. Unfortunately, my lord is currently absent and while presumptuous, I shall act as your conversation partner.”
As they were guided by Naum, Urz and company passed through the Imperial Palace’s door. It looked like Naum was heading to the reception room. Urz walked with long strides and drew beside Naum.
“Leave it for later, Urz.”
Urz opened his eyes wide. Naum’s profile was unusually severe.
“You have brought them, so I can roughly guess the situation. It might be better to hear the circumstances in detail from you. But, I would first like to talk with Earl Rodant. I want you to remain silent as much as possible.”
Being overawed by a quiet appeal, Urz could only nod.
Naum guided Mashas and company to the reception room inside the Imperial Palace.
A carpet from Muozinel was laid out on the floor and a silver water jug decorated a corner of the room. A table of ebony was arranged in the center so that it was interposed between two sofas. Although luxurious, it was a room which gave a calm impression without emphasizing gaudiness.
Naum first recommended the sofa to Mashas and company and after waiting for the three people to sit, he also sat down on the sofa of the opposite side. Urz sat next to Naum.
“Is it all right for me to sit with this appearance as is?”
Urz asked Naum in a low voice while pulling the hem of his clothes. The knight in his prime answered without looking at Urz.
“I don’t mind. Though you should clean the dirt of the place afterwards, time is precious now.”
Then, Naum called a servant and ordered him to prepare drinks for the guests. Moreover, he added this in a casual tone.
“Speaking of which, I wonder where Lazarl-dono went. Could you tell him that an urgent matter came up?”
The servant respectfully bowed and left the reception room.
“Who is Lazarl-dono?”
“What, he’s just a colleague.”
Naum smoothly dodged the question of Mashas who feigned a casual behavior. He opened his mouth without pausing.
“Now then, with all due respect to Your Excellency Earl Rodant, for what kind of business did you come for? I would like to hear it first and then convey it to my lord the Vanadis.”
“Naum-dono, do you know a man called Tigrevurmud Vorn?”
Without even an introduction, Mashas directly cut to the chase. A fire was just earlier put in the fireplace of this room; so it was not cold, but you could not say that it was warm, either. Nevertheless, cold sweat ran through Naum’s back.
“Yes. He is a famous person after all. He’s the hero suppressed Brune’s civil war and afterwards, as a guest General in the LeitMeritz dukedom––”
“Urz who is there––” Mashas said as he interrupted Naum’s words.
“What do you say about him being Tigrevurmud Vorn?”
Lim, Titta and Urz held their breath. The reception room was wrapped in a tense atmosphere.
“…It is the first time that I hear of that. It’s a very interesting talk.”
After a short pause, Naum calmly responded.
“Hou. Are you saying that you’re hearing of this for the first time?”
Fighting spirit flickered in Mashas’s eyes. His gray beard seemed to shake as it was stirred up with its owner’s feelings. However, Naum warded off the old Earl’s anger without changing his complexion at all.
“Your Excellency Earl Rodant, do you know that Urz here has lost his memory?”
“I heard it from the person himself.”
“Then, I shall ask you, but on what basis do you judge that Urz is Tigrevurmud Vorn?”
It should be said to be impudent. Naum threw a question to Mashas. To Mashas who fell silent, Naum continued.
“It’s now about sixty or seventy days since I met Urz for the first time. I saw him when I was accompanying Vanadis-sama as she took a walk to a certain shore of Regnitza.”
At that time, Urz, blended in with the villagers, and shot down a sea bird. And, they were attacked by pirates who suddenly appeared. Naum briefly explained this.
“Did you also hear this story from Urz?”
Mashas nodded. Confirming it, Naum continued.
“When we met Urz, he had already lost his memory and he only had the name Urz, a preeminent bow skill and an honest heart shine. And except for the name, Vanadis-sama was very pleased with the latter two and took him as a servant.”
When he said up to there, the servant carried the drinks over. There were two kinds, wine with spicy grass and wine diluted with honey. Since there were two women among the visitors, Naum considered that.
“This one with soaked spicy grass is a little hot, but it warms the body. I think that this one containing honey will be all right for your companions.”
“Thank you for your consideration.”
Mashas courteously bowed his head. And when he raised his face, the old Earl continued his words.
“Speaking of which, I haven’t introduced them yet.”
Mashas turned his look to Lim and said.
“This is Limalisha. She acts as the adjutant of LeitMeritz’s Vanadis Eleonora-dono who’s famous as the “Wind Princess of the Silver Flash”.”
The movements of Naum who was holding the bottle of wine stopped for an instant. Lim kept silent and politely bowed. Then, Mashas moved his head to the other side and looked at Titta.
“This is Titta. She is a girl born and raised in Alsace located in the northeast of the Brune Kingdom.”
“…Oh my, you came here from a far-off place.”
Naum carefully put the bottle of wine on the table. Saying that was the best he could do to hide his unrest. Mashas pretended to not notice such a reaction and continued.
“This girl has a relation with Tigrevurmud Vorn that can be considered as brother and sister. She had been by Earl Vorn since they were children and spent time together. Despite being a 16-year-old young girl, she is a girl to whom Earl Vorn entrusts with all things within his mansion.”
“Hou. Being trusted that much by the Earl, she is a splendid young lady.”
Naum answered with a sweet smile. Mashas also continued with a smile.
“When it was decided that Earl Vorn would head to LeitMeritz as a guest General, he left Brune bringing only this girl with him. There is that much of a relationship of mutual trust between the two of them.”
“I see. By the way, let’s go back to the main topic, but Your Excellency Earl Rodant, on what basis did you judge Urz to be Earl Vorn?”
The back of Naum who asked so was already soaking wet with sweat. Even Lim and Titta who were sitting on Mashas’ both sides were a threat to him. He must quickly seize the initiative. Naum said without breaking his dignified attitude.
“The face is the same. He is good at archery. Even if such things are enumerated, I can only answer that there is also such a thing. He has lost his memory, but even so, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Urz is Earl Vorn.”
“Do you know the name of Earl Vorn’s father?”
The question of Mashas said in a casual tone took Naum by surprise. To the knight in his prime who tilted his head to the side, Mashas said.
“He is called Urz. Do you say that this is also a coincidence?”
“––I can’t say otherwise.”
No matter what, he could not afford to admit that here. It would be different if Urz admitted it, but otherwise, Naum did not intend to nod.
“Did you hear about the story where Eleonora-dono called out to Elizavetta-dono in the battlefield the other day?”
“I heard about it. However, LeitMeritz’s Vanadis-sama immediately admitted her fault and apologized to our Vanadis-sama. Will you not damage LeitMeritz’s Vanadis-sama’s honor if you bring it up again?”
This time, Titta opened her mouth as she could not endure the tense air.
“Um… Could you lend us Urz-san?”
“What do you mean by lend?”
Naum asked with a dubious face. Titta eagerly spun her words.
“I think that Urz-san also wants to regain his memory. So, if we take him along to Brune and he sees places such as the towns or villages of Alsace, his memory may return…”
Although she was out of breath at the end and her words were also tottering, anyway Titta said what she should say. Mashas also nodded as to show that he thought so, too.
“Naum-dono. Don’t you think that Titta’s proposal is reasonable? Haven’t you also recalled many times where you were troubled about the fact that Urz’s memory is lost?”
“Certainly. I am also anxious about Urz’s memory.”
While soaking his mouth with wine that was poured into a silver cup, Naum made such a solemn expression that it was unnatural.
The knight in his prime felt inwardly relieved. He was afraid of whether Mashas and company might have conclusive evidence which connected Urz and Tigre, but it did not seem to be the case.
“However, I think that for him now more than regaining his memory, I would like him to give priority to get used and adapt to the current environment. I said it some time ago, but it still has been only a few days since he came to serve to this Imperial Palace. Moreover––”
As if pressed for an answer, Naum continued.
“Urz has the very important duty of being the Vanadis adviser.”
Actually, even Naum was puzzled on whether or not it was an important duty, but it was enough for a bluff. The knight of a pessimistic nature continued with a straight face.
“I think that if it is you, Your Excellency Earl Rodant, you can understand that if it’s a person who has an important duty, he must give priority to official businesses over his personal feelings. Well, even if he goes to Brune, it will be in about three years later at the earliest.”
Naum thought that if it was in three years, it would be possible to cut off Urz from his lost memory and make him a person of Lebus.
Although Elizavetta was fond of Urz, he would not do something like abuse that. He would diligently do the assigned work. He would give results whether it be war or mediation. And there would someday be those who would acknowledge him and become his friends.
Afterwards also, Naum kept dodging noncommittally Mashas’ questioning. Unless conclusive evidence, which showed that Urz was Tigre, was presented, he intended to dodge the questioning.
Mashas who finally grew impatient said indignantly.
“Naum-dono. I will ask, but has Vanadis-dono the same thoughts as you?”
“I cannot assert so, but I do not think that there is a big difference. In the first place, Your Excellency Earl Rodant. Do you think a human who fell into the winter sea at night would live and reach the shore? I do not mind even telling you the place of the fishing village which saved Urz. It would be impossible anyway that someone could live after that.”
“Could you allow me to talk directly with Vanadis-dono?”
“About that, I am sorry, but I cannot answer immediately.”
Naum thought that he succeeded in escaping.
“I said it a while ago, but Vanadis-sama has left for a long-term inspection. If you are all right with waiting for when Vanadis-sama returns, then…”
“Very well. I would like for you to arrange as such.”
Regaining his usual dignity, Mashas answered.
“I do not know about when Vanadis-sama will return, but even so it is all right?”
Mashas nodded. Naum lowly surveyed the three people.
“Well then, I shall prepare guest rooms for you. I shall make sure that you can spend time without inconvenience while being here in this Imperial Palace.”
Naum bowed his head courteously. The other parties were an Earl of the Brune Kingdom and Ellen’s adjutant. Besides, not only was the maid pleased with the old Earl before her eyes, but she was trusted by Tigre and also had a good relation with Ellen. Not a single one of them was a visitor whom they could treat roughly.
—If I make a mistake, it will become a war against Brune and LeitMeritz…
Naum was inwardly thankful to Mashas. He thought that he would take a more oppressive attitude, but he was an old man who could discern reason. If he establish time and discussed, he would probably make up a reason that would be a little better.
Naum lightly tapped Urz’s shoulder and stood up from the sofa.
“Well then, wait for a little while in this room. When the rooms’ preparations are done, I will have you called.”
As he bowed, Naum left the reception room along with Urz.
As he left the reception room and walked about ten steps, Naum stopped. He rounded his back without minding the public gaze and heaved a grand sigh. The clothes which he wore were damply wet with sweat due to strain.
“Every one of them is a fearful person. I will leave it to Lazarl-dono next time.”
Mashas and company probably didn’t think that they would settle it with only one talk. He was also concerned about the fact that Lim remained silent. She might be inquiring his attitude.
Urz reservedly called out to him. Naum looked back at the youth and smiled wryly.
“You did well to have remained silent at that place. Even though there were probably many things you wanted to say.”
Naum was able to keep he did not know because Urz had said nothing. If this darkish red-haired youth had blurted out something along the lines that he might be Tigre, Naum probably wouldn’t have been able to keep a dignified attitude up to there.
However, Urz shook his head.
“Let’s forget about me. More importantly, about master having gone for long-term inspection…”
To Urz’s words, Naum’s expression increased with dreadfulness at a stretch. The Knight of Lebus seemed to have immediately changed his thinking.
“I’ve precisely ran here because I wanted to ask you about it. I didn’t think that you would come back with such visitors.”
Naum seemed to be talking about the fact that he appeared at the castle gate out of breath when Urz returned. Urz also put on a serious expression thinking that something happened after all.
“It isn’t something we can speak about in the corridor. Let’s find a good place somewhere…”
As Naum was absorbed in thought, there was a voice which called out to them from a distant place. When they looked there, Lazarl was running in frenzy. When the old civil official stopped before Urz and Naum, he spent a time of about five counts to fix his breathing.
“Lazarl-dono. If you overdo it, it’ll affect your body.”
“This much doesn’t even count as overdoing it. More importantly––”
While wiping sweat on his forehead with the sleeve of his official outfit, Lazarl turned a severe look at Urz.
“I heard that apparently rare visitors came.”
“Let’s postpone that talk. Is there a suitable room somewhere?”
Naum as well as the old civil official looked at Urz. Lazarl nodded.
“It will be all right in the office. After all, there is no one who enters that room in this situation.”
Lazarl began to walk as soon as he finished speaking, and Naum followed the old civil official after exchanging looks with Urz. Urz, not understanding what was going on, followed the two men, too.
—It’s quite flurried…
When they were heading to the reception room, probably because there were the presence of Mashas and company, he was tense and did not notice, but a tense atmosphere was drifting in the whole Imperial Palace. For some reason, the soldiers walked with quick steps, and a shadow of uneasiness could be seen on the maids’ and court ladies’ faces. There were also those who turned strange looks to Urz.
When they entered the office, Naum casually leaned on the door. It was in order to not let other people enter. Lazarl also, not even turning on light, stared at Urz. Only the feeble sunlight coming in through the window dimly illuminated the interior of the room.
“That’s a fairly awful appearance, Urz.”
“Um, many things happened.”
Urz who rummaged his darkish red hair answered. Lazarl nodded.
“I’m sorry to have a talk with you without letting you even changes clothes. Let alone dash hot water over yourself, but this is an urgent matter. Listen well. Vanadis-sama had disappeared this morning.”
Urz opened wide his eyes. Naum said in a curt tone.
“I said long-term inspection, but that’s what we ostensibly said. Since we can’t declare it openly.”
Urz finally knew the real nature of the tense atmosphere drifting in the Imperial Palace. And then, he cocked his head in puzzlement as he repeated Lazarl’s words in his head.
“I’m sorry. You said this morning, but did master come back before that?”
Naum and Lazarl looked at each other. Wandering his look about in the air Naum thought about it, but he gave a nod and turned to Urz.
“All right. First of all, we will tell you what we heard from Vanadis-sama. You remember that day when Vanadis-sama went out with you to take a walk?”
Confirming that Urz nodded, Naum explained from start to end. Though Urz was surprised when he heard that she came back with a body full of bruises on the next day, he felt relieved that Elizavetta was safe.
After Naum and Lazarl told about what happened to Elizavetta, they said that she passed time without almost moving from her bedroom until last night. Naum and company thought that it was probably due to fatigue and injury, and that it was better to have her rest for earlier recovery.
However this morning, when a court lady went to wake Elizavetta, she was not there. Moreover, there was a note on the table.
“Such contents were written on the letter with Vanadis-sama’s handwriting. ‘I am sorry for causing you to worry. I will be back after about ten days.’”
Naum sighed deeply.
“Vanadis-sama is hiding something from us. Therefore, I would like to ask you, Urz. Do you have any idea where Vanadis-sama went?”
“I don’t know where she went, but…”
Urz faltered. He removed his look from the two men and stared at the floor. Naum leaned forward.
“If you know something, tell us. Even any trivial thing is all right.”
To his words, Urz also strengthened his determination. He raised his face and gazed at Naum and Lazarl.
“I have a request. I want you to accept what I will tell you from now on as fact. No matter how much it may sound absurd.”
Naum and Lazarl looked at each other again. Urz’s words were strange, but the youth’s black pupils were filled with sincere brightness and his tone was earnest. Above all, they knew that he was not someone who would spoke of a joke in such a situation. Naum urged Urz as he nodded.
“It’s when I accompanied master for a walk on that day.”
Naum who heard Urz’s story was first dumbfounded, and then amazed. He knitted his brows, frowned and turned towards Urz eyes like when he saw an unknown dish.
However, Lazarl showed a different reaction. When he heard the name Baba Yaga, the old civil official gasped and tightly grasped a fist as if enduring fear.
When Urz finished talking, an unnatural silence flew down in the office.
“The Vanadis-sama’s story that a dragon suddenly appeared was also general, but…”
After a blank of about ten counts, Naum muttered with a wry face. The knight in his prime turned his gaze to Lazarl and noticed then that his attitude was strange.
Lazarl asked Urz with a painful expression.
“Yaga… Are you sure that Vanadis-sama said so?”
When Urz nodded, Lazarl looked up at the sky.
“It was the day when Vanadis-sama came back to the Imperial Palace. I was ordered to do a certain thing by Vanadis-sama. It was to investigate which of Lebus’ run-down temples enshrines Baba Yaga.”
This time, it was Naum’s complexion which changed.
“Such a monster is actually…”
Starting to say up to there, Naum swallowed his words. He saw the pirates’ leader transformed into a huge white monster. Even when the two Vanadis Sasha and Elizavetta finally defeated that monster.
“Then, does it mean that Vanadis-sama is going around the waste shrines one by one in order to kill that monster named Baba Yaga?”
When Naum muttered, Lazarl deeply bowed his head.
“I’m sorry. If I knew that things would become like this, I would have stalled for time and consulted with you…”
“No, Lazarl-dono. If we didn’t hear Urz’s story, we wouldn’t have arrived at this conclusion.”
Naum shook his head. Certainly, with only Lazarl’s story, he would think that the waste shrines were suspicious. But it was difficult to connect them to Elizavetta’s actions. He could not afford to have soldiers head to waste shrines with uncertain information.
“Lazarl-dono, could you tell me the locations of the waste shrines that you reported about to Vanadis-sama?”
Naum said with an earnest expression. Similarly, Lazarl returned to his face as a civil official.
“What will you do?”
“I will prepare 1000 soldiers. I will have a set of 100 cavalrymen respectively head to each waste shrine and bring back Vanadis-sama as soon as they find her.”
“What will you do about Baba Yaga?”
“We will discuss it from now on. Depending on the situation, we may also have to ask Osterode or LeitMeritz for help. If there was a Vanadis in Regnitza, we would have also asked there.”
There was Valentina Glinka Estes in Osterode and Eleonora Viltaria in LeitMeritz. Anyway, what was necessary was a Vanadis.
Urz step forward with a determined expression.
“I will also help. Please, add me to the unit which will look for master.”
Naum showed a slightly surprised face, but he immediately revealed a fearless smile.
“Don’t you need to rest?”
“I’m tired, but now isn’t the time for that.”
“You’re quite right.”
Lazarl smiled wryly, too. Naum nodded and looked at Urz
“All right. Frankly, I’m in need of people’s help as much as I can get. I will entrust you with 100 cavalrymen. If you find Vanadis-sama, even you have to persuade by tears or whatever, anyway bring her back.”
Then as Naum called a subordinate, he ordered him to organize 1000 cavalrymen.
“Have each of them take food for two days. If it runs out, carry another share later. How long will it take?”
Although the subordinate was also surprised at the sudden instructions, he said that it would take about two koku.
“Two koku, huh…”
Naum groaned. The sun had almost reached its zenith. It would be considerably inclined to the west sky. Then, even if he had them depart, the sun would immediately set. However, Naum immediately reconsidered. Even if he had to let the soldiers run all through the night here, he had to look for Elizavetta.
“Have each of them prepare a fur overcoat to wear over armor. Also don’t forget hats, gloves and shoes. Prepare all of this within two koku.”
As he issued instructions like so in piles and the subordinate left, the talk moved to Mashas and the others. This was because it was also necessary to explain the circumstances to Lazarl. The old civil official who heard the story from Naum gave a small nod.
“I understand. I will take over as their conversation partner. Naum-dono, concentrate on the search for Vanadis-sama.”
Then, Lazarl looked at Urz.
“Urz. I will check just to be sure, but they didn’t have anything which may undoubtedly prove that you are Tigrevurmud Vorn, right?”
At his question, Urz, while hesitating, shook his head.
“There is one thing which occurs to me. ––It’s a bow.”
To the two men who held their breath, Urz explained about the black bow. That strange bow which appeared in his hands in the fight against the Double Headed Dragon.
“That girl Titta said it. That there is a black bow which is the heirloom of the Vorn House.”
After Naum and Lazarl looked at each other, they nodded.
“Does it look like you will somehow manage with only that?”
“I haven’t seen the real thing, so I can’t say anything.”
To Lazarl’s question, Naum responded while patting the wrinkles of his face. Lazarl put his thoughts in order and turned to Urz. His expression was unusually painful and filled with drive. Sweat blurred on the old civil official’s forehead.
“Urz. I don’t know whether it’s fortunate or not, but with only your talk now, it doesn’t prove to be conclusive evidence. If you wish, you may live in Lebus like before. However, I think that days with hardships will continue for a while.”
At that time, Lazarl explained to Urz about the fifteen knights.
“Vanadis-sama said that they were attacked by the dragon. Let’s go with that for the time being. But, circumstances are what they are. Those who will turn eyes of doubt to you will also appear.”
Fifteen people suddenly disappeared and Elizavetta returned to the Imperial Palace full of bruises on the next day. Furthermore, Urz also came back a few days later similarly with a wounded body.
There were probably those among the knights’ friends and colleagues that knew that they were jealous of Urz. Even without that, it hadn’t been long since Urz worked in the Imperial Palace. He was in the position to be doubted first when something happened.
Naum was watching Urz and Lazarl with a bitter expression. Since he heard beforehand that Lazarl intended to bring up this talk, he had no complaints on that point.
But, it was truly awkward. After having talked with Mashas and company, it sounded as if Lazarl was trying to drive out Urz from Lebus. However, if he does not talk now, Urz might end up making a wrong choice. It was a very unbearable mood.
Lazarl continued talking without changing his complexion at all.
“Moreover, if I judge that Vanadis-sama may be blamed, I intend to pin all the crimes on you.”
Tension ran. A heavy silence as if being at the bottom of the sea wrapped the surroundings.
It was Urz who calmly brushed aside that silence.
“I wouldn’t be able stand it if master is blamed for this. Besides, it’s a fact that they came aiming for me.”
Lazarl nodded with a severe expression.
“I adopted measures so that such a thing doesn’t happen, but I don’t know how he will go down. If you still want to remain in Lebus after being aware of all of what I just said, then I will help you as much as possible.”
It would be the least Lazarl could do for him. When Urz expressed his gratitude by saying “Thank you”, Lazarl coughed once and continued his words.
“One more thing. When your memory returns, whether you wish to live as Urz or choose to walk the path as Earl Vorn, I will still support you.”
Urz looked at Lazarl with a face which could not hide his surprise. It was the same for Naum. The old civil official continued.
“It’s your life. No matter which you choose, do it so as to not have any regrets.”
On the evening of that day, Urz went to Mashas and the others. It was to inform them about the fact that he would be away from the Imperial Palace.
It might not be necessary to meet them. But, it was certain that their existence was stuck in fragments of his memory. Lazarl’s words of “so as to not have any regrets” also supported Urz.
When he visited the guest room where Mashas was, the old Earl welcomed Urz with a strange figure as he wrapped his body in a blanket. Urz could not help but burst into laughter at his appearance, and at the same time he felt a strange nostalgia.
It was also so when he met him for the first time in the main street of the castle town. Not only him, but also when he sat around the table with Titta and Lim, he felt awkward, yet at ease.
—Was it because of that black bow?
After shooting an arrow with a black bow and killing the Double Headed Dragon, Urz was attacked by a strange headache. And, many scenes floated in his head fragmentarily.
—If I were to meet that Vanadis of LeitMeritz now, would I hold a different feeling?
“What’s the matter, Urz-dono?”
One might also say that he settled down as time passed. Mashas called him Urz without hesitating. While Urz was thankful for that, he told him that he would be away for a while from tomorrow on.
“I can’t tell you the details, but…”
When he said so, Mashas kept a watchful eye.
“If it’s all right with you, could you also take me along?”
Urz was bewildered at the unexpected proposal. Mashas continued with words carrying vigor.
“What, by no means will I get in your way. But, as I already said before, we came for you. We can’t go back as such without doing anything. What do you say?”
“That isn’t decided at my own discretion. Besides, it isn’t a safe mission. You’re an honor guest of Imperial Palace, so I can’t take you along…”
As Urz said so, Mashas greatly nodded.
“If it’s not safe, then all the more so. I understated it in the talk with Naum-dono, but if I can’t bring you back with us, my head will probably fly.”
Mashas said with an extremely serious face.
If at this rate, Tigre were to choose to live as Urz and Princess Regin who is in Brune knew that, what kind of reaction would she show? It would be good if he got off with just being ashamed.
“Moreover”, Mashas continued with a calm expression.
“I can’t let you die by a petty thing.”
Urz gave up. For some reason, he could not decline this old Earl’s request. That might also be because he was Tigre.
“I will ask Naum-san about it. But, it’s really dangerous, you know?”
“What, I’ve gone through a lot of dangers.”
Mashas responded as if it was nothing. Urz felt his attitude somewhat reliable.
For Urz, one more miscalculation arose. When he talked it through with Naum and went to meet Mashas again, Lim also stood there.
“Allow me to tag along, too.”
With an unamiable expression, she said indifferently. Urz, at a loss for words, looked at Mashas.
“She said that if she also can’t bring you back with her, she can’t shamelessly go back to LeitMeritz. Saying that she can only spend the days in the Imperial Palace by doing nothing won’t do as a reason, right”
Seeing Mashas’ smile, Urz thought that he was tricked. When they talked some time ago, Mashas had probably predicted that it would turn out like this. Gazing at Lim, the youth said.
“It’s really dangerous, you know?”
Lim nodded silently. There was no time to persuade her. Urz sighed.
“Very well. Anyway you two, if something were to happen, please give priority to your own safety.”
Urz could only say so. At the same time, he noticed that by just having these two at his side, he strangely felt a sense of security, too.
—That’s right. I did have them support me like this after all…
Vague scenes rose in his mind. But, they sank again into darkness before becoming clear. Even though he almost felt like he was able to remember various things.
The three people walked along a corridor wrapped in darkness.
By the way, after Naum who received the report from Urz groaned for a while, he gave the following conditions.
“I will have you obey Urz as a soldier. Even if you happen to get injured, we will absolutely not bear responsibility. Urz is the witness.”
It wasn’t as if he didn’t consider confining Mashas and company, it was the actual condition that he did not want to increase the staff anymore. This was because he lost fifteen knights a few days ago and he had to dispatch 1000 cavalrymen this time.
Besides, considering Elizavetta’s precedent, the doubt that Mashas and company might also slip out from the Imperial Palace did not fade away. He understood that the strength of their feelings towards Urz was considerable after talking with them once.
“If so, then it will be rather better to know their whereabouts.”
Naum judged so.
Thus, Urz left the Imperial Palace along with Mashas and Lim, leading 100 cavalrymen.
After having seen off Mashas and company, Titta was praying in the guest room given to her. She undid and took down her hair.
The nightclothes she wore were made of silk and the feel of them was good. They were thinly made, but the indoor air wasn’t warm enough to not be worrisome basically. It was not warm, but it would be a needless worry once she crawled into the bed.
“Please, protect Tigre-sama.”
There was a grim feeling in her voice, but if compared with that of several days ago, it was much brighter.
No matter what might be said, Tigre was alive. And although he left leading soldiers, it did not necessarily mean that he’s proceeding to a battlefield. Moreover, if something happens, there was Mashas and Lim by Tigre’s side.
Surely the four of them would be able to return to LeitMeritz.
Then after hesitating, Titta prayed like this.
“May that heirloom bow come back to Tigre-sama’s hands!”
Titta knew that that black bow was something uncanny. At the same time, she also knew that that black bow often saved Tigre from danger.
“You may use my body however much you want. So, please…”
At this time, Titta directly prayed to Tir Na Fa for the first time.
The darkness which lurked on the ceiling looked down at her. The darkness took a form somehow similar to a bow and there was a will within it, but Titta did not notice.
Well for one, the presence of that will was extremely thin (weak). It had not yet the power to fully manifest on the ground.
The Polesia dukedom was located in the southeast of the Zhcted Kingdom.
The name of the Vanadis governing that land was Sofya Obertas. She was the Vanadis with the nickname of “Brilliant Princess of the Light Flower” and was an impressively beautiful woman with waving golden hair and beryl-colored pupils. She was called Sofy by those close to her.
She wrapped her slender tall figure in a green dress and always carried a golden bishop’s staff. To the eyes of those who looked at her, this bishop’s staff was reflected as though it was a part of her body. This was the Viralt “Light Flower” which made Sofy a Vanadis.
Now, Sofy was checking something in the library which was in a corner of the Imperial Palace. Sitting in front of a long desk of oak, she opened an old book.
A candlestick was put on the right side of the long desk and a fire burnt on the candle. The books and scrolls, each being old, the edges turned yellow and the characters were blurred.
The usual, gentle smile not being on Sofy’s face, she turned over the book with a serious expression. In her left hand, there was a circular lens with a thin chain.
Outside of the Imperial Palace, the wings of night had covered the sky long ago and countless stars were twinkling. It was also the time when most of the people working in the Imperial Palace were sleeping.
However, Sofy, showing no signs of fatigue from government affairs, was silently looking over the book.
She was extremely busy from summer until recently.
As the Zhcted Kingdom’s messenger, she proceeded towards the Asvarre Kingdom that was across the sea and was rolled up in the civil war there. When they thought that it was settled by the activities of Tigre and the Vanadis Olga, they were attacked by a demon named Torbalan and a sea dragon on their way back.
Tigre fell into the sea and his welfare (status) was unknown even now. After she stopped by LeitMeritz and talked roughly about it to Ellen who was a close friend, she proceeded to the Capital Silesia and had to report to King Victor. It was after that that she was able to return to Polesia, and half of autumn had passed when she returned to her Imperial Palace.
Even after returning to Polesia, she really had no time to calm down. She had to settle the work that piled up when she was absent. There were many documents which absolutely needed her settlement.
But, she complained only in a form which posed as a joke and strove for the government affairs. Currently for her, the work pressure was also a relief.
At the time Torbalan appeared, Sofy was not able to save Tigre even though she was there. Even though he had saved her in Asvarre.
And, when the death of Alexandra Alshavin who, although a Vanadis like her, was also an important friend was brought to her, her heart grew colder.
“––There are rather too many misfortunes this year, eh.”
As a person governing a dukedom, she believed that she was used to a person’s death. But as expected, the death of those close to her stood in her heart. Not only the fact that in the case of Tigre, it happened right before her eyes, but there being also the regret of being unable to do anything, her feelings were rather strong.
—At least, let me take revenge.
It was demons that Sofy was investigating about. When she remembered Torbalan’s words one by one, that demon undoubtedly knew about the Vanadis. They had knowledge of them that differed from that of humans.
If she was to fight them, she must have knowledge about the enemy even if it’s just a little. Those who make light of information would never win no matter what the fight is. Even if they stood temporarily superior by fortune, they would be beaten someday.
As Sofy, who finished looking over the book opened on the desk put the lens which she was holding in her left hand on the desk, she lightly stretched herself. And then, she moved her chair and turned around to look back.
The interior of the room which was illuminated by the candlestick’s small fire wasn’t so wide. But, except the door and a small window, bookshelves covered the entire wall, hundreds of books lined up in the bookshelves and about the same number of scrolls and epistles were piled up.
These were collected during the several years after Sofy became a Vanadis. There were also the ones which she requested from the nobles of the neighboring countries such as Brune and Muozinel, having paid them money, and having her subordinates transcribe them.
For a private library, it was quite something. There was probably not many people even among the great nobles that had this many books and scrolls.
Sofy, having her beryl-colored pupils filled with the color of irony thought that it was good to collect books.
—I didn’t think it would become like this though…
She didn’t know yet that Tigrevurmud Vorn was alive. Polesia was in the southeast, and Lebus which Elizavetta governed was in the northeast of Zhcted.
In addition, Sofy wasn’t that intimate with Elizavetta, and since she returned to Polesia, she wasn’t able to leave the Imperial Palace due to government affairs.
As she finished her short break, Sofy resumed her work. Suddenly, her eyes stopped at a certain description.
“––The King of the Magic Bullet?”
Thinking that they were words that she had heard somewhere before, Sofy wandered her gaze in the air and explored her memory. She was able to remember it without taking too much time.
In the far-off old days. It was the nickname of a certain hero at the time when even this Zhcted Kingdom didn’t exist yet on this earth.
The hero’s name was not known, and only the fact that it was a man and that nickname were left with little else record. The man who received from a Goddess a bow to surely hit what was aimed at, defeated all his enemies with that bow and finally became a King. People called him the “King of the Magic Bullet”.
“Yes, if I remember correctly, it should have been such a story…”
As she muttered, Sofy returned her look to the book. What she was reading now summarized about the existence of demons and fairies transmitted from ancient times, as well as the gods of old times and the humans who got involved with them. It was no wonder that the title “the King of the Magic Bullet” appeared.
There seemed to be only several lines written about the King of the Magic Bullet, but the characters of a country which fell to ruins long ago were mixed in, there were places incomprehensible in the sentences, and it took considerable time for even Sofy to understand.
—The King of the Magic Bullet is a proxy manifesting the will of a Goddess on Earth. He’s a person who sometimes destroys things; inhuman things or sometimes destroys humans. He is someone who goes about the royal road or walks the evil path. He’s someone who becomes the hero or the Demon King…
Sofy knitted her shapely brows. She felt like it was described as such when she summarized the parts which she understood, but she could not grasp the meaning very good. Still, they were contents which gave an ominous impression.
—There are things with unclear meanings. Like the Goddess or the numbers 3 and 7 written on the front and back… What is bothering me are the words “inhuman things”.
Inhuman things. Torbalan was without a doubt that.
After pondering for a while about the King of the Magic Bullet, Sofy shook her head with a surprised face. What she was investigating now was about demons.
—I’m also concerned with the King of the Magic Bullet, but let’s postpone this for another time.
If she was derailed, time would not be enough no matter how much there was. Sofy heaved a sigh and once again looked over the book.