Having a lot of rewards is great but, as with all things, there is such a thing as having too much of a good thing.
With this in mind, I looked up at the throne in the audience room of the royal palace, somewhat escaping from reality, as I was hidden in the rows of distinguished members, such as the Lorenzorell and Einsbark heads, and the senior knights.
Half a month has passed since the battle in the Great Plains in eastern Jugfena. I was summoned because I was the commander of an army that stood on the frontlines, and I was brought to the victory ceremony in the audience hall in Alectoria Castle, a place where political affairs took place, without understanding what was going on.
Well, I had no choice. If a commander stood on the frontline, then they would be summoned here even if they’re the commander of a small fief army, which couldn’t even be called an army. That’s why I’ve been hiding behind the adults while holding my breath and keeping my head down.
That was what I was doing. But I felt like His Majesty, the King, who sat at the far end of the room, had just called my name. Am I hallucinating?
… Unfortunately, it wasn’t a hallucination, and someone pushed my back. My legs almost tangled together as I stepped forward, and then I was pushed to the front.
“Go, kneel before the King.”
Ergnard’s whisper came from right behind me. I completely left the group and couldn’t go back so I took a few more steps forward. I did as I was told and knelt before the King, who was looking down at me from his throne at the top of the stairs.
His blue eyes met my gaze for a moment just before I lowered my face. Neither the King nor I had emotions on our faces.
“Viscountess Kaldia. You have done a splendid job on the battlefield this time. I will award you for your deeds.”
“… I am grateful and happy to receive these words directly from Your Majesty.”
A strangely calm voice muttered in my head as I squeezed out those inoffensive words, “Your voice sounded awfully cold.”
The King was an existence that had an extraordinary amount of power that was used to rule over this large kingdom, but he had a strange aura about him, as if all the life had been sucked out of him… I was strangely convinced that the King of this kingdom, who centralised the royal authority from both the religious and legal perspectives, would become like this. He’s like a robot, I thought, pulling out such a metaphor from my distant memory, that now felt like a fictional story.
Politics in Arxia may look feudalistic at a glance, but the reality is completely different. The King holds all the real power and only gives his subjects the right to act on his behalf.
The comes palatinus system is probably the easiest to understand. It is a title that can only be granted with the trust of the King and the Upper House of Lords, and it can’t be passed down through blood.
The fact that this system has lasted for 600 years without corruption is largely due to the existence of the church. The morality of everyone in this kingdom is unified by the Sacred Code of Ar Xia church. If you commit a felony, then you get excommunicated… how heretics are treated when they are excommunicated is completely inverse to the strangely modern and well-developed legal system. Well, anyway, it’s quite efficient when the law and religion are aligned without being corrupted.
I went off topic. It seems that one starts thinking endlessly about unimportant things when one is trying to escape from reality.
In the end, that was all the King said, and then Marquis Rettalgau, Earl Thelesia’s brother, read out my list of achievements and rewards in an old voice.
However, I don’t know much about my achievements. I’ve never been in the military, so it didn’t make sense to me even if he said, ‘decapitated the enemy’. I guess I’ll have to ask someone about this later.
The rewards, on the other hand, were easy to understand. To sum it up, I got gold, land and a title… I don’t need land or a title, I thought bitterly. The settlement village for the newcomers have finally settled down in Kaldia, and we had our hands full with the gradual irrigation work, to improve the untouched eastern side of the fief.
The land that had been given to me was just uninhabited land that had been incorporated into the royal fief since there was no one suitable to take charge of it and didn’t benefit me in any way. He had only given me this land to make sure that the land area was in proportion to the title I had received.
Anyway, I was given a new title as a Junior Earl without really understanding it myself.
Weird. A title isn’t something that can easily be obtained by chance… Of course, I would be confused if I suddenly obtained something unexpected.
It was the autumn of my 12th year, just before I was about to enter the Academy, the direct setting of that otome game. Was it selfish of me to wish to be left alone since I would have to be on my guard next year and the year after?
… No, what’s more important to me is that fact that the war between Arxia and Rindarl, which started a year ago, is about to intensify from this one battle.
I wonder if this war will end by the time the game’s timelines starts. I didn’t want this war to expand into Kaldia. I was finally able to raise my fief to the point where it could be compared to the culture of other fiefs ―――― how many years did that take?
It’s been 10 years, if I counted my first action. It would be unbearable to have the results of 10 years of hard work destroyed, so I will aim to get rid of more Rindarl soldiers if there’s another opportunity.
… I’m good at tormenting people after all.
Someone called out to me as soon as I strolled out of the castle uncomfortably and my shoulders jumped in surprise. When I turned around, I saw Ergnard leaning against the castle gate with his arms crossed. He was looking at me in amusement.
“Ergnard-sama… Please don’t startle me.”
I was caught off guard since the Imperial Guards are here, so I was quite surprised. I didn’t expect anyone to talk to me at the castle.
“Huh, what? I was so busy on the battlefield the other day that I couldn’t talk to you at all. I haven’t seen you since you were six, so it’s been six years since we’ve met.”
“Has it already been that long?”
“Yeah. You probably came to Jugfena for supplies, but the heartless you didn’t even come to visit me even once in the past two years. If I hadn’t come to see you like this, then you would have probably kept this up for another 10 years.”
“It’s not like we wouldn’t see each other for 10 years…”
“Even though six years has already passed since we last met?”
“… I’m delighted that you came to see me, Ergnard-sama. Thank you for always helping me.”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
Ergnard chuckled and began walking next to me. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I figured that he didn’t come to see me just to say hello, so I decided to follow after him quietly. After all, the Einsbark House received a prize that couldn’t even be compared to mine in the ceremony earlier.
“It’s not me who deserves the congrats, it’s your father. Congratulations. Is Earl Einsbark… no, Margrave Einsbark well? ――― I’ve heard that he’s lost his strength due to the injuries he had sustained at that time… but I never expected to hear about his retirement at the ceremony.”
The former Earl Einsbark received land in the north and received the title of Margrave. He’s already old. He’s so old that it would be strange if he commanded troops on the frontline. Even though we were at war, there was no way to keep him from retiring from military service and his position as head of his house.
At the same time, the location of his land meant that the Einsbark House stood as a constraint for the northern nobles.
The Einsbark House is one of the leading military nobles in Arxia, but they have been imperial naval officials without their own fief. Therefore, they were placed in the north to show that the Upper House of Lords is taking the situation in the north very seriously. The northern nobles have laid low since the incident with the bandits four years ago, but according to Priestess Faris, they were still acting suspicious. ――― Nothing unusual has happened for the past three years. That’s why I can’t help but think that what I saw on that day inside of the wind was a dream of illusion.
“He’s not bedridden, so it’s not like he’s particularly unwell. Vormav will go with him to the fief, so he won’t be overworking himself.”
“At least he’s not reckless like you.”
The person who will be taking charge of the vacant position in Jugfena Fortress is the second son of the Einsbark House, Wiegraf. The second son, Wiegraf, succeeded the position of Earl because Vormav, the heir, needed to take over the fief, and therefore, resigned from the Jugfena Knight Order.
There was no other suitable candidate, or perhaps there was no time to discuss a suitable candidate at the House of Lords, so two proven knights of the Einsbark House ended up filling the two vacancies. The fact that two generations in a row had been given positions that weren’t supposed to be hereditary would normally be gossiped about greatly, but due to the rapidly changing domestic situation, and the fact that we were at war, it was accepted as a justified decision.
“Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”
He looked at me in amusement for a moment, his lips pursed in silence, and then he spoke.
He handed me the reins of the smaller of the two horses, which had been led by a soldier working in the stables.
“Anywhere is fine. Well, it’s not something we can talk about while standing around. Oh, how about that? A coffee shop.”
I didn’t know there were coffee shops here. Well, it might not be surprising that there are specialty shops since tea is widely available to even the commoners.
I nodded my approval and jumped on my horse. My sharp ears picked up Ergnard’s whisper, “You’ve gotten big…”
Well, it’s only natural since it’s been six years since we’ve seen each other.
When I entered the coffee shop that catered to nobles, I momentarily wondered why there were children in this shop. Although, most people quickly averted their gaze when they saw Ergnard. It seemed that most the nobles here were ones who didn’t have the right to attend the House of Lords, so they didn’t know about me. Ergnard is widely known though.
“Is the back alright?”
“Seats for talking. I don’t mind… but is it really that important?”
“Well, it might be for you.”
His words were suggestive. I suspiciously followed Ergnard and sat down on the sofas for chatting ――― which were far from the other seats and was separated by a screen, but the screens were made so that you can see what was happening inside.
“Let me get to the point. Earl Thelesia asked me for a favour.”
Ergnard suddenly said. I thought we would order our drinks first, but he started speaking immediately.
“… A favour that concerns me?”
Earl Thelesia had asked Ergnard for a favour. I was momentarily at a loss for words at the strangeness of it.
I don’t think the Einsbark and Thelesia’s have a close relationship, but it wouldn’t be surprising for the Earl to have a personal connection with them. However, the only thing that I could think of that he might personally ask of Ergnard was something related to me.
I had assumed that the Earl, who has been in poor health for the past few years, was probably preparing to withdraw from Kaldia, since he had been spending less time in Kaldia for the past few years.
If I continued to let him work as he has been, then he’ll die in another year, so I hope that he’ll retire soon and recuperate… Unlike before, he has become quite unpretentious.
“It concerns you. I’ll skip over the details of what he asked me for. What I want to know is if you’re interested in becoming my daughter.”
I stopped myself from frowning and stared at Ergnard.
Did he ask me to become his daughter? Me? His daughter?
“… Are you thinking of adopting me?”
“No. My bad, not as an adopted daughter, but a foster daughter. A foster child ―――, it looks like you don’t know anything about this.”
According to Ergnard’s explanation, a foster child has no legal rights whatsoever. “Don’t think about it too much,” Ergnard told me calmly. “It’s like letting you borrow my name,” he said.
――― I don’t understand. What’s in it for him?
In short, he was suggesting that he will back me up in place of Earl Thelesia, who was retiring.
However, for a prominent military noble house, who have obtained the title of Earl for two generations in a row, there is nothing to be gained by backing up a little girl from a small fief with a bad reputation, other than unnecessary hardship.
“I told you not to think too much of it. A foster relationship isn’t one of self-interest. In the old days, it was a weak relationship where one cared for the person they liked as if they were their own child or parent. You can decline if you don’t like me, or you can just agree.”
“Well don’t worry, it benefits me too. Our Einsbark House is a military family. It benefits us a lot to adopt you since your name has spread wide after of the last battle.”
I tilted my head and Ergnard added, “You’re not just a child.”
“By the way, others have asked to foster you as well.”
“My father also wants to foster you.”
“What? Eh, no, wait. That’s a joke, right?”
“Who knows,” Ergnard smirked. He was probably joking.
My tensed shoulders relaxed before I knew it. There was no change in his unique and heart-warming way of trying to ease the tension of the other person.
“… I don’t have any objections if Earl Thelesia asked for this.”
“Hmm? About being fostered by who? My father?”
“I’m talking about being fostered by you!”
It is indeed too much to have the backing of a prominent noble who served as the feudal lord of the royal Jugfena fief.
“I see. Then, you’re my daughter starting from today.”
“… That’s right. Please take care of me.”
“――― Hmm. This isn’t as moving as I thought it would be.”
“Well, it’s not like anything has changed.”
“Then, let’s order something to drink before going home. Ah, you can order a sweet drink if you want.”
“No thank you.”
After a very casual conversation, I got a foster father. I tried calling him ‘Father’, but his expression was really strange. So, I called him ‘Ergnard-dono’ instead and that seemed to be the right choice.
The battle lines had expanded since the battle in the Bandishia Plateau, where the King’s direct army was deployed, and a full-scale battle took place.
Despite their obvious defeat, Rindarl ――― or rather, Densel Dukedom, didn’t go with Arxia’s recommendation to surrender.
Over 600 enemy soldiers were taken prisoner by Arxia in the last battle. There were about 4,000 casualties.
I don’t understand why Duke Densel would make such a sacrifice, abandon the prisoners, and send in more soldiers. After all, the reason for this war was to protest against the unfair discrimination against the blood of Duke Rindarl, since the King hadn’t allowed the First Prince, Albert, to enter the Academy.
Arxia is also Arxia. If Prince Albert’s name had been registered in the Academy’s admission list, then no extra civilian blood would have been spilt.
The troops directly under the command of the King had been deployed to the frontlines and I can’t even let my dissatisfaction show. I don’t think the kingdom’s honour would be intact if we simply follow Rindarl Union, which is just a newly emerging nation, I understand all this… but I can’t help but feel this way when I’m actually put on the frontlines.
With the sudden change in my rank, my army was sent to the frontline without knowing how to coordinate with the other troops, and we already have 30 wounded soldiers and six are dead. I’ve accepted this since this is war… but I can’t help but loathe myself for being able to accept it.
Among the dead soldiers were those who slept in the same room as me when I was at the barracks.
“Then in the next defensive battle, Countess Kaldia, her army and the knights under her command will be assigned to defend Lynx Plateau, a part of the Bandishia Plateau.”
At the end of a tedious House of Lords meeting, Marquis Lorenzorell, the commander of the royal army, handed me this order in person, and I was immediately unable to utter a word of joy.
“… I accept.”
Perhaps because I had received such an inadequate reward, my Kaldia child army… or was it already an Earl army? Anyway, my army has been placed in the frontline. Wasn’t my army supposed to be used for rear support?
Ergnard, who was standing next to me added in a small voice, “Lynx Plateau is a small plateau at the southwestern edge of the Bandishia Plateau, where the plains were endless. Things will go well there even with a small amount of people defending it if you can take advantage of the situation.”
That must be the truth if he says so. Thank god Claudia’s blood relative is a rational person. Well, all the knights in this kingdom are more rational than I imagined them to be.
… I had to rearrange my troops so that there wouldn’t be any problems in commanding them since I had been deployed there.
I can’t have them organised for transporting items since they’ll be in the frontlines. Claudia, who will serve as the strategist, will be in charge of the liaison troops, Gunter’s troops, the only infantry troops we have, and Asyl’s elite cavalry troops will be trained to work together in the short time we have before heading to the frontline.
The light cavalry troops led by Theomer, which consisted of the Sill Tribe warriors, Calvin’s light cavalry troops, which were originally trained in the fief, and the raid unit under Claudia’s direct control, will be combined and led by me. It may be strange for the raid unit to be part of the main unit, but this was the best place to have them since I will be riding Rashiok, who has the best mobility.
“We can’t give you any troops, but I’ll consider it if you need something for defence. Do you need anything, Countess Kaldia?”
I admired Marquis Lorenzorell’s fair decision, but then that disappeared slightly because of the snide remarks coming from the robed nobles. They were probably making fun of my knightley attire even though it was emphasised that I’m a Countess.
The sudden promotion and reward that I had gotten for a feat that even I thought was a coincidence, combined with the bad reputation of Kaldia fief, that was talked about at every opportunity, was frowned upon by the imperial nobles.
It has been a bit quiet since Earl Einsbark’s fief has been established, but behind the scenes, it seems that those fussy nobles in the north have been spreading a bunch of half-truths. I’ve heard rumours that I’m the daughter of a demon, who enjoys bathing in blood and that me wiping out my enemies is proof that I’ve inherited my father’s cruel streak.
So, it doesn’t matter. In any case, my relationship with the capital will be almost non-existent once I graduate from the Academy.
In fact, the chirping of those who don’t even have power to send me to my death tingles the sadistic side of me that I inherited from my demon father. My thoughts were strangely elevated despite the disgust I felt in my stomach.
Suddenly a good idea came to my mind as I pondered how to kill and weaken their morale with steady eyes.
I just remembered a trick devised by a crazy duke in my previous life who was infamous for being incredibly cruel. He would impale his enemies and line them up. As usual, there are memories ingrained that I can’t get away from.
“Then won’t you give all the prisoners who will be executed to me?”
“… You want the prisoners? What kind of strategy do you have in mind?”
I glanced at the plump noble who was suspicious of my request, but he quickly shook his head and sat down, “No, I don’t want to know. You can just tell the commander.”
What was with that reaction? I’ve just come up with a great tactic that will meet their expectations, save our men from unnecessary death, kill the moral of the Densels and inflict a terrible defeat and death on them.
“You look evil.”
Erggnard chuckled and said as he looked at me from the side.
“I understand your hatred towards the Densels… but leave the prisoners alone. No annihilation this time.”
Ergnard’s advice was relentless. It’s no surprise that my actions on the battlefields, which are often gossiped about, is based on him.
Impressions are important. I don’t mean they’re ‘critical’, but they’re ‘important’.