Thus, the cleanup of the remaining bandit disturbance, which had been somewhat solved, was left almost entirely up to Earl Thelesia because I had injured my back when I was dropped down to the ground, so Lady Hortensio confined me to my bedroom for a month. Radka, who had tried to recklessly catch me as I was falling, was crushed underneath my weight and sustained a light injury, so we both got scolded together. The lecture about how we were playing dangerously enough to get hurt was vexing, so we listened while frowning and our house arrest got extended…
The snow melted fast once the clouds cleared.
When the snow around the Golden Hill had completely melted, I went around the fief villages to see if they had passed winter without any incidents. I also took this opportunity to visit the newcomers’ village to confirm that the waterway had been constructed.
“There’s a lot of rubbish this year too.”
Theomer muttered with a frown. The place where the stone path was laid out in the newcomers’ village was clean since it was higher up, but the part where the soil was still exposed had branches and algae everywhere. There were still some places that were muddy and if you look closely, you could see small fish jumping around. Did they miss their chance to escape when the water receded?
“The advantage right now is that fish are easy to catch.”
Theomer instructed the warriors he had brought with him to pick up the fish while smiling wryly. It took them two hours to gather most of the fish since they weren’t familiar with fishing and were covered in mud.
“Let’s go wash up at the river and head home. The bath won’t be hot at this hour.”
The newcomers took turns borrowing the fief army’s bathing facilities during the winter months, but that water could only be turned into hot water for cooking meals. It would be possible to build a slightly better bathing facility if only there was technology to automatically regulate the heat and fuel, but we didn’t have the budget in Kaldia for that.
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to unveil the baths to the fief residents yet. It will still be a long time before I can make Kamil’s few wishes come true. ――― Although, I’m not sure if he still wants those things.
… Kamil. I certainly screamed that the moment the dawn light shone slightly inside the wind-blown hood.
I saw a horrible burnt mark and a chin outline that was much thinner than I remembered. I only saw that for a brief moment, so it wasn’t enough time to be certain.
I rolled up my sleeves and there was only unblemished, pristine skin there.
… I have to find him no matter what it takes. I have to find the only person who went missing in that defensive battle. I decided this at the back of my mind and tightened my grip on the thin chain that was wrapped around my left wrist.
The next morning, all of the fief army’s manpower was mobilized to pack up the newcomers’ tents and daily necessities to put them on the back of horses. The hill next to the mansion had been densely covered with tents but was completely transformed by noon and became a desolated scene with just dirt.
“It’s like we’ve returned to our nomadic lifestyle.”
Rekha, who was standing next to me and looking around, said in amusement. Most of the children were gathered behind me so that they were out of the way since they couldn’t help with packing up. Instead, they worked endlessly to get the fixtures that held the tent in place and tied them up together. There were children from the tent I was staying in, children from the tent next door and those who usually stayed with their parents here as well.
“Unfortunately, that ends today as well. I’m doing my best so that you have homes next year.”
“If Eliza-sama says she’s doing her best, then she is. The King doesn’t lie.”
“Well, the feudal lord’s words are akin to an oath. We can’t say things without certainty.”
Rekha hmphed and went back to working on the fixtures. I also sat down next to him to see if I could help a bit. Thiele was crouched in front of me and she smiled at me when our eyes met.
I pulled about 10 long, thin fittings which the soldiers had left behind, wiped the dirt with a rag, counted them again and tied them together with a rope. These ropes had been prepared by the newcomers during the winter months.
“By the way. Why is it that you sometimes call me Kilaa’iiKing? There must only be one King in this country, the King of Arxia.”
Thinking it was the right time to ask, I asked while moving my hands. I’ve been called that a few times now, and it has been bothering me. I’m sure if the other nobles who understand Artolas were to hear this, they would think that I was committing treachery by trying to be King to the Sill Tribe.
“Huh? Hmm, because even the fief army calls you Tsar sometimes.”
“Huh? You know the meaning of Tsar?”
I’ve never known the meaning of the word Tsar. Even Lady Marechan, who is proficient in foreign languages, didn’t know the meaning of the word. Kamil started calling me Tsar, and then the army copied him and called me it too. Therefore, I wondered if Kamil had used a language that was rarely spoken in Arxia, or if the word was coined.
That was why I was surprised that Rekha knew this word since he is from the Sill Tribe. It was possible that this was from an ancient language in the Jugfena region. The language that was once used in Jugfena and the Artolas language originated from the same language. Naturally, they had many words that were similar and words that are common.
“You know… We call the person who has a higher position than the chief, Kilaa’iiKing. That’s all.”
Rekha chuckled as he said, ‘that’s all’. He had mischief on his face, but I didn’t know enough to ask him more, so I could only nod my head in agreement. I looked up and saw that Thiele, who had probably been listening to our conversation, was also looking at me and grinning like Rekha.
“Alright, let’s move soon! Gunter will lead!”
I heard Theomer order loudly in the distance. There was an argument about whether Theomer or Gunter would lead, but it seemed that they chose Gunter in the end. Those two have become good friends during the winter training. Is it because they’re close in age?
“They’re starting to move.”
Thiele sounded a little sad as she said this while tying the last pieces of fixtures together with a rope. I looked around at the children around us and saw that some looked lonely, some looked excited and some looked happy. There were a variety of expressions on their faces.
I noticed that the azure-silver haired boy I had gotten to know well lately wasn’t among them. He was a bit taller than most of the children his age, and his hair stood out even if I didn’t bother to look for him. And yet, I couldn’t find him even though I was deliberately looking for him, so this must mean that he isn’t here.
“By the way, where’s Aslan today?”
“Who knows? Maybe he’s working with the older children, since he’s taller than us.”
Children who are older than 10 are helping the woman pack up the clothes and putting them on the horses. I lifted my head and looked around, but I couldn’t find him at all since unlike the children here, the older children weren’t working in one place.
“Do you need Aslan for something?”
“No. I was just curious because I didn’t see him.”
“Well, it seems like he’s back?”
Rekha said while pointing behind me, so I stood up and turned back. I saw some children pulling horses this way and found Aslan’s azure-silver hair among them.
“Sorry for taking so long! We’ve brought the horses. Yup, now let’s load the fixtures onto the horses.”
The girl, who gave that order, seemed to be the leader. She was leading the children and looked around 15 years old. The children who brought the horses here were all bigger than the younger children and I could tell at a glance that this group of children were the ones who we were just talking about. They must have finished their jobs, and were asked to put the fixtures onto the horses, and lead the children here to where everyone is.
Aslan came up to me for some reason and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Eliza-sama, I have something to talk to you about.”
About what? Do you have to tell me now? I turned silently to Aslan while holding the jute bag which was full of metal fixtures that I had been given. It must not have been particularly serious to Aslan. He plainly said, “I’m entering the army starting from today.”
… he dropped quite a bomb in a plain tone.
He said he wanted to talk to me, but his words were a one-sided oath.
I looked up vacantly at Aslan for a moment since I had no idea what had just happened.
“Even if I can’t become a Sill warrior, I can be a warrior for Kaldia ――― for Kilaa’ii. That’s why I’m joining the army. I’m going to join the army and stay here.”
We were planning on recruiting, but the first applicant came from an unexpected place.
The boy spoke with determination and looked me straight in the eye. My expression automatically turned serious. Then, I stood as gracefully as I could and nodded.
“I’ll allow you to join. I’m looking forward to seeing you in action. ――― Thank you for becoming my soldier.”
The sowing season was over, and, this year, I was once again dressed for my birthday celebration in a dignified knight uniform with red and black tailoring and silver decorations.
Earl Thelesia suggested that I had my hair in a half ponytail this year, but I tied it in a high ponytail like always. Father always had his long hair down, and his hair colour was the same as mine. I didn’t want the citizens to think of my father when they looked at me, since we looked so alike.
Last year, I was in the capital for the Ar Xia initiation ceremony, so I didn’t celebrate my birthday, but I was here this year, so I decided to hold a ceremony and also check out the condition of my fief.
My birthday celebrations will go on for three days this year as well, and the first day consists of marching grandly through the fief villages. It will be quite a grand march since the Sill Tribe warriors, who are treated as my private army, will also be included alongside the fief army. As for the fief army recruits, about a dozen or so people have come from nearby villages that can spare manpower. They weren’t included in the march this time, since they couldn’t be trained in time, but the difference in numbers was insignificant.
We had a lot more leeway compared to two years ago, and since the economy of the fief is recovering, we made the celebrations more luxurious to match. If the feudal lord’s march remained shabby, even though the living standard of the fief’s citizens have improved, then it will needlessly make them anxious.
Therefore, I’ll be marching while riding on Rashiok. I will be using his overwhelming pressure to prevent accidents, like when Radka threw the stone at me. I still lacked the physique to ride Rashiok, but I coaxed him into putting on a saddle, so I managed to ride him.
“They’re behaving themselves this year.”
“… Yeah, the citizens?”
I was sandwiched between Gunter and Claudia because they had a lot of experience acting as my bodyguard and because they’re both reasonably good-looking. Gunther had manly facial features that one wouldn’t call mediocre and Claudia was quite a beauty as long as she stayed quiet.
Gunther was somewhat relieved since he experienced the dangerous tension from my last birthday celebration, while Claudia, who didn’t know about it, looked natural at first glance, but upon closer inspection, her pupils were on alert. Is she a wild animal or something? Also, my eyesight was higher than those two who were on horses because of Rashiok’s height.
The citizens made a flower trail at the edge of where we were marching like last time, and I saw people smiling as we passed them in the first village, Claria Village.
This village is also the closest to the Golden Hill Mansion and the changes in the fief are noticeable here. Their smiles were mainly aimed at the Sill Warriors with whom they had various interactions with during winter, but their expression didn’t change much when they turned towards me.
The heavy tension in the other villages was also gone, but the villagers looked at me as if they were sounding me out. Their lives have gotten better, but their feudal lord is me, so they still felt suspicious of me. There was still an unpleasant feeling in Cyril Village, where the incident had happened last time. I could feel timid gazes coming from a few people, but most of them were silent and sullen as they watched us march pass.
It has been two years since I’ve made an appearance in public. It was difficult for the villagers, who rarely see me, to get a grasp of who I am. Their harsh stares pierced my body. I resignedly accepted their gazes.
When I entered Neza Village, the last village that we had to visit this year, I received completely different gazes from the villagers. Some smiled at me gently, others looked straight at me with a bit of awe, and others reacted in various ways, but all their gazes were warm and welcoming.
“My Lord, look over there.”
Gunter looked happy as he pointed to the right of the path. I turned my head to see two short-haired girls surrounded by women in the front row of the flowers. They were waving at me shyly. They had a colourful flower crown on their heads, and the flowers were mainly dark red.
I was so happy that my expression broke. The corner of my lips went up by themselves and the corner of my eyes drooped. I waved lightly back at them, and the two girls bowed their heads.
“Long live the feudal lord! Long live Eliza-sama and Earl Thelesia!”
“Long live the feudal lord!”
The village head’s wife shouted cheerfully and the village girls repeated after her in their lovely voices. Then, the villagers on both sides of the road cheered and scattered something into the sky. The thing that was slowly fluttering down from the sky was the same colour as the flowers on the girls’ flower crown.
――― I was distracted by the scarlet petals.
From a little behind the villagers, I could see a small figure with a disappointed expression on his face. He was swinging his arms in the air… But the thing that was flying towards me wasn’t a stone this time. He threw petals at me like the other villagers.
His deep amber eyes narrowed in satisfaction. He turned around and was followed by some troops who had quietly left the march formation. It was a small unit led by Calvin.
“They’re wishing you a long life. Aren’t you happy, Feudal Lord-sama? ――― Hey?”
Gunter turned his head back to look at me while grinning, and I yelped in surprise.
I barely maintained to sit straight and look ahead, but the tears trickled down my cheeks uncontrollably. I’m so glad that I didn’t have to wear makeup since I’m a kid.
“… Aahh, we need to take a break after we leave the village.”
“We can’t continue the march while she’s crying after all.”
I could hear strained laughter from the soldiers. They sounded amazed and very warm.
Rashiok skilfully used his snakelike tail to stroke my back as if he could tell that I was crying. His ears twitched happily, and his scales glistened in the sunlight.
… A pigeon flew from the royal capital through the thin clouds of spring and evening sunset.
“It’s an announcement, and a royal one at that.”
The pale Earl Thelesia feebly handed me the letter. The letter was indeed stamped with the Imperial seal.
I adjusted my collar since the atmosphere was painful.
“What did His Majesty say?”
When I asked what the announcement was, Earl Thelesia unusually clammed up. His eyes, which usually reflect deep intellect, looked down at the announcement suspiciously. It was as if he didn’t want to accept what had been written on the announcement.
The Earl hesitated in answering my question for a while, and then he finally whispered.
“… Prince Albert has entered the monastery.”
――― Excuse me?!
The Earl’s office clattered with moving furniture. After a second, I realised that was the sound of me half rising off my chair.
Dubious words came out of my mouth, just like the Earl’s.
I obviously couldn’t believe this, and my mind was full of disbelief.
“Does this mean that the Prince has been exiled from the royal family?”
“… I suppose that’s what him joining the monastery means.”
Ridiculous. Are they doing such a ridiculous thing?
Why now? I’m sure that removing him from the Crown Prince position is enough to agitate Planates.
What’s the point in banishing him from the royal family? It’s as if, “Does the royal family and church want war…?” I muttered in a daze, and Earl Thelesia’s eyebrows shot up.
“Watch your tongue!”
He snapped. I was taken aback and apologised for saying something that should have been left unsaid. I shouldn’t have said that even if it was only to Earl Thelesia.
Since the time of its predecessor, the Holy Kingdom of Ar Xia, Arxia Kingdom has wielded power solely to protect the Ar Xia teachings.
War had the same meaning as a defensive battle in Arxia. Even proclamations of war on other kingdoms are unacceptable in this kingdom.
“Then is there a reason for this? Is there a reason for keeping Prince Albert off the throne in spite of antagonising Planates, or rather, Rindarl union?”
The voice that had come from my own throat was awfully cold.
Of course, it would. If Planates becomes a hostile kingdom, then Kaldia fief, which is part of the eastern border defense line, won’t be left out of the picture.
If war breaks out, then it wouldn’t be enough to mobilise the fief army soldiers. Even the fief citizens will be driven to the battlefield. Kaldia didn’t have many soldiers, so we would need to recruit soldiers immediately.
Will I make the people fight? For such an obscure reason. Must I send the citizens, who I’m atoning to for my sins, to the battlefield?
“Calm down. I’m sure the people at the royal court will be able to convince His Majesty. This is a matter that nobles can’t overlook since they’re responsible for the citizens. It’s not just you.”
Earl Thelesia, who had regained his composure before me, said, to calm me down.
I managed to nod back at him despite my disappointment.
… But frustration and anxiety swirled at the pit of my stomach.
Why… Why did it turn out like this? I glared at the western sky while feeling as if the seeds of turbulence, scattered here and there, were beginning to sprout.
The western sky was already tainted with the darkness of night in this world where the sun moved from the west to the east.