Kuro no Hiera Glaphicos V5 Chapter 3

Banquet of Flowers; on a Summer Day

The university of Roma, which was once located in the old town of Roma, was the oldest and the biggest university of Ahmad.

However, about half a century ago, due to the increase in number of students and the deterioration of its facilities, the plan to relocate all the departments except the department of theology to the outskirts of Roma occurred; as a result, the newest town in Ahmad, Lauris, came into existence.

Leaving Roma and then going east for about one hour along the highway, that was where Lauris was located. It was a university town that placed the university of Roma, which had relocated, at its centre, but rather than an independent town that was separated from Roma, it might be more accurate in reality to consider it as a part of Roma.

The young Quique Albiol also spent his student days in the student district of this Lauris.


Ru~♪ Raruru~♪ Ru~rarura~♪」

A pink mass was spinning round and round.

There was no deviation in the rotation axis. It was a splendidly stable rotation.

「……」

Quique Albiol, who had confirmed that with a sidelong glance, sighed lightly and put on his monocle again. He then put a ruler on a piece of paper, which was spread on the work table, and drew a line.

On the stomach—part of the armour—of the girl who was dancing round and round happily, a gorgeous relief of a rose was sparkling. Quique, who had been drawing lines for a while, glanced at her again and smoked his kiseru.

「…You’re in a good mood, Bettina」

「That’s right♪」

Bettina suddenly stopped her rotation and pointed at the relief of the rose with both hands.

「—That’s because I’m the first to specially receive the decoration that the Crown Prince created, you know!? Me, who is neither a member nor a noble!」

「That’s certainly amazing」

Ten days had passed since Bettina came back safely from Heidelauta. And then, Bettina specially received a summons from the royal palace yesterday and was awarded the decoration by Isaac.

It was a decoration called “Ahmad Distinguished Services Rose Crown Medal” or something, which he never heard of.

Of course, it was also natural that he never heard of it; Isaac specially and newly created it to award it to the person from among the members of the Seal Chivalric OrderTempliers Aegis who had rendered distinguished services in particular.

How did Bettina edge out excellent members like Lucius to be awarded that? Thinking about it calmly, it was suspicious in various ways, but in any case, to decline to be given the decoration was disrespectful in its own way.

Therefore, she gratefully received the object that made the design of the actual decoration into a relief and attached it onto Bachururus like that. It might be a consolation that there was no exaggerated ceremony.

Ranranru~♪」

The pink object, which was spinning round and round and skipping, was a kind of weapon that possessed the weight of two big men and, furthermore, five times their power. If she was careless, this small workshop would be destroyed in the twinkling of an eye.

「—Don’t be too happy」

「Yes? Did you say something, Oji-sama?」

Bettina, who had grabbed a hand mirror, suddenly decided on a pose and reflected her own body. She then gazed at it and glowed with self-satisfaction.

「No, it’s fine if you’re happy」

Quique didn’t fully understand the political aspect of things, nor was he interested in it. However, if he had to guess from a layman’s view, he felt that the Crown Prince awarding such a decoration to Bettina was most likely to avoid a pointless battle of egos between the great nobles.

Thinking about it normally, this decoration should first be awarded to Vice-Leader Lucius Richternach, who enjoyed the deep confidence of the Crown Prince. However, no matter how great Lucius’s achievements were, there weren’t only “patrons” who would be convinced by that. “Please let my son receive the first honour by all means”—there were also bound to be parents who would unreasonably say so among them. In any case, many people would discover the value of this first honour, and it wasn’t hard to imagine quarrels occurring due to that.

Therefore—this was simply Quique’s guess though—Isaac probably chose Bettina, who had no direct relation with the chivalric order, to be the first recipient, for which a fierce competition was expected.

It somehow seemed that his niece was used as a shield, and although a bit of feeling of dissatisfaction remained in Quique, the royal court was more or less such a thing. If one hated it, they shouldn’t get a job that had to do with the people from the royal court. However, Quique couldn’t get a job except his current one, so compromising in various ways, he was in this current place.

「…However, people of royalty and titled nobility tend to be capricious」

「Oji-sama?」

「It’s nothing」

「Jeez, you’re mumbling to yourself a lot today, Oji-sama!」

Scolding him cutely, Bettina put the hand mirror down.

「—That’s right! If I tell Okaa-sama and Otou-sama about this in a letter, I think they’ll surely be delighted!」

「Ah…」

Striking the kiseru against the corner of the work table, Quique lost sight of the words he should follow up with.

Even though such a thing happened, Bettina still hadn’t forsaken her parents? Quique felt a slight anger, though it wasn’t towards Bettina. The anger was towards Bettina’s parents, who were Quique’s older brother and his wife—the parents who were cold towards such a brave girl.

「Pardon me. Is Bettina Albiol-jou here?」

An?」

Quique, who was about to stuff new tobacco leaves into the kiseru to suppress his anger, took off his monocle and looked back at the courteous greeting, which was never heard of in this workshop.

「The Crown Prince summons Bettina-jou」

Standing at the door was a neatly dressed page.

「His Highness?」

「He said that there’s something he wants to ask of Bettina-jou, so he’d like her to come to the “Garden of Philosophy” immediately—」

「I, I understand!」

Bettina’s voice sounded shrill, and she extended her arm towards the wall.

「—P, please tell him that I’ll go to see him immediately!」

What did she think people’s clothes were? When Bettina picked up the spare white robe hanging on the wall, she started to polish the surface of Bachururus with it with tremendous force.

♦♦♦

Nearly one hour later, Bettina, who had polished up Bachururus to a bright shine, was standing in front of a greenhouse inside the royal palace together with Isaac. “Garden of Philosophy”—it seemed that that was the elegant name given to this greenhouse, which the Crown Prince had prepared for cultivating roses.

「In, in other words—you want me to clear this place?」

「Clear, huh. You could certainly say that」

Patting Bettina’s head, Isaac pointed at the wood on the right of the greenhouse. Lining up neatly were albizia julibrissin at the front and cytisus scoparius at the back, but judging from the way the branches spread out, it felt somewhat cramped. Due to that, it also looked like the sunlight was blocked out to some extent.

「—Well, frankly speaking, only this greenhouse has become a bit cramped. That’s why I’d like you to chop down some albizia julibrissin around here and level the ground to construct the foundation of the greenhouse」

「Only the albizia julibrissin? Then, leave the cytisus scoparius as they are?」

Un

「Understood!」

Bettina, who had placed her right arm on the relief of the rose and bowed slightly, detached the pink battleaxe from the back of her waist and extended it. Bettina named the umbrella “Choruruka”, and because she herself also thought of calling this something like that, this axe was now given the name of Rucheruku.

「—Then, Your Highness, please step back~」

Un. —Ah, the trees you chop down might be used for something, so can you please remove their branches and pile them up together somewhere?」

「Sure~」

Bettina held Rucheruka by the end of its handle, rotated once and struck the trunk of an albizia julibrissin. The albizia julibrissin, which was as thick as the leg of Bachururus, was easily cut down with that one blow. Bettina, who had caught the tree that had tumbled through the air with one hand, plucked off the branches and leaves, which had grown thickly, making it into a straight, cylinder shape, and threw it down at her feet.

「Ho, that’s quite a skill」

「Thank you very much. As a matter of fact, the current workshop also wasn’t so wide at first, but I cleared a copse and expanded it」

「I see… ah, that’s right, about that workshop」

While gazing at Bettina’s work a short distance away, Isaac added on.

「—You probably have to assist the chief engineerMaestro too, and it might also be inappropriate to have you be occupied with the work here only, so let’s see… is about two hours a day fine; can you please proceed with the work little by little?」

「Yes, with pleasure♪」

「Good reply. Then, I’ll be working in that greenhouse. —Ah, and one more thing」

Isaac, who was about to turn back towards the glass-walled greenhouse, stopped his feet like he had suddenly realised something and added on again.

「That suits you」

「Yes?」

「That’s a good design, if I do say so myself」

Isaac pointed at her stomach, smiled contentedly and then left.

「……」

Bettina looked down at her own stomach and touched the relief of the rose softly.

「Aha」

While laughing so, she turned on the spot.

♦♦♦

Quique, who was born in the old town where his parents’ house was and was renting and living in a house in the old town even now, seldom headed towards the new town. That was because Quique was a workaholic, and as the place where he worked was the third arsenal behind the royal palace—a small workshop with an exaggerated name—, his life was fundamentally completed just inside the old town. Speaking of just these days alone, one could say that Bettina, who had started to work as Valeria’s attendant, had a much wider area of activity.

Such Quique waited for dusk and then went out to the new town. He told Bettina that he was going to the place of blacksmith Courtois-jiisan, who was always helping him with his work. Bettina most likely didn’t doubt those words of his. When he thought of that, his heart hurt a little.

「—」

Stopped by the hustle and bustle which was filled with the smell of alcohol, Quique looked up at a signboard with a design of grapes and ivies intertwining with a tankard. “TANKARD” was engraved on the signboard, which was exposed to wind and rain and had started to get blurred.

Tankard obviously represented a bar, and grapes and ivies meant that there were wine and ale respectively. Recently, Quique had been staying at home completely, but when he was a student, he’d frequent bars here and there together with his friends, so he knew that much.

「TANKARD… here, huh」

Hearty laughter of men and the smell of appetising food leaked out from inside the store. Due to the nature of the locality, bachelors from the neighbourhood would gather after work to search for meals and sake.

When Quique pushed open the creaking door and entered the store, he didn’t head towards an empty seat at a table but the innermost counter seat.

「Which one do you want?」

The storekeeper, who was at the inner part of the counter, suddenly urged Quique, who had sat down, to choose one of the two choices.

「Ah… let’s see」

For a moment, Quique didn’t understand what the storekeeper meant, but he immediately realised that the storekeeper was asking him what he wanted to drink. Wine or ale, it could only be one of those. For bars in this area, one could say that simply having options was still better.

「Then, ale and ham」

Quique, who had ordered a minimum of sake and snack, looked around the store interior again.

The store was about seventy percent full, and all the customers were men. Although there were only guys who seemed to be really rude, everyone’s drunk appearances were cheerful, and they didn’t have gloomy appearances. At the very least, it didn’t seem to be a store that served sake with a lot of adulterants and made excessive profits.

「Ah… is Dimitar here?」

「…Dimitar?」

A deep wrinkle was suddenly carved on the brow of the storekeeper, who seemed to be a few years older than Quique, and he glared at Quique. It was precisely because he had been doing a business where he dealt with drunkards every day that his expression had quite an intensity. Perhaps trained from carrying wine barrels, even his arms which extended from the short sleeves were so thick that they couldn’t possibly be compared with Quique’s. If it became a brawl, Quique probably had no chance of winning.

Although Quique almost spouted the ale instinctively, he hurriedly shook his head.

「I, I’m not a suspicious person in particular. I heard that he’s lodging here… I work in a workshop of the army—」

「That white robe… you’re that “eccentric”, huh」

His brow furrowed as it was, the storekeeper’s stiff expression finally became a smiling face.

「I heard from that brat. —I was told that you’re an eccentric who conducts a slightly difficult research in a workshop」

「Well, it’s not far off the mark to say that I’m an eccentric though…」

It seemed that Dimitar had been calling Quique an eccentric even in other places. Quique didn’t particularly get angry at that. That contrary boy having a sharp tongue was nothing new.

「—If it’s Dimi-san, he’s not here」

Perhaps she had overheard the conversational exchange of Quique and the storekeeper, a girl, who was carrying a big tray in her arms and running around between drunken people, stopped her feet and interrupted.

「She’s the drawing card of this store. Greet him, Mercier」

「I’m Mercier. Dimi-san is always being taken care of by you」

The girl Mercier, who wasn’t good at speaking her lines smoothly, was unexpectedly polite. Looking down at the hair whorl of Mercier who had bowed, Quique absent-mindedly thought that sharp-tongued boy was the type that little girls unexpectedly seemed to become attached to.

「If it’s Dimi-san, he said that he’ll be at work for a while and won’t be coming back」

「Work?」

「Isn’t it Oji-san’s work?」

「Even if you called it work…」

Dimitar’s job was a Hiera Glaphicos. Otherwise, it was the one called “Special Duty Inspector” or something; in any case, it was something that was ordered by the Magic Academy or the king to make a move. Dimitar helping Quique with his research—though there was the recommendation of “Dominas of Eternity”Domina Permanence, Shakira Babel, at the beginning—wasn’t his official job. He was simply just helping when he was free, and if one had to say the order of precedence, it went without saying that his work of a Hiera Glaphicos came first.

「I see… he left the capital because of work, huh」

Hearing that Dimitar wasn’t here, Quique who had returned to reality just a little because of that gulped down the ale and sighed greatly.

「Is it an important business?」

When the storekeeper asked, Quique shook his head with a wry smile.

「I don’t know how he explained it to you, but my work is something like an extra. —And on top of that, he has never properly explain to you what kind of work he’s officially doing, right?」

「He’s not a fellow who talks so much, after all… even when he’s eating his meals here, he keeps silent the whole time and seems to be listening attentively to the conversations of the guys in his surroundings」

Polishing the tankard he had just washed, the storekeeper shrugged his shoulders.

「He’s strangely mature though he’s a kid, or perhaps I should say, he takes a cynical attitude… well, when I thought about the kid living by himself, it might be that he always have to put himself on guard so that he won’t be taken advantage of by wicked people…」

「I don’t think that’s the case」

Quique bit a savoury ham clipping and sighed.

Dimitar taking a cynical attitude was simply because his personality was like that. Compared with the swindlers and petty scoundrels around there, Dimitar was much more wicked. In the first place, Dimitar wasn’t a boy with no relatives; although he properly had a backer, which was the House of Richternach, he was just continuing to live alone in the downtown area of his own accord.

However, it seemed that Dimitar didn’t disclose such circumstances to the parent and child of this bar at all. He probably thought they wouldn’t be able to associate with him naturally if he told them that he was a person from the House of Richternach, or that he was the exclusive Hiera Glaphicos of a Dominas.

Therefore, Quique also thought there was no need to say anything unnecessary from his own mouth.

「…I’ve gone on a fool’s errand if he’s not here」

Quique, who had just eaten up the ham and drank up the ale, stood up immediately.

「If you like, how about putting it on the brat’s tab? Why don’t you stay longer a bit more, Master?」

「Don’t call me “Master”」

Quique scratched his hair, which had grown untidily, and put the coin he had taken out from the pocket of his white robe on the counter.

「…There’s something I want to ask of Dimitar a little, but if I arbitrarily drink sake on his tab, it’ll be difficult to ask him afterwards. I’ll leave for today」

「Is that so? Do come when you’re free again next time」

「I’ll do so」

Quique waved his hand lightly, tipped the girl called Mercier one copper coin while he was at it and then left TANKARD.

「Dimitar boy is at work, huh…」

Stopping in the noise reeking of male body odour, Quique looked up at the night sky. Perhaps the stone pavement was releasing the heat it had absorbed during the day now, he felt that air was rising up from under his feet as if steaming him even though there was a night wind.

「However… Bettina didn’t receive any message」

Dimitar was Valeria’s exclusive Hiera Glaphicos; that was to say, him leaving the capital because of work meant that Valeria had also left the capital because of some kind of mission.

However, Bettina, who should accompany Valeria as her attendant when she’d similarly leave the royal capital because of a mission, was at home. That meant that it was an individual mission of Dimitar, or it was some special mission from which Bettina was omitted—.

In any case, it was pointless to think about this and that since Dimitar wasn’t returning to the lodging house.

Bettina was looking after the house by herself at home. Thinking of buying something delicious as a present and then going back before it got too late, Quique held the kiseru in his mouth and started to walk.

♦♦♦

In merely three days, Bettina had finished deforesting the planned construction site of the second greenhouse just by working alone. The work that awaited her next was to dig up the stumps and transport a large quantity of soil to fill in the holes. And afterwards, if she made the ground level and trod the soil down, all the work entrusted to Bettina would be completed. From there onwards, it was the specialists’ domain.

Fu~…」

Bettina, who had raised the visor of Bachururus and wiped the sweat on her forehead, leaned against the bundle of the logs of albizia julibrissin, which were piled up like a hill, and sat down.

There wasn’t much physical fatigue due to the power of Bachururus, but only the heat of summer was something about which nothing can be done. Bathed in the sunlight of summer, the armour of Bachururus, in particular, had greedily accumulated that heat. Without the shade of the cytisus scoparius, the situation would be as though she was entering a steam bath.

「I’ll be troubled if the seasons in the future are like this. I have to request Oji-sama to think of a way to let me stay cool—」

Bettina rehydrated with wine and took a short rest.

「…But not wanting to go and pee very much after you sweat a lot, that was true」

Bettina, who was talking to herself about such a thing, overheard the flustered voice of a middle-aged man and secretly showed her face from the back of the mountain of logs.

「Even if you suddenly tell me such a thing…」

「No, it’s not a sudden topic at all!」

It was Isaac; in addition, if she remembered correctly, she believed that that person was Minister for Home Affairs Camunas-kyou. Bettina saw the two people entering the greenhouse. Seeing that there wasn’t a single page who would help the Crown Prince with his work if it were usual, perhaps the two people might be planning to talk about politics.

For a moment, Bettina thought “Is it all right for me to be here, I wonder?”, but Isaac also knew that Bettina was working here at this time, so Bettina continued to drink the wine, thinking he probably didn’t mind in particular if that was the case.

「—Your Highness is twenty years old already. It isn’t strange even if you take a consort—or rather, it’s stranger that such a topic wasn’t brought up until now!」

Pu!?」

Knowing that the topic of the two people was related to Isaac taking a wife, Bettina almost spouted the wine.

「Though it’s somewhat rude to say it like this, His Majesty is, well… um, how do I say, towards women—」

「Isn’t it fine if you say it clearly, that his womanising is extreme」

「…H, His Majesty certainly has that kind of tendency, but despite that, he has no child besides Your Highness. This means that a male of direct descent who can succeed to the throne of Ahmad is just Your Highness alone! Naturally, if Your Highness doesn’t have a heir, our royal family will cease to exist, you know!?」

「It’s not something to be so anxious about, right? You said that I’m twenty years old already, but if you’re going to say that, then I’m still twenty years old, you know? Besides, if we don’t care about direct descent, there are also other young men who can be the successor, right?」

「You mustn’t!」

While wiping the sweat on her forehead, Bettina heard Camunas-kyou, who was rumoured to be a timid person, speaking loudly unexpectedly and reflexively ducked her head.

「—Please look at the nearby Heidelauta! As a result of the king passing away without deciding on a prince to be the crown prince, the issue of the successor grew worse and the country split apart, you know? Though discourteous, if His Majesty and Your Highness die all at once like this, even our Ahmad might be on the verge of splitting apart!」

「Hoho. …In other words, if Chichi-ue or I died, what you’ll think about first isn’t our funerals or what but the issue of the successor?」

「T, that, well… if I have to speak without fear of misunderstanding, we don’t serve an individual but the country called Ahmad—」

Un, good, good, that’s correct. I also felt relieved that Camunas-kyou is a possessor of such a sense of balance」

「Though they’re—such kind words, I won’t let you leave this matter unsettled here today, Your Highness!」

The conversational exchange of Isaac and Camunas-kyou could be seen beyond the greenery through the glass. Bettina even forgot about her thirst, held her breath and gazed at that.

「In any case, you have to choose a suitable partner as soon as possible and get engaged at least…」

「Suitable partner?」

「I think choosing from among the daughters of famous nobles and royalties after surveying not only within the country but also the entire allied countries is the logical move」

「Well, it’s an issue that can be settled immediately if Dilmah has a princess of marriageable age, but unfortunately, they don’t have one… in that case, I can’t choose so easily, right? In the first place, what kind of person will you accept? If I married a strange person, her relatives will throw their weights around, and it’ll become terrible, you know?」

Mu…」

「Then」

Isaac sighed exaggeratedly and continued.

「—For example, how about a Dominas?」

「Yes?」

「The House of Costacurta is originally a distinguished family that has a connection to the royal family, and the House of Rudbeck is also a distinguished family with a long history, right? They just fell by chance recently, and their family statuses are much higher than such nobles, and there’s also no fear of troublesome maternal relatives interfering impudently」

「I, I see—」

「If it’s Costacurta-geika, she probably can give birth to many healthy children. And if it’s Rudbeck-geika, she seems to be able to give birth to very intelligent children. …In fact, there should be a few examples of a retired Dominas becoming the queen before now」

「C, certainly, if it’s both Their Eminences, they have enough qualifications to become Your Highness’s consort—however, both of them were just inaugurated this year, so the wedding will be nine years later at the quickest…」

「That sort of matter, we can just prepare the next Dominas candidates and have them retire earlier than usual, right?」

「—」

Bettina was listening to those words of Isaac in a daze.

098

Isaac was looking for a marriage partner, and in addition to that, partners like Valeria or Karin—at the point of time Bettina thought so, her mind went blank, and further information didn’t go in at all.

When she realised, she had opened the window of the room of her home fully and was looking up at the summer night sky fixedly.

A lot of time must have passed after that, but even so, she had no memory of what she did during that time at all.

♦♦♦

Inside the greenhouse where countless roses were in full bloom, one would choke because of the heated air and the sweet-smelling fragrance. Although it was also because the number of roses had increased that the greenhouse became cramped, the fact that Camunas was together with him today was also a big factor. This middle-aged man—in a sense different from Minister for Military Affairs Garrido-kyou—was so stuffy that it was unbearable.

「C, certainly, if it’s both Their Eminences, they have enough qualifications to become Your Highness’s consort—」

Wringing out the handkerchief with which he had wiped the sweat on his forehead, Camunas furrowed his brow.

「However, both of them were just inaugurated this year, so the wedding will be nine years later at the quickest…」

If they excluded exceptions like Shakira Babel, a Dominas’s term of office was usually nine years. Valeria, who was inaugurated at sixteen, and Karin, who was inaugurated at seventeen, must protect their chastity until they retired at twenty-five and twenty-six respectively. Setting engagement aside, marriage was impossible. For Camunas who wanted Isaac to get married as soon as possible, that must be the one and only greatest obstruction.

While making the secateurs produce “chaki chaki” sounds, Isaac spoke to Camunas.

「That sort of matter, we can just prepare the next Dominas candidates and have them retire earlier than usual, right?」

「I see… that means exists too」

Camunas nodded many times while wiping his sweat with the handkerchief.

「Ah, just a minute, just a minute」

Isaac patted Camunas, who was murmuring with shining eyes, on the shoulder and shook his head exaggeratedly.

「For your information, mentioning the names of both Their Eminences is just to give you an example, all right, an example」

「What? Example…?」

「It doesn’t mean that I’m seriously thinking of wanting to make both Their Eminences my wives in particular. I’m saying that there should be no problem if it’s this level and simply mentioned their names as one of the guidelines, so try not to be thoughtlessly forward and cause trouble for both Their Eminences, all right?」

「Yes…」

Isaac pressed Camunas, who had suddenly calmed down, further for an answer.

「In the first place, I don’t want to get married yet」

「W, what are you saying now—please think of this as one of the duties of the royalty as well…」

「Well, I’ll get married eventually, but even if you tell me that so suddenly」

「That’s why please look for a suitable partner and get engaged first—」

「I don’t want to get engaged and be tied down for the present」

Isaac interrupted Camunas’s words and pruned the branches of the roses.

He knew that as the crown prince of Ahmad, he must get married and have an heir eventually.

However, he disliked the fact that even his partner and the timing were all decided by his surroundings. In the first place, it didn’t make sense that only he had to abide by it even though his father had been relatively doing whatever he pleased.

While trimming the potted roses for his mother who would come back from the place where she had recuperated shortly, Isaac spoke.

「Though I feel apologetic towards Camunas-kyou, I’d like you to let me do as I like a little longer」

「…I understand」

What was he thinking; Camunas nodded with an extremely meek expression.

「It’d be nice if you follow His Majesty’s example and become acquainted with the young ladies from various places. Then, a new love might arise」

「Huh? Are you thinking of something strange?」

「No no, please leave everything to this me. I’ll go and make arrangements immediately」

Leaving behind a somewhat creepy suppressed smile, the middle-aged man left the greenhouse hurriedly. Isaac followed him with his eyes with a sigh and started trimming a rose that had a large bud.

「What in the world is he making arrangements for? …Huh?」

Isaac, who had left the greenhouse to draw water for the watering can, realised that there was no figure of Bettina, who should be cutting down the albizia julibrissin.

「By any chance… did I make her misunderstand something?」

♦♦♦

If it was true, Bettina should have finished helping the Crown Prince in the morning and then helped with the moving work in the workshop from the afternoon; however, Bettina didn’t show up at the workshop somehow.

「……」

When Quique returned home, Bettina had already come home and was shutting herself in her own room in the attic without even eating dinner. Although he called out to her several times, her responses were poor. However, only sighs could be heard faintly.

「—Good grief」

Quique also breathed a big sigh as if to compete with her and started the maintenance of Bachururus, which was placed on the work table of his home.

Originally, Quique giving Bachururus to Bettina—to test the fruits of his own research was a matter of course—was to make Bettina be confident. It was an armour prepared for the girl who wanted to be needed by someone and be useful to someone and yet wasn’t very good at facing people directly.

Bettina’s world had certainly expanded because of this armour. But at the same time, this might also become the cause of her getting her feelings hurt again. Bettina was actually deeply worried even now.

Quique, who had generally finished the maintenance, put a pot on the oven and warmed the green pea soup up. Although they had started living here together for more than five years, Bettina’s speciality was eating, and she could hardly cook. On the contrary, Quique was skilful at cooking because he left his parents’ home and had been living alone from an early age. It might be because Quique could do all the housework to a certain extent by himself that he couldn’t get married easily.

Quique filled a wooden tureen with thick soup, put white breads that were lightly toasted with the fire of the oven into a basket, placed them on a tray and then went up the narrow stairs.

「…Bettina?」

Even though there were other empty rooms, Bettina had been living in this room in the attic, saying that the low ceiling calmed her down. Quique suddenly showed up in the attic and observed his niece’s state.

「Oji-sama」

Without even lighting a fire in the lamp, Bettina was sitting on her bed and looking up at the moon through the square skylight, where a part of the roof was cut out.

「Why do I not have magic talent?」

That murmur didn’t seem to be lamenting or resenting the reality where that wasn’t the case; if one had to say, it sounded like it was filled with resignation that was atypical of a thirteen-year-old child.

「Why, you say, that’s because you—」

For the tall and thin Quique, the ceiling of this attic was too low. Quique placed the tray on the floor and sat down on the stairs.

「That sort of talent is something you’re born with… so you can only consider yourself to be unlucky. But why are you asking such a thing again?」

「That’s because if I have magic talent, I might be able to become a Dominas」

「That’s also a dream-like story. The possibility certainly isn’t zero though—」

「Even if becoming a Dominas is impossible, I should be able to help Oji-sama a bit more. If not, even if I don’t have talent, if I’ve been born in the house of a noble at least, then—」

「This is a serious illness…」

Anyone would probably say idle complaints like envying other people’s circumstances, but at the very least, this was the first time that Bettina said such a thing.

「—Eat them before they get cold, all right?」

Leaving these words behind like that, Quique went down the stairs. Naturally, Bettina didn’t reply.

「…I give up」

As expected, Bettina—just imagining it was a discourteous matter—might be harbouring feelings beyond her position towards the handsome Crown Prince Isaac, judging from her murmurs just now. If she could become acquainted with distinguished people, it might somehow be helpful when she left Quique’s side in the future and became independent; thinking so, he recommended Bettina to be Valeria’s attendant, but it backfired this time.

Quique sat down on a chair placed in front of the oven and lit a fire in the kiseru. Today’s tobacco was a high-class item produced in Brabant, which Bettina had brought back yesterday, saying that she received it from Isaac.

However, perhaps it was because he wasn’t used to such a luxury item, or perhaps it was due to his current mental state, he didn’t feel that it was great at all. Quique simply inhaled and exhaled the bitter smoke aimlessly and silently listened to the sound of the firewood in the oven popping.

「……」

Quique actually wanted to ask Dimitar what Bettina was like when she went out on a mission—and what could he interpret from Bettina’s attitude towards Isaac. If it was that boy, and if it became the development that Quique feared, he probably would have seen through it already.

But unfortunately, Dimitar hadn’t come back to the capital yet. That made Quique’s mood even more gloomy.

♦♦♦

Staring at the beautiful woman who had fallen face down, a line of red blood spilling from her lovely lips, Lucius sighed.

「Everything was a big gamble based on her resolution, huh… this is truly typical of her; her life was flashy to the end」

The beautiful woman’s name was Countess Purna Dryton—the mastermind of the assassination plot against Queen Almudena. For Lucius, the matter of Purna, who was cornered, personally ending her life was within his expectation, but for the people serving her, it must have been a bolt out of the blue.

Looking at the maids and menservants who had sat down hard on the spot, Lucius kept his sword in the scabbard and announced indifferently.

「Not a word to anyone about what happened tonight. Have all the people in the mansion thoroughly enforce it. …Do you hear?」

「Y, yes…! B, but, what about Madam-sama…?」

「The countess passed away because of a sudden illness」

「…Ha?」

「The madam passed away because of a sudden illness. Make the arrangements for her funeral service immediately. …The representative of His Majesty the King should come from Roma before long. Proceed with it so that everything will be error-free」

He must gather all the people working in the mansion here first and then have them begin the preparations for the secret burial.

「…Vice-Leader-dono」

Gazing at the menservants who had started to move awkwardly, Angel Saforcada loosened the tie around his neck.

「Is our job, um… only things like this?」

「That depends on His Highness. On an individual basis, I wish that there’s only work that is more open and above board, like the campaign not long ago」

「Like not long ago…?」

「Though they’re similarly jobs to protect the country, running around on a dangerous battlefield is probably much better than being witness to the last moment of a woman, right? …Hazard-kyou!」

When Lucius called one of his subordinates whom he had brought with him on this top-secret mission, he instructed him to secretly get in touch with the mayor of Taroma immediately. Although this manner of speaking was bad, he must make the mayor understand the cause and effect so that the people of this mansion wouldn’t blurt out thoughtless things in the future.

「U, um…」

Passing Hazard-kyou who left at a quick pace, the maid who had gone round to call the people of the mansion to this room came back and began to talk in a tone that was frightened in some way.

「I, I wanted to gather all the people in the mansion—b, but I didn’t see the figure of only one person」

「That person isn’t here?」

「Y, yes… it’s the gardener, a man called Niko Bonucci…」

When the maid spoke of that name, the surrounding menservants looked at each other simultaneously. As if the maid’s panic had spread, even the other people started to be noisy. It was unthinkable that such a reaction would appear just because one ordinary gardener had disappeared.

Lucius tilted his head to the side and questioned her.

「What kind of man is he exactly?」

「Niko was… formerly a thief」

「A thief?」

Angel knitted his brows and raised a wild voice.

「—Why is a thief working as the gardener of the countess’s mansion?」

「T, that’s…」

According to what the maids had explained, looking as if it was extremely hard to speak about it, the aforementioned Niko Bonucci was a young and reckless bandit. Hiding himself in the forest on the outskirts of Taroma, he made a living from aiming for the travellers coming and going and travelling alone on the highway; however, he was pursued by the authorities and was seriously wounded, and it seemed that he was captured when he tumbled into the premises of this mansion.

People who were not only robbed of their money and goods but even killed by Niko weren’t few, and a reward was offered for his head. Therefore, if it was true, Niko should have been handed over to the mayor of Taroma as he was and be sentenced to capital punishment.

Nevertheless—what kind of whim was it exactly—Purna didn’t hand Niko over to the government officials. It was unexpected that she’d treat his wounds, prepare clothing for him and let him live in a cabin in the corner of the grounds as a gardener.

「Why is that kind of—」

In contrast with Angel whose expression seemed to be puzzled, the maids cast their eyes downwards, looking as if it was difficult to give an answer. It seemed that this new chivalric order member couldn’t guess it, but Lucius could somehow understand the situation from the maids’ behaviours.

「…He was her secret lover」

「Eh?」

The face of Angel, who had raised a wild voice again, became red suddenly after one mora.

「Even though she was called Countess Dryton, the reality is that she was one of His Majesty the King’s mistresses… and His Majesty also won’t always be here. Rather, he’s absent for most of the year. That being the case, it isn’t so strange that the countess of loose morals would have another lover. …In short, it’s like that, right?」

「…Yes」

The maids nodded slightly.

「However, after Niko became the gardener, his manner which was like a mad dog when he was captured changed completely, and the change was as if you could say that he was extremely obedient towards Madam-sama… or rather, he was worshipping Madam-sama」

「Was he feeling a debt of gratitude, being a bad person, or—」

Drawing in a breath greatly, Lucius stopped his words midway there. Witzel-kyou, who had been guarding the rear of the mansion, came here at a quick pace.

「Vice-Leader!」

「Did something happen?」

「The horse is missing!」

「Horse?」

「Even though there’s a carriage, there’s no horse in the stable」

「—」

When Lucius narrowed his eyes and stared at the maid, she shook her head as if she was frightened again. She probably wanted to say that she didn’t know anything.

Lucius then spoke to Witzel-kyou.

「Witzel-kyou, please remain here. Hazard-kyou should be coming back with the mayor soon, so I’ll leave the subsequent matters to the both of you」

「That’s not a problem, but what’s Vice-Leader going to do?」

「Just one man disappeared from the mansion. It seems that leaving him alone will become a troublesome matter」

Leaving that place to Witzel-kyou, Lucius took the remaining members along with him and left the mansion.

「What are we going to do, Vice-Leader-dono?」

「We’ll pursue Niko Bonucci」

Lucius answered Angel’s question laconically.

「Do you know where he escaped to?」

「I can more or less guess. …But then, I hope that such a conjecture is wrong though」

Lucius returned to the place where they had tied their horses on the opposite side of the lake almost at a run, put his foot on the stirrup and smiled wryly.

「If my conjecture is wrong, then it doesn’t matter at all even if Niko Bonucci escapes somewhere like this. —However, that’s probably not going to happen」

「…I’m sorry」

Angel, who had similarly sat on top of the saddle, bent his head slightly to one side and asked again.

「What does that mean exactly? Where in the world did that gardener escape to—」

「The clandestine love between a countess who had too much time on her hands and a gardener, speaking of common, is common, but it’s a slight problem that the both of them are all bad people. …Especially all the more so if the gardener worshipped the madam like a goddess」

Lucius and other members, eight people in all, started running in the forest at night. Although it was along a lane, if they missed one step, that place was a sea called a forest covered up by cold darkness, and they’d probably go astray immediately if they were careless.

「—If Niko Bonucci learnt of the death of the woman whom he worshipped as a goddess, what kind of action do you think he’ll take?」

「That’s… he was formerly a bandit who was skilful at rough things, so as expected—it’s revenge?」

Angel, who had answered so, surveyed his surroundings, looking slightly tense.

「It’s not wrong to think like that first… but his target probably isn’t us」

「W, why?」

「The fact that he had been a bandit for a long time in a dangerous forest, where wolves, bears and people in the same trade were prowling about, without losing his life or getting captured or forming a faction meant that that man is probably quite strong. And he most likely must be more cautious and cunning」

That was why Lucius was thinking he’d never attack them in a simplistic manner. No matter how skilled a man Niko was, it was impossible that he’d challenge Lucius’s party to a fight by himself and then end safe and sound. He’d probably lose his life easily without even fulfilling the matter of carrying out revenge for Purna.

「—That much can be understood even without thinking deeply. Besides, the revenge won’t be accomplished just by killing us, who had driven the madam to commit suicide. Niko Bonucci probably should have known that too」

「Don’t tell me—the queen!?」

「If Purna Dryton had told Niko Bonucci her own real intention, then that’s not impossible」

As long as Queen Almudena didn’t exist, Purna’s ambition could have been achieved. It could also be said that it was because of Almudena that Purna’s dream had been shattered and that she committed suicide—the possibility of Niko, who thought so, trying to kill Almudena again wasn’t zero.

「Normally, at the point of time when one’s own lover began to say that she wanted a son of a man other than himself, he’d be driven by jealousy, and then he’d turn to violence… but perhaps to Niko, the madam might really be an existence like a goddess. Not a lover but simply an object of worship—」

Urging his horse on as if to compete with Lucius, Angel spoke.

「—Where’s the queen now!?」

「I don’t know the exact location, but she most likely has arrived in the vicinity about two days to the royal capital along the highway from Gloom. Even if Niko is aiming for Her Highness the Queen, in terms of distance, it’s impossible to ambush her during the journey. —In that case」

Confirming the relative positions of Taroma, Gloom and Roma on the map inside his mind, Lucius kept his mouth shut.

♦♦♦

「Your Highness!」

Camunas, who had rushed into the greenhouse, gasping for air, hurriedly wiped the sweat oozing on his forehead and began to talk rapidly.

「T, t-t, the queen, is , is returning!」

「That sort of thing, I know about it」

Ha!?」

While having a page fan him with a large round paper fan, Isaac was pruning the roses without even looking back at Camunas.

「H, how did you know? Even though the messenger who came to announce beforehand just arrived a moment ago—」

「That’s because if you count backwards from the day Haha-ue’s party left Gloom, you’ll know that she’ll arrive tomorrow or the day after tomorrow」

It was a distance of about five days, being jolted in the carriage leisurely and peacefully, from Gloom where Queen Almudena had been recuperating to this Roma, and there was no rough path along the way where they’d be stranded either.

「B, but Your Highness…! We didn’t receive the information of the queen leaving Gloom itself until today, you know? Despite this, how did Your Highness know the date and time of her departure—」

「Ah, that’s because I heard them from Chichi-ue」

Haa!?」

The truth, which was a bolt from the blue, was thrust at Camunas again, and he opened his eyes wide.

「I mean, it was Chichi-ue who instructed Haha-ue. He told her to leave Gloom secretly and come back so that she wouldn’t be found out」

「W, why did His Majesty issue such instructions!? Moreover, to have even kept it secret from us—」

「It’s probably to uncover the assassins」

「A, assassination!?」

「…You’re so noisy」

Isaac, who was surprised by Camunas’s voice and almost cut off a large rose, tossed the shears.

「Chichi-ue had sensed that the wicked fox in Taroma was thinking of killing Haha-ue, and then he secretly provided her with bodyguards」

「When you say “the wicked fox in Taroma”, don’t tell me you mean, Countess Dryton—?」

「Yes, her」

Isaac, who had waved his hand to get the page to leave, removed his gloves and looked back.

Even though Camunas, who was first-class on domestic affairs, understood that Purna Dryton was a wicked woman, it was certainly unexpected that the king’s womanising would even develop into an assassination plot against the queen. One might be able to say that it was because it was Jeffren Francesc that he could smell the stench of a scheme in the countess’s slight change.

Isaac, who had gulped down the water of a water jug, in which lemons and ice were floating, and then taken a rest, put his hands on his waist and bent and stretched lightly.

「…And then, the countess who knew that Haha-ue would be returning to the capital with a small number of people hired assassins and had them attack her during the journey. —However, she had the tables turned on her splendidly. It’s probably because such a trouble had been mostly solved that Haha-ue’s party would dispatch a messenger to notify us of her return」

「Solved…?」

「Anyway, we’ll hear the details from Costacurta-geika afterwards. After all, the ones serving as Haha-ue’s guards are actually Her Eminence and Richternach-kyou」

「What… n, now that you mention it, I hadn’t seen them these few days or so, but the reason was like that, huh—」

「That’s how it is. If you understand, then—」

「Then, Your Highness!」

Return to your work quickly; Isaac was about to say that to drive Camunas away, but Camunas refused to back down, his eyes sparkling for some reason.

「—The queen getting well and returning is a joyous matter in any case! Therefore, whether it’s called a tea party or a garden party, how about holding a banquet to receive the queen at least? If we decorate the venue ornately with the flowers Your Highness had cultivated and then Your Highness personally receives the queen, she’ll surely be delighted!」

「……」

Isaac kept his mouth shut and stared fixedly at Camunas, who was smiling while wiping his sweat.

It was unusual that Camunas, who should be running around busily all the time because of the things the king and the Crown Prince had done, would personally suggest doing something in this way. More importantly, this full smile of his was suspicious.

「…You’re planning something, aren’t you?」

Ha? No no no no」

「It’s not “no no no no”; I’m asking if you’re planning something」

「T, that kind of… w, what would you say I’m planning?」

「I wouldn’t have asked in detail if I knew. …I can somehow guess it though」

「No no no no, Y, Your Highness is thinking too much!」

「…Well, that’s fine」

「A, anyway!」

Camunas retreated slowly.

「Please leave the selection of the venue, the preparations of the food and drinks, and the arrangements for the garden party to this me! I’ll make arrangements as soon as possible! T, then, I shall take my leave!」

He left those words behind like that and went out of the greenhouse at a quick pace.

「…Well, the fact that these flowers, which I’ve been cultivating because of my hobby, could be of use to some extent might be something I should be pleased with」

Isaac, who had followed Camunas with his eyes, surveyed the flowers inside the greenhouse and sighed lightly.

♦♦♦

After the first stage of the extension work of the greenhouse had been completed, Bettina who was summoned by Isaac again was assigned the work of moving pots of roses to the vicinity of the triumphal arch on the outskirts of Roma.

「Sorry for asking a favour of you suddenly, Bettina-jou」

「Not at all! It’s totally all right!」

Next to the white horse that Isaac was riding, Bettina was pulling a cart fully loaded with pots of roses with creaking sounds. Two wagons, where pages were sitting on the drivers’ seats, were following behind them. Under the sunlight of summer where the greenery by the roadside was becoming more and more pronounced, the party was heading towards the east leisurely.

「Haha-ue is coming back to the capital tomorrow afternoon. —Camunas-kyou was enthusiastic about it, saying “Let’s hold a garden party to receive her.”」

「I see. In any case, it’s a happy event」

「Is that so?」

「Yes. Okaa-sama… no, the queen is returning from recuperation, so it’s a happy event, isn’t it?」

「…Well, you could say that」

Isaac, on horseback, looked up at the blue sky and nodded slightly.

「Speaking of which, how’s Bettina-jou’s family?」

「Ah, my mother isn’t in good health too, so she’s recuperating in the countryside together with my father」

「You’re living with the chief engineermaestro because of that, huh. –You’re the same as me then」

Ha?」

「Well, it’s like my place also has substantially no parents. Chichi-ue will regularly disappear, saying “war” or “mistress”, and Haha-ue also won’t be in the royal palace for one third of the year because of her seeking to improve her health with a change of climate. Come to think of it, I hardly have any memory of me and my parents eating a meal all together by the three of us」

「……」

Isaac, who had murmured so, seemed to be gazing at a place even further than the sky absent-mindedly.

Bettina greatly took a deep breath.

「—Then, we have to make it succeed by all possible means」

「Eh?」

「Like I said, this garden party. Isn’t it the place for the long-awaited reunion of parent and child?」

「Parent and child, huh…」

Isaac ruminated with a sigh and looked down at Bettina.

「Since I was born as the prince of Ahmad in this way, I haven’t been able to make a person whom I can call a close friend even when I’ve reached this age. It might be because I was brought up among the adults of the royal court, watching nothing but adults, that my personality has surely become warped」

「If it’s a close friend… isn’t Lucius-sama like that?」

「Lucius-kun is… well, a partner whom I can place my full trust in, but he’s slightly different from what you’d call a close friend. I don’t think he thinks so either. As long as this country doesn’t fall, it’s impossible that the relation between the two of us will break free from that of a master and servant」

「…Is that how it is?」

Bettina felt a tinge of loneliness in Isaac’s words. Although she only knew about the recent matters here, at the very least, from Bettina’s point of view, it felt like Isaac and Lucius were two bosom friends, and they could joke with each other familiarly; it looked as if the relation between the two people was beyond that of a mere master and servant.

Nevertheless, Isaac asserted that Lucius wasn’t a friend. Perhaps that might be called the solitude of a statesman.

「At the very least, I think it’d be slightly different if I had a brother」

「A brother… is it?」

「A sister is fine as well, or rather, a partner with whom I could pass childhood together」

Isaac, who had been playing with his broad-brimmed hat, looked down at Bettina again.

「—Let’s see, if I had a younger sister like you, I think it’d probably be fun」

「P, pardon!?」

「If a child like you was my younger sister, wouldn’t every day be fun? What kind of life would it be to have a younger sister, I wonder? Would we play with dolls together?」

「…Let’s see」

Looking down at her own pink feet that were stepping firmly on the ground, Bettina arranged her breathing and answered.

「I also don’t quite fully know what kind of feeling I’d have if I had a younger sister, but if I had an older brother like Your Highness, I think I’ll surely boast about it over and over again to everyone」 

「Ahahaha, you want to boast? About me?」

「Of course. A kind, amusing and good-looking brother, all one can do is to boast about him, isn’t it?」

「I see—, to you, I’m like an older brother that you’re proud of, huh」

「That’s right」

Normally, she’d probably be rebuked for being disrespectful if she said such a thing. Just the daughter of a commoner with no special rank or title exchanging words with the Crown Prince of Ahmad directly was an unmerited treatment, and yet she additionally said that he was like an older brother in the Crown Prince’s face; if the nagging courtiers found fault with her, depending on the situation, it might even cause trouble for Quique.

However, there were only pages besides Isaac and Bettina now. That exhilarated Bettina all the more.

Being a substitute for a younger sister was fine as well; she’d be happy if she could be of some use to this Crown Prince—Bettina almost skipped, and she hurriedly restrained herself.

♦♦♦

Afterwards, Bettina finished helping Isaac, and then she came back to the workshop while really skipping this time and humming a tune.

「Oji-sama~?」

Bettina looked into the mailbox and called out to her uncle.

Bettina and Quique passed most of the day in this workshop. Hence, letters were delivered not to their house but here; however, inside the mailbox which she had opened were only letters and memoranda related to Quique’s work, and there was no sign of a letter addressed to Bettina that was delivered from her parents’ home.

「……」

Closing the mailbox with a click, Bettina entered the workshop silently.

Perhaps he had some things to do, there was no figure of Quique in the workshop. Instead, Dimitar was sitting on a barrel at the back of the workshop under the eaves and sharpening his sword.

「Dimi-san!」

「Your voice is too loud」

It should have been less than ten days that they hadn’t met, and yet those extremely cold words of his felt nostalgic for some reason, and Bettina hurriedly went out through the back door.

「I heard that Valeria-sama and Dimi-san left to guard the queen, but you’re so heartless! Couldn’t you have said a few words to me?!」

「Are you an idiot? There’s no way that we could thoughtlessly tell people that we were going out for a top-secret mission, right? Our Eminence also kept this secret from that troublesome father of hers, and even I left the capital without disclosing it to Lucius too. If you have any complaints, tell them to His Majesty who had given us the top-secret mission」

Dimitar, who had put the long sword on the whetstone and was sharpening it lightly, twisted his neck and glanced inside the workshop through the window.

「…The chief engineer hasn’t come back yet?」

「That seems to be the case」

「You weren’t together?」

「I was requested by Isaac-sama to pull a cart」

「A cart? What’s that?」

Dimitar let out a tiny smile as if he had lost interest and stroked the nape of his neck.

「Huh? Come to think of it, Dimi-san is the queen’s guard, right? But I heard that the queen is returning tomorrow though…」

「It’s because of that matter that only I came back first. Her Highness the Queen has already entered the inn for today, and she should be resting leisurely about this time. Our Eminence as well」

「So early?」

Bettina held both hands over the slits of the visor and looked up at the afternoon sun. It was also because the days were becoming longer recently, but omitting that, it was probably an early period of time to cut a day’s journey short and enter an inn. There should still be at least three more hours until the sun set and the gates of the town closed.

「A fast horse from the Minister for Home Affairs came and told us to adjust the time」

「Adjust the time?」

「It’s about holding a garden party to receive Her Highness the Queen tomorrow, and we were requested to arrive at the venue at such and such time without fail. In short, he doesn’t want us to come back too early. After all, it won’t look good enough to be shown publicly if we come back before the preparations are completed」

「Ah, that’s it! I moved flowers because of the preparations for that」

「You were made to help too, huh. I’m also troubled by the whims of the higher-ups」

Dimitar kept the sword in the scabbard and sighed.

「I had to rush to Camunas-kyou’s place to work out the detailed arrangements and then return to the inn, where Her Highness the Queen is, again after this」

「Huh, you went out of your way to drop by here even though you’re so busy; does that mean that you have some important business with Oji-sama?」

「Though it’s not urgent, it’s slightly about Jagielka. —More importantly, you’re somewhat strange, you know?」

「Pardon?」

「It’s this kind of feeling」

Saying so, Dimitar looked down at Bettina and drew a wavy line with large fluctuations with his fingertip.

「—Just when you came back with noisy skips, you looked into the mailbox and became depressed, and then you were in high spirits as soon as you saw me; you’re mentally strange a little」

「Huh? I’m not strange in particular…」

「Are you not?」

「……」

「It doesn’t matter if you aren’t. I’m also busy, after all」

When Dimitar said so and stood up, Bettina reflexively extended her arm and grabbed the hem of the young man’s shirt.

「U, um!」

「What?」

「M, may I ask you something…?」

「If you feel the urge to urinate, you don’t need to inform me. Go quickly」

「I, it’s not like that—」

Bettina didn’t know whether it was all right to consult Dimitar about this sort of matter or not. If she was going to consult with someone, it’d be easier to talk with Valeria who was of the same sex, but Valeria wasn’t here, and perhaps even if she explained her own situation, it didn’t seem that she’d be able to receive any advice from her. If one were to say who could judge this and that objectively, it went without saying that it’d be Dimitar.

「…Did Dimi-san hear anything about the reason why I’m living together with Oji-sama?」

「No, I have no interest in it in particular. .…Well, I did think it was unnatural though」

「Unnatural?」

「Unlike me whose parents have passed away, both of your parents are alive and well, right? Despite this, you’re not living with your parents but your uncle. That can’t be called natural」

Dimitar folded his arms and sat down on the barrel again. Bettina squatted down next to him and looked up at the blue sky together with him.

「My mother… she’s sick」

「Sick? What kind of illness is it?」

「I don’t know… it seemed that her body had been weak since long ago… but she has a mental illness now. She left this town to recuperate because of that. It has been many years already」

「That’s distressing」

It was typical of Dimitar to not say any consoling words imprudently. If he had strangely said kind words to her, Bettina surely would have cried.

「I wrote a letter to my mother to tell her that I had received a decoration from Isaac-sama, but her reply never come」

「Why? Is her health so poor that she can’t even read a letter?」

「That’s wrong. …Surely even now, a daughter like me probably doesn’t exist in my mother’s heart」

「—」

When Bettina secretly looked up inside her visor, she could tell that Dimitar was looking down at her and knitting his brows.

「—When I was three, my younger sister was born. At that time, is it called puerperal fever; my mother ran a high fever and was hovering between life and death… and though she recovered somehow, she was only concerned about my younger sister who was just born and seldom cared about me any more after that」

「That’s distressing too」

「That’s, well… still good. However, that younger sister of mine died abruptly when she just became two years old—it was at that time that my mother fell ill」

Bettina’s mother continued to cry because of the deep grief, and she continued to cry until she lost consciousness, and when she finally woke up, she had completely forgotten about her other daughter. Although Bettina, who was only five years old, was living in the same house, she was treated as non-existent by her biological mother.

Bettina sniffled and cast her eyes downwards.

「Even though I’m right beside her, my mother wouldn’t look at me. She’d always hold the doll given to my younger sister in her arms and murmured memories of my dead younger sister only… to my mother, her own daughter was just my dead younger sister, and she was sad and sorrowful that the only daughter of hers had died—」

「I see」

Before one knew it, Dimitar had turned his gaze away from Bettina and was looking up at the sky. Bettina raised her visor with a clank during that opportunity and wiped her eyes with a handkerchief.

「Ojii-sama and Obaa-sama looked after me, but because it wasn’t good for my mother and me like this, my father took my mother with him and moved to the countryside—」

「You didn’t meet her even once after that?」

「No…」

Shutting her visor with a snap again, Bettina cried quietly.

♦♦♦

To be honest, it was troublesome.

Talking with another person about a depressing topic like this, that was.

Dimitar crossed his legs and rested his cheek on his hand on top of his knee.

「I see… I’ve thought the “Albiol” family name sounded familiar since before, but you’re the daughter of Albiol & Co., huh」

「That’s right. Although one might say that, the one who succeeded the business is my eldest uncle」

The House of Albiol focused on the business of oil, candles and so forth, and it had been doing a steady business in this Roma for generations. Even though it wasn’t to the extent of the House of Barnaro, Valeria’s father’s parents’ house, it could be called a moderately wealthy house.

The eldest son Habi, the current head of the family who had taken over the business from Bettina’s grandfather, was living in the Albiols’ house near the grain market even now; it was said that the second son Tito, Bettina’s father, was living in recuperation together with his wife in his wife’s birthplace.

「And that’s the reason why you’re living together with Quique-ojisan, who is the youngest child of the three brothers, in the downtown area, huh」

「Thinking I was pitiful, being an unwanted child to my mother, Oji-sama took custody of me. Oji-sama said that since that house had become his elder brother’s house already, I wouldn’t have a place where I belonged, and that I might as well live together with him…」

「That’s terrible. You’ve been together with that eccentric the whole time since you were a kid, huh」

「Like I said, Oji-sama isn’t an eccentric!」

Bettina laughed with a nasal voice. Realising that he had felt a bit relieved that it ended without her crying loudly, Dimitar pulled in his head, feeling embarrassed.

「The chief engineer had said that you always want to be of use to someone before, but is that connected to such a personal history?」

When Dimitar asked unreservedly, Bettina laughed, and after showing some hesitation, she nodded using her whole body.

「…That’s because I wasn’t needed by my mother」

「Is that why you’re helping the chief engineer?」

「That’s the most important. I want to help Oji-sama and be of use to him. I want to be of use to Valeria-sama; of course, I want to be of use to Dimi-san too!」

「I see」

And then, Dimitar felt as if he had understood a little.

Normally, no matter how strong the magic armour protecting her was, there was no girl who would want to enter a dangerous battlefield of her own free will. Nevertheless, Bettina had exposed herself to such situations countless times so far.

That was probably because she had an intense longing of wanting to be useful if there was something that she could do. In order to assist Valeria, to help Dimitar, and to make Isaac’s strategy successful—she had worked regardless of the dangers. That was without a doubt a behaviour that came from her wholeheartedness of wanting to find out the value of herself, who wasn’t wanted by her mother.

Following the clouds drifting slowly in the blue sky with his eyes, Dimitar spoke.

「I understand that that’s the reason why you looked into the mailbox and came back crestfallen. …And then, what’s the reason why you were in high spirits like an idiot just now?」

「Saying that I’m like an idiot, you’re so cruel!」

「Then, what’s the reason why you were in high spirits cutely?」

「Eh!? C, cute, no way…」

「…You’re probably feeling shy while wriggling inside the armour, but it only looked like a pink mass is shaking in other people’s eyes, you know」

Dimitar, who had kicked Bettina’s head lightly, gazed at the shining crest of a rose on the girl’s body.

「…So, is His Highness the cause?」

「Eh!?」

「… Bull’s-eye, huh. You also said that you had helped His Highness with his work just now, after all」

「T, that’s… well, yes」

While stroking the crest of the rose, Bettina started to talk haltingly.

「Um… I think you’d surely laugh and say that I have the nerve to have such a stupid dream, …but I’m elated because Isaac-sama started talking to me」

「What do you mean?」

「I said so just now too, but I’m afraid that I won’t be needed by people. I started to work as Valeria-sama’s attendant then, and now, not only did an audience with Isaac-sama came true but he even started talking to me, and I’ve been helping him with various work; because of that, I excessively had a dream that is slightly beyond my position」

「Beyond your position, huh」

Bettina probably thought Isaac had taken a liking to her and was in high spirits. And she probably had misunderstood the meaning of the words “take a liking to” a little. After all, Isaac was a handsome man, and since he was generally kind towards anyone, there must be many girls like Bettina who had misunderstood.

「—But I’ve come to my senses. Whether it’s just odd jobs or what, since Isaac-sama told me to help, I must be content with that—」

「What are you saying?」

Interrupting Bettina’s words, Dimitar poked the girl’s head with the scabbard of the sword.

「…Do you understand your own position?」

「P, pardon?」

「You’re the attendant of our Eminence, you know? If you have the time to do odd jobs for His Highness, then taking care of Her Eminence is the logical move」

「B, but~」

「Certainly, it can’t be helped that we disappeared without saying anything because it was a top-secret mission this time. But from now on, if the mission of our Eminence and the odd jobs of His Highness clash, our side will absolutely take priority」

「No way~」

「It’s not like that or like this. Only the Great Gods of Heaven and Earth OfficialPatriarca Mayor can order the Dominas, and only the king can order the Senior InspectorsCensor Mayor. That is to say, the time for our Eminence to take action is only when there’s an order from His Majesty, who holds those two positions concurrently. His Majesty’s orders and His Highness’s odd jobs, even an idiot will know which one should take priority. —By the way, helping the chief engineer is of an even lower priority」

「P, personally speaking, these three choices are difficult…」

「Humph」

Dimitar jumped down from the barrel lightly and cracked his neck.

「—If it really turned into such a situation and you’re troubled by it, that means that you’re that much needed by the people surrounding you. That’s your wish, right?」

「Ah…」

Bettina, who was holding her head in her hands and shaking, raised her face with a start.

「In the first place, being neglected by your mother isn’t a big deal. I was almost killed by my mother, you know」

「Eh?」

「Due to her messing up in the forced double suicide and dying first just by herself, I couldn’t make a single complaint. Compared to that, your mother is still alive; that alone is better. You can go to your mother and give vent to your pent-up resentment any time, after all」

「……」

Bettina, who had been staring at Dimitar in a daze for a while, soon lowered her head.

「…I’ve lost」

「This isn’t an issue of winning or losing though」

Dimitar started to walk with a wry smile.

「—I’m going back to guard Her Highness the Queen. Give my best regards to the chief engineer」

「Yes! Thank you very much!」

「…It’s not something you have to thank me for」

Dimitar waved his hand lightly at Bettina and untied the reins of the horse, which was tied under a tree.

Lauris, where the queen’s party had put up at today’s inn, was just one hour on foot to the east from Roma. If he travelled by horse from now, he could probably return before dinner with time to spare.

On his way back via the side of the military drill site of the army, there was Quique quietly puffing out the smoke of his kiseru under an evergreen oak, of which the branches and leaves spread out greatly.

「—Oi, middle-aged man」

「Oh, it’s over, huh. How was it?」

「In general, it seems that it was as you’ve been worrying about. Well, I think it’ll be all right since she herself said that she had come to her senses already」

「I see…」

Quique sighed as if he honestly felt relieved and put on his monocle again.

It was Quique, who was troubled by the matter of his niece, who called Dimitar, who had finished the preparatory meeting with Camunas-kyou in the royal palace and was about to return to Lauris, to stop. In short, Dimitar was asked by Quique to look at Bettina’s state a little before he returned to Lauris.

Dimitar stroked the nape of his neck.

「…I heard about the circumstances straightforwardly from the person herself, but you’ve also taken custody of a troublesome person」

「Oi, don’t call her troublesome. To me, she’s my cute niece, you know?」

「If you really think so, then please do something about your niece’s troubles by yourself at least. Good grief, you have the nerve to use people familiarly…」

「That’s a different matter. There are also issues that are difficult for guardians to interfere in」

「…Well, it’s not like I don’t understand, but there’s such an interfering middle-aged man nearby, and yet why is she troubled by that kind of thing—」

「Anyway, you really helped me」

「It’s nothing in particular… I always receive your help, after all」

Dimitar, who wasn’t accustomed to being thanked by people, felt uncomfortable and straddled the horse quickly.

「Bye then」

Dimitar snapped the reins of the horse and started running.

Although it didn’t matter even if Dimitar himself was late in particular, the queen who was tired from the journey would go to bed early. He wanted to return to Lauris as quickly as possible and report the plans for tomorrow at dinner.

♦♦♦

The highway running towards the east from Roma passed through Lauris and extended further; it then branched off into roads heading towards Gloom and Taroma midway.

If one went out of Roma and walked for about ten minutes along that highway, there’d be an enormous triumphal arch built of brand-new white stones.

Nearly thirty years ago from now, during the era when Ahmad was still governed by Jeffren X, the God believers and the barbarian believers clashed at the northern foot of the Cardoso mountain range in the south of Ahmad in a scale that was the greatest in history. The allied forces of the barbarian believers led by Bigelow’s barbarian emperor Gorgorois VII was approximately one hundred and fifty thousand, and the allied forces of the God believers of which Jeffren X was regarded as the leader was approximately one hundred and ten thousand. The military force which, adding up both sides, exceeded two hundred and fifty thousand people gathered at the foot of the precipitous mountain range, and a fierce battle unfolded over a span of half a month.

The eight Dominas who had hastened to the battlefield also participated actively in this great battle of the century, and it ended in the victory of the God believers. As a result, Bigelow’s sphere of influence receded to the south side of the mountain range, and peace came to the various countries of the alliance for the time being.

The Jeffren Andres Triumphal Arch was built to commemorate this historical victory. The circular plaza surrounding this triumphal arch became the venue of the garden party for receiving Queen Almudena.

Bettina, who had been helping to arrange the pots of roses, which were lined up under the arbour, to decorate the plaza on Isaac’s instructions during the morning, squatted down next to an empty cart inside the wood slightly distant from the plaza and was gazing at the elegant banquet at a distance.

At the plaza decorated with beautiful flowers such as roses, Isaac and the daughters of nobles were having a pleasant chat while drinking black tea. According to the schedule, the queen’s party would arrive shortly, and then it’d change into a formal party to celebrate the recovery of her illness and her return to the capital. However, it was probably Bettina’s imagination that Isaac’s expression wasn’t cheerful despite that.

Members of the Seal Chivalric Order were standing by right in front of Bettina. Although it was under the pretext of guarding Isaac, they were simply forming a line inside the wood so as to encircle the plaza without disturbing the banquet.

Nevertheless, compared with the members whose active participations were seen by Bettina in Heidelauta, the members who happened to be present here today were restless somehow; or rather, they had been fidgeting the whole time. Well, many girls who had dressed up beautifully came to the garden party, so Bettina could also understand the feeling of being very happy to see them at a short distance.

However, looking at the figures of them being rebuked by Lindegaard-kyou again and again, it didn’t seem that they were doing their work seriously. At the very least, it might have been a bit different if Lucius was present, but Lucius’s figure wasn’t at this important place for some reason.

In short, these members were probably what Isaac called the Second Army. Bettina didn’t understand very difficult things, but when she saw this, she could also comprehend Issac’s thought of wanting to change the structure of the chivalric order.

「—Despite this being decided abruptly, quite a lot of people had gathered」

The members began to chatter pointlessly again without being seen by Lindegaard-kyou.

「Of course. It seemed that Minister for Home Affairs-kakka made every effort to do this」

「Camunas-kyou? Why?」

「This garden party was planned for the sake of choosing a consort candidate for His Highness」

「—」

Staring at the backs of the members who were secretly talking about a secret, Bettina sighed.

If she heard such a topic suddenly, she might have raised her voice unconsciously. However, Bettina had already heard the conversational exchange between Isaac and Camunas-kyou a few days ago. That was why even now, the feeling of strangely accepting that, thinking “Ah, it’s like that” occurred first, and she didn’t feel very shocked. Let’s try not to have a dream that is overly beyond my status—though it might also be because she came here today while telling herself so.

The enormous triumphal arch cast a cool shadow on the plaza. The highway connecting from Roma passed right under this triumphal arch, passed through the centre of the plaza and continued further towards the east.

From the direction of the east, two members holding the flags of Ahmad up high came, jolting on their horses.

From the fact that the tone of the beautiful girls’ chattering went down a level, it could somehow be understood that they were the forerunners of the queen’s carriage.

♦♦♦

「…You give too much weight to this, you know」

Isaac, who was reclining on a chair, muttered such a thing deliberately with a sigh so that the person in question could hear it. Sure enough, Camunas-kyou who was standing next to him, while only his expression was a smiling face, rebuked with a low and subdued voice.

「Your Highness… the daughters of influential nobles are also present, so please refrain from that kind of remark」

「That’s because if you want to receive Haha-ue, you can do so in Roma, can’t you? Get the citizens and all to wave small flags, you know?」

「The queen doesn’t wish for such a grandiose parade!」

「If that’s the case, this kind of garden party is unnecessary as well, right?」

「T, that’s…! I wanted to get the queen to take a rest here first, and after doing that, move to the royal palace where His Majesty is—」

「It doesn’t matter even if you don’t make this and that plausible excuses」

He understood Camunas-kyou’s aim. His intention was probably to gather the daughters of nobles using this garden party for receiving the queen as a pretext and let them get acquainted with Isaac. Perhaps it was also explained clearly to that effect to the girls, they had been awfully over-familiar with him since some time ago. As one would expect, they didn’t forcibly lean coquettishly against him, but them coming to talk to him by turns, saying “Oh dear, how about a refill of black tea?” or “How about having some sweets?” was the most irritating thing.

That was why in the end, he ended up having a conversation with Camunas like this to avoid that. If he was talking to Camunas-kyou, the girls would also suspect that it might be some political topic and wouldn’t come and interrupt them readily.

「Come now, Your Highness, the queen’s carriage is coming」

「Good grief…」

Isaac stood up from the chair and moved to the centre of the highway, which was paved with white paving stones. Camunas-kyou and Lindegaard-kyou were behind him; moreover, the daughters of nobles followed in succession behind them.

If Bettina who was living outside the society of royalty and titled nobility saw this kind of him, what would she think; Isaac unintentionally glanced towards the wood, but due to the guards who were arrayed forming a wall, that pink silhouette couldn’t be seen.

Dimitar Richternach was sitting on the driver’s seat of the white carriage, which had come together with a modest entourage. It was probably because he was cautious of his surroundings that his eyes were looking all around and didn’t settle down. Although it also felt as if he was overdoing it a little, as the guard of the queen of a country, it was better to be this cautious.

When Dimitar had stopped the carriage quietly in front of Isaac and the others, he jumped down from the driver’s seat lightly and then prepared a stool after bowing very deeply.

「…Oh!」

When Dimitar opened the door of the carriage, voices of admiration could be heard coming mainly from the inside of the wood.

The one who had borrowed Dimitar’s hand and come down first was a beautiful girl in a scarlet dress. Needless to point out, she was one of Ahmad’s Dominas—Valeria Costacurta, the talented woman who was called “Pure Jewel”, according to Dimitar.

She most likely didn’t bring the uniform of the Dominas with her because guarding the queen was a top-secret mission. What Valeria was wearing was a dress of Isaac’s mother, which Isaac also remembered seeing before. Setting the area around her chest aside, a thin silk shawl was wrapped around the area around her waist to cleverly gloss over the fact that it was slightly too large for her.

「I must say, seeing her like this… she’s certainly wonderful」

115

Staring at Valeria whose expression was slightly stiff, Isaac muttered.

「Oh? Just as I thought, does Your Highness like Costacurta-geika?」

「…I say, that sort of suspicion is boorish, you know? I simply wanted to praise a beautiful girl that she’s beautiful」

Flatly rejecting Camunas’s murmur, Isaac put his hands on his waist.

Ara ara, even though I said that such a grandiose… reception is unnecessary…」

Queen Almudena, who had come down after Valeria, with a look that wasn’t as dissatisfied as she’d have others believe despite saying so, narrowed her eyes in front of Isaac. If one think about it very carefully, it was the first time in about half a year that Isaac met his mother.

「Welcome back, Haha-ue」

Isaac put his hat against his chest, bowed especially deeply and smiled.

「Your complexion seems to have improved very much. Also, you looked like you’ve become a little plumper」

Ara ara, did I gain so much weight, I wonder? These few days, I’ve been together with Her Eminence the whole time during meals, so I might have enjoyed chatting to her and unconsciously overeaten」

「No, not at all, I like a healthy Haha-ue more」

Isaac took the place of Dimitar and took Almudena’s hand, and then he spoke to Valeria.

「Though it was suggested by Father, I’m sorry to have caused trouble to Your Eminence. Has Mother been unreasonable in various ways?」

「Ah, no…」

She probably had. He could tell by looking at the expression of the girl who was at a loss for words. Though Almudena was gentle, she was strangely aggressive.

Valeria made “au au” sounds as if she was slightly troubled, but perhaps she had noticed that there were many people’s eyes behind Isaac, she smiled faintly and answered in a low voice.

「Um… honestly speaking, being wilfully twisted around the queen’s little finger, I had quite a pleasant experience because of this」

Ara ara, are you praising me, Your Eminence?」

「Ah, ahahaha…」

「Well, isn’t it fine, Haha-ue」

When Isaac urged Almudena to start walking, Camunas and Lindegaard and also the daughters of nobles parted left and right simultaneously and opened up a path.

「—Come, please drink some tea over there first」

Ara ara

When Isaac led Almudena by the hand and was about to return to the banquet, Dimitar suddenly let out a sharp voice.

「Your Highness!」

「—Eh?」

Realising that something had moved in the corner of his field of vision, Isaac raised his face.

Someone was on top of the triumphal arch.

「—」

When he realised that it was a large man having an enormous crossbow at the ready, a pink mass had come rushing out in front of him.

「Bettina—!?」

Making the sounds of moving fast against the wind, a number of arrows with the thickness of a small spear came flying from the top of the triumphal arch in succession, and all of them hit Bettina.

—Or rather, Bettina opened her arms and took on all the arrows that should be converging on Isaac and the queen by herself.

Without clearly understanding what had happened, the girls let out shrill screams and started to run away from there. The members of the chivalric order came rushing out from the inside of the wood hurriedly, but it was uncertain how many people had grasped the precise location of the assailant.

「Your Highness! Go inside the carriage together with the queen!」

「B, but—」

「Quickly!」

Pulled by Dimitar by the arms and protected by Valeria, Isaac and Almudena went round to the rear of the carriage.

♦♦♦

Pulling out Jagielka which he had never used during the journey as a guard, Dimitar shouted.

「Lindegaard-kyou! Those guys are a hindrance when they’re wandering aimlessly! Tell them to quickly protect the girls and escape into the wood!」

「Understood!」

If it was the other members, even if he asked such a thing, the best one could expect was that he’d be ignored. Lindegaard-kyou, who thought highly of Lucius, was one of the few nobles who would treat Dimitar properly without despising him.

On top of the triumphal arch, the large man was nocking arrows on the crossbow and pulling the lever. It seemed that it wasn’t just a big crossbow but also a thing called the multiple bolt crossbow, which could shoot many arrows all at once. Moreover, those arrows seemed to be much thicker and heavier than a normal one. If it was from this distance, they’d probably even penetrate the armour of a heavy cavalry. It was a non-standard projectile weapon, of which practical use was possible only because he had extraordinary physical strength.

Dimitar instantly raised Jagielka overhead and fired a wind blade.

Gu—」

Making a strange “bagin” sound, the multiple bolt crossbow that the man was holding was smashed up. The magic blade that Dimitar had fired had only cut its bowstring, but perhaps it was because the tension was too strong, the multiple bolt crossbow itself seemed to be damaged by the recoil.

When the man, whose cheek was cut deeply by the bowstring that had snapped, glared at Dimitar, he grabbed the huge barbarian’s sword at his feet and jumped down from the triumphal arch.

Kyaah!」

If one had jumped down from that height, they most likely wouldn’t have survived. Perhaps they were imagining the death of the large man, new screams rose from among the girls who were running about trying to escape, but the man didn’t strike the paved road and die.

Uoooooooh!」

Skilfully using the rope tied around his waist, the large man kicked the side of the triumphal arch and descended on the ground safely, and then he let out a roar of anger and charged towards Dimitar. However, the man’s aim most likely wasn’t Dimitar. The one whom he was actually staring fixedly at should be either Isaac, who was hiding behind the carriage, or Almudena.

「Dimitar!」

Valeria who was hiding herself together with Isaac’s party screamed, her voice cracking.

「Don’t worry」

Dimitar faced the man and smiled coldly.

If one thought as a soldier who couldn’t use magic, it could be said that this large man was quite a formidable enemy. Whether it be his accurate shooting with that multiple bolt crossbow, which seemed to be difficult to operate, or his physical strength or his keen and nimble movement that was like a wild animal’s, which he had shown just now—he was without a doubt the type of person who had weathered the most of his life with violence. He probably wouldn’t hesitate to kill people either.

However, now that he had failed in the sniping of his surprise attack and exposed himself, the man no longer had any chance of success.

「…Shouldn’t you get up soon? Show everyone your strong point as much as possible」

The moment Dimitar called out to her so, Bettina, who had fallen down spreadeagled, got up slowly.

Uoh!?」

The large man seemed to be surprised by the pink armour that had suddenly stood in the way in front of him. However, the surprise was only for a moment, and he immediately raised the barbarian’s sword overhead and brought it down towards the top of Bettina’s head.

「Interrupting the long-awaited reunion of a parent and child…」

Guoh…!?」

Making a loud “gain!” sound, the large man’s barbarian’s sword was repelled. The hands of Bettina, who was facing him, were grasping a battleaxe, which was named Rucheruku.

「—It’s unforgivable!!」

119

Bettina rotated Rucheruku, which was kept short, once and struck the large man in the stomach with its handle.

Ga—」

It was a compact movement with hardly any motion, but if it was Bettina who had the power of ten men, that was enough. The large man, who had received a severe blow directly, was blown off flashily without being able to let out his voice properly and fell face down, and then he was motionless as he was.

「Capture the ruffian!」

At Lindegaard-kyou’s order, the young men serving as guards finally got involved in a work typical of that. The large man was immediately tied up and taken away while he was unconscious.

「Whew… that surprised me」

Looking at Bettina, who had turned around after following that with her eyes, Isaac, Almudena and even Valeria let out voices of surprise simultaneously.

Uwa!?」

Kya!」

「Hey… a, are you all right, Bettina!?」

「Pardon? Ah, I’m all right」

Countless arrows were stuck in the face of Bettina, who had answered nonchalantly. To be more precise, the arrows were caught in the slits section of the helmet.

「A, all right, you say… really?」

「Yes. All of them stopped midway, so I’m unhurt」

「Well」

Dimitar casually put his foot on Bettina’s visor and was pulling out the arrows, which had got stuck in the slits, with all his strength.

「Hey, Dii-kun, be a bit more careful—」

「There’s no problem. She’s sturdy, after all」

「That’s not it」

Taking little notice of Isaac who was nervous somehow, Dimitar pulled out the arrows one after another. When he took them in his hand again like this, he could fully understand the viciousness of these arrows. If the shooting at the beginning had been fired towards the participants of the garden party, five, six casualties would have certainly appeared.

「Ah, my field of vision is finally clear」

When all the arrows had been pulled out, Bettina stroked her chest as if she felt relieved. However, her body immediately trembled with a start, and she started stamping bashfully.

「W, what’s the matter, Bettina-jou? As expected, are you injured somewhere…?」

「N, no, it’s not like that—」

「You don’t need to worry, Your Highness. It’s something like a usual spasm」

Dimitar hit Bettina’s helmet hard.

「—Oi, go quickly before you wet yourself in front of both Their Highnesses」

「Y, yes! P, please excuse me!」

Bettina bowed and ran off from that place.

Almudena followed the pink object, which was being urged by a physiological phenomenon and had run off, with her eyes and murmured in a daze.

「…Who on earth was that just now?」

「That was the niece of Chief Engineer Albiol of the army, Bettina Albiol-jou, Haha-ue」

Sighing lightly, Isaac explained to Almudena.

「—She’s an important friend of mine」

♦♦♦

Hearing that Isaac as well as Almudena were safe, Lucius, who had arrived at the triumphal arch plaza several hours later than the queen’s party, almost collapsed on the spot because of the sense of relief and feeling of exhaustion. In fact, Angel and the other members, who had made a forced march here together, sighed deeply and sat down hard.

「I see… well, you’ve really helped me. Thank you, Dii」

Putting his hand on the horse’s saddle to support his body, Lucius smiled wryly.

The tidying up of the plaza, which, until a little while ago, had been overdecorated with the roses Isaac had cultivated, was mostly finished already, and only a few sentinels remained to stand guard now.

「—Though it’d have been better if Niko Bonucci was captured at the madam’s mansion, he had already escaped when we noticed. When I thought if something had happened to both Their Highnesses because of this, I was beside myself with fear」

「It can’t be helped since you didn’t know that such a man existed」

Dimitar stroked the nape of his neck and narrowed his eyes at the sunset glow.

「—In the first place, the one who has to feel the most responsibility is Camunas-kyou, you know? If that Excellency hadn’t planned this garden party, Her Highness the Queen’s party could have entered the royal capital yesterday, and once she entered the royal palace, no matter how skilled that man was, he couldn’t attack so easily」

「That might be so, but…」

「To begin with, the mission given to you was the arrest of Countess Dryton, right? Guarding Her Highness the Queen is my job. And consequently, no one was wounded. —Is that bad?」

「Well, if there’s any problem, finding a person to take responsibility for it and then denouncing them is the world of politics, after all」

While saying so, Lucius was thinking no one would be punished because of the matter this time. Like Dimitar had said, no one was wounded, and to begin with, this series of troubles stemmed from the king’s problem of fooling around. From the point of view of the king’s character, he seldom searched for the responsible party and punished them without touching on the delicate part. He’d surely just laugh heartily and overlook everything.

Dimitar looked back at the deep black silhouette of the triumphal arch and pointed at its top.

「…It seemed that that man went up there and had been waiting for the party to arrive since early morning」

「What an astonishing persistency…」

「How will His Majesty deal with him? As one would expect, there’s no way that the man who had committed an assassination attempt of Her Highness the Queen can be acquitted, right?」

「The countess had gulped down poison and committed suicide. That being the case, letting Niko Bonucci, who couldn’t avenge her, to choose death as well might be a mercy. —In any case, we’re not the ones to decide that」

「That’s true」

Dimitar rotated his neck lightly and started walking.

「—Oi, Dii! Won’t you have a meal at my house tonight after a long time? After all, you haven’t shown your face to Haha-ue even once after you came back from Heidelauta, right?」

「Sorry, I have to drop by the workshop for the adjustment of Jagielka today. Is tomorrow night no good?」

「I understand, tomorrow then. I’ll prepare food to the best of my ability」

「I look forward to that」

When Lucius was following Dimitar, who had waved his hand with his back turned on him and left, with his eyes, Angel came walking, leading his horse.

「Though this is a rude question… I heard that Richternach-kyou caused a problem and was expelled from the chivalric order. Is that true?」

「It’s certainly a fact that His Highness had expelled Dimitar. —However, it’s slightly wrong to say that he had caused a problem」

「Why do you say so…?」

「I can’t tell you in detail. If that was declared openly, various inconveniences will appear. Mainly for the people of the great nobles, you see. —You can guess from that, right?」

「Yes…」

「Come, we’ll go back as well. We have to report to His Highness」

「Yes」

Together with Angel who had saluted very seriously and the others, Lucius led his horse and started walking. Their bottoms hurt because they had galloped this much distance with hardly any rest. As one would expect, even Lucius, who was more faithful to the mission and had endeavoured more than anyone, didn’t want to ride a horse for the time being.

♦♦♦

「—」

Looking closely at the surface of Jagielka which Dimitar had brought back the day before yesterday, Quique stared at the exquisite lines of argental that were carved on its surface.

Argental—this name itself was given by Quique though—was a metal of which the conductivity of magic powers was extremely high. Quique used this argental, and at the end of countless trials and errors, he opened up a field called Magic EngineeringTechnologia Marefika. Grasping the success or failure of the mass production of the magic motion swordEspada Marefika lay entirely in the securing of this rare metal.

「…It seems that he had used quite a flashy magic. It got blurred here and there」

Comparing the “magic crest map”Prano Del Hieratika Dimitar had drawn with the actual magic crestsHieratika with his eyes, Quique lit a fire in the kiseru.

「……」

Puffing out white smoke, he looked at a mass of metal that was placed on the desk close to the wall.

Swordsmith Courtois-jiisan, who always helped Quique with his work, brought it in here a few days ago, saying that his acquaintance found it around Romarikku. As a result of a detailed examination, it turned out to contain argental in large quantities. If it was refined well, twenty swords that had magic crests of the same density as Jagielka’s could probably be made with that one mass. If it was the magic crest of simple design on the short sword that Nereida had made, one hundred of them could be secured with surplus.

「If I have that much, I can carry out various experiments and also challenge the prototype model that I wasn’t able to get until now…」

However, he couldn’t keep being very happy and pleased with that.

The fact that a mass of which the purity was so high and, moreover, which was so big was found in Romarikku meant that there might possibly be an argental deposit in that vicinity. If that was the case, a proper research group should be sent in. For the sake of the development of Magic Engineering and the large-scale production of magic motion swords, a large quantity of argental must be secured.

Beside Quique who was sighing while thinking about such a thing, a pink mass was spinning round and round.

Ru~♪ Raruru~♪ Ru~rarura~♪」

Her axis of revolution was the same as always and had no deviation. It was a splendidly stable rotation. She might have a hidden talent in this field.

Quique took off his monocle and pointed at a wooden box placed in the corner of the room.

「Oi, don’t dance forever, fetch a bit of wine for me」

「Understood~♪」

Bettina approached the wooden box while turning round and round, and when she had taken a bottle of wine out in a fluid motion, she came back to Quique like that and stopped spinning.

「Come come, here you are, Oji-sama」

「You’re especially in high spirits again today?」

「That’s because the reply to my letter has arrived from Otou-sama!」

Letting out an uncontrolled suppressed laugh of “Ufuufuufu”, Bettina took out an envelope from the inside of the visor.

「After I wrote that I had received a decoration from Isaac-sama, Otou-sama was very delighted! Moreover, although it’s little by little, he said that Okaa-sama is also calming down!」

「I see… that’s good」

「Yes」

Bettina, who had nodded greatly, began to dance while humming again.

If one thought about it, the number of times when Bettina’s father sent a reply to her letter could be counted on one’s fingers. For that reason alone, Bettina was overjoyed. Furthermore, when she heard that her mother’s condition was heading for a recovery this time, it might be impossible to tell the girl not to spin round.

Quique, who had re-seated himself deeply on the chair and was drinking the wine, looked at the clock tower of the royal palace, which was visible through the window.

「Oi, I don’t care, but is it all right for you not to go to the queen’s place soon?」

「Eh? Ah, t, that’s right!」

As she had achieved a great contribution in the capturing of the assassin, Bettina received words of appreciation from the king directly. In addition, it seemed that the queen had also taken a liking to her this time, and she was asked to help with the gardening in the royal palace today. It seemed that the pink armour was projected to be very adorable in the eyes of the queen, whose character was easy-going and broad-minded; it was also heard that the Crown Prince and the queen were fighting lightly for Bettina between themselves.

「—Then, I’m off!」

Bettina polished up her whole body quickly and ran out of the workshop with a “gashan gashan”.

While listening to that noisy sound of footsteps becoming more distant, Quique tilted the bottle of wine and talked to himself.

「Bettina is so popular… as an uncle who is acting as her foster parent, it’s a complicated feeling in various ways」

While pouring wine into his favourite glass with a “glug-glug”, he puffed out white smoke.

The days of living leisurely in this workshop, which he was attached to, though it was cramped, were also about to come to an end soon.

126

End of La crónica del AHMAD Banquet of Flowers; on a Summer Day

End of Kuro no Hiera Glaphicos V5

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