A month after he returned to the mansion.
“So, then Elise-sama, today I will be teaching you about nobility and the law.”
“… Please do.”
Lady Marechan, a tutor who corrected his language and behaviour, placed a box-like object, that he had never seen before, on the table in front of him. Radka timidly reached out for the box.
“That is called a book.”
The thing that resembled a box was a bundle of papers which were scattered with words that he had learnt how to read and write, and when he opened the book, the letters were all lined up in a row. He ran his eyes over the paper that was filled with words until there was no white space left, and even though he was following the letters, the meaning of the words wasn’t entering his mind. Besides that, the words that were written on the paper were those he didn’t know, and he didn’t understand what was written on them at all.
“Do you understand what it says?”
“I thought so. If you could read this on your own, then you wouldn’t need to take any lessons.”
Lady Marechan, who always had a perfect smile on her face, softened her eyes slightly. Radka felt dizzy from all the words on the paper, and Lady Marechan’s voice, as she gleefully began explaining the outline to him, entered his ears.
Then, Radka regretted it. I shouldn’t be taking these lessons ――― and I shouldn’t know what a noble is.
In Arxia, the law is at the heart of everything. It was based on faith, and it concerned everyone who lived here from the founding days to the present. The administration and executor of those ‘laws’, which are important, are nobles. The law provides order and healthy people. ‘Nobles’ were existences that guarded that law.
The first shrine maiden, Xia Fema, was given the law by the god, Misorua, ――― and spread his teachings through the ‘Sacred Code’ and brought order to the people. Then, her descendant, Saint Ahar, created the Ar Xia church to protect the law. He created a nation to protect those who lived according to the Ar Xia church’s scriptures and created ‘nobles’ as fighting strength to protect that nation.
At the end of all this, the thing that built the Arxia Kingdom was also the ‘law’, and if that were the case, then the administrators and guardians of the Kingdom are also ‘nobles’.
That night, Radka recalled Eliza’s words. “Nobles aren’t regular people; they’re gears that move this kingdom…” Those words were also confirmed by the girl with the dawn coloured eyes. Furthermore, that girl had said that nobles had forgotten the work that had been assigned to them and were living lavishly. But if those words were true, then why did Radka and Eliza have to be educated in this way?
Once he had gotten to know the education of a noble first-hand, his feelings towards them changed ――― and by extension, it was impossible for him to keep his feelings towards Eliza. The image of the girl that was deeply rooted in him, as an absolute entity, crumbled every time he read a book or received strict guidance.
(… I shouldn’t have known this. This is what nobles study. It’s not something I should learn.)
――― Nobles are executors of the law. If one was a proper noble, then bending the law would put their position in jeopardy. It wasn’t only the citizens, but nobles and the royal family had to obey the law as a means of protecting themselves.
That feudal lord’s daughter ―――Eliza should have known that. She knew that and yet she slipped past the law and allowed Radka to live. How grave was it for Eliza, who was judged by the law in the past and was allowed to live, to do that? Radka opposed this and wanted her to die, and thus was caught when he threw a stone at her. Eliza was protected by the law and letting Radka live was neither beneficial nor detrimental to her.
Like Radka, there were many people who turned their resentment towards her, as she was the only sole survivor from the feudal lord’s family. Keeping him alive meant that if someone did the same thing and threw a stone at her, then she would let them live.
When he thought that, Radka felt as if he had caught a glimpse of the heavy burden on her small shoulders. He sighed at the heavy feeling that was settling in the pit of his stomach.
(Ah, that girl, she hadn’t lied. She plans on thoroughly killing ‘Radka’ so that I can live…)
What little he had as Radka was dying; his name, his thoughts and his beliefs. Even his language, behaviour and ignorance.
He was informed of Eliza’s return a few days after. The whole mansion was buzzing with activity for a while, and after a seven day delay, Gunter led the fief army back.
Radka looked down from his window at the courtyard where the soldiers were being rewarded, since he knew that he would be scolded if someone were to see him. In the garden which was laid out in a circle with different coloured bricks, the soldiers had a shady expression on their faces and didn’t talk much while eating, and drinking alcohol. Most of them were injured somewhere.
It was obvious even to Radka that something had happened even though he didn’t know anything. Eliza must have been badly injured as well, since she had been holed up in her room since she had returned earlier.
With that in mind, Radka stopped looking down at all the soldiers and began searching for those he knew from the barracks. He didn’t know when he would see them next, and he might not have the opportunity to meet them ever again. Radka wanted to see them one last time, since he couldn’t bid them farewell, and moved his gaze around.
Gunter stood out so he found him straight away. Soldiers of all ages gathered around that rich, wavy, decaying leaf-coloured head. There was something about him that drew others to him. Unusually, Calvin was sitting next to him while relaxing. While the other soldiers had gloomy expressions on their faces, Calvin was the only person who didn’t lose his calm. Strangely, the soldiers around him were the only ones who seemed somewhat relieved.
… Then, Radka’s gaze wandered amongst the soldiers for a while, looking for his plain senior.
(Igor-san isn’t here. I hope he’s not badly injured…)
Every time his eyes gazed over the soldiers, in search of Igor, he suddenly felt uncomfortable and frowned.
(… Huh? What is it? Something doesn’t feel right…)
The moment he realised what that uncomfortable feeling was, he shuddered at the cold chill that went through his body and caused goose bumps.
There were clearly a lot of soldiers. A few people who Radka knew weren’t there, as if they were missing.
(Even the wounded… are here… aren’t they…?)
Even those who were badly injured, with their bodies nearly covered in bandages, were being congratulated for their return while sheltered by those around them.
He could feel sweat seeping into his palms, and yet, a chill ran down his neck.
They went to defend the border, and there was a battle ――― in other words; they had killed each other.
Radka looked down at the soldiers through the thick glass and swallowed his saliva.
The more he thought about the soldiers who weren’t there, the more his head grew numb and cold, as if it were freezing.
――― Midnight. Radka quietly opened his room door. The corridor was dark, since the candles had been extinguished, and the only light source came from the starlight which reflected inside through the thick window panes.
Radka had been looking for an opportunity to escape for the past few days since the soldiers’ return. Tonight, thanks to the fact that he had waited until even the servants went to bed, it was so quiet that he could even hear the sound of his own breathing. Radka decided that this was his opportunity and left his room. He cautiously made his way down the dark corridor while holding his breath. Getting out of the mansion was his priority, so he rolled out of the window that was on the ground floor.
It was halfway through autumn and the outside air was freezing. Radka headed for the south door of the barracks while rubbing his arms because of the cold. Unlike the mansion, the barracks were lit even at night, and there was always a soldier on guard. Radka knew that there was only a single soldier on duty at the south door since Igor had spilt that out while complaining. It seemed like a good place to have a private conversation.
He peeked out from the shadows and checked who was on duty first. The soldiers from the refugee settlement had returned, so it was possible that it was a soldier whom he didn’t know.
(… Hmm… Ah, good. I know him.)
Fortunately, the soldier on guard was someone who had joined him in training. He let out a sigh of relief since it seemed like his escape hadn’t been in vain. Radka wasn’t close to this soldier like he was with Igor and Calvin, but the soldier also wasn’t one of the people who abused and ridiculed him.
Radka slowly stepped forward from the darkness as not to alarm the soldier.
“Who is it!?”
At the sound of the crunching sand, the soldier quickly raised the sword in his right-hand and armed himself against whoever was coming. The soldier was surprised by the small silhouette that was vaguely lit by the candlelight, and once he had realised that it was Radka, he hesitated for a moment before lowering his sword.
“Yeah, that’s right. It’s me.”
“Where the fuck have you been? … More importantly, why are you here at this time?”
He felt relieved to see the soldier’s bewildered expression since he hadn’t seen an emotional expression in a while, and relaxed. The expressions he had seen lately were all expressionless, and they made him wince.
“Well, I’m being taken care of somewhere else. But, a lot of things have been tough, and I can’t come here until this time. The people at home won’t let me know how everyone is doing.”
“You came here just to ask about us?”
Radka nodded, and the soldier scratched his cheek embarrassed. He had lowered his sword, but he still had his guard up.
“I saw everyone from a distance. There were a few people who I didn’t see… and I was worried whether they were injured or something. Is Igor-san and the others who were in the same room as me… alright? Did they come home?”
He had only asked the minimum, since he didn’t want the soldier to suspect him.
However, the soldier’s face quickly paled at the mention of Igor’s name. The light of the candle shone on the soldier’s white face.
With that reaction alone, Radka knew how Igor was. He bit his lip.
Silence fell between Radka and the soldier for a short moment. The autumn night breeze caressed Radka over and over again. His body got cold and his shoulders began to shiver.
Radka’s sneeze, because it was so cold, was the first thing that broke the silence. Then, the soldier finally came to his senses and rushed over to him.
“Hey, don’t catch a cold. You’re dressed so lightly…!”
“… I’m fine. I have warm blankets when I get back home. But before I go, can you at least tell me what happened to Igor?”
Radka looked at the soldier straight in the eye causing the soldier to flinch. The soldier’s lips trembled a few times, and then he finally let out a small and mumbling voice.
“Igor, he died. He died at Jugfena. He was stabbed in the stomach from behind… Ryszard, Dominic, Wojciech, Frederic, and Josef also died. Tsar… Eliza-sama was also badly hurt. I heard that Kamil, who was next to her, was also done in, and she’s been acting strange ever since then. It’s like she’s fallen asleep…”
Every time the soldier listed a name he knew, one after the other, he felt a dull, numbing feeling in his brain. He grew dizzy and covered his face with his trembling fingers. The awkward, silent soldier walked back to the door.
Unable to say anything, Radka left the place in silence. He had a feeling that it was possible, but to be confronted with the deaths of those whom he knew was too much and his eyes flickered black and white in shock.
On top of that, when he heard that Eliza, the person who was in charge of his fate, was also acting strange, his legs felt wobbly.
He withstood the horrible dizziness that was rushing through him as he followed the night path back to the mansion. The soldier watched in worry as Radka’s shaking, little back disappeared into the darkness of the night.