In the city Litomyšl which was in the center of Pardu, there was Eugene’s mansion.
At noon two days after the battle against Ilda, Ellen arrived at this town. She was accompanied by thirty of her horsemen and the thirty horsemen she borrowed from Eugene. Even if there were injured persons among the Pardu soldiers, there was no dead.
Litomyšl was a town which gave the impression of a simple rural area.
There were many wooden houses standing in a row; they were made using plaster so that they could endure the cold. Only the main street, which connected from Eugene’s mansion which was in the back to the outside of the town, was paved with cobblestones, but the other roads were the ones where the earth was thrust and hardened.
It was not for the lord’s vanity that only the main street was paved with cobblestones. It was provided for when a visitor would come by horse or carriage.
A wide river was flowing from the north of the town to the east and on fine days, stalls lined up along the river and sold fish, nuts and edible wild plants, but those stands did not turn up today.
It was because the residents who should be the shoppers thronged on both sides of the main street.
They had rarely seen a total amount of sixty cavalrymen. Moreover, moving at their vanguard was one of the only seven Vanadis in Zchted. Looking around, almost all the residents of the town had gathered.
This was also the reason why Ellen narrowed down the cavalrymen she would bring along to thirty. If there were more LeitMeritz soldiers than the Pardu soldiers, the residents would probably not have shown up. By taking the same number, it was necessary to direct impartiality by lining them right and left.
“It’s been a long time since I come here, but…”
While advancing her horse at the vanguard, and responding to the voices and cheers of the residents by waving her hand, Ellen turned her gaze around to the scenery of Litomyšl.
—It’s somehow similar to the town of Celesta.
Celesta was the town in the center of Alsace where Tigre was born and raised, his mansion was there too. Of course, the cityscape was completely different from that of Litomyšl, but there was something common in the atmosphere which drifted in the town.
Behind Ellen, the soldiers of LeitMeritz and Pardu looked the other way awkwardly as they were vigorously waving their hands. On anyone’s face, there was conceit and the pride that they protected this place.
Eugene was standing in front of his mansion. With a slender face, he grew a gray, long beard under his chin. He wrapped his small skinny body in loose hempen clothes.
Ellen stopped her horse in front of Eugene and quickly went down. Eugene was looking at Ellen with a gentle smile. There were dark circles under his eyes.
—He has become a little haggard.
“Well, it’s no wonder” Ellen thought. After all, he was suspected to have poisoned Ilda’s attendant and he had his territory attacked by a large army. Although the Bydgauche army was repelled by Ellen and Elizavetta, it was not as if everything was settled.
Ellen intentionally made a bright smile and bowed to her teacher of etiquette.
“Eugene-dono, it’s been a long time.”
“Ellen, no, sorry. Vanadis-dono. I caused you trouble.”
Eugene also stepped up to Ellen and held her hand. The hand of the Earl who passed 40 years old was dry and warm.
The horsemen lined up in the courtyard of Eugene’s mansion. Eugene first expressed politely, words of thanks to the LeitMeritz soldiers, and told that he prepared lodgings and meal for them. After that, he thanked the soldiers of his army, promised them a reward and made them dispersed.
Afterwards, he invited Ellen in his mansion.
It was a two-storied mansion whose exterior was plain, but when passing through the door, many vivid tapestries were decorated on the walls. Expensive jars and marble statues were placed in the corridor.
These were various articles given to Eugene as presents when he was serving as King Victor’s close aide. There also seemed to be some things among them that were given by King Victor, but Eugene did not explain which articles they were.
Ellen had asked before; whether it would not be better to put them away if there were so important. However, Eugene shook his head with the face of a teacher who admonished a pupil.
“There’s no mistaking it that they gave them to me hoping that I will value them. But, there is no way that they gave them to me with the thought of wanting me to put them away. They would be pleased to see that I use them as decorations.”
After saying so, Eugene concluded it by saying that this was also one courtesy.
“Viltaria-sama. It has been a long time.”
It was Eugene’s wife, and daughter who welcomed Ellen as she entered the mansion.
Eugene’s wife, though not as much as her husband, was also slim. She wrapped her body in clothes with long cuffs and revealed a kind smile which harked back to the spring sunlight filtering through foliage. This woman was King Victor’s niece.
“It has been a long time, Viltaria-sama!”
Eugene’s daughter who was standing beside her mother cheerfully greeted Ellen and deeply bowed her head. It looked like she was so energetic she could not help herself. Though she was wearing long sleeve clothes and a long skirt up to her feet, they let one feel wonder and liveliness, and there was the brightness of a strong will within her eyes.
Ellen gently stroked her head.
“I heard from your father. He said that you want to be like me and do sword training.”
The daughter who would be 13 years old this year raised her face, happily nodded and tightly grasped both her hands before her chest.
“Yes! Viltaria-sama, could you someday teach me?”
“Let’s see. If you still worked hard in sword training even after three years, then okay.”
“Viltaria-dono is tired. Do not talk so much about such absurdity.”
Eugene chided his daughter, and then he looked back towards Ellen.
“I would like you to rest first in a room. I will immediately ask to prepare meal and hot water.”
The served meal was rice porridge (Kasha) in which a small amount of butter and salmon were put in, chicken baked in a covered pan with herbs, an omelet with cheese put in and a soup of potatoes and carrots.
They let steam rise on the oak table. It might not be extravagant, but any one of those dishes would allow one to feel much warmth, and Ellen inwardly took a breath of relief.
If Eugene had arranged on the table dishes which commanded praises, Ellen would have rather worried about him.
When finishing eating, Eugene made the servant prepare wine and honey wine (Medovukha), and then asked him to leave. Only Ellen and Eugene were now alone in the dining room. The wine was for Ellen.
First of all, Ellen talked about this incident. She began to explain from when a messenger from the royal palace visited LeitMeritz , her joining with the Lebus army led by Elizavetta, to when they captured the Duke in his prime after a battle with the Bydgauche army which he commanded.
“In order to bury the deceased, we borrowed the foot of the hill.”
“I am sorry, Ellen. For not having talked about the details.”
In a private place, Eugene also called the silver-haired Vanadis, Ellen. Ellen confirmed that her teacher of etiquette had not changed, and she secretly thought that it was a good thing.
“There seem to be serious circumstances, did something happen? Lord Ilda said that I will know of it sooner or later.”
At Ellen’s question, Eugene narrowed his eyes and frowned. He put his hand on his long gray beard and dropped his look on the table.
To the silence which fell, Ellen patiently endured. It was only when the time of a full 100 counts had passed, that Eugene opened his mouth.
“Originally… originally, it isn’t something that I should say to anyone. I didn’t even say it to my wife and my daughter. That’s why I could not also write it in a letter. But––”
Eugene moved his gaze which was focusing on the table to the bottle of wine, and then stared straight at Ellen.
“There is only you and I here. Besides, say what you want, but this Pardu was saved by you. The territory, the people, my wife and daughter too… However, I would like you to keep it secret.”
—Seems like an extreme emphasis.
While thinking so, Ellen nodded.
Ellen and Eugene were the only people here; the servants had not approached the dining room by their master’s order. Nevertheless, Eugene lowered his voice.
Although Ellen knitted her brows, she heard the words which came out from the mouth of the Earl of slim figure, and she was astonished. As she unintentionally raised her voice, she hurriedly shut her mouth, gulped down the wine in her silver cup at a stretch and somehow settling her feelings, she confirmed in a voice as low as Eugene’s earlier.
“Eugene-dono will be the next King…?”
Eugene nodded with a tired face. As expected, even Ellen was not able to return a smart reaction to this. A person close to her, though it would be at some future time, would become King.
After about ten seconds passed, she finally said with a shaking voice.
“That’s, what to say… Congratulations, to you.”
Eugene lonely laughed. As he picked up the bottle of wine, he poured it into Ellen’s silver cup which became empty. He poured honey wine into his cup. While Ellen expressed her thanks and received the silver cup, she wonderingly titled her head to the side.
“You are fairly calm about it, Eugene-dono.”
“It has already been one month since I got those words from His Majesty after all.”
Ellen consented, and then thought of a certain thing.
“Is it the reason why Duke Bydgauche aimed at you, Eugene-dono?”
It was probably because the shock of Eugene’s confession was too great that she could not immediately remember it despite having thought of it once. Eugene returned a question with a difficult face.
“It’s also what I would like to know. Due to this matter, I have to leave for the royal capital by the day after tomorrow at the latest. Hasn’t Lord Ilda said anything else?”
Ellen shook her head. She had told him everything about her conversation with Ilda at the beginning. Even though she explored her memory, there was no leak.
“I am sorry for not being able to help.”
“No, I also keep on depending on you regarding this time. If I knew that something like this would happen, I would have done a little more sword training.”
“But, Eugene-dono. People are cut out for certain things and not other things.”
Saying so, Ellen teasingly laughed. Being enticed in it, Eugene also laughed.
“You’re quite right. It was quite the uphill battle to teach you the etiquette of the royal court.”
“Yeah. Therefore, please leave the sword training to me.”
“Thanks. By the way, Eleanora.”
Eugene changed the topic. With the look of a teacher watching over his pupil, he gently asked.
“Haven’t you have some kind of trouble or anything?”
Ellen stared wide-eyed as she was taken aback. To Ellen who made a face saying “how did you figure it out?”, Eugene gave a gentle smile.
“Unlike Limlisha, it’s easy to guess it by looking at your face. If you’re fine with me, I can give advice.”
Limlisha was Ellen’s reliable adjutant and also a precious friend. She was currently guarding the Imperial Palace of LeitMeritz in her master’s absence. She was also a pupil who learned etiquette under Eugene.
“––No, I’m grateful for your concern alone.”
Ellen politely turned down her teacher’s offer. Eugene also did not try to tread on any further. However, he was worried about his pupil.
“I don’t know what troubles you, but please do not overdo it. You are still young.”
Ellen thanked him once again.
The next day, Ellen gathered her soldiers and left Litomyšl. As she went through the highway to the west, she planned to return straight to LeitMeritz.
Eugene accompanied her up to the town’s gate to see her off.
“Stay in good health, Eleanora.”
“You, too, Eugene-dono. Take care.”
“You do not need to worry about me. Ellen. You may think that I am obstinate, but I will not do anything reckless.”
As she bowed on horseback to her teacher’s concern, Ellen gave an order to the soldiers. The LeitMeritz army orderly left Litomyšl.
They returned to the Imperial Palace of LeitMeritz seven days later.
Elizavetta who managed the Lebus army parted from Ilda who led the Bydgauche army at the spot where the highway divided which extended respectively to the north and the west. Advancing on the highway extending to the north, one would arrive at the capital Silesia in about three days. Taking the highway extending to the west would lead to Lebus or Legnica.
“I was thinking that you will definitely take us until the capital.”
A few days had passed since the battle and Ilda had regained his composure. Although defeated, he did not hold a grudge against Elizavetta and Ellen.
“Ilda-sama, if you believe in your righteousness then this should be enough, right? You will probably be punished for having moved your soldiers without getting His Majesty’s permission, but afterwards, you should dignifiedly assert your viewpoint.”
Though it was a severe way of speaking, Ilda was rather pleased with it and laughed.
“What Vanadis-dono says is quite right. Besides, I must accept my defeat. For my soldiers, too.”
He should head to the royal palace as the obligation of the loser and receive judgment. For this Duke with a militaristic disposition, it seemed reasonably easy to grasp that way of thinking.
As the Bydgauche army following him was thinking the same thing, most of them did not show a rebellious attitude. However, they tried not to break only their firm attitude.
There was also the fact that Elizavetta had firmly forbidden quarrel between soldiers, but even if there was small squabbles between the Lebus army and the Bydgauche army until today, big troubles had not occurred. Even those squabbles immediately settled down.
“I am grateful to you for having brought us up to here. ––Oh yeah. I forgot to say one thing.”
Ilda continued with a carefree smile.
“Vanadis-dono, you have a really skilled archer. I thought that I could succeed in escaping at that time, but it was a terrible conceit on my part. Even among my subordinates, there’s no owner that possesses that much skill.”
Falling from his horse because of that archer and regardless of what the present situation was, Ilda, without expressing any grudge, purely praised Urz as a warrior. Elizavetta, rather than joyfully considering it, bowed her head small with regrettable feelings.
“Thank you. I will tell the person himself. It’s a great honor.”
And Ilda led the Bydgauche army and went ahead through the highway leading to the capital.
“Was it all right?”
Naum who was immediately behind Elizavetta asked.
“There is no reason for me to go all the way up to the capital.”
About the details of the battle against Ilda, she had already sent a messenger to the capital a few days ago. So, she had nothing more to report.
Even if Ilda didn’t not to go to the capital, either he would return to his territory Bydgauche or he would flee; and in this case, Elizavetta would bear the responsibility. But she decided to trust the Duke in his prime.
For one thing, if she were to accompany Ilda until the capital like that, there were circumstances which would cause her return to Lebus to be delayed up to six days. She had already been absent for nearly twenty days. If possible, she did not want to stop on the way.
Elizavetta slightly twisted her body on horseback and turned her gaze to the back as she quietly took a glance. Behind her, needless to say that there was not only Naum, but also Urz.
This youth did not boast of his achievements even after the battle, and was striving for his work as an attendant. It seemed like there was no particular change, but she felt that the frequency in which he exchanged jokes with Naum increased. In addition, according to Naum, there seemed to be several soldiers who wanted to exchange a friendly chat with him.
Called by Elizavetta, Urz drew his horse near while cocking his head in puzzlement.
“Is something the matter?”
Not answering immediately, Elizavetta fixedly stared at Urz.
If she was really thinking about Urz, she should have several people escort him and send him to the capital.
Or, she should herself go to the royal palace accompanied by him?
She could hear such a voice in the innermost depths of her heart.
There was no clear evidence, but there was no doubt that Urz was definitely Tigrevurmud Vorn.
—No, it may be a different person. What matters is that “clear evidence”. Wasn’t even Eleanora unable to show it? It’s surely a different person. Urz is Urz.
While eagerly persuading herself, Elizavetta opened her mouth.
“Bring your horse a little nearer.”
“Yea”, Urz issued such an idiotic voice and advanced his horse.
The Vanadis of Rainbow Eyes ran her gaze at the surroundings. No soldiers were looking her way. Even Naum turned to the back as he was concerned about something.
Elizavetta said with a smile.
“Ilda-sama has greatly praised your bow skill.”
“I-Is that so?”
Urz revealed a mixed smile as he was troubled and embarrassed. Since it was him who made Ilda fall from his horse, it was difficult to be frankly pleased.
“You should be proud. It’s really rare for that person to praise someone about military arts after all. So –– I will reward you. Lower your head.”
While saying so, Elizavetta advanced her horse next to Urz’s horse. To Urz who lowered his head wonderingly, she stretched out her hand.
She touched his darkish red head and gently stroked it like a parent does to his child.
Elizavetta did so probably for about ten seconds. She then removed her hands, her cheeks bright red.
“I-It’s fine already.”
Urz who raised his head stared at his master like always with a wondering face as a little while ago. He made an expression as if thinking about something, and then revealed an expression showing that he understood finally.
As expected it took him time to realize that her stroking his head was the reward. As for Elizavetta who was thanked, she turned away her face which was bright red until her ears. At that time, her eyes met those of Naum who was looking her way with an amazed face.
It goes without saying that she called Naum later and told him to keep it a secret.
Several days later, the Lebus army returned safely.
It was exactly at the time when Elizavetta parted from Ilda that the Vanadis Valentina Glinka Estes requested an audience with the Zchted King in the royal palace of the capital Silesia.
It was the evening of that day that King Victor received Valentina in the audience room.
In the room, besides King Victor and Valentina, there was only the Grand Chamberlain. But, ten imperial guards were on standby outside the audience room. On the call of either the King or the Grand Chamberlain, they would jump in immediately.
Clad in luxurious silk clothes which abundantly used gold and silver threads, the King sat down on the throne.
Valentina went down on a knee before the King. She, who held the nickname of Illusory Princess of the Hollow Shadow, was the eldest along with Sophia Obertas among the Vanadis.
Raven black hair long enough to reach her waist. A pure white dress wrapped around her delicate body. Roses which were displayed on her hair and dress, and a calm demeanor coupled with a transient beauty, her figure was not a rare sight alike to secluded princesses which meant that she had been brought up with tender care, having a neat and clean atmosphere.
What was mysterious was the long-handled scythe which was placed near her. It was colored deep crimson and jet black and had a huge blade which was as curved as her body was.
If such a scythe was next to her, she should have left nothing but a sense of incongruity as if the gears did not mesh if you think about normally. But, this scythe succeeded in the fact that it gave a fairytale-like atmosphere to Valentina.
It might be because this scythe called Hollow Shadow was her Dragonic Tool.
The King’s stern gaze was turned not to Valentina, but to that Dragonic Tool.
Originally, the possession of weapons was firmly forbidden in the audience room. Let alone a dagger, even one needle if speaking of extremes. If it was found, execution might be announced on the spot.
But, there was only one exception in Zchted. It was a Vanadis’ Dragonic Tool.
It was said that only this might be carried in the audience room. It did not change since the time the Zchted Kingdom was created. And it had never been changed, either.
“I sincerely express you my gratitude as a retainer for having permitted an audience.”
In a position where she was on her knees and hung her head down, Valentina calmly said.
“I have heard about Duke Bydgauche and Earl Pardu.”
“Both of them are loyal vassals, but did something happen?”
The old King who exceeded the age of 60 feigned ignorance with a splendor as to be dumbfounded for someone who knew of the circumstances. Similarly, the complexion of the Grand Chamberlain next to him did not change one bit. Valentina chuckled in a way that was not visible to the King and the Grand Chamberlain.
“This time, Duke Bydgauche moving his soldiers and heading to Pardu because there was poison in the alcohol Earl Pardu sent to the Duke, and that the Duke’s attendant who drank it lost his life, something like that.”
“If it is about the duty to stop Duke Bydgauche, then I have already ordered it to others.”
“It is not about that, that I would like to speak of.”
Valentina raised her face. Sincerity and seriousness were overflowing in her lovely features. However, the old King showed no particular signs of being impressed. Not even one of the wrinkles which formed his face quivered.
“I would like to act as a mediator between the Duke and the Earl.”
“I cannot allow that.”
With a curt tone, King Victor turned down the black-haired Vanadis’ wish.
“You may be close to Duke Bydgauche. Since Osterode which thou rules is near Bydgauche. But, I do not think you have interactions of great significance with Earl Pardu. That being the case, there will be deflection in your judgment.”
“Of course, I will be of course partial in my judgment. However, Your Majesty. In this case, do you know what is important for a mediator?”
“…What, do you say you know?”
“I know why Earl Pardu sent alcohol to Duke Bydgauche.”
For a moment, the audience room fell silent as if it struck water. Several wrinkles carved in King Victor’s face slightly moved and his eyes emitted a whitish light.
“Earl Pardu is Duke Bydgauche’s brother-in-law. So it is not particularly strange for him to send alcohol to a relative.”
“It is me who recommended the Earl to send the Vodka.”
Valentina lowered her head once again.
“All the more that something like that happened is regrettable and unbearable for me”
The old King was overlooking her black hair with eyes harking back to a cold swamp during winter.
“Raise your face.”
The old King’s words were uttered after a short pause. Valentina raised her face.
“You will act as mediator. Duke Bydgauche and Earl Pardu are two people that are indispensable to our country. Above all, the mediator would have to do more than just hear both sides’ stories. You, who have a weak constitution, may not be able to go through with it though.”
The latter half of his lines was clearly sarcasm. However, Valentina did not change her complexion one bit. She was not a Vanadis to be shaken by this much.
“Then, at least, could you allow me to be present?”
“You should do as you like.”
“I have not enough words to expression my gratitude to your kindness.”
Like this, the audience ended.
Valentina who left the audience room lost herself in thought while walking down the corridor of the royal palace with her scythe on her shoulder.
—It looks like I can’t hope for confusion more than this in the current situation. But, since I was able to able to get permission to attend as mediator, I will settle with this for the time being.
Earl Pardu and Duke Bydgauche. The next King and the man who would support him. She was able to have a positive point of contact with these two people.
—What is left is to know to what extent I’m being suspected by His Majesty… I really have no idea about this. But there is no doubt that he definitely suspected me.
It was Valentina who poisoned the Vodka. But, it was not as if she did it directly.
Valentina’s Dragonic Tool was endowed with a power with which it was possible to move from space to space, but she had never used that power for such a plotting up to now.
There was a more simple method. She bribed an employee of Ilda’s mansion.
Valentina had grasped the living habits of people in the capital with high rank in the rights of succession to the throne. From where their mansion was in the capital, how many employees were working there, to where the shops they frequently visited were.
Of course, she thoroughly knew also about the people who were working at Ilda’s mansion.
She had an eye on one person among them that was not that muck liked by Ilda and that could be moved with money, and proposed to him a talk. Of course, Valentina did not meet him directly, but through many other people acting as intermediates.
The poison was not put in the alcohol. It was applied on a cup. Ilda might not necessarily die in this way of doing, but it did not matter for Valentina.
This was because her purpose was not to murder Ilda, but to cause confusion and then obtain an advantageous position therein.
By the way, that employee was no longer in the capital. He received a sack packed with gold coin and disappeared.
—At any rate, Ilda-sama’s action was unexpected.
Valentina had thought that Ilda would certainly fly in rage, but still that he would settle it in the royal palace. She intended to enter there as a mediator and made both of them owe her.
—Since there should have trouble at least until the Sun Festival (Maslenitsa), I will do with this for the time being.
She passed through the corridor and went to the pillared corridor where one could view the garden. Valentina stopped, shifted her attention to the garden. Though there were few types of flowers due to it being wintertime, even so, Primula and snowdrops (podsnežnik) and multicolored flowers were blooming with colors such as white and purple. It was a pleasurable sight to the eyes of the beholder.
Valentina sat down on one of the benches set up in the garden. As she let a smile spread on her lips and gazed at the flowers, the young woman brought up pure and innocent looked like she was enjoying the beauty of flowers. But, what was in her head were not the flowers.
—If possible, I want it to divide in two or three. Like Brune last year and Asvarre was until the other day.
Valentina’s thought was not that original of a thing. Create an opposition in the country, so that it’s divided in two or three factions, and then seize the initiative therein. She would then hold power in such a way and finally take over the throne.
She managed to create an opposition. It seemed to have settled in the meantime, but both Duke Bydgauche and Earl Pardu respectively had friends and supporters. Even if the persons themselves wanted tranquility, their surroundings would rise of their own accords and there were a number of examples on how they could create confusion.
—Still, if Prince Ruslan were there, all this would not have happened.
Valentina suddenly drove her thoughts into the past.
King Victor had a son named Ruslan. He was knowledgeable about both political and military affairs, and it was said that he was a wise prince in whom the chief vassals had a deep trust. King Victor also loved this prince.
However a few years ago, the prince suddenly suffered from heart disease. He set fire on the royal villa on the outskirts of the royal palace. Several days later, Ruslan was confined in a certain shrine under the pretext of medical treatment for his illness.
After Valentina became Vanadis, she had happened to see Ruslan only once. It was about when she happened to pass by near the shrine where the Prince was confined.
He was in his mid-thirties. His pale golden hair grew very long and the lower half of his face was covered with a stubbly beard.
The first-class clothes which he was wearing became slovenly worn out, and though he wore a leather shoe on his right foot, his left foot was bared. Upon close inspection, he had refined features, but his eyes were not focused on anything, his mouth which discharged a disharmonious singing was half-opened and saliva was streaming down his chin.
He was walking around the shrine with such a figure. With steps like a drunkard.
Valentina, anxious about it, had once investigated about why the prince suffered from heart disease. This was because she thought that if it was due to some conspiracy, the person who plotted it would become her enemy.
But, even after investigating for nearly one year, she did not find at all some kind of plot. In the end, Valentina drew the conclusion that it was simply an illness and closed her investigation.
The black-haired Vanadis shook off her past memory, and thought again about the present situation.
—Assuming that this country divided in two, the problem will be the Vanadis other than me…
In Zchted, there were some people with power capable of settling confusion which arose. People who have an authority exceeding that of a noble and who also held a mighty military power.
—With Alexandra dead, other than me, there are five Vanadis. Even if I can’t do something about all of them, I must make a situation in which at least half of them would not move.
Among them, it was probably easy to seal off the movement of Ellen who governed LeitMeritz, Mira who governed Olmutz and Sophie who governed Polesia. The dukedoms which these three governed were sharing their borders with foreign countries.
—If confusion arises in Brune, Eleanora can’t help but watch out there. If Muozinel was to make a disquieting movement again now, Ludmira and Sophia should not be able to move out from their territories.
She left Elizavetta aside for the time being. In the case of Ilda and Eugene opposing each other, Elizavetta would probably take Ilda’s side. Understanding that was enough.
Olga was a too much unknown factor, so she could not yet make a judgment. This was because what she only knew about Olga was that she had been spending a wandering life for nearly two years.
From the information Valentina collected in this capital, Olga cooperated with Tigrevurmud Vorn and participated in Asvarre’s civil war, but she was not able to get the details. She needed more information.
And, the Vanadis chosen by the Luminous Flame Bargren after Alexandra did not show up yet. Or maybe Bargren had not yet chosen someone.
A Dragonic Tool which lost its Vanadis does not immediately choose the next Vanadis. In the Zchted Kingdom history of about 300 years, periods with a Vanadis absence were not that rare.
Valentina would move at the time when half of the Vanadis would not be able to move.
—Ending up somewhere else and not returning to Osterode won’t do any good.
While quietly touching a flower, Valentina thought about her territory Osterode.
Osterode was in the northeast of Zchted.
It was five years ago that she became Vanadis. It was when she was 17 years old.
Osterode in those days was known to be the weakest dukedom among the seven dukedoms governed by Vanadis.
To the north, a sea of intense cold in which drift ice floated, steep mountains which rose as if piercing the heaven and a great coniferous forest to the east. It was quite difficult to call it an opened land.
The neighboring countries with which it could make trade with were not close, and it did not have a fertile earth. Even the port, compared with Legnica and Lebus, could only be used for a short period. There was that and also the fact that the countries in the Far East including Jaffa hardly came from the sea to here.
In addition, the previous Vanadis was someone who did not concerned herself about Osterode.
“Osterode isn’t mine, but the Vanadis’. When I stop being Vanadis, Osterode won’t be mine anymore.”
Saying so, she seemed to hardly show interest in governmental affairs. When it came to war, she displayed a strength like a fierce god and thus built distinguished military services, but she did not try to assertively make Osterode rich.
This was how Osterode was, but Valentina considered it to be an irreplaceable treasure.
The Estes House in which she was born and raised in was of small nobility without any redeeming feature aside from the oldness of its lineage. Judging from the family name Estes, it was a branch family of the royal family, but it had no territory inherited from generation after generation, and only one small mansion in the capital.
Money enough to no be worried about eating was provided by the royal palace to the family, but that was only it.
To obtain power as a woman, she could only make herself be liked by the royalty and tilted nobility who held power. The Estes House had no power.
Even so, Valentina did not give up; she raised her cultural level and also strove for the training of military arts. There were many books and rolls in their mansion and she liked to touch them, but she did not intend to finish her life being buried in those.
In such a place, the territories and soldiers had come to live with it. Even though it was said to be the weakest dukedom.
She tightly grasped the deep crimson and jet black scythe which appeared before her and called.
“If you will lend me your power to my wish, be by my side. But if you consider my wish to be outrageous, then choose another person.”
The Hollow Shadow did not disappear from Valentina’s hand. During the five years after Valentina became Vanadis, she exerted herself to make Osterode rich. It was probably fortunate that she discovered halite ores and could exploit them, but other than that, she racked her brain in political affairs such as reducing the taxes while expanding farmlands.
Even the fact of pretending to have a weak constitution was one of them.
King Victor had often given the order to go to war to the Vanadis. In the battle of Dinant last year, he gave an order to Osterode to depart for the front, and also regarding this incident, he requested LeitMeritz and Lebus to move their soldiers.
This was because it was natural for the royal family to reduce the assets and military power of Vanadis and nobles who were retainers.
Valentina simply (plainly) resisted to this.
She delayed her departure to the front by saying that she fell sick, and even if she arrived at the battlefield, she would say that she was injured and immediately retreated. She would treat even someone with just some scratches as an injured person and asserted that he received damage. It was only about the bandits who ran rampant in her territory that she adopted a quick and stern response.
As a result, Osterode became so rich that it was incomparable to five years ago. Even in comparison with the other Vanadis’ dukedoms, she did not think that she was inferior.
However, it was still early to be glad. Let alone reaching out for the throne, Valentina understood well her current self who did not hook even a finger. Even how she was seen from others’ eyes, she intended to walk down the path she desired step by step.
“––It isn’t like you made petals beautifully bloom from the beginning, is it?”
With a smile, Valentina lightly poked the white petals of a snowdrop (podsnežnik) with a fingertip. The snowdrops (podsnežnik) which had made the petals bloom as if dangling flickeringly shook.
—What is left are those guests of Brune…
Valentina’s purplish-black pupils became faintly cloudy. For about half a year, she had secretly given shelter to nobles of the Brune Kingdom.
They were Duke Maximilian Bennusa Ganelon and Marquis Charon Anquetil Greast.
Ganelon was one of the nobles who represented the Brune Kingdom, but he was defeated by Duke Thenardier in last year’s civil war, his mansion set on fire. His body was not found in the ruins of fire. He made it look as if he attempted suicide after going crazy (losing it?) to the shock of the defeat.
Marquis Greast was a being who could be said to be Ganelon’s trusted retainer (confidant), but he also disappeared after being defeated by Duke Thenardier and was considered killed in action. This man was of course also alive.
Like that, about when the civil war ended in the victory of Tigrevurmud Vorn who had Princess Regin, the two men secretly met with Valentina and fled to Osterode. Neither Princess Regin nor King Victor should know about this.
And, several days ago, both of them left Osterode and went to Brune.
In order to cause a new confusion in Brune.
Or, they might intend to hold hegemony in Brune this time for sure, but it did not matter to Valentina. It would be good for her if Brune fell into confusion. As long as that confusion would not reach Osterode in the northeast of Zchted.
They would probably fight hard for her ambitions, too. That should lead to Valentina’s victory.
In the afternoon seven days after the fight with Ilda, Ellen returned to her Imperial Palace with thirty cavalrymen.
Limlisha who was Ellen’s adjutant gathered the soldiers who participated in this battle in the courtyard and welcomed Ellen.
She was now 20 years old. She was called Lim by those close to her including Ellen. She was a tall beautiful woman who tied her dull golden hair on the left side of her head and there was no fragment of sociability on her face.
However, it was not as if she completely lacked in emotions. For Ellen who was her lord and also her close friend, she made such an expression as she tried to be always calm.
That day also, she bowed to Ellen with an unamiable face.
“I already heard the report of victory from Rurick. Congratulations, Eleanora-sama. Weren’t you injured?”
“As you see, Lim. Besides, Eugene-dono is safe, too.”
Hearing Ellen’s words, Lim’s blue eyes floated a color of relief. The Earl with an impressive long gray beard was also Lim’s teacher.
As Ellen headed to the courtyard, she gave words of appreciation to the soldiers gathered.
“You have done well, all of you. Although there were casualties, we succeed in capturing Duke Bydgauche, and we were also able to protect Earl Pardu who is a friend of LeitMeritz. I want you to be proud of having won and also having protected our friend.”
After that, Ellen promised a reward, and made the soldiers disperse. Since this battle was something requested from the royal palace, the reward money would come from there. Although it was the Lebus army’s credit, she intended to ask for very much as they were able to catch Ilda alive.
The silver-haired Vanadis did not break her composed attitude even a little until then and also turned a bright smile to the soldiers.
But, when she parted from the soldiers and was alone with Lim, she erased her smile and put on a serious expression. To her lord who headed to her work office at a quick pace, Lim suspiciously narrowed her eyes.
“Eleanora-sama, did something happen?”
“Yes. A very important thing.”
To Lim who chased her at a quick pace, Ellen promptly answered. Immediately realizing that she could not talk about it in the corridor, Lim followed the Vanadis and walked in on the work office. Ellen who violently sat on the chair of the office looked up her adjutant who was also a close friend after breathing out a sigh.
“If possible, I would like to change my clothes, take a hot bath and talked while also carrying a toast with wine, but my heart wouldn’t hold till then. Listen! ––Tigre is alive.”
Lim who heard Ellen’s words stood stock still on the spot in utter amazement. As she came to her senses several seconds after, she made an unusually sullen expression and stated a complaint.
“Eleanora-sama. You probably intend to surprise me like this again, but there are things which you should not say even as a joke––”
“It’s not a joke.”
Standing from the chair, Ellen answered as she leaned forward on her desk. To that vigor, Lim unintentionally swallowed her words, shut her mouth, and fixedly stared at her lord who was three years younger than her.
“What do you mean…?”
The voice of Lim who asked the question was faintly trembling.
Tigrevurmud Vorn was an important person also for her. But, that Tigre died, she thought so. The fact that she burst into tears in front of Eugene who was her teacher was still fresh in her mind. Although there were the words of Ellen whom she trusted more than anyone, it was no wonder that she could not suddenly believe them, either.
Ellen explained in detail about the youth named Urz who was beside Elizavetta Fomina. She also added that he shot arrows in the darkness of night and splendidly killed Ilda’s horse.
“Rurick was surprised, too, but he really looked just like him. The voice was Tigre’s, too. Besides, the name Urz also attracted my attention.”
“…It is the name of Lord Tigrevurmud’s late father, isn’t it?”
To Lim who squinted thoughtfully, Ellen strongly nodded. However, Lim immediately shook her face with a difficult face.
“However, do you really find it possible that Lord Tigrevurmud fell into the sea and was washed ashore in a coast somewhere in Lebus?”
From the place where Tigre fell into the sea, it would take two or three days to reach the nearest coast even by ship. Even if he was carried well by the tide, he would be made to choose between freezing to death and dying by drowning before drifting ashore.
“If we think normally about it, you’re right. But perhaps something happened.”
Tightly grasping her fist, Ellen eagerly appealed to Lim.
“In the first place, the circumstances when that guy fell into the sea are too particular. The demon riding on the sea dragon attacked him and destroyed the ship. If it wasn’t Sophie who said it, I would have taken it as a ridiculous nonsense story and beaten the one saying it.”
Wouldn’t doing it a little be too much? Though Lim thought so and since she felt like she would have also done the same thing, she kept silent.
“Besides, Tigre has that mysterious bow.”
In the Earl Vorn House where Tigre was born and raised, there was a bow as an heirloom. It only looked like a featureless jet black bow, but it had strange points such as reacting to the Dragonic Tools. In Brune’s civil war last year, they had been saved several times by its power.
“Was the one called Urz holding a black bow?”
“No. from what I saw rapidly, it was an extremely common bow.”
Ellen shook her head. However, the indomitable shine which colored her red eyes did not fade at all.
“But, no matter what I don’t think that that guy is a different person. I can’t discard that possibility, but…”
The possibility of it being another person. What she also said to Rurick had barely covered up for the stirring of Ellen’s feelings. If not for that, the silver-haired Vanadis would have probably exploded in joy without any hesitation and let her tears overflow.
“Then, what do we do?”
There was the fact that the person whom Urz was serving was Elizavetta, which was troublesome. Even If Ellen requested to talk with her, she would probably give a reason and refuse.
Ellen showed signs of hesitation, but as she shook her head right and left so as to cut off her hesitation, she looked up at her older subordinate, with a sincere expression.
“Won’t you go to Lebus and look for yourself?”
Lim opened her eyes wide, gasped and stared at Ellen. The golden hair which was tied on the left side of her head slightly shook due to too much surprise.
“In this Imperial Palace, the number of people close to Tigre enough to be able to tell whether or not it is him is limited. Since Rurick’s face is already known, I can’t send him.”
She did not think that Urz and Elizavetta would immediately forget about the man who made such a fervent speech. In addition, when she recalled the situation at that time, Rurick might become emotional and misled his judgment.
“However, I can’t alone…”
“Even if you say so, is there any other reliable person? When it comes to someone who understands Tigre more than you and I, only Teita––”
When she said up to there, the door of the office was knocked from the outside. A maid’s voice could be heard.
“Massas Rodant-sama of the Brune Kingdom has come. He wishes to have an audience with Vanadis-sama…”
Ellen and Lim looked at each other. Both their expressions were tinged with a shadow of seriousness. As Ellen took a deep breath and calmed her voice, she called out the other side of the door.
“Please lead him to a reception room where the fireplace is fired. I will head immediately, too.”
Massas Rodant was 56 years old this year. Wrapping his small, stocky body with black woolen clothes, he was holding a hat with a feather ornament under his arm. His gray beard was carefully arranged and even if he faced Ellen and Lim, he observed courtesy and bowed in salutation.
Being let through the drawing room, even though there was only the trio now in the room, his attitude did not change.
“With due respect to Vanadis-dono, it is good that you are healthy above all. Limlisha-dono, too.”
“You don’t seem to have changed, either. I feel regretful for having made you come all the way here from Brune in this season.”
Ellen bowed deeply. And then, she recommended a chair to Massas.
A chandelier made of bronze was suspended on the ceiling, and dozens of candles were lined up on it (chandelier) and brightly illuminated the room. A brickwork fireplace was provided on the wall and fire brightly burned there and warmed the room.
A small table was put in the center of the room and three armchairs were placed around it. Waiting for Massas to sit, Ellen and Lim also sat down.
“There might be a lot of circumstances, but could you tell me? About Tigre… Sorry, Earl Vorn.”
As he was holding a hat, Massas asked without beating about the bush. His expression looked calm, but neither Ellen nor Lim overlooked that an unfathomable anger blurred on his eyes.
Tigre was the son of Massas’ best friend, and since his best friend died, he had looked after Tigre as his own son. Tigre liked Massas too. There was no way that he would keep quiet with the situation which became like this.
“It’s not only me. There are a lot of people in Brune that are concerned about it including Her Highness Princess Regin. Also for them, you must tell me about the story in detail.”
Ellen made a small nod and began to talk from when the King requested him to go to Asvarre. While hearing the story, Massas made a wry face and sighed.
“It might be misplaced to say it to Vanadis-dono, but since when had Earl Vorn become a retainer of the Zchted Kingdom?”
“He is a guest General of our country. That position hasn’t changed even now. So, His Majesty the King also claimed it.”
Leaving aside what Ellen thought, she first had to state the official stance as a Vanadis of Zchted. Even if the other party was Massas who was a close friend.
“Earl Vorn is still now under search, but if he is not found at this rate, he will be judged as dead and compensation (indemnities) will be paid.”
After saying so, Ellen deeply bowed her head once again. Lim followed her lord and also bowed.
“I’m sorry. If I had declined His Majesty the King’s request…”
“Please raise your head. Vanadis-dono. Limlisha-dono.”
Without changing his calm tone, Massas calmly called them. However, the hat with the feather ornament that was in his hand was distorted by an anger which he could not restrain.
“It looks like I will have to meet His Majesty the King. Can I ask you for a guide to the capital and a commission to His Majesty?”
“I will of course arrange that, but…”
Ellen cut her words there for a moment and stared at Massas with a serious expression. She hesitated about whether or not she should talk about the thought which came in her mind when she heard about his visit.
“––Lord Massas. There is something I want to ask fully aware that it’s impudent, but…”
Massas’ eyes moved and stared at Ellen. He took the hand which was holding the hat to his mouth and patted his gray beard.
“Let me hear it.”
Ellen who took a breath of relief inwardly, first explained about the youth named Urz.
“To me, that man was none other than Tigre.”
Ellen did not say Earl Vorn, but his nickname “Tigre”, but she did not correct it. As Massas heaved a grand sigh, he stretched himself and leaned on the back of the chair.
“I think that Vanadis-dono is a kind of person who wouldn’t say such a lie, but…”
It meant that he was skeptical.
In case that it was a completely irrelevant name, even if Ellen eagerly explained how much they looked alike, Massas would have laughed it off. But, the name ‘Urz’ held a special meaning also for Massas. This was because it was the name of the man who was his best friend and Tigre’s father.
Without breaking her sincere attitude, Ellen continued. His profile was illuminated by the fire of the fireplace and was dyed vermillion.
“I intended to have Lim go. This is because when it comes to people in this Imperial Place that know Tigre well, other than me, there is only Lim and Rurick, but if you are to go with Lim too, nothing would be more reassuring than this.”
Massas did not immediately answer and slightly groaned. He turned his face away from Ellen and stared at the fireplace. He seemed to be thinking about something, but he returned his gaze to the silver-haired Vanadis as it seemed to be settled.
“I would also like to take Teita, but is it all right?”
These words surprised Ellen and Lim. The two women looked at Massas with a face which could hide their puzzlement.
“If you have a reason, would you tell me…?”
“Whether or not that youth is Tigre, Teita will very accurately ascertain it more than me.”
With a tone as if it was a matter of course, Massas answered. He also said “Tigre” like Ellen.
Ellen and Lim looked at each other.
Teita was Tigre’s maid. She would be 16 years old this year. She, who was by Tigre’s side since he was small, formally became his mad at the age of 11 years old. She followed him until the end in the civil war of Brune last year. And even when it was decided that the youth would come to Zchted as a Guest General.
The way how Teita was depressed when she heard that Tigre fell into the sea and went missing was something painful to see. She had not neglected her work as a maid, but her energetic smile became somewhat hollow and her brightness and positiveness were lost.
Even since she came to LeitMeritz, she went to a shrine outside the Imperial Palace every day. However, according to the story of a shrine maiden, it seemed that she had often shed tears in the middle of prayer for these past two months. It was obvious about who she thought of when she prayed.
While there was still childishness remaining on her lovely features, she also possessed fortitude. But as expected, Teita was a girl appropriate for her age.
The fact that Ellen had talked about only Lim and did not call Teita was because she feared that it might make her rejoice prematurely.
As he was not immediately answered, Massas said.
“Could you explain the circumstances to Teita and let her decide? I won’t say something like if that child doesn’t go, I won’t go too. But, to be absolutely sure, we need her.”
While hesitating, Ellen nodded to Lim. Lim bowed to Massas and left the drawing room. The old Earl said with a calm tone while stroking his gray beard.
“In case that that youth is not Tigre, I will head to the capital Silesia. The problem is in the case that that youth is founded to be Tigre. What will we do at that time?”
“We will take him even if it’s by force, is what I would like to say, but it will become a war against Lebus if we do so. It’s troublesome, but we can only influence Elizavetta through His Majesty the King.”
“Hmm”, Massas nodded. Whether or not that youth named Urz was Tigre, it seemed that it would not change the fact that he would go to the capital of the Zchted Kingdom.
After that, Teita showed up led by Lim before long. Her chestnut tied in twintail, she wore a white apron on a cloth with black long sleeves and a skirt which reached to her ankles
When she saw Massas, she suddenly brightened her face. It was a not forced, but a pure smile that both Ellen and Lim had not see for a long time.
“Massas-sama, it has been a long time!”
“Yea. It’s good to see that you are also healthy above all, Teita.”
Massas naturally revealed a broad smile all over his face. If Tigre was like a son for him, Teita was like a daughter.
Lim decided to keep standing and recommended Teita to sit. The chestnut-haired maid, though making a bewildered face, thanked Lim and sat down on the chair.
Ellen turned a serious look towards her.
“Teita. What I will tell you from now on isn’t some nonsense thing. It’s something that I saw and heard.”
Prefacing so, the silver-haired Vanadis talked about Urz. A color of surprise spread in Teita’s hazel-colored pupils. She leaned forward and asked breathlessly.
“R-Really!? Is Tigre-sama really…”
“I will also be at ease if every single person was pure (innocent) like you.”
Ellen revealed a wry smile to Teita’s frank attitude and stroked her head. When she removed her hand, Ellen erased her smile and continued her words with a stern expression.
“Listen well. I can’t say for sure that it’s him. It might also be my misunderstanding. But, I think that that man is Tigre. I want you to make sure instead of me who can’t move. It will by no means be a comfortable trip, but will you go?”
“I will go! Please let me go!”
Tightly grasping her small hands, Teita stood up from the chair and shouted. She did not show even a hint of hesitation. The three people (Massas, Lim and Ellen) looked at each other and nodded.
Ellen once again bowed her head to Teita and Massas.
“I’m counting on you.”
The night of that day, Teita and Lim were making preparations for the journey. Teita never had a long journey since the civil war last year, and Lim prepared outfits for cold weather for her.
Zchted’s winter was more severe than Brune’s. The sunlight was weak and the wind was cold. If one was to go out without wearing heavy winter clothes, his body would begin to shake just by walking a little.
“Even so, it could be said that the area in the south of Zchted such as this LeitMeritz is still warm.”
Lim explained so to Teita. When crossing the large river Valta which was in the north of the capital Silesia and further going to the north, the coldness would become severe at a stretch.
The children there were trained by their parents “so as not to sweat as much as possible”. This was because sweat got cold and would take away the body temperature. And it would result in death in some cases.
Lebus was further northward than the large river Valta. Due to the wind blowing from the sea in the west, it seemed that that part of the north was better, but you can never be too careful.
Since they headed towards such an environment, Lim did not compromise.
She prepared a hat which covered not only the head, but also from the ears to the area of cheeks. A mantle backed with fur, the hem reached until under the knees, and she chose one which treated fur on the collar and also the cuffs. She diligently checked whether the gloves and leather boots had a hole or if they were not worn out.
By the way, the preparations for the journey were not done in Lim’s room, but in Teita’s room.
This was because Lim wanted to keep her room from being seen. She kept it secret to others, but there were a lot of teddy bears in her room. However, those who knew this secret were few starting with Ellen.
Teita’s room was not so wide, but it was thoroughly cleaned and well tidied up. The cover of the back of the chair and the pillows which were put on the bed seemed to have been handmade by her and warm embroidery was given (to them).
Most of them were things belonging to the Imperial Palace, but only the gloves belonged to Teita. They were made of rabbit skin, and that skin was also firmly put in the inside of the gloves. There were several places with mended marks, but it looks like there would be no problem even if Lim checked them.
“Those were given to me by Tigre-sama.”
As she tightly hugged the gloves said to be white and which had gotten slightly dirty, Teita smiled. The fact that they were dirty was the proof of how much she used those gloves. Tigre told her that rather than diligently using them so that they did not get dirty, she should use them without reservation since he would not mind even if they were dirty.
“Tigre-sama makes gloves with rabbit skin for me every year.”
“Every year, huh.”
Lim thought that she was a little envious.
“It’s because I grow bigger each year and the gloves become narrow, a hole would stand out in approximately a year. Limlisha-san, too, if you ask Tigre-sama, I’m sure that he will also make a pair for you.”
To Teita who said so with a smile, Lim nodded back while saying “that’s right”.
The atmosphere got heavy; this chestnut-haired girl believed that Tigre was alive. Lim was not able to believe Ellen’s story like her.
Before long, Teita who finished changing her clothes stood before a mirror. She put on a hat, wrapped a muffler on her neck, wore a mantle, put on trousers and wore boots after winding thick clothes around her feet. She wore gloves on her hands. Most of her clothing was brown, but only the gloves were white.
“It’s kind of warm.”
“It’s just the right temperature at least within the room.”
While also changing herself, Lim answered. Her clothes were made of bear fur and most of her clothing was of blackish color. After checking the conditions of her clothes, Lim looked at Teita. She had her usual unamiable face, but a color of anxiety was floating in her blue pupils.
“Teita. Will you really come?”
Lim was used to long journeys, Massas too. But, it was not so for this brave maid.
Although Ellen said it like that, she did not know whether or not that Urz person was really Tigre. The case that it was a different person might be waiting for them, after having kept riding on the highway while shivering from coldness and arriving.
Teita looked up at Lim with a blank face for a moment and immediately bowed her head with a gentle smile.
“Thank you, Limlisha-san.”
Teita who raised her face shook her head.
“I will be all right. I will be scared if I’m alone, but both Massas-sama and Limlisha-san are there, so.”
In her hazel-colored eyes, there was not a light of dependence, but that of trust. Lim quietly spread a smile on her lips, too. She decided to change her way of thinking.
“I see. I will do my best for Lord Massas and you.”
The morning of the next day, there was beautiful weather so as to make one stare wide-eyed.
The wind was cold, but the sky was blue and though the sun was weak, it shone white and threw up light on the earth.
“It’s a nice day for a departure.”
While confirming the condition of the horses near the back gate of the Imperial Palace, Massas said as he seemed to be in good mood. They were to depart from this back gate.
There were three horses, but one of them was the baggage carrier which served as substitute horse. Since Teita was not so good at riding a horse, she was to ride alternately on Lim’s and Massa’s horses.
That Teita had Lim perform a last check on the heavy winter clothes she wore.
“Do we have to wear everything from here?”
“Yeah. Please, get used to them from now. We will not take them off any longer after all.”
Lim who finished the check once again confirmed the plan with Massas.
“We will go to Lebus as itinerant entertainers. Lord Massas will be the father, I will be his daughter and Teita will be the maid. My mother was a person from Zchted, but had she already died. That’s it, isn’t that?”
In that case, the explanation about that Massas and Teita were people from Brune, and Lim was a person from Zchted would be plausible. By the way, they passed themselves as itinerant entertainers because if they were to do simple juggling or fortune-telling, Massas would be able to do it.
“Let’s go with the thought that my dead wife must have been quite a beautiful woman. Then, that we are going to Lebus in order to meet the bereaved family of my dead wife, right?”
“Yes. Just in case, I prepare also a pass which LeitMeritz officially issued.”
It was something that Ellen who was the lord of LeitMeritz made. It was not a fake.
“When we come out of LeitMeritz, we will head straight north, first to Legnica. Legnica doesn’t have a Vanadis currently, but they said that they will cooperate with Eleanora-sama. I do not intend to place excessive trust in them, but at least, they can guarantee the safety of our journey.”
When Sasha who was Vanadis of Legnica before died, Ellen was present at her last moments in the port town of Lippner. Ellen was not in a situation where she could thoughtlessly move around and she herself understood that, but she desperately rode on horse for Sasha.
Later on, a letter from Legnica arrived under Ellen. There, the thanks to having been present at Sasha’s last moments were lengthily spelt. And, one sentence about the fact that they would certainly help her in case she needed something was attached.
It was an informal (private) letter. It was not something as untrustworthy as the fellow nobles “becoming the strength” of the fellow Vanadis’. Even so, both Ellen and Lim were thankful for that letter. They decided to believe the feelings which they put in their letter.
There were more aphorisms which admonished the fact of moving by feelings than in ancient times. But, that was contrary to the fact that humans are emotional creatures.
“Then, let’s assume that we can safely transit until Legnica. What will we do after that?”
“We will go to Lebus. We will observe the situation in a town at the land near the Imperial Palace. According to Ellen’s story, Lord Tigrevurmud acted as an attendant of Elizavetta-sama or something like that. We will examine the detailed standpoint of whether or not we can make a chance to meet him.”
“There is no telling whether it will be Tigre, you know?”
Being pointed out by Massas, Lim unintentionally blushed. While revealing an evil smile to her reaction, Massas shook his gray beard.
“However, what would we do if we can’t meet Tigre?”
“But Lord Massas, didn’t you say just now that there is no telling whether it will be Lord Tigrevurmud?”
When Lim said so, the old Earl groaned small and shook his stocky body. Lim slightly loosened her unamiable expression, but she immediately put on a serious expression.
“In the case that we can’t meet him… I didn’t consider it yet now. I will think about something before we arrive at that town.”
“Hmm. When the time comes, I will somehow manage it.”
“Do you have some kind of plan?”
Lim opened her eyes wide and looked at Massas. Massas answered casually.
“I think that it would be a good idea to say the errant knight Massas would like to have an audience with Vanadis-sama.”
“…The errant knight, huh.”
Lim made a face saying “I don’t know what to say”. An errant knight was basically a knight who piled up training while traveling around various places with his lord’s permission. But, it also implied that a knight wandering doesn’t have a lord or is unable to have a one.
From the viewpoint that it was often the case that it would be a penniless mercenary with the title of knight, unless being a very renowned person, the people’s impression would be bad.
However, not paying heed to the reaction of Lim who could not hide her uneasiness, Massas laughed happily.
“Whether that Urz is Tigre himself or is another person, they should have searched for information about him from Brune. There, if a discernibly experienced Brune aristocrat like me appears, I think about whether I may say that, I would by all means like to hear their story.”
Lim could not reply immediately and groaned with a too serious expression. She thought that he had a point, but she also thought that it was a ridiculous idea.
“Let’s think about it again when we arrive at that town.”
In the end, she put it on hold (postponed it).
The three people left from the back gate. There was not even one soldier on lookout there. Ellen ordered to clear out the people at only this time. Of course, other places were strictly guarded.
Having come to see off Lim and the others were Ellen, Rurick and one animal.
Teita smiled and raised a joyful voice. Flapping its small wings and jumping at her was a dragon of the size of a fat cat. It was a young dragon.
It had a lizard-like constitution and on its back, there were a pair of wings which closely resembled that of a bat. The color of scales covering its small body was verdigris like copper. Though a young dragon, it grew horns on its head and the fangs in its mouth were thickly sharp. Its look was also steep.
However, Teita, showing no signs of fear, extended her hands to the young dragon called Lunie. The young dragon also jumped into Teita’s arms as if unwilling to part with her. It had never taken such an attitude towards even Ellen who was its owner, but it had really become attached to Teita.
“If Sophie was to see that, I’m sure she would feel jealous.”
Looking at the pleasant scene between the young girl and the young dragon, Ellen leaked a wry smile. Sophie liked dragons, and when she came to LeitMeritz, it could even be said that she almost always messed around with Lunie. And Lunie avoided such a Sophie.
As Ellen erased her smile and put on a serious expression, she turned her gaze towards Lim. She nodded with the intention of saying “I’m counting on you”. Lim also nodded back. This much was enough for the two girls to understand each other.
Rurick with a face drifting a grim feeling bowed his head to Massas.
“Please. Please, I hope you will bring back Lord Tigrevurmud.”
“I understand. I understand, so a mature man shouldn’t bow his head like this.”
Massas tapped Rurick’s shoulders and cheered him up. While smiling at the bald head knight who raised his face, the old Earl was inwardly in a gloomy mood.
Let’s assume that that youth named Urz was Tigre.
And, let’s say we would safely bring him back.
Would it really be all’s well that ends well?
—After all, reality isn’t a fairy tale…
Princess Regin who was in Brune’s royal palace would definitely demand his return on the same day. Zchted also, after having made a blunder like this, would not be able to disagree. At that time, what kind of reaction would Ellen, Lim and Rurick who were here show?
In the negotiations of that case, Massas would definitely be made to stand.
—Should I have brought Gerard along?
Gerard, son of Viscount Augres who was a friend was the secretary of the Brune Kingdom.
Until several months ago, Gerard’s work was to make a round trip between the Imperial Palace of LeitMeritz and Brune’s capital Nice.
When he visited LeitMeritz, he reported the state of progress of the construction of the Vosyes Mountains path to Ellen and heard various stories about Zchted from Tigre and her.
After finishing it, he returned to Brune; he went to the capital Nice, and had an audience with Princess Regin in the royal palace. He talked about the various information that he got in Zchted, and about Tigre’s present condition.
Regarding this matter, it was based on the difference of experience and achievements that the order to go to Zchted was issued not to Gerard, but Massas. Gerard was competent, but only one year had passed since he became secretary. His achievements for each negotiation were also so far insufficient.
So, Massas who accumulated experiences suitable for his age and who was also close to Tigre was appointed. At present, Gerard was entrusted with another assignment and should be in the southern part of Brune.
—That’s right. If Tigre is safe and if Gerard’s work is settled at the time I understood so, I will ask him to help me. Saying that it will be a good experience for him.
If it was to decide Gerard’s fate at his own convenience, it would ease Massas’ mood to some extent.
“Well then, Eleanora-sama, we are off.”
Straddling on the horse, Lim saluted her. Massas who got on horseback after placing Teita also silently bowed, and Teita also quickly bowed her head while being careful so as not to fall.
Ellen and Rurick silently nodded back. Lunie flapped its wings only once as if encouraging them.
Lim and Massas rode their horses, and Teita clung to the back of a horse.
A gust of wind blew through the three people’s backs.
Having noticed that was Ellen and Lunie. Lunie, not seeming to be concerned about it, flew away somewhere, and Ellen turned her gaze to the Silver Flash hung to her waist. She gently patted the wing shaped sword guard.
“So, you also cheer for Lim and the others. Arifal.”
Ellen thought that the three people’s journey would surely go well.
In the south of the Brune Kingdom, there was a port town called Plage. It was a lively town where trade ships of Sachstein, Muozinel, the far Asvarre and various kingdoms in the south went in and out.
From the Brune ships which drew a Red Horse with a black mane on the ship’s hold, the Sachstein ships of solid structure and the thin Muozinel ships, the ships of the southern countries with strangely high but adequate prows, and flat ships called hemisphere lined up on the wharf.
The people walking down the streets of the town were also various. If there were Brune merchants suntanned red, there were also Sachstein mercenaries who were walking with a steep look.
If the dancer whose brown skin was characteristic to the Muozinel persons attracted men with their intense dance, Minstrels from Asvarre were charming young women with the sound of their harps and their sweet singing voices.
Fruits which were said to only be harvested in countries in the far south were lined up on the stalls, and next to them, big birds with showy color were tied with a rope. Even dishes never seen before attracted people’s attention and while the sun had risen, the hustle and bustle did not die out no matter which street one walked.
In one area of the town, there was a luxurious bar. It was a kind of shop which freely let anyone get in, but a shop which selected customers from the level (phase) of entering (so the store selectively picks its customers from the way they enter the store? It’s not really clear, needs clarifying). Therefore, the interior design was well furnished and the quality of service was also high.
It was a two-storied building; the first floor was the scenery of a very typical bar. On the second floor, there were many big and small rooms. The stone walls were thick, and unless one talked in a very loud voice, his voice would not leak outside.
Now, seven men had gathered in one of the rooms. Since it was a room for a great number of people, it was not cramped at all even with seven people.
On the oak table which was made by a craftsman renowned in Sachstein, various dished were lined up, but most of them were hardly touched. The number of silver cups, for the number of persons, and which were filled with wine were also put, but as expected, they did not also decrease.
“––How is the situation of the capital?”
One of them asked in quiet voice.
“It’s the very example of peace. That princess has no remarkable achievements, but she has no fault, either. She is a youth of 16 years old, and judging from the fact that she starts with political affairs about one year ago, you may say that she is doing well.”
He answered in a tone which the other men could not help but accept; and another man nodded.
“She escaped when she was about to be killed by a heinous aristocrat, repelled the Muozinel army which has invaded and recovered her legitimate throne after all. In addition, she has a beautiful face, too. I can understand that her reputation is good.”
Another man shook his head as if denying it.
“With just a good reputation, political affairs don’t continue. There is Badouin and Earl Rodant who support that princess. Especially the existence of the Earl was a blind spot.”
“Is he that much a personage? I thought that he wouldn’t have minded the late Duke Thenardier very much.”
“That old man is unexpectedly widely known. If it’s only that, then it’s not a big deal, but now there are strong supports like the princess and the prime minister. He has steadily won over the aristocrats such as barons and viscounts one by one in a honest way. There was no relationship between those who were following Duke Thenardier and those who were supporting Duke Ganelon.”
“If it is about Barons and Viscounts, then it won’t be such a big deal. Aren’t you worrying about it too much?”
One of them said as he ridiculed, but the man next to him calmly rebuked him.
“You can’t measure only through peerage. Rodant and Tigrevurmud Vorn are both earls. Earl Rodant probably intended to call out to the Dukes and Marquis of the country after he had lined up the number of his allies.”
“Among the nobles who have promised to cooperate with him, aren’t there people who can oppose or tried to oppose Rodant?”
One struck the table in irritation and looked around at the people present.
“If it’s only about those ones, then there are some as it stands. But, when it comes to the people who providing for both sides… Those who still have remaining power/reserves are afraid of the moment when they will be blamed for the fact that they have sided with the princess, and they have cowered away in fear. While those with high-spirits do not have the power to move their surroundings with only mere words.”
One said with a sarcastic voice mixed with a sigh.
“Is it due to the fact Duke Thenardier and Duke Ganelon were too great?”
Both Thenardier and Ganelon controlled many aristocrats through overwhelming majesty and fear and had subdued them.
When they both disappeared, there was no one amongst the gathered nobles that could take their places.
Steid, the confidant of Duke Thenardier, who was recognized to be a suitable substitute, had died in the civil war, and there were also rumors that Marquis Greast, who was said to be Duke Ganelon’s right hand man, had also died.
Except those who followed Regin, the aristocrats and influential persons of Brune, you might say that they were moving about in confusion without ground.
“Let’s think positively. Such people were easy to control/manage. By the way, how about the knights squadrons? Although, not everyone necessarily holds loyalty towards the princess who pretended to be a prince I would think.”
“Certainly, there are people who are opposing her, but the Navarre Knight Squadron to the princess, has openly declared that they swear allegiance to the princess. There are not many people who will directly fight against them. When that time comes, there are actually two knight squadrons who will cooperate with us though.”
“When you say Navarre, you’re talking about the knight squadron of that black knight Roland? But, Roland died.”
While saying so, there was some fear in the man’s voice. The name of Roland, even if he left this world, still seemed to make certain people shake in fear.
“A man called Olivier, the vice-commander has gathered the Navarre Knight Squadron currently as substitute commander. This man is quite a skilled person. In addition, there are also other Knight Squadron such as Perche and Calvados who side with the Princess.”
“Wouldn’t it preferable that even a small number of people take action? The reign of the princess will become solid as time passes. And Zchted will also build a town in Agnes sooner or later.”
One half rose his buttocks from the chair and emphasized. Some among the people attending did a small groan after hearing the word Agnes.
The people who groaned now were all influential persons of the port town in the southern part of Brune. There were wealthy merchants who amassed riches in the trade with Muozinel, Sachstein and the countries in the south across the sea.
They were supporting Duke Thenardier, and bore a grudge against Regin who defeated the Duke.
It was not as if Duke Thenardier was especially tolerant towards them. However, he understood the moral and material profits that the trades brought, and dealt with the trade ships of Muozinel and Sachstein with a firm attitude.
In addition, Thenardier also overlooked some evil deeds and injustice by receiving bribes. Regarding this, there was probably also the purpose to grasp the merchants’ weakness. Even if Thenardier himself was blamed (threatened), he had the authority and military power to eliminate it.
In addition, last year Muozinel has invaded respectively from the land and sea, but it was Duke Thenardier who repelled the fleet of the Muozinel army who attacked from the sea.
For the merchants, Thenardier, even if fearful, was a reliable protector.
On the other hand, how about Princess Regin who was governing Brune now?
The chief administrator who had been dispatched by the capital was, unlike Thenardier, a person on whom such a conventional way did not pass. Moreover, in having cooperated with Thenardier, a severe attention (look) was turned towards the merchants.
The fact that Brune also ceded the ground of Agnes to the Zchted Kingdom fuelled their anger. If a port town of Zchted was built in Agnes, business rivals would increase. Even the trade with the Zchted merchants would become quite difficult.
These things made them have a clear hostility towards Regin.
In their feelings, there was also contempt towards her. Even when Princess Regin pretended to be a Prince, she did not have conspicuous achievements. Even having been able to come back to the throne was because she was helped by good luck; it was not based on her ability. They were thinking so.
Therefore, they planned a rebellion. Taking back Agnes ceded to Zchted, driving away neighboring countries such as Sachstein and Muozinel and making their rights and interests firm in the marine trade was their purpose.
“I think that taking action would be good.”
The man who was silently hearing the talks of others until then proposed.
“However, I would like to step on the stage if possible. Not to suddenly play a large-scale hand like a rebellion, but to become the first step to it. With a little luck, we could make a bunch of opportunistic lot come to understand us. For the leap in order to soar higher, we must first give raise to the action.”
“I see. But, is there such a hand?”
To the person who turned a skeptical look, the man answered with a cool smile.
That word changed the atmosphere drifting in the place to something tense at a stretch. The man continued without regard to the reactions of the persons present.
We will secretly obtain that treasured sword. Afterwards, it’ll be fine if we feign ignorance when asked. What would Her Highness the Princess possibly do with Durandal?
If it came to light that the sacred sword of the Kingdom was stolen, it would become the first crack to Regin’s reign. Afterwards, if they “found ” the sacred sword, the effect would become much bigger.
“How about it? In this case, we won’t need that much manpower. Besides––”
Looking around at the persons present, the man continued with a look and voice as if asking for agreement.
“It wouldn’t be good if a sacred sword like Durandal is under that Princess. Don’t you think so? I think that that should truly shine on the side of someone with power.”
These lines were tinged with a sound which made the feeling of guilt of the people present fade. Several people looked at each other and nodded so as to persuade themselves.
They did not know. This man’s true name.
His name which was Charon Anquetil Greast.
They knew the name of Greast, but there were few people who had ever seen his face. This was because Greast was the trusted retainer of Ganelon who was Duke Thenardier’s rival.
But, even if they were to discover his true identity, Greast would calmly persuade them. And, he would seize the initiative as if it was a matter of course.
He saw through the superficiality of the persons attending. There was no one here with the ability equal to that of the late Duke Thenardier or Steid.
—I, who was violently attacking them under Duke Ganelon one year ago, am siding with them feigning ignorance. Duke Ganelon Duke Ganelon told me a really interesting story.
With a joyful smile, Greast was watching the men’s situation.
It was Duke Ganelon who found out that there was a plot of rebellion against Regin and had arranged so that Greast could creep into their meeting.
Ganelon himself was not here. There were other things that he had to do; that’s why he left here to Greast.
—Now that I had prepared it up to here, I must make it succeed.
Not the wish of those who were here, but Ganelon’s and his wish.
First was Durandal. The people who were here were not reliable, but he would try to do it.
A light smile appeared on Greast’s lips. He was excited about the confusion which he would cause from here, one by making the country called Brune the stage.