When morning came, I learnt that I had been petrified for nearly a month. News of my recovery went around the mansion, and the adults had been coming in and out of my room in turns, but they were all gone now.
The trees, which I was staring down silently at, had already lost their leaves, and the ears of the wheat, which looked like a golden sea around the mansion, were long harvested. The scenery, which had turned into a dull brown colour, would soon be white with snow. I recalled the day when I walked through the snow with Kamil and Rashiok as if it was yesterday.
I sighed softly. It didn’t seem real that a year had already passed since then. It was as if I had left the months that had passed behind, in my long sleep.
A voice called out from behind me, and when I turned around, I saw a pale-faced Lady Hortensio had entered the room. “Why are you out of bed?” She said softly, yet in a scolding tone, and sent me back to bed. My body, which had remained motionless for a month, felt fatigued and sore from standing at the window for a few minutes.
“Are you feeling better now?”
Earl Thelesia also came back into my room after Lady Hortensio. I answered his question with a loose shake of my head.
“It doesn’t seem like I feel that good. I’m not sure I can move very well.”
“I see. Then, how about talking?”
“Fortunately, I slept well, so my head is clear.”
I had said it with a bit of a self-deprecating tone, but the Earl didn’t seem to mind, and sat down on the chair which was next to my bed. He probably wanted me to do what I can do even if I hadn’t recovered perfectly yet.
Looking closely, I could see that the Earl had a dark expression of fatigue on his face, and it was clearly visible compared to the last time I had seen him. He had worked his old body really hard during the month that she was away and the month that she had been useless. On top of that, he had to do Kamil’s work since Kamil had been entrusted with the development site.
I sunk into bed while listening to Earl Thelesia tell me about what had happened in the battle at Jugfena Fortress.
“… They’re going to pretend it didn’t happen…?”
“At the very least, it means that we won’t be going to war with Densel.”
The defensive battle at Jugfena Fortress barely ended in victory, even though the enemy’s strategy had been successful, and they were at a disadvantage. However, that battle will not be included in the chronology of Arxia’s war history.
The Jugfena Fortress Defence Corps lost its heavy infantry and archers to the point where they couldn’t rebuild, and their Corps were destroyed. Moreover, the supreme commander of the fortress, Earl Einsbark, and one of his sons, Wiegraf, had suffered severe wounds, and the Kaldia army lost ten-odd soldiers. Overall, they had lost nearly 40% of their overall strength during that battle. Furthermore, the advancing troops were focused on destroying Arxia’s border defences, and had destroyed a significant portion of the fortress. The fortress and the castle walls were heavily damaged and had holes through them.
On the other hand, Arxia’s army did not allow the Densel soldiers to retreat and had destroyed them. The attackers numbered a thousand; 700 from the camp and 300 who had chased after the Sill Tribe. 700 were killed and more than 200 were taken prisoner. There was an enormous number of casualties.
However, Densel Dukedom had dismissed this as a private war between its own people, who had been sentenced to exile. They disposed of the property of those who had started the war and allocated a small amount for war reparations, and then executed all those who were related to the soldiers. The soldiers had been exiled, because they lost a political battle, and they were people who originally opposed the establishment of the Rindarl Union Dukedom.
During the interrogation of the prisoners, it became obvious that their motive for attacking was because they thought that the other three Dukedoms would stop the establishment of Rindarl if war were to break out between Arxia and Densel. One of the unsettling factors in establishing the Rindarl Union Dukedom, which was discussed earlier on, was Densel’s deterioration in relations with Arxia. Densel has been evading their investigations, but I was pretty sure this seemed like an incitement. In short, Arxia was forced to deal with those who opposed the establishment of Rindarl.
Naturally, even if this detailed information wasn’t spread far, dissatisfaction and resentment grew on Arxia’s side. Because the Densel Dukedom, who had suddenly launched an attack, appeared to have cut off their own people and labelled them as exiled.
Worst of all, the brunt of their attack was directed at Viscountess Kaldia and her guardian, Earl Thelesia, since they wanted to protect the Artolas refugees and Sill Tribe.
Considering the situation on Densel’s side, the attackers would have attacked Jugfena Fortress even if Kaldia hadn’t accepted the refugees, and the defences in Jufgena would have remained as it normally would, which would have caused more damage. But it was bad enough that the northern nobles loudly fanned the situation by stating that this one sided defensive battle was due to the fact that we had harboured traitors from the neighbouring kingdom, and the facts had come to be perceived as such.
“The House of Lords has noticed the movements within the kingdom and has decided to treat that attack as a private war and not an invasion from the Densel Dukedom. It pains me to say this, but I can’t think of a better way to appease those who have been incited by the northern nobles than for them to accept the loose change from the Densel Dukedom.”
“… I see.”
The Earl’s words were unusually filled with resentment. However, I felt so helpless that I couldn’t even feel angry now.
“The death toll from the Kaldia Army is seventeen, and, including you, two people were seriously injured. The others are lightly wounded. No one survived unscathed.”
Seventeen people. They died, in that place.
Between it being a large number of people or a small number of people, it was probably a small number of people. It was almost a miracle that a small army of less than one hundred soldiers had only lost that many, even though it was everyone’s campaign and the attack had been sudden.
But that was in regard to the number. I wasn’t used to weighing people’s lives. I couldn’t get used to it.
Seventeen soldiers from the fief army were lost forever. It was so severe that I felt nauseous, and it felt like it was crushing down her throat.
“… Then what happened to the Sill Tribe and the Artolas refugees?”
I managed to move my shivering lips and prompted him to continue. Recalling the repulsive scene as I looked down on the castle walls, I scrunched up my brows in disgust. On top of the countless tents strung up inside the walls, were pe-pe-people who had fallen―――
Earl Thelesia was silent for a moment, and then he unusually expressed his emotions, “It was horrible.”
“There were only a few of them left. There are some things I’ve heard that have worried me about this. I’ll talk to you about it afterwards.”
He probably meant that it was pointless to tell me now. Clearly, I was also concerned about the massacre, which was proof that the enemy had been allowed to enter our lands, but the responsibility for this still lay with Jugfena Fortress. This was mostly unrelated to me.
“… Ah, also… It seems like one of our men has been reported as missing. You should read the report for further information.”
Earl Thelesia added at the end without hiding his hesitation about whether he should say it or not.
I blurted out in a daze. I looked up to see the Earl loosely shaking his head, then he left the room without saying a word and went back to his office.
“Eliza-sama, if you’re done talking, then why don’t you take a rest… Eliza-sama?!”
Without hearing what Lady Hortensio had said, Eliza quickly rolled up her left sleeve with her trembling hand as if she was ripping it off.
“It’s not here…”
The tip of the sword that should have pierced through Kamil’s stomach and pierced my left arm.
There was no trace of that attack on her smooth and white left arm. ――― It was as if the conflict in Jugfena itself had never happened.
Ten days later, I was finally freed from Lady Hortensio’s surveillance. Nearly a month of sleep had sapped my muscles and strength, and I walked out of the mansion while being fed up with my body, that wouldn’t move like I want it to.
The person who I wanted to lend me a hand at times like this wasn’t here. I proceeded like I was crawling cautiously using Rashiok to support my side.
I walked up to the shore of the small pond at the end of the courtyard. On the other side of the pond was the poisonous leaves that had killed her family. They bathed under the sunlight and took up her entire vision. Small brightly coloured flowers surrounded the pond in summer, but now, it was half-way through autumn, and the bank was brown and green.
I walked around the pond along the shore. On the right side of the pond, which could be seen from the courtyard, there was a single tree whose shadow fell onto the water, and underneath that was a cobblestone pavement. The roots of the trees made the pavement uneven, and I sat my weary body down there. This pond was simply a reservoir and was barely tended to by the gardener. It was used as a garden before the Golden Hill Mansion was built, and the stone pavement was a remnant of those days.
I heard the sounds of the water lightly drip down, the wind rustling the leaves and grass, and the sound of my own heartbeat. The air caressing my skin was completely cold, but the warmth from Rashiok’s sprawled body beside me made me forget about the cold.
I sighed and turned my gaze to a certain spot. In the corner of her eyes, leaning against the base of the tree, was a polished stone that was no more than half of my height. It was a tombstone. There was no name carved on it and there were no bones buried underneath, but it was certainly a tombstone.
I brushed off the dust from the surface since it hadn’t been looked after for some time. I had never visited this place even once since Rashiok moved in and I started to spend time with Kamil. I hadn’t forgotten who this grave belonged to, but I admit that I visited less.
“――― It’s been a while. I’m sorry for not visiting in so long…”
I spoke to the owner of the grave in a whisper. Of course, there was no reply. The person who this grave belonged to was dead, so they can’t answer.
“… I lost someone important to me. I was so stupid.”
Still, I continued to talk to myself. I continued to talk while not caring that my fingertips were turning black and dirty from stroking the surface of the stone.
“His name is Kamil. Along with you, he’s important to me…”
The autumn breeze blew with a rustle. The sound was everywhere, but I thought it was quiet.
“I thought that if I trust people, then they would take my life someday, but I finally realised that I couldn’t live if I didn’t trust them… At least, I would rather die than to go through with this feeling again.”
What should I say? I didn’t know what to say next since I wasn’t thinking. I could do this because no one was listening to me. I lowered my eyes to escape from the glare of the sun.
“Thanks to that, I’ve been half-awake and remembering all the things I have forgotten. What’s the point of having those memories?!”
The words spilled out of my mouth without power. I was speaking in monotone like usual, but I was aware of the fact that my voice sounded emptier than normal, even without anyone telling me that.
I felt extremely bad for Rashiok who was literally shaking me awake. However, my inside still remained as empty as when I was asleep. It was as if my emotions and willpower were slipping out of the large hole that had been created with the loss of Kamil.
“… I fell asleep for a long time. I finally woke up when a child shook me awake. Elise. Giving him the same name as someone he hates… I said that I shouldn’t keep him by my side, but I let him remain close enough to kill me. I knew that there was nothing more foolish than that, but I didn’t know what to do.”
My voice changed to a groan.
Then I remembered when I saw Radka’s tear-stained face and eyes.
The black tea eyes, which looked pure red under the moonlight. Reflected in those eyes was confusion… and a young, unreliable face that revealed various emotions.
My one month of sleep was nothing but an escape. It was a fake, peaceful escape where I was waiting for the comfort of death with no pain, no guilt, no fear, no doubt towards others, and no feelings at all.
It made sense that the explosion of emotions caused by that child’s anger, anxiety, and helplessness dragged me out of there and made me see reality.
Comfort and encouragement didn’t reach the depths of my foggy coma, only his exploding anger had dragged me out from the vortex of suffering.
“… Right now, I’m in more pain than anything else because of my promise to you.”
I grasped my fist together so tight that the dirty fingernails dug into my skin. I took my eyes away from the grave and looked up at the sky without a second thought.
The blue sky was no different than it was when Kamil was by my side, or when the person in the tomb was alive.
“It’s painful to trust people or not trust them. I’m too weak to bear the loneliness. But the thought of being killed makes me drive people away… It’s like my mind is being split in two.”
I groaned at the memories that made me want to vomit blood and gritted my teeth.
The thin chain on my wrist clung together with my trembling arms. Feeling condemned by the sound, I relaxed my whole body. With a sigh, I let everything out.
“――― I thought I could live more comfortably since I was born into an otome game. How in the world did it end up like this?”
I muttered at my stubbornly vacant thoughts and threw my body onto Rashiok.
Rashiok listened to my dialogue from beginning to end, even though no one else heard it, and finally cried.