Editor: Darkdhaos, Khyree Rusydi, Chris S
On the day Altina declared she was aiming to be the empress, the situation took an unexpected turn.
The military administrative department had issued an order for the proper archiving and submission of documents.
Regis thought of this as a serious matter that could compromise the very existence of the regiment. But the culprit Jerome was not bothered at all.
"Hmmph... To complain about such trivial matters like documentation errors, why don't they come and defend this fort themselves? There probably isn't anyone who would want to come to the north."
"It is impossible for me to give such a taunting reply..."
"If you don't like it, then do something about it yourself."
It was dumped onto Regis.
Altina looked worried.
"I knew things can't carry on this way when I arrived here three months ago. I have done everything I can."
"But aren't things still as bad..."
"Ara, didn't I bring you in? I asked the military human resource for you after all."
"I get it now. The human resource wouldn't tell me when I asked them about the place I was transferring to, now I know why."
Regis would definitely be uneasy and anxious if he knew that he was the only admin officer.
Altina asked worriedly:
"Did I trouble you?"
"Nope, being banished was already a foregone conclusion, there are harsher front lines than this out there. Staying here isn't too bad... Although being the only admin officer is a problem."
"I guess it's too much for you to handle alone."
"What choice do we have? Well, we can't just ignore all these issues, I will give it a shot."
And so, Regis started clearing off the administrative works.
He wanted to be of use if Altina wanted to be the empress. Regis also had the aspiration to change the empire.
But the reality was as heavy and cold as snow piled up on the roof. If Regis treated it carelessly, he would be crushed by it.
The work was waiting for him to slowly resolve.
Buried in mountains of documents every day, Regis didn't notice Altina making her resolution.
One week later, in the morning—
Regis had felt the room was too big when he saw it for the first time and was uneasy, suspecting that something was off. But the room was now full of papers, leaving no space for him to walk.
Even the desk that was too big for his grade had turned narrow with the piles of documents.
Regis scanned through the report in his hand.
"... I see. So that is the reason."
There were still problematic areas, but Regis was getting the hang of it.
He was one step closer to finishing the inspection of the documents.
The candles flickered in the wind, the shadows of the objects it illuminated danced on the walls.
Although oil lamps were mainstream in the empire, it was difficult to transport as it was a liquid. So candles were used more often near the borders.
Regis reached for the next document.
At that moment there was a soft knock on the door.
"Hmm? Ah, who is it? The door is not locked..."
"Good morning Mr. Regis."
A woman with black hair entered. Her skin was brown as if it was tanned and her eyes black. She was wearing black maid attire and was slightly older than Regis.
She bowed politely and entered the room.
Regis greeted her in response.
"Ah Miss Elin. You are early today."
"They are setting up a market on the streets this morning, so I was planning to drop by and say hi. I was worried that Mr. Regis is still asleep, but you are already up."
"No... That's not it..."
He had taken a short nap, but he was basically up all night. That was how he had spent the entire week.
Elin was a maid working in Jerome's residence.
After all the admin officers were chased out of the fortress, the manager of the Margrave's residence had been ordered to handle the regiment's documents.
Elin was from a foreign nation, but she was passionate about studying and learned the Belgarian language after arriving in the Margrave's residence, now she could read and write in Belgarian.
There was one more person —
A youth dressed like a butler entered. He had black eyes and brown skin just like Elin.
He was carrying a large wooden crate in his hands.
"Hey, I'm bringing it in."
He threw it onto the bed casually and dusted off the wooden splinters on his clothes.
Elin knocked the youth's head with her knuckles.
"Hey Gösta! Mind your manners!"
"That hurts~... Don't hit me big sis... This is the job of soldiers after all right? Why do we have to help?! This guy is also a commoner, and is just a fifth grade admin officer, not a big deal — it hurts~!?"
He was hit again.
"What are you saying, if you treat others impolitely, Master Jerome's character will be suspected!? — I am sorry Mr. Regis, please don't get angry. My brother is a newly minted butler."
"I am fine with it..."
"Big sis, I am already 16! I am also the chamberlain's assistant! I am not a new—"
"You be quiet!"
Gösta who was dressed like a butler was maid Elin's brother, currently the assistant of the chamberlain.
As the work of the chamberlain involved all sorts of issues, he seldom had the chance to leave the house. And so liaising with Regis became one of Gösta's task. But Regis still didn't know why Elin always tagged along.
Regis browsed through the documents Gösta brought over.
"Gösta is right... I am not Miss Elin's employer or your guest." Regis said as he confirmed the number of documents.
"Please don't say that. Just your job as a soldier is a great honor. Aren't you protecting our way of life?"
"Big sis, this guy is an admin officer so he has never been deployed."
"Stop that, you!"
"Haha... That's right. As a soldier, I am unskilled with the sword and the lance."
Regis was bad in handling compliments.
But Elin looked at him with passionate eyes.
"You are too modest, Mr. Regis... I think an intelligent man like you is wonderful."
This was an era which required physical powers in order to survive. Most women judge men according to their muscles, so was Elin slightly different? Or was praising people part of the job description?
Probably the latter — Regis felt.
Misunderstanding things because of some word of praise is too embarrassing. Focus on work and don't think of needless stuff, Regis thought as he arranged the documents.
"Okay~... there are no problems with the number of pages. I will verify the contents later, thank you. The correspondence regarding the improved format for future paperwork is here. I have included it in this letter, please deliver this to Mr. McClane."
Elin accepted the letter politely. Gösta who was complaining that it was a hassle was punched by Elin.
It was impossible for Regis to complete all the administrative work for the regiment by himself, so the Margrave's house was continuing to help with the paperwork. The chamberlain McClane was a veteran in the field of taxation and trading documentation. There were no errors on those parts, which was a big help.
The military action report and the supply requisition forms had formats unique to the military, so McClane had a hard time with them and was reprimanded by the military administration department...
Regis checked through those documents before submission and corrected all the mistakes and handled the difficult parts. After much work, they finally put most of the papers in order.
"I would like Mr. McClane to handle these documents for this week. The numbers and things to write are a bit much."
Regis placed the documents he was entrusting to McClane into the crates.
"This much? That is troubling. Mr. McClane has work to do in the house too!?"
"I am really grateful. This is for Sir Jerome's sake, so please lend me a hand."
"Hmmp! There's no need for you to say that!"
Gösta lifted the crate as he spoke.
The crate full of papers should be very heavy, but Gösta had a strength that was disproportionate with his skinny built. As expected of a butler.
Regis extinguished the candles on his desk and walked carefully to the door and opened it, taking care not to disturb the mountain of papers on his bed.
"... I will see you off to the carriage. I have some chores to run outside anyway."
Gösta didn't reply, but Elin smiled brightly.
"Thank you Mr. Regis."
"I feel bad that sending off is the only thing I can do for you."
Regis was planning to get some coffee from the dining hall.
Coffee was a common beverage like wine and beer, even commoners could afford them.
Frankly speaking, he needed some sleep more than he needed coffee — But he had to finish some of the documents by today to meet the deadline, so it couldn't be helped.
Because the periodic courier that sent letters and documents to the imperial capital only came by once in a fortnight.
He entered the corridor.
It was dark out here.
There was not much sunlight coming through the windows at that timing.
The stone walls were pitch black. In the homes of nobles in the capital, there would be candlesticks on the wall...
Regis had gotten used to this and walked along the passageway with one hand on the wall.
Their footsteps echoed through the corridor.
"... Is the carriage parked near the south gate?"
"Yes. It will take some effort to obtain permission to open the main gate."
The main gate that controlled the entry and exit of the army required a lot of people to open or close. The south gate at the back of the fortress just needed the two guards on duty to open it.
The south gate was barely big enough for a carriage to pass through, but it was closer if you wanted to go to town.
The Jerome residence was located in Tuonvell.
The flow of people, cargo and information were centered around the streets of the town. It was inconvenient to manage the territory from within the fortress.
Regis and the others met another maid when they exited the central tower and were walking towards the carriage parked in the backyard.
The maid had brown hair and hazel eyes, dressed in a red maid attire.
She was pushing a cart filled with sacks from the food storage.
This maid was Clarisse.
She bowed expressionlessly to the others. As usual, she didn't smile or talk much when other people were around.
Gösta straightened his back while hugging the crate.
"Ah!? Miss miss, Miss Clarisse!? How how, how are you! Great morning!"
"... Good morning."
"The the, weather is great today!"
Regis and Elin beside them lifted their heads. The eastern skies were brightening up, but it was rather cloudy.
Clarisse simply answered "Yes". She didn't say anything else.
Regis asked Elin softly.
"... I think Gösta is acting weird?"
"... Aha, my brother has a thing for Miss Clarisse."
Even though Clarisse was a maid, she was still the handmaid for the princess, so she had an air around her different from other house help. Clarisse was also a beauty, her pretty hair and skin were really charming.
On top of that, she had voluptuous breasts that were obvious even with her apron on.
But she was like a doll when facing Gösta, not changing her expression at all. Her only replies were "yes" and "is that so".
Women who are beautiful but with bad attitudes were evaluated poorly in this era. It takes time, but others would dislike her like they would an untamed horse.
"... My brother has unique taste, a weirdo. That worries me."
"... Well, there is a trend that advocates respecting one's personality."
"As for my future husband, I prefer one that is intellectual and gentle, has a stable income and is not in a career where he will risk his life in battle."
"Ugh, I see... Having a stable income and not in danger of dying is a good thing."
Elin gazed at Regis, her unwavering eyes filled with passion.
— What's up with her?
Clarisse respectfully lowered her head.
"I still have chores to do, I will take my leave."
"Ah, ahah that's right! Sorry for stalling you!"
It was regrettable, but there was almost no chance of Clarisse showing respect for Gösta's personality.
After breaking off her conversation with Gösta, Clarisse looked at Regis with a bright smile. She looked like a different person. Her sudden change in personality made others doubt if she was possessed by the fairies.
"Good morning Mr. Regis."
"Eh? Ah, morning."
"Are you planning to go out later?"
"No... I am just seeing them off. I still have some documents to rush through."
"I see. Can I brew some coffee in the dining hall for you?"
"Eh? Well, actually I should be the one requesting this favor from you..."
Regis was at a loss, not knowing how to handle the strangely gentle Clarisse.
"Hmm fu fu, you came at the right time. We just received a fresh order of coffee beans this morning. Allow me to brew some delicious coffee for you."
Clarisse pointed at the sack on her cart.
Regis was happy that Clarisse was willing to brew coffee for him...
But Gösta's glare was poking at him. Even Elin was pouting with a scary expression.
Regis frowned and asked Clarisse in a low voice:
"... Are you playing a prank on me?"
"What are you talking about?"
Clarisse's bright smile didn't change, just like a mask.
Gösta was grinding his teeth loudly. His hand holding the documents was trembling, the crate creaking.
He was definitely unhappy.
Regis broke out in cold sweat.
"... Clarisse, please don't worsen my work environment."
"Ara? I don't get what you mean Mr. Regis?"
"You are definitely doing this on purpose."
In the end, Gösta ran towards the carriage after spitting out "Don't think that you have won!". Elin was smiling as she bid Regis farewell, but her eyes were not smiling.
The carriage drove off from the south gate.
Regis sent them off out of the fortress as he promised.
"Hah... Clarisse, please don't joke like that. Without their help, the work in processing the documents will be delayed."
"Aren't you charmed by Miss Elin?"
"Hmm? What do you mean? Gösta really likes... well, that's not for me to say."
"... Elin was leering at you all this while."
"No, it's nothing. Mr. Regis, coffee alone won't fill your stomach. They sent us ham and cheese too. Would you like them for breakfast?"
"Oh, I am really grateful."
"You want to eat."
"I will need to make three trips between the food warehouse and the dining hall♪"
"I knew it was going to be like this... Really."
After that, Regis and Clarisse ferried food ingredients for several people.
In the residence of aristocrats, there were many maids performing chores for their master.
They made breakfast before dawn, cleaned the house, did laundry and prepared for dinner.
But the chores in the fortress were handled by the soldiers, so there were just a few maids here.
Among them, Clarisse was the handmaid of the princess, so she had more freedom to move around.
When other maids were preparing breakfast for the troops, she was preparing ham for Regis and arranging the cut cheese.
Regis sat at a corner of the officers’ dining hall and ate his early breakfast.
"... Am I being a bother?"
"Ara, why do you say that Mr. Regis?"
"Because this is the officers’ dining hall... and I am a non commissioned officer."
"It's too late for that. Didn't you use this place several times already. Neither the princess nor the Margrave complained about this. That means no one will be against you eating here."
"That's good... But even so, don't you have other chores to do Miss Clarisse?"
Regis felt apologetic and grateful towards Clarisse for preparing breakfast for him during such a busy morning.
"My real job is taking care of the princess. So I am just helping out when I do other chores."
As the handmaid of the princess, she was closer to a personal assistant than doing odd jobs.
Regis withdrew his sympathy.
He made a sign of the cross over his shoulders and reached for the cheese.
"... There are hardships when you are in such a position too."
"How unexpected. ‘That bitch, what a distinguished position with so much welfare.' Why didn't you spit at me while thinking that?"
"I wasn't thinking about something so mean!? Well... most people will think that way. That's why it's hard to be in an advantageous position. The jealousy of others are horrible."
Clarisse looked at him.
He was being looked at all morning. Did he have ink on his face?
Regis lowered his head and looked at the food he was holding.
"Hmm? You want to eat the cheese?"
"I will help myself then."
Clarisse took the cheese from Regis, pinched off a small piece and put it in her mouth.
There were still plenty of it left on the plate.
What a strange thing to do, Regis thought as he took the other food.
Both ham and cheese were processed food meant for long term preservation, but the fresh batch was certainly tasty.
The coffee tasted better than he expected.
"Mr. Regis, did it not cross your mind?"
"Hmm? About what?"
The thing he immediately thought of about was Altina.
What could he do to help her become the empress?
She had told Regis who didn't have the confidence to be a strategist “For the portion that you can't believe in yourself, I will believe for you in your stead”. He didn't plan to become a strategist because of these words...
But he was still thinking about what he could do for her.
"Well, just thinking about it is pointless, I don't really get it myself..."
"Do you plan to act?"
"That... I don't plan to end as just words in a dream."
"I understand that you don't have confidence in yourself, but I didn't think you would treat doing something so trivial, as words that are uttered in a dream."
"No, it is a really big thing right? It can change history."
"Is it that big?"
"Definitely. This is big enough to shock the whole nation and be chronicled in thousands of books."
"So it is something amazing."
"Yes, I think that's how big it is."
"Mr. Regis' wedding ceremony..."
"That's right, my... Huh?!"
Regis straightened his back unknowingly.
Clarisse squinted her eyes.
"I'm just asking you 'has it crossed your mind', so what were you talking about?"
He was careless because Clarisse was trusted by Altina.
He couldn't say anything more, he needed to watch himself.
"Are you not planning to marry, Mr. Regis?"
"That... I... how could I marry."
"You are an adult when you are 15 in the empire. Don't most people marry before they are 20?"
"Indeed, my sister married at 19... Ah, I will be that age soon... That's troubling."
"You have an elder sister?"
"Yeah, she married three years ago, I was living in Luen city. I think she has two kids now."
"I haven't seen my niece yet. My sister got pregnant shortly after marriage and traveling long distance with a young child is dangerous. I could go over to her side too... But I was employed as a staff of a noble back then. It is impossible to apply for extended leave during apprenticeship."
"The aristocrats travel frequently with their servants. I think you would still have a chance to meet them even with your appointment. Luen city and the imperial capital are not that far apart."
"Ah, that's because... Marquis Thénezay was rather advanced in age, so he wouldn't make unnecessary travels."
"But we do write to each other. Ah, I promised I would send a letter when I reached the fortress... this is bad."
"You haven't mailed her? It has been almost a month since you came here, Mr. Regis..."
"It, it has been about half a month... I will mail her today."
"That should be fine. What kind of person is Mr. Regis' sister?"
Regis took a breath and recollected his past.
Regis' sister was said to be a gentle and mature lady when she was quiet. But in the eyes of her brother, she was only quiet when she slept.
"Well, I think she is the type of person to take the initiative herself. Three years ago, my sister and I were still living near the imperial capital."
"Yes, when Mr. Regis was still a student."
"Yeah, my sister was working as a maid commuting from home. One day, a blacksmith from Luen city set up shop at a market nearby to sell his pots and kitchen knifes. My sister married that person."
"A maid from the imperial capital and a blacksmith from Luen... They don't seem to have much in common."
Clarisse seemed interested in the story.
She was listening quietly and not joking for once.
"My sister was on the way to the market to buy a pair of tailor scissors on the madam's instructions. She met the blacksmith there."
"Even so, the two of them are just a seller and a customer. Isn't that the limit of their relationship?"
"That's the case normally... but my sister proposed to the blacksmith right there."
Clarisse eyes grew wide.
That was really abnormal of Regis' sister.
"That surprised me. The blacksmith must be shocked too... It is common knowledge for the man to propose marriage after several meetings."
"Haha... He was definitely surprised. Even though the women in the empire are more liberal, being proposed in such a way is definitely shocking."
"But he didn't reject her right?"
"He was suspicious of it, wondering if it was a prank or a scam in the beginning..."
"That is natural."
"In order to prove her identity, my sister brought the blacksmith back to the noble's residence. The madam must have been shocked too."
She sent her house help to purchase tailor scissors, but she brought a blacksmith back as her husband to be.
"Her actions must be without precedents."
"Yeah, since she doesn't care about others once she sets a goal."
"The two of you are siblings indeed."
"... What do you mean, I have common sense alright? Well, because my sister married off to Luen city, the skilled blacksmith became my brother-in-law. I attended their wedding in Luen city too. My brother-in-law has a large workshop and five apprentices there."
"I see... He is doing quite well."
"The method might be a bit crude, but I don't think anyone will dislike being confessed to."
And confessed passionately:
"... I like you... Please marry me, Mr. Regis."
"I see now, you are joking. I can tell that without a doubt."
"How mean. I even disregarded the common sense of the world and proposed to you."
"It is definitely weird for the girl to propose."
Regis envied his sister's initiative.
Clarisse smiled and said:
"That depends on the person. I think someone wanting to marry Mr. Regis is the thing that lacks common sense."
"No one wanting to marry me is now a common sense?! I am not very confident with myself, but my assets are not that low..."
"You think you are that bad?"
"... There is still a need to save money for the future."
Regis gave up on this topic with a sigh.
Clarisse took the cheese on the plate.
"Why didn't your sister leave even one-tenth of her enthusiasm to her brother?"
"Even if you tell me that..."
"What do you think about taking the initiative sometimes?"
"I think I am quite enthusiastic about my administrative work."
"The princess is still sleeping, it is about time to wake her."
Clarisse looked at the clock on the wall.
Altina had always been getting up early, finishing breakfast before the dining hall got crowded.
"Waking Altina is your job. Are you planning to let me into the princess' quarters?"
"I am busy handling the chores I forgot about just now."
"You said you are only helping when performing other chores..."
"I understand. I will tell all the officers their breakfast is late because I have to prepare breakfast for Mr. Regis—"
"Was that your plan all along?!"
Regis kept complaining, but he admitted defeat and stood up from his seat.
Clarisse nodded with a satisfied expression.
"The princess needs a kiss from a prince in order to wake up. Do you want to try?"
"You want me to die by capital punishment? And I am a commoner anyway."
"Then please wake her up from outside the door."
"Ah, I was planning to do that."
"Please address her as 'Arurun♪' okay."
"I will be convicted of disrespecting royalty!? Do you have a grudge against me?!"
Regis looked angrily at Clarisse who was enjoying herself, and left from the dining hall.
The third level of the central tower had more windows which were wider than those on the first level.
There was a door that was painted black that has been decorated.
Altina's room was behind this door.
Unexpectedly, Altina immediately replied.
"Ah, sorry I overslept. You came at the right time, give me a hand?"
She is asking me to go in?
He had hoped to settle this without entering her room...
Sound travelled easily in the passageway made from stone. Jerome's quarter was at this level too.
Regis wanted to avoid rumors about him visiting the princess' room from spreading, so pondering about entering or staying put here would be a problem.
"... I have no choice."
He mumbled softly to himself and opened the door.
There was a huge bed and several chests full of clothes.
Altina who had her back to him was stroking her crimson hair with her right hand.
Her skin from her neck and shoulders was showing, her skin was dazzling white.
She was in her underwear.
A corset worn by noble ladies covered the skin from her chest to her waist.
The back of the corset had a shoe like design, needing laces to tighten it up.
While she was preparing to tighten the laces, Altina's left hand was placed at her chest in order to hold the corset up.
Regis didn't understand what was happening before him, standing rooted to the ground.
Altina spoke to Regis with her back to him.
"This is troubling, it is feeling tighter. Am I getting fat? I think I am still growing. It was uncomfortably tight this morning too. Please help me tie the laces."
"The laces on the cor, corset?!"
She seemed to finally realise the one who came to wake her up was not a maid.
She turned her head around in a panic with her eyes wide open.
Altina looked as if she was struck by lightning.
Regis was stunned too and couldn't form the words to be said. His mind was flooded with words like outrage of modesty and disrespecting royalty.
"Ah... no, that... I am here to wake you up... I didn't know that this will happen!"
Altina's scream was loud enough to shatter ear drums.
— Is this the end for me?
Regis gave up.
Shortly after, sounds of footsteps drew near.
The sound of men came from outside the door.
"What happened princess!"
"Did a thief slip in?! We will slaughter him your highness!"
Regis could only see his future of being turned into minced meat by the burly guards. Would he be stabbed to death, thrown out like a pebble or burned alive? If possible, he prefered a painless death. It would be great if he didn't drag his sister who was living faraway into this.
"So, sorry. There is a bug crawling out of the chest of clothes! A big one!"
"Okay! We will crush it!"
"No! I am still changing, you will be charged with disrespecting royalty, outrage of modesty as well as breaking and entering, which will be bad okay?!"
"Changing... Understood! We definitely will not come in!!"
"Yes, please allow us to guard outside!"
"It's fine! I'm okay! I will feel shy if you stand there, so please return to your post now!"
"She, she is changing right now."
"Let's hurry back."
The sound of slow footsteps became more distant.
Regis' soul turned from shock to despair, adding his confusion of the situation on top of that, his mind was turning numb.
He stared at Altina and asked:
"... Wh, Why?"
"Idiot! Don't look at me!"
Regis turned around in panic and was planning to open the door and leave — but there could be sentries outside if he wasn't careful.
Altina mumbled to herself:
"I screamed unintentionally... But in hindsight, it was my fault asking for help without checking who it was."
"I didn't know you were changing."
"That's true... Did you have something for me?"
"I was asked by Miss Clarisse... to wake you up."
"Ku... That girl is really... She knew I always ask her to help me change..."
"Is that so?"
"From time to time. If I am in a hurry or when I'm wearing a corset... ah, it's nothing! These are girl’s secrets!"
"... Ah, you mean getting fat and stuff."
"Should I get the guards?"
"Erase it from your memory. Or it is the death penalty!"
It was not good for Altina to abuse her authority for personal matters, but this was an exception — girl’s secrets are scary.
Altina blushed as she covered her chest and waist with her hands.
"Why are you looking this way!?"
"Ah wah, sorry! We were talking and I just..."
"Did you really enter without noticing!?"
"I swear to God."
"You didn't even attend a single mass after reporting to the fortress!"
"... I did say hello to the priest though."
"Just saying hello and you are already swearing to God? You stay there and turn around. Don't even think of turning your head."
"Alright, I won't turn my head."
Regis focussed on the grains of the wooden door.
He could hear the sound of light breathing and the rustling of clothes behind him.
The sound of slightly pained breathing stopped and turned into the sound of clothes being worn.
The sound of metal on metal was mixed in, Altina was probably putting on her armor and shin guards.
"Okay, you can look over here now."
Regis wiped away his cold sweat.
Altina was in her usual dress with armor.
But the sight of Altina in her dazzling undergarments remained in his mind, making Regis' face hot.
Altina appeared composed, but her ears were still red.
"What, what is it Altina. Are you okay?"
"Really, it's because you are so dense."
"I didn't mean to look. This is, what is known as an accident."
"I know. If you did that on purpose, I would split you in half with the thundering sword!"
"I think my reason for being slashed by the treasured blade will be the worst of all time. Please spare me."
"Hah... I was planning to talk to you today. But now I feel embarrassed just looking at your face."
"You want to talk to me about embarrassing things?"
"That's not it!"
"Well, it will be for the best for both of us to forgot about this."
"... I think I will never forget about this for the rest of my life."
After the blushing receded, Regis and Altina walked towards the dining hall although it was getting a bit late.
Altina went out to recce first, followed by Regis who slipped out of the room.
Just like a couple eloping, Regis thought.
The two of them finally walked on the passageway.
"So, what did you want to talk to me about? You can tell me without looking at my face."
"Erm... They rushed to my aid immediately back then right?"
"Hmmm? Ah, you mean the soldiers?"
"Everyone is treating me well. But they are just thinking of me as a princess."
"I think so too."
"I said that night too, I don't think I am a real commander if I don't have the command authority."
"It's regrettable, but I feel that way too."
She didn't look at him because of embarrassment— that was not the only reason. Her thoughts were forging ahead too.
"If I want to be acknowledged as the commander of this regiment, I need to be more reliable than black knight Jerome. Isn't that right?"
"Ah... Hey, are you planning to do something? I have a bad feeling about this."
Altina did not answer Regis' question.
She was thinking about something.
"You will definitely be against it so I won't say."
"Altina... You are planning to do something I will be against? Please stop."
"But it will definitely be effective. Because you guaranteed it will work."
"Did I say something unnecessary again?"
Altina did not answer, smiling at Regis to reassure him.
Her face wouldn't blush even when they were looking at each other.
They saw Clarisse sitting leisurely when they arrived at the dining hall.
Most of the seats were empty, the dining hall was desolate.
Regis confirmed the time using the clock on the wall.
"It should be... breakfast right now."
If the clock was not malfunctioning, then it was the workers who did not correct it.
All the officers should be gathered here on normal days.
Clarisse got up and bowed.
"Good morning princess."
"Mm, good morning Clarisse. You are really daring."
"I heard a cute scream just now... Did something happen, can you tell me in detail?"
"Ugugu... No, nothing happened."
"Is that so."
Clarisse had the upper hand in the battle of words.
Altina changed the topic and asked:
"Did everyone sleep late? Or are we late?"
"In a way, it is the latter."
Clarisse looked troubled momentarily.
It was a subtle change... But it was rare seeing her hesitate in Altina's presence.
"The scouting squad just returned."
"Is it the northern scouting squad?"
Altina nodded in reply to Regis' query.
"Yeah, for this fortress, the scouting squad would be the one that is doing reconnaissance into the north. Their mission is to investigate the neighboring nations and the barbarians. They spend about one month surveying..."
To the north of the Beilschmidt territory was Varden duchy.
As Varden was part of the Germania federation, it was in a constant state of internal or external war. They had crossed swords with Jerome's regiment a number of times.
Several tribes of barbarians were also congregated in the forest between the two nations.
The smaller tribes numbered in the hundreds while the bigger ones had thousands of people. They were a mixture of aboriginals and citizens abandoned by the empire and federation.
As a border regiment, they had to be cautious of both groups. The commander must be informed of the scouting reports even if he has to put other pressing matters on hold.
Altina bit her lips.
"... Is Sir Jerome receiving this report?"
"Yes, some soldiers came here looking for him to alert Sir Jerome of the scout's return. They went to his quarters after failing to find him here. All the officers are gathered in the parade square to listen to the report."
That soldier didn't look for Altina. They didn't even pretend to have gotten the wrong commander.
A torrent of rage was building up within Altina, but she didn't let it show.
"I will have breakfast later!"
She went to the door after saying that.
Clarisse bowed deeply behind her.
Regis followed after her out of the dining hall hastily and rushed to the parade square.
There were many officers gathered in the parade square before the main gate, and the soldiers were looking from a distance in the outer circle.
In the center of the walls of people were Jerome and five men.
The Margrave stood with his arms crossed, listening to the report.
Kneeling on one knee before him were men dressed like adventurers with cloaks and swords on their back. The five men had unshaven face and were extremely thin. Only their eyes were bright. They were the scouting squad and the one speaking was the scout leader.
Beer and raisins were presented to the scouts, but they didn't reach for them.
They spent a month on enemy grounds for this report, that was how serious they took their one-month mission laden with hardships.
"— that concludes the crucial information of Varden Duchy."
"Hmm... They seem to be mustering troops."
"I think so too."
"Are they planning to attack us... Or are they preparing for civil war... Hmm?"
Jerome looked at Altina who was approaching as the wall of people parted for her.
Regis stopped when he reached the edge of the wall. He wanted to avoid looking like a shameless follower and invite the displeasure of others.
The scouting team looked at Altina with a serious expression. Altina was treated lightly like a decoration and the report began before she arrived. But Altina was still the commander even if she did not perform anything worth mentioning yet. There was a chance of getting on her bad side too.
The squad leader proposed:
"Madam commander... Allow me to report again—"
"It's fine, please carry on with your report. Sir Jerome will organise what you said and report it to me, isn't that right?"
"Haha, me reporting to a little girl? Go back and chew on your turkey ham in the dining hall."
"... I will settle it with you after hearing their report."
Her words were filled with resolve.
Altina's spirit did not waver even in the face of Jerome's intimidation. The atmosphere felt like two swords clashing with sparks flying all over.
The courageous scouts and the crowd gasped at this scene.
Altina urged them to continue with the report.
"Ugh... Next will be the scouting reports on the barbarians in the forest. They were engaged in a massive inter tribal war when we were conducting reconnaissance."
"Infighting between barbarians? Skirmishes between small tribes are common, but massive intertribal wars are rare."
"Yes, a coalition of at least three tribal groups were also present."
"The savages who only know killing and robbing are banding together? Are they really barbarians?"
"From their equipment and fighting style, they should be barbarians. There is a prominent strong man in the group who moved like a monkey. He kept pouncing on the enemy and defeating them, strong enough to change the tide of battle by himself."
Jerome smiled at the prospect of facing a powerful opponent. That part of his character was probably the reason why he became a hero and why his troops adored him.
Altina listened quietly. If both sides asked all sorts of queries, the report couldn't go on.
Jerome raised several questions about the barbarians, he seemed concerned about the monkey-like enemy.
As the report came to a conclusion, Altina finally asked:
"... The scouting squad has twelve members when you started the mission, right?"
"How did they go?"
"Three died fighting the savages, two contracted and succumbed to illness, one lost his footing traversing the mountains and one was buried in a blizzard."
Altina nodded and closed her eyes.
A moment of silence for the dead.
The officers and men in the parade square quieted down without any prompting, the entire fortress was silent.
She opened her eyes shortly after.
"... Thank you for your crucial report and your gallant service. Please have a good rest for now."
"Yes... Your highness... Ugugu..."
The five men who survived broke down in tears. They remembered their fallen comrades and the hardships they endured.
They saluted and fell out.
The soldiers around them welcomed the scouts with praise and gratitude.
The scouting reports were as valuable as a light shining in the darkness. The enemy might opt to conserve their strength or attack under the cover of snow fall. The empire would be able to adjust their patrol and defenses in accordance to the enemy's action.
Jerome turned and planed to return to the central tower.
"Hmmp... The most the little girl can do is observe in a moment of silence."
Altina replied: "Stop right there." at the mocking man and placed her hand on her sword hilt.
Regis widened his eyes as he watched the scene unfold.
He heard the sound of metal grinding on metal.
Without giving Regis time to stop her, Altina drew her sword.
Regis screamed in despair.
Rowdy noises erupted around him, the troops were shocked.
The human wall backed away with yells of "Wah!"
Altina was five paces away from Jerome. For a hero like him, Jerome could close this gap in an instant.
Since Altina was pointing her sword at Jerome, it would be no surprise if she were to be killed.
But she remained calm despite that.
"You are adamant to not acknowledge me no matter what happens, Sir Jerome."
"Hey... Little girl, your joke is not funny."
"I am serious. It is a pain to have a royalty acting like a commander for you, isn't it? It is about time to clear this up."
"Hmmp, there is nothing to clear up. This is my regiment."
"These are the words a small nation within the Germania federation will say. Everyone in this army from the soldiers to the knights and even you belongs to the Belgaria empire army, and is under my command."
"Yeah, that's right. But little girl, you can't command troops with just an empty title. This is not the palace. No soldier will listen to the orders of a decoration in a pinch."
"I know this very well. I learned this in April. That is why I need to prove myself to be worthy of the title of commander."
"Kukuku... Didn't you already have the mandate from the emperor?"
"Are you joking?"
Altina averted her eyes slightly.
Regis felt her eyes on him.
He didn't see any doubts or uneasiness on her, she seemed relaxed and confident.
Her sword was unwavering.
She returned her sights onto the man she was facing and announced:
"Sir Jerome, I challenge you to a duel!"
If this is a nightmare, I wish to wake up immediately — Regis prayed.
About one-tenth of the troops were stunned, another tenth were dumbstruck from confusion, most of the soldiers thought it was a joke and some of them were even laughing.
Even Jerome who was the subject did not take it seriously.
"Hey little girl..."
But their laughter stopped with Altina's next words.
"If I win, you will change the way you address me. First, you have to acknowledge me as the commander and listen to my instructions. Next, you will be a general under my command and perform to the best of your abilities. This is not day dreaming or a joke, if you continue to treat this with a playful attitude, I will take it that you are running away."
Altina had laid it all down, so Jerome couldn't continue to brush her off.
The smile disappeared from his face.
The intimidating aura he was releasing increased.
The troops felt fear from the fierce killing intent, some even tried to escape.
"Tch... Don't regret it girl. I won't hold back even if my opponent is the emperor!"
"I guessed as much. If you were someone who respected a person's position, you would be willing to work under me without the need for a duel."
"You are taking it easy. Have you prepared a champion to fight for you? The only knight capable of challenging me in this fortress is probably Evrard..."
The knight commander who became the center of attention had a troubled expression.
He might be serving under Jerome, but he was also treating Altina like his daughter, granddaughter, or even his goddess. He would be in a dilemma if he was tasked with being Altina's champion.
Altina swung her sword.
"I don't need a champion. I am the one who will be dueling with you. I say again — I will treat it as you running away if you don't accept!"
"Kukuku... Alright. You are just a princess who lost in the political power struggle. Might as well end it for you here."
Altina frowned unhappily.
Loser princess was one of the meaner nicknames she had. This was closer to profanity than a nickname.
"You will acknowledge me as the commander if I win?"
"Of course, I will recognize you as a real commander, not just an empty title. That is if you win! So... What do I get if I win? I am the commander of the regiment even without the duel... Ah, returning the title of commander to me sounds good."
"You want me to treat the imperial edict like a piece of trash, right?"
"Can you do it?"
"Even if I submit it up, it will be revoked by prince Latreille."
"Hmmp... So you can't motivate me to take part in the duel."
Altina nodded in agreement.
Seemed like this was part of her plan.
"I knew you would say that. It's meaningless if there is nothing in it for Sir Jerome. I have been thinking about this for the past few days. 'Holding back because there is no point in trying hard'. If the troops think about it this way, then the duel will have no value."
"Hah... You mean you have terms that can entice me?"
"I will resign the empty title of commander, and revitalise your Beilschmidt family name."
"What did you say?"
"You haven't forgotten about being ostracised from the main stage by the generals of noble birth, have you?"
Jerome gritted his teeth.
"Little girl... You have brought up something unnecessary. If you propose some foolish plan, there will be no need for duels. I will shut your mouth right here and now! Think carefully before speaking. What are the terms you are planning to propose?"
It was too late to stop them in the current atmosphere.
Hypothetically, could Regis stop the duel if he intervened now? Impossible.
Doing that would just result in Altina's reputation falling further. A commander who was protected by a mere fifth grade admin officer would be a laughingstock.
All he could do was watch.
Even so, Regis found it hard to suppress his urge to rush in.
There was a way for a lady to treat the imperial edict like trash, leave the military service and raise Jerome's status amongst the nobles.
He uttered softly in his throat.
Naturally, his words were consumed by the noise around him, failing to reach her.
Altina pointed her sword at her opponent.
And said to the hero with bloodshot eyes of wild dogs:
"If you win, I will be your wife."
Jerome became stiff.
"... Indeed... This is an attractive term."
"Isn't that right?"
Altina wouldn't be a princess after marrying a noble, so prince Latreille's plan of appointing the princess as the commander would be meaningless.
After the marriage, the nobility title of the Beilschmidt clan would be the same, but their status would definitely be elevated.
Objectively speaking, Jerome had more than enough reason to treat this duel seriously.
"Hmmp... Little girl, you are not my type as a woman, but the terms itself are great. Prepare to be ordered around as much as I wish, just like a servant."
"It seems the terms are acceptable to you."
"Sure. Betting with your life on the line is exciting. I will accept this duel."
Jerome smiled as if he was already victorious.
Altina sheathed her sword.
"Then the duel is on. I will say this just in case. If you have some strange misunderstanding and duel with me with a lusty mind, your rotten head will be smashed all over the floor."
"You should mind your own business little girl. You should start your bridal training now."
Altina grinded her teeth angrily.
It was just a meaningless taunt, but Altina had low resistance towards this type of matter, so it was very effective.
Jerome cracked his knuckles.
"When do you want to do this? I am fine even if we do this right now."
"Are you kidding? I won't give you any chance to find excuses. I have so many demands, I won't request for a duel immediately. There will be tons of excuses like just waking up, you drank too much last night or the difference in preparation between both sides."
Jerome knew the regiment had divided into two camps, one supporting him, the other supporting Altina.
Leaving grounds for excuse would be bad no matter what the result of the duel was.
"Oui, Let's set it at noon three days later. The venue will be this parade square."
"Is three days enough?"
"Who do you think I am?"
"Understood. Also, I don't want others to think I am plotting against you so—"
"Don't get cocky! A 14 year old little girl can't win against me no matter what kind of traps you can set!! I won't find excuses for the results of the duel, If anyone complains about the result, that means he is complaining against me. I will wring his neck and shut him up!"
"... Is that so."
"I should be the one to warn you. I won't hold back no matter who is fighting against me. Prepare your will."
Leaving these words behind, Jerome climbed up the stairs of the central tower.
Groans erupted from a portion of the knights. They were the ones revering Altina as a goddess.
Altina who was revered by them seemed to be at ease.
"I don't plan to kill my subordinates."
"... Are you planning to win?"
Regis asked Altina after Jerome had entered the tower. He would not be harming her reputation by speaking to her at this point.
"Ara Regis, no one will enter a duel with a plan to lose right?"
"Stories of princess entering hopeless duels for love and reputation are unexpectedly common in this world... I didn't think you would be this foolish, princess... I was wrong about you."
Regis felt himself age 10 years.
— To challenge that 'Hero of Erstein' to a duel!!
He felt like he was going to faint.
Altina had a nonchalant expression.
"Saying I am foolish is too mean. Is not knowing such stories so shameful? Stories about duels they can't win..."
"That's not my point! I am saying that challenging the hero Jerome is too foolish!!"
"Because there is no other way. Winning the duel and proving I am the strongest in the fortress. You said you need more than martial prowess to be a commander, but it is easier for others to show who is stronger through might and power."
"I slipped up again..."
Regis massaged his temple with his finger, he would definitely faint from his headache if this carries on.
Did she not understand the situation? Or does she have some scheme in mind?
He could feel she was at ease from her attitude.
"You didn't slip your tongue. I think it was a great idea, Regis."
"... You are planning to win the duel?"
Altina answered as she puffed out her chest.