In one room of the royal palace, several men gathered.
Surrounding a big table put in the center of the room, they were exchanging serious gazes. Their ages varied; if there was a man who was in his twenties, there was also one who apparently was in his thirties.
What they had in common was that they were all Brune nobles, disdained Regin, hated Tigre and held even the intent to kill towards these two. In this place where they were all comrades, it was not necessary to hide their negative feelings. The men’s eyes were dark and impure, and their looks were awfully distorted.
The man, who would be the oldest among them, said in an indifferent voice.
“Tigrevurmud Vorn seems to have arrived at the capital. There is also the Zhcted army.”
“Mr. Hero’s triumphal return, huh. And those Zhcted’s dogs, how conceited of them.”
A different man spat that out with a bitter face.
“Even now, I can’t believe that that brat had challenged Duke Thenardier head on and moreover won. Are you sure he didn’t hide in the shadow and shot a poisoned arrow?”
“It’s possible. As if he could fight against Roland and Duke Thenardier with only a bow and arrows.”
“Or he might have taken credit after having been helped by the Zhcted army.”
Two, three people severally slandered and scorned Tigre. For them, Tigre was a small noble of a remote region without any ability, Zhcted’s marionette and a shameless person toadying to Regin. Not to mention the youth’s bow skill, they did not intend to recognize even his achievements of the battlefield.
The oldest man who started the talk turned a cold gaze to them, but he did not try to blame them. Shifting his gaze onto a different man, he asked in a calm tone.
“Is it certain that Earl Vorn and the Zhcted army will stay for three days in the royal palace?”
When the oldest man uttered these words, those who were disparaging Tigre until then closed their mouths all at once. The man who was asked the question nodded and answered.
“There’s no doubt. I think that it’s exactly the time required to prepare arms and food.”
In response to his words, the oldest man looked around at his comrades and calmly said.
“We will proceed as planned. By the fact that Earl Vorn has come to the royal palace, Princess Regin’s mind would probably relax. And Earl Vorn too would without a doubt feel relieved entering the royal palace.”
They had three goals. The rescue of Melisande locked up in one room of the royal palace. Tigre’s assassination. And, catch Regin, hold her hostage and eventually kill her.
They did not have any guilty feelings. For them, Regin was a fake princess and Melisande was the lord they should look up to. They believed that more than Regin who had a strange past of having been raised as a Prince, Melisande who also inherited the royal blood was indubitably the one suitable to be the Princess.
They could not also ignore Tigre’s existence. In the case that they killed only Regin, they suspected that Tigre might genuinely invite the Zhcted army in and sell Brune over to them.
“The targets are only Vorn and Regin, right? And we should leave Mashas Rodant, Hugues Augre and Pierre Badouin as is, is that it?”
One man raised his hand and asked so as to confirm. Having answered his question was a different person.
“Their despotism is also due to Regin and Vorn’s existence. What is vital is to cut off the root.”
“What do we do about the Zhcted people? Regin is probably going to offer them to stay and entertain them.”
“Ignore them. If Earl Vorn dies, the Zhcted army will lose their reason to stay in our country. And then, Melisande-sama will negotiate with them in due form.”
When the oldest man answered so, one of the men nodded in approval.
“We aren’t many, too. So, we should narrow our goals as such.”
A different man who heard these words raised an objection as he could not conceal his dissatisfaction.
“Though it’ll be no use even if I say it now, why don’t we increase our numbers a little more? There should be more people that can’t tolerate Regin and Vorn’s existences.”
“That’s not possible. If we increase it further, it will definitely be noticed by Badouin. Even as for the current number; precisely because they are pressed by dealing with Sachstein, we are able to keep on covering it.”
“There’s no such thing as impossible to achieve with these numbers.”
The oldest man broke in, in a calm tone. Due to that, the two men suppressed their outburst and reseated themselves respectively in their seat. After a short pause, the oldest man asked.
“But, wasn’t there still a person whom we were waiting for an answer from?”
“We’re expecting to get an answer by this evening.”
When the man, who was asked the question, answered, the man who objected to the numbers a little while ago uttered a voice of doubt.
“Is it all right? Won’t he come here and leak out our plan……”
“I haven’t yet told him about the details. Nothing will come out even if they closely question the man. And then, what do we do about Armand. I haven’t yet told him, either.”
Viscount Armand was the man who obeyed Melisande and destroyed the fake Durandal during the Halo Festival. The oldest man shook his head.
“Just let Armand swim. Don’t get in contact with him until just before the decisive action. That man pledged allegiance to Melisande-sama. If we explain the situation, he will readily join us.”
To these words, the men surrounding the table silently nodded. Although they did not highly value Armand, they recognized at least his loyalty towards Melisande. Precisely because Melisande also understood that, she favored him, who was only a viscount, and brought him with her to the Halo Festival.
“Speaking of numbers, was there any contact from Nemetacum?”
“Yes. Earl Cotillard seems to have gathered 10,000 soldiers.”
When the oldest man answered, some men revealed smiles which were convinced of their victory.
They, who had Melisande, would gain control of the royal palace from inside and hold Regin hostage. In response to that, Earl Cotillard would head to the capital with 10,000 soldiers. And at that stage, the Sachstein army would openly support Melisande, too. That was their plan.
Melisande would become the new Princess and they would seize power under her. Even if those opposing her were to appear, they could overwhelm them with 10,000 soldiers at hand.
In addition, there was also the calculation that those, who were following Duke Thenardier before, would probably show will of allegiance to Melisande who was his wife.
“About the people of Zhcted”
The man, who alluded to that a while ago, opened his mouth again.
“There’s the possibility of them protecting Vorn; also the possibility of Vorn escaping to them. I want us to at least decide about how to cope with it in case that happens.”
The men looked at each other. From their viewpoint, it was something possible.
“There’s no helping it. In that case, we’ll have no choice but to kill the Zhcted people.”
“Yes. We might as well accuse Vorn of that crime. Even if we were to expose his head in the capital, we might as well send the rest bottom from the head down to Zhcted.”
“There’s a rumor that Vorn has exchanged a secret agreement with Zhcted. Although it’s a rumor, even if it’s not true, there’s no way that a boy with no power would get Zhcted’s cooperation twice. The talk would get complicated due to the secret agreement and they’d have conflict with Vorn. Let’s plan as such.”
“I’m fine with that, but that’s just in case we end up getting the Zhcted people involved.”
After saying so as to remind them, the oldest man once again looked around at his comrades.
“I’ll repeat, but the number of comrades we’ve in the royal palace is little. But, to settle it in a short time, we have to do things simultaneously. Our goals are Melisande-sama’s rescue and Princess Regin and Earl Vorn’s assassination. Carry them out thoroughly.”
The men’s meeting was over with these words as the conclusion.
Having welcomed Tigre and the others who entered the royal palace was a young noble called Baron Celpet. He was around his mid-twenties. He was one of the civil officials working in the royal court, but judging from his suntanned and virile face, he looked more like a warrior.
“Nice to meet you, Earl Vorn. I am honored to be able to meet Your Excellency who has highly distinguished military service honors.”
“I am grateful.”
Tigre greeted him as he grasped back the hand held out by Celpet. According to Gerard, Celpet belonged to the so-called neutral faction. He did not actively support Princess Regin, but he did not express dissatisfaction and opposition, either.
People who took such an attitude were by no means few. Originally in Brune, the right of succession to the throne of a Princess was very low. In cases that there were a Princess of the direct lineage and a Prince of a subsidiary lineage, unless there were really extreme circumstances, the Prince of the subsidiary lineage was given priority.
In addition, Regin had lied about her own gender. Until two years ago, she had lived as Prince Regnas. That was what incurred distrust from some nobles.
In order to turn them into her allies, Regin could only continue persuading them steadily while showing she had enough capability as Brune’s ruler.
Tigre and company handed their weapons to Celpet. Elen and Valentina also handed him their Dragonic Tools. When he received Tigre’s black bow, although Celpet slightly knitted his brows, he said nothing to express it.
When they arrived before the audience’s room, Celpet bowed and walked away. Titta, Lim and Rurick would wait at this place; only six people including Tigre would go in.
The soldiers who stood on both sides of the door slowly opened it. While feeling slightly tense, Tigre went through the door.
Courtiers were arrayed on both sides of the spacious room, and one girl was sitting down on the throne at the back. It was Princess Regin. On her sides, there was an old man with looks harking back to a cat, and a woman with a silver breastplate wearing a sword to her waist. They were the Prime Minister Badouin and Serena acting as Regin’s guard.
While bathing in the courtiers’ gazes, Tigre walked straight.
Suddenly, among the courtiers he noticed the figure of Viscount Augre, and felt a sense of security. He was Gerard’s father and, alongside Mashas, an old man that Tigre could depend on. He was the feudal lord of Territoire, but now he worked in the royal palace after having received a request from Regin and others.
Tigre went down on his knee at a fixed place.
“Tigrevurmud Vorn. I have returned from Zhcted.”
Regin’s words were uttered after a short pause of about 3 seconds.
“──First of all, we shall rejoice for having been able to meet again safely like this. I have heard from the Prime Minister about the matter of Asvarre and your victory after the battle against the Sachstein army. You have really done well for our country. Let’s give blessings to the livings and prayers to the deceased.”
The Princess’ voice was calm and was even tinged with a somehow brush-off sound. Driven by unexpected feelings, Tigre softly raised his face. Things like emotion were not visible on her face.
—Or does she deliberately suppress her emotions?
He did not think that Regin had changed. If so, then Mashas and Gerard should have told him. As he thought that he should just confirm it later, Tigre silently bowed his head.
“‘Moonlight Knights army’ is quite a good naming, eh.”
Regin suddenly said so in a casual tone. Immediately after, low noises occurred among the courtiers. However, it did not become something big and the audience room immediately regained its silence.
Next, Mashas, Bouroullec and Scheie went down on their knees in front of Regin. Just like during Tigre’s turn, Regin gave words of gratitude to them.
Elen and Valentina also went down on their knees. Although the two women were not Regin’s retainers, they understood the need of paying their respect to her. Elen ended with only the formal/typical greeting, but Valentina did not let it end with only greetings.
“Taking this opportunity, I would like to ask something to your Highness the Princess. Regarding this war with Sachstein, what kind of end does your Highness anticipate?”
Valentina asked showing no signs of being hesitant and without breaking her graceful attitude. Some courtiers turned gazes filled with great interest to Regin. The black-haired Vanadis continued.
“We were ordered by the King of our country and went up to here in order to assist your Highness. However, unless we know what to aim for, it will be impossible to move. Should we clean up the Sachstein army from the land of Brune? Or ── raise an army and invade Sachstein?”
Still down on his knee, Tigre turned a look of surprise towards the black-haired Vanadis. Valentina was composed, even revealing a smile on her lips; as if enjoying Regin’s reaction.
“You are right. I cannot afford not to tell it to the alliance partner.”
Regin replied in a quiet calm voice.
“I do not think about invading Sachstein. It is not because of lack of reserve power, but because I have a different plan. Because it will affect my country’s political affairs, I cannot reveal it now, but……”
“No, just having heard these words is enough for me. I am thankful.”
Valentina respectfully bowed. Regin looked around at Tigre and company and said.
“A welcoming banquet will be opened at night. Please, relax in the rooms prepared for you until then.”
After the audience was over, Tigre was guided to a guest room by Baron Celpet. Titta’s room was near Tigre’s. Elen and the Zhcted group were guided to rooms located on a different floor.
When Celpet left, Tigre, still dressed in his formal clothes, threw himself down on the big bed. The fatigue which had accumulated in his body felt like it had begun to blow at a stretch. Then, he realized that his clothes had become wrinkled, but he re-thought “who cares about that”. His hair was also disheveled, but he left it as is.
He inclined his face. Though the sun should have passed the zenith, the sunlight coming in through the window was still bright. It was probably around early afternoon.
The door was lightly knocked on from outside and Titta’s voice was heard. When Tigre replied still lying down as is, the maid with chestnut-color hair, as soon as she entered the room, rebuked the youth as she saw him like that.
“Tigre-sama, that’s bad manners.”
“I’ll think about manners tomorrow. So, please let me lay down as is today.”
“Then, how about you drink some tea before sleeping? A hot bath has already been prepared, too.”
She had probably asked for arrangements for a hot bath during the time when Tigre and company were meeting with Regin. The youth raised his body while being thankful for her consideration. He smiled at Titta.
“That’s a good idea. I guess I’ll have one cup.”
As Titta replied “yes”, she went back to her room for a moment and immediately came back with the necessary tools. Before long, she held out a porcelain cup filled with tea in front of Tigre.
Tigre, who thanked her and took the porcelain cup, unintentionally smelled the fragrance of the rising steam and made a wondering face.
“This isn’t the one you usually brew for me.”
“I received it from Lyudmila-sama the other day.”
To the glad-looking Titta’s words, the youth was reminded of the blue-haired Vanadis’ gentle smile.
Probably because she boasted of the Vanadis lineage which started from her great-grandmother, and was burdened with it herself, Lyudmila ── Mila had a serious side in her that took a severe attitude towards others.
But, she was by no means only that much of a person. Just like this tea, she also possessed kindness as to warm one’s heart.
Feeling like he was cheered up not only by Titta, but also by Mila, Tigre curled his lips into a smile. Titta also smiled as she saw her master’s face, and the room was wrapped in a peaceful atmosphere.
“Speaking of which, Regin-sama…… How was her Highness the Princess?”
While hurriedly correcting herself to ‘her Highness the Princess’, Titta asked. Before, although a short period, Titta had taken care of Regin. Regin did not behave high-handedly towards Titta, and the two girls opened to each other little by little.
“I was only able to greet her, but she seemed to be looking well.”
While tasting the tea, Tigre answered so without changing his expression. He honestly talked about what he thought, so as to not worry Titta. Besides, he might learn something at the place of the banquet.
—I might as well spend my time leisurely like this until the banquet, I guess.
He thought so for a brief moment, and as if blowing away that thought, the door was knocked on from outside. As he held back, Titta who was about to go to the door, with his hand, Tigre stood up. He put the porcelain cup, which still half of the tea remained in, on the table and walked to the door.
When he opened the door, a man wearing gray official clothes stood there. He was one of the chamberlains serving in the royal court.
“I am sorry to disturb you as you are resting, your Excellency. But, her Highness the Princess is calling you.”
He could not decline it as it was a summon from Regin. Rummaging his darkish red hair, Tigre pulled himself together.
“Let’s go immediately. Where is her Highness?”
When the youth asked so, he noticed that the chamberlain was frowning. It looked like he was bothered by Tigre’s wrinkled clothes and his disheveled hair. But, the chamberlain did not voice that and turned his back on Tigre.
“She is in the audience room. I shall guide you there.”
Tigre cocked his head in puzzlement. If it was the audience room, didn’t he go there just a while ago? But, there were no signs that the chamberlain made a mistake.
Anyway, he had to go since he has been called. Tigre asked the chamberlain to wait and turned to look at Titta. As she probably heard it, although she made a disappointed face only slightly, she immediately revealed a smile and walked to Tigre. She quickly arranged the youth’s disheveled hair.
“Tigre-sama. Please, make sure not to act rude to her Highness the Princess.”
“I’ll be careful. I’ll properly tell about you as well.”
When he gently stroked Titta’s head instead of bowing, Tigre left the room.
While giving a sidelong glance at the flower bed and garden which colored the pillared corridor’s exterior, he walked within the royal palace guided by the chamberlain. In the meantime, the youth regained his calm and thought about Regin.
He remembered her attitude which was that of work (work-like attitude) during the audience. It was not her behavior that Tigre knew of. Have there been some sort of reason and she would talk about it from here on?
They arrived in front of the audience room. When they opened both sides of the door, the inside was empty as there was nobody. The chamberlain unconcernedly went through the door and walked to the back, and Tigre followed him too.
As they went past the throne, the chamberlain stopped before a door at the back.
“Her Highness is waiting beyond this door.”
Beyond this door should be the balcony where one could look out over the northwest of the capital. Tigre thanked the chamberlain and opened the door. He walked down a long and narrow corridor and came out to the balcony.
Under the clear blue sky, red and orange-colored roofs shone as they bathed in the spring sunlight.
The waterworks supplying water to the capital, the temple worshipping the Heaven God Perkūnas, the open space displaying the stone statue of the founder Charles in the center and the like could be seen. If looking closely, one might see the figures of many stalls, people walking the Main Street and minstrels.
On the edge of Tigre’s view, golden hair fluttering in the wind was reflected. The girl standing at the balcony and looking down at the cityscape of the bustling capital turned to look his way while smoothing her hair upwards. Needless to say, it was Regin.
Her blue eyes seemed to have shine for an instant, but that might have been Tigre’s imagination. When she turned her whole body towards the youth, Regin had the same expressionless face just like when he saw her during the audience. Tigre could not help but feel slight dejection.
The blond-haired Princess said in a somewhat businesslike tone.
“I am sorry to have expressly called you here. I wanted to ask you something after all.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What you have accomplished in Asvarre; then, about the battle with Sachstein the other day. As I said during the audience, I have received the report from the Prime Minister, but I want to hear the story from you. And also, about how you lived in Zhcted.”
Regin’s voice was flat as if dealing with work, but only when she uttered the last lines did it shake subtly. Her pair of blue eyes which were staring straight at Tigre was turned to the balcony’s gray floor when she finished speaking. Her expression looked like it was enduring something.
“Your Highness…… By any chance, do you not feel well?”
Although Tigre called out to her as he was worried, Regin shook her head.
“That’s not it. More importantly, the story──”
Though he was not convinced by her answer, he could not possibly afford to cross-examine the Princess. While recalling the events in Asvarre, Tigre began to explain.
When he began to talk about his encounter with Matvey and Olga, the man called Tallard, about Prince Germaine and Prince Elliot, and Sofya ── Sofy’s rescue, Tigre was able to properly talk about it better than he thought as various things were recollected in his mind.
Regin basically kept quiet playing the listener’s role, and if there was something she was concerned about, she would ask a question. What she was especially interested in was about Tallard and Princess Guinevere.
“I have also heard about Lord Tallard. It is said that he’s someone who possesses great qualities as both a General and a ruler.”
“That’s right. He has a strong will for aiming higher. I think that he will definitely become an important existence in Asvarre.”
Tallard had the ambition of becoming King. After having hesitated as to whether he should touch that subject, he used an indirect expression. However, it was useless consideration.
“There are also rumors saying that he has a lovers’ relationship with Princess Guinevere and that he will become King in the future.”
To Regin’s words, Tigre stared at her with a dumbfounded face. The blond-haired Princess indifferently squinted as she saw the youth’s reaction.
After having asked more about Tallard and Guinevere, Regin moved to the next topic.
Before talking about the battle with Sachstein, Tigre reported about having received a reward of gold coins and carriages from the Zhcted King Victor. The reason why he did not talk about it during the audience was in order to avoid causing useless suspicion.
When Regin bent her head slightly to one side and wandered her gaze in midair, she said in a tone as if talking about something very natural.
“Then, our country shall also give you a reward of an equivalent amount to Zhcted’s or more.”
Tigre became speechless. As he imagined the scene of a swarm of carriages fully loaded with barrels packed with gold coins surrounding his mansion, he felt cold sweat on his spine.
The gold coins aside, he also had to take care of the horses and also maintain the carriages.
There was no way that he would rudely handle something given to him by a King and a Princess. Even just the reward from King Victor, honestly speaking, was too much for him. Furthermore if he received an equivalent amount of reward from Regin, Tigre would probably collapse out of anxiety.
“It is too great an honor, but your Highness. The reason why I proceeded to Asvarre was because of King Victor’s request. Of course, I also thought that it was for the sake of Brune, but…’”
“It is a fact that your achievements raised Brune’s honor. If I do not reward you properly for that, my ability as a ruler will be questioned.”
What Regin said was reasonable. If achievements were not properly evaluated, it would certainly bring about a distortion. As for Tigre, if the soldiers that he brought from Alsace distinguished themselves militarily, he would have to give them a reward, and he would not be troubled no matter how much money it was.
However, after having said up to there, Regin seemed to have noticed that the youth was troubled. After a short pause, she continued her words.
“……That said, you also have the achievement of having repelled the Sachstein army that attacked from the south. Regarding the concrete contents of the reward, we will decide it some other time later. Well then, may I hear about the battle against Sachstein?”
While heaving a sigh of relief, Tigre quickly put his thoughts in order. He began to explain from when he returned from Zhcted and succeeded in joining safely with Mashas. He then talked without hiding the fact that he borrowed Valentina’s wisdom in the fight against the enemy General Kreuger.
Regin frowned as she was pondering about something.
“I believe that I know Lady Eleonora’s personality to some extent. What kind of person is Lady Valentina?”
“Even I do not know her very well, but…… If one were to speak about effectiveness, she is someone who possesses decisiveness, not hesitating even if she has to use severe means.”
“Zhcted really is a treasure house of talented people, eh.”
Regin sighed as she looked towards the capital’s cityscape. Tigre thought that he totally agreed with her, but he avoided voicing it out. This was because the Princess was visibly depressed.
“From what I seen thus far, there is nobody who is not known of the Vanadises. So, when something is up, if you could just have me as a messenger, then──”
Tigre said that intending to cheer her up, but he swallowed his words halfway. This was because the expression of Regin looking at him clearly changed to a displeased one.
“Earl Vorn, you really have the confidence of being liked by the Vanadises, eh.”
“Many things happened, so well, as such……”
When he replied so evasively, Regin became more and more displeased.
“Think about your way of speaking. Or else, it will just affirm the worthless rumor spreading inside and outside the royal palace.”
“It was careless of me. I am sorry.”
The youth deeply bowed his head. Regin’s way of talking was severe, but was right. Above all, this rumor would also cause trouble to Elen and the others. He should have refrained from doing something that would make people doubt him.
“──Be careful from now on.”
Regin said as she interrupted the short silence. Tigre raised his face while being thankful.
“I understand well about the battle with Sachstein. I will speak about another matter, but──”
Changing her tone into a new one, Regin shifted the topic.
“After this war ends, could you work in the royal palace?”
Her blue eyes calmly stared at Tigre. It finally came, huh, Tigre thought.
“I am thankful for your kind offer, but I am just a country-bred small noble who knows nothing about the royal palace. If such a person were to work in the royal palace, the noble feudal lords already working in there would not feel good about it. Above all, I love Alsace where I was born and raised.”
Though there was also the fact that it was something he thought of beforehand, since those were his honest feelings, Tigre was able to answer without stammering. But, Regin did not easily withdraw, too.
“If there are people unhappy about this, I will take measures regarding them. Also, I did not say not to return to Alsace. You could go back only during summer or winter every once in a year.”
While consciously restraining his voice, Tigre asked.
“Your Highness, could you please tell me your thoughts about why you invited me to work in the royal palace?”
One could think of several reasons. The fact that in the current Brune, there was no one with distinguished military services ranking equal with Tigre’s. And the fact that the Brune noble with the most interactions with Zhcted was Tigre.
Furthermore, among Regin’s close aides, there were people close to Tigre such as Mashas and Augre. If Tigre were to work in the royal palace, their positions would become strong, too.
During the time before he arrived at the capital, Tigre had talked with Mashas about things to come. The gray-bearded old Earl too did not deny the possibility of Tigre leaving Alsace and working in the royal palace. The bases of that reasoning were these.
However, these were, to the bitter end, what Tigre and Mashas expected.
Tigre wanted to hear the thoughts of Regin herself.
Sure enough, the answer that came out of the blond-haired Princess’s mouth was not beyond the level of the youth’s expectations.
Regin cited his brilliant victories in Brune’s civil war two years ago, the fight against Muozinel which occurred in the midst of it, Asvarre’s civil war last year and the battle against Sachstein the other day.
Moreover, Tigre had interactions with people of Zhcted as well as Asvarre, and the fact that he was highly evaluated by them added to his lack of selfishness and the tolerance of people and soldiers.
“I want a person like you to be by my side.”
With a face which could not hide his confusion, Tigre stared at Regin who concluded like so.
She did not say anything wrong. But, Regin’s words reached the youth’s ears as a somewhat empty thing, which was similar to reading a tasteless sentence aloud.
“……Can you give me some time to think about it?”
While taking his eyes off Regin and staring at the gray floor, Tigre answered like so. Cold wind blew between the two people. After the blond-haired Princess answered “I understand” with an emotionless voice, as if having thought that that alone was not enough, she continued her words.
“I am sorry for having such a talk with you even though you just came back to Brune. I guess I was hasty, eh.”
And then, Regin said that she wanted Tigre to give her his answer another time after the war with Sachstein was over, and Tigre nodded.
Around the time when Tigre was talking with Regin in the balcony at the back of the audience room, Elen was already getting bored in the room assigned to her.
Usually, she could keep still for a whole day when she felt that it was necessary. But now, she could not just behave herself for some reason. When one thought that she would lie down on the bed, she got up and walked about meaninglessly in the room.
When looking at the large mirror set against the wall, her face which became increasingly dissatisfied was reflected there.
Now that she was a guest of the royal palace, she was exposed to unpleasant gazes and could not move around freely. Aware of it, she intended to be in their care, but her discomfort was more than expected.
If she were to try going to see Tigre now, that alone would cause suspicion. Even if she only wanted to chat with him, some of the people in this royal palace would not believe that.
She thought about having chess prepare for her, calling Lim who was in the next room and killing time with her by playing it, but she did not feel inclined to do that. She felt sorry for having to make Lim keep her company now.
Suddenly, a smile like that of a child who thought of a prank appeared on Elen’s lips. The silver-haired Vanadis picked up the bell put on the table and called the maid as she lightly rang it. After a short time, a middle-aged maid with a fine bodily build appeared.
“Princess, how may I help you?”
Elen unintentionally smiled wryly. Though it was not wrong, the naming “Princess” felt kind of weird. To the maid who made a wondering face, Elen smiled as to say ‘never mind’.
“Keeping still like this is boring, you see? I heard that there are many gardens and flower beds with a good view in this royal palace. Can I have you guide me there?”
“Understood. In this season, colorful flowers have bloomed in all the gardens, so I think that you will definitely enjoy yourself.”
The good natured maid smiled broadly and began to walk along the corridor guiding Elen. While following after the maid, Elen apologized in her mind to her. The silver-haired Vanadis’ purpose was something different from the flowers.
They walked along the long corridor, turned at the corners several times and came out of the pillared corridor. Elen and the maid were viewing a garden, where the stone statues of various Kings were displayed, and the courtyard was colored by a flower bed. While ignoring most of the maid’s thorough explanation and pretending to view the stone statues and flowers, Elen sounded out presences.
As she had thought, there were people tailing them while keeping a certain distance.
—There are two. But, they don’t seem to be acting together.
Probably among the two people who were watching them, one was good at tailing. As she ran her eyes while pretending to be careless and looking puzzled, she saw that he was hiding himself in the shade.
However, the other one did not show at all any of such openings. Although she felt his/her gaze, she could not easily grasp his/her clear position.
—Maybe the one who sucks at tailing is a decoy in order to make me let my guard down, and the skillful one is the real thing?
So far, she has waited and seen how the other party would act, but it looked like they did not intend to leave. So Elen thought that she might as well just come into contact with them.
Elen carefully measured the distance to the person hiding in the shade. She got one flower from the maid and while behaving as if enjoying its fragrance, she walked down the corridor, shortening the distance to the other party. As they seemed to think that they were not noticed, the other party did not move from where they were.
She kicked the floor. With a speed like that of a bird of prey springing at its prey, Elen went around in front of the other party.
It was a face she recognized. If she was not mistaken, it was the man called Celpet who had guided them to the audience room. His suntanned face stiffened as he was taken aback.
“You’ve been sneakily following me since a little while ago; what exactly do you want? If it’s that you’ve been fascinated by me, you shouldn’t be reserved and look at me from the front.”
While throwing an oppressive sneer, Elen thrust the flower she held in her hand into the tip of Celpet’s nose. Unable to hide his confusion, Celpet shook his head as he uttered a groan.
“No, you are wrong, Vanadis-dono. There are circumstances for doing this……”
“Baron Celpet, isn’t it? I’ll listen to you. Depending on the contents, I may report it to Her Highness Princess Regin. Of course, even if you try to deceive me…”
While oozing sweet on his forehead, Celpet explained that he has been following Elen in order to protect her.
“I am ashamed of having you listen about my country’s disgrace, but there are people who are extremely cautious just of the fact that you are a person from Zhcted. I intended to immediately stop them if they were to needlessly meddle with Vanadis-dono, so I followed you.”
“I see, I’m thankful for that. However, I haven’t heard anything from Her Highness Princess Regin though. By whose instructions do you act as my guard?”
“Of course, it is of my own free will. For Brune, Zhcted is a valuable ally. We must avoid a situation where a crack appears in our relationship of mutual trust. Moreover if I have to express it, it is naturally my duty as a man to protect a beautiful woman like you from a disaster.”
Perhaps because he’d regained his calm, Celpet span his words smoothly along with gestures. Elen looked at the young baron as her ruby-colored pupils revealed a color of amazement. Even if it was a lie of evasion, it was impressive how he was able to say this much at once.
“Sorry, but I’m already aware of the circumstances you speak of. On top of that, I’m here in this royal palace. I took this rare opportunity to admire flowers, so I would like you to refrain from doing something like spoiling my pleasure.”
As she said that over her shoulder, Elen turned her feet to the garden. Celpet called out to her back.
“Vanadis-dono. If it is fine with you, I would like you to tell me one thing, but……”
Elen stopped, cocked her head in puzzlement and turned only her gaze to the man. Without wiping the sweat going along his face, Celpet uttered a question with a tense expression.
“Two years ago, why did you cooperate with Earl Vorn, a foreigner?”
“What will you do after hearing it?”
“I want to know. I have heard that in the Zhcted Kingdom, Vanadises are existences second only to the King and that they can move several thousands of soldiers by their own will. If not for your cooperation, Earl Vorn would not be here now. However……”
As if inquiring about Elen’s reaction, Celpet cut his words here. Elen silently received the man’s gaze and urged him to continue. After licking his lips with his tongue, Celpet opened his mouth.
“I do not know the reason why you lent him your power. You met Earl Vorn for the first time on the battlefield of Dinant two years ago. You had no interaction with him before that. In other words, in just a mere dozens of days, something happened between you and Earl Vorn; to the extent of generously lending him several thousands of soldiers.”
As he talked, Celpet’s eyes were tinged with heat and emitted a strange brightness. Elen, revealing a fed up expression, asked the man in a rough tone.
“So, what do you think has happened?”
Noticing that he aroused Elen’s anger, Celpet waved both his hands left and right in panic.
“Precisely because I do not know that, I would like you to tell me. What did Earl Vorn, who is just a youth ruling a territory in the frontier, offer to you? Did he have anything which satisfied you? If he did not, what kind of words or sentiments did you two exchange?”
Until Celpet had finished speaking, Elen had to control herself so as to not crush the flower which she held in her right hand. In short, this man was suspicious of whether there might have been a relationship of man and woman between Elen and Tigre.
—No, he might be provoking me by pretending to think so.
No matter what the other party’s intention was, she was used to this kind of people. Elen looked at Celpet with an especially gentle smile.
“If you want to hear it that much, then I’ll answer. I was touched by Earl Vorn’s sincere feelings, his desire to want to save the people of his territory. I too was given a dukedom by His Majesty King Victor, you see? So, I understand well the feelings of trying to protect one’s people.”
The young nobleman with fearless features stared at Elen with a bored face. As if to say that those were not the words he wanted to hear. The silver-haired Vanadis continued her words without minding it.
“Although, I don’t intend to demand each and everyone’s understanding. At that time, there were quite a few people who shrank back as they were struck by Duke Thenardier’s and Duke Ganelon’s influence/power after all.”
Celpet raised his eyebrows to the bitter sarcasm. Elen did not know whom Celpet followed in the civil war two years ago. But, she knew at least that he was not in the “Silver Meteor Army”. That alone was enough for now.
As words of rebuttal did not seem to come from Celpet at once, Elen turned her back this time for sure.
“It’s good to be curious, but time is limited. Shouldn’t one endeavor in their self-improvement so as to be able to borrow help from the surroundings when they’re in trouble?”
No longer having any business with him, Elen walked to the garden with calm steps. Behind her, Celpet’s footsteps went away.
Though Elen drove away a troublesome person, her position, far from improving, grew worse. This was because the other person who was watching Elen was walking her way while making a small applause.
“I’ve unintentionally listened to your talk. That was quite a skillful speech Eleonora.”
With long black hair and a pure white dress decorated with flowers. It was Valentina.
“I now understand well how dearly you think of Earl Vorn.”
Elen stopped and turned a dangerous look to her. She did not know what Valentina was thinking about. But, she felt it necessary to properly make Valentina understand that she by no means moved only by her feelings towards Tigre.
“The anger, sorrow and grief of having one’s territory being damaged and trampled on by lawless people. These are feelings that anyone, who has a territory which they should rule, would harbor. There’s no way that you, a Vanadis, wouldn’t understand it.”
“Yes, I understand that. But, I think that his question was reasonable. Can you make a decision to go save Alsace just because of your righteous indignation?”
Bending her head slightly to one side, Valentina innocently asked. Elen folded her arms and revealed a smile seeming to want to say “so that’s it”.
“I was able to confirm it with my own eyes the other day that it was worth it.”
What appeared in her mind was the scene of the welcome that they received when they passed Alsace the other day.
In the future, when a person of LeitMeritz might go on a trip to Brune, they would receive a favorable response from the people of Alsace.
Also for the people of LeitMeritz, if they went through the Vosyes Mountains and could have the conviction that they could feel relieved in Alsace, they would definitely pass through Alsace as much as possible.
Elen understood how necessary it was to have a place where they could feel relieved for those travelling. And, this was conformed to Elen’s goal of developing a Vosyes Mountain road and strengthening interchanges between Brune and Zhcted.
But, she did not intend to expressly explain that to Valentina. Elen changed the topic and bluntly threw a question at her.
“More importantly, why were you following me?”
“I was getting bored after all.”
While putting her hands together in front of her abundant chest, Valentina calmly answered.
“I slipped out of my room and intended to walk around the royal palace. Then, I happened to see you walking to the corridor, so I couldn’t help it.”
As she shook her shoulders, Elen glared at Valentina. She earnestly had to endure the impulse of wanting to shout at her.
“What do you intend to do if the Brune people saw your suspicious movements and suspected that you might be scheming something? Don’t do something which will cause Tigre trouble.”
“I see that you really like Earl Vorn, Eleonora.”
Warding off Elen’s rebuke while repressing her voice, with a smile, Valentina put a hand on her cheek and happily stared at the silver-haired Vanadis. Elen, not retorting immediately, folded her arms and took her eyes off Valentina.
“Do you want to insist on the fact that I like Tigre no matter what?”
“Weren’t you having such an intimate relationship during the Sun Festival? You even linked arms.”
“If you’re talking about linking arms, even Lyudmila has done so, right? I don’t want to do something like causing trouble to an ally. I’m only thinking that.”
“If you really think so, you shouldn’t be considerate towards Earl Vorn, but tell him that, right? That Brune shouldn’t cause us trouble by doing foolish things.”
Elen revealed a sour face. She could not help but admit that Valentina’s words were correct. Elen reluctantly rebutted.
“Strangers being disliked is the way of the world. It isn’t really like we’ll stay here for many days.”
“It isn’t really like you; that’s a quite pessimistic way of thinking. How about you try talking about this now to Earl Vorn and asking him?”
“……Valentina. You seem to be misunderstanding something.”
Holding down her rising irritation, Elen, feigning composure, continued her words.
“Tigre and I are comrades in arms. I also trust both his skills and personality, but it isn’t the type of relationship that you’re thinking about.”
“Oh my, then do I, who has thoroughly been seen in my birthday suit and whose body has been felt by him, have a deeper relationship with him?”
“What are you talking about?”
Elen unconsciously lowered her voice. She knew that Tigre had some awkward parts to him and thought that there was no helping it if it was something caused by accident or carelessness; but she wondered whether he has done anything even to Valentina.
The black-haired Vanadis exaggeratedly shrugged her shoulders and took one step back.
“Eleonora, your face is scary, you know?”
“Enough with my face; just tell me this in detail. I’m an ally of Tigre. So it’s necessary for me to know if he misbehaved.”
“It isn’t that serious as to be called misbehavior. It was just to the extent of a young man and woman staring at and touching each other’s naked bodies. Please do not mind it, Eleonora.”
Looking at Valentina who chuckled, Elen finally realized that she was being teased. She did not intend to answer from the beginning.
—There’s no need to force her to spill the beans. I should just ask Tigre later.
Elen sighed and turned her gaze to the garden. Her eyes met with the middle-aged maid’s who had guided her to here. She bowed to Elen and Valentina with a smile seeming to want to say “please, take your time”.
While returning the maid’s greeting, Valentina said to Elen.
“Do you not consider using this situation?”
“What do you mean?”
To the abrupt and vague question, Elen knitted her brows. The black-haired Vanadis chuckled.
“I am talking about your beloved Earl Vorn. There are people who want to remove him from Brune, right? If you use them, wouldn’t you be able to bring Earl Vorn back with you to your dukedom?”
Let the Brune nobles drive Tigre out. Valentina was implying that. Elen narrowed her eyes and revealed a smile of contempt.
“You really like using such means. But, I don’t like it.”
“That’s a commendable attitude, but if you keep acting like that, will you not end up losing someone important to people who do not hesitate to use such means? He seems to be quite popular after all.”
Valentina’s lines struck Elen where it hurt. The scene, where the other Vanadises were acting intimately with Tigre during the Sun Festival, flashed across the silver-haired Vanadis’s mind.
Even during the audience with Regin, Elen did not fail to notice the good will towards Tigre blurring in the princess’s blue pupils. Although she briefly praised the naming of “Moonlight Knights army”, Elen thought that that was the overflowing of goodwill she was not able to contain.
Perhaps because Elen remained silent, the black-haired Vanadis continued her words.
“As for me, in order to obtain something I want, means do not matter. After all, I understand that I am not capable enough to be able to choose the means.”
The wind which blew from the garden fluttered the two women’s hair.
When Elen was going to say something, Valentina moved before that.
“I guess I will go back. As expected, I got tired.”
As she passed through the silver-haired Vanadis’s side, the black-haired Vanadis walked down the corridor.
Elen did not think of calling her to halt. She shut her mouth which was about to speak and silently saw her back fading away.
While walking down the corridor after parting from Elen, Valentina Glinka Estes was brooding over what she should do from now on.
She tried muttering the name of the man, whom she was most interested in now, without voicing it out.
In the battle with the Sachstein army led by General Kreuger, there was only one disappointing thing for Valentina.
It was the fact that Tigre did not use the black bow’s power. Even though he should have been able to blow off the Hill Fort along with Kreuger if he had used that power.
For Valentina, in this opportunity where she’s acting together with Tigre, she wanted to confirm how powerful the black bow’s power was.
—Does it mean that it will be no use if he isn’t cornered a little more?
As expected, if his life was in danger, even Tigre would not hesitate about using the black bow’s power. And fortunately for her, there were materials which seemed to be usable in this royal palace.
—Was he called Baron Celpet?
Valentina recalled the face of the young nobleman who guided them to the audience room and was dealt with by Elen a little while ago.
It was the man whom the duty of guiding them until the audience room was entrusted to. There was no doubt that the usual Celpet had a favorable behavior towards Tigre and the people of Zhcted.
However, the black-haired Vanadis knew about it; about the fact that Celpet, who behaved politely, turned eyes tinged with strong negative feelings towards Tigre for a moment. It was probably only Valentina who was obliquely observing Celpet’s expression and attitude, that did not miss it.
—Although he lined up to Elen words putting in doubt her relationship with Earl Vorn.
That was quite unnatural, too. Also when coupling it with his gaze towards Tigre, she wondered whether Celpet suspected the darkish red-haired youth of being a pawn of Zhcted.
—I guess I’ll shake him a little.
As Valentina, who returned to her room, called a maid and had her prepare a drink, she amused herself in idle chats with her for a while. While having a pleasant chat, Valentina cleverly got information such as which noble was given which room in the royal palace, out from her.
In her head, Valentina drew a map of the royal palace little by little. Her real objective, even when she tailed Elen, was to know about the royal palace’s structure even if a little.
After nearly half a koku had passed, the black-haired Vanadis thanked the maid saying “I have enjoyed myself”, gave her one gold coin and had her leave.
In the room where she was now alone, Valentina prepared a paper and pen. She wrote down the following sentences in well-ordered Brune words.
『Tigrevurmud Vorn has exchanged with Zhcted a secret agreement of ceding the territory of Brune. The reason why Zhcted is cooperating with him is to obtain a second ‘Agnes’. You should kill Vorn before he leaves the royal palace.』
Agnes was a land in the southeast of Brune. After the civil war two years ago ended in Regin’s victory, King Faron ceded Agnes to Zhcted in his own name. He did it with the intention of not only thanking them for their cooperation, but also using Zhcted as a shield against Muozinel.
After having seen through his intention, Zhcted still got Agnes. This was because if they got Agnes, Zhcted would be exposed/opened to the south sea. That attraction/appeal was great.
But, it was not like every one of the Brune nobles had guessed Faron’s intention. There were those who regarded the cession of the territory as humiliating and that led to doubt towards Regin.
What was left to do was to make it so that this letter reached Celpet’s hands.
Even if Celpet succeeded in killing Tigre, she would not mind it as such. This was because it would no longer be necessary to think about the black bow’s power. Besides, Brune falling into confusion by losing Tigre was also what Valentina wished for.
“About Melisande, I shall let you show me what you’ve got.”
When putting together the story she heard from Tigre, the atmosphere drifting in the royal palace and moreover the information that she’d collected since setting foot in the land of Brune, it seems that Melisande and her faction have not yet given up as they’re planning something.
—Considering the fact that she kept in touch with Sachstein, she will probably take action within a few days. I wonder whether her aim is Her Highness Princess Regin’s life after all.
Valentina guessed several answers about Melisande’s aim, and in addition thought about how to deal with each one of them. Then the black-haired Vanadis thought that Melisande and her faction’s plan was very likely to fail.
While generally thinking in that way, Valentina called the maid and had her prepare a book telling a story. Even though it was written in Brune’s language, she could read it without inconvenience.
There was a reason why she expressly had the maid bring a book. Of course, there was also the fact that she liked reading books; but it was mainly because even if she said that she was alone for a long period of time in her room reading a book, she would not be suspected that much.
Valentina’s Dragonic Tool Ezendeis had the ability to instantly jump from one space to another.
Unless there was a very urgent business, there was no one who would willfully open a guest room’s door. Even if someone were to knock on the door from outside when she was not there, she could just answer either that she did not notice as she was engrossed in reading or that she was tired and fell asleep.
It would be good to instigate Celpet when the whole palace became dark as the day went down, and it became busy with the preparation for the banquet.
As she decided so, Valentina sat down on a chair and opened the book with a smile. She fully enjoyed the story.
Valentina too was by no means omnipotent. She did not foresee that someone with the same purpose as her was secretly acting.
When the day had ended, the banquet was opened in the reception hall. It was to welcome the Zhcted army as friendly troops and celebrate the victory of the battle against Sachstein. A great number of noble feudal lords had already gathered in the hall and musicians were at a corner. Dishes and alcohol were carried in one by one, too.
Many silver chandeliers hung on the ceiling and candlesticks were put alongside the wall at regular intervals. Candles were stuck and lit in all of them, brightly illuminating the hall.
“I’m sorry, Tigre.”
While looking at the numerous dishes displayed on the table, Mashas sighed.
“This party is also to celebrate your return, but……”
“No, I’m thankful. After all, I’m not very good at making a speech before many people.”
Tigre cheered up the old Earl as he said so. In fact, being thankful were his true feelings. He had no idea at all of what he should say in a place like this.
“Although it’s different when I’m in charge of the toast in the harvest festival of Alsace or encourage the soldiers on the battlefield.”
“In that area, it’s due to my lack of properly educating you. I’ve no excuse to say to Urz.”
A temporary throne was put at the back of the hall and Durandal was displayed on its side. Seeing Durandal, there were probably many noble feudal lords who remembered the Halo Festival. Of course, it was for that reason that Regin decided to hold the banquet here.
—So, that is the fake Durandal.
Tigre looked at Durandal from far away. The reason why it wasn’t put out at the time when they had an audience with Regin seemed to be because she didn’t want to let it stand out as much as possible.
Perhaps because he knew that it was a fake, the brilliance of the guard and scabbard looked to him more like decorations. And above all, the solemn atmosphere that was on the real one could not be felt on this one.
It was not Tigre’s imagination. The real Durandal, which was handed down from the founder Charles’ imperial reign, possessed a really mysterious power.
The Dragonic Skills released by the Dragonic Tools possessed by Vanadises. Moreover, the attack released by Tigre’s black bow. Durandal’s blade negated all of these manifestations of terrifying power beyond human knowledge.
A question suddenly arose in the youth’s mind.
—Why was Durandal stolen……?
Mashas surmised that the person who stole Durandal was either Melisande or, even if it was not her, someone connected with her, and that their purpose was probably to damage Regin’s authority/power and make it decline. Prime Minister Badouin seemed to be of the same opinion, too.
Tigre too, until he saw the fake one, agreed to Mashas’ opinion. He wondered whether they did not think of any reason, why the Kingdom’s sacred sword was stolen, other than that.
But, was it really so? Was it not perhaps the doing of someone who knew Durandal’s ability?
Tigre however shook his head and drove away that thought, which appeared in his head, into a corner of his consciousness. There was a limit about thinking too much.
At that time, Regin appeared at the throne along with Badouin. Like the other noble feudal lords, Tigre also turned his gaze towards her.
Badouin respectfully held out a silver cup with decorated jewels to Regin. Wine had been filled in the silver cup.
Regin’s face which was illuminated by the light of the chandelier and candlesticks, as expected, appeared to lack in emotions. He thought that the dejected expression she had when talking with Tigre in the balcony was better.
While Tigre had Mashas prepare a silver cup and wine, Regin opened her mouth.
“We have defeated the Sachstein troops which were advancing from the south. What is left is only the enemy approaching from the west. I shall admit that they are tough. However, it is not an enemy that we can by no means match. I expect a brave fight from you. ──May the gods be the witnesses!”
When Regin raised the silver cup decorated with jewels, the people gathered in the hall also raised their cups.
“To us, victory!”
Tigre also lifted his silver cup. He incidentally turned his gaze to Elen and Lim who stood in a distant place. Tigre and them talked beforehand and decided to not come in contact as much as possible while being in the royal palace.
Although the youth felt slightly lonely, those feelings of his vanished as he drank up the wine in his silver cup. There were a lot of people that he should meet during this banquet.
“Oh, so you were here.”
As he was called out from the side, Tigre looked there. A small-sized old man wearing a robe stood there. It was Hugues Augre. A joyful smile appeared on Tigre’s face.
“Viscount Augre. It’s been a long time.”
“Yes. According to the rumors, it seems that you went not only to Zhcted, but also to Asvarre. I’m glad that you came back safely. Gerard should also be in this hall.”
With his wrinkled face, Augre grasped Tigre’s hand. The youth felt his heart become warm and with just the fact that he was able to meet him again, he thought that he was glad for having come to the royal palace.
Mashas also exchanged a handshake with Augre. Until two years ago, the two men had almost no relations with the royal palace. Mashas governed Aude, Augre governed Territoire and both of them thought that they would finish their life like that.
The wry smiles which appeared on both men’s faces almost at the same time were probably their frank expression towards the quirk of fate.
For Augre, it had only been dozens of days since he met Mashas; but it had indeed been a year since he met Tigre again. There were many things to talk about. But, both of them could not spend the time to only speak about that.
Mashas was called out by other nobles and received them smilingly. Because Augre said that there were people he wanted Tigre to meet, the two of them advanced as they pushed their way through the crowd of people.
Suddenly finding a familiar face among the people engaging in friendly chat, Tigre unintentionally called out to him.
“Isn’t it Auguste? Did you come, too?”
The knight in his prime, who grew an abundant beard from his cheeks to his chin, saluted Tigre with a calm smile. Although his beard emphasized his sternness, his smile had a mysterious charm.
“It has been a long time, Tigre-sama. No, your Excellency Earl Vorn.”
Though Auguste was a knight belonging to the Calvados Knight Squadron, he was born and raised in Alsace. Of course, he was also an old friend to Tigre and Titta.
“Please stop with the formalities at least here in the banquet. I’m glad you’re looking well.”
“I have heard that Tigre-sama has been brilliantly active in various places. In the next battle, by all means please call me and the Calvados Knight Squadron. Everybody will happily follow Tigre-sama.”
“That’s really reliable. At that time, I promise to call you people without fail.”
Then, when Tigre talked about Alsace’s situation, Auguste happily listened to him. He, who belonged to the Knight Squadron, had not yet gone back to his home town in Alsace for many years.
Auguste said that due to some circumstances, he was in the royal palace with his subordinates. In this regard, he ran his gaze in the distance just for an instant. Ahead of his gaze was the figure of Regin. The blond-haired Princess, along with her escort knight, was surrounded by many nobles and, although she had an unenthusiastic expression, she was dealing with them politely/courteously.
While Tigre was talking with Auguste, Augre brought several nobles along. There were the people who were added to the Silver Meteor Army and had fought under Tigre’s command before.
“This time, the title is ‘Moonlight Knights army’, huh. Of course, we shall have you let us fight under you.”
“I’ve already fought against the Sachstein army once and lost, but I will be happy if you can use me.”
They unanimously offered their cooperation to the youth. As for Tigre, it would be reassuring if they, whom he had a congenial relationship with, were there. As he answered “I will be counting on you”, he exchanged handshakes with each and every one of them.
However, he was not able to talk any further with them. Another different group of nobles called out to Tigre. They were the people, who requested to Tigre whether he couldn’t have their daughter or cousin beside him and treat them like maids, with letters when he went to Zhcted.
As it was difficult to decline them with such an atmosphere, for the time being Tigre said that he wanted them to wait for a reply until the war with Sachstein was over, and ran away. Augre cut in with a nasty smile.
“How about this, Earl Vorn? Taking charge of the daughters whom those, who fought most bravely on the battlefield, introduced, as maids.”
Though it was clearly said in a joking tone, each of the nobles who heard that made a serious expression and left immediately after saying goodbye.
With a wry smile, Tigre thanked Augre and asked him (Augre) and Auguste about what he suddenly remembered. It was about his mother.
When he asked them whether they knew something, the two men cocked their heads in puzzlement.
“She was a calm and gentle person. I had heard from Urz-sama that she was the daughter of a gardener who was working in the royal palace.”
“At the time when she met Urz, she had no relatives. Of course, they loved each other; but there was also the feeling that he couldn’t leave her alone. However, was there something that bothered you?”
“No. It’s been a long time since I came to the royal palace, and it made me remember about my mother.”
Tigre played it off as he replied so. In the end, he did not obtain any new information from these two.
—Does my mother have no relation whatsoever with the bow? Speaking of my father, he didn’t have any though.
Tigre’s father, Urz, was neither as skilled with the bow as his son, nor was he as interested in it. Even about the black bow, he only left the words “use it only when it is really necessary” to Tigre.
Even these words of his, considering that it was an heirloom, Tigre did not think that they included a particularly important meaning. In fact, until two years ago, Tigre had only thought of it as a slightly eerie heirloom.
“Speaking of which, I would like to request one thing to Viscount Augre.”
When Tigre requested a certain thing, the small-sized old Viscount nodded with a smile.
“I understand. I’ll do it at once.”
“What, it’s natural to try to protect one’s body by oneself; all the more so in this situation.”
After that, too, many nobles showed up before Tigre. Thanks to Mashas, Augre, Auguste and Gerard sticking with the youth by turns, he was somehow able to get through it.
He stopped at only exchanging formal greetings with Elen and Lim. Elen revealed a wry smile as if to say “we both have it tough”.
Regin also called out to Tigre. However, she had a quite businesslike attitude and her words, “I’m looking forward to your brave fight” did not seem to be so very full of feelings. Tigre bowed while being careful as to not express his dejection.
Rurick was called out to by Gerard when he was eating dishes with relish while gulping down wine in a corner of the hall.
A fragrant smell rose from the duck meat roasted using spices abundantly and each one of the cheeses ordered from various place in Brune was tasteful. When drinking a mouthful of wine in a situation where the taste of rich cheese remained on the tongue, exquisite acidity spread in the mouth.
Soup with finely cut onions and potatoes washed away the fat inside the mouth. The Herb stuffed quail meat and herb texture was enjoyable. The sheep’s meat that was boiled in grape wine until it was soft was also delicious. Trying to reach the meat no matter what, might be because of youth.
Rurick ended up holding a strange sense of responsibility that he must also eat the shares of Elen, Lim and Tigre who were busy with dealing with various nobles.
“Can’t you at least eat a little properly?”
“It’s courtesy to the food to say delicious thing are delicious while savoring it, isn’t it?”
To Gerard who dropped sarcasm as usual, Rurick responded while biting a deep-fried shrimp. Speaking of Gerard, he picked up a strawberry served in a small dish.
“It seems that the meaning of the word ‘taste’ is different in Brune and Zhcted. It looks to me like you’re gradually packing food like salary though.”
“I might as well thoroughly tell you my impressions about each flavor. If you bastard don’t mind listening to it with an honest heart, that is.”
“If you tell me with an honest heart as well, I have no hobby of listening to your criticism.”
While continuing the short exchange of sarcasm further, Gerard got to the main point. He explained in a subdued voice about the fact that the royal palace’s atmosphere was not good, and that there was a force holding hostility towards Tigre.
Although there weren’t people paying attention to them in particular, Gerard was clearly a supporter of Regin and Rurick was a person from Zhcted here. They should not be off their guard.
It was originally not the kind of thing to talk about at the place of a banquet, but Gerard expressly visiting Rurick would stand out. Gerard could not think of any better way than slipping in that talk within a friendly chat.
“I don’t think that a person from Zhcted would be targeted, but you never know. If possible, could you tell that yourself to Vanadis-dono? After this banquet ends or even when leaving the royal palace……”
“If she was the type of person who would listen to me when I told her, I wouldn’t have cooperated with Lord Tigrevurmud to this point in the first place.”
Rurick shook his head.
“In any case, I give you my thanks. After all, it’s important that I know beforehand so that I may act without hesitation when something happens.”
“Yes. Please do. If you need something, please request it to my father.”
Although the two men had a relationship where they would throw sarcasm with attitude and words at each other whenever they met, they also had a relation where they’d went through fierce battles under Tigre. Their sense of smell was sharp regarding danger.
As he finished saying what was necessary to say, Gerard left the place as if it was nothing, and Rurick returned to his meal.
Only one and a half koku had passed since the beginning of the banquet. The royal palace’s outside was wrapped in darkness and although the moon was still at a low position, it continued rising little by little.
After telling Mashas that he was going back to his room, Tigre left the banquet hall alone. The number of people, who were in the hall then, decreased to less than half. Regin and Elen seemed to have returned to their room, their figures could no longer be seen after all.
Walking down the dim corridor, Tigre headed not to his room, but to the bathhouse. He was recommended so by Mashas when he left the hall. Because he felt mental fatigue, he was thankful for the old Earl’s consideration.
The bathhouse was in a quite distant place from the hall. When he told his name to the chamberlain standing in front of the bathhouse, the man, seeming to have already heard it from Mashas, let him go in.
When entering the bathhouse, first there was a wide changing room. Although called a changing room, it was not only a place to take off clothes. Sake, chessboards and the like were lined up on a shelf, and even a bed for one to lie down on and massage his body was put.
“Well then, please enter the bathroom and wait. I will call someone for washing your body.”
“No, I can do it myself, so it’s fine.”
Tigre shook his head. Although the chamberlain revealed a surprised face, he said no more and slightly went out of the bathhouse.
As he casually took off his clothes, Tigre entered the bathroom only with a thick cloth.
The bathroom which was not narrower than the changing room was dim; the visibility was bad as it was filled with steam. As Tigre approached the bathtub, he went down on his knee on the floor, scooped hot water and poured it on his body.
—Something like this can only be found in a royal palace, I guess.
This luxury of boiling this much hot water by burning a large quantity of firewood only to soak in it, even prosperous nobles or wealthy merchants could not readily afford it. Usually bathing in water while it was warm and wiping his body with a cloth, which hot water was squeezed on, in the winter season was the way of small nobles like Tigre and commoners.
When he washed off his sweat after pouring hot water on himself several times, Tigre suddenly stopped his movements and turned to look behind him.
A silhouette of a person could be seen near the doorway. It seems like someone had come in. Tigre wondered whether the one, who should have washed his body (he declined though), had come in without asking him.
“Who is it?”
He tried calling out, but the silhouette, not replying, just walked his (Tigre) way. Step by step, slowly. It seemed to be careful and nervous.
When finally finding who the person was, Tigre opened his eyes wide in surprise.
It was Regin. She wound a big thick cloth around her delicate body. As she was nevertheless probably embarrassed, her cheeks were dyed red and she hung her head down so as to not make eye contact with Tigre. She neither screamed nor tried to run away.
Speaking of Tigre, his brain stopped working to the unexpected occurrence as he just looked up at her in blank amazement. Although she covered her body with a cloth, her white slender shoulders, her chest and her slender legs were enough to fan the youth’s lust (carnal desires). And his body reacted naturally.
Regin slightly raised her face. Their eyes met. Tigre, who finally came to his senses, turned his back on her in panic. His breathing was rough.
The youth ran his eyes left and right, and grabbed the cloth which he had used when washing his body. He wound it around his waist in a rough way. Considering the movement of Regin’s gaze, he probably should not have been seen.
As he took a small breath and regained some calm, Tigre noticed that Regin’s presence, which he felt behind him, was unchanged.
—Did she come in by mistake……?
As he was inwardly puzzled wondering “what does this mean?” and hesitated on whether he should call out to her, Regin was the first to speak.
The fact that one could hear that her voice was slightly trembling was only because of the bathroom’s structure. When Tigre replied “yes” in a voice tinged with tension, after several seconds Regin once again called the youth’s name.
“Lord Tigrevurmud. No…… Tigre.”
Tigre’s reply was slightly delayed. He was perplexed over Regin having expressly called him by his nickname. Besides, he had the feeling that the voice he heard just now was closer.
The next moment, a soft sensation of wet skin was transmitted onto Tigre’s back. When Regin went down on her knees behind the youth, she embraced him from behind as she pressed her body onto him. Because of too much surprise, Tigre’s whole body stiffened.
Two soft bulges hit his back. The sensation of his back, which had increased sharpness from excitement, caught the two sensations of slightly firm protuberance. A hot breath could be felt on the nape of his neck and golden hair tickled it (nape of his neck).
Tigre was about to say something, but his voice did not come out only his chin moving clumsily. Unable to shake himself loose from her, the best he could do was hold the edges of the cloth put around his waist and strongly grasp it in order to endure the impulse/urge welling up from the depths of his body.
In a voice that contained a very small amount of shyness, Regin muttered into the youth’s ear.
“At last…… At last, I was able to call you Tigre.”
Although Tigre, having not yet recovered from his confusion, was at a loss as he was unable to guess the meaning of her words, he somehow understood that she seemed to want to convey something to him.
“I have wanted to do this when I met you in the audience room.”
She put strength in her thin arms which held Tigre tight. “The audience room”, Tigre muttered in a blurred voice. Though the youth’s consciousness was still mostly held by excitement and confusion, his brain finally began to work again and he carefully listened to the Princess’ words.
Regin continued in a voice which mixed joy and frustration/bitterness.
“Welcome you with a smile, take your hand……”
Anything past that was washed away by her welling up feelings and thus was not put into words. But, it was conveyed to the youth. Regin probably wanted to say that she wanted to hug him and be happy that he was safe.
—So, that was it……
Tigre recalled her expression that he saw in the audience room, balcony and the banquet hall. The reason why it looked like it was devoid of emotions was because she was desperately restraining her feelings.
As he repeated Regin’s words in his mind, Tigre hung his head in shame. He felt ashamed of himself that he wasn’t able to understand her feelings.
For a short while, Regin silently entrusted her body to Tigre’s back and indulged in quiet joy. Tigre too said nothing, and silence wrapped the bathhouse.
The first one unable to endure the silence was Tigre. The current situation was too stimulating to indulge in deep emotion. If they kept still as is, he would want to give himself in to the swelling desire. As his heart continued beating fast and showed no sign of settling down, his body loudly demanded activity.
Even when he tried thinking about something else, Regin’s body etched in the back of his eyelids a while ago would appear and disappear. In that case, he would rather exchange words with Regin.
“Y-Your Highness, um, shouldn’t you soon……”
‘Let go of me?’ Tigre was going to continue as such, but Regin spoke before that.
“Tigre. At this time, could you not call me ‘your Highness’, but Regin? Just Regin.”
“Regin, is it……?”
To the perplexed youth, Regin changed her tone to a slightly stern one and responded. Though a tone like a spoiled child was slightly contained in her voice, Tigre did not notice.
“I am asking you so. Now, please call it.”
Although he hesitated, Tigre called her “Regin”. Regin slightly laughed on the youth’s back. Her two hills slightly bounced and once again stimulated Tigre’s back.
“Thank you. I feel like I was finally able to return to my original self.”
Tigre did not yet understand her intentions. So he could only answer as such.
—Still, what does she intend to do if we are found by someone……?
“Speaking of which, the person who manages this bathhouse……”
It was at this time that Tigre remembered that there was a chamberlain outside the bathhouse. His face grew pale. In contrast, his abdomen was boiled hot without any change.
“If you’re talking about that man, he isn’t there. I had him leave the place for a while.”
To the flustered Tigre, Regin answered in a tone as if it was nothing.
“I have Serena ── the person acting as my guard stand on guard in front of the bathhouse now. Only the three of us, I, you and Serena know that I’m here. No one else will come in here, so please rest assured.”
Though it was not a mental state where he could possibly rest assured, Tigre answered “understood”. He finally understood. Regin came in here in order to talk to him with only the two of them around.
After a short pause, Regin began talking.
It has been approximately one year since she came to govern this country. Regin’s reign was becoming stable. The fact that people, who once again pledged allegiance to her, appeared even without being persuaded by Badouin or Mashas might be said to be the evidence.
But, there were still many people who turned severe eyes to Regin.
Especially the people, who respected/regarded Brune’s tradition and obstinately tried to protect it, criticized even the fact that Regin was the ruler. Their claim was that the princess should quickly decide someone to become King, get married and become Queen, and give birth to a child.
They were not bad people. Nor were they incompetent. For example, there was one who had a territory and while being thought of as a strict feudal lord by his people, was loved by them; there was one who worked in the royal palace and was quite knowledgeable about customs from the old days and was relied on by his colleagues.
Only the belief/prejudice that traditions should be protected above all things was their problem. It was hard to call it a flaw. After all, the people of the era, when Regin’s father, Faron had ruled, had also thought of this as a virtue.
Be that as it may, they, who assumed such an attitude even towards Regin who was the Princess, naturally gave a bitter/harsh evaluation to Tigre, too.
“Although he’s raise remarkable war results, Earl Vorn isn’t like a Brune noble at all. To think that he can use neither a sword nor a spear, what kind of education did he receive from his predecessors? Being skilled at archery isn’t different from being skilled at cleaning out mud from a ditch; there’s nothing to be proud about.”
“In the first place, shouldn’t we say that those war results aren’t his but Zhcted’s? And Alsace’s soldiers who didn’t even number 100, how much activity did they display?”
“It’s said that he rescued Her Highness the Princess, but I don’t think that his actions afterwards were carried out while considering her safety. Her Highness too must impartially evaluate him without making a mistake in that area.”
It seemed that, whenever Regin heard such voices, she was stopped by Badouin and company as she tried to call out to the speaker.
“It will take time to gain their understanding; much more, if it’s people like them.”
Badouin said so as he bowed his head with an apologetic face. His mustache which grew erectly like a cat’s hung down at those times as if reflecting its master’s feelings.
Rather than consenting with Badouin’s words, Regin withdrew from consideration to the chief vassal whom she trusted. Besides, if she punished them, only the people opposing Regin would be pleased with it. She could not afford to show weakness until her position as a ruler became firm.
During such a time, when Tigre’s return was decided/determined and it was conveyed by Mashas, one rumor came to spread in the royal palace.
It was concerning how Princess Regin would treat Earl Vorn.
If Regin were to take Tigre’s hand with a smile and hugged him, she could easily imagine what kind of reaction they would show. Also how they would blame not only Regin, but Tigre.
After having hesitated, Regin decided to act as a cold ruler.
“──In the audience room, do you still remember about when I referred to ‘Moonlight Knights army’? There were people who began to make a racket about only that. And, it isn’t just one or two persons.”
Tigre could only nod. Though it was an intense indignation, it temporarily took the voice away from the youth. Traditions were indeed important. But, it was not like it was Regin who caused these present conditions.
Wasn’t it Duke Thenardier and Duke Ganelon who played with schemes and pushed this country into war by causing a civil war? Wasn’t it because they drove King Faron to death too early?
Tigre was about to say this to her Highness the Princess, but he shook his head. After inhaling and exhaling, he called out to her.
He softly put his right hand on her right hand that was hugging him. He considered the seriousness of the situation which she was put in. If he did not do that, she would not be able to express her feelings.
Regin leaked a small voice and changed her posture. She let her body stick more to Tigre’s back and put her left hand on Tigre’s right hand. She happily whispered to Tigre.
“The truth is, when I called you to the balcony, I intended to talk to you. But when I thought that you might have taken it not as my words, but the words of the Princess, I became scared and was unable to say anything. So, I made up my mind and boldly came here……”
Tigre silently gripped her right hand. He was glad that she thought this much about a man like him.
On the other hand, Tigre was self-aware that the desire/lust, which he should have held down while listening to her story, had raised its head again. The warmth transmitted by the softness of her hand gave energy/vitality to his desire.
Regin’s hand was small, the fingers were thin and the nails were neat. It was a beautiful hand.
Just by keeping holding onto this hand, he thought about wanting to entrust himself to his impulse, turning back and push her down.
As he swallowed his saliva, he felt like that sound of swallowing could be heard awfully loudly. Tigre desperately endured the emotion which stimulated him.
He persuaded himself that Regin trusted him. Or, that interpretation was wrong and he might disappoint her. Even so, he came to a clean decision that it could not be helped. About a little less than 50 seconds had passed before he came to this decision.
“──Thank you, Regin.”
Tigre released Regin’s right hand as he said that. Perhaps because his grip had been filled with unnecessary power due to too much tangle, her hand became slightly red. While inwardly apologizing for that, Tigre slowly spun his words.
“There’s little I can do for you. It may not amount to even half of what you’ve done for me. But, I’ll say just this. Just like you’re dearly thinking of me, I also think dearly of you.”
It was not because there were lord and retainer. There were words precisely because he held good will towards the girl called Regin and thought that he wanted to do something for her. As for Tigre, he intended to frankly convey his feelings without hiding or twists.
Immediately after, although it was only an instant, an unnatural silence lay between the two people.
“Tigre. I’m happy about those words of yours. I also understand that they aren’t lies or casual remark, but words from your true feelings. Based on that, I would like to ask you just one thing, but──”
Still leaning on Tigre’s back as is, Regin slowly continued her words.
“Didn’t you also say something like that to someone other than me?”
This time, it was Tigre’s turn to fall into silence. Moreover, whereas Regin’s silence was intended to prepare her words, in the youth’s silence, he could not find words to return.
“I don’t deny it, but……”
After a little while, Tigre said so as he was troubled. Or he should have lied while being aware that he was seen through. Saying “I’ve only said it to you”.
But, Tigre did not do so. He thought that he should clearly express his feelings even if it would displease Regin.
Regin chuckled and quietly released her embrace. She separated from Tigre’s back.
“I understand. For now, I will be glad with having been able to become an important person to you.”
As she finished speaking or was still in the middle of speaking, a new sensation was transmitted to the youth’s back. It seemed to be a cloth wet with hot water. Regin said in an unusually bright voice.
“Since I’m already here, I’ll wash your back.”
“No, you don’t need to……”
Tigre raised a feeble voice and was going to decline, but Regin moved her hands without minding it. As he thought that she would not stop no matter what he said, Tigre decided to let her do as she liked.
—It was reversed at the time of Agnes.
“I had had you wipe my back before, right?”
Regin suddenly said. Since he was exactly thinking about it, Tigre reflexively straightened up his back. Perhaps because his reaction was fun, Regin lightly laughed.
“Do you remember when I called you ‘Tigre’ for the first time?”
“I think it was in Agnes.”
When Tigre answered so while cocking his head in puzzlement, Regin lightly pinched the youth’s shoulder.
“You’re wrong. It was when you treated me to the bird you had just caught. When I said that it was a long name, you told me that calling you Tigre was fine. Did you forget that?”
Tigre kept silent. It was something from eight years ago. Along with the fact that he had been scolded afterwards by his father for having made the other party eat the bird he roasted without knowing that he/she was a royalty, it remained in his memory. But as expected he did not remember what kind of conversation they exchanged.
“I was happy; that there was someone coming in contact with me like that.”
While saying so nostalgically, Regin washed Tigre’s back with hot water.
Thinking that it seems to be over, while looking at the hot water flowing on the floor, the youth took a small breath. At the same time with a sense of relief, there was a feeling of regret that this situation was over. He rummaged his darkish red hair as he realized that. Anyway, what he had to do now was to wait for Regin to leave.
However, even after about ten seconds had passed, Regin showed no signs of leaving.
A calm voice tinged with seriousness struck the youth’s earlobe. Tigre spontaneously straightened himself and tightened his face with tension. Though he did not see it, but Regin probably did as such, too.
“Would you hear my story only a bit more/longer?”
“Yes” Tigre only answered so.
“──I have never gone to Zhcted and Asvarre.”
The princess’ words, which were spun slightly later after Tigre’s reply, took the youth aback.
“I know neither King Victor’s voice nor Lord Tallard’s and Princess Guinevere’s faces. Even the Sachstein’s troops which are attacking now, I haven’t seen even their shadows.”
“I think that it is something that can’t be helped……”
The Zhcted King Victor could probably not move from the capital Silesia because of his advanced age, and civil war was just settled in Asvarre last year. Even Brune was still far from stability. So, the ruler could not afford to move freely. Of course, going to the battlefield was out of question.
“As you say, there may be no helping it. However, an inexcusable situation might occur in the near future.”
Regin’s words were dignified without faltering, and above all, they let one feel her strong will. Tigre silently listened to her.
“A little more than one year has passed since I began to rule this country as a Princess. What I experienced everyday was the difficulty of governing and the lack of replacements of those who supporting me as well as their greatness. It is precisely because they left this country (to us) that our present exists.”
Including the late King Faron and Roland with the name of “Black Knight”, there were people who had exerted themselves for Brune. Nameless soldiers who fell on the battlefield, people who minutely plowed in rough grounds, craftsmen and merchants. Several tens, several hundreds of thousands of people built this country.
“As Faron’s child and as a person born in Brune’s royal family which has continued since the founder Charles, I have the duty to protect this country and make it rich. However, it cannot possibly be accomplished with only my power alone. ──I need you.”
Feelings mixed with surprise and confusion appeared in Tigre’s eyes. The Princess’ blue pupils, which were filled with a resolute will and emitted calm brightness, jewels without a scratch, could be easily imagined.
Tigre’s voice trembled. Just muttering her name was the best he could do.
The youth finally got an answer more than what he expected from Regin.
Behind him, he felt the presence of Regin standing up.
“Thank you for listening to me.”
Her voice when she said so was similar to the one of when she embraced Tigre; it contained a slight sound of wanting to be spoiled.
“I wanted you…… only you to hear my dream. I also said it at the balcony, but please tell me your answer after the war is over.”
Her presence faded away along with small footsteps. After hearing the sound of the entrance’s door opening and then closing, Tigre finally stood up. He walked not to the bathtub in front of him, but to the one, which was filled with cold water, located in a corner. He soaked in it until his waist.
His chest was hot. He himself felt that his face was flushing.
He wanted to be helpful to her no matter how small a thing he could do. He wanted to abandon all hesitations and follow her.
But, there were things that Tigre had to do. There were too many things which he thought were important to abandon them.
Even after the excessive heat left his body, Tigre continued being soaked in the bathtub of cold water for a while. Considerable time was required until his heart and head regained calm.