Editor: Darkdhaos, Khyree Rusydi, Chris S, Omega
The fortress was filled with discussions about the impending duel.
As expected, most people felt that it was impossible for Altina to beat Jerome... So why did the princess make the challenge?
Did she think the Margrave would hold back if his opponent was royalty?
The soldiers shared the rumors they heard.
"Will it be like a festival performance with the Margrave giving up after taking a few hits? Those who assault the royalties will be punished with the death penalty right?"
"You think it will be like that because you didn't see the scene at the parade square. I was almost pissing myself from fear when the general was angered."
"Hey, will the princess be okay?
"The Margrave said that he will take her in as his wife, so he probably won't kill her right?"
"Hehehe... What a roundabout way to propose marriage!"
If it was a proper duel, Jerome would definitely be victorious. The soldiers were wondering whether the duel was for real or if it was a farce. If it was a real duel, then what would Jerome do to the princess?
The issue of the challenge was seen as 'the sheltered princess in the palace going against the hero'. How would the Margrave handle this? Whether the Margrave will marry the princess became the focus of the crowd.
Regis made a tour of the western zone and gathered the rumors that were spreading around.
"... Well, there is definitely nobody who thinks Altina will win."
Most of the soldiers thought they were the supporting characters with the Margrave and princess as the main cast. But that was not the case, the soldiers discussing the rumors enthusiastically were more important.
Altina issued the challenge in order to earn the trust of the soldiers. Jerome accepted because the troops were watching.
How did the 3000 soldiers in the regiment feel about this?
That was what Regis was concerned about right now.
It was unintentional, but Regis still thought he should take responsibility for coercing Altina. He wanted to be of help, so he needed to understand the troop’s feelings about this.
Regis returned to the central tower after surveying most of the fortress.
He visited Jerome's chambers next.
He felt nervous; his heart was beating at a speed that alarmed him.
He knocked on the door painted black.
"Who is it?"
A low voice replied from behind the door.
"... This is Regis. I have something to say to you, Sir Jerome and have come to visit."
"Hmmp... it's definitely about something boring."
"That is probably true..."
Jerome opened the door.
It was a room about the same size as Regis'.
His quarters were next door, there was another door in the depths of the room. A desk was positioned beside the door, the shelves at the corner were filled with books about law and economics.
Jerome was in the middle of the room, holding a short and heavy spear.
He was topless and his body was full of sweat.
The tip of the spear only had a heavy ball shaped item, but Regis was still intimidated by Jerome's aura.
"Kukuku... Are you here to poison me on the little girl's orders?"
"If you are worried about that, you should watch out for Miss Clarisse."
"Ah, that is a scary one. She might really do it... She looks like a nice girl but her personality is terrible. What a waste."
"I want to talk to you about the duel..."
"It's useless to say anything now."
"... You are right."
Regis sighed. If Jerome was unmotivated, there were still some ways he could stop the duel. But Jerome seemed rather hyped about it.
So hyped that he started training for it immediately.
"Fu... I didn't know she would challenge so forthrightly. I thought she would laze around and complain till the day she gets married off to some grand noble, trash that will waste her time everyday... Seems like I'm wrong."
"If she can live a leisurely life, I will be able to take it easy."
"What's with you boy? You think the little girl can beat me?"
"Not just me, that's the consensus among all the soldiers. Only the princess herself thinks she has a chance."
Jerome shook his head.
He shook the heavy training lance while holding it horizontally. His arm and chest muscles trembled, shaking his sweat away.
"Fu... That's wrong."
"I am not looking down at the little girl's strength. It is dumb to underestimate someone who can wield such a massive sword."
He was taking it very seriously; Regis thought and sighed in his heart.
Regis couldn't understand the details of martial prowess no matter how much he watched.
The movement of Jerome wielding the training lance was too fast; he had a hard time just catching up with his eyes.
Jerome thrust his lance as he said:
"That sword is problematic... Swords or spears will break if I try to block. I can change a new one on the battlefield, but it will be my loss if my weapon breaks."
"The little girl was probably aiming for this when she said she can win. She will probably be using the Grand Tonerre Quatre."
"I heard that Sir Jerome owns a powerful lance capable of matching that sword?"
"Yeah... But that is meant for horseback usage. It is difficult to wield it for a battle on foot."
"You are not planning to ride your horse?"
"On the parade square? That's laughable. Cavalry should fight on the plains... So she thought about it so deeply. I can't use my powerful lance or trusty steed. And it is not an assault battle I am proficient in. The little girl might even win this."
"I don't think this level of disadvantage can change the outcome."
Not just that. Regis felt Altina's chance of winning was fading.
Regis thought that it was important for Jerome to take it lightly if Altina was to stand a chance with such a large disparity in skills. Such as drinking alcohol before the fight or something similar.
But Jerome was leaving nothing to chance.
Such minor disadvantages would only alert the opponent.
It wasn't clear what Altina's intention was, but this was definitely bad strategically wise.
"Hey Regis... Are you hoping I will lose?"
"Why would you think so?"
"You won't be here if you hope I will win. You will be discussing the rumors happily with the troops. There is nothing to worry about; you will probably end up doing the administrative work you like."
"I need to correct two points."
"I hope to resolve this in a peaceful manner."
Altina would be one step closer to realising her ambition if she won. But she would also be closer to the edge of a dangerous cliff too.
Regis felt that he should help her secure a safety line even though he failed to stop her.
"Kukuku... I don't think there are such things as peace on the front lines."
"Another thing I want to correct... is that I don't particularly like administrative work. Whose fault do you think it is for my lack of sleep these days?!"
Regis forgot his honorifics unconsciously.
Regis was planning to suppress his emotions, but he slipped and revealed the grudge he was bearing.
Jerome stared with his eyes wide open and laughed out loud.
"Kuhahaha! Sorry about that! I will amend what I said then — I will definitely win and you will carry on doing the administrative work you hate! For me!"
"That's too mean."
Regis' shoulders drooped.
Jerome changed his tone and lowered his voice.
"Hey Regis... you noticed, haven't you?"
"... Are you talking about the budget?"
Jerome nodded silently.
Regis felt a chill down his neck.
He discovered something after flipping through the volumes of documents.
"... The real reason you chased the admin officers away... letting only those who will keep secrets for you handle the account books."
"That's how it is."
"Why do you trust me?"
"Because... I don't need to tell you that."
"When we first met, you tried bribing me, and then threatening with a pitchfork. It's all because of this?"
A part of the Beilschmidt border regiment's budget was not disclosed to the military administration department.
The usage of these funds was not specified.
But if anyone considered Jerome's circumstances, they could make a good guess.
"Fu... That matter was put on hold since you have been busy with paperwork recently."
"Is this about who my commanding officer is...?”
"You don't need to talk to the little girl about this. After the duel three days later, the lousy drama between me and her will be over. And you will work under me."
Regis looked displeased.
"I am not valuable enough for the Margrave to be concerned about me."
"Don't flatter yourself; you are just a complementary prize. Getting rid of the commander with an empty title, the Beilschmidt clan marrying a royalty... And you are complementary apple."
"Hah... So I am an apple."
He might just be a side bet, but Regis felt uneasy being the subject of motivation for a fight.
The Margrave was not taking this lightly. He was pumped up for the fight and confident of victory.
He had his own aspirations too.
It took a lot of effort for Regis to hide his worries from his face.
— This is going to be tough. Altina, why did you issue this challenge?
There were things he needed to do no matter what the result of the duel three days later might be.
When the auditors are sent to this unit and see the state of the account books, the accountants and the commanders will be reprimanded. Even if the commander only had an empty title.
It would increase the chance of the secrets being discovered.
After returning from Jerome's room, Regis finished the rest of the paperwork in a hurry.
He wasted some time because of attacks from the sleep monster, but he managed to finish the documents and sealed them.
Regis exited his room after completing his task.
The sun was high in the sky. It was a cloudy morning, but the weather was good enough to melt the snow. It was warm enough to not wear a coat.
A human wall surrounded the southern gate.
The periodic courier was here.
Most of the people receiving mails happily were knights. Most soldiers were illiterate and seldom sent letters.
"The carriage is leaving~~"
A bell was ringed loudly.
Regis rushed out.
"Wait a moment! Please hold on! I will be troubled if this isn't sent out!"
The periodic courier came once a week.
Regis moved in front of the carriage and handed a parcel to the baffled courier.
"Is that... To be sent to the military administration department? Bro, isn't there a separate courier for military documents?"
"These are urgent documents, it will bad if it is not sent out. It is a heavy responsibility, but I leave it in your hands."
"Hold on! We are civilian couriers, not in the military! You need to dispatch a messenger to deliver something important like this."
"Sir Jerome dislikes dispatching his soldiers to deliver documents, which is troubling for me."
"Hmm, the military administration department is in the capital, I guess I can swing by."
"That's a big help."
Regis gave him a Tonie copper coin as tip.
The courier kept the parcel into his mailbag with a smile.
I will claim the money back as necessary expenses, Regis who was short on money decided.
The periodic courier exited the south gate.
He could finally sleep.
Regis yawned widely.
He heard a giggling sound near him.
He turned back and saw Clarisse holding a large pile of laundry approaching him.
"You seem rather tired."
"Ah... Handling the paperwork is a pain, and things I can't ignore keep popping up."
"Is it about the princess? You don't need to worry about that."
"... Can you make some time for me right now?"
"How strange for you to think I have time."
Clarisse lifted the corners of her lips as she held a large amount of laundry in her hands.
Clothes were washed with detergent in the imperial capital, but laundry was usually done by using traditional washing boards in the fortress. Detergents were considered a luxury item over here.
"My apologies, you seemed rather busy... But it's rare to see you doing laundry at such a time. That is usually done in the morning."
"Because milk was spilled onto the tablecloth. If I don't wash it now, it will smell later."
"Ah, I see. Did you spill it?"
"No. I happened to be free at the moment. If you don't mind me doing the laundry while we speak, I can listen to what you have to say."
"That will do. Let me carry half of that for you."
Clarisse smiled mischievously when Regis reached out his hands.
"Are you sure?"
"No matter how weak I am, helping a lady carry half her laundry is still manageable."
"That's not what I mean. It is stained with milk alright?"
"Ugh... Can't be helped. I will wipe down with a wet cloth later."
Clarisse handed a slightly wet cloth to Regis. It smelled like milk.
Regis headed towards the laundry room together with Clarisse.
For the house help, the chore that was as tedious and important as cooking and cleaning was laundry.
In a corner of the western region where the soldiers reside, there was a place that was halfway below ground level.
Melted snow flowed into this place through pipes, flooding the 10 washing stations.
Clarisse placed the laundry into the water. She soaked it as much as possible, getting as much filth out as possible.
Her tender and pale hands turned red immediately after dipping in the ice water.
"Let me help."
"I'm fine. You want to talk to me about the princess?"
"That's right... But you are doing a tedious task in front of me while I am just talking. That makes me uncomfortable."
"What a strange thing to say. This is what social status means."
"By your logic, helping out with things I want to is my social status. Eh, do I just have to do this?"
Regis took out a tablecloth from the pile of laundry and soaked it in water, imitating Clarisse.
His hands felt pain from the freezing water.
"You are really... Take your hands out of the water from time to time when you are washing. You will get frostbites if you soak your hands in too long."
"Ah, is that so. Are you okay?"
"I am used to it."
"When I am washing a lot of laundry in the morning, I will use the pot over there to boil some water. It can be used to warm my hands, and it washes away stains easily."
There was a large pot in the corner of the laundry room.
Regis understood. It was impossible to clean so much laundry without preparing that.
A beginner like him would have a hard time washing just one.
"You are not boiling water today?"
"There are just a few pieces anyway. Is that all you want to talk about?"
"Not yet, I am just starting now... Ku..."
Regis massaged his fingers that felt painful from the cold to warm his hands.
But the stains were not coming off.
So Regis repeated the three steps of scrubbing the cloth, taking his hands out and rubbing it for warmth.
"Ugugu... Why did Altina issue a duel at this time?"
"The princess probably didn't think too much about the timing. That was definitely something she thought of in the morning."
"That was too rash."
He finally removed the smell of milk from one piece of table cloth.
A large area on the tablecloth turned slightly yellow, the area that was brown had also turned white.
"But even so, it will be fine if it was the princess' idea."
"I know it is too late for her to give up... But I didn't think you would be so optimistic."
"Don't you trust the princess, Mr. Regis?"
"I don't have the talent to discern someone's martial prowess. But thinking objectively, there is no way Altina can win. If Sir Jerome is someone who will lose to an inexperienced 14 year old girl, he would have died on the battlefield long ago."
"I see, some people will think that way."
"Please enlighten me if you have a different opinion..."
Clarisse picked the tablecloth out of the freezing water.
The sound of the splattering water could be heard in the laundry room.
"Because the princess told me 'there is no problem'♪"
"You are just giving up on thinking. What you 'believe in' and the 'facts' are different things."
"So, what do you plan to do?"
"... There are probably no proper measures we can take."
Finishing the cleaning chores he was not familiar with, Regis bid farewell to Clarisse and headed towards his own room.
Were his unsteady footsteps because of the lack of sleep or too many problems stuffed into his mind?
He could hear the sound of sword swinging from the courtyard.
He went over and saw Altina wielding a large fauchard in the courtyard.
Altina swung the fauchard with one hand like a twig, even though two hands were usually needed to wield it.
— Normal girls couldn't do that.
Altina had enormous arm power that didn't match her appearance.
She probably noticed Regis' presence.
Altina smiled at Regis.
"Ara, you want to swing it too?"
"I don't want to and I can't. I don't want to brag, but..."
"You can't even lift it?"
"I probably can't."
Regis shrugged while Altina smiled awkwardly.
She started swinging again.
"You are... Amazing."
"Just my arm strength... I am confident of that. I swing swords for adults when I was very young."
"Well, it's not only that... But to win against Jerome, frankly... I mean... Will that be too difficult?"
"Definitely. If he is someone so easy to defeat, our enemies wouldn't be having such a hard time."
"Do you have a plan in mind? You are confident enough to issue a challenge."
Regis betted on this slim chance.
Altina looked at him with a baffled expression.
"What plan? Isn't a duel won by the stronger person?"
"Ugh... You are really not thinking about anything... There are preparations you can make to increase your chance of winning."
"Hey, I'm not stupid."
"So you gave it some thought?!"
"The lance will be faster in the first strike. After blocking that, I have to watch out for body blows since my sword is heavy. Is kicking his knee cap when he steps over against the rules?"
Regis drooped his head.
"What is this... You are planning to fight him properly..."
"It will be meaningless if I don't do it this way, my objective is not to win."
"Proving I am stronger is the objective. I won't win over the trust of the soldiers if I don't win this properly. And also your trust too."
Altina stated calmly.
Regis felt she was right too.
"... But he is not someone you can win without any plan."
"It will be meaningless even if I win with a plan."
"Are you thinking about something weird?"
Altina stared at Regis intensely.
Regis averted his eyes.
"... There are many ways to do something without others noticing right? Like reflecting sunlight to his eyes with things like broken glass, or some traps on the ground."
After saying that softly.
The sound of the wind rises.
The fauchard smashed next to Regis' foot with a bang. It made a deep dent in the ground.
"Don't joke with me!"
"Hey, hey Altina?!"
"Ah... Sorry. I was too agitated..."
“Me too” — Regis replied to the girl asking for forgiveness:
"My apologies, I didn't mean to upset you."
"Yeah, I understand."
"I understand why you want to have a proper duel. But the goal is not at the end of a series of victories. We need to take the back door sometimes."
As expected, this was too cruel for a 14 year old.
Actually, Altina who was the fourth princess had no chance of inheriting the throne. The only way for her to take over the throne would be by usurping the throne.
But Altina had a pure and just heart, so she wouldn't go through such a path filled with mud and death.
Only a just and clean road was reflected in her eyes.
And so, Regis had to be the bad guy—
Regis clenched his fist.
A pair of white and petite hands were placed on top of his hand at this moment.
The fingers that were slightly warm after practicing her swings caressed Regis' skin.
Altina was by his side before he realised.
She lifted her head to look at Regis, her beautiful crimson eyes looking at him as she leaned towards him.
"I know you are worried about me. I also understand that you know about a lot of things."
"Yes, I am worried about you... But I don't know anything great..."
"I don't think it is bad to think about tactics. But sometimes, we have to face the battle straight on."
"... You mean this is such a scenario right now?"
"Yeah, isn't it?"
Regis closed his eyes.
He flipped through the books in his mind and extracted the relevant knowledge.
But he decided against using them in the end.
"If I help you win this duel with a scheme... You will lose the righteousness of the path you are advancing on. There is nothing sadder than losing your way and being a pawn to others."
"Eh... I don't really understand something so deep, but my instinct tells me I should fight and win properly!"
"Should I trust you...?”
"I will prove that I am worthy of your trust, just wait and see!"
Altina bumped her fist against Regis' hand which she was holding.
Regis nodded a sign of friendliness since ancient times.
Right now for her, using schemes to win won't be effective and would have negative implications.
But he couldn't just stand by and watch idly.
Regis rubbed his sleepy eyes when he showed up at the officers’ dining hall.
But the person he was looking for was not present, so Regis went to the stables.
As he was wandering the stables, the person he was looking for greeted him loudly.
"Oh, Sir Regis!"
"You are here, Mr. Evrard..."
"I was just looking for you!"
"Are you... looking for me regarding the princess?"
"Hmm? You mean the duel? Wahaha! I knew this will happen sooner or later, but I didn't think the little girl will issue the challenge at that time! I was very surprised!"
"You knew it was coming?!"
"She would want to do something to change this awkward status quo."
"And the only way she can think of is to duke it out with swords!"
Regis hugged his head.
This meant Altina's thinking was no different from this muscle bound knight commander.
At least when they were wielding swords.
His head hurt.
No, that was the reason she thought it was necessary for Regis to aid her as a strategist.
"Why did it turn out this way... And the victor has already been determined..."
"Wahaha! Sir Regis, you have a way with words! As expected of a strategist!"
"Wrong. I am no strategist."
"Oh? Didn't you propose an excellent plan to nab the bandits?"
"No, that is just... The princess asking me to explain what I knew... I don't have the capability to come up with battle plans."
"What's bad about that? Using knowledge others don't have is a good way to contribute."
But what if he lacked the knowledge at critical junctures? That was when they will need a real strategist and his wisdom.
Like the situation now.
Plat! Evrard patted Regis' back strongly. The impact blew his drowsiness away.
"Some people's life was saved thanks to you."
"My grandchild! That child was in Marquis Thénezay’s army and was saved when they were defeated."
"Well, the headquarters was wiped out after the sneak attack, but most of our forces escaped. But I don't think it was thanks to me..."
"You mean the people who barely escaped with their life from the attack of the savages?"
"My child was with you in the reserves forces when you were sent to the rear of the main unit."
"Ah, there was the reserve force."
"In the end, he was not shamed because of the defeat. He was praised instead for helping his defeated comrades in escaping."
Regis remembered what happened.
That was a grueling memory.
"... After noticing the sneak attack, the headquarters was on fire... So I suggested not to aid them but to prepare to attack... But that was all we could have done."
"Don't be modest. The headquarters was destroyed and the army was routed. The main reason the army wasn't wiped out was because the reserve forces stopped the barbarian's advance on fifth grade admin officer Regis Auric's command."
"I didn't command anything... The reserves have high ranking combat officers leading them, so they were the ones who did the job."
"But that's not what this said."
Evrard handed a letter over.
Regis took the letter.
Edward's grandson used unbelievably formal language and wrote what Evrard had said.
How he was saved by Regis' effort when Marquis Thénezay’s army was routed.
He also mentioned how Regis rescued many other colleagues.
He found out lately that Regis had to take responsibility as the sole survivor from headquarters and was banished to the borders.
"To repay his debts to Sir Regis, my grandchild will be volunteering to join this regiment. Good! This is also a way of life!"
"How could that be! The survival rate of this regiment is slightly higher than other front lines... But it is still 10 times higher if you stay in the capital. Why would he volunteer to come here?"
"My grandchild is probably thinking about protecting you in this dangerous place."
"... I am not worthy."
"Wahahaha! You say some strange things. Only the person himself will understand why they are willing to risk their life!"
Regis felt Evrard's statement was probably right.
But Regis didn't think he had saved many lives, or that he was worthy of being protected.
"Mr. Evrard, can you accept this? For your cherished grandchild to volunteer to be stationed at this dangerous place?"
"If that's what he wants, I can't do anything about it."
"Am I worthy of his protection?!"
"Hm... I can't really nag about him in my position."
Evrard smiled with satisfaction.
Regis tilted his head, not getting what he meant.
"... You mean?"
"I mean if my grandchild dies needlessly because of your incompetence, I will talk to you about responsibilities with my halberd!"
"Aren't you angry?!"
"Your sentences are breaking up!"
Regis should be feeling happy that someone from his old unit held gratitude towards him.
Thanks to him, Regis felt that his lifespan was gradually getting shorter.
Back on topic.
"... Let's leave this aside for now... I want to talk about the princess."
"Do you think the princess can win?"
"It would be excellent if she can endure 10 blows, isn't it?"
Evrard judged that Jerome will win within 10 strikes.
That's how wide their gap in martial prowess was.
"... It might go against the knight's chivalry code... But can I ask you to save the princess if she gets in a pinch?"
"Oh? Do tell me the details."
Three days later —
The noon bell was about to ring.
Plenty of soldiers had already gathered on the parade square.
The snow had been falling since morning; it would turn into a blizzard if the wind picks up.
But neither party planned to postpone the duel because of the bad weather.
Regis was at Altina's chamber.
The accident a few days earlier didn't happen. Altina was waiting for the duel quietly. She wore her arm guards, knee guards and chest armor over her one piece dress as she sat on an elegantly designed chair.
A tea set was placed on the table.
"You are not looking good, Regis."
"You are to blame if I fall ill from over worrying, Altina."
"You are not the one dueling, so relax a bit alright?"
"Do you think you can win? Against that 'hero of Erstein'?"
"Definitely, I have said this many times. But you all won't believe me if I don't show you."
"And making a bet with terms that are against you..."
Altina stood up.
She was a head shorter than Regis, but her aura made her feel tall enough that he had to look up at her.
"If I am useless in a peaceful place, how can I be an empress?"
"You wouldn't be able to... But there is something known as risk management in this world..."
"There are many things in this world you can't achieve without gaining victory."
"You are rushing too much."
"You will not believe me no matter what I do."
Altina gave a lonely smile.
Regis was dumbstruck.
— Should he believe that Altina will win even if she had no other comrades?
"You will lose something irreplaceable if you make the wrong call when driven by emotions. I can't keep failing in the same place."
Regis remembered Marquis Thénezay.
He would probably never forget that he did not propose a third time. Or not noticing the pride of the nobles.
It was meaningless to have knowledge alone.
This fact had been engraved into his heart.
"Are you going to stop me? Could it be you are planning to escape with me? That would be very romantic."
"I can't do that. I thought about it before, but you are powerful enough for Jerome to be on his guard. Running away with you without raising a commotion is impossible. And if you are someone who will run away, you would have stopped this duel already."
"You are right. It's regrettable that it is not romantic at all."
"Although I have thought about what to do if you lose..."
"And that would be?"
"I will stall Jerome; you will escape with a certain knight away from the fortress in the meantime. But I can't tell you who that knight is..."
Regis was prepared for Altina to be angry for making plans to run if she was defeated.
But Altina laugh unexpectedly.
She is holding her stomach laughing out loud.
"No, no good... Ahahaha... Re, Regis you are really too much!! Ahahaha! You thought I will definitely lose! Hah~ the laughing ends here okay?!"
"I felt bad for doing this to you. But my private relations with you and objective judgment are two different matters. I have to make adequate preparation for the worst case scenario..."
"Ahahaha, that's right! I think you are necessary for me because you are this sort of person. This is the calm judgment as a strategist."
"Not the judgment of a strategist. This is... that... How should I put it?"
It would be too much responsibility for a fifth grade admin officer.
So as Altina's friend?
When did he become friend with Altina who was the commander? Thinking he was a friend because he was allowed to address her by her nickname was too foolish.
Regis was troubled and became quiet.
Altina was laughing so hard her shoulders were trembling.
Sound of panting was mixed into Altina's laughter.
"Ha, ha... I thought I would die from laughing before the duel. I didn't think you had made preparations to run after losing... Ah... This is too much."
"I won't find any excuse. I don't believe you will win."
Regis confessed once again.
Altina wasn't angry and just nodded.
"I know. There is only one person who believes in my victory unconditionally."
"You mean Clarisse..."
"Yeah. But to reach my goal, a person who doesn’t trust me that much is necessary too."
"Is that person referring to me?"
"I confirmed that it is you after this incident. In order to gain your trust, I will not lose this duel."
Altina challenged Jerome to win the trust of the troops in this regiment.
"... Can this duel be cancelled because of my attitude?"
His mental fatigue increased by 30%.
Altina reached over with her hand.
Her hand touched Regis' left chest, right above the heart.
"I want to become an empress...If my wish doesn't come true, I will definitely die. The strategist will also follow."
No matter what measures they took, Altina would surely not be the only one who had to take responsibility.
His heart under Altina's palm started to race.
Altina wasn't finished.
"Holding expectation for you as a strategist, means expecting you to even risk your life."
Regis understood this.
That's why Regis was hesitant.
"Since I am asking you to risk your life, it is normal for me to risk mine too. I don't want to be a dumb queen who expects loyalty just by sitting on the throne."
Altina slid her hand up from Regis' chest to his neck, and then his face.
Her hand feels cool.
"Watch with your eyes, I will prove my will to you... And you can consider about the issue on that night."
"The portion which I can't believe in myself, you will believe in it in my stead. So I have to trust you, right?"
Altina nodded and retracted her hand.
And she reached for the colossal sword leaning on the wall.
She gripped the hilt tightly.
"It's about time."
Altina and Jerome stood opposite to each other in the center of the ring of soldiers.
They were about 10 paces apart.
Underneath the feet of everyone was snow.
Visibility was poor and everything was white. This was a blizzard.
Altina was wearing arm guards and knee guards over her dress.
In her hand was the Grand Tonerre Quatre.
It was a giant sword that didn't match the petite girl.
Jerome on the other side didn't wear any armor, just a normal attire of black shirt with military pants. He was holding a short spear used by foot soldiers in the forest. It was about 27Pa (2m) long, about the length of the giant sword.
Regis stood among the wall of people surrounding them. Evrard dressed in full armor walked to his side and said:
"Both sides are calm."
"That's true... How is the preparation?"
"No problem, Miss Clarisse is waiting at the carriage."
Their talk about the plan after the duel stopped.
Evrard stroked his beard.
"The Margrave had given that up. He did not use a sword to gain advantage in speed, or a long lance to get better range. He chose a weapon that didn't give him any edge."
"I don't understand anything about the clashes between swords and lance... But the short spear used by the Margrave puts him at a disadvantage?"
"That thing is not light or long, and will break with a strike from the giant sword."
"He wouldn't use this... as an excuse for losing?"
"That was prepared by him in advance; it can't be used as an excuse. He meant to use it the other way."
"To prevent the princess from finding excuses?"
"Yes! Just like the princess not giving the Margrave any grounds for excuses by raising all sorts of terms and setting the duel 3 days later. The Margrave is using a weapon that is disadvantageous to him to silence any complaints from the princess — They are starting."
The noon bell rang as if it were announcing the start of the fight.
The screech of metal on metal ranged from the parade square.
Most people thought it would be the young princess slashing at the Margrave while he dodge.
"Ora ora ora!!"
But the one roaring and striking first was Jerome.
Jerome kicked away the snow under his feet and charged over.
Altina didn't move. Or she couldn't move?
Margrave closed the 10 pace gap in an instant and thrusted his spear.
Will it be settled on the first move—!! The soldiers were stunned.
"This sort of attack!!"
Altina breathed out.
And used the body of the sword to block the tip of the spear.
The two pieces of metal collided with a screech.
The short spear stabbing at the girl's shoulder was deflected.
"Ugh... A normal spear can't even scratch it!"
"Made from '「Tristei」 Spiritual Silver?"
Regis said softly.
During the wars that founded the empire, there were legends that the powerful swords were made from silver and granted to the L’Empereur Flamme.
The swords were probably made from natural metal, an alloy — researchers explained it as such. In this era, material stronger than steel could be made by smelting a few types of metal together, and was common knowledge.
But an alloy that could rival Elf silver had not been discovered yet, so some people believed the sword had the blessing of the Elves.
The giant sword became the shield protecting the petite Altina.
After his strike was warded off, Jerome pulled back his spear to steady himself. The feet of the girl already kicked out before that.
A dull thud reverberated in the parade square.
A powerful kick landed on Jerome's knee.
The posture of the burly man broke.
The girl yelled:
"Fight seriously, Jerome!"
The sword didn't touch the ground when it was swung, but the snow was scattered by it. The power of the sword was strong enough for the soldiers surrounding them to feel it.
Jerome rolled on the ground to evade this disaster-level strike.
His body and spear would probably be crushed if he blocked the blow.
The troops watching the fight were fired up because of this unexpectedly opening.
The princess' sword forced the Margrave to roll on the floor, staining his clothes with snow and mud to dodge it. No one expected that.
"... Maybe, she can win?"
But the faint words of hope that came out from Regis' chest were pushed back by Evrard.
"This is just the beginning!"
Jerome was still smiling as he took a stance.
"Too naive, little girl. You will regret not finishing me off with that blow just now."
"My objective is to show that I am stronger than you, not to tear my subordinate's body to shreds."
"Do you have the room to hold back?"
"You were aiming for my shoulder too. Are you worried that you can't marry me if I am dead?"
"Kukuku... That did cross my mind."
"Fight with all your might!"
The two of them went at each other.
Jerome attacked repeatedly, Altina blocked with her sword.
Altina wielding that gigantic lump of metal with her thin arm like a tree branch seems so unrealistic like a B-grade movie.
Altina slashing repeatedly while Jerome parried became more frequent.
Jerome is being cornered?!
The shouts came from the soldiers.
Evrard's hands were trembling.
"Oh... To think the princess was this strong... She is a goddess!"
"Can she win?"
"Ugh!! Erm... the Margrave is hesitant in his thrusting attack. He is worried about killing the princess. The important point is the Margrave needing to release his strength when the sword blocks his attack, or else the spear will break. In contrast, the Margrave needs to parry and deflect the attack from the sword."
"Because the spear will break if he blocks directly?"
"That's right; the Margrave is protecting his spear in both attack and defense, so the princess has the upper hand."
"So why can't she win?"
"It's a pity the princess is not a man."
As they watched, the situation of Jerome attacking while Altina defends increased.
Jerome still had energy to spare. He twirled his spear from time to time to show he was taking it easy.
On the other hand, Altina was out of breath.
She lacked stamina.
She might have the strength to swing the colossal sword, but she couldn't match the hero Jerome who was burly in built for an extended battle.
The giant blade became sluggish; it couldn't keep up with the speed of the short spear.
A part of her dress was torn by the tip of the spear.
Jerome was still fighting a dangerous battle where his weapon will break with one wrong move, like walking on a thin rope. But the scene was slowly evolving into Jerome cornering Altina with his attacks.
The shoulder of her one piece dress was pierced, Altina's shoulder was bared.
Blood oozed from her white skin.
"You are quite good; I thought you will run out of stamina earlier, little girl."
"I won't surrender because my breathing is slightly fast."
"Hmmp, I will acknowledge you then. There are not many people in this fortress who can fight me to this extent. And you are still young. You will probably be a great swordsman in three years."
"Hah, hah... acknowledge me as a swordsman? Is your brain clamped by the door? What I want is to be acknowledged as your commander."
"The soldiers will be more willing to listen to your orders if you are this strong. You are not at my level yet, but you are good enough to be a vice commander."
"Is that so... then... I can't give up now!"
Altina lifted her sword.
She plowed through the snow and charged.
And swung it down.
"Ara ara... Being too greedy will be the end of you."
The sword shattered the ground.
A screen of snow rose from the ground.
A loud bang erupted like thunder.
Jerome evaded the strike and thrusted with his spear.
Altina lifted the sword that sank into the ground.
She aimed at the spear thrust towards her.
Right before the sword was about to smash the spear, Jerome pulled his body and weapon back and retreated.
It was an empty swing.
He saw through her intention.
The blow that used all her strength was evaded, Altina's footing grew unsteady.
Jerome didn't miss this opening and swung his spear at Altina.
Unable to evade, the short spear hit Altina's left arm and blew her away.
The armor on the girl's arm shattered.
Regis leaned forward.
He can't help shouting.
The girl rolled on the snowy ground wildly. The match is set — Everyone present thought. But Altina's hand didn't let go of the hilt.
And she stood up immediately.
"Hah... hah... hah... hah... hah..."
Altina's flaming eyes glared at her opponent.
Blood was gushing out of her left arm, dyeing the armor and the sleeve of her dress red.
Her left arm hung limply.
It was probably fractured or numbed from pain.
Only her right hand was holding the sword.
It was clear that Altina couldn't continue the fight. But she didn't look like she was giving up.
Jerome pulled away and sank his spear into the ground, relaxing his stance. He maintained alert and asked:
"Do you still want to carry on?"
"Definitely... hah... haha... I will never give up..."
"You have only one arm left?"
"You... ugu... just losing an arm on the battlefield... hah... Would you have given up?"
"Hmmp, your spirit is commendable. But what do you plan to do after becoming the commander? Little girl, can you shoulder the lives of the 3000 men in the border regiment?"
"Hah... hah... You think I challenged you without this level of resolve... Ugu... Are you looking down on me? I will even shoulder this entire nation, just watch me!"
Altina lifted the colossal blade with just her right hand.
It is not just Regis who was reminded of the legendary man who wielded thundering sword quartet single handed by Altina's posture.
The soldiers became rowdy.
But Jerome didn't put up a stance with his short spear.
He asked as strongly as the thrust from his spear —
"You think... an amateur like you is more suitable for command than me? These are not problems you can settle with just your resolve. I am asking if you have the relevant skills! One mistake and thousands of troops will die in vain. Do you understand?!"
Even though the pain and fatigue was beyond the limit of her body, Altina was still mentally alert. But she was stumped by this question!
There were doubts in the crimson eyes of the girl.
Her eyes wandered through the crowd and focused on one point.
Jerome followed Altina's gaze.
The soldiers watching the duel did the same. Countless pairs of eyes fell on him. Even Evrard standing beside him did the same.
Regis felt as if he was being crushed by the immense pressure.
He could feel the weight of everyone's gaze.
The noise in the surrounding fades far away.
Regis placed his hand over his heart.
He could only hear his heart beating disturbingly loud.
Why, did it turn out like this?
— Was it that night? When Altina said she believes in me, and I didn't turn her away. That was it! That was why she is working so hard for such a useless person like me!
I don't know about such a situation.
I don't get it.
I had never read about this before.
See, I can't do anything right.
Even breathing is hard.
I am going to faint.
Regis looked at Altina in a daze.
Her lips were moving.
It was noisy so he can't hear her, but the movement of her lips reflected clearly in his eyes.
I. Believe. In. You.
"Can't be helped, she is the princess, but really..."
Regis took a step forward.
The snow underneath his feet made a sound.
"... This is not 'believing'. You are just not thinking, or being unreasonable, bearing hope without any basis. Impractical reasons dictating others to challenge things beyond their limits, resulting in tragedy. Examples like this are scattered throughout the river of history."
There were cases of forcing unreasonable ideals onto others in the long flow of history. They took on challenges that did not match their talents because of these ideals, producing many tragic stories.
With sighs mixed in together with groans, he said as if he was forcing the words out of his mouth.
“This is so depressing… I have to take on challenges that don’t match me too. I feel like crying over my foolishness.”
Regis stepped out of the encirclement of soldiers alone.
He went to Altina’s side.
Altina smiled and replied with a hoarse voice.
“Thank you, Regis.”
“… It’s too early for that.”
Jerome released his killing intent and asked in a voice so low it seemed to come from beneath the earth:
"What are you doing in here? You are just a complementary apple rolling in a corner!"
"My apologies, I might be a small fry to you Margrave, but someone doesn't think so... Let's make a promise, I will help you. If the princess wins this fight, I Regis Auric will become your strategist!"
Sounds of surprise spread among the soldiers.
After Regis' capability was confirmed by the bandit incident, no one treated him like a useless person any more.
Some might think the rank of fifth grade admin officer was too low, but that was the minority. The one with the highest rank was the princess after all.
Jerome pointed his spear at Regis.
"Can you do it? You don't have the will, courage or even spirit."
"... That's right, I don't even believe in myself. I have no confidence. But even so, there is someone who believes in me. As long as she continues to believe in me, I will give it a shot."
Regis wasn't dense enough to reject this position with some excuses after making such a bold declaration.
He didn't have any ulterior motives driving him to aid Altina. But he really wanted to help her from the bottom of his heart.
"... I will take up this role. More importantly, Sir Jerome, you promised to yield to the princess and work under her if she wins. So her actual command authority rising won't affect the command structure of the regiment."
"Hmmp, still throwing big words around like usual. I know what you want to say so back off, the fight is still on."
Regis slowly returns to the crowd.
Jerome took a stance with his short spear.
"Rest time is over, little girl."
"What are you implying? I didn't intend to stall for time to rest. You are the one who had things to talk about, saying this and that about the command."
"Right, this development was beyond my expectations... Personally, I would prefer resolving this peacefully... But this mindset stops now. You have the will, resolve as well as a strategist, little girl; I will acknowledge that you have the potential to be a commander. But I can't lose either!"
"From the very beginning, what I want to show is not my will or resolve... but my strength!"
Both of them shouted.
The pressure from them made the air tremble.
Altina's arm hung weakly even after a short rest.
She used her right arm to swing her sword, making the first move.
The sword slashed down with enough power to cut through anything, and changed from a downward cut to a horizontal slice. The sword slashed towards Jerome's waist.
A blow that is difficult to block or avoid.
"That's right; this is your only attack option. You don't have much stamina left to wield your sword agilely."
The slash threatened to cut the Margrave in half.
But Jerome displayed his exceptional leaping powers — jumping up to evade the slash.
If he bended downwards to dodge, Altina might be able to use the weight of the sword to attack downwards.
But it was hard to follow with an upward attack using that heavy weapon.
To pull her sword back after that missed attack, Altina turned around, her defenseless back exposed to her opponent.
The match was set — Most of the people probably thought so.
Not just the troops, even Jerome was no exception.
He just needed to thrust his spear onto Altina's neck to end the duel. When they were thinking about that, something unexpected happened...
Altina didn't stop after turning around.
After missing the initial attack, the sword swung one round and slashes towards Jerome once again.
And it was faster than before.
Speeding up after accelerating from the momentum, it closed in on Jerome's flank.
Jerome grits his teeth.
He intercepts with his short spear at an angle, attempting to parry the blow.
A loud sound of clashing metal that wasn't heard in the parade square until now erupted.
The sword slides along the short spear and was deflected away from Jerome.
Altina's right arm cracked.
It was slightly deformed from over exertion.
The colossal sword did not smash the spear.
It slid off.
After the very clear sound of impact, the tip of the spear shattered and fell off.
Even so, the body of the spear can still be used as a weapon.
Altina lost her balance and fell onto the ground.
Her face was downwards.
The snow on the ground scattered away.
Jerome lifted the spear without its tip with both hands.
He just needed to swing it down and stop before it hit the girl's head. That was all it would take. There was no need to knock on the girl lying prone on the ground.
The soldiers gulped as they watched.
At this very moment —
The short spear raised in the air broke in two like a twig.
Couldn't say anything.
Not just Jerome, everyone who saw this scene lost their voice.
In Jerome's hands were two sticks the length of a short sword. It could still be used to fight even in this state.
But the spear was broken.
Altina still laid prone in the snow.
"Fu... fu.... ugu..."
She was trying to stand up, but she couldn't move her left arm and her right arm didn’t have the strength to prop herself up.
Her legs and shoulders were trembling; she couldn't continue to grip the heavy sword.
The soldiers watched without blinking their eyes.
Jerome threw the broken spear away.
"Fu... Having your weapon break in a duel. The most miserable way to lose."
The soldiers became rowdy when Jerome admitted his lost.
“The general lost?
The princess won?"
Does Altina who was lying in the snow understand the situation?
Evrard asked Jerome to confirm.
"Sir Jerome... this is the princess' victory."
The knight commander lowered his head at the Margrave's words.
The troops around the two combatants shouted and groaned at the unexpected ending. There were also some cheers.
The noise shook the entire fortress.
Regis rushed to Altina's side.
"Princess, you have won. Please stand up... Now is the critical time."
She had expended energy beyond her limits.
Her left shoulder was still bleeding.
Even so, the duel would be meaningless if she was to falter now.
Altina propped herself up.
"Hah... Hah... that's right... Jerome who lost is still standing... Ugu... I, the victor lying on the floor... will be a laughingstock."
Regis nodded silently.
He felt his chest heating up because of Altina's strong will and effort.
He wasn't wrong in deciding to believe in her. Expressing his feelings at the climax of the duel wasn't wrong either. Just trust this girl.
Continue believing in her.
Regis wiped the corner of his eyes that were warming up.
Altina stood up. She stretched her thin and white fingers towards the sky.
This was a quiet and beautiful announcement of victory.
The noise in the surrounding went wild.
In this intense eruption of noise, Altina spoke with Regis who was standing beside her.
Altina grabbed Regis' shoulder with her shaking right hand.
"How about that? Are you willing to trust me now?"
He didn’t need to consider it anymore.
"... Yes, I will believe you. I promise."
"Yeah, it's a promise."
Altina was all smiles.
Her expression was like a bright day in the spring.
The crowds' adrenaline rush still kept them high, it was like an endless festival on the parade square.
The chaos felt like it will go on forever.
Suddenly, the bell was rung.
There was nothing mysterious about it.
From the highest watchtower in the fortress —
The bell situated up there was rung nonstop.
The soldiers were stunned, unable to comprehend what was happening for that moment.
The parade square quieted down, and the sound coming from the watchtower became clear.
"Enemy attack~~~!! We are under attack~~~!! Coming from the north, it's the barbarians—!!"
The savages were attacking under the cover of the blizzard.
Uneasiness was spreading among the troops.
They looked to Jerome immediately.
This was the moment to change the relationships between the two of them. If they don't show the change in their position now, Altina's duel at the risk of her life would be a waste.
"... Don't worry... I know."
Jerome walked to Altina's front.
He knelt on one knee in the snow.
"Princess, the enemy is upon us! Please give the orders!"
The soldiers watched the scene in surprise...
And they imitated Jerome and knelt.
Like a ripple on the water surface, the troops knelt with Altina at the center and lowered their heads.
The soldiers expressed their change in thinking.
The resolve of the young girl bore fruit.
Evrard was among those who knelt. He was smiling with satisfaction.
Altina who was the center of attention was exhausted and her legs were shaking. She continued to grab Regis' shoulders because she would fall if she let go.
Regis whispered in Altina's ears.
Altina nodded and issued orders as proposed by Regis:
"I order Sir Jerome to lead 100 cavalry to intercept the enemy. Find out the number of enemy forces and form a battle front if possible... If the enemy force is too large, you are to withdraw with the safety of our forces as the priority!"
The general stood after nodding.
"All of you, the orders for the vanguards are out, prepare the horses! And get me my lance! I will wring your necks if you take your time!"
The soldiers moved as commanded after Jerome finished.
— It worked.
The princess had displayed her new position publicly.
Regis supported the back of the faltering Altina with his hand.
"Come on, just a bit longer... can you make it to the central tower?"
"Of, of course..."
They had to avoid the loser of the duel Jerome leading the attack while the victorious princess was being carried out in a stretcher.
This was the time to show her indomitable will.
Evrard rushed over.
"Shall I bring the princess to the infirmary?"
"It will be disgraceful to visit the infirmary now... we will bring her to her quarters using a change of clothes as an excuse. Please summon the doctor over and treat her injuries there."
"I get it now."
"Ah, if we don't bring the sword..."
"I will get my boys to settle it."
"Thank you — the enemy is attacking under the cover of the blizzard, so their numbers should be limited. We responded swiftly as well, we can chase them back with the vanguards if things go well..."
"What should I do?"
"Mr. Edward, please make preparations as the second wave. Standby with 200 cavalries."
"Standby? We are not attacking after getting ready?"
"The front lines are still fluid. The vanguard might be forced to retreat, or it could turn into a chaotic battle... Please attack after understanding the situation. Otherwise, the vanguard will be confused."
"I understand, leave this to me!"
Evrard gathered the knights.
There was a need to organise the foot soldiers into a third wave too. As for the defense of the fortress, there was no need to issue any new orders.
To be frank, he wanted to consult Jerome who was familiar with the operation of this regiment. But in order to display the new relationship between Jerome and the princess, he had to forcefully dispatch Jerome out in the first wave.
His judgment was strongly influenced by politics this time.
The best tactical decision was to stay and defend the fortress. After grasping the enemy's situation, well prepared units can then be dispatched.
Textbook examples and chess strategies cannot be used blindly in an actual battle.
Jerome's vanguard charged out of the main gate.
The troops with weapons in hand rushed to their stations.
The knights instructed to carry the colossal sword entered the central tower quickly.
Only the heavily wounded Altina and Regis who was supporting her were walking slowly.
Altina said in a slur:
"I am fine... so... please focus on the regiment, Regis..."
Her face looked terrible because of fatigue, the cold and the loss of blood.
Regis squeezed out a confident smile.
To put Altina at ease, he exaggerated:
"No problem, Altina. I know plenty about things of this level. Just leave it to me."
"... You look rather dependable."
"Not like you at all."
She saw through him easily.
Regis didn't seem to have the talent for acting.
Whatever, Regis thought.
"Well, I wish there was time to understand our forces. And to send them out after grasping the scale of the barbarian’s attack... And dispatching Sir Jerome's unit out before the troops on top of the main gate fired any arrows at the enemy wasn't too bad either. I feel that we should be able to fend off the enemy's sneak attack. It will work out somehow... Probably."
"I see, that's great."
"Enough about that, are you doing ok?"
"I'm good. I'm really fine... Hey Regis..."
"Thank you, when I was questioned during the duel... you expressed your willingness to accept the appointment as strategist... It made me really happy."
"I should be thanking you. I always wanted to tell you... Altina, thank you for believing in me."
The main gate opened with a heavy sound.
The horns signaling the advance of the second wave sounded, the soldiers roared.
Regis and Altina watched the soldiers charge onto the battlefield.
Volume 1 end