“Is this it…?”
The carriage that was carrying me back from the Great Temple entered a cheap piece of land at the outermost edge of the noble district in the royal capital; a section of the wall bordered the commoner’s district. We arrived at our destination shortly afterwards.
As soon as I got off in front of the small, rundown mansion, Earl Thelesia let out a sigh and glanced sideways at me. The mansion was two stories high and the roof was far lower than the one at Golden Hill Mansion, and it wasn’t much to look at either.
“Are you really alright with this mansion?”
“I’m only going to stay here while I’m in the royal capital anyway.”
I shrugged and the Earl returned his gaze to the mansion again in disgust.
My first purchase ever, the Kaldia House’s city mansion, was shabby.
I expected that I would be visiting the royal capital more now since I was taking in the Sill Tribe and the farmer Cellions who have defected from the neighbouring country. The reason for this is simple, it was for face-to-face business negotiations.
Especially since the capital will be in social season during the coming summer to autumn when the House of Lords will hold their regular meetings. The nobles usually live in their fiefs, but they move to their residences in the capital and hold various parties to deepen their connections. There are quite a few events from mid-summer to late-summer that are enough to bring people together, such as coming of age debuts and the big Xia Descending Festival.
Of course, Earl Thelesia, who had made a name for himself as an Imperial noble, will also be attending the parties, but for me, who hasn’t debuted as an adult, nor entered the Academy, social season was supposed to be nearly a decade away. However, the reason why a lot of invitations for various parties from nobles were piled up in the mansion’s office because Kaldia fief had become the scene of a new large-scale economic hub.
In addition to the establishment of Rindarl, vigilance against Densel Dukedom, which had launched an attack on Arxia, had been raised to the max. Naturally, the attention of the kingdom was focused on the border fiefs, Jugfena, Junas and Kaldia, which bordered both of those fiefs.
Now that the House of Lords had prepared a concrete support system to back up those three fiefs, nobles from various fiefs are moving their money around. In contrast to Jugfena and Junas which had attracted a lot of attention from the beginning and have established most of their customer base, Kaldia, which was now newly included in the eastern defence line, is a new market for those nobles.
One of the reasons why a lot of nobles were sending invitations to me was because a huge variety of things had to be provided to the newcomers besides military equipment. In short, every fief was busy acquiring new customers.
Although it was a useless addition, it was bad manners for children under the age of adulthood to participate in evening parties except for as hosts in Arxia. However, I’m a Viscount before I’m a child, so the invitations were sent to me without mercy. Isn’t it usually the other way around?
――― According to what had happened before, I will be scheduled to attend evening parties and luncheon meetings every day. It was still pretty tough on my little body, but I can’t complain about it… There was no one to complain to anymore.
Well, that was why I couldn’t stay in Earl Thelesia’s mansion for the entirety of my stay in the royal capital, so I bought a small mansion on the outskirts of the noble district.
It did look dilapidated, but well, I won’t be staying here that long anyway, so it wasn’t a problem. The exterior may look like that, but the interior had been furnished by a contractor.
I looked around the living room while sinking into the cheap, but well-made Albus cowhide sofa that didn’t have a brand name attached to it, and I quite liked how the red brick and wood gave warmth to the plaster.
“Elize, what are my plans from tonight to the day after tomorrow?”
“Eh… Ah. You’ll be arranging your office this evening … and tomorrow evening… the tailor is coming, so you’ll have your measurements taken. And in the evening, umm, you’ll be attending Margrave Moudon’s evening party.”
I pestered Radka, who was standing next to me in a maid uniform, and he sluggishly read out my schedule.
These days, Bellway took him away and taught him the vast and advanced tasks that would make him a butler. For some reason, Radka accepted what I had told him to do, and he had become quite capable of doing paperwork over the winter, which apparently motivated his teachers. Radka was an excellent student and shrugged his shoulders every day at the amount of never-ending homework he had to do.
I welcomed having someone that was useful by my side. We had more conversations every day even if we didn’t want to, and I felt that he was opening his heart to me little by little.
“It seems like there’ll be a sacred code reading at the temple the day after tomorrow. The luggage has already been brought to the office, what do you want to do?”
“I’ll go there after I finish my tea.”
“… Tea? Do I have to tell the maid to get some?”
“You’re slow on the uptake. You’re the one who will go and tell them to prepare some now.”
“Ah… so that’s what you mean.”
Radka nodded, but he looked like he disagreed.
He turned around and walked out of the living room while holding the hem of his long skirt in an unaccustomed manner, then Claudia, who was leaning silently against the wall next to the fireplace, started laughing since she couldn’t hold it in anymore.
She continued laughing and seemed like she wasn’t going to stop, so I looked at her, then she shrugged lightly.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, I just thought you were having a lot of fun chatting with that kid.”
Claudia continued to be my bodyguard, but she didn’t stay by my side 24/7 at Golden Hill Mansion because there are guards there. This seemed like the first time she had seen Radka and I interact.
“Elsie-dono, you’re strangely lively when you talk to that kid. Is that what happens when it’s someone close to your age?”
“Who knows… I’m not sure. Also, it’s not Elsie, it’s Eliza.”
“Hm, I got your name wrong again? Sorry.”
I probably didn’t act casual towards him because he was close to my age.
But I couldn’t explain why I acted that way towards Radka, so I tilted my head in reply.
“But, it’s strange, interesting and relieving to see you act like this. How should I put this…?”
Claudia seemed to be at a loss for words and began to growl. I took my gaze off her and turned to the window as it seemed like the conversation had stopped.
On the other side of the glass, the sky had already begun to take on a red hue. The sun set later in the royal capital than it did in Kaldia fief, but I wanted to finish my dinner before it got completely dark. Candles were used at night, regardless of whether this was the royal capital or not. It would be too costly to do different things after dark.
As I had announced, I will drink tea and then start cleaning the office. However, it won’t take me long to finish since I only had to arrange my desk in a way that would be easy to use.
I turned my gaze towards Claudia when I suddenly heard her stop growling.
She stared straight at me with her sky-blue eyes and she had a terribly indescribable and somewhat mysterious expression on her face. I didn’t know how to react and froze in place. I blinked a few times as I did so.
“Ah, that’s right! It feels as if you’re opening up your heart and you seem calm, Eliza-dono. If the person I’m guarding is wary, then I also have to be wary, you know.”
Claudia came to an understanding and said that with a satisfied expression on her face, and I felt the illusion of my chest freezing.
“… Eliza-dono, what’s wrong? Don’t tell me I got your name wrong again?”
“… No, you didn’t.”
My stiff muscles creaked as I managed to squeeze that out and shook my head. I wanted to growl this time as her words made me understand how I was feeling inside.
It’s not like that. But I still couldn’t put what was different about it into words.
Struggling with my first dress in the style women wore in the royal capital, Claudia, who was dressed as a maid, accompanied me and we went to greet the host of the evening party. The immensely handsome Earl, whom I had met last year, stood at the back of the large dining room, and as soon as he recognised me, he called out to me in an extremely bright and cheerful voice.
“Hey, it’s been a while Viscountess Kaldia. Thank you for coming today.”
“My pleasure and thank you for inviting me here today Lord Moudon.”
I met the young lord of the Mouton Frontier fief, the largest fief in the Forshbali region in the north-western part of the kingdom, last year at my birthday celebration, and he became my acquaintance by chance during my brief stay in the royal capital. He is an extremely commendable noble.
Apparently, he started coming to the royal capital more in recent years since his fief started trading jewellery, and the reason why he came to my birthday celebrations even though he had no connection with me was because he was acquainted with Earl Thelesia. But for some reason, I was the one who had become his friend, and he even invited me to evening parties like this.
“You’re wearing a dress this time. It looks nice on you. The knight’s formal attire also looks dignified and nice on you, but sometimes being able to impress someone with your feminine appearance will be your strength.”
Margrave Moudon calmly commented on my dress. I’ve always appeared in official functions dressed in a knight’s uniform, even though it wasn’t a great number of times, but I could certainly feel the gazes of the nobles in the hall along with their chatter.
“I’m glad you think so.”
“It doesn’t give off a bad feeling. But I don’t suppose that scorn from you, but a sign of confidence.”
His silver hair swayed a little as he smiled happily. I was relieved that he had read my intentions without misunderstanding.
“It brings me peace and joy to know that my little friend has forgiven me, like a direct blessing from Misorua.”
It was a line that set one’s teeth on edge, but he doesn’t have any wicked thoughts towards young girls.
“Lately, my sons have been sulking even when I return to my fief. Well, I go back in a day, but when I don’t have time, I can’t really pay attention to them. I thought about taking them with me to the royal capital, but I want them to learn more about the industries of the fief before they enter the Academy, so I can’t make up my mind.”
“I’m sure your sons must be lonely. However, your fief does business with a lot of places in this kingdom, and I can understand why you want would want them by your side as the next feudal lords.”
His left his two sons, who were around my age, at his fief, which was nearly a month’s journey by carriage from the royal capital. The reason why he cared about me and was somewhat in a good mood was because was because he loved children.
At first, I was wary and nervous of his gaze whenever he smiled at me because he was so handsome. Of course, his gaze was a heart-warming one towards a child, and the moment I realised this, I was extremely exhausted.
“What happened to Earl Thelesia today?”
“Well, he seems to be a little under the weather… He said he was tired.”
It seemed that a two-day carriage ride immediately after finishing enormous amounts of paperwork in the fief ahead of schedule before going to the royal capital was too much for his old body to bear.
I was aware that I was making him work too hard, but it seemed that there were still many tasks that only he could do. The time to make the decision to increase the staff has passed, and it was time to decide who to employ. It was also a problem that he didn’t seem to be aware that he was working too hard.
Margrave Moudon turned to the table behind him and took two glasses of wine. He poured liquid which resembled white wine from separate bottles into the wine glasses. I accepted the offered glass and realised that my drink was apple juice. I looked up and the Margrave smiled at me elegantly. Among the mountains of invitations, I had received, this was the first time that a drink was deliberately prepared for a child ――― for me ―――.
He really is a commendable man. He treated me, Kaldia’s daughter, with kindness instead of prejudice just because I was the same age as his sons.
The notoriety left by my father and his family are still strong. They were renegades and a disgrace to nobility. There isn’t much said about them public because of a decision made by the House of Lords, but there are surely nobles who sympathise with the northern nobles because of the Kaldia scandal.
We raised out glasses to each other and took a sip. The freshness, but strong sweetness and slight sourness reminded me of the juice that the woman in my previous life drank a lot. I could only admit that we have similar taste buds even though it was annoying.
Margrave Moudon pulled out chairs for Claudia and I and got a drink for Claudia as well from a nearby waiter. It was still early for supper, but there were refreshments on the table. It also served as a resting place for those who were dancing in the hall. It was rude to refuse a seat that had been offered by a Margrave personally. Claudia and I sat down facing the Margrave.
“… Speaking of which, your attendant isn’t with you tonight. Are you two going to match your outfits?”
The Margrave slid his gaze to Claudia for a moment and asked, perhaps remembering the few times we had met before.
He’s asking about Kamil. The moment I thought that, the image of the blood-soaked Kamil passed behind my eyelids.
I heard the sound of Claudia putting her glass on the table; it was quiet, but clear. The perfect smile on Margrave Moudon’s face instantly disappeared.
“No. Hmm… he died in the battle at Jugfena.”
My voice almost trembled, and when I suppressed that feeling, my words came out frankly. My lips shivered a little.
He probably read my emotions accurately. The Margrave’s voice sounded painful and confused.
“… I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve done something inexcusable and asked you something bad.”
His words and tone were enough to convey that he felt sorry for me. Under his gaze, he probably saw his sons in me.
I lifted the glass in my hand and took a sip. I got thirsty before I knew it and continued to swallow two and three more mouthfuls of the juice.
Suddenly, the Margrave’s gaze was filled with sympathy.
Would he continue to hurt for every child close to his sons’ ages in the future? If so, what a life full of sorrow he would lead.
“I pray that his virtuous soul may have the kiss of Misorua.”
“… Thank you very much.”
The Margrave quietly lifted his glass. He kept his glass in the air for a while, praying for the peace of my attendant’s soul even though they had never exchanged words.
I looked out the window without a word on the carriage ride home.
In my hand was a box of assorted baked goods. Margrave Moudon had given this to me as a gift.
“… Are ciphers and secret letters common in noble correspondence?”
“Do you think they are?”
“No… It’s nothing.”
Claudia responded to the question I asked with a blank expression, then spoke again, thinking it was useless to ask the same question.
There were several decorative papers wrapped around the box of baked goods, and the innermost paper had a message from Margrave Moudon.
It was customary for the beautiful decorative paper to be used unfolded and sent back later as a letter or message card. It was something that I would have noticed sooner or later, and it was a blind spot to write something first because of the custom, so it made it hard to notice.
The message was about the nobles who had recently passed through Margrave Moudon’s fief to the north. It appeared that the nuns, who aren’t supposed to stop at a place or return to it, repeatedly pass through his fief to the south and east.
The eastern part of Forshbali region is the fief of a noble under the influence of Nordsterm.
I exhaled at the disturbing information that was brought to me as soon as I arrived at the royal capital and returned my attention to the scenery passing outside the window. In the seat opposite to me, Claudia was in a good mood because of the delicious food she had eaten at the Margrave’s mansion, and she started humming.