Within a visiting room at the left wing of Duke Tervin’s mansion, “come on Amelia.” A brown-haired man, dressed in a simple suit of white, said, “It’ll be quick.”
Sitting upright, I crossed my legs and placed my hands on my thighs. “Lord Tervin, no, Hans, please leave me this instance.”
“Don’t be like that.” Clasping his hands, he said in front of me, standing. “We’re cousins, you know? We should enjoy our time.”
“Indeed we are cousins,” Raising my chin slightly, I returned a frown. “I’d be happy to enjoy our time together as cousins if not for your debt.”
Smiling wryly, his figure came close. “Oh, don’t worry about that.” Wryly, he said. “It’s but a small amount.”
“Small?” Squinting, “since when did fifty large golds became a small amount? That’s equivalent to five-hundred-thousand coppers mind you. And wasn’t it the reason why we haven’t met for two years?”
“Come on,” Shaking his clasped hands, he said. “We’re cousins.”
“You’re the second son of the previous prince,” I said, “have some shame.”
“Ahaha.” He chuckled.
Clacking, “I’ve heard of it.” Footsteps came from the side. “Hans,” Monotonously, “leave this instant.” A man said. “I’ll have a word with you later.”
Releasing his clasped hands, “B-but Father!” Hans replied.
Pointing at the door he came from, “Leave!” The man bellowed.
Taking a step back, “Y-yes.” Hans scrambled out of the room.
Approaching from the side, the silver-haired man stood across the brown coffee table and said. “My apologies Amelia.”
Relieving my crossed legs, “It’s fine Uncle.” I replied with a smile.
Taking a seat on the red couch behind him, “It seems my son has quite a debt.” He placed his left arm on the armrest.
Leaning backward, my back laid against a soft surface. “Uncle, it’s your son’s debt.”
“True,” Scratching the side of his straight hair in a faux-cut, “but this time, I’ll pay for it.”
“Haah...” Relaxing my shoulders, I sighed. “This is why I don’t want to inform you of the matter,” I muttered. “Anyway, Uncle, please use it to fund the needs of the refugees.”
“Don’t you need it for something else?”
Shaking my head, “No,” I said. “Besides, if the refugees from Niveria knew that they received support from the very person that re-established the trade with the Tribe, at the least, they might doubt my actions and stance regarding the war.”
“Doubt huh,” He muttered. “You’re taking this opportunity to shake their beliefs before the Lynxes arrive at their settlement, is it?”
Nodding, “Yes,” I replied.
Peering, “Amelia, your visit to the settlement, it won’t be a pleasing one.”
Gripping my hands, I said. “I’m prepared.”
Sighing, he said. “If only they’d recognize that not all races are the same demons that the church claims.”
“It’d be a lot easier to make peace.”
“Anyway,” Reaching for the papers stacked on the table, “Have you read the contents?” He asked.
“Five-thousand spears, three-thousand spear-heads, two-thousand longswords and broadswords, seven-thousand sets of armor including shields, both leather, and plate. Eight-thousand bows and crossbows with eighty-thousand bolts and arrows. There’s also a request for pig-iron, wrought-iron, iron ingots, copper, tin, bronze, coals, and leather. Lastly, food supplies, preferably those with long shelf-life.”
Expressing a wry smile, “That makes things easier.” Then he returned the papers back to the table.
“As Laurel stands, we can supply half of their requested military supplies immediately, but the rest is to be produced through the rest of the following year.”
“That’s not everything, is it?” He asked.
“Yes,” I nodded. “A third or a fourth?”
“Release a fourth for now.”
“Then the rest will be released incessantly to expedite the trade between Laurel and Brent for at least the incoming six months or so.”
“Indeed.” Expressing a wide grin, he answered. “For the transportation?”
“I’ll leave that to you,” I said. “I believe Uncle is more fit to handle the trade between Laurel and Brent.”
“A favor is it?”
Shaking my head, “No, I’m giving you the opportunity. As it stands, you’ll make use of the transportation to introduce commodities to Brent. The fact that there will be a rise in prices, I doubt Uncle won’t take it.”
Slapping his legs, “Ahahaha!” Heartily, he laughed. “You’ve been colluding with merchants as of late haven’t you?”
“I won’t deny it,” I replied. “To be honest, I severely lack connections with the Nobility.”
“Instead you made one with the merchants.”
“Yes,” I answered. “It’s quite a deadlock. Since I’ve been offering cheaper commodities and services that their land needs, the Nobles couldn’t threaten mine freely. But I won’t deny that there were attempts.”
“Indeed, indeed.” He nodded repeatedly, then with a clap, he said. “That got out of hand.”
“Then for the amount to donate. Have you thought of something for now?”
“Depending on how the talk will proceed, I’ll set the donation at sixty percent maximum of the estimated price of their request.”
“Estimated price huh.” He chuckled a grin. “Continue.”
“Since Laurel has the upper hand in the negotiation, once they fail to give anything beneficial to Laurel, then twenty percent will be the minimum.”
“Beneficial offer huh.” Leaning back to the couch, he muttered. “Fishing rights, trade ships, a trade contract between Brent and Laurel, I wonder which will be best.”
“Uncle, it’s for them to suggest we can only try to veer off the discussion.”
“In any case, Uncle, will you be my Adviser for the meeting tomorrow? I’ll have Kanna be my Adviser from the Tribe.”
But I doubt Kanna will be helpful.
“There isn’t any reason for me to refuse, or is there?”
Lifting myself from the couch, “Well then, I’ll be expecting your help tomorrow.”
“One more thing.” He said as he stood from his seat. “Brent brought a priest as an adviser to the dialogue.”
“… I believe Brent brought that priest to calm the church.”
“Possibly,” He replied. “But it’s best to be careful.”
Taking a step towards the door, “I will.”
Walking through the hallway, I reunited with Erina.
“How is it, your Highness?”
“There’s nothing much to discuss,” I said. “In the first place, it was a request for supplies and support for the war. As to where Laurel stands, it’s obvious that we’d help them retain the borders, at best, reclaim Niveria.”
“Then your meal? Won’t you have it with everyone else?”
“I’ll have it in the room,” I replied.
“Are you avoiding him?”
“It’s best if I meet him later.” Balling my hand into a fist. “I don’t want my decision to waver.”
“...” In response, Erina remained silent.
Glancing at Erina, “Anyway, where is Kanna?” I asked.
Meanwhile, “Mnnn! Mnnn!” A white worm wriggled inside a particular bedchamber on the left wing.
On the balcony beside my room, I placed my hands on the railing, taking the lively view of the Dukedom.
It’s lively as ever.
The streets were bustling, on the sides of the buildings of mixed wood and concrete, stall owners raised their arms, calling for whoever might want their wares. Carriages passed through the center, slowed by the people crossing the street. Carrying bags and baskets of various bread and fruits, Children ran from one alley to another.
As expected of the trade city between Academia, Laurel, and Brent, the volume of people is overwhelming.
“Haah...” Clutching the stone railing, I sighed. “Unless everything calms down after the dialogue, I won’t be able to roam free...”
[Cluck says Argent the chicken.]
Receiving a message, I leaned my arms on the railing and replied with Wind Whisper. [What is it, Maize?]
I can’t get enough of that passphrase. I chuckled.
[We have confirmed the presence of the Hero in the settlement.]
[Any casualties on our side?] I asked.
[None.] He answered. [But it seems that observers have tailed the Hero.]
For a moment, I thought in silence.
[For now, make a perimeter around the settlement. Preferably, a distance that won’t catch the attention of the observers.]
[Have two or three men blend with the refugees to check the condition of the food and water. For the rest, stay put and observe.]
Recalling something, [Another thing,] I asked. [Why did the Hero remain in the settlement?]
[I believe the border Guards of Laurel had impeded most of the men chasing the Hero.]
Turning my back against the railing, I asked. [Is there anything else?]
[We have yet to confirm if there is.]
[Inform me of any changes.]
Before the night came, I went back to the room and continued my study of the Dwarf’s language. I’ve also asked Kanna on the possible stance of the Tribe.
“Our stance?” She said. “Hmm… As long as we have no actual participation in the war, then I guess we wouldn’t mind. After all, the Tribe strives for peace. But in case the Tribe is threatened to the point that our lives are in danger, then we'd resort to force.”
After the dinner, I was left inside the bedchamber with Erina.
“Erina,” I called. “I don’t get the reason why I should be presentable for tonight.”
“Who knows,” Combing my hair from the back, she giggled. “Something might happen.”
“No, Erina,” I said. “I tell you, that something your expecting won’t happen. It won’t, I tell you. Not. Never.”
“Won’t you give him the chance? Even for tonight?”
“What are you talking about?!” I protested. “It’d be a huge issue!”
Stopping for a moment, “Oh,” she said. “I didn’t expect that you’d jump to that immediately. Really, her Highness is bold.”
“What do you want me to expect from you?!”
Giggling, she replied. “I was only referring to a hug, you know?”
“For someone like Erina, I think that’s too subtle,” I said. “Please come back.”
“Is that so?” Feeling a hand over my shoulders, I felt Erina's breath through my ears. “Why not try the wrapping I tried on Kanna? It’d be a nice present for his Highness.” She whispered.
Shivering down my spine, “I-I guess a subtle Erina is fine too.”
Singing as it swayed, the grass moved like a rippling wave.
“Fuu...” Rubbing my arms, I breathed. “Why am I even wearing a one-piece dress...” I muttered.
From behind, a series of clacking sounds came. Turning around, I leaned against the wooden post of a gazebo.
Recognizing the man carrying a lamp, “So you came huh” I smiled.
Walking to the opposite side, Max hanged his lamp on a hook stuck to the post. “That’s harsh.” He replied.
“I always am, and will always be,” I said. “At least, to you.”
As another breeze passed through, Max’s semi-spiky swept-back blonde hair swayed.
“Aren’t you cold?” He asked.
“I’m not sure what you are referring to, but I am both.”
Removing his black coat, “Then.” he took a step into the moonlight.
“Stay,” I said. “Don’t come close.”
“But aren’t you cold?”
“It’s fine,” I smiled. “I’ve been into places far colder than this.”
“...” Silently, he balled the coat, “catch!” and threw it.
Reflexively, I reached out my arms and caught it. “If you’re that adamant about it, then I won’t return this.”
Smiling, “Fine by me.”
“Before anything,” Inserting my arms into the coat, I said. “Max, you should’ve gotten hold of the Hero haven’t you?”
“Ahaha.” He laughed. “It was a mess.”
Scratching his head, he leaned his back against the post. “Whoever gets near the Hero, any other party would make a Ruckus.”
“That’s like some wild goose chase.” I chuckled.
“It was!” Taking a step forward, he said. “When our Guards approaches, the paladins of the church will yell from the distance to disrupt any form of dialogue. The same is true with the Nobility. We also tried setting up a perimeter around the cities, but the Hero knew advanced magic that enabled her to escape.”
“Advanced magic huh,” I muttered.
“Yes, for a month old Hero, that’s already an achievement.”
“She has access to magic of any level as a blessing?”
“The possibility is high, but we can’t confirm if that is everything.”
“Then how come no one is chasing her anymore?”
Scratching the back of his head, “We lost her.”
“Eh?” Surprised, I asked. “How?”
“She used concealment.”
Placing a palm on my forehead, “Figured.”
To use concealment long enough to get away, that’s quite a mana pool she has.
“Say, Amelia.” Changing his tone, Max said. “Enough about the Heroes, I can give you a copy of the report later.”
Shifting my sight to the side, “Max,” I said. “I appreciate the report, but regarding us...” I returned my sight back to him and said. “My answer won’t change. Give up.”
“Like I said,” looking down for a moment, “I won’t give up.”
“Max, please, we both know that it’s hard for both of us,” I said. “I appreciate the times we’ve been through in Academia, the times we paraded to show that Brent and Laurel’s ties remain strong, and even the time we beat up priests in Academia. I enjoyed it, not as lovers, but as close friends.”
Clenching his fist, “I enjoyed every second that I’ve been with you, and I won’t throw away my chance to be by your side.”
“Max!” I shouted. “You’re the next King, soon, you’ll need an heir once you ascend the throne, and I doubt that your mother and father haven’t talked about your engagement yet.”
Taking a step forward, “It’s because I’ve been reserving that seat for you.” he said.
“Haah… Max...” Hunching, I said. “You know it’s over for us. I’ll never be your Queen. It’s like placing a lamb within a den of wolves.”
“You’re a wolf in a sheepskin, Amelia.” Taking one step and another, he added. “No matter what happens in Brent, I’ll make sure the church won’t touch you.”
“I appreciate the thought,” Leaning my back against a post, I said. “But you know it’s impossible unless the church and the believers itself are dead. But in that case, that’s genocide.”
In a single generation at least.
Closing in, he placed his hand over the railings beside me, locking me in place.
Looking up at his green irises, “Max,” glaring, I said. “Another move and I won’t hesitate to beat you up.”
“Amelia, please trust me.” Feeling his warm breath, he said. “If it’s the church, I’ll find a way.”
“That doesn’t reassure me one bit.”
“… Then tell me,” Frowning, he said. “What do you want me to do for you to accept me?”
“Nothing, Max, nothing.” In a low tone, I replied. “Give up,” Smiling, I placed my hand on his cheeks. “Give the seat to someone else, to someone that will answer your feelings.”
“I can’t fight beside you,” Using my fingers, I caught his tears. “But I can fight along with you.”
“Then what if we lived as-”
“Max!” I interrupted. “Suggest that we throw our responsibilities as a solution and I’ll never forgive you!”
Releasing his arms, he turned around and balled his hands into a fist. “It’s the church, back then and now, it’s the church!”
Catching his arm before he ran away, “Max!” I shouted. “Are you insane?!”
Returning a glare, “I’ll make the church pay!” He shouted.
Pulling his arms, “That’s!” I swept his front leg, “My!” and made his body fall to the floor with a thud. “Line!”
“Uuughh...” He moaned.
“I’m sorry,” Lending him a hand, I said. “But you have to calm down.”
Moments after he got back up, he stood, blankly looking at the floor. “...”
“Haah...” I sighed.
What am I? I thought. A mother consoling her child?
Approaching from the front, I slid my arms behind him. “There,” I said. “Feeling better now?”
“Lia…” He repeated.
Nuzzling my head on his chest, “It’s fine.” I muttered.
Immediately, he embraced me tightly. “Lia… Won’t you answer me?”
Clutching his clothes, “I can’t.” I said.
“Why? We could have lived together...”
“Yes,” I answered. “We could have…” Closing my eyes, I muttered. “Say, Max, I wouldn’t mind being your mistress when everything is over.”
Releasing me from his embrace, he placed his hands over on my shoulders. “Lia...”
“Max, show me.” Looking at him straight, a tear ran down my cheeks. “Show me how great a King you can be.”
“Make me, Max, I beg you,” Grabbing his collar, I said. “My decision, make me regret it. Make it so that I’ll cry myself to sleep that I didn’t choose to be the one sitting next to you. Make it so that I wished to be the one bearing your child. Make me fall for your grace. Make me beg for your love.”
Releasing my grip, I continued. “This is my challenge to you, if you can’t do it, then I will never consider being your mistress.”
Wiping his tears with his arms, “Will you promise?” he asked.
I’m sorry Max, this is the only way I know to make you give up on me. I thought. I doubt that you’ll still look at me after having your own family.