The door closed with a sharp clack.
“Has her Highness awoken yet?” Maize asked.
In turn, Erina, who’ve just closed the door had turned to Maize and said, “No.” She glanced at the door behind her. “It’d be best not to wake her at this moment. It will only burden her body.”
“I believe so.” Maize frowned. “But we’re in a difficult position.”
“His Majesty has arrived and took over the operation to quell the forest fire. It seems that the smoke was large enough to be seen in the dukedom even at night. And it will take at least a day before his Majesty arrives here.”
“Ah...” The corner of her lips fell.
Both Maize and Erina knew. Nothing about Amelia’s current condition should reach Auguste, Laurel’s King. The same is true regarding the clash between Amelia and the Angel from myths. The repercussions of letting the people know of their existence are unpredictable. It could even support the church’s claims of receiving oracles from them.
In addition, Maize and his men had buried the angel’s corpse. As well as the hole produced during their battle. At first, Maize and his men were skeptic. They couldn’t help but doubt Amelia’s abilities. But after realizing her rapier was gone, and knowing that it had an advanced lightning magic embedded in it, they’ve partly accepted it as the truth. Now their only concern is to prevent the King and his Guards from finding out the truth.
“How long do you think you can stall his Majesty?” asked Erina. She seemed adamant about letting Amelia rest.
“Not long,” Maize said with a shake of his head. “At best, I could stall his majesty by discussing the steps we need to take for what’s left of the forest.”
“Every minute will help, so please,” she said with a bow.
“I’ll do what I can.” Maize nodded. “Neither do I want to impede what little freedom her Highness has.”
After Maize left, Erina went to the kitchen. The maids came and lent her a hand, however, she refused that they take part in the actual cooking. They took a clay pot and brought it outside. They placed the pot on top of an iron grate. Underneath it was a rectangular container made of stone. It was filled with charcoal. Then the pot with water.
Erina seemed to know every action she should take. From separating the skin from the meat of the chicken, down to separating the meat from its bones, she skillfully used the knife. She reserved the meat on a small pot while the skins and bones were placed inside the pot of simmering water. After several minutes, she had help in pouring the contents to another pot topped with a clay bowl with holes at its base.
The contents streamed down the bowl and filtered the skin and bones. All the while the aroma rose into the air. Afterward, Erina boiled another pot of water mixed with vegetables and oil. It was a broth. Though it was not Amelia’s favorite, it was a memorable one for Erina. She used to make the same broth several times in her life. She started making the broth with her mother in a small village east of Aves, Mastel.
Nothing was that astounding about Mastel. It was an ordinary village where the citizens mainly did forestry, hunting, farming, or weaving. Well, that’s what it used to be.
The village was gone. It happened when Erina was around ten years of age. The reason was nothing new, an outbreak of beasts from Alabaster. The village could’ve survived, but three continuous waves were too much for them.
The occurrence forced the villagers to flee for survival, however, some fell to the fangs of the beasts. Among those was Erina’s parents. She had no blood-related brothers or sisters. Due to her circumstances, Erina became an orphan. In the orphanage, she was able to retain herself by acting as the elder sister. Even at Mastel, she acted as is with her fellow children. There, again, she prepared broth for the second time around.
Years passed and Erina grew to fourteen. At that time, Diane Frei Trois, Laurel’s current Queen before she was wedded, had visited the orphanage and by chance met Erina. Due to her diligence, popularity in the orphanage, noble features, and her uncommon blonde hair, Diane adopted Erina to the house of Trois. At that point on, Erina became a maidservant.
Erina witnessed the quarrel between Argon Laurel, now called Duke Tervin or Argon Tervin, and Auguste Laurel. Argon’s approach was of the gentle type. He had always asked Diane what she wanted before moving. He also considered her schedule. Unlike him, Auguste was like a storm. He dragged Diane from one place to another through his willfulness. And soon, Auguste being the pushy type, had won Diane’s interest.
However, until this day, there were still some lingering rumors that Diane, known to be a cunning woman, had selected Auguste so she can have a firm grasp on Laurel’s administrative side. All the while Auguste focuses on the military aspect. However, at the same time, some Nobles felt at ease due to their synergy.
Soon after Diane and Auguste were married, Argent was born. The citizens of Laurel rejoiced at the news that the first child had been born with a silver hair. Since Elena’s time, at least in Laurel, silver hair has always been linked to a person of power. And to Laurel who never had a fixed religion, those royalties who bore the silver hair were akin to Gods.
On the other hand, it was also the cause of suffering for the Royals of Laurels. Every move they take would produce a huge effect on the citizens. To remedy such folly, the Royals of Laurel were educated at an early age.
Two years after Argent, came Amelia. Again, the citizens rejoiced, but on a larger scale. Again, the reason was Elena. Throughout the annals of Laurel’s history, Elena was believed to be of divine grace. She exuded knowledge far from what the ordinary citizens knew. From then on, those who share a similarity to Elena were easily favored by the citizens. To add, the rarity of a Royal born with the same hair was rare. Amelia was the third Silver Princess since the kingdom of Laurel was established.
In the end, Erina, having an amicable relationship with Diane, was entrusted with Amelia’s care. Since then, she had never left her side. However, after the dispute between Diane and Erina, they have yet to speak with each other again. Diane couldn’t find it in herself to completely forgive Erina for doing such an atrocious act against Amelia.
“This is good enough,” Erina muttered. She began pouring the broth into a bowl using a ladle. She then moved towards Amelia’s room. The Guard beside the door had opened it for her, and upon entering, her lips slightly turned to a frown.
Amelia was still asleep. Under the white sheets, her chest heaved up and down. Her face was pale.
Back then, she had lost a plenty amount of blood. The indirect impact of the lightning bolt had given her a concussion as well. However, she was fortunate enough to time her barriers and reinforcement to escape the pillar of light. She took a blunder to survive. She depleted her mana down to the last drop just to protect herself with the barriers. As a result, she entered a state of mana exhaustion.
Erina placed the bowl of broth on a nearby table. She approached Amelia and took a towel hanging from a wooden stand. Then gently, she peeled the sheets and exposed Amelia’s body.
“Hnn...” she muttered asleep. Her thin clothes were drenched. Her brows were knitted, her lips frown, and her face contorted. She was having a nightmare.
Erina brushed Amelia’s fringes and tapped the towel across her face. She also held Amelia’s hand and said, “It’s fine, it’s fine. There’s someone here.” Slightly, Amelia’s breathing calmed. Then perhaps through intuition, Amelia grasped her hand in return.
Then, with a smile on her face, Erina said, “Take your time.”
Auguste grimaced. He crossed his arms and said, “This place is ravaged.” He wore a thin red cape lined with gold and silver threads. His silver hair swayed in the wind for all to see. And on his body was an armor that appeared to be covered with uneven steel scales.
In front was a vast number of charred trees. The dirt, which used to be a mix of brown and green, was now painted in gray and white. The forest had lost its gleam. However, fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately, a third of the forest has burned down. And currently, it continued to expand.
“Indeed it is,” commented a woman beside him. She stood at half a head shorter than Auguste. She had brown hair tied into a side tail and clear blue eyes. Her face was of a gentle one with a tinge of sharpness. She wore a dress that minimized the exposure of her skin. She was Auguste’s mistress, Lara Laurel.
Surrounding them were several knights with the crest of a silver falcon. They stood attention with their spears held up and their eyes actively roaming in the surroundings.
“But perhaps, you should consider what actions to take before winter. The same is true with the animals and beasts that fled to the remaining parts of the forest. If we don’t move, the citizens that used to procure food through this forest will suffer,” she said.
Unlike Liz, Lara has a fair relationship with Diane. To date, Lara and Diane never had a quarrel. However, at times, her being a mistress of Auguste tends to give Diane a sense of doubt. Point in case, it never evolved into an issue.
“True,” replied Auguste. “But this occurrence is undoubtedly due to the church.” He gripped his fists tightly and sneered. In his hand was a burned white stole. Luckily, it retained the church’s symbol. “Those madmen are haughty. Do they think we can’t declare war on them?”
“Don’t be too hasty,” said Lara. “Rallying troops and crossing Formos with galleons or warships will not be enough to put them down. Besides, we need to cross Brent either by land or water if we want our troops to arrive safely in Libet. But that will alarm them in advance.”
“Tch! If only the dead zone did not exist, I would’ve already sent our troops to burn down Libet.”
“And at this time of war with the races,” Lara continued. “Laurel will only receive unfavorable criticism if we rally our troops. So still, I think it’d be best for us to focus on what we do best, production of supplies.”
A few seconds after, the sound of hooves alarmed the knights. Auguste and Lara turned to the source in response. There they saw Maize climbing down his horse. The knights gave way as he approached.
“Greetings your Majesty, her Royal Highness,” Maize greeted with his right fist above his chest.
“Has my daughter replied?”
“Apologies, her Highness has been resting in the village further north. She’s unable to come at this moment due to her devising a proper action against the church.”
Auguste knitted his brows. “She has begun planning huh. I’d like to join soon.”
“Your Majesty,” quick and calm, Maize added. “Her Highness had also requested for the consideration of the charred woods as fuels for winter.”
“See?” Lara smiled. “Even Amelia thinks so. It’d be better to remain another day here and discuss what needs to be done.”
“You have a point,” Auguste grunted.
Another day has passed and Amelia remained asleep. In that regard, the broth was given to the Guards instead. Afterward, Erina re-made the same broth.
On the other hand, Auguste and Lara had discussed what is necessary. All the while the Royal Guards and Maize’s men continued to quell the remaining flames.
When the discussion ended, it was decided that the citizens that moved into Academia would be recalled and placed among the citizens that took root in the supposed relay town. The citizens of the other two villages would remain in their current location.
They had also decided to have the soldiers cut up the charred trees and store them.
Regarding the beasts, Auguste has sent orders towards all the nearby Nobles. They are ordered to impart a portion of their guards or army to help with the reduction of the animals and beasts in the forest. Those who were hunted in the process would be stored as food. However, they’d require a large amount of salt for preservation.
For the Flameclad, it was stripped off of its scales and skin. The rest of the meat would be sent to the duchy as Slime feed. The bones would be sent to Fargan, where the smiths would be given free rein on what to use it for. Lastly, the organs were burned and buried.
After the discussion and the appropriate procedures, they began traveling towards north. They arrived at the village by morning of the following day.
“Is she here?” asked Auguste.
““Yes!”” the two Guards that stood beside the entrance of the Village Hall answered.
Auguste strode forward. Following closely behind was Lara. They were both greeted promptly by the maids and guards inside. Then with no time to waste, Auguste moved towards Amelia’s room. The guard beside it reached his hand to the door’s knob, but then, it twisted on its own.
“I’ll be leaving, your Highness.” Bowed a guard as he took a step outside the room. In his hands was a parchment with a royal seal. The moment he turned towards the hallway, he froze. “Y-your Majesty!” As quickly as he could, he moved aside and said, “My apologies for my rude actions, however, I need to leave.” Then he turned and left.
Auguste remained silent. He then moved inside as he pried the closing door open. Upon entering, he was welcomed by the sight of Amelia standing beside her bed. To her left and right were Maize and Erina. They both greeted Auguste.
On the other hand, as opposed to her condition, Amelia’s complexion was normal.
“A good morning, Father, Mother Lara.” Amelia bowed slightly while showcasing a smile.
“Hmm… You seem fine.”
Amelia tilted her head and said, “Isn’t that what you should’ve expected in the first place?”
“If you’re all well and good, then it’s fine,” Auguste groaned. At the least, he hoped that Amelia was in a state he could sermon her for the recent event. It was a chance for Auguste to detain Amelia back to Aves using the agreement between Amelia, Auguste, and Diane.
The agreement was present to prevent Amelia from leaving Laurel and Academia. It happened when Amelia refused to stay hidden in Aves due to her returning like a corpse. She thought they were overreacting and had been too overprotective.
However, Amelia made it a point that she must be allowed to travel within Laurel and to Academia. At that point, Argent had barged in and helped Amelia. In the end, Amelia was allowed under the condition of tests and the approval from both Auguste and Diane.
To Amelia, it was a nothing but a shackle.
“That letter, what was it about?”
“I sent out a royal order of my own.”
Auguste squinted while Lara remained silent.
“And the reason?”
“Father, weren’t you holding a piece of that stole? I’ve used that as evidence and ordered any form of trade between Laurel and Libet to halt indefinitely. I’ve also requested Libet of an explanation regarding the man who owned the stole. Then if possible, have them repay the resources we lost. However, I believe they’ll still feign ignorance despite that.”
“You should’ve consulted this with me and Diane first.” Auguste’s tone rose.
Amelia shook her head. “Mother can lift the order if she deems it unnecessary. However, I stand by the order I sent. After all, there’s nothing wrong with it. Evidence was collected as well. Including the bodies of several assassins and the presence of the Flameclads.”
“True, evidence has been collected. However, something like this should’ve been discussed between us, and not something you should’ve hastily decided.” Auguste glared.
Amelia returned it. “This is a matter of importance Father.”
“I’ll have that order revo-”
“Now, now, Auguste,” Lara interrupted. “Let it be. What Amelia had said is true. Diane can lift if she deemed it unnecessary. Knowing you and Diane, you’d most likely end up having the same decision.”
“You don’t understand.” Auguste glanced at Lara.
“It’s you who don’t. Let Amelia rest, the event she’s been through is quite taxing. She had probably mulled over her decision these past few days. I don’t think she decided it as hastily as you think.” She then grabbed Auguste’s arm and dragged him away. Before she left, she glanced at Amelia and winked.
After they left, “Haahh...” Amelia fell to her bedside and breathed. Then gradually, her complexion turned pale. She broke off the supply of mana that maintained the illusion. A necessary measure to deceive Auguste.
“Amelia, are you sure about this?” asked Erina. She supported Amelia at her back and made her lie on the bed.
Amelia used her forearm to cover her eyes. “Yes.”
“But isn’t that akin to announcing to Libet that you were the one who dealt with that being?” Maize too was against Amelia’s decision. However, Amelia refused to listen.
Amelia lifted her arm and placed it on her stomach. “That’s what I’m after. Right now, the church and those beings are after the Hero.” Then her lips turned into a frown. “Using that opportunity, I’ll drag the Hero to Academia. But, I’ll need to spread some rumors that’ll inform Libet and the church that I and the Hero headed there.”
“Isn’t that opposed to what you’ve promised to the Hero?” Erina added.
“Yes, it is. But I can’t cut corners now. I don’t want those beings to end up searching every nook and cranny of Laurel. I don’t think I’ll be able to bear our loss if that happens. The worst that can happen is that the Royals falls into their hands.”
Then she laughed in a sad tone. Then with eyes closed tightly, she said, “Cruel, isn’t it? I’m willing to drag the people of Academia into my problems. I’m betting the lives I don’t own. Innocent ones at that.”
After a moment of silence, she muttered, “Haah… I’m the worst...”