I spent time at the base, and a lot of things changed near March.
“Tsar, you haven’t been to the river yet. You always rummage around for inferior food like insects, grass and snakes.”
“This grubby brat is supposed to be a refined noble, ten out of ten people probably wouldn’t believe it.”
The squires staying in the same room as me all started calling me Tsar. I don’t know if Kamil had spread this name before he graduated and left this room, or if it was an old name for something in this fief.
I have no idea if they were rebuking me or being affectionate. Perhaps, even they don’t know if they’re taking their emotions out on a hateful noble child, or if they were just bantering with a comrade who ate together with them.
“You’re probably like your blue-eyed pig of a mother, a gluttony.”
A soldier spat out. For a moment, the soldiers trembled a bit as if they were waiting to see what I would do.
“A blue-eyed pig? I see. That’s a good metaphor.”
I deliberated fixed my tone and nodded. The soldiers were openly relieved, and someone poked the soldier and yelled, “You went too far, idiot!”
They were more vocal when I had first entered the barracks, but these days, sometimes they would be confused because they couldn’t measure our relationship.
Their attitude softened as the days went by. Some days, they would speak to me in a cold tone, and some days, they would be warm towards me as if I were their own child. Human emotions were extremely complicated.
“Oh, the river, huh. Tsar, I think you know this already, but take Kamil with you if you go there.”
“That’s right. Otherwise, you might get lost, and won’t be able to find your way back. You’ll cry!”
They all treated me as a child with their language and suddenly got excited. Well, it was true, so I just nodded without minding what they said, and like always, a few of them lost interest, “She’s still unlovable.”
I won’t get in trouble, but I still haven’t left the area under the soldier’s control since I started living at the barracks. The area they controlled also included a small patch of wood and a pond. I haven’t gone far enough, to the point where the barracks and mansion wouldn’t be seen, because I knew I was still small and a noble, so it was safer to stay where the adults could see me.
“Isn’t it about time for the kid to go to sleep? You’re going to be beaten up by Gunter again early in the morning, aren’t you?”
When the laughter subsided, the oldest squire, who had listened quietly until now, raised his voice. Every morning before breakfast, Gunter instructed me on swordsmanship, and my sword has been blown out of my hands dozens of times. After that, I would receive martial arts training and get beaten up. I slightly felt that the soldiers were friendlier towards me because Gunter ruthlessly beat me up day after day. Seeing the daughter of their hateful enemy get beaten to the ground so much probably made them feel satisfied.
“Right. I’ll go to sleep now. Goodnight.”
I remembered the strength I consumed during practice when I thought about Gunter. It will be tough tomorrow if my fatigue from today is still there. I decided to go to bed early like the soldier had suggested. I quickly bid them goodnight and slipped into my bed of straw.
“… She’s really unlovable.”
Someone whispered in amazement, but I couldn’t even reply because I was so sleepy. I gradually got used to my consciousness slipping away the instant I laid down. I didn’t even jump up every time I felt someone move. I haven’t had any nightmares in a while, either.
The forest turned red and yellow, and I began feeling chilly in the shade. Autumn is coming. The wheat field which gave Golden Hill Mansion its name was swaying in the wind.
I was beaten to the ground by Gunter today as well and vomited. I still hadn’t had breakfast yet, but I had an impressively hard morning.
“Tsar, are you alright? Can you move?”
Kamil rubbed my back, and I shook my head in reply. It was hard to talk, let alone move. I put up with my unbearable headache and felt like the ground was shaking.
I was hit in a bad place today. Gunter’s kick hit the pit of my stomach. My head shook lightly when I hit the ground.
There were still a few soldiers in the training grounds even though they usually leave for breakfast straight away. The soldiers were split into half for morning practice. I don’t want them to look at me vomiting, and quickly go to the mess.
“Hmm, what’s wrong? You haven’t finished morning practise yet?”
Sure enough, the second group came bustling in and was confused to see that the first group was still here even though nothing was going on. We will get in their way if we stay here. I slowly raised my head and forced myself to leave the training grounds.
At that moment, my eyes met with a familiar young man.
I recalled the pain from when my collar was grabbed. He looked at me in disgust just like on that day.
“――― Why is the feudal lord’s daughter here?”
Some soldiers turned to look at me when they heard the young man’s voice. They seemed surprised for a moment and suddenly lit up with anger and hatred. They exposed their animosity towards me. Many looked at me with fierce eyes.
I was stunned and could only receive their gazes. Their eyes shone with a glint more dangerous than the soldiers who I usually spent time with.
Didn’t they know that I was living in the barracks? Did the other half of the soldiers isolate me so that they wouldn’t notice me, and harm me?
The young man walked towards me. I couldn’t step back and just stared at him as if this was a repeat from the other time.
But then, my body floated in the air regardless of my will. Kamil had lifted me up.
“The feudal lord is currently living with the soldiers to train her martial arts. It’s not something you can blame her for.
I looked up at Kamil. This was the first time I had heard this cold voice from him.
Kamil’s eyes were cold and bright, like the first time I saw him; they were so clear it made me shiver. Is he really a merchant’s child? What does someone who studies business do to be able to make an expression like that? It was like I had lost all my heat.
“Shut up. Acting like you know it all, you outsider.”
The young man’s voice was just as eerie and cold. He glared at Kamil, who lifted his lips and smiled. “Kamil,” I grabbed his clothes with trembling hands, but he continued to stare coldly at the soldiers without budging. Even now, he looked like he was going to pull his sword, and a shiver ran down my spine.
――― Surprising, a soldier from the first group, who had been observing in silent, stopped their dangerous exchange of glares.
“You shut up, Igor. If a stranger butts in, then I’ll be the one to tell them off. Out of all of us, the ‘feudal lord’ doesn’t act arrogant, she doesn’t act selfishly even though she’s a child, and politely bows like an idiot even though Gunter beats her up every day. She’s training hard as a soldier.”
The man who often teased and criticised me said coldly. He also didn’t stop after pushing me a few times. So, I never thought that he would say such a thing. He attracted the attention of everyone in the training grounds. Some looked at him with eyes wide in surprise.
But even more surprising was when he stood with his back towards us as if protecting us, and the soldiers in the first group copied what he had done. Eleven soldiers stood between Kamil and Igor. Then, they spoke.
“That’s right! You’re the one who doesn’t know anything, but you speak as if you do.”
“Don’t call this kid the ‘feudal lord’s daughter’ ever again. I don’t want to treat that fucking dead bastard as the feudal lord forever. That fucking demon kicked the bucket three years ago. This damn unlovable brat is the feudal lord now. If you have complaints, then go tell the Earl who tossed her here.”
“You and you, I’m sure you whine every day! Say that kind of thing when you get a little better!”
All of them were roaring like tigers. The second group of soldiers were overwhelmed and became speechless. The first group must have seen them flinch because they scattered the second group to make it easier to pass through the entrance. Then, they left through the corridor.
“Hey, you damn kid! Stop fucking spewing up, and go have food.”
He also yelled at me in annoyance for some reason. Kamil and I were dumbfounded and nodded. Kamil had already returned to normal.
That night, I calmly recalled their words. My tears wouldn’t stop flowing, and it was a little annoying.
Kaldia’s winter is cold. It’s warm in spring and autumn, but Kaldia is located to the southern foot of the highest mountain, Amon Nohl, in the northern part of the continent; the temperature sharply drops in winter, especially in the northeast parts, where the rivers would freeze.
Kaldia, which extends to the east to west, is generally separated into the southwest and northeast regions, and the villages are concentrated in the gentle hilly area in the southwest. The Golden Hill Mansion is also at the centre of the west.
There are many lakes and rivers which flood easily in the east, so there were no villages there. In the old days, people often went to that area to fish, but the citizens were tied to the fields because of my father’s misgoverning and didn’t have time to go fishing. Now, the citizens left the area alone. Lately, Earl Thelesia was developing the area because he didn’t want to leave it alone, but it was difficult to set up villages there. Kaldia had a shortage of people because of my father.
Today, snow, which was a sign of winter, had stopped falling, and we had a break from afternoon training. We had special training in the snow for the past few days, and a lot of soldiers complained about it, so we got given a day off. The young soldiers went down to the village together, and I, who had suddenly become free, also took Kamil and Rashiok for a walk outside.
“Rashiok is full of energy as soon as winter came.”
It had been a while since we’ve taken Rashiok on a walk. Kamil said that as he placed the hot tea he had prepared at the base, on his cheeks.
It must have been fun to sink one’s feet in the snow. Rashiok jumped up and down on the snowy hillside. Draconis probably became more active in winter because their primary prey, the snow snakes, didn’t hibernate in winter. He didn’t hibernate even though he covered himself with his wings to look like a snake.
The snow that fell for the past two days was soft and smooth and was difficult to walk on. The woollen clock I used to keep out the cold was also annoying. It went up to below my knees, and was heavy, even at the best of times; thus, it became even heavier when the hem hit the snow, and it absorbed water. It was good to see Rashiok having fun, but I was fed up with the dark scenery covered by clouds, my stiff movements, and, above all, the piercing cold. I don’t hate the cold, clean air, but there was a limit.
There was nothing else besides buildings and a dark forest that blocked the view, because of the harvested wheat, and the snow-covered hill combined with the silence created a horribly desolate scene. Faint light shone down on the snow-covered hill, despite the dark and heavy clouds in the sky. Seeing a wolf that looked like a dragon play in the snow like this might be magical.
I followed after Rashiok while frowning at the cold air that made my eyes burn, and if Kamil didn’t stop me once in a while, then I might have strayed from the golden hill area. My senses were off because there were no landmarks.
“We need to walk Rashiok more… Oh yeah, I’ll grill some dried meat when we get back to the base, so bear with it for a little longer.”
Kamil chided me when I uttered a complaint about the snow. Kamil, who is a wealthy merchant’s son and had travelled the world, was strangely good at calming people. To be precise, he excelled at all conversation skills; meaning his merchant blood showed.
It’s too bad that his wealthy merchant of a father had already passed away. Arxia had strict immigration regulations, and information on foreign cultures is scarce. He could tell me about the kingdoms he saw with his own eyes, I couldn’t help but think. Kamil was still young at that time, so he has almost forgotten about the kingdoms he visited. This was also a pity. I questioned why someone with such a great position would become a soldier in a poor fief, and associate himself with a girl who’s only a feudal lord in name. He could probably go to a better fief with his travelling experience, or, perhaps, work in the royal capital. In any case, he didn’t have to become a soldier who didn’t need the experiences he had gained as a merchant’s son at all.
When I thought about it that way, I questioned how he remained easygoing during training, and where he gained the ability to act nonchalantly. He also showed an eerie expression sometimes. He was a person who raised many questions.
――― Well, that doesn’t matter to me.
I shivered, and the questions disappeared when he paced himself in front of me. I felt like I was careless and sighed. A white haze dispersed in the air and faded away.