As spring came to Kaldia, the Golden Hill Mansion became a little busier. It’s the first time in four years that my birthday is being celebrated.
In Arxia, birthdays fall into three periods in the year: after the fields have been ploughed, after the summer Descending Festival between the full moon and the new moon, and after the harvest in autumn. I was born at the end of winter, so my birthday was celebrated after the fields have been ploughed. The feudal lord’s birthday was celebrated everywhere in the fief, so it was the best time to butter up the citizens. With the celebration as a pretence, they use the carrot and stick approach by distributing alcohol and food to the people.
… But I cannot possibly offer the citizens carrots, since I am the last surviving member of the Kaldia House whom they despise. There’s even a chance that they would start riots. I probably wouldn’t have had my birthday celebrated this year either if there weren’t plans to restore the fief, improving the security by using the army, and my debut to other nobles.
Of course, it was Earl Thelesia who was holding my birthday celebration with those plans in mind. I’ve had more opportunities to work up close to him ever since I came back from the barracks. Maybe I’m abusing the elderly too much by making him work a lot. I’ll be distraught if he dies from overworking, now.
To begin with, it seemed that he was ordered to come to this fief to be my guardian and acting feudal lord, but he was also interested in the benefits that he would receive after the fief stabilises. Does he need to work that hard? I don’t know what kind of ulterior motive he has, but no matter how I look at it, Earl Thelesia looks committed to restoring Kaldia without regard for profits. I wouldn’t know what to do if he were crushed by his workload.
Well, having said that, I don’t have the abilities to do the job, nor is there anyone else who can help him. The only thing I can do is now is to try my best, and obediently take his lessons.
The most prominent result of his lessons is horse riding.
“Troops, march! Go!”
Exhale from the bottom of my stomach and raise my voice. It was hard to maintain balance on the horse, but I managed to take the reins with one hand, and raise my sword in the direction we were travelling with the other. This was marching training. I was practising how to command the march for the parade, which will take place on the first day of my birthday celebration.
The marching training I had done until now had been hellish and did not stop even if I vomit or fell.
――― In recent years, tactics using cavalry evolved at a considerable rate on this continent. Warhorses specially prepared for military use have been improved, and the recent invention of easy to use leather stirrup became widespread. Large scale infantry combat tactics were established seven hundred years ago, and only military commanders were allowed to ride horses, but nobles began to study cavalry tactics and incorporated cavalry soldiers to improve their armies.
The exception is our kingdom. Arxia Kingdom specialises in defensive war, so the kingdom’s policy is to avoid war. To begin with, the sea is to the north and west of Arxia, the southwest has the Amon Kraan Mountains, and the northeast has the Amon Nohl Mountains as our national borders, so there was little need for fief armies to have cavalry troops. Currently, only the southeast part of Arxia, which is the only open plain in Arxia, in the Jugfena’s royal fief, Marquis Junas’s fief and Earl Luctfeld and Freche fiefs have small cavalry troops.
And, there is an attempt to raise cavalry troops in Kaldia, which faces the inner part of Jugfena’s royal fief, now in case their army is defeated. We haven’t got enough horses yet, so the command of the march for my upcoming birthday celebration will be conducted by Earl Thelesia and I. Of course, this was done with the army in mind.
“――― Hey, a peddler arrived at the village the other day, right?”
“Oh? Come to think of it, my younger brother said something like that.”
I suddenly heard the soldiers talking to each other. I thought about stopping them from whispering since we were still training, but I left them alone since training was nearly over. I know that walking silently can be stressful and tedious.
“It seems like he just returned from Jugfena. He said the fortress was strangely tense.”
“No way. Is the Densel Dukedom waging war again?”
“Who knows? Magic beasts could have appeared.”
They were talking about the Jufgena Fortress, along the border. Has this already spread among the citizens?
An incident occurred in Jufgena Fortress. That was also the reason why Earl Thelesia and I were quickly improving the army.
I remembered the conversation I had with Earl Thelesia six months ago before I went to the barracks.
“Did you receive a lecture from Marechan about Arxia?”
“Yes. Our kingdom is a monarchy, and the teachings of the Church of Ar Xia act as law and maintain order in the kingdom.”
Earl Thelesia and I were standing side-by-side in his office, and he was looking at a draft. Bellway, Marechan and Kamil weren’t in the office. He had called me to his office because he had something to tell me, but this was the first time I was being told something in advance. He usually gave me after-reports, and even if I was told something in advance, it was only to approve documents.
There were a few maps with the drafts in front of me. Of course, this was the first time he had prepared materials for me and the first time he asked how Mareshan’s lectures were going.
“I see. What about things to do with outside of our kingdom?”
There were some Arxia maps, areas around Kaldia and even large-scale maps of areas outside of the kingdom.
“Not yet. I’m sorry for making slow progress.”
“No, it’s fine. Then ask if you don’t understand anything. I’ll explain the relationship between our kingdom and our neighbours before talking about why I called you here today.”
The Earl was frank, and he included the word ‘questions’, so I was startled and goggled at him. He had never cared if I understood him or not before this. I looked up at the Earl in amazement, and he stared down at me, “What is it?” so I quickly averted my eyes.
“… You can think of Arxia as the largest kingdom on this continent. To the east of our Kingdom are the Romur and Ringworl kingdoms, which occupy the northern half of the continent. There are a lot of small kingdoms in the southern half, and they are still in the middle of wars.”
He showed one of the maps and drew an arc where Arxia was. In the east, the northern part is blocked by Amon Nohl Mountains and Bandishia Plateau, and in the south, the west is divided into Amon Kraan and Sodonia Bay. The north and west areas are the sea.
“… It’s like a natural fortress.”
“That’s right. If someone wants to enter our kingdom, then they will need to enter through the southeast. And, Kaldia is located in the outer area of Arxia, almost at the centre of the kingdom. It is counted as part of Jufgena, which faces the eastern border.”
Earl Thelesia also added that fiefs facing the national border, or touching it, were called outer areas. The red line on the map began at the southern end of Amon Nohl and traced all the southern kingdoms and the eastern and southern borders.
That is the Arxia Kingdom.
I learnt from the map of how big this world was. The events of the otome game occurred in the royal capital, but there were places on the map that didn’t exist in the game, and people were living their lives there every day. People created their own cultures, had a long history, and they live and die.
――― This world is ‘reality’ after all. There were no differences between the world in my past memories and this one. At least, this is the truth for me since I live here.
I felt my chest ache, so I held down my collar.
I really wanted those memories to disappear soon. I’m scared that my sense of reality is going to shake.
“Our kingdom doesn’t interact with other kingdoms, but… we especially don’t have any relations at all with the small kingdoms to the south, because their rise and falls are too volatile.”
In the time of Arxia Kingdom’s previous incarnation, Leich Heinlar Arzes Ar Xia, we had already abandoned all policies of military aggression with other kingdoms. The borders have always been closed since the transition to the present kingdom, and only those with a passport issued by the King were allowed to enter and leave. We have a non-interference peace treaty with other countries, and there are friendly trade agreements which enable merchants to pass, with permission, from the state to do international trade. Our kingdom basically practices isolationism.
The overall situation in the continent isn’t so peaceful. The northern part of the continent is relatively calm because there are a lot of large kingdoms there, but nations apart from Arxia are basically always alert to war. Arxia can remain at peace because other kingdoms haven’t been able to develop beyond any of the other small kingdoms. The power struggles between kingdoms of similar strengths are keeping them busy, so none of them has time to make a move on Arxia, a major power.
However, the international situation changes.
“Is it… the Rindarl Union Dukedom?”
“They might change their name to Rindarl Empire soon.”
I heard the sound of something falling into place in my head. I know that name. Rindal Union Dukedom… that’s where the Heroine of the game comes from.
Bitterness spread through my mouth. I even thought that it would be fine if that kingdom were never established.
The real world was getting closer to the stage of the game. That was unpleasant. The people of this world acted according to their will and took action according to the game scenario. Just thinking about it made me feel disgusted.
“To the east of Arxia, four countries have been expanding their territories for the past hundred years. They are Densel, Planates, Giograd and Parmigran. Originally, there had been a kingdom called Rindarl, which ruled over the southeast region of the northern part of the continent, but then they split into north, south, east and west, and the state-appointed a duke to govern each of these regions. Each dukedom absorbed multiracial kingdoms near them, thus becoming their own separate kingdoms with individual traits.”
The Earl continued, “There have been movements to reunify the four kingdoms. The four dukedoms were currently small countries compared to Arxia, but if they combine into one dukedom, then they will become a great power comparable to Arxia. If another kingdom with similar powers to Arxia is created, then the predominant position that Arxia has held onto for so long might be gone.
Depending on the actions from Rindarl, a war between our two kingdoms may actually happen. Densel and Planates face Arxia. We’re on friendly relations with Planates, and they have married their Queen to us. But Densel is still considered as a potential enemy because of the war that took place ten years ago.
“There’s only Jugfena royal fief between Kaldia and Densel. If a battle with Rindarl occurs, then not only will you be ordered to participate, but you may even be ordered to be on the frontlines.”
Earl Thelesia explained clearly as he marked the places on the map with his finger. I glared at the map representing the northern part of the continent and hammered it into my brain. The power balance in the north would completely change with Rindarl uniting. Arxia will be directly affected by this the most, apart from private territories, so Kaldia, which is located to the east, has to be vigilant. Kaldia is too close to the border, and would probably need to mobilise its troops during war.
“… Did you want to talk about the situation in Romur Ringworl today?”
Rindarl Union Dukedom may have already started preparing for war if they have plans to invade Arxia. War is not just about the battle; soldiers need to be trained, they need to gather intelligence and manoeuvre to invade the enemy nation. Kaldia also needs to prepare.
“That’s part of it. But we’re not in danger of war yet… I was thinking of waiting a bit longer before telling you this. At least, until your next birthday celebrations is over. But there is a reason why I’m telling you early.”
Earl Thelesia pointed at the border of Densel and Jugfena royal fief on my map.
“Did you know that Jugfena Fortress is built along the national border?”
It’s the fort where Rashiok’s siblings are being raised. It is located to the east, beyond a forest known as the Monster Forest, and is also a major export location for the grains produced in Kaldia. It wasn’t that far from Golden Hill Mansion, but people needed to take a detour around the Monster Forest to get there, so it took about three days on foot to get there.
The Earl moved his finger to the north-eastern part of the royal fief. He drew a circle close to the southern tip of Bandishia Plateau and tapped it lightly.
“Do you know about the nomads?”
“They’re tribes of people who raise livestock and move around periodically. Is that correct?”
“That’s mostly correct. South of Bandishia Plateau is a nomad tribe called the Sill tribe. They’re citizens of Artolas, but Densel has conquered Artolas, so they’re resisting against Densel together with some farmers from the border.”
The Earl pulled out the oldest map out of all the maps he had prepared and showed me the area that used to be Artolas. It use to contain the eastern part of Amon Nohl, as well as Bandishia Plateau. The capital was located in the northern plateau, but after it fell to Densel, the nation stopped functioning, and it has now become a part of Densel. Artolas was founded as an empire for the Artolas people, which included the Sill tribe, and the farmers in the region were accepted into the empire as well, this was what the Earl said to me.
“Since Densel now controls the farmlands to the east, the Sill tribe have gradually been moving westward. The battle between the Sill tribe and Densel will most likely begin at the bottom of the plateau because that entire area is wide open plains. Actually, it’s been reported to the House of Lords that the farmers who had joined up with the Sill tribe are being accepted at Jugfena Fortress as refugees.”
There’s no chance of the Sill tribe winning, and if Rindarl unites, then it’s doubtful that Densel will leave them alone. It has been five years since the name Artolas has been erased from maps. The Sill tribe has resisted Densel for that long, so it’s improbable that they will be accepted as citizens of Densel.
“Densel intends to wipe out the Sill tribe, and they resist because they know this… Is that what’s going on?”
“That’s right. Surrendering is no longer an option to them. However, although the Still tribe are a minority tribe, they are excellent equestrians. I don’t think they’ll be completely wiped out before they reach Arxia.”
The decisive battle between Densel and the Sill tribe will definitely occur with the fortress close to them, ――― in that case, Arxia may not be able to say it’s not related to us. The feudal lords in Jugfena royal fief should think really hard about whether to intervene.
“The leader of the fief’s army is the feudal lord. That means you, Eliza.”
Because I’ve inherited the Viscountess title as a member of the Kaldia house, that also means taking on responsibilities that come with it. I didn’t particularly want the title, but I was kept alive and given that position, so I must repay this.
“You can leave the battlefield command to Gunter, but you will have to at least be present at the fortress. If the defence of the fort becomes necessary for whatever reason, you may also be required to take up arms. So, you’re going to enter the barracks to learn the basics of martial arts and train your body.”
“… Excuse me?”
“And, the House of Lords decided that the Kaldia army will need a major reorganisation. Even though we’re not in danger yet, as a precaution, we will expand the army since we’re near the border. The fief’s army will be developed as a cavalry unit and will move as support troops for the royal army and national border knights in the event of an emergency. We will use your birthday to spread the news about the army organisation. If this goes well, then the subsidiary aid will increase, so please keep this in mind.”
I couldn’t help but ask back. He’s going to expand the army amid reconstruction and while the citizen’s resentment towards the feudal lord hasn’t cleared? And, he wants me to control the army filled with people who want to kill me? Even with this small amount of people, they’re still out of control, you know?
“You should know best what you need to do in the barracks. I will begin teaching you how to ride a horse after you return… Oh, and the citizens will probably oppose if they know they’re going to be war tools, so keep it a secret until the time comes.”
The Earl didn’t mind that I was speechless, he finished what he wanted to say and began clearing the maps.
… I wanted to bury my head in my hands at the various plans in place, but first…
Is that why the Earl never tried to move me? The question that was stuck in my head finally made sense, and I felt better.
Even if I’m not moved away, there will inevitably come a day where I will have to directly face the citizens as their feudal lord. If I’m crushed before this, then the fief will be his, if I’m not, then that’s that, and I can only move at his will since I have no power. My body will become a good cushion between him and the annoying citizens who distrust nobles. Even for my future, it’ll be fine to be raised the way he wants me to be raised, and if he doesn’t raise me then I can just marry a convenient man, and pass the title to him…
Honestly, this is a very cold ‘education’ for a five-year-old; I nearly sighed.
――― Remembering that nearly caused me to have a stomach ache.
The news about Densel hasn’t spread to the citizens yet, so the details couldn’t be explained to the soldiers. However, the Earl has been rapidly organising the army. He used the completion of the base, and the fact that there were few soldiers as an excuse, but if we urgently train a considerable number of apprentice soldiers, introduce horse riding, and have a large army march at my birthday celebration, then he can combine the merchant’s rumours with fears of the situation in the neighbouring kingdom.
Thinking about it now that I’ve entered the barracks, it might have been good that I was able to improve my relationship with the soldiers a little… Well, it’s the Earl’s fault that I didn’t have enough time. It’s no use to hasten progress.
The horse I rode on suddenly shook his head, probably because he was aware of the soldiers’ conversation. I wasn’t prepared, and nearly went out of position.
“Hey, brat! Focus, idiot!”
At once, a relentless scolding came from Gunter, who was walking next to me. I remembered the past for a moment during rehearsal and corrected my posture and mind.
I’m still a beginner at horse riding, and it took a lot of nerve to manipulate a horse. Though, I think it’s quite reckless for a six-year-old child to manipulate an active warhorse.
On top of that, I had command of the march, and my psyche was being shaved away. It was challenging because I had to instruct the march to turn right, turn left and stop. Also, there were guards in front of me, and to the right and left, and behind me was a line of forty soldiers. It was hard to adjust the timing, and I even wanted a marching band.
… Why do I remember what marching bands are? I don’t know how memories work, so I don’t have the answer to that.
The moment I thought that, the horse annoyingly shook his body again. It’s a given that a dissatisfied horse would act up if the rider is distracted. I quickly put power into the hand which was holding the reins of the horse.