Editor: Darkdhaos, Khyree Rusydi, Chris S, HighJayster, Omega
Regis was deep in slumber.
A voice reached him from a very close distance.
He couldn't tell if it was a dream or reality, but it was the voice of a girl.
"He is totally not getting up! Is he dead?"
"Fufufu... He’s probably exhausted. Princess, since there are no urgent tasks, let him rest."
"... Mu, can't be helped."
There was still some time before he awakened.
Regis was woken up by a chorus of angry yells.
Regis opened his eyes.
Before him was an unfamiliar ceiling.
It was built with stones in the shape of an arch, a grey ceiling without any decorations.
A curved line could be drawn from the ceiling to the wall.
This looks like a dungeon, Regis thought in a daze.
Regis was lying on the innermost bed in the room.
He could touch the uneven walls if he stretched his left hand. A window was carved out of the cold wall, and it was open.
Sunlight was shining in from it.
A loud, spirited, manly yell could be heard from somewhere.
That was probably the soldiers training; the sound of the wind from the slashing weapon and the stomping of the feet could also be heard.
"... Ah... So that's it."
I was banished to Sierck Fortress — Regis recalled as his mind started churning.
The soft bed was heavenly compared to the carriage of the caravan. He was glad to be alive after recalling yesterday's event.
"... Is it morning?"
The weird noise started again.
Regis cupped his ears.
"Is it... Always like this here? What a terrible alarm clock..."
He pushed himself up.
He was frozen stiff by the time he had reached Sierck Fortress last night. After getting some warm water, he was told to use this room— he couldn't remember anything after that.
He surveyed the room again; it was spacious enough for four beds and desks. A pillar was placed right in the middle. Ten soldiers bunk in one room. A non-commissioned officer (NCO) like Regis was assigned to a four-men room.
But there was only one bed beside the wall in this room.
Next to the bed was a desk so grand Regis thought someone had mistaken his rank and grade. And it came with a shelf!
It was spacious enough from the bed to the door to accommodate six more big shelves.
Instead of happy, Regis felt uneasy.
"Is it because there are excess rooms in the countryside? But this fortress is small and cramped... Did they really mix up my rank and grade?"
A fifth grade admin officer was ten ranks down from the very top.
— Field marshal, general, lieutenant general, major general, brigadier general. These were the general ranks.
Officers were divided into admin and combat officers, first grade, second grade grade and third grade admin officers were commissioned officers.
This was followed by the NCOs, from grade four to six.
This meant the fifth grade admin officer was just two ranks from the bottom.
The rank and file has the rank of lance corporal, trooper first class and light trooper. Even a light trooper in the empire's regular army would enjoy good welfare and wages. Conscripted farmers forming militias and underaged apprentice soldiers were considered voluntary soldiers and were not paid.
And so— for an admin officer two ranks from the bottom to be assigned to such spacious quarters, this must be a mistake, Regis concluded.
"If I don't find someone to lead me to my actual room... Ah, who is my commanding officer?"
The commanding officer of an admin officer would guide Regis in various things as his supervisor.
Regis hadn’t met him yet.
Regis took his clothes off in the room.
It was cold even though it was indoors during daytime. He realised again this really was the north.
He put on the brand new uniform laid out on the desk.
The Belgarian military uniform was elegant with the color palette of green, red and white. But the border regiment's uniform was dull in design with a dark green color that was almost black as its base color. However the material was thick and the pockets were plentiful, a practical design.
"Hmm, the uniform is well thought out, as expected of the regiment at the most forward position."
After dressing up, he heard the shouts of a horde of men.
"... Doesn't seem like anyone is coming. Guess I have to find him myself."
He left the room.
When he opened the door, the stone corridor extended to his left and right.
It could barely fit two people walking side by side. The path meandered slightly, with a few wooden doors adorning the wall.
He headed to the very end of the left corridor and entered the courtyard.
A chorus of shouts rose again.
The courtyard that was surrounded by stone buildings was a training field where the ground had been compacted by the soldiers’ stomps. 30-odd soldiers were practicing their sword swings here.
In front of the orderly ranks was a huge and bulky man.
This man who was made up of muscles and swinging his fauchard with sweat all over his body was about 40 years old.
He had a thick black beard and bald head.
Regis was so cold that he wanted to wear a scarf, but this man was showing off his body full of battle scars, and also dissipating heat.
He smiled after looking at his way.
"Ugu, you are awake, young man!"
What a loud voice.
The muscular youths training in front of him were also shouting "hei!" and "hah!".
They were also topless, hot and sweaty.
The bald man offered his halberd to Regis.
"Good! Come and swing this too! Your fighting spirit will rise with a bang! Swing it swing it, make the wind howl! Wahaha!"
Regis backed away and said:
"No, no... I am an admin officer so using swords and spears is a bit... By the way, you are the knight that aided us yesterday right?"
The man nodded after Regis asked.
"Yes. I am Evrard de Blanchard, First Grade Combat Officer. I am the Knight Commander of the Beilschmidt Regiment!"
"I am Regis Auric, Fifth Grade Admin Officer. I am grateful for your aid... You really saved us."
"Wahaha! I was wondering why I couldn't find the princess. So she disguised herself as a wagon driver and snuck into town. And the bandits are rampant lately. That gave me a scare."
"Hahaha, me too."
To think the wagon driver was the royal princess.
"But if it is the princess, she might wipe the bandits out instead!"
"Ah... She is really strong."
"Because she is a goddess!"
After Evrard finished, his subordinate knights nodded and agreed. "Yes! A goddess!"
Regis didn’t understand what they meant.
"I think the princess is a princess...?"
"She is a goddess!"
"... Ah, I remember there is a religion of La Victoire in the north."
"Yes! A goddess!"
The worshiping of idols was banned by the church, but things were less stringent here in the border regions. The restrictive doctrine of the church was less influential 100 Li (444 km) away.
With the way she wielded her giant sword with her thin arms, it was not a stretch for the soldiers to think of it as a holy miracle.
"She scattered the grey wolves with a single strike yesterday! Marvelous! Wahaha... Cough hack hack!"
When Evrard laughed so hard that he choked, these young charges were smiling happily.
Regis was grateful for their assistance, but he was not comfortable with the manly atmosphere.
"Haha... I will take my leave then..."
Evrard stopped him with a "wait!" just as Regis was going off. He shouldered his heavy halberd and approached with heavy footsteps.
He breathed slowly as he leaned closer.
"I want to ask just in case."
"Wha, what is it?"
"Did you do anything weird to the princess?"
The gaze of the subordinates sharpened suddenly.
Blood vessels appeared on Evrard’s bald head.
Regis took a couple of steps back.
"The princess looked different yesterday. What, did you do?"
"I didn't do anything... Just chatted with her."
"What did you talk about!?"
"Erm, rumors from the capital and stuff..."
The youths muttered among themselves. "He said rumors from the capital." "It must be about the social world." "For farmers, it will be about the yam harvest of some family or which family's cow has given birth." "That's not rumors." "Damn, guys from the cities piss me off." "The capital sucks!"
Regis felt that he was in danger.
Evrard leaned further in, their lips almost touching.
"Ugh~! The princess was acting just like my daughter after her first date! What did you do, brat!"
"Wait, wait! I told her how the capital thinks about the fourth princess and stuff about politics. How can I say those things to a child... And I am not boasting, but I have never held hands with a girl ever!?"
The noise was gone.
Evrard smiled gently like a saint depicted in paintings.
His knights showed angelic expressions.
"Be strong, young man."
"Good things will happen one day."
I don't need such sympathy — Regis thought.
Regis shouldered the useless and gentle encouragement and carried his heart heavy with defeat, leaving the sad courtyard behind.
He went to the corridor before his room and headed down the path to the right instead.
He heard humming.
"Hmm♪ hmm, hmm~♪"
He peeked in from the open door and saw a big room.
There were eight long tables and fifty chairs arranged in rows.
"Is this the officers’ dining hall?"
The stony walls gave off a rugged impression, but the vase with flowers decorating the place made it feel elegant.
A maid was cleaning the table with a rag.
She was the one humming.
Wearing a maid uniform with a red base, with her brown hair tied behind her. She was swaying to the rhythm of her humming.
She was about Regis' age.
The lady's hazel eyes and lovely smile left a deep impression. Her beautiful hair and light skin was really charming when she worked.
"Mmm mmm, hmm hmm~♪ la, lalala~ the lady maid just like Cinderella told the mouse~♪ there will be a party in the castle tonight~♪"
She was singing now.
Her tone was a bit off though.
She twirled around and the food scraps fell to the ground. Was she cleaning or dancing?
Their eyes met.
She noticed Regis standing at the door.
The maid became stiff.
Her singing stopped.
Regis felt the atmosphere becoming tense.
"Oh... what a nice song."
"Eh, really?! You were moved by my song?"
"I didn't say I was moved..."
"This is a popular song that is trending lately~"
"I see, but this is the first time I’ve heard it... Is it popular in this fortress? Or is it famous in the streets of Tuonvell?"
"Wrong, it’s trending in my heart!"
"So it's just you!"
"I came up with it just now."
"Didn't you say it's trending lately?"
Ignoring Regis' retort, the maid explained the song with a smile.
"Hufufu... It's about a mean-spirited master badly treating his maid. And then, a granny with magical powers turns up. It's really romantic."
He read a similar tale before. Regis nodded.
"Did the granny use magic to help the maid attend the party in the castle?"
"What story is that? The song is about the granny using combat spells to turn the mean master into an oily splat.
"Where is the element of romance?! What a direct use of magic. Are you dissatisfied with your current treatment?"
Magic was just something from fairy tales, so it was just a joke. But he could feel the darkness in her heart from this tale.
The maid smiled dryly.
"Ahaha, that's not it. The princess is a good child. The battles are terrifying, but it is safe inside the fortress. It is just that the future looks a bit grim."
She was a maid with a sharp tongue.
She followed the proper etiquette and introduced herself again.
"I am the handmaid serving the princess, Clarisse. Please address me as 'Hey' or 'Wench'."
"I won't use such a mean way of addressing you!? Hah~... Allow me to address you as Ms. Clarisse. I am Regis Auric."
"Yes! I heard a lot about you from the princess."
"Really? What did you hear?"
"Letting the princess use the only blanket in a blizzard, and sharing your bread with her. And facing the grey wolves courageously, things like that. I think your actions are outstanding."
"You flatter me... This is embarrassing. Anything else?"
"You are also worse at swordsmanship than a child, and a loser who spends all his money on books~"
He shouldn't have pressed on.
Clarisse smiled as if she had no ill intentions.
"Is there any way I can be of service? Contrary to how I look, I am actually quite busy. Just kidding."
She meant no harm. Probably.
"Do you know who my commanding officer is? Have you heard?"
"I don't know about things like that."
"You are right. Then Altina... Ah, no... Can you tell me where the princess is?"
"Fufu... I know about the nickname so that's alright. But please restrain yourself if people other than me or the princess are present."
"I see. Very few people have permission to address her this way?"
I have to be careful of the knights in the courtyard, Regis thought.
"I think she granted me that privilege... The only other person would be her mother?”
That's fewer than he thought.
Regis felt more confusion than joy.
"Are you asking why the princess has few friends? That's because of her character~"
"What an evil tongue... That's not what I meant, why did she allow me to call her by her nickname? It might be refreshing for royalty to be asked their name, but that's natural if she dresses like a wagon driver. I am probably not the first commoner she is acquainted with..."
Clarisse tilted her head.
"I don't know what the princess is thinking... Did she think of you as a confidant? Despite how it looks, she is in a difficult position."
"Yes, the same level of trust she has in her mother..."
"Is that so..."
Regis recalled his meeting with the redhead girl.
Because he bought a really expensive book— she asked whether he was an idiot— was that related?
Clarisse waved her hands with a smile.
"Well, you tend to make mistakes when you are young~"
"You conclude her trust in me is a 'mistake of youth'?! I can't prove otherwise, but isn't it too early to judge it so?"
"I'm joking. Because Mr. Regis reacts to everything I say. Seems like those words have a great impact on you."
"Don't tease me..."
"Because if I say it with Evrard and friends, they will just reply 'yeah, a goddess!’, a really vague answer."
"Ah, that's what the knight commander would do."
Regis smiled bitterly as he recalled the topless, sweating knight commander he met in the courtyard.
Back on topic, he asked for Altina's whereabouts again.
Clarisse gazed at the clock on the wall.
"She's out. She will be back in a while."
"Out of the fortress? That's early if she went to town. She has a serious character so she probably didn't go out to play... Is she hunting or scouting?"
"Something like that. By the way— everyone has taken their breakfast, what about you, Mr. Regis?"
"Thank you, I was about to faint from hunger."
"I see, it will be harsh~ There is quite some time before lunch."
"Why is the scene where you offer me breakfast missing?!"
"Ahaha, can't be helped, it's a special service this time."
Although Clarisse was a maid that kept playing around, she was quick with her work, bringing out some food in no time.
It was soft bread and vegetable stew with chicken meat.
It was a luxurious meal since they were on the front lines.
"Please enjoy your meal."
Clarisse continued her chores with a smile. She hummed as she cleaned the tables with a duster.
Regis enjoyed his breakfast leisurely.
As Regis was finishing his late breakfast—
Altina showed up at the dining hall.
"Ara, Regis. It's great that you are alive."
"Thanks to you."
Altina didn't dress up like a wagon driver or wear her sword today.
She had put on a one piece dress with laces, equipped with minimal armour which were gauntlets and shoulder protectors.
She had a snowy white coat under her arm, that was taken by the maid Clarisse with a bow.
"Welcome back Princess."
"Thank you Clarisse. Can I have some tea please?"
Clarisse bowed again and left quietly.
Surprisingly, she was acting like a maid seriously.
Altina sat to the opposite of Regis.
"Hah, it's no good today too..."
"I heard you were out?"
"I was patrolling the streets. Some time ago, bandits targeting caravans appeared."
"I heard about that on my journey too. The probability of bandit attacks rises the further away from central you are."
The deterioration of security in town was one of the reasons of price inflation. It had caused failed deliveries and additional costs of hiring armed escorts.
"It's difficult for the caravans and the citizens."
"Have you heard rumors of the impending attack by the barbarians?"
"How is the situation really like? I can't find relevant evidence here so I’m not sure either. It’s impossible for the soldiers stationed in the fortress to protect all the caravans."
"That's why the commander herself is patrolling this early in the morning. The time when you just wake up and it’s cold."
"Because everyone hates that shift, so the commander should lead by example."
"Oh... That's impressive."
"I didn't really want to patrol. It would be best if the bandits just disappeared!"
"I think so too."
The books would be cheaper if it becomes safer.
Altina used her entire vocabulary of swear words to curse the hiding bandits.
After she was done, Regis changed the topic.
"By the way, I want to greet my commanding officer... Who will that be? Has it been decided?"
"Commanding officer... You mean the leader of the admin officers?"
"There are none."
"No commissioned admin officers want me?"
"Hmm. Apart from you, there are no other admin officers in this fortress."
Regis sat stiff because he couldn’t comprehend the words he was hearing.
Regis squeezed out some words after a while.
"... What did you say?"
"This regiment has always been under the command of General Margrave Jerome Jean de Beilschmidt. He chased all the admin officers away half a year ago."
"What is going on? Can they fight a war with only combat officers...? Who is in charge of the accounts and resupplies? The battle reports? Tax collection and submission?"
"The Margrave's chamberlain is doing it."
Chamberlains were administrators taking care of the estate of nobles.
They handled the collection of tax within the territory and the purchase and sale of goods. They even the handled the distribution of salary for the servants. They were often tapped on to handle accounting works, so there was no problem letting them handle huge amounts of paperwork.
"What an outstanding chamberlain, as expected of a Margrave house. Was he an ex admin officer?"
Documents related to the military were unique and complicated; Regis spent two years in military academy to learn the ropes.
While Regis was feeling impressed...
Altina shook her head.
"We receive letters of complaint every month because of the errors, and the inspectors even came to audit us."
"What?! How could this be... Is this really the Belgarian Empire?"
"The ones originally stationed here are Jerome's private army."
"I think I read that in a book. When my assignment to the borders was confirmed, I took the chance to investigate lots of things."
"... You’re really weird. Normally, you’d feel annoyed about the place you are banished to."
"Do you feel annoyed?"
"I... Have a goal..."
Altina stuttered uncharacteristically.
Regis felt it yesterday too, she was hiding something.
She had not say it because she judged that it wasn't appropriate. Regis stopped this line of thought.
"From the books and rumors, I know about Jerome's brave exploits... But news of him chasing the admin officers out are less widespread. What happened?"
"I asked him before... But he didn't tell me. Because Jerome dislikes me."
"He dislikes you?
Altina nodded with a frail expression.
"If a young girl becomes your boss because of a power struggle you weren’t involved in, you will dislike that girl too right?"
"So that's why..."
The new commanding officer and the original commander not getting along was a common scene.
Normally, the original commander would be posted to another unit. But Altina was a novice while Sierck Fortress was a strategic position in the north. It might be by the emperor's edict, but transferring Jerome away was too stupid of a move to make.
Altina looked dissatisfied.
"If the regiment is operating normally and protecting the citizens, I have no intentions to butt in..."
"I didn't know there were no admin officers."
"Jerome isn’t really hardworking either."
Both of them sighed.
Clarisse brought a white porcelain tea pot with two cups.
She placed the cups down and poured a translucent red liquid in.
The fragrance of the tea was strong.
"Sorry for the wait princess. Some sugar for you?"
It was being used casually, but red tea leaves, sugar and porcelain wares were high class items in the empire. It was impossible for them to be military issues items, so they must be the princess' personal stash.
"Thank you Clarisse."
"You are welcome— what about you Mr. Regis?"
"You prepared my share too? Thank you."
"What are you saying? I'm asking about your plans for the future."
The maid stabbed him with sharp words while wearing an innocent face.
"Ahaha, that’s an important question."
Regis’ plans for the future was a difficult question; he scratched his head and thought.
"Erm~, why did Jerome send the admin officers away...? There is a need to understand this..."
"That's good, but do you want to help me with my job?"
"Anything that I can help you with?"
He remembered her saying that she would work him really hard.
"I need your help with an important task~ Find the bandits that are hiding!!"
"So you have been patrolling."
"Yes. Both the merchants and the citizens are troubled by this; it's a pain for the soldiers too. Can you think of a way to resolve this? Regis, you are a tactician right?"
"No... I am not a tactician..."
"You can't do it?"
"I mean I am not a tactician, but I do have a plan... What are the manpower and time frame available?"
Altina poked her index finger together, fidgeting and said:
"For the time frame, as soon as possible... The bandits started being rampant half a year ago, but they didn't stir up too much trouble so there was no rush. The problem is the available troops."
"Only a small group are available?"
"Will it be okay if it is just me?"
"Huh? What are you saying...?”
"I am confident in my swordsmanship."
"I know you are strong, but there are a lot of bandits. If you manage to nab a couple, the rest would have fled."
"Ugugu... You are right."
"Do you want to catch them all yourself?"
"No... It's just that very few soldiers will listen to my command."
She said something that couldn’t be ignored.
"Why is that so?"
"Erm... I told you Jerome dislikes me right?"
Altina’s face had a troubled expression just like a 14 year old.
The accomplished original commander disliked the new commander's orders, so very few soldiers would follow the new commander.
"What a surprise. I met Knight Commander Evrard and his men; they seem to adore you right? They even claim that you are a goddess."
Regis remembered. The group in the courtyard felt dangerous.
"It is embarrassing to be called a goddess... Some people are willing to listen to me. I am grateful for that."
"How many? What about the rest?"
"Normal situations aside, they will only follow Jerome's command on the battlefield."
"... Well, a famed general is more trustworthy than a goddess when your life is on the line."
There were soldiers who liked Altina, but they were just treating her like a princess. Altina had yet to earn their trust as a commander.
This was normal since she had no accomplishments yet.
"I recall that Beilschmidt border regiment has 500 cavalry, 500 artillery soldiers and 2000 troopers."
"That's... you really did your homework."
"How many of them are willing to listen to your command? I only need 300 men to execute my plan and achieve some results."
Altina replied in an apologetic tone.
Regis lifted his arms and leaned back, pushing down on his seat.
"...Didn't you say 'this is my border regiment'?"
Regis asked timidly.
Her eyes were tearing.
"That is... Although it feels like an empty title now... But I will achieve something one day."
"You just need titles and remuneration to gather soldiers. But popularity will only come when you display your capabilities."
"When I display my capability..."
Altina repeated the words like a student digesting the teaching of her instructor.
Feeling uneasy, Regis continued.
"I’m not sure about swordsmanship, but I know your skills are great. But it's useless if the people you are competing with are better than you. A commander needs more than combat prowess... But strength is a simple way to show that you are better than everyone."
"That means Jerome is better compared to me?"
"Definitely, he is the 'Hero of Erstein'."
Altina tilted her head in amazement.
But the one who was surprised was Regis.
"You didn't know? Jerome was a famous general grade officer during our war with the neighboring countries."
"I didn't see it myself—"
Clarisse placed the teacup before Regis to hurry him.
Regis drunk the fragrant tea as he told her the history of Jerome.
"Jerome Jean de Beilschmidt was the eldest son of a knight."
He won his first victory at 14, supplementing his aristocratic life. He followed up with a string of battle honors.
Among these honors, the one worth mentioning would be the battle of Erstein with the neighboring country of the Germania federation.
4 years ago—
To fend off the Germanian Army of 20,000 men that crossed the border, the empire sent 30,000 soldiers to intercept them. The place of the battle was the Plain of Erstein.
The Germania Federation was an alliance of several smaller nations under the lead of the Prussia Kingdom, constantly fighting civil wars and invading others. The member nations were impoverished, but their soldiers were veterans and well equipped.
The vanguard of the enemy was 3000 heavy cavalry.
Wearing yellow armor signifying honor, they formed ranks like a spear and charged.
The Bulgarian army was intimidated by their show of strength. The enemy aimed for the gap between the armies of two aristocrats, it turned into a scene of the nobles scrambling to get out of the way— the empire's formation was dissolving like yogurt.
If the enemy broke through the formation, the command headquarters would be exposed.
The main forces would also face the danger of being attacked from other sides. If that happened, the soldiers would lose their leaders and rout. The Bulgarian Army was on the brink of defeat.
At this time, a unit advanced towards the charging enemy from the front.
Jerome commanded 500 cavalry with his hand gestures.
And the one leading the charge was the Black Knight himself.
The people were wondering if he was buying time for the headquarters to retreat by sacrificing himself honorably... But that was not the case.
The Black Knight Jerome took down the opposing heavy cavalry one after the other.
With their fierce leader leading the black cavalry, they shattered the enemy’s formation and charged in.
The Germania Federation Army pulled in the units on its flank to defend, but they couldn’t make it fast enough to stop the cavalry charge.
"— And so, Sir Jerome ravaged the enemy’s command unit, leading the Bulgarian Army to victory as the 'Hero of Erstein'. As commendation for his actions, he was promoted from first grade combat officer to brigadier general. That was when he was 20 years old."
"He was such a powerful knight?! It's hard to imagine..."
Altina frowned with a puzzled expression.
Clarisse said expressionlessly.
"Right now, he doesn't seem like such a person."
"Is that so? What kind of impression does he give off in the fortress? I have never seen him before, but he is quite popular among the noble ladies as an elegant and handsome type."
Clarisse was quiet.
"Hmm~~ Maybe it's better for you to see for yourself."
"Ugh, he doesn't seem to be doing well... His life is not that great after he became general."
"Those who were promoted because of ability were ostracised by the jealous people in power. Those so called heroes were wary of Jerome who was made a general in less than half a year. He was awarded the nobility title of Margrave and this Northern Territory... But was driven out of his homeland in the empire."
On the surface, his 'reward' included renaming the territory after Jerome's family name Beilschmidt — but it was actually just a means to ostracise him.
After this, the name of the hero Jerome faded into the background.
Altina finished her slightly cold tea.
"I see... This happens quite often..."
Maybe she saw some similarity with her own circumstances. Altina was deep in thought moving her finger along the top edge of the cup.
"... You really didn't know?"
"Yeah. He is probably strong as I thought. Evrard and the others didn't tell me about Sir Jerome either."
Clarisse said calmly.
"... Because everyone in the fortress is concerned with the princess, so they will avoid saying things that might upset you."
"Ara, is everyone that worried about me? My relationship with Jerome is not that good, but just telling me his story wouldn't upset me."
"You might not be aware princess... But the soldiers think of you as an important guest."
"That's mean, Clarisse. No matter what, they won't be that distant.... Probably."
"Really? What Mr. Regis just said... I heard it from the soldiers before."
"What did you say?"
Altina was surprised by the explosive content that was delivered calmly by Clarisse.
The maid smiled and continued.
"I am an easy to approach person after all."
"What, that means I am an unapproachable person?"
"How could that be. The princess is the princess. Not anything else."
"Well... You are right but... Ugugu."
"Please relax. Even if the soldiers in the fortress ostracise you, I will always be at your side. I am your only companion, my princess. The princess belongs only to me... Fufufu~"
Clarisse consoled the princess as if she was chanting a magic spell.
Although some of the content seemed inappropriate.
But going by her nature, she was probably joking.
Regis continued the topic.
"Well, that's all I know about Sir Jerome. It is normal for the soldiers in the fortress to trust him more than the princess. He wasn’t supposed to command a border regiment, but a division or an army."
"Ugh... I get it. I don't think I have gained more trust than him among the troops. But it won't be long till I change that!"
"That's a great line to say when conceding. Although those saying it in the books I read are the minor characters..."
Altina glared at him unhappily.
"That's it for the issue of command authority. Now, think of a way to handle the bandits."
"Erm... I need a certain number of soldiers to nab the bandits. If possible, I would prefer troopers over cavalry. Hence... I need Jerome to give the go ahead."
Regis' sight fell on the table.
Be it chasing out the admin officers or his relations with Altina, Jerome was definitely hard to get along with.
To be honest, Regis felt depressed.
Altina stood up spiritedly.
"Now is a good chance! Let's try talking properly with Sir Jerome. He is definitely troubled by the bandits too."
"You sure are enthusiastic."
"Of course! It's better than being down all the time."
She said with a smile.
Altina pulled Regis along and headed for Jerome's chamber from the officers’ dining hall in the central tower.
Clarisse stayed behind to do her other chores.
With their footsteps echoing along the corridor, Altina happily chatted with Regis.
"You’re really popular."
"Popular with whom?"
"Clarisse. You didn't notice?"
"Are you misunderstanding something? She keeps toying with me though."
"People will only joke around with others they get along with. This is proof of you making her happy. Clarisse is normally silent and stays in her room all the time."
"Silent?! Stays in all the time?!"
"Yes. Emotionless, just like a doll."
"... Is the one speaking with me a different maid with the same name? Or is she messing with you too? I can't trust things anymore."
Altina laughed like a child as she ascended the spiral stairway.
They were heading towards Jerome's chamber on the third floor.
They tried knocking on the plain wooden door several times — but there was no answer.
"That man seems to be out."
"As the de facto commander, he is probably busy."
"Hmm~ I don't think he’s that passionate about work... Forget it. I will show you around the fortress as we look for Jerome!"
"That will be a big help."
"This way Regis! Hurry up!"
Altina rushed him.
They climbed the stairs again to the very top of the tower.
Regis breathing turned ragged.
The top floor was a conference room with a black table.
Be it the map of the border region pasted on the wall, the empire's flag or the bare stone floor... This room gave off the atmosphere of war.
The wear and tear of the conference table alerted Regis of the fact that here was the most forward of the front lines.
Altina crossed the room and opened the huge windows.
It opened with a bang.
The wind blowing in through the windows made the flag and map flutter noisily.
Altina let her hair flow with the wind from the window. Her hair basked in the sunlight. Altina pointed into the distance.
"Be careful, I might bump into you and make you fall."
Regis headed for the balcony, the wind that carried the aroma of the forest blew through Regis' hair.
The lush scenery took Regis' breath away.
The cloudless blue sky and the snowcapped mountains painted a majestic picture. The sun shone warmly over the entire world.
The sky and the mountains were within his reach, he felt like a bird flying high in the sky.
"Amazing", Regis said under his breath.
Altina who looked satisfied nodded.
"Isn't this great?"
"I finally found a treasure after braving the storm to these far lands. Although I can't keep it in my pocket, it will never disappear from my heart. I can remember that scene of the sky even when I close my eyes right now."
"What is that?"
"Quoted from Frenson's autobiography. He was a very active painter in the empire, but he worked as a delivery worker because his pieces didn't sell when he was young. After experiencing a harsh storm, he was inspired by the beautiful sky at his destination. The doubts in his heart and the fatigue to his body vanished at that moment, and he uttered these words in tears. After that, he focused on painting the sky. Shortly after, the 'Frenson’s Sky' became a highly acclaimed piece."
"I see. That means you can't do a job well if you stay at home all day."
"Eh? No, this is talking about how he was moved by that scene..."
Shifting his gaze nearer, he could see the fortress clearly. This was obvious since this observation post was meant for commanders to grasp the battle situation and make tactical decisions.
Fortress Sierck was built halfway up the mountain.
To the gentle slope to the north were six connected walls, with an observation tower.
In the middle was the central tower for the commander and staff to use. Regis and Altina were on the balcony of the top floor of this building.
Be it the NCO block in the east or the troopers’ buildings in the west, they were all rectangular stone buildings.
Most of the soldiers reside in the west, so it occupied a lot of space with twenty connected rectangular buildings.
The courtyard where Regis met Evrard was between the central tower and the eastern block. The north that was closest to the enemy was the main gate and parade square.
It couldn't be seen from this position, but the food warehouse, armory, and stables were to the south of the fortress, Altina explained.
Regis set his sights on the construction works of the outer wall. Wooden scaffolds were set up at a part of the outer wall.
"Is restoration work going on over there?”
"Yeah. The Varden Grand Duchy attacked three months ago; the walls were damaged by their cannon fire. It usually holds up fine, but seems like the opponent used very powerful cannons this time, so the walls were slightly breached."
"Powerful cannons? Please tell me more."
"Erm... I just took on my post back then, so I stayed in my room back then. I was told to not come out. So I didn't see anything."
"But you are the commander..."
"When I get up from my chair, they will say 'princess, please leave this to us' and was escorted back, it can't be helped!"
"Well, I can imagine that. Do the neighboring countries attack frequently?"
"About once every three months. But it’s hard to traverse the forest during winter, so they probably won't come this time."
The distance between Varden Archduchy and the empire was just 30 Li (133 km), but there was a forest with barbaric tribes residing between them— Regis had read in a book.
"What about the barbarians?"
"I have not seen them before, but I heard they climbed over the outer wall when they attacked in the summer, it was a fierce battle."
When battling the ill-equipped savages, the situation might change abruptly either to their advantage or disadvantage. The empire's cavalry was overwhelmingly superior in the open plains, but there were examples of the barbarians counterattacking them in the forest.
There were cases of barbarians scaling the walls with their bare hands. They were opponents you couldn't take lightly.
Altina turned around.
"That's about it. It's about time we visit the next place."
"Ah, thank you. You showed me a wonderful view."
"That's great. But where has that man gone?"
They didn't find Jerome in the central tower.
After taking a spin at the parade square and the eastern block, Regis and Altina headed for the south of the fortress.
They were going to the stables.
It was a series of small buildings made for the horses. The work horses and war horses numbering 600 were reared inside.
The pungent odor of beasts was strong.
"This surprises me."
"What is it?"
"You’re a princess, Altina... But you have no reaction after smelling this."
"Instead of learning music and dance, I prefer fencing and riding classes. So I can take care of horses too."
Altina ran to one of the horses.
"Good afternoon! How's your leg? Sorry about yesterday!"
The skinny horse neighed in reply.
It was hard to differentiate them, but it seemed to be the horse that was pulling the wagon yesterday. Its right hind leg was bandaged.
Altina caressed the head of the horse as she fed it some vegetables.
It was a big one. The scene of the horse munching its food was meaninglessly charming.
"Isn't it cute? Do you want to try feeding it?"
"Never mind, it feels like it will bite my hand off as well, so I will pass..."
"Ahaha, this child won't do that. Horses are smart alright?"
"If that's true, I am the type that is disliked by horses. They keep throwing me off their back during riding classes."
"Eh? So you can't ride a horse?"
"It’s nothing to be proud of, but I’ve never made a horse run before."
"That’s really not something to take pride in."
Altina started to smile.
"Then, let me teach you!"
"I don't want to trouble you."
"Which horse should we choose? One that is small and kind?"
"Hey hey... Don't I have a choice? I have the right to refuse orders that are beyond my capabilities. By the way, hierarchy is meant to be broken..."
Altina went to the back of the stable, ignoring Regis' protest.
They arrived at a place full of horse feed.
Suddenly, a woman appeared from the shadow.
It was someone who didn't fit in a place like a stable. She was not in military or maid attire, but dressed in peasant clothing, with a basket of apples. She averted her eyes in a panic when she saw Altina.
"Ah, the princess?"
"Hmm? Who are you?"
"I am... That is... Ex, excuse me!"
She fled in a hurry after finishing.
Altina saw her off silently.
"... Who was she? Seems like a civilian from town?"
"Did she come to peddle?"
"She was carrying a basket of apples."
"Ah. It is still daytime... So she was not a courtesan."
Regis had a slip of tongue.
The young girl beside him asked.
"What was that?"
"What is this courtesan you mentioned?"
He was careless. Altina was still underage.
But not really. She could marry at 15, so it was not surprising for her to know at 14.
But she was royalty.
She probably doesn’t have any shady friends or adults around her.
Why did it turn out like this! If this goes on, he would become a bad person teaching useless things to a naive young girl— Regis shivered when he thought about that.
Altina pressed him:
"Why are you not saying anything, Regis? Teach me properly.”
"Ugugu... That is... That... means female merchants who work at night..."
"Hmm~? Now that you mention it, normal shops only open during daytime."
As Regis was still conversing with Altina—
A man who seemed to have rendezvoused with the female merchant came out from the place the woman appeared from.
He was wearing general grade attire.
Muscles could be seen from the chest that was exposed due to his untidy attire. The man was tall with broad shoulders.
His black hair was combed back and he sported a stubby beard. He was in his mid-20s.
He had light brown skin and sharp eyes.
Although preferences differed from people to people, but Regis had to admit that objectively, he was a handsome man.
But this man had a demeanor of a drunkard.
An apple in his left hand, a beer bottle in his right.
His hiccups smelled of alcohol.
"Eh... I was wondering who it was... So it is the little girl."
"You didn't participate in patrols to buy apples from peddlers? Be more serious about work, Sir Jerome!"
The surprised Regis didn't make a sound.
He pointed at that man with his index finger to confirm:
"You mean this drunkard is Sir Jerome?! He is Margrave Jerome Jean de Beilschmidt?! The Hero of Erstein?!"
The man tilted the bottle in his hand and gulped down the amber colored liquid. He then glared at Regis with his sharp and turbid eyes.
"Fuuu~.... And you are?"
"Ah, I am Regis Auric... fifth grade admin officer."
"Alright, I will prepare a transfer order. I just need your signature."
"Just joking. My appointment will be under the control of Her Highness."
Because Jerome was present, Regis changed his way of addressing. Although he had slipped up already just now.
"Don't, don't ever joke about that!"
Altina seemed unexpectedly worried about this.
Regis who had never felt the value of his existence was baffled by Altina's reaction. He concluded that she didn't want the new admin officer to run off.
Also, he was in the midst of helping her tackle the bandit problem.
I see, it's because the job she tasked me with was not complete yet— Regis thought about it that way.
"Well, that's the situation... Regrettably, I can't return to the imperial capital without the princess' permission."
"Hmmp... There is no food for useless admin officers here. Go and eat hay."
"I have questions about this too... Can you tell me why you chased my predecessors away? I don't want to make the same mistake too."
"Don't bother me about what I do. That will be good enough."
"I understand. It seems like your chamberlain is handling the paperwork right now... Can you leave that to me? It is difficult for one person to handle all the tax and accounting work, so I wish to be of service..."
"Do what you want. I will use the money when I want to in the way I want to."
At this point of the conversation, a disgusting thought rose in Regis' mind.
Or rather, Jerome's action was ordering Regis to 'realise this'.
Altina had a blank expression, unable to understand that.
Regis asked seriously.
"Pardon me... Could it be that the previous admin officer lost his job because the Margrave's usage of the military budget clashed with his opinion?"
"Kukuku... That's it. I used the funds for alcohol and gambling, that fellow kept bothering me about it so I chased him out."
"Oh... This is embezzlement."
Regis looked upwards.
What a bold criminal declaration.
He might even face execution if convicted in military court.
"What's wrong with that? The bastards from the neighboring countries and the savages can't get in if this fortress still stands. The money is given because the fortress is here; it is my freedom to use it as I wish."
He took another swig of beer.
And a bite of the apple.
Altina showed a bewildered face.
"Is it true that you can spend the budget freely if you protect the kingdom? Is it true?"
"The answer is definitely no. — The empire's finance ministry sets the military funds at 20% of the total budget. Because the money is collected for the empire's defense, to use it for unnecessary entertainments is noncompliant with standing orders."
"It is obvious when you think about it. You got it wrong, Sir Jerome."
But he mockingly smirked and replied:
"Hmmp, an admin officer with a corrupted mindset. Even if you say these on the surface, you all will say the same things."
"May I ask what you mean by that?"
"Kukuku... You are planning to tell me 'give me money and I will close an eye' correct? All you admin officers are the same."
Jerome let out a chilling laugh.
Regis looked up once again.
"Oh... On top of embezzlement, isn't this intimidation, this... is too overboard..."
"Liar! You definitely wouldn’t say that Regis, right?"
Altina looked over anxiously.
Good guys were always bullied, although people told Regis before— but he was glad to be a lawful person. Because he could settle this without making her sad.
He told Sir Jerome clearly:
"I am not interested in embezzlement."
"Huh? You don't want money? Kukuku... Stop putting up a front. There are other things that you want right?"
There were things Regis desired.
But that had nothing to do with embezzlement.
For a moment the price of the books flashed across his mind, but there were other things too.
"I won't do such despicable things. That is as good as giving up on my life."
"Haha, you won't speak the truth with the little girl present? Relax, she can't do anything."
Altina pouted, leaving it to Regis to settle this scene.
"I think I created some misunderstanding, Sir Jerome."
"What did you say?"
"... It doesn't matter who is here. If you ask me why, it is because everyone must decide the way to live his own life."
"Haha, are you mimicking a priest?"
"No, this is a social gain and loss issue— if someone did bad things, others will need to bear the hardship. It creates a deep sense of guilt. Those who gain through illicit means can't escape from this sense of guilt. No matter how well off your life may be, your heart will remain gloomy. That is such a tragic life..."
Jerome was silent.
Altina was listening seriously.
Regis carried on:
"— those who gain through legal means can enjoy the fruits of their labor even if it is meager. But those who did bad things will carry this sense of guilt no matter how extravagant their lifestyles are. I want to ask Sir Jerome, who listened to me patiently which side do you think will obtain true happiness?"
Jerome grounded his teeth loudly.
His gaze pierced at Regis like a lance.
This gaze reminded others of a mythical creature that could turn man into stone with just a look.
As if Regis’ heart had stopped beating. He resisted the urge to flee and stood his ground.
Altina openly glared back at Jerome.
"Sir Jerome, can't you answer?"
"Tch... This dull lecture makes the beer taste bland."
He threw the bottle aside.
At the same time, he reached for the pitchfork stuck in the hay. It was a fork-like farm tool the size of a lance meant for conveying horse hay.
The pitchfork was like a three-pronged spear in Jerome's hands.
After a sudden sound of the wind—
The apple in the air was pierced before Regis' eyes.
The sharp metal tips were extended towards Regis' nose.
"Kukuku... You said a lot of impressive words, but that's it!"
Regis adopted a defensive stance that didn't help much. The difference in strength was too great. Jerome could kill Regis even without the pitchfork.
His back was drenched in cold sweat.
— Did he misjudge Jerome? Despite Jerome's crude and violent attitude, Regis decided to treat him as someone he could converse with. But that was based on just a few lines. Jerome shouldn't be someone who uses violence meaninglessly. If so, why was he acting this way?
Regis flipped through the books he had read in his mind.
He had some theories, but as he was wondering what to do, Altina moved.
The girl stood before him like a shield. Her left hand knocked away the pitchfork while her right hand rested on her sword hilt.
"Don't take it like a child, Jerome! Seriously using violence because you lost the argument."
"You think I lost?! Are you treating me like a loser?!"
Jerome spun the pitchfork.
The sound of wind reverberated in the room.
The sharp end was aimed at Altina's chest.
With a snapping sound, something white flew into the air.
That was one of Altina's decorative buttons.
"Kukuku... Is that it little girl... You would be dead if this was a battlefield.
"If you had killing intent, then certainly."
The two stared at each other, unmoving the entire time.
"Are you trying to intimidate me with such tricks?"
"Hmmp... What a noisy wench."
Although Jerome was intimidating Altina, he did not hurt her.
Regis observed quietly.
— He is not a man who will hurt a little girl because of heightened emotions. If he had such a character, they would have already gone at each other. He might be waving his pitchfork violently, but he is still talking to us with a level head.
If he was concerned about his reputation, Jerome would have tried to hide the fact he was skipping work and drinking on the job. If he was corrupt, he would have covered up the embezzlement.
But he did neither.
Doesn't he care about anything at all? This might be true given Jerome's circumstances... But if he really doesn’t think it matters, he would have already ended this conversation.
There must be a reason he was listening to what he described as noise.
"Are you testing me?"
Jerome squinted his eyes.
Regis formulated his plan.
Instead of finding out the Margrave's real motive, settling the original objective was the priority. They had found a den in the bushes, but they were not ready to chase the snake out of it yet.
He steadied his heartbeat and breathing.
"Your Royal Highness... I am finished with my questions. I understand why this fortress has no need for admin officers."
"I see. I didn't come here to make enemies."
Jerome looks surprised.
"Is there something else? You want to order me to do something?"
"It's about the bandits. I think the current way of dealing with them isn’t working. We need to find another way. Hence, I want to mobilize some of the soldiers."
"Another way you say?"
"That's why we were looking for you, Sir Jerome."
"... Ke, it's useless."
"What is useless?"
"I don't know what stories that admin officer told you, but those are only paper theories. I was wondering what you are up to, so you want to nab the bandits! Leave them be! The merchants aren't losing much!"
"What are you saying? Protecting civilians is the duty of the military!"
"Don't keep harping about those high ideals, little girl. It's impossible for the soldiers in the fortress to be successful. Don't issue orders to torment them!"
Jerome discarded the pitchfork and turned to leave.
Altina took her hand away from the hilt.
She didn't draw her sword the entire time. She might have been intimidated by the opponent and couldn't act... But that wasn’t something Regis could tell through observation.
Altina halted Jerome who was leaving.
"Where are you going?"
"To town. I want to play at the casino to refresh myself."
"Is that so... Then command the soldiers to listen to my orders first."
"I refuse. I don't want the troops to waste their efforts."
"It's not a waste of effort!"
"Kuhahaha! It's futile, a waste of time! I bet they definitely can't find the bandits!"
"No, no such thing... I have a tactician here!"
Her expectations were getting heavier. Regis' face looked bitter.
"Hmmp, are you testing this admin officer? Then I definitely can't lend you the troops!"
"Don't decide by yourself, listen to his plan first!"
Jerome would leave for town if Regis stayed silent. If things went bad, it might result in bloodshed.
There's no other way.
To be frank, he disliked playing the role of tactician.
— But it was about time to get to work.
Regis had been quiet so far, but he was participating in the dialogue now.
"Sir Jerome is out of ideas and is just touring the streets at night. But the soldiers have to patrol at night. They are so pitiful."
"What did you say? I am out of ideas? The soldiers are pitiful? You think they are pitiful being my subordinates? You mock me with your words, moron... Try saying that again, I will snap your flimsy neck."
The horses in the stables were also neighing restlessly.
Jerome had a scary look in his eyes.
His intimidating aura made him look like a different man.
Is this wrath? Killing intent? Or a demonic air?
Anyway, Regis now knew that Jerome was just playing when he twirled the pitchfork around.
Altina restrained the man who was approaching Regis.
"Stop, Sir Jerome!"
"Hmmp! This is the front lines. Two people dying is no big deal."
"If you are serious, I will also..."
Regis scolded himself.
— Don't be intimidated by his aura! Stop shaking!
Even if his swordsmanship was bad, he couldn't ride a horse and was useless in a fight, he couldn't be scared stiff on the spot.
"Sir Jerome... I have countless ways to nab the bandits. Not using these plans and insisting on ineffective patrols, don't you think the soldiers are pitiful?"
"... Hmmp... Kukuku... You claim to have countless methods?"
Jerome drew near briskly. The dangerous air about him vanished instantly— that's what Regis felt but he was grabbed violently the next moment.
"You imbecile! Do you dare to bet your life on it since you are sure it will work?"
Altina stepped between Regis and Jerome and separated them.
"Stop your violent behavior!"
Altina checked on Regis.
"Are you okay?"
"... I don't think I am a tactician that meets your expectations. But there is no problem for this issue. I can already see the ending."
The soldiers were gathered in the parade square on Jerome's order.
Six hundred troops have been gathered for now.
Regis stood before the soldiers with Altina and Jerome beside him.
"Hmmp... Will these numbers be enough? There’re no cavalry, only foot soldiers here."
"Yes, the mission does not require cavalry... But to muster the troops with a single command... I have never seen such discipline, training and strength of command in all the units I have served in."
"Stop with the useless flattering, you are taking this too casually. That's why the admin offices are unpopular."
"Is, is that so?"
The compliments were his heartfelt words.
Jerome was a general grade officer who drank during the day and let his troops patrol without a plan. Regis was worried about Jerome's standing with the soldiers, but it seemed that it was unnecessary.
Was it his fame from his past heroic actions or his powerful combat skills? From the way he cared about his soldiers, Jerome maintained his outstanding command abilities.
Altina mumbled softly.
"Isn't it because Jerome will do terrible things if they don't listen to him?"
That’s like taming animals — Regis thought, but he didn't reply.
The terrifying Jerome glared at them.
"Hey, you understand? You will lose your life if you screw this up. I will assign you to the very front rank during the next barbarian attack. That is a position of glory, so sacrifice yourself gloriously."
The vanguard of the assault group belonged to those who were confident in their combat skills.
The strongest fighters will clash at the very beginning.
Weak people like Regis might not be able to keep up with the assault team's speed, fall down and get trampled to death.
"How scary... By the way, what if it works?"
"Kukuku... How daring. I will acknowledge you if you succeed and let you live."
"What a charming reward."
And so— Regis started briefing the battle plan to the soldiers.
It was an easy to understand plan.
Regis thought a plan too complicated would fail before it was executed. With such a big group participating, simple was best.
The briefing was over.
They should be able to understand.
But the soldiers looked troubled after comprehending the plan.
"So the plan is... For us to mimic the caravans?"
"Yes. To be precise, it is to disguise ourselves to be like the caravans, not mimicking them."
"We’ve never heard of such a plan before!"
"Let's hope the bandits haven't heard of it either. Please pull the wagons and carriages and walk on the road with the work horses. Please don't equip heavy armor, just put on light arms that can be concealed under your clothes. It is a disadvantage during battle. But it shouldn't be an issue if the opponents are bandits— you guys can beat them right?"
Jerome replied loudly to Regis' query.
"Definitely! Armor’s are just for show. I won't let you guys off even if you have to fight bare handed. If anyone even mentions the possibility of losing, I will wring his neck and send him home in a coffin. Come forward if you want to try!"
"Yes sir! We will definitely win, sir!!"
The soldiers answered affirmatively in unison.
A voice that felt reliable.
Regis had never felt such an atmosphere during his time with Marquis Tennessee’s unit. The soldiers spent their time guarding the imperial capital or the residence of the aristocrats, giving off an elegant appearance.
It seemed that most of them were hired by other nobles after the Marquis' death.
Are they working hard at their new assignments?
Regis thoughts were drifting towards home, so he shook his head and focused on the task at hand.
He needed to brief them the detailed instructions.
"The point is making everyone look like normal caravans. We need to ferry wooden crates for the illusion of ferrying valuable merchandise. The speed of the horse will give things away if the cargo is too light, so please stuff something in, even rocks are fine too. Leave the weapons in the luggage compartment."
There were some soldiers who placed emphasis on their reputation. The knights who were aristocrats were not present, but there were still all sorts of people among the troopers.
"Unacceptable! Isn't that asking us to act like transport workers! How can we regular soldiers bearing the glory of the empire accept this!?"
"Well... I am not forcing all of you to participate... But compared to soldiers who dress stylishly, I will prefer troopers who bring peace by disguising themselves. Which do you think is shouldering the pride and glory?"
"Ugh... Mu... No but..."
"This is the same concept as hiding and waiting for our chance during ambushes. Having hidden ourselves, would it really be glorious to announce your names loudly instead?"
Jerome responded in place of the silenced soldiers:
"Don't even need to think about it. Any idiot who exposes himself during an ambush will be silenced by me. With a lance through his heart!"
"I see, dying without knowing why is glorious."
There were no more protests. If Jerome wanted to do it, the troops didn’t have any option but to follow.
"And so? What about me?”
"Disguise as a wagon driver again?
"... Your Highness, your hair and eyes are too prominent, so please wait here."
"What? You want me to stay here?!"
"Yes... Ah, no..."
"Which is it?"
"I don't want the bandits to know our change of plans, so please carry on with your patrol, princess."
"Eh... You want me to patrol even though you know it is a waste of effort?"
"Yes. Please consider it as a patrol in order to keep the changes a secret. I also don't want the citizens to think the military is slacking off."
"Ugugu... I understand..."
She understood, but Altina was depressed because her role was not what she expected it to be.
The troops finished their preparation and set off from Century Fortress.
Just like this, several disguised caravans hit the road.
About a week later, their efforts paid off.
Although Jerome was skeptical of the battle plan in the beginning, he unexpectedly disguised himself and joined in.
He probably had his own considerations.
He disguised himself as a transport worker, pushing a cart laden with cargo.
And luckily— or rather unluckily for the other party — the bandits attacked his caravan.
Just as Regis planned.
The bandits looked like mercenaries who had fallen on hard times.
"Kuhaha! Hand over your cargo! I will grant you a quick death if you do as I say!"
The bandits sneered.
A lance was lunged forward.
But the tip was stopped by a man with his fingers. That man looked just like a transport worker.
"Doing as you please in my territory... You damn pests!!"
The bandits stared with their eyes wide.
That transport worker was that 'Hero of Erstein', Black Knight Jerome.
The other workers drew their swords from the luggage compartment.
At the same time, someone screamed in despair.
It was a one sided affair.
It didn't even turn into something that could be described as a fight.
Jerome and his men returned from Tuonvell victoriously to the cheers of the town folks.
"Kuhaha! I authorise it! Drink to you’re full, eat till you are happy!"
Jerome laughed with a bottle in his hand.
The officers holding key appointments were gathered in the officers’ dining hall having a toast.
Altina was participating too. But she didn't have any dazzling performance, so she sat at the end of the table. But she was truly happy that the plan worked.
As for the others, Knight Commander Evrard was present. He was not bothered by his nobility title and helped out actively as a disguised member.
The feast went on.
The strong men laughed, shouted and chatted.
The rank and file soldiers who took part in the plan were probably talking about their brave exploits in the parade square.
As an NCO, Regis should be joining the party at the parade square.
But the plan was proposed by him, so he was invited to the officers’ dining hall.
And he was seated at the table belonging to Jerome and the core battle team. But Regis felt like he was a puppy lost among wolves.
He was feeling uneasy.
Jerome shouted angrily.
"Eh... Asking for me?"
"You are the only Regis in my regiment!"
"Ah, I see... By the way, I am the princess' subordinate in the Orbat..."
Altina who was seated beside him nodded gingerly.
"Annoying, shut up."
Unreasonable as usual.
"Hey Regis... How did you come up with this plan?"
I will shut up since you told me to, such a childish thought flashed through Regis' mind. But he would really die if he pulled such a joke. He decided to not bet his life on this prank.
"... Because I read about it before in a book."
"Hah... There is a book about searching for bandits?"
"Nope, I haven't seen any reports stating the usage of such methods. Those who write their battle reports and leave it for the future generations will unlikely be the ones who come up with such unorthodox plans. The book that inspired me is about pirates. The pirates disguised their ship to look like a merchant ship, causing other ships or small ports to let their guard down before they attack. There are countless stories depicting trickery through the use of disguise. They might be a bit dated, but classics are..."
It has been a while since Regis talked about books and he had droned on unconsciously.
Jerome was deep in thought.
The maid Clarisse laid down a plate full of thick cut meat.
She was really quiet now and didn't even smile.
The burly men cheered when she put the plate down.
Altina told her "Thank you, Clarisse" and she bowed silently in return before heading back to the kitchen.
Was it another person who looked just like her— Regis was doubting his own eyes.
Jerome took a swig of wine.
"Hmmp... Forget it. I will reward those with merit justly. No matter how much he pisses me off. Or if he is an admin officer."
Regis thought he should be happy.
But he felt as though he was being lectured.
"Hey Regis! You are not just a one trick pony right? If you can't come up with more ideas, you will just be a chicken that can't lay eggs."
"Ah... You mean plans? Coming up with ideas is very situational..."
"Can a chicken lay eggs when it is snowing?"
"I don't think anyone will kill a chicken that does lay eggs during good weather."
"Kuhaha! I think my head is spinning. Alright, I acknowledge you! You may live."
"Is that so... Thanks."
Jerome didn't bother Regis after that.
Regis couldn't catch the meaning behind his words.
But the officers who had been ignoring his presence so far started talking to Regis with a glass in one hand.
But Altina lost her place in the banquet, making him lose face.
Regis finally returned to his room at dawn.
He took off his clothes and hung it on the back of his chair.
"That was a really long night."
Regis felt that even his hair stunk. The smell probably wouldn't go away without wiping it with a wet cloth.
"Erm~... well... I will wash up after waking up... I can't sleep much anyway."
He mumbled to himself in between yawns and lay on his bed.
Regis closed his eyes.
And someone immediately knocked on his wooden door. It was not very loud.
Who was it?
But he really wanted to sleep.
The door wasn't locked; it would be easier if they were willing to enter by themselves.
To get up and answer the door or continue sleeping. Just as Regis was thinking about this, the knocking started again.
He had no choice.
Regis got up from bed and opened the door before the knocking began for the third time.
A girl with red hair was standing in front of the door.
Regis wondered if he was dreaming.
She was wearing the one piece dress during the celebration banquet, but her armor such as the gauntlets have not been equipped. If she had knocked while wearing her gears, the sound would be very loud.
"... Erm... Evening Regis. Or should I say morning?"
"Altina... Am I dreaming?"
"I don't think so. May I come in...?"
She looked to either side of the corridor.
Regis didn’t know the reason behind her visit, but he had no reason to chase her away. And so, Regis ushered her in.
"What happened? It's late at night. No, I mean morning."
"It's starting to get bright out. We can talk later if you want to sleep... Because it is something important."
"No problem. I was drowsy, but the shock from your visit chased all that away."
"Yeah, it is the usual Regis. Still saying things in a way that seems to make sense in a roundabout manner."
"Did you come to correct my character?"
"That's not it... If you are drunk and sleep talk, I will be troubled."
"I didn't drink much so I'm good. What do you mean by something important?"
"... Regis, do you remember our conversation on that wagon? The things we discussed when we first met."
"Are you coming after me for disrespecting his majesty after all this time?"
"I'm not joking alright."
A few rays of sunlight shone into the room from the windows. The faint morning light reflecting off the girl's crimson eyes showed the girl's serious attitude.
Regis shifted a chair to the side of the bed. There were no chairs for guests here, so he ushered Altina to the chair while he sat on the bed.
"... Is this fine?"
Considering their social status as princess and commoner, Regis shouldn't be sitting on the bed. But that was not the relationship Altina wanted to build. That's why she didn't even bring a maid along for this visit.
A woman sneaking into a man's room — A common scene in the fictional novels popular within the imperial capital. The scene that follows could only be done after ensuring no one else was around.
Regis looked at Altina seriously.
Altina caressed her face.
"Hmm? What is it Regis? Something on my face?"
"... No, I was thinking about something silly, I am clearing that out of my mind now."
"Well, maybe your guess was correct?"
"What did you say?!"
"Tell me what are you thinking about?"
"No, that... sort of thing... is bad, and... you are underage..."
"It has nothing to do with age. I am serious."
"I have decided. No matter how great the obstacle is... Even if I am still lacking, I still want to do it."
"Do, do what?"
Regis' heart was in a mess.
His heart raced.
Altina was puzzled but continued.
"When we were in the immobile wagon, you said — the aristocrats are continuing a meaningless war, wasting the life and resource of the citizens."
"That was close, so I was wrong after all!! Yes you are right!! So it's about politics. I remember everything I said."
"Was anything you said untrue?"
He finally understood what Altina wanted to discuss with him.
Regis calmed himself, nodded and focused on the discussion.
"Are you still frustrated with the nobles?"
"Definitely. The barbarians will be hesitant to attack this fortress with the hero Jerome at the helm, but the situation in other places are worse. Losing territory through battles, getting it back by campaigns, the victims are ever increasing. Half my classmates in the academy that served in the front lines have been killed in action. Every one of them was great..."
There was certainly something wrong with the direction of the empire.
"... I also do not think the actions of the empire are correct. The royalty and nobles that should be working to make the country better are embroiled in an ugly power struggle."
"Right. I feel better hearing that from royalty like you..."
"Eh, why is that?"
"Under the current system, it is difficult for the people's opinion to be reflected on the nation's policy. Some countries seem to use a national voting system to decide the key policies of their country..."
"That's an interesting system... Do you think it will be better for the empire to adopt this system?"
"No, it's still too early. For the citizens who lack crucial knowledge on legal, military and economic matters to have a say, there is a high chance they will lead the nation down the wrong path. You can't do politics in a bar."
"It is unsettling indeed."
"That is why if someone with high status such as a royalty is willing to guide the nation down the right path, the citizens will be grateful."
"Do you really think so?"
"For most people, it is unimaginable for royalty like you to hold such opinions."
Altina's values felt normal for commoners, but that was rare for a royalty. For those in the upper class, they were usually aloof with a sense of superiority and demanded preferential treatment.
"I was told by my mother how the lives of the citizens are like."
"Imperial concubine Claudette was a commoner. Could she have proposed the improvements within the empire?"
"No, my mother is not someone who will think of that. Whether it is sad things or hardships, she will accept everything without complaints or ambitions. She is a normal person who doesn't move for her own will."
"That is normal indeed..."
The empire was formed because most citizens did not protest about the inequality of the aristocratic system.
Altina seemed moody.
She clenched the hands on her kneecaps tightly.
"I want to change the empire... But if this goes on... It will end without accomplishing anything..."
She squeezed out the name of that man from her mouth.
The second prince Latreille.
"His backing is strong... In the near future, the first prince Auguste will probably be forced to give up his position as the crown prince."
"Yes, if the current development continues."
"And that guy will become the emperor. If that happens, that man will decide my future... That man will make no mistake and give any freedom or power to the royalty. He will definitely marry me off to a big clan in the queen's camp."
"... That would actually happen."
She had already seen her own future.
It was regrettable, but she probably won't have the chance to express her views about the empire's current situation.
"I will live a prison-like life from then on."
Altina gritted her teeth.
She was hoping for the empire to change. But she would be deprived of her freedom if Prince Latreille succeeded the throne.
Regis shook his head.
"I understand how you feel. Because I feel frustrated too... But even so, what can we do? Commoners have a lifestyle of commoners. That is the same for the fourth princess."
"You are correct. Everything has been decided by other people... I can't do anything if I carry on waiting."
"Yeah, it's like that."
"But even so... I wish to change the empire. I won't just wait here to be thrown inside a prison cell."
Regis calmed the spirited Altina.
"Hold on, Altina... Latreille becoming emperor and your future are decided by the powerful current known as the empire. Are you... planning to go against this flow?"
"... If it is necessary."
Her tone was calm but the passion still burned in her heart.
Regis started to tremble.
"That is too thoughtless. Being too agitated will sometimes make your vision narrower... You could lose your life for this."
But Altina's red eyes showed no sign of doubt.
Her expression was telling Regis that she has steeled herself.
"Revolutionising the empire. That is the goal that is supporting my will to live. If I give that up, it will be the same as giving up on my life."
He didn't expect to hear the words he uttered in the past right now.
Why did Altina thought of Regis as a confidant?
He felt that he finally understood.
"I can only implement my feelings through actions."
"Don't decide so hastily, Altina... You have to put more thoughts behind it..."
"I have thought about it aplenty. There are many citizens suffering during this time. There are many things I need to revolutionise the empire, but the most crucial element is time! There is no time for us to waste."
Regis slumped his shoulders.
He knew clearly that he couldn't stop her.
And he felt very sad over this.
"Altina... You are really smart... You can live a happy life if you are a bit dumber. With your beauty and lineage, your spouse will be a man who pours all of his love for you. You can be entertained by wonderful songs, taste amazing wines, immerse in opera, visit the hills in spring, the river in summer, the forest in autumn and stay in the castle in winter. You can accessorise yourself with your favorite jewelries, wear beautiful gowns, and enjoy the life of a noble lady with anything you might want."
"No matter how extravagant my life might be, I can't escape from the guilt of the politics that exploit the citizens."
"Ha... I said something like that too..."
"The doubts in my heart were answered by you."
"I really am... the worst. ‘Knowledge won't bring happiness’ — that's a line from my favorite book."
Regis couldn't do anything but stare at her.
The determination on her face was so beautiful and magnanimous showing the resolve in her heart.
"I need your wisdom if I am to be empress."
Regis forgot to breathe as the figure of the princess with red hair and crimson eyes filled his vision.
These were heavy words for a 14 year old girl.
There were many difficulties waiting for her when she embarks on this path.
She knew about this from the very beginning and still chose to forge ahead.
The founding emperor of Belgaria had built the empire after defeating all the barbaric tribes. Did the people around him felt the same way?
If my hands hold the power to change the world, I would want to fulfill her dreams — Regis thought from the bottom of his heart.
"But... Altina... I don't think I have the talents you are expecting."
"Regis, I heard rumors about you three months ago."
"Rumors? What did they say?"
"A strategist who is an intellectual with great insights."
Who spread these rumors?
Regis felt so embarrassed that he wanted to hide in a hole that instant.
"Rumors are things that get exaggerated over time. They are probably mistaken."
"This weak side of you is fine too. After meeting and talking with you, I am convinced. I don't mean understanding everything about you, but I think you can be trusted. Whether it is your capability, character or values."
"That's too simple..."
"It is not. I even pretended to be a wagon driver to find out your true feelings and that took a lot of effort."
"Oh, that too."
"That is why I have the reason to believe in you. And for people to trust others is not something tedious right?"
"Is that so?"
"That is so!"
"Erm~... But... But..."
Regis didn't know what to say.
The two of them became quiet.
The room was silent.
The silence was broken by the banging sound of the door.
A yell came from outside at the same time.
"Hey! Regis! Are you awake!? I have something to discuss with you!"
"Jerome is looking for me...?!"
Altina's face turned green. She had just made a confession that would affect her own life. All sorts of unease stacked in her heart, there was no way she could calm down immediately.
Regis leaned towards Altina and whispered so his words wouldn't be heard outside.
"...Calm down Altina... Hide for now."
"... Did he hear... what we said?!"
"... He won't knock if he did."
"Rather than that, it's dangerous for others to know the two of us are alone at this hour."
"... Alright, please hide for now."
"... Hide, hide where!? There are no gaps between the shelves or under the bed for me to hide."
"... An, Anywhere is fine."
The loud knocking and yelling sounded again.
"Are you not in!? Hey! I'm coming in okay!?"
"Hyaa~ please wait! Wait. I am changing now and am naked..."
"Hah! It's fine. I am not interested in that skinny body of yours. I'm entering!"
The door opened.
When Jerome entered, Regis was in the bed with everything below his chest under the blanket.
"Ah... sorry... I get shy easily..."
"Hmmp, whatever. Just listen even if you are changing or eating."
"Is that so... Ugu..."
Something was wiggling under the sheets.
Body warmth was transmitted through the thin shirt.
He could feel the breathing.
Regis was lying in bed covered in cold sweat.
Altina was hiding under the blanket.
Their position keeping them from touching had been changed; Altina was hugging Regis from the left if you were facing the door. Jerome was to the right from her perspective.
She was doing this in order to hide.
Regis’ heart was beating like a drum.
Altina's left hand was on Regis' stomach, her right hand under his back. Her head was buried in Regis's flank. She would be discovered if there was a lump, so Regis opened a large book and placed it on his chest.
Although his body position was unnatural—
But Jerome didn't say anything about what's beneath the blanket.
"Listen to me, Regis."
"I don't like you. I think admin officers are all talk and useless."
"Is that it... Are you sending me back to the imperial capital?"
"You won't do as I say even if I want to."
"Because I am the princess' subordinate... Uguu..."
Altina's fidgeting leg entangled with Regis' leg. He knew she was sticking close in order to hide.
But this was not good for the heart.
The soft sensation of her thigh was transmitted to Regis' thigh. The inside of his legs sticking close to a girl's thigh was a sensation Regis have never experienced before.
Regis' left leg was clamped by Altina's leg.
His heart accelerated like some form of disease. He might die from a heart attack if this went on.
— This is a great cause of death... No no, dying like this is too miserable!
Regis fell into a state of chaos.
"Ah wait Margrave... hold on—"
Bang!! Jerome stomped his right boot onto the chair violently.
"You are trash. But you are a useful trash. And my principle is to use anyone that is useful, even if they are just a speck of dust."
"But anyone not listening to my orders is not my subordinate. You understand?"
"This means you are unhappy that I am not willing to follow the Margrave's order, right."
"Yeah, I am pissed off! I am very unhappy! Just hearing you say that you are the little girl's subordinate makes me mad!"
"Erm... Margrave, you are also the princess' subordinate."
"This is something that I am definitely unable to accept!!"
"I guess so."
"And so, you will seek permission from the little girl to be under my direct command."
"Oh, I get it..."
The Margrave was a man who broke the rules while wearing a military uniform, and was willing to ignore protocols if necessary.
If Jerome becomes Regis' commanding officer, he would be able to order Regis around as he pleased. And Regis' position as Altina's subordinate would remain the same...
But the fact that he was chosen over the princess as the commanding officer was important.
"Kukuku... I want you to work under me, Regis."
The girl under the blanket hugged Regis' flank tightly in protest. Regis knew her feelings — but she would be found out if she kept doing that!!
Regis hit Altina's petite head lightly with the corner of the book from above the blanket.
He probably didn't hurt her.
Altina became quiet.
He hoped this calmed her down.
Jerome spoke frankly, which was rare.
"... As for me... I don't plan to be frozen in the north forever."
It was natural for him to feel rebellious.
But the colossal system known as the empire was not something mortal man could take on.
"Do you have a plan?"
"Of course... No... My plans have nothing to do with you. Don't get cocky, fifth grade admin officer."
"Well, you are right."
"I am saying you can be of use, even though you are just a speck of dust. You should be grateful."
"I will do my job well enough to justify my wages. As for the change in supervising officer, you have to ask the princess..."
"Are you telling me you will choose the princess rather than me?"
"Well... I can't make an immediate decision."
"Alright then, think about it. It is not something you really need to think about."
Jerome moved his feet from the chair and walked towards the door.
Regis asked him seriously:
"If I... refuse that proposition, what will happen?"
"I am a merciful man. I will grant you a painless death."
The one who shivered in response was Altina who was hugging him.
Regis pressed down her head lightly.
"... That is... a generous ending."
Jerome smiled, confident that he won't be rejected and left.
Altina flipped open the blanket and pushed herself up.
It was too hot and her face was red.
"Are you fine?"
"Hah... hah... I'm not fine!"
"You, you are too loud."
Altina brought her face close.
She was now riding on top of Regis in bed.
A daring situation.
Isn't she aware of this?
She probably didn’t know about a lot of things, so she didn’t understand what she was doing.
Regis could feel her weight around his stomach.
It was Regis whose face was turning red from embarrassment.
"Erm, Altina... Please calm down and get off me..."
"You want to work under Jerome?!"
"Didn't he say he will kill you if you refuse?"
"That was just a threat..."
"But... you didn't reject him."
"No, because you are here..."
Jerome might threaten with violence if he was rejected on the spot. Altina who was hiding under the sheets would definitely be discovered then.
She must have lost her cool to not realise that.
Altina grabbed Regis' shirt tightly.
Her red eyes were getting wet.
She was on the verge of tears.
No amount of jewelry was comparable to this beauty — Regis thought of something inappropriate.
Tears fell down the girl's cheek.
"Help me! You are necessary for me!"
Altina was looking at him seriously.
He could feel his face blushing.
Seems like both sides are not calming down — Regis thought as he breathed deeply.
He spoke as calmly as possible.
"Listen to me Altina... I didn't turn down the Margrave outright to avoid the danger of you being discovered."
"Ah... was that it. I'm sorry."
"Also, killing me if I refuse was just an empty threat... I get the gist of his character now."
"But it hasn't even been a week since you came to the fortress?"
"He is a difficult person to deal with. He is a special man after all."
"Really? What about me?"
"... For you... I don't really understand yet."
"What is this... Are you lying?"
"I never lie."
"Well, it seems that you hate lying. Then answer me honestly... Will you be willing to help me about that thing I told you?"
Her face was a mixture of uneasiness and anticipation.
They were so close that they could feel each other's breathing.
So close that Regis could see his own reflection in her crimson eyes.
No one had needed him so much before.
No one had acknowledged him like that ever.
But Regis was still not confident.
"... Then I will tell you what I really think... What you are doing is rebelling against the empire's system. Many of the people in power will treat you like an enemy and attack you. They will even ignore the emperor's wishes and suppress you. Even if you have the succession rights... Leaving the citizens aside, even the major nobles’ clan won't support you."
"So you won't help me in such a dangerous thing?"
"It's the opposite. I want to help you because it is a difficult dream to realise."
The depressed Altina cheered up.
Regis started restraining her.
"Wait a minute. But... but... I can't imagine myself being of use to you."
"Why? Your proposal to Marquis Tennessee, convincing Jerome or nabbing the bandit shows your capabilities right? You have accomplishments from your tactical insights in the past too."
"I did all that because I happened to have the relevant knowledge. I am just an avid reader. I won't be of help in situations I know nothing of... It is careless of the ambitious you to trust an inept like me. I understand my ability, that’s why I don't want to take on this job. What if I mess up a critical matter? The things you are planning to do are at the risk of your life. There is no second chance. You need to be more critical about your choice of personnel. It was a great thing to have met you. You might meet a real strategist someday... It's just that you happened to meet me in the beginning..."
Altina's shoulders drooped.
Her forehead touched Regis' forehead with a soft thud.
Their lips were so close.
A sound lacking in strength.
Is she stunned from disappointment? That can't be helped.
"... Do you really want to be my strategist?"
"Strategist aside, I truly wish to aid you... But I cannot guarantee that I will do a good job."
Altina's body warmth was transmitted through their forehead.
He felt that she was warmer than him.
"Well, how about this? For the portions that you can't believe in yourself, I will believe in you in your stead. Combining that will become confidence for one person, right?"
This was a fallacious argument.
But compared to believing in himself, he was more willing to believe in Altina.
"... You believe in me... And I will believe you, wouldn't that do?"
She pushed herself up.
Regis' forehead still had lingering warmth from their touch.
But the only thing that separated was their forehead; Altina's body was still sitting around Regis' stomach region.
"Yeah, I trust me — I want to say that. But I found out that I can't be trusted."
A sudden change in the heart.
She had just announced gallantly that she would become empress.
And there was no sign of her giving up from the looks in her eyes.
He could feel her resolve from her expression.
"Sir Jerome says he wants you to work for him right?"
That was the only thing that happened after she made that announcement.
She was probably comparing herself with Jerome.
It was true that there was a large gap in their accomplishment.
"Most of the soldiers trust Jerome more than me. But only asking you to believe in me — That is too arrogant of a thing to ask."
"I think the one closer to success is Sir Jerome. He might rise again and return to the imperial capital."
"Maybe he will become emperor?"
It was hard to take over as the emperor.
Jerome might be powerful, but that didn't mean his troops were that skilled. The first army defending the imperial capital was not just a unit filled with the elites of the nation, their equipment was also top notch.
Most importantly, one can't gain the support of the people with victory alone.
It was important to have justice on your side when campaigning for war.
Regis stopped his train of thought.
"No, I can't support him... Even if Jerome becomes the dictator, the war still won't end. Although the territories will grow larger."
"Yes. I can't leave this to Sir Jerome. I have to change myself in order to achieve my own aspiration."
"Is that so... there is no way you are giving up..."
Altina responded sharply at Regis’ slip of the tongue.
She took his words to heart and asked:
"That is rude! I said those words so nervously I thought my heart will stop! Did you think I said it on a whim and will easily give up!?"
Altina's weight pressed down because she stretched her body.
Towards Regis' stomach.
Altina swayed as she sat on Regis' abdomen.
Each movement caused pain to his stomach.
The bed was creaking.
"I'm puking, puking, the things I ate at the banquet is coming out... Sorry, I'm really sorry!!"
The attack on the stomach stopped.
She breathed out.
"Gaining the trust of everyone is my responsibility. It is enough for me to know how you feel for now."
"I feel like puking..."
"Not that kind of feeling."
"... What do you plan to do?"
"A strategist can't display his skill without troops right?"
"That's normally the case."
"Leave it to me, I will get it done."
"Altina... I am against you doing anything rash."
"Is this your suggestion as a strategist? Or the suggestion of a comrade with similar aspiration? Or as a friend? Ah, or maybe..."
"Erm, well... as a fifth grade admin officer."
She reached her hand out and gently squeezed Regis' nose.
Altina got off Regis when she released his nose.
Leaping off gently like a cat.
Altina was already at the door before his eyes caught up.
"Good night Regis."
Her smile seemed to indicate she was sure of something as she left the room.
The door was closed.
The room was silent.
Regis pushed his upper body up, releasing all his strength and offering his body to his bed.
His body was as heavy as lead.
The chirps of birds could be heard outside the window.
It was not very noisy, but it prevented Regis from catching a wink.
"What is... this..."
Regis grasped the situation of the border regiment through the bandit incident and was sure of one thing. The next pressing matter was the streamlining of the command system. And resolving the complicated relationship between Altina and Jerome took priority.
The best case scenario was Jerome acknowledging Altina as the commander.
If that was too difficult, the next plan would be letting Altina accept her role as a decorative leader.
Regis didn't imagine his words would spur Altina onto the path of kingship.
Altina probably preferred death over being a pretty vase.
And getting expectations from both sides being thrust onto a careless admin officer seemed unfathomable.
With Regis in the middle, Altina and Jerome who was looking down on Regis were in opposing camps.
Regis felt like crying.
"... What is this... could it be I am the culprit who made things worse? How did it turn out this way? I just want to read my books..."
That's right, let's read books.
He was too awake and wouldn't be able to sleep no matter how long he waited.
Regis took a new book from the shelf and flipped it open.
"Reading is good... It allows me to forget about everything..."
It should have made him forget about his troubles.
But he realised his eyes were simply skimming through the text while his mind was somewhere else.
As the culprit, Regis had to take responsibility and repair the relations between Altina and Jerome.
Having a commander in name and a de facto commander was a dangerous sign.
"I already said... I am a useless person..."
With this sad thought, Regis left the book open and slept as if he had fainted.