Even though it was only a month since spring had begun according to the calendar, it was already hot as summer in Jugfena Royal Fief.
With Amon Nohl at its border, the temperature on the eastern side was higher. It’s only natural for it to be hotter than the Royal Capital, but it’s hotter than its neighbouring fief, Kaldia, probably because of the cool breeze coming down from Amon Nohl.
“Hey, thanks for escorting him here. The rest will be taken care of by me and the Jufgena Fortress Knights… Hah, I really didn’t think that you’d only stay in the capital for only five days. I was hoping that you’d enjoy your student life a little more.”
The one who came out of the black iron fortress to pick us up was Ergnard, who had returned earlier on fast horse.
“It’s true that I returned earlier than expected, but it shouldn’t be a problem. If I’m behind on my studies, then I can learn it later.”
“No, you’re what’s more important than studying… No, nothing, listen to me. I don’t think your personal connections are something that you have to make at the Academy. You know the Lorenzorells, Theelsias, Moudon and Freches and you’re even with an Archduke House this time.”
“We were fortunate enough to be in the same class at the Academy. I guess I’m blessed with good fortune.”
“Your voice sounds gloomy even though you said that. Your good fortune is quite remarkable.”
We chatted while greeting each other and caught a glimpse of Eric grumpily getting off the carriage. Eric’s mood has been going downhill, like I had thought it would, so I’m sure he’s in a bad mood right now.
“I see, so he’s…”
“Yes. The King’s proxy, Baron Eric Tulle Dorvadine.”
Even though the Einsbark House has close ties to the royal family and the Upper House of Lords, Ergnard generally doesn’t come to the royal capital. This is probably his first time meeting Eric.
“I’ll have to take him to my brother. You take the soldiers to rest first. I’ve left the second through fourth floors of the south wing empty as usual. I’ll call you for dinner, so get ready.”
“Alright. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your concern for my soldiers.”
I’ve been in and out of this fortress so often before I entered the Academy that it has already become a familiar military base for Earl Kaldia’s army. We didn’t need to be assigned rooms and each of the soldiers walked into their rooms in a familiar manner.
“As usual, the fourth floor will be reserved by My Lord, the lady, myself and Theo.”
“Oh, you came all the way here to check? Thanks, Gunter.”
“I didn’t… More importantly, what’s wrong with Rashiok?”
I was resting between the border gate and the fortress, where I used to learn how to use the halberd, while gazing at Rashiok, who refused to leave for some reason.
As it’s wartime, I couldn’t leave the draconis to their own devices in a military base controlled by someone else, and as the person in charge of Rashiok, I couldn’t let him out of my sight. Well, I don’t mind since I don’t have anything to do until Ergnard comes to get me…
Rashiok approached one of the draconis and was snuggling with her.
The other draconis was about a size smaller than Rashiok, with scales that almost looked pure white and wing membranes that were almost scarlet in colour. As for the size of their body, it seemed that Rashiok is larger than the average draconis, so I guess that that draconis’s size is average.
As far as I can tell, they weren’t Rashiok’s siblings who stay in this fortress. When I saw Rashiok’s siblings before, they looked very similar to Rashiok, although their scales were a slightly different colour.
… Come to think of it, who came to help me with Claudia at that time? I’ve only just remembered about their existence, but I feel like I’ve seen their face somewhere before. Well, I’m sure I’ll be able to find out something about them later if I ask Ergnard about them.
But for now, Rashiok is more important.
“Ah… Say, aren’t they pairing up?”
Gunther said as if he had a hard time saying it while I was staring at the draconis.
“Probably. I don’t know for sure.”
Pairing… I see. Rashiok has already grown up, so it wasn’t surprising for him to pair with another draconis.
I see, I thought as I took my eyes away from the two. It felt awkward to stare at them when I thought that they were pairing up.
“Speaking of pairing… Gunter, how’s your marriage plans coming along? Theo gave me his marriage certificate this spring.”
When I mentioned this to Gunter, he choked even though he wasn’t drinking anything… Did I say something weird?
He should be well past the marriageable age, but it couldn’t be helped, considering his position in the army. But he’s approaching the age where he wouldn’t be able to get married at all.
I don’t know his exact age, but I’d say he’s about twenty years older than me. My youngest estimate would be that he’s nearly 30…
I was wondering when he had passed the older brother age and entered the uncle age, and Gunter must have guessed what I was thinking since he glared at me and said, “Mind your own business, you shitty brat!”
“If you have a partner then you’d better report it to me quickly. I’ll stamp your marriage certificate as soon as I can.”
“Argghh! Shut up!”
Another thought came to my mind while I was lightly teasing Gunter, who seemed to mind this a bit.
What about Claudia? It’s useless to expect her to talk about it, but her parents should be planning to marry her off somewhere when she turns twenty.
At the age of nine, I established my own private Knight Order and made Claudia and Theomer my knights. By the way, Gunter refused. Claudia then got her wish and became a knight, but because of that, her marriage proposal fell through.
… I’d better check as soon as I get back. I’m not sure if I can interfere with the marriage of Claudia, who has become a trusted retainer.
I went to the noble’s dining room when Ergnard called for me and Wiegraf was already there. He smiled and waved at me.
I came here before Eric, probably because I’m Ergnard’s foster child, and is like a relative to them, and there was no one else in the room.
“Eliza-dono, I’m glad to see you.”
“It’s nice to see you, Earl Einsbark.”
“Hmm, yes, you’re the same as always. I’m glad to see that you don’t have any more scars. Thank you for bringing my foster niece and the royal army here safely. I’ve prepared a small meal for you as well, now sit.”
He gestured to me to sit at the lowest seat… The foster system is supposed to be a parent-child relationship between individuals, not between familiars. Why did he say foster niece? I’ve never heard of that word before.
My complicated feelings must have shown on my face slightly since Wiegraf tilted his head, “Hmm?”
“You should have accepted the foster application from me and my older brother instead of making a face like that.”
As I sat down on my chair, I casually turned my head away from his gaze.
When I decided to be Ergnard’s foster child, the former Earl Einsbark also offered to make me his foster child in a tone that made me wonder whether he was joking or not. Then, Weigraf and Vormav also sent me a letter asking the same thing. Recalling this made my cheeks twitch.
“I already receive plenty of protection from Ergnard-dono, any more than that is…”
“That’s true. In fact, in a few more years, Ergnard may be in a position to receive your protection.”
“… You must be joking.”
Even though he’s the third son, Ergnard is a direct descendant of the Einsbark line. He alone holds back the old northern nobles, and he holds the prestigious position of the Commander of the Jufgena Fortress Knights. There’s no way that I, a rising Earl, could reverse the balance of power with him.
“Yes, it’s a joke for now. But you’ve made quite a name for yourself now, so I’m always happy to have you as my foster daughter if you’re willing. I would mind adopting you if it’s before you reach semi-adulthood.”
Wiegraf smiled like his father and said, “Guess I got a late start since I was slow.” Einsbark people tend to unhesitantly say rather serious things in a joking manner like this. I think this is why they’re said to be suspicious.
The dining room was able to maintain a peaceful aura until Eric entered.
He seemed to be displeased with all the people I’m associated with, and only gave a brief response to Wiegraf’s welcoming greeting.
Ergnard and Wiegraf both gave Eric warm gazes, but Eric didn’t seem to notice. I’m glad he didn’t notice. There’s nothing more troublesome than a child’s tantrum, ――― I recalled my own outing a few years ago and looked off into the distance.
“… How carefree. I heard that including the 50,000 slave soldiers, a huge army of more than 80,000 was coming to this area. That’s why I rushed all the way to this remote place.”
Eric’s frustrations reached its peak when our conversation began to switch from pleasantries to how to deal with the slave troops.
I heard him whisper this as soon as I looked around to see if I had neglected him.
“Excellent. A strict awareness of danger is the most important thing when you’re in a war zone.”
Erganrd said while smiling.
He probably didn’t expect to be praised when he spoke ill of them. Eric looked at Ergnard with a flabbergasted expression on his face.
“But the enemy soldiers won’t suddenly appear on the border. According to the scouts, they haven’t even reached the first soldiers on the frontline yet. Our scout forces include draconis who have a good nose and can read the wind. If the enemies are close to us, then we’ll be able to detect them as soon as possible, so please don’t worry.”
“… Draconis. Those beasts?”
Eric looked displeased.
He looked at me for a second and his frown got worse.
He probably doesn’t like something about Rashiok. However, Rashiok has always been by my side since he joined the march in Kaldia, so I don’t believe that he’s done anything to Eric.
Then, Eric’s contorted face suddenly twitched into a smile.
“If you have such useful beasts then wouldn’t it be better for them to be near the Imperial Guards? I felt it on the way here, but those beasts are suitable for a commander or the king. If they have a sharp nose, then they can also detect poisons and metals, they’re ideal for serving the royal family.”
I was speechless. Because Eric purposely made his true intentions clear, I felt as if his malice was directed at me.
All the people here, except for me, are those in a position close to ‘commander or King’.
… I see. You’re trying to take Rashiok from me? I grinded my teeth and it made a small sound.
“Well, I suppose that’s true.”
Wiegraf nodded. There was a definite hint of agreement in his tone and Eric shot me a triumphant look.
I dropped my gaze on my spoon to avoid making eye contact with him.
“Then, the next time we find young draconis, I’ll schedule them to be sent to the Imperial Guards.”
“Their breeding season is in spring, is it not? I don’t think we’ll be lucky to find an infant draconis, but I’ll talk to Marquis Lorenzorell about arranging some manpower here so that we can take care of them, just in case.”
Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Eric’s expression freeze at the loose promise that was being made between Wiegraf and Ergnard.
… I’m sure he wanted to use the reason of ‘draconis being beyond my position’ to take Rashiok away from me, but unfortunately, draconis do not change their masters. Draconis have never been forcefully taken away from their masters, so I don’t know how they will behave if they were forcefully taken away, but they are too rare and powerful to try.
“… If they’re going to be serving royalty, then it would be better for them to have silvery scales. It’s not as rare as blue-silver, but it’s more pleasing on the eyes.”
I remembered the draconis that I had seen in the daytime snuggling up to Rashiok, and when I said that Weigraf and Ergnard seem to know the draconis I was talking about and smiled. I felt as if they were telling me ‘that’s what we were going to do’.
I’m not sure whether the draconis serving by the King’s side will be Rashiok’s child, but well, two of the three draconis here are females. The fortress is directly connected to the edge of Amon Nohl, so young, stray draconis actually enter, so breeding should be less difficult than with Rashiok, since I take him around with me everywhere.
Everyone in the room coolly brushed aside the fact that Eric was unhappy that his plan hadn’t gone well.
That’s about it. If you think about it, it’s impossible to present a draconis who is covered in wounds from frequent battles to the royal family. I don’t know what it was about Rashiok that bothered him so much, but his argument won’t stand if he only based it on status. If such a thing were allowed, then it would only be allowed if it came from the King or Crown Prince, at the very least, it wouldn’t be allowed if it came from the son of an Archduke’s concubine, who they had almost no qualms about sending to the battlefield.
… I secretly sighed without making a sound.
I didn’t intend on degrading people because of who they were born to, but I’ve noticed that the difference of human value is ingrained in my brain, and I felt like choking a little.
If he is of low birth, then I am even more so.
Not because of my blood, but because the way I was born, that was clearly disgusting for a human being.
Early morning, the next day, even before Eric made his little speech to the soldiers, Jugfena Fortress was ready for battle and on alert.
Before sunrise, the scouting party had invaded.
Of course, the Jugfena soldiers weren’t so lax as to ignore their intrusion, and all those who dared to enter the fortress were captured.