According to Claudia, who was acting bashful, she had a period in her childhood when she had no talent in anything whatsoever, and her brother recognised that she had talent for martial arts and anything related to war. She was indeed strong like a war maiden, but her excellent abilities are totally useless in the future if matched with Arxian’s general knowledge. Women have been slowly allowed into academia and fief management, but war was still a man’s territory. Claudia pouted and said that her parents told her to practice her sewing skills if she had time to swing her spear, but that was how strange it was for Arxian women to have fighting skills since it was natural for her parents to say that… Well, I am an exception.
Her older brother was worried that his younger sister refused everything, even though she was useless with all-female hobbies, and told her that she had exceptional talent as a knight. Until then, her brother had acted cold towards her because of her excellent skills with the spear, but he swallowed his pride to protect her mind. It was an interesting story, so I listened in silence and occasionally hummed to show that I was listening.
“My older brother is a fine knight now! I admire him. Someday, I’ll become a knight like my brother!”
Claudia became starry-eyed, and she was probably dreaming of becoming a knight and running around the battlefield on a horse. I could only sigh while she was overflowing with hopes and dreams.
“Oh yes, Eliza-dono, don’t you have any?”
Claudia’s cheerful face looked at me, and she asked me a question with no context at all. She didn’t get my name wrong this time, how rare.
“Something you’re aiming for. Do you have any?”
“I’m aiming to become a great feudal lord.”
“That’s not what I meant… Hmm.”
Claudia frowned and groaned since that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear.
“That’s, um… Rather than what you want to be, is there anything that you absolutely have to become?”
I know that Claudia was trying her best to come up with the right words to say, but I tilted my head since I couldn’t see the difference between those two things. Claudia clutched her head and groaned.
“Erm, um, um… Uh, for example, do you have anything you want to do?”
“Want to do… Right now, I want to prepare a place for the new citizens to live as soon as possible. And, I want to rebuild a church in the fief…”
“Isn’t that part of your work as a feudal lord?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“But, that’s not what I’m asking…”
Her groans finally changed to whining. She continued to whine as she put her face between her hands and made a silly expression. Her beautiful face was completely ruined. It felt like a travesty upon my eyes, and I averted my gaze to look out the window.
“… Do you want to do anything other than things related to your fief?”
Claudia finally managed to squeeze out after a while.
Other than things related to my fief…? Hmm, I went over the things I wanted to do in my head one by one, but every one of them had to do with being a feudal lord or a noble. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do and admired my lack of selfishness. The back of my chest ached. At the same time, I felt as if my head was freezing over, and I drove away my thoughts of Kamil that had been forced to resurface in my mind.
To begin with, it’s odd for me to think of something I want to do, since I’m a sinner.
“… There’s nothing.”
Claudia stared at me, curiously. It might be hard for me to understand her since among the vast things that people wanted to do, like getting married to someone, she devoted herself to becoming a knight.
“… You’re unselfish.”
“I don’t think that’s quite accurate either.”
“Although I’m aiming to be a knight, I have other wishes that are unrelated to this goal, like wanting to eat boiled eggs until my stomach bursts, or being able to use magic like monsters can. My friends at school tell me they want to have a wonderful wedding ceremony or set the trend with dress designs. Is there really nothing you want?”
I tried to think about it again, since she gave me specific examples, but I couldn’t think of anything. I shook my head, and Claudia hummed while scratching her head.
“You are unselfish, after all.”
I didn’t deny it this time and just shrugged. I know perfectly well that I’m not unselfish. I have desires.
――― I want to be forgiven.
I can’t make it clear to anyone about who I want to forgive me, what I want to be forgiven for, or how I want to be forgiven, but I have always wished for this. I’m not unselfish.
Suddenly the figure of a thin maid flashed in my mind, then the child with the black pupils who had the intent to kill, and the complicated expressions on the citizen’s faces. Lastly, I recalled Bellway who looked hurt and wistful ――― and the empty eyes and failed smile of Kamil when I had first met him.
For some reason, he faced me while looking like that and called me ‘Eliza-sama’.
My voice slipped out. Kamil had called out my name when he had visited me last. I couldn’t remember when I had heard that tone before, but now I finally know.
It was in Cyril Village during my birthday celebration. He had cried out my name when I had fallen off my horse and lost consciousness.
“What’s wrong, Elena-dono?”
“It’s Eliza… And nothing. I just remembered something important.”
Claudia tilted her head curiously and smiled, “That’s great!”
I held the chain that was wrapped around my wrist with my sleeves on top. Why did he leave this? The back of my heart stung with uneasiness because I thought I was averting my eyes to something important.
The drizzling thinned down by the time it was evening, and I could see the clear skies from beyond the fortress walls from the window. In Kaldia, the sun set quickly since Amon Nohl Mountains was in the way, but the east of Jugfena Fortress is a wide-open plain, so it was still pretty bright during dinnertime.
I saw Claudia off and told her to return to Loucks Village by today. She turned back many times since she was reluctant to leave, but for the time being, she went home properly.
I went back to my room alone and sighed. Come to think of it, it’s been a long time since I’ve been by myself. After Earl Thelesia came to Kaldia fief, I always stayed in places that made it easier for people to call me, except for when I was sleeping. Even when I went to bed, Rashiok was always there.
I thought of Rashiok who I had left behind. I left him at home since he is still in his infancy, but I’m sure he’s feeling lonely since neither Kamil nor I were at the mansion. Maybe he’ll go visit Elise again.
… Ergnard came to invite me to dinner while I was thinking.
“Do you have any complaints about your room, Viscountess Kaldia?”
“None. Thank you very much.”
“I see. The soldiers from the Kaldia army also seem to like their rooms as well. They’re more disciplined than I had expected. When we invite armies from other fiefs to come here for the first time, they tend to complain about everything on the first day.”
Ergnard spoke while we were walking in an unfamiliar manner, probably because he was considerate towards me. I replied in the appropriate places and secretly observed the knight from behind.
Is he the same age as Gunter, or is he younger? He had a well-defined nose, looked fearless, and his features were indeed similar to Earl Einsbark’s, who I saw at the House of Lords. He was tall and solidly built; looking up at him like this made him look like a pillar or something similar. He wasn’t wearing formal wear today and was in a full black knightly uniform. The colours assigned to Jugfena Fortress by the King were black and silver. The only silver I saw was on the crest which was embroidered onto his mantle.
“… That black uniform looks very tight.”
“Hmm? Ah. Indeed. It feels tight when I put my hands through the sleeves every morning.”
Even though I had muttered this to myself, Ergnard answered thoughtfully while brushing his mantle. Then, he grinned and said somewhat proudly, “Doesn’t it look cool?” He’s playful, my impression of him changed.
When we arrived at the dining room for nobles, I saw that it had been decorated from an area in the corridor, and it reminded me of Earl Thelesia’s residence in the royal capital. The floor was carpeted, there was wallpaper on the walls, and the room was lit brightly by a chandelier. Velvety cloth curtains were hanging from the windows, hiding the rugged iron bars from view. The dining room was so ornate that it caused one to forget that this was an iron fortress. My eyes felt as if they were being blinded by the sight.
Several people were already seated at the long table in the dining room, including Gunter who sat frozen at the furthest end of the table. At the seat of honour was Earl Einsbark and two men who looked like they were his sons were seated next to him. They were all dressed in black knightly uniform similar to Ergnard. It almost feels like a funeral; that thought flashed through my head. Although, in reality, Arxians wore white instead of black to funerals, and I just recalled memories from my previous life.
“Ah, thank you for coming, Viscountess Kaldia.”
Earl Einsbark, who sat at the innermost seat, stood up and held his hands out in a welcoming manner. He looked like a strong knight in the prime of his life, and he didn’t have the same strict expression on his face like the one he had at the House of Lords, but a rather soft smile much like Ergnard’s.
“I’m very grateful that you have brought 80 brave soldiers from Kaldia, so as a welcome, I have prepared a small meal for you. Please enjoy it.”
“I’ve honoured and deeply thankful for this feast that you’ve prepared.”
Earl Einsbark’s eyes were soft and glistening as if he was looking at his grandchild. Ergnard guided me to a seat on the Earl’s left and took a seat opposite me. Then, they said their prayers before starting the meal.
“We beg for forgiveness for all the lives that have been taken in order for us to live on. All sins and virtues shall be judged by the scales of Xia.”
Well, I suppose this is kind of like the formal version of ‘bon appetit’. Apparently, the neighbouring kingdom right next to the castle walls say, ‘we are deeply grateful to the gods for this meal’ before eating. Unfortunately, I wasn’t religious in my previous life, so I’m glad that I wasn’t born into the neighbouring kingdom since I have complaints about it.
“I’m sorry for bringing this up right after our prayers, but is it alright for me to introduce the people here to you now?”
When I nodded, Earl Einsbark pointed to the man who was sitting right next to him. His hair colour was similar to Ergnard’s, but there was a little bit of grey in it. He was a middle-aged man who resembled the Earl even more than Ergnade did. He nodded at me politely.
“This is Volmav. He is my eldest son and the commander of the Knight Order at Jugfena Fortress. Next…”
The man sitting next to Volmav had beautiful features, and he smiled gently at me just like Earl Einsbark had done. Compared to his family, he was the only one with delicate features, and I couldn’t help but think that he looked weaker than them.
“This is my second son, Wiegraf. Although he is a knight, he’s not very skilled at martial arts, so he’s the chief of staff. He resembles my wife and doesn’t have a stern face, so he’s not that frightening.”
Although it was easy to see that he was smiling dejectedly, his jaw muscles had stiffened. They’re modest and don’t hide anything from each other. I recalled how Ergnard was when he guided me here and smiled slightly.
“Over there is Ergnard. He is my cunning son who contacted you before me.”
“I’m joking. But I’ve indeed been looking forward to meeting you when I heard that you were being raised by Earl Thelesia.”
Earl Einsbark laughed heartily, “Hahaha!!” At the same time, his eldest son, Volmav, who had pressed his lips together, began laughing, “Bufu.” Wiegraf and Ergnard laughed, “Kuku.” I smiled earnestly because of how they were acting. Gunter, who had been tensed and frozen, was also smiling broadly.
I thought that the Einsbark House would be straight-laced, but they were quite a gentle family. I felt relieved that they hadn’t scorned the evil villain’s daughter when we had to be vigilant against the neighbouring kingdom’s invasion.
… However, Ergnard wasn’t Earl Einsbark’s relative, but his real son. Why was he really sent out as a messenger?