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Translator: ShimizuA, Shiru, Kaelpie, Tsukicchi Editor: Boomer, Nara, Meteor
Proofreader: Nixie TLC: Yomigaeru, Lox
Jump to 
I looked at the desk in my office. Of course, it was piled high with various documents. After reviewing them, I approved of a few, then taking a breath called out to Tanya, who was on standby in the office.
"What's the current status of the firms that are affiliated with Prince Edward? I would like to know more about it." [Iris]
"I've already ordered an investigation." [Tanya]
As Tanya was saying that, she produced some documents. As I've come to expect from Tanya.
While giving my silent admiration, I flipped through the papers and saw the results.
…The customers stopped being patrons after the excommunication incident. In other words, all stores that were headquartered in the Armelia fief were more or less negatively affected, especially the Azuta firm that I directly founded.
Due to his actions and great timing, Prince Edward has dealt considerable damage to me, both in my capacity as the president of the Azuta Firm and as the Feudal Lord's Representative. The evidence of this is that I'm still suffering from his actions, even after I've taken countermeasures.
Truthfully, reflecting on all that went on… I really can't deny the feeling that we've been had by both the Pope and Prince Edward's faction.
Although the situation has taken a positive turn since I stopped the conflict at an early stage… We've taken a serious blow due to low customer retention, and the fact that we've lost some of the talented people that made up the core of the Firm can't be ignored.
When I thought of what would happen if I couldn't manage to stop the situation… it made me shudder.
"… I am truly grateful that Dean paved the way for a connection to the church through Father Raf Simons when he did. Otherwise, the Azuta Firm would have had to declare bankruptcy, or would have been bought by another firm… No, on the contrary, that would have forced all the stores and firms based in Armelia fief to close." [Iris]
Tanya nodded at my remark.
In reality, the only way that we were able to end the situation at this early stage could be greatly attributed to our co-operating agent… Father Raf Simons.
"… If I were to imagine the worst case scenario… let's suppose that Father Raf Simons never cooperated. We would be lacking a decisive blow in the church's inquisition, ruining the court case. As Milady knew, we wouldn't be able to act in that situation. Given these facts, I believe that sooner or later the industry in the Armelia fief wouldn't be able to stand." [Tanya]
Indeed, for the Armelia fief that was focusing on strengthening its economic prowess, it would be a crippling blow.
If that's what happened during the inquisition… It wouldn't be strange if those various firms and their presidents decided to abandon us. Rather, that would be the right thing to do. Most of those firms don't have any obligation to put their headquarters here. In other words, Prince Edward would be able to destroy the Armelia fief with economic might, instead of brute military force.
…That being said, in the end, this was only an assumption, not the reality.
In the real world, after overcoming the trial of the Inquisition, the Azuta firm has hit the shelves with a brand new product. Thanks to this, customer traffic slowly returned from the other firms.
"… It seems that Prince Edward and his firm have been pushed into a corner, haven't they." [Iris]
These were my impressions after skimming over the documents.
The firm that was under Prince Edward's backing started to run out of steam in the wake of the excommunication conflict. Their pricing was roughly the same as ours. The goods they offered were also the same.
Perhaps it was due to Prince Edward's habit to only poach the workers in charge of production, our customer services were superior. There was also the matter of quality. Thanks to those issues, the affair of customers avoiding us because of their distaste for conflict has been settled; and they have started to come back.
On top of that, management on their side was awful and sloppy, so with the decrease in customers, it's been made clear that their situation is out of control.
"As I thought. Due to everything that's happened, both their Human Resources being unclear about employee rights and support, and the fact that the number of customers has fallen drastically, they've been given the final blow, and have lost their motivation to continue. Statements like 'judging solely from the content of the employment contracts, the Azuta firm is clearly better than my current one' have been rising… or so it appears. Again, due to corrupted management, it seems those who have spoken up, have been dismissed from their jobs." [Tanya]
"… They had no hesitation to treat them as disposable goods, huh." [Iris]
"Are you sympathizing with them?" [Tanya]
"No way. But… it just feels kind of wasteful that they were so easily dismissed after they went to such trouble to reel them out of the Azuta Firm." [Iris]
When the management deteriorates into chaos, mass firings of employees is inevitable.
…Regardless if the workers want to accept it or not, they have to bear in mind that it was the last resort that a manager could make (to save costs); they didn't have the right to blame them, nor did they have any intentions of doing so.
However temporarily, it was undeniable that those firms prospered solely due to the Azuta Firm's information, and from the employees that they poached from us. To ignore the achievements of our workers and to so easily dismiss them, I couldn't help but think that they must have done some drastic things to warrant that sort of treatment.
"It's impossible for human beings to simply throw away the economic strength and social position that they've worked so hard to build up. On the contrary, every person whom they've pulled away from the Azuta firm has filed incredible amounts of complaints after the management began to fall apart, due to their contracts promising huge wages… to sum it up, their demands became the reason for their dismissal." [Tanya]
Even during the zenith of the excommunication conflict, Azuta firm was still leagues ahead of the competition in terms of employment, if you set aside the concern for the future of the management due to my excommunication… or so it seems.
If they were used to the treatment they received at Azuta, it's certainly true that their standards for employment contracts would be much higher.
"Is there any possibility that those people who were dismissed could intrude on Azuta firm in the future?" [Iris]
"That's not entirely impossible." [Tanya]
Upon hearing Tanya's straightforward words, I let out a sigh.
Although it took a considerable amount of time to devise a countermeasure for the chaos at the company after the mass resignations of our employees… Now we must also consider how to deal with those people who want to be hired a second time.
I wonder how troublesome that would be. On the subject of trouble, there's also that issue…
"I wonder why Prince Edward's faction has decided to increase the tariff rate on all entrances to the fief." [Iris]
I grumbled at the problem that I've spent countless hours thinking about.
"To put it simply, maybe it's meant as harassment towards Milady?" [Tanya]
Tanya who was still on standby near me responded.
"Ugh… That's the most probable reason. However, since their demerits were greater than their gains when one considers the whole country, I cannot help but feel like it wasn't solely that reason…" [Iris]
The truth is, the fief of Armelia has fertile land and is ranked about second or third within the country for crop yield. Due to the recent conflict, however, it's natural that our exports would decrease. Which means that in turn, the amounts of crops that would go to other fiefs would decrease as well.
Other fiefs don't make as much profit from their crop exports… In regards to that, our fief's population has increased, and we should take appropriate measures in case a disaster were to strike… Something such as bad weather would be a major problem because it would result in low crop yields. To combat that to some extent… we should take political measures to have emergency granaries built within the fief. We can justify this by using the fact that it's more profitable to trade with other fiefs than to purchase crops from other areas.
"Well, even if we ponder about it, there is not enough information right now, huh. So for that reason, Tanya, please investigate the movement of the various nobles in the royal capital and make detailed reports. Also, investigate the trend of the prices in the capital and their reaction to those changes… At any rate, today's work is finished…" [Iris]
I signed the last document and handed it to Tanya.
Perhaps I should take a walk around the mansion since I've reached a good stopping point for the day. Always sitting in the same posture when I'm working hurts my joints indeed.
Letting my mind wander, I stood up while contemplating what I should do. I wonder if I should read a book while slowly drinking tea in the courtyard.
While thinking about such things, just when I was about to go for a walk, suddenly I came across Bern.
"Oh my, Bern…" [Iris]
"Elder sister, what are you doing at this moment?" [Bern]
"Since I have finished today's work, I was thinking about taking a small break." [Iris]
"…Could I bother you for a moment of your time?" [Bern]
I intentionally gave a wry smile because of his request.
"Is that, something that could be discussed in the courtyard?" [Iris]
Bern replied with a bitter smile.
"I see. Then, shall we go to the study?" [Iris]
About the tea I was looking forward to, let's have it in the study. Tea won't be long after Tanya has finished delegating the miscellaneous tasks to others to fulfill in her stead.
I took Bern along with me and eventually reached the study.
"So, what has happened?" [Iris]
"Would you like to hear my consultation… or would you prefer a report…?" [Bern]
I could only brace myself to hear some terrible news since he was talking in such a roundabout fashion.
"… A few days ago, a bill for the dismantling of the military was submitted." [Bern]
My eyes turned into tiny dots at the unexpected news. I had a blank look, that was surely unbefitting of a noble's daughter.
"… D-don't tell me, isn't this similar to what that baron's daughter, Yuri Noir has expressed a desire for long ago? To think that she really did submit a bill like this…" [Iris]
I sighed as the words poured from my mouth. At the same time, I had a slight shudder.
The fact that she submitted the bill, means that her word already has enough influence to make it happen…
"Doesn't one need to get the approval of several nobles in order to submit a bill?" [Iris]
"Yes. It seems that this happened while Father couldn't move because of your excommunication." [Bern]
So I was also considerably held responsible… huh.
"However, since your matter was settled earlier than expected, father and grandfather… that is to say, Marquis Anderson and his faction, made a united front against the opposing faction and were able to defeat the bill at a critical moment." [Bern]
"In other words, the dismantling of the military was rejected. How did this come to be?" [Iris]
"I hear that they cited the wartime regime law." [Bern]
"…Wartime regime law…?" [Iris]
It seems that I have heard about it somewhere before… I tilted my neck as I racked my brains after hearing those unfamiliar words.
Suddenly, I remembered that I have seen that law in some book at the fief's mansion a long time ago.
"Ahh, it's that old law that's been piling up dust, right…" [Iris]
If I am not mistaken, it was a law that was established when the country first came into being.
As its name would suggest, it was a law that stated that the country would take priority over anything else during wartime. It has been enforced only once, several hundred years ago, and has never been used since. During the time before it was used, the autonomy in each fief was much stronger than it is now.
At that time, the country didn't have any standing army; rather, each feudal lord controlled their only military forces, those forces would, in theory, would be supremely controlled by the royalty and monarch.
In that period, any lord who refused to dispatch their forces to the war would be forced to do so by this law, and before this law was created, their fief would be confiscated after the war.
By doing this, the country's standing army slowly morphed into its current form.
…That being said, nowadays it has become a double standard where each fief owned at least a minimum amount of troops, under the guise that they were guards.
During these past several hundred years, this law was never implemented simply because "there was no need for such measures."
Now we have a standing army. Basically, during the country's great war in the past, the country was united in one direction since each of the nobles gave their opinion that they should be united in the face of their enemy.
In other words, by that law being brought up for the second time, it is already as good as publicly announcing that the country has cracked. 
"… So in the end, it was an armistice, not a truce. To sum it up, that means that this law would only be effective in wartime, correct?" [Iris]
"Yes, that's right." [Bern]
"Looks like father is also having a lot of trouble. However, it's good that we were able to avoid the worst-case scenario of the national military being dismantled." [Iris]
To be honest. As father surely is thinking, for now, we are only in the middle of a ceasefire, not a lasting truce.
And also… From what I gathered when I investigated that baron's daughter, Yuri Noir, and her background, I suspected that a certain country was moving quite deep below the surface.
Nevertheless, as father has warned me, I'm only a single feudal lord in the end. I don't intend to actively intervene.
"Yeah. That's… about it…" [Bern]
"Do you still need something?" [Iris]
"No, from here on it's just a consultation… Father gave me some homework, in this particular case." [Bern]
"Yes. 'What is the biggest problem in this matter?' Father told me to reflect on this." [Bern]
"What is the problem… huh. Anything else?" [Iris]
"No… If I reported this to you, perhaps I could get some hint from your opinion on the matter." [Bern]
"Did father instruct you to report this to me?" [Iris]
I pondered for a moment.
If my guess hit the mark… father wasn't talking to me as the daughter of the prime minister, but by handing me this information, he was acting as the current head of the house of Armelia, to me, the acting feudal lord, wasn't he?
In other words, he was preparing me to succeed him.
"… By the way Bern, who are the nobles who approved this bill?" [Iris]
"The second prince's faction, and the neutral faction. As for me, I believe the fact that the neutral faction being swayed by the second prince's faction was the largest problem, but.." [Bern]
"You were told that you were incorrect, weren't you?" [Iris]
And then, I heard from Bern which noble houses voiced their agreement to the bill in particular.
Ahh, this country is screwed… I unintentionally looked skyward when I heard the names Bern listed.
"By the way, did they also include the soldier's pension when they submitted the bill for approval?" [Iris]
"Yeah. According to the bill, if the soldier wished for the pension, he would go to the territorial military (lord or lady's private army) during peacetime. In case of emergency, they would be recruited in the country's name in case of war. In other words, each fief will be solely responsible for the current military expenses." [Bern]
Ahh, just like I feared… I let out an unconscious sigh.
"… Bern. I…I, do not know if my opinion is right or wrong. Father most likely wanted to see 'how you would act after considering the future, rather than deeply thinking about issues that do not have an answer' … or so I think." [Iris]
I was always thinking about this when I worked. How easy would this be, if it had a clear answer, like an exam at the Academy?
"I see…" [Bern]
"Speaking of the neutral factions recent inclination towards the second prince faction… I see that it was a threat, huh. However, is it only that?" [Iris]
"What do you mean by 'only that'?" [Bern]
"Consider the issue from every angle. What sort of calculations made the neutral faction give their approval, and what result were they aiming for? Please think about this. Since there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer, think about it slowly, bit by bit, and you should be able to deal with anything." [Iris]
Bern looked like he was pondering my words… and before long he gave a nod.
"Thank you very much, elder sister." [Bern]
"Think nothing of it. Rather, thank you for the information." [Iris]
Bern exited the study with a more refreshed expression than the one he wore when he came into the room.
Tanya returned to the room with Ryle and Dida, passing by Bern. It was perfect timing.
"I feel bad for issuing orders immediately after you've just arrived, but… Tanya. Please report the number of reserve troops in the fief under my jurisdiction. Ryle, Dida. Please survey the current amount of active guards, including Armelia Duchy's private army, and their commanders." [Iris]
"Understood." [Tanya, Dida]
"I will begin at once. However, milady, what exactly happened…?" [Ryle]
Tanya quickly lowered her head, followed closely by Ryle and Dida, but Ryle questioned if there was possibly something amiss, given my instructions.
Well, I guess that was bound to happen if you were suddenly given orders like that.
"A short moment ago, a report arrived from my father, via Bern. He stated that a bill was introduced, advocating the dissolution of the military." [Iris]
"Wha!?…" [Tanya, Dida, Ryle]
I continued speaking while they were caught by surprise.
While there was the fact that they were citizens of the Armelia fief and the Duke of Armelia, and they were under grandfather's tutelage while he was serving as a general… They were not surprised due to those facts; rather they were genuinely worried about my grandfather.
"Fortunately, the bill was defeated thanks to both grandfather and father centering the opposition." [Iris]
They gave a sigh of relief at those words.
"The issue now is that thanks to these course of events, the bill will be forced in every other direction possible." [Iris]
"… What do you mean by that?" [Tanya]
"I must remind you in the first place, this is only my personal opinion. There are times where I could be wrong." [Iris]
The three nodded at my opening remark.
"Firstly, let's discuss the course of events. The issue started this time due to that baron's daughter, Yuri Noir's bill." [Iris]
"It was that woman?" [Ryle]
Ryle spat out his words, without even attempting to conceal his distaste. It was unusual for him to openly show his emotions, and moreover showing annoyance like this.
"Judging from what I gleaned from Tanya's report, while I am unsure what shape it took exactly, I believe that she shares a connection with the Towair Kingdom." [Iris]
Specifically, I don't know at what level, or the details of the connection.
Perhaps… she may truly be blackmailed by them, or she is just being used without her knowledge. It is also possible that she really is a saboteur for them. I still cannot be sure about that, since there is no definite proof detailing her connection.
However, while I was thinking over this, I am hoping that my suspicions were wrong.
"While father was unable to move because of my blunder, the bill for the dissolution of the military… a draft so terrible that it was unfavorable to even the Towair kingdom, has come to the forefront. Looking back, perhaps that personal attack on me by the Pope was to ensure that father couldn't oppose the bill, and Miss Yuri… perhaps was the one who pulled the strings behind the scene." [Iris]
Considered that way, the situation fits.
It could be that the reason why the Pope was hellbent on aiming for a complete boycott of the Azuta firm was because they had promised a reward for him.
I could hear those three clicking their tongues in disgust.
"So. Now, here's something to consider… this time, the members who gave their approval for the bill are…" [Iris]
"Naturally, it was the second prince faction, right?" [Ryle]
As I expected, Ryle immediately replied.
"Actually, it's not only them, you know. The truth is, this time the neutral faction also voiced their approval." [Iris]
"Even the neutral faction, is it…" [Ryle]
Ryle muttered as if surprised. Beside him, Tanya and Dida wore grim expressions.
"But, what merit does this have for them?" [Tanya]
"… They would be able to expand their military force legally, or that's my impression." [Iris]
"What do you mean?" [Tanya]
"As you three know, especially Ryle and Dida, at the moment, the feudal lords only possessed a minimum amount of military force… the size of these forces is determined roughly by the size of their fief." [Iris]
This was a remnant from the time when the power of the feudal lords was still huge. There was fierce opposition when the country attempted to centralize the military forces in a single organization, known as "the National Army", and the result of those efforts left us in an incomplete state like we are in now.
"Based on this system, the feudal lords were keeping each other in check, and the ones with excessive war potential would also be monitored closely by the kingdom." [Iris]
Utilizing this system, the aim was to prevent an uprising of the feudal lords.
"So. About the details of the draft of this bill that was submitted, after the military was dismantled, the soldiers currently in service to the nation would now be allocated to serve under the supervision of the feudal lords. Each of the feudal lords would shoulder the expenses, and present both the troops and financial responsibility to the nation in case of emergency (war)… This pure sounding situation wasn't their true intention, they simply wish to go back to the old days, when the power of the feudal lords was at its peak. The numbers of nobles in the neutral faction who wish for this are not just a few." [Iris]
"They want to secure large military forces needed for a time of emergency… Well, frankly speaking, doesn't that mean that they have abandoned the kingdom?" [Dida]
Dida blurted out words that I wanted to say.
"It is something along those lines. Though I am unsure whether they are actively planning to revolt, or if they are just secluding themselves in their own fiefs." [Iris]
"And so? After investigating their military forces, does my princess intend to exchange blows with those fellows? Are you thinking to become the Kingdom's sword and shield, to fight on their behalf?" [Dida]
"As if that could be the case. It is simply for protecting the fief, should an emergency arise out of the current situation where troubles pour from both internal and external sources." [Iris]
"Hmph… But you know…" [Dida]
Dida's tone was aloof as usual, but there was a serious element mixed in.
Is it because of that? …
I don't know if he was shocked by the content of the bill that was mentioned not too long ago, but Ryle that would normally criticize Dida for his tone remained quiet.
"When that emergency comes, the one who will command the fief's soldiers is my princess, who is standing in as the acting lord, right?" [Dida]
"… You're correct." [Iris]
This is just my guess, but I think that father will spend his time-fighting in the center of politics.
Supposing that I wasn't here to fill in the position as the acting lord, even if it took time, he would still give instructions in important military decisions from the royal capital directly. Even Sebas, who has been entrusted with the fief a few times until now, did not have the authority to make any such decisions.
However, there was no need for that if I, who possesses equal authority as the lord, was present. Rather, it will be crucial to respond to situations promptly. In addition to that, I suppose that I don't want to use someone, just because they can be used.
"My princess, do you have the resolve?" [Dida]
Dida's face was unusually serious when he said that.
"If it spirals into a fight, the opponent will attempt to kill you. They might even want you to hurt yourself, and perish from your own weakness. With one command from my princess, everyone else will stand up to fight." [Dida]
Ryle came close to me and called out to Dida as if trying to rebuke him.
"Do you have the resolve to kill someone? Could you do it if my princess ordered you to kill an opponent?" [Dida]
Despite the shout, Dida's mouth was clamped shut as Ryle's sharp voice echoed in the room.
For an instant, it became silent.
"If it's about going to war, everyone should be prepared. The truth is that you can lose your own life, or the sword that you wield might be painted with the fresh blood of an opponent. There is no need for milady to be burdened with this alone." [Ryle]
Due to Ryle's resounding words, it fell silent once again.
The soft echo of those words shook the room for a moment.
"Well, about that. I've already prepared myself. However, it is necessary for my princess to share that same resolve, don't you agree? With my princess's command, we will plunge into the battleground without a shadow of a doubt. Even if we were to lose the leading soldiers in charge of command, my princess's life will be our guide. Our shoulders are burdened with the lives of our comrades. But, my princess not only carries the responsibility of everyone on the battlefield, but also the 'aftermath', she must bear that responsibility too… Isn't that right?" [Dida]
At Dida's query, Ryle's mouth closed.
"And if it becomes a direct face to face battle… When the order is given, my princess's hands will be stained with blood, just like ours." [Dida]
Dida's words are correct… It's for this reason that my chest feels like it's being impaled.
I don't want to be conscious of this fact… no matter what others think of me. For the sake of protecting them, I must and will say these words… If we fight, I will give the order to take the life of the opponent.
With just one instruction from me, lives really can be extinguished. Even people who don't desire conflict will be dragged in… If a war does break out, I wonder if I have the resolve to order soldiers to fight.
"… Right now, I am not able to show that resolve. However, if we were to give out instructions to prepare, my princess should also be able to look ahead, and use this time to decide." [Dida]
I posed this question to myself, but no answer came out.
"That's right… it's just as you said, Dida." [Iris]
It was a considerably pathetic voice. However, it can't be helped.
Truly, just pathetic.
While giving out orders to Dida and Ryle to get prepared, I felt as though I was the only one who wasn't prepared.
"I'm still unable to answer your question. Just, give me a little more time." [Iris]
"I understand. Then, we will go ahead and make preparations." [Dida]
Most likely, they wouldn't have moved from the room without hearing some sort of answer first. Dida's previous words, they truly surprised me.
"… Yeah. Good luck." [Iris]
After Dida and Ryle departed, I went back to my usual duties. However, the recent conversation is still playing in my head.
"… Ah." [Iris]
The result of that is, I splendidly made a mistake while writing documents.
Since I feel so restless, I should probably assign someone else to take care of this… Somehow, I can't stop my thoughts from surfacing. I temporarily put my pen down and stretched my body with all my strength.
A popping sound that was surely unbecoming of a young lady resounded throughout the room.
The exchange from earlier floated through my mind once again.
… A correct answer, there isn't one.
Of course, I've thought about letting a feudal lord representative make the military decisions countless times.
However, I've run into a wall again. This is just a 'what if' situation but, it would be a simple matter to discard a feudal lord representative.
At that time, I would have to steel myself and lie to everyone else, that doing things this way would be a better way to resolve the problems.
Although in that case… Dida wouldn't agree with that answer. What's more, if my layer of lies is exposed at the last moment, I will surely fall.
If such a time was really to arrive… I suspect that I wouldn't be able to lie even to myself anymore. I scattered away from the unsightly figure of myself in that situation that arose in my mind.
Until now, I have been entrusted with the fates of people, many times… even their lives. An incapable lord kills the nation's people. That's way…
… However, the situation is in a completely different realm this time.
I will be directly involved with the exchange of lives and burdened with the responsibility that carries. The lives of the citizens rest on my shoulders, more than ever.
… My previous life was a far cry from my current one, I feel that having to suddenly bear something so heavy is what's causing my restlessness.
If no one gets hurt, that would be great… That's just the excuse. I'm just afraid of giving out orders.
If this truly was the world of a game… perhaps it would be a world that was kind to everyone. A world where no one gets hurt… like a story where all the dirty portions are wrapped up in a condensed bubble to the side, it would be a moving story to narrate.
No, even in the game… The villainess Iris was solely responsible for all the dirty, terrible portions. Truthfully, there may not be a world that is nice to everyone, perhaps.
At any rate, this world is the reality. If it were otherwise, there would be no reason to show everything in such detail.
There are various explanations for the muddy fight between the aristocratic factions. This sort of scene wasn't told in the story; the disparity between the rich and poor make me want to knit my eyebrows.
Various thoughts and perspectives occurred in each sphere. Therefore, I am worried and unsure what to do because of this.
… I should probably call out to Tanya, and eat something. I can't do any work in this state.
Abandoning my train of thought, I tried to call Tanya.
With that timing, the mountain of documents collapsed. Countless papers fluttered in the air.
Ahh, I've really done it now…
I even went to the trouble of categorizing them, they're all mixed up now. To be honest, I feel exhausted just thinking about the amount of time it would take if I sorted through all of this again.
"… Tanya." [Iris]
"Yes, I am right here." [Tanya]
"Sorry to trouble you, but I'll be heading to the drawing room. Give out instructions to prepare some tea. After that, is it alright if I leave the sorting of these documents to you?" [Iris]
"As you will." [Tanya]
In the end, I abandoned everything to take a break. I'll be in the drawing room by myself, drinking tea elegantly.
The decorated furnishings along with the fresh flowers in this room would normally help me feel relaxed but… today I just don't feel that way.
"Oh my, Iris. Whatever is the matter? Wearing a sunken face." [Mellissa]
A soft and cheerful voice rang out, it was mother.
"You there, I'll have the same tea as Iris." [Mellissa]
While she said that, mother took a seat on the opposite side of me.
"Are you taking a break, I wonder?" [Mellissa]
"… Ah, yes. I was just a little bit tired." [Iris]
"It's not good to push yourself too hard. Truly, you're exactly like your father." [Mellissa]
Her smiling and giggling face were as beautiful as always. As mother brought the teacup to her lips with beautiful conduct and grace, I was unknowingly fascinated by that action.
"I wonder, are you really only tired? Or is there something that is worrying you?" [Mellissa]
Mother's words shocked me and I stiffened my posture.
Am I really that easy to read?
"… Iris. Let's sojourn outside for a moment. If you keep secluding yourself inside, you will only think about bad things." [Mellissa]
Mother caught my hand after she said that, and began walking.
"Eh? Eh?" [Iris]
With a strength that belied her appearance, Mother mercifully pulled me along.
When I looked at behind me, her flustered attendants were reflected in my eyes.
…A few minutes after mother pulled me out of the room.
My hand hasn't been released for ten minutes as I was crammed into a carriage while I was left in the dark as to where we are going.
After we got out of the carriage, and after climbing a long set of stairs… I was on top of a tower high enough to overlook the entirety of the royal capital.
"How beautiful…" [Iris]
How beautiful…I muttered that unintentionally.
The blue sky feels closer than it normally does, and the warm sunshine gently caresses my body.
Illuminated by it, the royal capital also feels more stunning than usual.
"Indeed, it is beautiful, Iris." [Mellissa]
"Mother, this place is…" [Iris]
"This is the watchtower that is used in the defense of the royal capital. Even now, it is under the jurisdiction of the military." [Mellissa]
"…We were freely allowed to enter though." [Iris]
In short, isn't this a military facility? Even if we are nobles, I'm surprised that they allowed civilians to enter.
"It was easy, as I used my father's name." [Mellissa]
Mother carelessly dropped a bombshell like that, I'm in awe.
"…When I was still a child, I would always come here whenever I was worried about something. That's why I have already become a familiar acquaintance with the guards here." [Mellissa]
Mother smiled after she said that.
"… Mother, what sort of things could have made you worried in the past?" [Iris]
"Fufufu… let's see, there was the time when I got into a fight with my father, or the time when I soundly lost to him during martial arts training." [Mellissa]
Mother recounted her past happily.
"And then, I also came here when I lost my dream." [Mellissa]
"Mother's dream…? Mother, what could possibly…" [Iris]
Mother's dream… I couldn't imagine what it could be. She was the person who people praised as a flower of high society, boasting of her grandeur. Everything that could be attained, seems to already be in her hands.
For mother to give up on her dream, I couldn't fathom it.
"You know, in the past, I wished to be a soldier." [Mellissa]
I was taken aback at hearing her unexpected reply.
"…A soldier, is it?" [Iris]
"Indeed. I have trained in martial arts since I was a child. The reason for that was due to my mother, as she was murdered by bandits." [Mellissa]
Again I was surprised to hear an unexpected fact that I didn't know about.
"My father really grieved over her loss. That man who achieved countless victories, while striving for the peace of the country… He couldn't protect his wife. Not even in his wildest nightmare would he imagine that her life would be taken away by the citizens he protected." [Mellissa]
My chest hurts. He was the war hero… the Savior of the Battlefield.
To think that grandfather, who was given such a title, couldn't even protect grandmother from being murdered. Even more, for it to be caused by the people he protected.
"I also, after my mother's death… I began to learn martial arts. My father didn't oppose it, due to the matter of my mother. I was not instructed in etiquette or other things that other noble children learned at all; I was just admiring the military, like a boy." [Mellissa]
Once again, I was flustered at her statement. Just how many times have I been surprised today, just from this conversation with mother…
I mean, it's mother you know?… The one who is called the perfect role model for a lady, to think that she never learned any manners while she was little.
"… Whether it was due to my father's teaching that I reached success, or that I had talent like father claimed I had… Considering my father's pupils that were the same age that I was, and even older ones, I was unbeatable. I think the only loses I ever received, were from father, weren't they?" [Mellissa]
I had completely lost the ability to laugh at all, at mother who said those words happily.
"… Someday, I thought that I wanted to be a soldier. If I became a soldier, I could protect the country like my father." [Mellissa]
"… But, wasn't the one who took away grandmother's life also a citizen of this country? Even so, why…" [Iris]
"Well, you're correct… As you said, I truly despise the bandits who took mother's life, and yet, I could also understand my father's feelings, who protected the people. Was I acting purely out of hatred, or deep down, just because I wanted to protect myself? Honestly, I don't know the true reason why I learned martial arts." [Mellissa]
Before I knew it, there was a shadow, casting a sense of gloom on mother's smile.
Exposed to the sunlight, it felt extremely fleeting.
"So, I wonder what it is, really… When father caught the bandits in question, I felt empty for a moment. What on earth did I learn martial arts for? I began to lose sight of my purpose… I thought a lot about that question here. For what reason I took up the sword. I thought, and think… Thanks to this scenery, I was able to clear my heart." [Mellissa]
"There, look at it." [Mellissa]
With those words, mother pointed down at the city below.
A multitude of people, and a wondrous cityscape.
"There are people in each one of those buildings… we have activities day after day, and we can cry and laugh 'because we are alive'. It is a beautiful, precious thing… I thought so." [Mellissa]
"It is true, I have also lost some comrades to bandits. However, there are still many powerless people out there. I'll try to prevent another family grieving because of an unexpected tragedy like I had. I hope that this scenery, this spectacle, will continue forever. I've decided that I want to protect it, even if I have to dye my hands with blood." [Mellissa]
Her firm resolution pierced my chest.
"… Did you already have such resolution, from when you were a child?" [Iris]
"Maybe it was because I lost someone precious to me. Or maybe it was due to the fact that I strongly believed that I don't wish to lose anyone, anymore." [Mellissa]
"As you know, in reality, it didn't go well. That is because women are prohibited to serve in the military. Those words from comrades who were lost to me stung with reality, and shattered my dream to pieces." [Mellissa]
Those men had the maturity of little boys, huh… Even though this was a matter of the past, it still irritates me.
If even I was offended by that, I wonder how mother felt at the time.
"Did you ever consider becoming a knight?" [Iris]
The knight order allowed a small percentage of women to join their ranks. This was because they were needed as escorts and bodyguards for female members of royalty.
"I did not take up martial arts for the sake of protecting the royal family. Also, the Dame order is merely a decoration." [Mellissa]
Well, she is right. I nodded at mother's words.
It is true that each member of the Dame order are required to have martial arts training above a certain standard, but they hardly ever saw sunlight.
Forget about mentioning going to the frontlines, it was exceedingly unlikely for them to even stand anywhere on the battlefield because they were women.
"… Again, I came up to this place. Only, at that time, there was nothing I could do. Once again, the goal that I had believed in, disappeared like a mist." [Mellissa]
Her revenge targets disappeared. Then, the dream she found was gone.
… I regret that I ever thought that she already had everything in her hands.
"At that time, I met your father here." [Mellissa]
"Father was?" [Iris]
"Indeed. At that time, his father, as you've expected, was serving as the prime minister. Ever since he first came here for an inspection, he was infatuated with this place, and came here often." [Mellissa]
… I wonder if the guards here were actually competent. The thought flashed through my mind.
Well, since they weren't unknown people, it was okay… maybe?
"He was completely indifferent to me, and just kept watching the scenery while I was crying at his side. Because I felt that there was a nuisance in my favorite spot, I shamefully… I unleashed my anger at him." [Mellissa]
Mother's cheeks started to be dyed in crimson, and because it seemed as though I would be hearing the story of their love blossoming, it made me want to escape.
"But, that father of yours. He rebuked me." [Mellissa]
"Yes. He said: 'If you were to give up, your dream was only to that extent, after all.'" [Mellissa]
To give a crying girl the final blow, it truly is something father would say.
Also, I thought that mother who could tell this story happily was also really like her.
"' For what reason do you polish your skills in martial arts?' He asked me. 'Is it merely to earn honor in the military, or is it to protect the people? If it was the former, go ahead and cry your heart out. If it is the latter, is there any reason to cry?'… he said." [Mellissa]
"… If it was the latter, is there any reason to cry… is it." [Iris]
"Precisely. Your father has also said something like this: 'Don't confuse the means with the end.'" [Mellissa]
I see. I understood what mother meant.
If mother's dream was to join the military and earn fame and honor by mastering martial arts, it is certainly true that her dream completely disappeared. However, if her goal was to protect the people…
"'If the 'end' is to protect the people, then you've only lost one way to make that happen. There is another way you could act to support the people's livelihood. I think I will do it with literature, not martial arts… even if I say that, I'm still far away from my father.' Or, that is what your father said. Those words gave me a shock… I felt like I was enlightened. After that, I met your father at a marriage interview. Then, I fell in love, from the respect I had for him sharing the same ambition that I had. We then tied the knot… and I decided to step into a different sort of battlefield." [Mellissa]
"A different battlefield?" [Iris]
"Just so. A completely different battlefield, known as Upper Society." [Mellissa]
The way she stated that while smiling pridefully, it was dazzling.
Then, I spontaneously laughed. Sure, you're right that it's a different battlefield.
Since she earned her merits on an actual battlefield… Mother has tremendous influence. Mother has put her full strength in utilizing the nobleman's wives network to glean various pieces of information, and also to enact better welfare, using their united strength.
"… Mother. Thank you very much for bringing me here today. May I… look at the view from here, for just a little bit more?" [Iris]
After our return to the mansion, I lay down on my bed after preparing for rest.
However, strangely my head was so clear; I couldn't sleep.
…The conversation shared with mother, and the view at the tower kept floating around inside my head.
'…Prevent another family grieving because of an unexpected tragedy like I had. I hope that this scenery, this spectacle, will continue forever. '
The expression mother had when she said that was really beautiful.
By that, I don't mean her appearance that she was born with… it felt more like an all-loving, motherly figure.
Conversely, what do I feel towards my people?
While reflecting on that, I remembered what I have done up to this point… I laughed unintentionally.
Isn't it the same?
When I met Mina and the children in the orphanage… no, I guess it was even before then when I was patrolling the fief, I decided.
I have never been deeply involved in politics before. However, I have the power for it. That is, the political power I have as the Feudal Lord's Representative.
The path I walked, the things I do for myself, all of the things that will affect my people's livelihood. There is a lot of responsibility when dealing with each document on top of my study desk. Even so, this was to protect the circumstances of my people. I already hardened my resolve for this, hadn't I?
I was feeling this way because… I had grown surprisingly weak after the excommunication conflict.
I wonder if my existence as the head of the fief's government was all pain and no gain. In that case, would everything I did head the fief into a worse direction?
… Even though this isn't the time to think about such weak things.
I was already moving forward. This movement would involve the people, the fief. At this point, I can't say that I don't have the resolution for this.
I could only keep moving forward to make my wish come true. I won't lose sight of my goal. If I were lost, it is the same as saying that my people and all those who follow me were also lost.
I will only do, what I must do.
When I thought so, suddenly, it felt as though the gloomy feeling in my chest was lifted, and made my heart firm. Just like that, I entrusted my body into the pleasant world of dreams.
On the following day, I called Ryle and Dida again.
"Is there something I can do for you, my princess?" [Dida]
"Certainly. There is something I want you to hear, about my resolve." [Iris]
At my brief comment, Ryle was at a loss for words… While Dida was laughing as if that was funny.
"… Yesterday, you asked me Dida, whether I have the resolve or not." [Iris]
"That's right." [Dida]
"Although I was agitated at that time… Reflecting on it, asking that at this point is a little late, isn't it?" [Iris]
Dida's jaw dropped at my answer.
"I have already decided in my heart. I will protect this fief and everyone who is living in it." [Iris]
"… Are you ready to spill blood to protect them?" [Dida]
"'Yes'… and 'No.'" [Iris]
Dida, even Ryle, tilted their heads because of my answer.
"I already carry thousands of my people's lives on my shoulder. My duty is to protect this fief… and the people. For that reason, I'll deploy the soldiers when the time comes, where they are needed. For their actions, I'll assume full responsibility." [Iris]
This isn't a world where everyone won't hurt each other. I already understood such truths, didn't I?
"You know. I won't let this situation happen. I will hold on, until the last minute. I'll pile up negotiations, wait for chances, and try not to be forcefully dragged along with the situation. It's more how we prevent the war than focusing on winning the war. So for that, firstly, I'll need to move." [Iris]
Don't confuse the means with the end. Indeed, I was doing just that.
How should I take responsibility if the war breaks out?
How to be an ideal lord… I was only thinking about such things.
However, the 'end' wasn't that.
There was never only one way forward. Look ahead, rack your brain, and formulate a plan. The pen, my mouth, and my brain are my weapons. As for the last card, I will only use military force after losing my other cards.
That is my role.
"However… if, at any rate… it has been decided that there is no other way. Ryle, Dida. I have a request for you two. Please keep the bloodshed to a minimum, as much as possible. If we can't leave that path, let me take all of the responsibilities that arise." [Iris]
When I declared that, somehow, Dida began to laugh again.
…Have I said something weird, I wonder? No, I'm sure that I gave them a serious response…
"Such a great resolution… and what terribly naive words." [Dida]
Ryle, who was beside Dida, showed his displeasure.
"But, it's all good. It's because you're like this, that I want to protect you, my princess, and everything precious to you." [Dida]
… Does this count as a passing mark?
"… It would be better if you were just honest." [Ryle]
Ryle said that as though he had given up.
"Milady. We are your shield and your sword. Allow us to wipe away your sorrows, and when there is nothing left for you… please rely on us. We will make sure to protect you, Milady, and anything precious to you." [Ryle]
Ryle gave that declaration with knightly decorum. Dida, who was beside him, also gave the same oath.
"Yeah. Thanks… Ryle, Dida."
They are also people that I don't want to part with… people that I want to protect.
I will fight on my own battlefield.
While I was worn out with worry, Sei made a big contribution.
What bothered me was the fact that the neighboring country had suddenly raised the tariffs. On the other hand, I was waging a manufacturing war against a company under Prince Edward's patronage.
Like the other companies, the conditions there were slowly deteriorating as well, and the current president was someone who took over using underhanded means, even though there was a legitimate successor. I managed to further their downfall from behind the scenes. When they finally had no other hope, the people under the prince were boycotted, and I was able to put the legitimate successor on the president's seat. And finally, I gave the new president a contract.
While the face of the store remained the same, it now transported Azuta's products single-handedly, since the foreign tariffs only applied to companies based in Armelia. In other words, thanks to them, the increased tariffs were no longer a problem.
It seemed that the other shops based in Almeria were also contracting others as of recent. Besides custom duties, the cost of hiring an escort for exported goods was also expensive. Since this cost wasn't applicable while contracting, it seemed to be popular. Although this was initially started from an instruction, it was due to Sei's diligence that this became achievable in the end. I'm really thankful for that.
However, this didn't solve the fundamental problem. Stabilizing the tariffs was my delegation, but it didn't go too well… Only around the Armelia fief can I feel the taxes rising all at once.
But, if I were to make a complaint, the one awaiting it would be the second Queen Consort. It would definitely be crushed. Just as father said in the beginning, It wasn't something a lord alone could decide.
Only the King has the right to order all the lords. That being said, the King in question was bedridden.
Well… in any case, it's a fact that the lords' policy about the tariff won't change. Even if the King invoked that right in peacetime, he wouldn't obstruct the lords' policy.
So this is what they meant by 'surrounded on all sides'.
… I have accomplished my objective for now, at least. Maybe I should just go back as is. Even if Sebas is excellent at his job, the workload will inevitably crush him soon.
Ahー… But, if Dean was there, I'm sure they'd manage something.
While thinking about such things, I started to tidy up the documents.
"Tanya. I think it's about time we head back to the fief."[Iris]
"Now is indeed a good time. I will adjust the schedule immediately."[Tanya]
Well… there are still various greetings and follow-ups left; I'll have to stay for several more days.
"I'll leave it to you."[Iris]
Aah, I miss the fief. Although I wasn't leaving the fief for 1 or 2 years like in my student days, it feels like I haven't visited in a long time. It goes to show just how meaningful those days were.
"Milady, a letter has arrived from Lady Mimoza."[Tanya]
When I received the letter from Tanya, I opened the seal with a paper knife and looked inside.
… I feel that my skimming speed has improved as of late.
At that moment, I heard a knocking sound. Tanya responded and went to open the door. After talking with the servant there, Tanya's expression quickly became grim.
"… Please return immediately." [Tanya]
The servant flinched from how coldly she demanded this, but they didn't draw back.
"It's fine. I'll go." [Tanya]
She indirectly declared that any words beyond this were unnecessary. However, the other party looked relieved after hearing this. Maybe it was from the fact that a person as capable as her will come… or so it seems.
"Pardon the intrusion. I shall go welcome them right away."[Tanya]
Judging by Tanya's state, it seems they don't want me to know… they want to handle it autonomously, so to speak.
Nonetheless, I want to know since they came to visit me.
"Wait a second. Tanya, who's coming?"[Iris]
"You don't have to worry about this, Milady. I will handle this myself."[Tanya]
After I called her name again, Tanya made a troubled expression.
"Van Lutasha has come to meet with milady."[Tanya]
"Sir Van is…?"[Iris]
I was shocked by hearing an unexpected name.
"Since Ryle and Dida are still out, it's better not to receive him poorly. We can't predict what he has planned or what might happen…. Besides, it's rude to visit without notice."
Well, indeed. In the first place, I don't have anything I want to discuss with him. They didn't hear my side of the story, so why should I hear theirs?
"… You're right. Then, I leave it to you, Tanya."[Iris]
"As you wish."[Tanya]
So Van has come… Why did he come now of all times… I couldn't help but feel concerned about this.
Well… perhaps it's something related to the excommunication incident. It seems his father, the Pope, has been relieved from duty and apprehended.
Rather than coming to me, I think going to his closest friend is more appropriate though…
Yuri Noir, that Barons' daughter… Ever since becoming Prince Edward's fiancee, her voice has gained some influence. Prince Edward is the second prince, and his maternal grandfather's name, Marquis Maelia, boasts tremendous prestige.
Ahー… but, Bern is in a middle of an internship under father, so it will be hard to meet him, and, Dorsen being Dorsen, he's been occupied ever since joining the knight order.
That being said, I also have plenty of plans I've thought of. I just want to go back to the fief as quickly as possible. Surely he wouldn't follow me to the fief… right? I wonder what will he say when we meet face to face… just thinking about it reeks of trouble.
"I'm back, Milady."[Tanya]
While I was thinking about such things, Tanya returned.
"You're handling this quite fast, don't you think…?"[Iris]
"Yes. Since I want to go back urgently."[Tanya]
She said in an abrupt manner, seemingly unconcerned. It seems Tanya was quite irritated. I should thank her afterward.
"What did he say?"[Iris]
But before that, I have to hear what she has to say.
"No. He didn't say anything… because I quickly drove that man away before he opened his mouth."[Tanya]
Tanya may be smiling, but her eyes aren't laughing at all. Or rather, she was giving off a chilling aura that sends shivers down my spine. While I want to hear all about how she drove him away, I won't, since I'm scared to hear it.
… Well, as long as Tanya didn't do anything bizarre, it'll be alright. I hope that it's alright.
"Well, it's okay. Even if I deeply ponder about it, I still wouldn't understand. Tanya, please put away those documents." [Iris]
Tanya answered with a perfect smile.
"Also, please investigate Van's situation."[Iris]
"As you wish."[Tanya]
Tanya's information network has really grown.
Recently, I've been gathering similar people who make a living doing these things, but she's been coordinating them for me. Once, the Duke of Armelia… or to be precise, my father, employed them.
The excommunication scandal this time around made me realize the importance of information, so, little by little, I've been gathering experts in the area. Well, I haven't gathered that many, since it's difficult to find someone trustworthy enough for it… so I counted on the connections from father, mother, and even grandfather.
"… Let's finish our job here quickly and then go home." [Iris]
Before I left the royal capital, I came out to the town. Even if we don't really have much time, since we're already at the royal capital, I want to do some window shopping… seeing as we're here and all. I should buy souvenirs for everyone back in the fief before returning home.
"… What will make everyone delighted, I wonder."[Iris]
For Rehme and Moneda, maybe some unique sweets from the royal capital. Since their work is mentally taxing, they would need sugar to keep them going. But, if I give sweets to Melida and Sei, I have a feeling they will relate it to their work somehow…
"I think they will be delighted with anything Milady chose."[Tanya]
I smiled bitterly at Tanya's word.
"That's the most troubling thing. Since I have to go out of my way to give them something, rather than something useful… it's better to give something they want, isn't that true?"[Iris]
I wore my usual little disguise to walk around the city. We browsed many shops while also narrowing my choices. But, somehow I still can't decide on anything…
At the time, while I was walking around worrying about what souvenirs to get them.
Eh? … That person looks familiar..…
No way… so it was Dean? Moreover, there was a woman next to him. Why is Dean here? …Or rather, who is the woman at his side?
While those questions were rushing into my head, my heart was filled with some indescribable fuzzy feeling.
No… where Dean is or who he is with is none of my concern.
Although I tried to deny it in my mind, the discomfort that was rising out of my chest didn't disappear. As if I was a child. I scoffed at myself over my unanticipated desire to monopolize him. It seems Dean has noticed me; his eyes opened wide in surprise for a moment.
That reaction also irritated me.
Is it bad if I were to see you? Or, did seeing me become a hindrance?
Well… certainly, if you think about it, it might be awkward to meet your superior during your personal time.
…That's it. Let's hurry back home That being said, It would be unnatural if I were to turn around now, also I still haven't bought any souvenirs.
"… It has been a while, Milady."[Dean]
Since our eyes have met, Dean came to greet me.
"It has been a while, Dean. To think that we would meet in the Royal capital. … And who this person be?"[Iris]
I do my best to smile, but I don't have confidence whether I'm smiling properly or not.
The lovely woman who stood next to him smiled brightly with sparkling eyes.
"Please to meet you. My name is Rety. My brother was always in your care."[Rety]
Now that I take a closer look at her certainly… her features are similar to Dean. If I were to talk about their differences, Dean has emerald green pupils, whereas Rety's pupils are bright green like a peridot; minor differences like that, I guess.
"Yes, that's right. I'm sorry that I couldn't meet you until now. I can't go out alone since our family is strict, and when brother was bothering you at your place, I had to take over his work."[Rety]
That means… I'm indirectly indebted to her, aren't I. I have to properly give my gratitude to her here. Or rather, I haven't introduced myself, but … you can't just casually reveal yourself in downtown for safety reasons, can you?
"Oh my…! I'm the one who should be apologizing, your brother is always extremely helpful to me. … I can't reveal my name here, so please excuse me for being rude."[Iris]
"It's okay. … I'm aware of your circumstances. Oh right! If you don't mind, let us have a pleasant chat. I want to hear if my brother was working properly at milady's place."[Rety]
Rety smiled like a blooming flower.
"Milady, please ignore my sister words. You are a busy person, for you to spare some time for my sister is a bit…"[Dean]
"Oh my, brother. Is there something you don't want me to hear?"[Rety]
"Rety… you're like that after all…"[Dean]
Beside her, I see a rare appearance of Dean being flustered and troubled. It was a first seeing Dean like this.
Without thinking, I ended up laughing. Seeing that, Rety is also giggling along with me.
"Very well then. Since we can't do it here, let's go someplace else."[Iris]
And so, we went to a certain restaurant. This place has a friendly relationship with the Armelia Duchy, so they perfectly prepared a private room for us. I can't just talk about myself in a cafe downtown. Since I have to go out of my way to put on a disguise, after all.
"Once again, nice to meet you. I'm Iris. Iris Lana Armelia."[Iris]
"Pleased to meet you. My name is Rety, as stated prior. My brother is always under your care."[Rety]
"Likewise, Dean has also been taking care of me. And it seems I have been troubling you by making him assist me… my apologies."[Iris]
"No… it's fine, I like to work. In the first place, I really respect you, so you don't have to feel sorry."[Rety]
"Respect, is it?"[Iris]
I unintentionally tilted my head. Even though we have never met before, so why? It didn't seem as if it was empty flattery; her eyes were sparkling as she said so.
"I heard that the Armelia Duchy has had a remarkable economic growth under your supervision. Moreover, there are a lot of people immigrating there since it's now easy to live in. The skill required to achieve that alone is deserving of respect and above all, as a fellow woman, I'm happy to listen to the story of those who are politically active." [Rety]
What she said made it seem like she was reading my mind. Even though she's such a lovely girl, as expected from Dean's little sister… or something along those lines
"Thanks. …By the way, you said that you also take over his work right? I wonder what kind of work he does."[Iris]
"I draft documents and arrange the collected information for the king. I also do some lobbying in the kings' stead… jobs like that. That's why, even though I said that I took over, in the end, I was just helping my brother's work behind the scenes."[Rety]
"Just behind the scenes, you say.. drafting documents and making the necessary arrangements for a negotiation based on the gathered information is something that needs perseverance.
Even though I'm the acting lord, most of my work consist of drafting and sorting documents, so I don't think there is too much of a difference, is there?"[Iris]
"No… In your case, you carry many responsibilities with the numerous decisions you make. Therefore, I think your work is totally different from that of mine. However, I'm very happy that you think so."[Rety]
And then, I have a pleasant chat with Rety… however.
"Eeh!? So you too, Lady Iris!"[Rety]
"Yeah, usually. As expected, my head feels heavy as soon as I stop facing documents for hours on end."[Iris]
"You're right… Especially if we start in the evening, it becomes unbearable by morning, doesn't it." [Rety]
"Right, I understand it well."[Iris]
Somehow, at one point the topic became about health troubles and stress relief methods. It's not a conversational topic that a gathering of young women would commonly engage in… or so I think.
You see, usually, it's talks about love, or about the latest pastries… isn't that what you imagine from a talk between two young girls?
Well, since it seems Rety isn't just putting on airs about taking over Dean's work, I sympathized with her worries and unintentionally got absorbed into it.
We continue to talk, not minding Dean who also tagged along. Suddenly the talk comes to a halt, and Rety, who had been smiling until now, completely changed her expression to a serious one.
"Lady Iris, I will tell you this as someone who knows about counselor works… you work double or three times more than the rest, don't you? Like what my brother has said, isn't it better to distribute your work to some people to decrease your workload a little?"[Rety]
"Even if it was like that, it has decreased considerably, you know. …There is an assistant that I have trusted with the firm. As for the fief's management, I have my butler and also your brother." [Iris]
"Well… is my brother able to be of use to you?"[Rety]
"Of course. Your brother really pays attention to the little details… his work is accurate. Without Dean, I might have collapsed by now."[Iris]
Yup. Truthfully, Dean is my trusted right-hand man. I can't describe it well, but… probably, Sebas, Sei, Tanya, Rehme, etc. place a great importance on how well they could perform under my instructions. They do that, not because of their position, but because they want to.
However, Dean doesn't have those restrictions. That's why he's able to give me his opinion.
When I suddenly come up with an idea, we make a rough plan for it, after that we search for the most efficient way that to make it feasible at a practical level, then I give my opinion based on that. As for the result, it was more efficient than if I were to worry about it alone.
Dean is really my right hand in the truest sense of the word… yup, he is my partner.
"Eeh, is that so? …Certainly, my brother really pays attention to details. Thanks to that, I'm not exhausted from work." [Rety]
I unconsciously smiled at her words.
"Rety, say those things when the person in question isn't around."[Dean]
Dean opened his mouth for the first time after coming here.
"Well, brother. I don't know when I'll be able to meet Lady Iris again. Therefore, I have to tell her what's on my mind on this occasion."[Rety]
"…Come to think of it, Rety can't go out often, can she."[Iris]
"Yes. My family is quite overprotective. …Besides, since brother usually goes here and there for work, if I were to leave during that time, the documents and the like would be delayed and cause trouble for the person below."[Rety]
"I see… So usually, Rety stays in the royal capital, is that so?"[Iris]
"I think that I will surely come back here again. That's why, let's meet again at that time."[Iris]
"… Milady, It's about time…" [Tanya]
Tanya apologetically informs us about the time.
… Time really goes by fast when you're having fun.
"Well then… Lady Iris, I'm sorry for taking up so much of your time. Please let us know when you're coming to the royal capital again."[Rety]
"Yes, of course. I will go to the place you recommended right away." [Iris]
In the middle of our talk, Rety told me of some popular shops in the royal capital. That's why I want to go there now to find some souvenirs.
"Yes. I hope you find a good souvenir." [Rety]
"Thanks. …Dean. Again, I will be waiting for you to come to the fief." [Iris]
"Yes. I will head there as soon as I conclude some matters." [Dean]
After that, we left the restaurant and walked to find some souvenirs. We have to buy it before the day ends since we will leave for the royal capital tomorrow.
In the end, we got handkerchiefs for Merida and Sei from the accessory shop that Rety had recommended. And then, we headed back home after we bought some sweets for the others as initially planned. I continue basking in satisfaction from having bought some fine goods, in the carriage on the way home.
Suddenly, as we arrived at the mansion, a figure appeared in front of me.
A person was approaching me while crying out loud. Lyle and Dida soon stood between me and that person as if to protect me.
"Ahh, I meet you at last… Lady Iris, please listen to my story."
It was a person I knew.
"Sir Van… Why are you here…"[Iris]
When I called that name, Lyle and Dida's cautiousness grew. Tanya who dealt with his unannounced visit once already was showing her displeasure from the start.
"No matter how… I just want to talk directly with you just once, that's all. Last time, I went home after being told that you weren't in the mansion, but today, I was waiting for you." [Van]
"… Even if you say that… you're being too rude! You keep barging in even though you don't have an appointment…! You, are you making light of the Armelia Dukedom!"[Tanya]
Van's words made Tanya furious. It seems Lyle and Dida were also thinking the same thing even though they kept their silence.
Obviously, he makes me uncomfortable.
"…Fine. Sir Van, since you're already here, please enter the mansion."[Iris]
"… I don't want to disturb the traffic any more than this. Sir Van, I'll listen to your story, so please go ahead inside."[Iris]
I'm aware that I'm being rude, but unfortunately, I wasn't kind enough to show manners and respect for an unannounced visitor like him.
While sighing heavily, I entered the mansion.
"…It's quite impressive."[Van]
That was the first thing Van said after he sat down.
Inside the mansion, everyone showed their wariness and hostility toward Van's figure.
…Of course, the servants of the Armelia Dukedom weren't foolish enough to express it openly. Lyle, Dida, and even Tanya, who were present in this room also refrained from taking protective stances.
"…Why don't you just do the welcoming yourself?"[Iris]
"Sorry, it was rude of me."[Van]
"So, what's your business? …I will return to my fief tomorrow. So please, state it briefly." [Iris]
"… I have something to ask you." [Van]
"What is it?"[Iris]
Although I did ask him to be brief, I was surprised that he was being so hasty that he didn't even ask nicely. But above all, that he has the nerve to ask something of me in the first place. I could feel murderous intent that could leap anytime from those three who were standing beside me.
"I want you to become my assistant."[Van]
Although I expected it, I didn't think that he would really say it… to think that those words would come out of his mouth.
"In this case, it was imprudent of me to ask you for a favor after all this trouble I caused you, but … I'm in a very tough position right now. Also, at the same time, the Daryl church is in a midst of a crisis. …If we leave it as is, the chaos in the Daryl church may well affect the kingdom. That's why, as the son of the one who brought about this chaos… if I could show to the public a cooperative relationship with you, the victim of the incident this time, … I think there no better deterrence than this."[Van]
Certainly, just as he says, it's a fact that the Daryl Church is currently shaken from the tremors of purging the Pope after the excommunication controversy, as well as the investigation into the responsibilities of one of its factions.
At the same time, I heard that the investigation regarding the Pope's faction and their noble sympathizers are proceeding as well. Or rather, those nobles are the scapegoat… they are just small fry; the one who needs to be held accountable for their actions still seem unreachable, it seems.
"…You're right, the chaos in Daryl church may well harm the kingdom."[Iris]
He looked at me with eyes that were filled with expectation. However, how unfortunate.
"…But, suppose I agreed to cooperate with you. What benefit do I gain then?"[Iris]
I continued and asked him with the coldest tone that I could.
Van asked me back; his expression tells me that he didn't understand what I meant.
"Yes, the benefit. Is there any benefit for me if I were to cooperate?"[Iris]
"Before talking about the benefit, do you not have the backbone to save this country from a crisis as this kingdom's aristocrat?"[Van]
"Oh my… what a strange thing to say. In the first place, it wouldn't have turned out like this if you hadn't accused me falsely, would it?"[Iris]
I laughed. I really laughed deep from my heart.
"It's too late to talk about the chaos this country is in. The nobles are divided into two camps over the throne… no, if we include the neutral faction, isn't it better to call it a three-way struggle? The fact that this country could last this long in this state is a miracle."[Iris]
I don't know how they keep this country together, but I truly respect the guys who do it. When the top brass keeps having factional disputes, I don't think it would be strange if the people's livelihood became more devastated. It also wouldn't be surprising if the neighboring countries were using this chance to invade.
To be able to suppress all of them, I think their skill was really admirable.
Comparing the country with one fief may be ridiculous, but in managing this fief, only I sat at the top. So far, I could push new policies, albeit forcibly, since there isn't any opposition and there wouldn't be any confusion in the chain of command due it consisting of only me.
On the contrary, if I were to do the management of this country at this time, no matter what change I wanted to create, there would be obstructions. There is also the chance of my allies turning into opponents, or in the first place, there is always a doubt of whether they were really my allies or not. Including that, you can't just freely move about. Such environment where it's 'only work' will wear down my nerves.
Lastly, it wouldn't be an exaggeration that a single misstep would lead us into a national crisis; it's a tightrope act.
Ahh, I should send some stomach medicine to father… Thinking about that, I look at Van.
"You facilitated this, and now after all of that, you want to prevent a national crisis by joining hands with me? …Are you really in any position to say that."[Iris]
"I- I haven't done something like throwing the country into a crisis though."[Van]
"My, are you unaware of it? … Aren't you quite close with Prince Edward?" [Iris]
I laughed silently.
Did he act like that to get on my nerves, I thought as I frowned.
"Well, that's to be expected since we go to the same academy."[Van]
"I am saying this because it's not to be expected. …That academy is a miniature model of the aristocratic society. People will belong to the same faction as their parents and form groups. Although I don't know whether you are following Edward or chasing after Yuri… Naturally, anyone would think that if you are always with them then, 'Sir Van and the pope behind him are supporting Prince Edward.'"[Iris]
Putting it like that, it really was a close call for Bern and me.
Originally, because I was his fiancee, Bern was supposed to distance himself from Prince Edward… to think that Yuri, that baron's daughter, was getting closer to Prince Edward using Bern.
Even though breaking off an engagement is an egregious blow for a noble, I got a better understanding of my father's feelings who took me in at that time.
"You are also one of the people who has intensified this country's factional dispute. Even if you say this is for the country, at this point, I can only laugh."[Iris]
Van closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, the expression he displayed was one of self-loathing.
Did I perhaps overdo it?
"…I understand very well how thoughtless I was. But that is why I have to take responsibility for my actions… In order to prevent further disorder, I want to do what I can."[Van]
"And that first step is for me and you to join forces?"[Iris]
He hesitatingly nodded.
…I took back what I said; even if I did overdo it, he still didn't get it. I sighed at his defiant attitude, and only the driest laugh came out.
"Of course a large organization will be in a state of turmoil before major reforms. Because those people were discharged or arrested by the top, the old regime will have to come forward. There's no helping it."[Iris]
I folded my fan with a snap.
"In the first place, the church's corruption was something that couldn't be overlooked. Instead of using the money they gathered from the nobles for the people, they used it to fill their own pockets."[Iris]
"But the clergymen have their livelihoods as well. That is…"[Van]
"If you say 'It cannot be helped'… you can leave at once."[Iris]
Van was pulled back by my threat.
"The amount of tax money that went into the church was by no means a small amount. …How much hard work does one have to go through to gather that amount of money."[Iris]
How the taxpayers went through a great deal of trouble to gather those taxes. How much effort it would take to manage it and distribute it at an appropriate amount. As the acting lord, I cannot overlook the thoughtlessness of this light tax.
"If that wasn't enough, even with the donation fundraising, they still held an opening charity party. I wonder where that money went."[Iris]
'I didn't know about that …' he makes a dissatisfied face that says as much. However, perhaps he figured that I would kick him out the moment he said that and held his tongue.
Well, 'I didn't know that'… Those words could apply to my past self as well.
Until I awoke the memories of my previous life, I had the same position because I thought it was natural. As I am now, as to whether I could say with full confidence that I fulfilled my obligation as nobility… I don't know.
I don't know, however, it's a fact that I started taking my surroundings into account since then.
"Besides, the church had to give up a lot of power. The former excommunication scandal is a good example. There will be some turmoil but if the church doesn't interfere with the country it should be a positive thing for the kingdom. …If I joined forces with you, I would only get some peace of mind, superficial though it may be."[Iris]
Van bit his lips and looked down.
"…Therefore, I will not make a deal with you. Please leave now."[Iris]
In order to catch up to me, he stood up from his seat.
However, Tanya, Lyle, and Dida, who were all on standby, stood between him and me, blocking his way.
"Is there anything else?"[Iris]
I watched and stared at him as he screamed in panic.
"What should I do! Please, help me…!"[Van]
'Help me'… huh.
Hearing his words, I unintentionally smirked.
"Tell me, why should I help you?"[Iris]
"Aren't I the 'villainess' who persecuted the 'kind-hearted' lady Yuri? You also condemned me along with Prince Edward, didn't you? Such a person as me, should help you without any compensation?" [Iris]
I surprised myself at how cold my voice was.
I heard him pleading for help, but I didn't feel anything. Of course, I wasn't satisfied because of our positions having been reversed since that time.
…Truthfully, I understood how good of a person he was inside my heart.
"My father was expelled from being the Pope. However, I thought that Yuri would keep in touch with me like usual…! And yet, she suddenly became distant. She treated me as if I didn't exist." [Van]
In short, Yuri only wanted the power of the church backing her.
Hearing his words, I was impressed by Yuri instead. It's refreshing to see her simply cut him off with a single stroke as soon as possible.
"Even those around me also started giving me the cold shoulder just like turning their palm. I…" [Van]
"What do you mean?"[Iris]
I replied as flat as possible.
"The person you love, having become distant? Everyone giving you the cold shoulder just like turning their palm? Even if you fall into a situation like that, I don't care. You also didn't care at all when you drove me out of the academy, did you?"[Iris]
His face distorted with my sarcasm.
"…Ahh, you're right. That's right, I'm the one who pushed you aside. Even I believe that it was a foolish thing to come here."[Van]
"Oh my, how splendid of you to understand that. If so, please leave."[Iris]
"Nevertheless, I couldn't get over it. I would like to get back at the people who abandoned me, I don't want it to end without doing anything!"[Van]
I laughed at his cries.
He had such a gentle and naive belief as if he could change the situation. As he kept screaming desperately to try to keep clinging, even after he had understood that he didn't have a chance, I couldn't imagine at all how he was like when he was in that academy.
"Oh, that's right. To tell you the truth I don't care about this country. I came to you because I want to get back at those who abandoned me…!"[Van]
"And what will you do once you get back at them? Beg for love? Hope they would let you join back as their aide?"[Iris]
"…The moment they abandoned me, I stopped caring for them. I just want to do it for myself…!"[Van]
…What a selfish idea.
However, I'm not surprised since I understood that idea as well. What was certain was that even now, I still wanted to get back at them. And at the same time… how risky.
The crucial difference between me and him is that in my case, I was directly targeted. It was thanks to everyone in the fief that I wasn't caught
However, if you look at him currently… He has only one purpose and demands it. For that reason, he needed to be prepared to take the risk of anything that may happen.
Once again, I sat across him.
"So you would like to join forces with me…"[Iris]
He nodded to my words. I see… It means that Van came here in the hopes of getting back at them.
…However, how unfortunate.
"Even with my backing, it's already impossible for you to become the pope. That's goes to show how far the organization's reformation will go."[Iris]
Even now, we are interacting with a Father Raphsimonz. According to his reports, it's impossible for Van to become the pope. In the first place, almost all members of the upper echelon were either arrested or discharged.
This is also a part of the plan to break away from the papal hereditary system which was almost guaranteed to pass. Instead, the election of the pope via a majority vote will be adopted.
"Even if I were to recommend you, I would rather support Father Raphsimonz who is currently making full use of his abilities to tackle the issue head-on. Experience means nothing if you don't have any footing within the church. If you keep going like this, it will prove to be difficult to remain in the Daryl church."[Iris]
At any rate, Van's current position is suspended.
If wasn't because of this case, as the next Pope, he was supposed to enter in the Daryl church headquarters and pile up experience… that being said, the hereditary system will be expunged in the first place. Besides, for a church that seeks to escape from the old regime, his existence will be nothing but a hindrance. It's doubtful if he can even enter the Daryl church as he is.
"…However, it's possible for me to make an appeal and arrange for you to be employed at a church run by my acquaintance. Of course, as a clergyman."[Iris]
If it's Father Raphael, there is a possibility that I could ask him. I have personal connections and I can trust him. Of course, contacting Father Raphsimonz come first.
"It's only a clergyman, right? Let alone being the Pope, I don't even know if they will put you at the headquarters or not. But that person chose to believe what he saw with his own eyes rather than some reputation. Polish your own skills, demonstrate it, and there may be a possibility that you will be appointed to some position."[Iris]
…Well, what will you do? He didn't show any hesitation to that question.
And then, after exchanging a written oath with each other, he went home.
"…Why did you show him such kindness?" [Lyle]
Lyle muttered a complaint.
Though I thought it was unusual he asked and not Tanya, but all I had to do was look at her and notice she had the same expression as Lyle, so it was really only a matter of who spoke first.
"…Sympathy, I guess." [Iris]
I mutter that while smirking. He made a puzzled expression to my reaction.
"Prepare to contact Father Raphael and Father Raphsimonz immediately."[Iris]
"As you wish." [Tanya]
Tanya reacts to my instructions.
"…As I've told Van earlier, the Daryl church is in the process of a reform. However, not all people agree with that reform. You all also can guess who are they, right?"[Iris]
It's not just Daryl church upper echelon who were sipping the sweet nectar; the nobles who had connections with them also got a taste of it.
Such lot… They will not remain silent, twiddling their thumbs waiting for the reform to pass. They will inevitably interfere. Van's bloodline is enough to paint a target on his back.
That's exactly why I want to shelter him from all sides.
…Before he is indoctrinated by those people.
"… Once he rises to the top with his current regret, this assistance of mine will come to fruition. If it's Father Raphsimonz, if you tell him about his tendency in advance, he could use this information skillfully. In the first place, what I told him earlier wasn't a lie. For Father Raphael, he is the one who endorses the medical practitioners in the fief's population to do volunteer work. That way of thinking overlapped with Father Raphsimonz, so there is a possibility that he could open his way to the headquarters if he puts his strength on it. I also can sell him a favor."[Iris]
This is because I believe in Father Raphsimonz's abilities.
"Conversely, even if he forgets his current grudge, that's fine. I can grasp his movements and eliminate the other side before it tries to contact him if it comes to that. If he himself tries anything, we will be able to immediately pick up on it. By doing that, we can also gain favor with Father Raphsimonz." [Iris]
"I see. If that's so, I will watch over him using one of my 'hands'." [Lyle]
"I was just about to ask you to do that. …Either way, whichever he chooses, I still reap the benefits. See? This could be considered as compassion for him, couldn't it?"[Iris]
At the moment he came here to ask a 'favor', I will reap the benefits no matter what the outcome is.
I couldn't stop laughing about this.
Well, it's okay, isn't it?
…At any rate, Van personally tried to bury me as a villainess after all.
(TN: Tanya POV)
After putting down her hairbrush, she sighed.
It was nearing midnight. She was about to head to sleep, right after she had finished helping Iris in her preparations. People often half-jokingly asked her, "Do you even need sleep?" But she was only human. Of course, everyone needed sleep.
Herself aside, she thought that question was better directed at Sebas. He never showed signs of fatigue and always had a calm look on his face, amazingly enough.
…She looked up to him for this very reason.
While letting her mind wander, she took the ribbon that laid on the desk. Rehme, Melida, and Iris all had the same, matching one.
… She wasn't sure how long she'd had it for. Perhaps she'd had it even before becoming an apprentice maid.
A peddler had come to the Armelia household one day. They'd asked Iris if there was anything she wanted from his wares, and then…
"Are you absolutely sure? Isn't this jewelry better suited to you?"
In spite of the dazzlingly expensive items that shined before her eyes, Iris had daringly chosen this very ribbon, much to Duke Lois' surprise… Even against Madam Melice's recommendations.
"Yes, I'm quite fine with this. I'll take four of them, in fact."
She kept one for herself and handed the remaining ribbons to three people.
"Now everyone matches," she said it all with a smile.
It may have been a luxury item for Tanya and the other servants,… But for Iris, the daughter of a duke, it was negligibly cheap. Even so, Iris called it her treasure.
"I apologize if this isn't to your liking… But I wanted something that we could all wear together. I would be really happy if you accepted this."
It went without saying that Tanya and the other two treasured them to this day, the ribbons that carried Iris' kindness.
...It made me really happy, Tanya thought.
That day was when Iris had taken her in.
If it weren't for that, Tanya would've definitely ended up as a corpse somewhere.
She didn't know how she'd ended up in such a sorry situation.
She could only remember back to when she was already all alone in the slums of the capital city. Her parents had likely abandoned her. She was young and weak to the point where she couldn't procure her next meal.
Her condition only worsened from there, growing even more malnourished. She could do nothing but curl up in some sordid alleyway and absentmindedly stare at the sky
Once in a while, she saw a parent holding their child's hand while walking down the street, a scene that had always brought her down to a teary mess.
I'll die all alone at this rate, she thought... It wasn't long before she would lose the last of her will to live. …Or rather, she wanted to let it all be over with.
Until one day, two unknown men called out to her.
She didn't remember what they had said to her. But in seeing their foul smiles, there was one thing she'd instinctively known, that these were 'bad' people. Though she'd long given up on life, the imminent danger before her brought about an automatic response.
Wanting to escape, she ran.
She ran and ran, but such a small and frail child had no chance of fleeing… She was close to being caught.
At that moment, it was Iris who had saved her.
Though Tanya's running had been mindless, she'd made it to the main road by chance, and had luckily run out in front of the carriage Iris was on.
"Are you alright!?"
Seeing Iris for the first time as she stepped down from the stopped carriage, Tanya's thoughts were of how she surely lived in a world much different from her own. In the midst of those thoughts, she nodded a yes to the question.
"Thank heavens… Say, let me ask. Do you have anywhere to go?"
Shaking her head, Tanya answered silently once more.
"I see. …Then, do you want to come with me?"
"No. I'm, fine now. You saved me, you did enough… Miss. Shouldn't, trouble you more than this. I got away, but it's all pointless."
"You musn't give up…!"
After that, even with her attendants telling her she couldn't, Iris had firmly insisted on taking Tanya with her… and ultimately, had saved her.
"Somehow, it seemed like you were being chased. About those people, I made sure to let Father know."
Tanya would only know of it later, but the two men who had called out to her were apparently in the business of catching stray children and selling them off for cheap. Seeing how Iris and her attendants had gathered, they'd given up on Tanya. And then, with Iris requesting an investigation and her attendants reporting the incident, both of them had been apprehended.
"From today, you can stay here with me. Well then, your name?"
"… I don't know."
"I see. …Then, how about the name Tanya? It's from a fairy tale, the name of a very smart princess."
With the sun shining on her, and a smile on her face, Iris had held Tanya's hand tight as she said this. The warmth of those hands, made her remember the parents and children she had seen from that alley.
Tanya couldn't stop her tears from streaming down.
"Ah, do you not like it? Then, another name…"
Iris was flustered by Tanya's sudden tears. It was strange, but she couldn't stop crying.
Tanya had been saved by Iris, and in more than one way. Not only had she been saved from danger, having long given up on life, Tanya had also now been given a reason to live for.
And because of this, Tanya wanted nothing to trouble Iris' heart. Anything that might pain her, she'd protect her from.
For all these reasons, she wished that Iris would return quickly to the fief. Ever since Iris came to the royal capital, she had never really smiled in the truest sense.
She had a constant look of weariness to her.
Of course, as quelling the excommunication fiasco was essentially why she visited the capital, she'd already been extremely busy, and then still got saddled with negotiations over the settling of various side matters afterwards, so perhaps straining herself might even have been unavoidable.
Perhaps it had been unavoidable… But even in her free time, her expression remained gloomy.
"…Is there something different with milady?"
To Tanya's frustration, when she had been seeing off Dean and his sister, he had asked such.
Despite only appearing every now and then, even Dean had taken notice.
Indeed, Tanya included, every attendant Iris had in the mansion had noticed this change. But even having noticed, there was nothing she could do.
It was a fact that Tanya found most irritating. And this irritation, it stemmed from how she didn't know so much as the cause of it all.
However, though it's but a feeling… It could be this very place that now weighs heavy upon her heart, or so Tanya suspected.
For Iris, this place had been host to an unpleasant event. And yet again, with another such incident having now befallen Iris… If she despised this mansion, it was only understandable.
Even then, at its very core… It was somehow as if Iris just couldn't act like herself here. It was like she had purposely chosen to seem out of sorts.
Iris, being the daughter of a duke, was not merely the dazzlingly radiant girl she had been as a child.
She had grown… It was only inevitable.
In the scheme-filled world of the upper class, had she stayed as she was, Iris would have soon been swarmed by those who would use her to their own ends, and even a servant such as Tanya could see this. Staying composed, holding back her true feelings in order to make tough decisions, these too were but necessities for Iris.
But somehow, this had become all too apparent in the capital. Her smile had lost that sunny warmth and often seemed like an attempt to hide her now cold demeanor. It was almost like she specifically sought to project this image of coldness, Tanya felt. And on an unconscious level, perhaps Iris was feeling this herself.
The obvious reason for her eagerness to return to the fief, that she wasn't particularly happy with her ever-increasing workload… might not have been the only reason she had.
She wished to return quickly. She simply couldn't wait. As she continued wishing, it was like she grew ever more tired of the act.
And once again, Tanya herself anxiously wished they might soon return.
Knock knock. Hearing a knock, she opened her door. For some reason, it was Dida who stood there.
"At this hour, might you have some need of me?"
"…… Ah. Pardon me. So you were just about to sleep."
"Yes. Even milady has gone to sleep early this night, and what work I had took me no time as well."
"I see then. …Or rather, don't open the door in your nightgown like that. Have a little more awareness as a woman."
"My, I considered such worries unnecessary in a residence so noble. …And in any event, I do know some self-defense myself, so I would certainly apply it when required."
She said this with the sweetest of smiles, and Dida briefly forced a smile of his own.
But before long, his expression turned more serious.
"…… And when that's not enough for your foe, what then? You wouldn't be defeating me too easily."
"Good question… If we limited it to those in this mansion, only you and Lyle would really be any threat. And if it's intruders, any such people I'd have trouble with wouldn't be wanting me sensually, but would surely be wanting me dead instead. Well… I'll trust you two would manage it then."
She said, looking right into his eyes.
At this late hour, with both of them standing quietly in the absolutely soundless air, the silence hung with an immense weight.
"… I give up. There's really nothing I can say to that."
However, Dida had a genuine smile as he said this, albeit a smile that faded as quick as the last.
"Well? So what did you want with me?"
"No, I was just thinking I'd have some drinks with Lyle. And Lyle's already asleep, so I then thought to ask you."
"Good grief… You're something for sure, inviting me this late. I am a woman, so don't expect me to care what they'll say of you."
"I don't really mind."
He let out a laugh, and being unable to read the true intentions of the man before her, Tanya let out a sigh.
"Well… It is rather late, really. And you have an early morning too. I apologize."
"Wait a bit."
As he was about to leave, she called out to him.
"I too, find myself too awake for sleep. …You've invited me, so let's drink. Give me some time, I'll go get dressed."
And after getting dressed, she stepped out of the room once more.
As heading to a bar… was a very questionable proposition at this hour, the two of them ultimately chose to drink in the servants' recreation room.
This recreation room was for all the servants to make use of, and as per the name, it was a room for them to talk and relax in.
Though this mansion in the capital was a large one befitting the Duke of Armelia's status, approximately half of it served as space for the servants.
It indicated how maintaining a mansion of this size, as well as ensuring everyone in it could live in comfort, required just that many servants to make it possible; and maybe houses made to accommodate generations of servants were simply built like this too, she thought.
"What'll you have? Must say, I did bring this."
"… This. Isn't this made from macarama? Just how did you get it?"
"I snatched it from Master."
Dida said that with no hesitation, and Tanya unconsciously sighed at it.
"The nerve, a person like you is just…"
"It's fine, isn't it? …Master himself felt he'd treated me and Lyle poorly this time around. I called it recompense, and he simply forced himself to smile."
Dida forced a smile of his own yet again as he said this.
What a manly way to be considerate… That was what Tanya thought, as she silently accepted the bottle offered to her.
"This is compensation for how you two labored; is it truly fine I get to drink this?"
"Lyle told me he didn't want it. Moreover, 'labored' is a strong word."
Hilarious… she muttered in her mind, as she took two glasses and started pouring.
She was well aware of the fact that the two were being borrowed by General Gazelle almost every day. She knew how the general put them to work as instructors, having them assist with his training drills. And at the same time, they also served as protection for Iris, and still gave the others from the fief their usual training when things were less busy.
The reason they weren't around much lately, was because they were just that busy with their various tasks.
And even when Iris or the head of the Armelia household would tell them they didn't need to do any of the household chores… Lyle would firmly insist otherwise, and Dida would casually say "We only dallied about at the master's place really," to brush off the concern.
The glasses now filled, they each took one in hand.
The two clear glasses met with an audible clink.
The at once sweet, yet deep flavour was one that quickly permeated one's palate.
"Ahhh… Really, this flavour's something else. This macarama."
"… Really is. You sure got your hands on something great."
"The wine collection Master's got, it's all gold for sure. At any rate, he's really fussy about wine even though he drinks so much of it. No, it's because he's such a drinker… maybe."
Saying this with a laugh, Dida immediately downed the rest of his glass.
"At last, we're heading back."
He muttered this all of a sudden.
"Ahh, so that's why… you've stopped running back and forth to Master's place."
"Well, yes. Got arrangements to make."
"… Are you, also eager to be back home?"
"Am I 'also'?"
"No, that's nothing significant. Well then, your answer?"
"Hmm…… Regarding my place to return to - the place I belong rather - it's really always been wherever the princess herself is. Hence, 'be back home' is itself a strange phrase to me."
"Indeed, that's true."
Just like Tanya, Dida was also someone fully devoted to Iris.
With his usual carefree attitude to everything, one could find many reasons to doubt his loyalty though.
"But, well… I do want to go back. Back with the princess, and soon. In this place, there's too much tying me down. Unlike at the fief, I can't always be of service to the princess here… More than that, the capital's full of people with more power than we have; power we'll never have."
"But when it's you two, are there even many stronger people out there?"
She said this in jest, and Dida laughed himself.
"Surely you know?", communicated the look that he gave her.
"I'm joking. …Indeed, the capital shows you just how little you're capable of. This power unattainable to us… the political might that dwarfs whatever strength we possess, it's something we can't reach with any amount of training."
"That's exactly it. That's why I want to go back. So I can protect the princess once more."
"And you, why do you look upset? What, did some great noble say something unpleasant to you? Or did the Head Maid perhaps scold you for the first time in ages?"
"Tell me, would you ever say that around Ms. Elulu?"
Sitting next to Dida as he roared with laughter, Tanya let out another sigh.
"No, it's nothing of that sort. I'm just… a little, worried lately."
"Something you'd be worried about… No doubt, surely it involves the princess."
"What do you mean 'no doubt'?"
Met with her glare, Dida responded with "Do forgive me," as he laughed.
Following this, she realized she'd only reacted that way to vent her frustration on someone and let out a sigh once more.
"… Well, you aren't wrong. Just like you said, my worries have been about milady."
"…… Has anything, happened to the princess?"
Suddenly, his tone of voice was entirely serious.
Seeing this side of him, it was clear how Iris indeed held great importance to Dida as well. Knowing this, Tanya felt at ease about him.
"Surely you've noticed as well? Milady, her face grows paler and paler the longer she remains in the capital."
"I have, yeah."
Dida smiled bitterly as he admitted this.
"As milady must always strain herself so, perhaps what's becoming of her is something unavoidable as well. Regardless, the fact I see her condition yet can do nothing of it infuriates me. As you said, the sheer power we can never have is now painfully clear before us. ……It seems, I had an inflated sense of what I could do."
The more she continued to speak, the more the feelings of bitterness spread in her heart, turning her words self-disparaging.
"Ahh…… Well, what to say? Everyone, you see, is only capable of so much."
"I know all that. That's why I know, that I just can't do anything."
Limits she couldn't break. A wall before her she could never climb.
It was because she knew this, that the fact tormented her so much.
"No, you don't understand. Just think, being there to protect the princess is what I can do. Even if I should myself be a shield, protecting the princess is my duty, and my capacity. ……Acting within my capacity, I will lose to no one. And never will I yield that. Not even to you."
'You don't understand'… Being repudiated like that, she boiled over with rage and glared furiously at Dida.
But with his next words, all her protests faded away.
"So, what's your own capacity? The duty you have, aren't you always with the princess, helping her in various ways? That, I could never do. Really, if I couldn't even brew her good tea and assist her with getting dressed like you can, then keeping proper track of her plans, and being of help with her work would be impossible for me."
"That's…… Maybe that's true, but-"
"I know how hard you've been trying. How you've been heading to the master to learn self-defense, how you've been heading to Sebas to learn the basics of the princess' work… I know, how you're trying to be capable of more. That's good; you can help the princess more this way. But, as far as what one person can do alone, there's always a limit. You're doing well… the princess trusts you with all of her needs. And you, will definitely justify that trust, so long as you broaden the capacity given to you."
Dida forcefully gulped down the wine that still remained in his glass.
"What I just said, is it wrong?"
"…….. No. It's not……"
It felt like something blunt had hit her in the head.
She hadn't overestimated herself…… She had been too arrogant.
She was thinking she had to do everything herself.
Much like Lyle and Dida were raising their ability as personal guards, Melida was making herself a better cook, and Rehme was both expanding and deepening the extent of her knowledge.
Even Sei and Moneda strove to properly carry out the duties given to them.
They all had roles they were meant to serve, and were hard at work doing so.
They strove to do better than what was demanded of them.
"Well, making this short. If you're stuck thinking of what you can't do, isn't it better to think of what you can do, and how you can actually support the princess instead?"
Now it was Tanya's turn to finish what remained in her glass.
"…… You're right. In order to ease milady's burden, I should just stay beside her and help her as I can."
These words were not from the frustrated feelings she'd had up to now.
She too, had a sense of pride.
Just as Dida said he'd never yield his duty of guarding Iris, Tanya wouldn't yield hers, having her own capacity to serve.
"Now that expression is more like you."
Saying this, Dida roared with laughter again like he usually did.
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