In front of the feudal lord’s mansion in Kaldia.
As I pulled up from the border with the royal army, a voice called out to me from the mansion. When I looked up, I saw Eric waving at me from the third floor window.
He had only left a few days ago, but I felt as if I hadn’t seen him in months. I should wave back, but then I remembered that I was wrapped in bandages, so I discreetly raised one hand.
Instead, Rashiok, who was standing beside me, and the white she-draconis quickly sat down and howled. I chuckled at how frightened the horses and Eric were, and calmed down the horses.
“I’m back, Baron Dorvadine. I’m sorry to have left you alone.”
“You’re right! You left me here and stayed on the battlefield, and then came back all messed up! Are you an idiot?!”
He shouted, and all I could do was quietly listen to his screams.
As soon as I entered the mansion, Eric was the first to greet me, and he circled around me to check my bandaged head and braced arms while screaming.
It was difficult to take any attitude in this winning mood since he was obviously worried about me.
“Woah?! K-ka-kaldia! You… your hair…!”
Eric finally noticed my shoulder-length, dishevelled hair, which had been successfully hidden by my hood.
He shivered in fear as he pointed at my collar, and I could only shrug.
Nobles, both men and women, grow their hair to a certain extent. Only some pre-adult men have short hair, but short hair tends to be avoided, since it was a sign that one was a poor commoner who couldn’t maintain the beauty of their hair.
It’s different for royal boys and men who have entered the monastery, but my short hair will surely be looked at strangely when I return to the capital.
However, when my hair is this short, the image of Father, who I used to see every morning, and the image of Eliza in game become a little more distant. In that respect, I could almost like myself a little better now.
“So?” Radka, who was changing the bandage on my arm, tilted his head.
Even though getting injured was normal during war, Radka, who had been left behind to house sit, gets grumpy every time I come back injured like this. This time, he was even more upset because of the 『Earl Kaldia’s Five Men Plan』.
“… I broke the cartilage in my wrist. The rest of my body is bruised and grazed. And the eardrum in my left ear was torn. For some reason, your face was the only part that remained unscathed, so I survived without any unnecessary injuries.”
When I declared this honestly, Radka let out a deep sigh.
“… Hmph. That’s too bad. If you did get a scar on your face, then you won’t wear that thin, fluttering thing again.”
“Didn’t you enjoy being called cute by the maids?”
“I heard that whenever you act on my behalf the maids say, ‘Eliza-sama’s mood is nicer than normal.’”
“Shut up! Don’t talk about things that bother me!”
Radka shoved me. I chuckled and he shook his head.
I laughed a little at that.
“… I think it’s because I always leave you in charge of the house. I feel like I’m back home when I talk to you like this.”
I finally felt as if the heavy pool that was deep in my heart was flowing away.
I finally realised that I had come back alive, probably because I have the habit of standing in the frontline without being prepared to die.
“――― Kamil was there.”
Maybe that’s why. The words came out of my mouth as if they were slipping out and sounded clearly.
“He’s alive. The person with all the burn scars was Kamil.”
“――― I see. That’s why you look so horrible. Did you try to kill each other or something?”
Radka’s fingers gently traced my dark circles. I knew I would have them. I haven’t been able to sleep well after Kamil almost killed me.
“I can’t sleep. I feel like Kamil will come to kill me if I do.”
For the past five days after the battle, I’d been kept at Jugfena Fortress’s medical clinic where the doctors gave me sedatives and sleeping pills every night.
I was allowed to rest away from the soldiers of the fief, so I had no reminders of Kamil around me, and I think I’ve rested enough to keep me from fainting, even though I have severe insomnia. Surprisingly, even the wounded soldiers who had caused a big fuss when I had entered the medical clinic before had left me alone. Apparently, Eric, who had gone to the clinic every day, had politely convinced them during their conversations that I was just a human being, a 13 year old child.
“… Eliza. I’ll go with you to the capital. I can’t leave you alone in this state. I’ll do whatever I can to help you when you’re feeling tired.”
Radka clearly declared as he finished wrapping the bandage around my arm.
“Okay… I pondered over whether I should take you to the Academy with me or not at first, but now… it would be a great help if you came with me.”
The war that had been going on for two years with the emerging power, Rindarl Union Dukedom… and the real enemy, Densel Dukedom, had ended with the total surrender of the enemy due to the defeat of the Rindarl army at Teve River, the collapse of the front line due to the defection of the slave soldiers during the siege at Di Lo Yun, and the loss of the supplies due to fire at Eris.
The peace negotiations are still in progress, but the army of Margrave Junas, who were mostly on standby, served as guards for the peace ambassador who entered the capital of Densel, and an unamusing rumour circulated around the capital that Rindarl had finally understood the strength of Arxia, since we still had men to spare.
I waited for my injuries to recover and returned to the capital after the royal army’s triumphant return, and spent my days at the Academy, which wasn’t much different from the days before I left for Jugfena Fortress.
The other students kept me at a distance, partly because of the bad things they heard about me from their parents, and partly because I had disappeared early in the new term. Now that I’ve stood on the battlefield again, my more gruesome and vicious deeds are being whispered amongst them, and they might distance themselves from me more.
The only things that have changed are trivial ――― my head has become lighter and…
“Kaldia! Alfred and Grace return to the Academy today. It’s been a while since we’ve seen them, since their official duties coincided with ours. Shouldn’t we at least say hi to them?”
“… His Highness and the others must be tired from performing their official duties. I would feel bad for bothering them.”
“I’m sure Alfred and the others would appreciate it if you went to see them since the room will clear out if you’re there. See!”
Eric pulled my arm and dragged me into the crowd.
He has been like this ever since we returned to the Academy. He apparently felt closer to me than I had expected him to… if I had to put it into words, then I would say that he’s emotionally attached to me now. I wonder what happened to the Eric who told me not to get friendly and misunderstand, and to understand my place as a low upstarting Earl.
I wanted to distance myself from the Crown Prince, and I thought I left a bad enough impression for me to keep my distance, but why did this happen? I remember confronting him once at the fortress, but that’s all. That’s all I did. Isn’t he too naïve?
According to what I had heard, the slave soldiers at Di Lo Yun betrayed their side because of the speech he had delivered to the royal army. Eric, who understood the emotional trauma of the soldiers through his visits to the clinic, gave the royal soldiers permission to attack the slave soldiers, but he also praised and roused their pride as Arxian knights. This was transmitted to the frontline, and the knights holed up in Di Lo Yun avoided fighting with the slave soldiers as much as possible, or actively protected them, which led to the mass rebellion of the slave soldiers.
As a result, the soldiers left behind in Di Lo Yun returned almost unharmed. As a result of his achievements, Eric was temporarily removed as the Crown Prince’s close aide, but he was able to engage in official duties, such as consoling the kingdom’s leading knights and providing assurances to injured veterans which brought him closer to the centre of national politics.
I could only smile twitchingly at Eric as he laughed and said it was thanks to me. I hadn’t meant to do that, and I hadn’t expected that to happen to him.
How did it turn out like this? Really, how?
But I couldn’t bring myself to reject him cruelly and push him away. Well, it’s too early to say that I’ve been moved by his kindness, ――― but I was able to rest in peace at Jugfena clinic after the battle because of him. I won’t treat him cruelly because I owe him for that.
“Alfred! Grace! Ah, Sieghart, you’re here too?”
As I was being dragged along, Eric’s voice broke the wall of people, and from the other side, I could see the Crown Prince and Grace staring at Eric and I in surprise. The Commanding General’s grandson, who seemed to have already come forward to greet us, gave us a warm look.
The Crown Prince quickly composed himself and smiled at me. “Welcome back,” he said. I couldn’t escape now, so I had no choice but to bow to the Crown Prince and greet him.
“Your Royal Highness, the Crown Prince, and Viscount Dorvadine. I haven’t seen both of you in a while, but I’m glad you both look well.”
“You too, Kaldia. I heard you played a very active role in the battle against Rindarl. I heard you took control of Eric and destroyed the fleets of ships in the battle at Teve.”
“This was all thanks to Earl Einsbark’s plan.”
“I also heard you refuse to accept your reward. That’s typical of you.”
“… Having more land and titles is too much for me. I was too afraid to accept them.”
Even an Earl title is too much for me, so I definitely don’t need more. We don’t have money or manpower to spare for developing land in Kaldia, and there are no fiefs around who will buy the land, so I definitely don’t need it. The only thing I need is money, and manpower. It would also be nice to have food and metals for construction.
“You seem to be getting along well with Eric. I’m glad.”
“I apologise for any unnecessary distress I have caused Your Highness.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s just that I feel happier when my friends get along. But is it alright?”
The Crown Prince tilted his head. Is it alright, he was probably asking about how I thought about the political balance. I can’t help but wonder if he cares about this a little since he was asking about it.
“――― In the course of our activities, I believe that it was God’s guidance that allowed a person like me to become close to Eric-dono. However, God’s grace is already too much for me. I think I will have to nail myself to a wall and hang myself if I get arrogant about this.”
The Crown Prince and Grace’s expressions tensed slightly when I told them in a roundabout way that even though I have gotten close to Eric, I do not intend to continue any unnecessary relationships that are beyond my position.
“… I see. You’re still as modest as ever. Then I will pray for guidance from Misorua so that I may have the opportunity to get to know you.”