Because Zarmine's capital Riagull was located at an important center for a vast conjointment of highways that diverged all over the continent, it was a lively city with merchants always coming and going.
Accordingly, the standard of living for the citizens was quite high compared with other countries, and so there were many in the upper-class.
Currently, Zarmine was in the midst of continuous wins in all their military campaigns, so in turn this prosperity could only continue to increase.
Situated nearly dead-center in the capital city, was Leygur's newly rennovated castle, Geynis Castle.
It was a magnificant castle.
It was surrounded by two deep moats filled with water and an immensely tall wall.
However, even though not much time had passed since the rennovation, it could not really be said to be eye-catching. After all, there was not even a single decoration.
The outer walls and structure were made of the same stones that laid the foundation, and the gate and walls had nothing on them that didn't serve some form of useful purpose.
This was because the castle's owner, King Leygur, wasted no emotion on such things.
In the large audience chamber, kneeled before the King was the prime minister, whose voice resounded through the hall as he gave his report.
Within this great hall there wasn't a single covering on the stone floor, none that is, except for a single line of scarlet carpet which ran from the hall's entrance, to the King's throne.
A chandelier attached to the roof far above, and a vast majority of candles on the wall ensured there was ample lighting, but even so the dreary room had a cold and unwelcomming feel.
There were no flowers in vases to decorate, nor pictures on the wall.
The room was a rather desolate choice for the throne to be in.
"......According to our reports using Magic Vision, we have taken King Douglas's head. All that's left now is to advance into Sunkwoll itself. Your Majesty, your orders, please."
One of the spells magicians had at their disposal was 'Magic Vision,' a spell that could send images and scenery to another no matter how far the distance.
Thanks to the spell, Jageel could receive updates on the battle practically in real time.
To employ so many magicians in military service in this day and age, was a luxury afforded only to the larger Kingdoms.
And so, after giving his report, Jageel awaited King Leygur's order. But, the King remained silent.
After waiting a while and receiving no reply, he lifted his head.
The King wearing his black ceremonial clothes made of light silk, had his eyes closed as though asleep, contemplating.
His long silky silver hair covered half of his face, but even so King Leygur's handsome features were noticeable.
Jageel tried again.
Leygur continued to remain silent.
He couldn't actually have fallen asleep...
Exasperated he started to rise. But――
As though he had been watching him, Leygur's eyes opened. He gazed down at his retainer, well past middle age.
Jageel's body shook as he gazed into the King's black eyes which resembled darkness itself. Hurriedly he again bent his knee.
He had no intention of making the King angry. For one, he was the man who had overthrown the late King five years previously, succeeding the throne. If it happened, his neck would be all too easy to cut. After all just a few days earlier several men had revolted, and had been cut down mercilessly. Even though they were all well-renowned generals.
"I've heard the report, but was there no word from Galbreak about Rain?"
Leygur said in a chilled tone.
Jageel quickly lowered his head.
"Nothing. All we've heard is that the King has been killed."
As though hearing something distasteful, Leygur scrunched up his face.
Again he lapsed into thought.
Jageel racked his brain, thinking. He had no idea what the man before him was thinking. Why did he concern himself so much with just one male commoner?
For someone like Jageel who had been born to a family of nobles through generations, a male commoner was a valueless existance with nothing to have pride in.
Now someone like that aristocrat Ralphus, that was one to be cautious about.
Disregarding him and his thoughts, the King spoke gravely.
"...Send an assassination group after Rain and make sure there are a large number of well-skilled men."
"I see. Assassins......you say?"
"Yes. Choose those who have proven themselves adept. As for the number, let's see...at the least more than ten. In turn, there is no need for the army to advance on Sunkwoll yet."
Is he really putting so much importance on that man...? His disgruntlement caused him to forget his fear of King Leygur for a moment.
"You Majesty, certainly Rain has been gifted with talent. But he is only a commoner. Is he really a presence to focus so exclusively on?"
The King didn't respond immediately. But after a short wait, he replied.
"Is there really that much difference from nobility?"
A cold sweat ran down Jageel's back.
He had overstepped his bounds. He had forgotten, but King Leygur himself had come rolling in from somewhere as an ordinary commoner only a decade previously.
"P, please, your forgiveness!"
His teeth not aligning properly due to his fear, he bowed his head so low it was almost touching the floor.
Leygur stood up from his throne.
The heavy sound of the King's boots on the floor drew closer to Jageel.
He thought he heard the sound of wind being sliced as that demon blade swung towards his neck.
"Y, Your Majesty! Please! Please!"
Right before his eyes he could see black footwear. Unable to lift his face, he could only continue grovelling for forgiveness.
A long time passed. By the time he finally prepared himself for death, Leygur finally spoke.
"Jageel, you may lift you face."
At the same time, there was the sound of a cloak swishing......the indication of the King returning.
H, have I really...been saved?
His head shaking with fear, he watched as Leygur returned to his throne as though nothing had happened.
"As a civil official, there are still many more uses I have for you. To that extent, I will forget your earlier comment. So do as I have commanded...is that understood?"
"Yes! R, right away!"
"Don't forget this feeling of fear, now. Let me warn you now, if you ever say something like that again, I will have your head......"
"I will never forget, never."
Jageel again lowered his head deeply to the stone floor.
"It'd be nice if that were true."
Leygur said to himself.
"Rain, show me your strength. Don't disappoint me......"
His voice was so soft, the words never made it to the ears of the old retainer.
Meanwhile, in the courtyard of Rain's Castle, Cortecleas――
Yuri was walking among the intermittently placed flowerbeds scattered over the grounds.
Already ten days had passed since her arrival, but she had easily blended in with the castle's atmosphere.
It was easy to be on familiar terms with the soldiers, as most of them were once mercenaries, and their personalities were similar to hers.
Well, there were aides like Xenoa that were difficult to get along with. But Yuri was put under Leni's watch, so she didn't have to deal with her directly.
Leni was rather easy-going, and so Yuri really didn't have any problems.
――Besides the fact that all Rain did was sleep.
Yes, that Rain locked himself in his room since returning, and hardly ever came out. When he did, it was only to grab something to eat, or drink some alcohol, which really got on her nerves.
Now isn't the time for that! It's a bit twisted, but Yuri was getting impatient at Rain for not raising his hand against Zarmine already.
It seemed Xenoa thought the same way, and the looks she threw at him grew more agitated every day. It was only a matter of time before she lost it.
But the most unexpected thing was how much everyone, apart from Xenoa, seemed to respect Rain. He was really popular.
Even though Rain had opted to avoid fighting this time, nearly all of his men agreed with his decision. It may be because they, as former mercenaries, wanted to avoid fights they couldn't win. It wasn't that she couldn't understand that, but......
"Jeez. He can really put people in suspense."
Yuri scrunched up her face, kicking a stone at her feet.
She could hear cheering from somewhere.
Turning her eyes towards the sound, she noticed a group of soldiers forming a circle close to the wall, in the middle of something.
Yuri who had an immense curiosity, turned her feet in that direction.
In the middle of the circle of people, she saw Leni holding two slightly shorter-than-normal blades, one in each hand. He was facing one of his men.
It seemed they were in the middle of a swordsmanship lesson.
"Heh~...Captain Leni is a two-sword fighter."
A little impressed, Yuri watched from outside the crowd of people.
The man facing off against Leni was breathing heavily, and seemed tired. It was hard to imagine, but it seemed Leni was pushing him back.
Drawing his sword, the armor-clad soldier had made up his mind and moved. Keeping himself low, he closed in on Leni, watching him closely. But he didn't move.
He must have thought he could do it, as the soldier moved with a speed that couldn't be made fun of, and brought his sword up to the nape of Leni's neck.
The sound of metal on metal reverberated.
The certain-kill move was stopped by Leni's blade, while his other blade swung up to stop just short of the soldiers throat.
Wow! I couldn't even see that just now! This guy is strong......
Surprised, Yuri thought she ought to take Leni more seriously. She had thought he was only a gentle aide, but it seemed he also had some real skill.
"Okay, that ends this match. It's already noon, so we'll call it a day for now. Dismissed!"
Leni ordered, fixing a grievance with his blond hair.
The cheer was just as one would expect from the once-mercenaries, Yuri thought, watching them start to disperse.
Yuri jogged lightly to catch up, and Leni met her with a content and smiling expression.
"Woah! Yuri-chan! Were you watching?"
"Yeah. Captain, you're really strong. I'm impressed."
"N, no, I'm not that good."
Leni's face grew red as he denied her praise, embarrassed.
Then, as though he had just thought of something good, he clapped his hands together.
"Hey, since we're off for lunch, what do you say we eat together? I've got plenty extra."
"Thanks for the food!"
Her stomach just having told her how hungry it was, Yuri responded energetically. She lived by the principle of never turning down free food.
"Is it really alright?"
The two of them sat down on one of the many wooden benches.
She asked just to be polite.
Even though they sat down on the same bench, Yuri left some space between her and Leni.
"Today I've got sandwiches."
Leni smiled broadly, spreading out the cloth-wrapped items. An unexpectedly large lunch-box met her gaze, and most definitely more than enough sandwiches were inside.
"Wow! Well, I won't be holding back."
"Go ahead, go ahead."
As she had said, Yuri quickly stretched out her hand.
It was surprisingly good for just a meat-and-vegetable sandwich. Yuri held her cheeks in both hands, showing her deeply moved expression.
"Hahaha. Eat all you want."
"Thank you very much!"
For a while her undivided attention was on the food.
Becoming conscious of something, she looked at the smiling Leni and asked,
"By the way, that practice you were doing earlier, does Rain not participate?"
"Hmm? Well, about once or twice a year he'll spar with someone. Usually he's just always running away. He says it's because of how troublesome it is."
Yuri's returned stare was bright, and Leni could only shrug his shoulders.
It was an action that revealed how much he'd given up on trying.
"It's just like him......Just out of curiousity but, Captain Leni, you or General Rain, who is stronger?"
The second the question was out, Leni jumped lightly. His expression seemed to say 'What are you talking about?'
"Me? I don't even come close the soles of his feet. There's nothing to mention......comparing us is a problem in and of itself."
"Hehh......the General is that strong, then."
"...? Yuri-chan, were you not acquaintances with the General?"
Leni asked, wonderingly.
"Eh! Ah, well our fathers knew each other, but the General and I aren't really......"
Breaking into a cold sweat, Yuri quickly thought up an excuse.
Thankfully, Leni easily accepted her explanation. Beyond that, he actually gave a huge grin.
"Hehhh, ah, so that's how it is. Hehehe."
"Ah, sorry sorry. We were talking about if the General is strong? Hands down, he's strong. More than he'll let on, even with all his bragging."
Yuri opened her eyes wide without thinking.
"Yep. At the very least, I never, ever, would want to be on his bad side. Compared to him, I'd take on Zarmine any day."
Scrunching his eyebrows, Leni shook. It seemed he was actually feeling it.
He's really that strong then......Yuri thought to herself.
Leni continued in full force.
"You might not think of it, but I'm sure he could even defeat a Dragon. I've never heard of anyone doing so, but if it was the General, I'm sure he could do it."
Woah, slow down. No matter what that's too much.
Out of all the species on the earth, the Dragon was undoubtedly the strongest of them all. Their magical power, magical cancellation field, powerful breath and overwhelming muscles, no matter what other creature you took, they wouldn't be able to lay a scratch on a Dragon. They had no natural enemies.
Since long ago, it was said that "Any man who defeats a Dragon in one-on-one combat, would receive its strength and magical power".
The number of those since ancient times who believed this to be true, and had gone up against this strongest of magical beasts was endless.
Not even the wind carried in a rumor of someone having actually defeated one. A Dragon Slayer's existence could only be found in the songs sung by minstrels.
If there was anyone that would stand a chance against a Dragon, it would only be the Magi, a race long gone from this earth.
Their outward appearance indistinguishable from humans, Magi with their magic and physical strength might...but then they may not be enemies with the magical beasts. Needless, they had all died out over a thousand years ago, when the great wars with the humans for control of the world had taken place, so the truth was uncertain.
Leni gave a strained laugh, watching Yuri's expression which seemed to shout 'unbelievable!'.
"I know it's hard to believe. But someday, you too Yuri will come to see that man's strength. The General is different from any other human."
――Of course she knew he was strong, but...
I can't understand....Yuri shook her head softly.
No matter what Leni says, in this world there is always someone stronger. She, who had been in Zarmine had seen with her very own eyes those with impossible strength. Still vivid in her memory was the image of the long, silver-haired King.
An uncountable number of criminals lined up at the execution grounds, and King Leygur who stood before them all.
Surely he was using that for his own practice.
Even so, some tens of criminals all sank into a sea of blood, not one remaining...that was what you called a monster.
No matter how strong Rain was, he could never win against him......That is certain.
Lost in her thoughts, all of a sudden the sandwich she had been holding vanished.
She was dumbstruck for only a moment.
Between Leni and Yuri, a horse's long neck had stuck itself out. Chewing loudly, that horse with beautiful white hair shoved its face into the lunchbox next, taking the remaining sandwiches.
The sound of its leisurely chewing was clearly audible.
"Y, you stupid horse! Chris, right!?"
The horse may not have spoken agreement, but Chris looked sideways at Yuri, seeming to say just that.
…...It was no wonder she would be dumbstruck.
“Sh...!――You know, you really tick me off!”
“Hey, Chris. Like always, you eat anything, don't you. I can't think of you as a horse. You want some of this, too?”
Leni broke off a part of his sandwich and held it out. Christ snapped it up, and all the sandwiches were gone.
"Wait a minute, Captain! Why are you spoiling her like that! First off, why is a horse here instead of being tied up!"
"Eh. W, well you see...the General has ordered that we don't tie Chris up in the stable. That's why she's always walking around wherever she pleases."
"Why'd he make a rule like that!"
Leni tilted his head sideways. He didn't have any bad intentions, but his face which said 'How should I know,' only served to make Yuri even more upset.
"According to the General, Chris is his companion, and what's more, a Pegasus, so it would be rude to tie her up. But, I wonder if a Pegasus really exists."
"That's not even worth answering!"
Yuri banged on the bench. In response, Leni stretched his muscles, saying,
"S, sorry! That's right, of course, hahaha."
Yuri glared sharply at the captain. Then abruptly, she stood up.
Resting both hands on her hips, she stared at the spoiled horse, eyes glinting.
"Chris! The sin of stealing another's lunch is great! Get it!?"
The horse paid her no heed.
Chris snorted through her nostrils, shifting her gaze. As though deciding there would be no more food for her, she promptly turned her rear to Yuri.
Anybody watching would have marked it as a coincidence, but as Chris turned around, her swishing tail thwacked Yuri's cheek forcefully. With that, Chris trotted off.
"What a crappy horse. Must take after its master."
As Yuri stamped her feet in frustration, Leni spoke quietly.
"Well, I don't think you're at any kind of disadvantage......"
Yuri completely ignored the comment.
At that moment, in the highest part of the castle, Rain was resting on the bed in his room. There was nothing special about the inside of his bedroom, and for the room belonging to the lord of the castle, it was quite modest. the bed was just average, nothing like the great four-posters with an awning the nobles favored so much.
There was a round table in the center of the room, and quite a few bottles of alcohol atop it. Rain had drained them all.
"Jeez, what a day."
Sighing suddenly, he unfurled the letter he had already read several times. Having reached the castle the same time he had returned, it was as if the letter Ralphus sent had been pursuing him.
Still lying on his side, he read the short letter.
No matter how many times he read it, he still groaned. Ralphus's chivalry was enough to make anyone grow tired of it.
The first half of the letter was alright.
As always he was telling Rain to stop drinking so much, be careful of any epidemics, things a mother would say. It was just like him.
The problem was with the second half.
I have no idea how you came to make acquaintance with the princess, but if this battle should end in a loss, her life will be at risk.
Since it seems you two are close, I want you to lend your strength to protect the Princess for me.
One more thing......I have no intention of saying anything about your relationship, but think of your position and age, and don't do anything rash (you know what I mean). Okay?
"What do mean 'that's all'?"
Agitated, Rain slammed the letter down on the sideboard.
He was someone who said a bunch of crazy things. According to the words, it seemed he was asking Rain to take care of the Princess, but he hadn't even met her before.
It seems he thinks I'd make a move on the Princess, but no matter how great I am, I can't do something to someone I've never seen before.
First of all, she was the daughter of that stuffy King, so he could imagine what she'd be like.
He wanted to tell Ralphus to give him a break.
Even knowing that he disliked the nobility, let alone royalty! Furthermore, it was the King's daughter! No doubt she would be thick and stuffy, unable to do any housekeeping, with no skills other than nagging and being bossy, a real hag.
There was nothing he knew of in this world that he was afraid to go up against. But even so, Ralphus asked this of him knowing he would do it for him.
"Well, whatever. I'll do something about it when I go to get Michelle."
Rain said, after his grumblings ended.
That lonely, beautiful girl he had met back then floated to the back of his mind.
But right now, he was most worried about Ralphus. After all, right now he was most likely in the midst of fighting.
It was this point which cast a wrench into his calculations. Zarmine seemed to be paying special heed of him, more so that anticipated. According to Yuri, there were an uncountable number of eyes watching him.
If he were to leave his castle, that information would go flying to Zarmine. Then perhaps he may not be able to save Ralphus.
To Rain, whatever happened to King Douglas, he wouldn't feel a thing. Ralphus was the only one he needed to save.
"I'd be haunted with remorse. That's the only reason."
Rain said, trying to convince himself that was the reason.
At the very least, he had a debt he needed to repay. It's not like he had asked him to, but he had helped him escape the King's wrath numerous times.
Even if Rain had saved Ralphus's life once, the debt was still his to be paid.
But Ralphus kept going on about how thankful he was for that.
"That time, I can't even begin to describe how much you looked after me."
What a good-natured guy.
Thanks to that, it puts me through a lot of trouble.
On the other hand, it was that quality which would keep Ralphus from giving up and running away from this old country, Sunkwoll.
In other words, in order to help him, it would mean having to take on and send into retreat, the entire country of Zarmine.
After all, Ralphus was the kind of idiot who would even get needlessly fired up about taking on hundreds of thousands by himself.
"I hope Gunther was able to manage alright..."
Rain ground his teeth at his inability to act. Just maybe, purposefully getting himself put under house arrest had been a mistake...
No matter how much of a disadvantage it was, maybe he should have gone with that idiotic King anyway...
"Fina......have I made a mistake...?"
The moment Rain uttered those words softly,
With a force that was not to joke about, without so much as a knock first, the door opened. No...it was kicked open.
Turning his head he saw Yuri, both feet out in a stance that had her blocking the doorway.
"Just a minute, there!"
She thrust her pointer-finger in Rain's direction.
"Who's this Fina!?"
"Don't 'eh?' me!"
Yuri in a blouse and skirt, entered into Rain's room, coming to stand by the foot of his bed. It was hard to tell which was the master.
The next moment, she started speaking in full force.
"In the first place, you really think it's okay for you to act like this? To keep on lying on your bed with all these empty bottles around, it's not stylish at all! It's too undercut! It's because of this you ended up getting put under house arrest! What's more, I'm here to talk to you about your stupid horse..."
"Ahhh! You're so annoying!"
If he hadn't interrupted, this abuse seemed like it would continue for a while.
"I'm in the middle of contemplating on extremely important issues right now! I've no time to play with you! If you're going to come to me, make it when there is a matter of utter importance, or when you're wearing lace underwear!"
"What'd you say――don't go to sleep!"
Ready to fall back onto the sheets, Rain instead lifted his head and got up reluctantly.
He sat on the side of his bed, and looked at Yuri, standing aggressively.
"Okay, so what is it. By the way, I knew from your presence, but what were you doing eavesdropping outside someone's room."
"Hmmph. Even though you have nothing to say that would be a problem if overheard. I really put my all into coming here. Oh yeah, and who's this Fina?"
"......Don't be jumping all over the place. Furthermore, I have no idea what you mean."
Rain pointed out he had no energy to spare for this, then, as though thinking of something, smiled devilishly.
"W, what's with that smile...?"
Yuri retreated with an unpleasant expression.
"It's nothing, really. You know, going from your black hair and unique eye color, you're a commoner of Sunkwoll, right?"
"......and if I am?"
"Let me get right to the point. ――Would you switch sides?"
Yuri took a deep breath, blinking her light green eyes. With an unreadable expression, she looked back at Rain. He thought he could detect her pulse.
"You're doing this for a living, even though you don't want to, right? This country is hard on its commoners after all. But if the reward is good enough, there's no reason for you to be on the enemies' side, right?"
"That's......I suppose so. It's not like I feel good about it all."
"Right, right? In that case, how does twenty silver coins a month sound?"
"Twenty coins...that would be fifty-thousand taran? Hmmm~, let me hear a little more."
Yuri grandly bent herself forward.
"Alright, then how about twenty-one silver coins."
"You know, you're not good with increments. You're a man, right? Then you should be more flashy!"
Rain grimaced, shaking his head.
"Idiot. The master of a castle has to constantly be careful with his money. ――How does twenty-five sound?"
"What's a guy who chugs expensive liquor saying...! My younger sister...I mean I have to consider my younger brother's tuition!"
"A guy? I don't care. How about I buy your future womanly promise, and we'll do thirty silver! Take it already, you thief!"
Yuri clapped her hands, her eyes sparkling.
She drew close to Rain.
"You'll definitely be giving me thirty silver a month, alright?"
"Yeah. But in return, you'd best work hard."
"Sure! Great~! Now I don't have to lie to my little sis...I mean brother, anymore!"
Yuri danced happily. It seems that for their livelihood, she had been keeping the fact she was a spy from her relations.
"Ah, there's just one thing――"
"What is it?"
"If I had refused the offer......what would you have done?"
Yuri cutely tilted her head.
Rain let out an evil sounding laugh.
"I would have informed the country of Zarmine that you had switched sides. Even if that information was false, they still wouldn't use you any more, I'd wager. There's nothing else but to come to this side."
"......contemptible, you are."
Yuri opened her mouth wide as she spoke.
Guess so... Rain seemed to say with his chest puffed out wickedly. At that moment...
Near the center of the room light started to flicker, beginning to take on a form.
"Magic Vision?" Yuri asked.
Rain didn't get a chance to respond as the light solidified, taking the shape of a man with sharp eyes.
It need not be said, but he was actually very far away.
"......Who's that really unpleasant looking guy that seems to be depressed with life?"
"Later, later. This is an important report."
Rain cut Yuri off sharply.
Judging from the timing, it had to be about Ralphus's rescue.
"Reporting, Lord Rain."
To support his words, Gunther bowed deeply before Rain.
Deep in an inner garden of the Royal Palace, Shelfa was all alone.
Currently, Galfort Castle was wrapped in a lonely silence. Until yesterday it had been bustling with people preparing to run, but now they were all gone, and hardly anyone was left.
To one side of the garden leaning against a tree near a small pond, Shelfa gazed at the water's surface.
It was her favorite spot.
It was always quiet, but today was exceptionally so.
At most there was only the rustling of the trees branches above her head.
Even though it was noon, the sound of people talking and the hustle and bustle of daily life was nowhere to be found.
"This castle has become really empty..."
She knew the reason. Yesterday, the chief retainers had learned of the defeat through "magic vision."
At first none of them believed it, but as the details became clear, the mood turned to one of despair.
All of the generals who had gone on the campaign, save Ralphus, were dead. Even her father had been betrayed and killed.
A strict order had been given to keep the report quiet, but the rumors had started spreading in the blink of an eye.
After all, it was impossible to seal the lips of man.
According to the rumors, from the prime minister to the chief retainers, they had been saying things like, "Damn that Ganoa!"
To Shelfa, it was contemptible.
Since long before she had always disliked him. Furthermore, it seemed recently whenever their gazes met, that he was looking at her with a dirty look in his eyes, adding fuel to the flames. The lady attendants hadn't been surprised when they heard Ganoa had betrayed them.
He seemed the type do such a thing anyway.
My Father couldn't see his true character......
Sighing softly, Shelfa brought up her dead father's face in her mind.
But her memory was fuzzy, and she couldn't clearly remember. After all, her father had seldom tried to meet with her, and when he did, it tended to be about once a year.
On the occasions they did meet, she could only remember the hatred in her father's eyes. She hardly had any memories of them talking.
In all honesty, hearing of his death hadn't made her all that sad. I might be a cold person...Shelfa thought to herself, depressed.
I want to see Rain......
Shelfa's heart was filled with that single wish. She was relieved that Rain was still alive for her.
Three years ago, Shelfa had been touched by Rain's kindness, and opened her heart to him.
Since that day Shelfa, who had always been by herself, was finally able to believe that she was no longer alone.
There wasn't a moment of that day she had forgotten.
She closed her eyes softly....and the memory she held so dear began...
An expansive garden to the back of Galfort Castle was one of Shelfa's few 'favorite places.' Changing with the seasons, a large number of flowers colored their flowerbeds, and the limbs of an ancient jura tree strecthed out over the surface of a small pond.
Shelfa's only true joy was to draw pictures here all alone.
There was a ball being held that day, so her private tutor had let her go earlier than usual, and she was spending the time drawing what she liked much longer than usual.
Though it was late summer, still the sun shone brightly causing her eyes to squint as she walked through the garden to take a seat as always at the trunk of the great jura tree.
I wonder what I should draw today......I've drawn the scenery here so many times already......
Thinking of drawing a pretty bird, she cast around for one but couldn't see any.
Momentarily at a loss, she finally settled on drawing a person.
Of course, she had no intention of having anyone in the castle be the model. For Shelfa, it was normal to be alone, and it was beyond difficult to have any kind of relationship with a stranger.
Furthermore, there wasn't really anybody she wanted to draw.
The only exception was her mother who had passed away three years ago, but it was painful to draw her so she put it aside.
In return, she decided to draw someone from her imagination. Actually, there was a man who had been appearing in Shelfa's dreams recently.
Bringing him to the forefront of her mind, she began drawing enthusiastically.
More than usual, her writing brush flew across the paper.
Yes, this is turning out well......strange, it's almost as though my hand were moving naturally......this is the first time...
After a while of being immersed in drawing, it seemed she heard a person's voice.
Abruptly her hand stopped moving.
It wasn't her imagination.
There was a voice. A singing voice.
Singing of the love between a man and a woman, a man was singing horribly out of tune. Even more, he was approaching where she was.
All of a sudden his singing grew softer. He may have realized someone was close by. Still, he didn't quit singing and continued to grow closer.
If Shelfa had been her usual self, she would most likely have thought about how to hide herself right about now. She really disliked having to face others.
If it was just going to be bad anyway, it was much easier to run away beforehand.
But for some reason, she didn't feel like running this time.
She didn't know the reason.
It may have been that the singer was singing with a truly happy look on his face (though he was tone deaf), or it might have been that the effect of his low voice had mesmerized her. Thinking about it later, Shelfa still couldn't place what it was.
But what was certain, is that she had lost her chance to flee, and the problematic person had appeared from the other side of the flowerbed.
At first glance, Shelfa's sapphire blue eyes grew large.
Stopping his good-mood singing, the man looked intently at Shelfa.
He wore a black shirt and black pants, even his eyes were black. He was covered in black from head to foot, and was also quite tall.
His face was finely chiseled and looked fearless, matching his sharp eyes. But for some reason in the depth of those eyes, the light of a childish prankster flickered.
She had never met him in person but...amazingly, this man was the spitting image of the drawing she had been making. He was the man she had been seeing in her dreams recently.
"Hmmm, this is quite unexpected. Hey little one, you're quite the beauty you know."
Not knowing what she was thinking, he spoke in a bright, light-hearted manner.
'Little one' was most likely referring to her. It was the first time she had been called such, but strangely wasn't upset by it.
It may just have been because the word 'beauty' was thrown in.
There wasn't an ounce of that reserved feeling in his speech that she usually heard from others, it was a voice straight from the heart. That's why it wasn't upsetting.
"I go by Rain but, what about you?"
"You ask my...name?"
Shelfa had never thought she would be asked for her name, and for a moment was at a loss.
Now that she thought about it, how did this man even manage to get all the way in here?
Nobody without official business with the royal family should be able to get in.
"What's wrong? You can tell me your name, can't you?"
"Y, yes! Uhm, I am She――I mean, Michelle."
It was a name that had sprung up from somewhere in her heart.
For some reason, Shelfa couldn't bring herself to go by her real name. Thinking back, she may have already lost her heart to Rain by this time.
She didn't want to alienate Rain who she had only just met by acknowledging she was of the royal family of Sunkwoll.
Even though he had spoken so kindly to her, she didn't want that to break.
"Hooh, Michelle, huh. Hmm, It has a nice ring to it. It seems if the outside is pretty, the name must be too. Only......that presence I felt a moment ago......well, nevermind."
Rain thought for a moment, before nodding to himself. And as though gaining interest in Shelfa, he removed the scabbard holding his long sword from his waist, and squatted down.
"So, how old? About twelve, am I right? By the way, I'm twenty-two."
"I only just turned thirteen."
"I see, I see. It must be fate that we've met here. Let's get along, right, little one?"
"Yes. Uhm...I agree."
"Alright. Then, what are doing in a place like this?"
That what she wanted to ask, but instead she held out the picture she had been drawing. Even when until now, she had never shown anyone a picture of them she had made.
"Eh......this looks just like me. Hehh, at this rate you can eat with your pictures no problem. It's really good."
"What do you mean, 'you can eat with your pictures'...?"
"It means you can make a living. More importantly, have we met somewhere before? I don't think I could forget a face like yours though...?"
"Today is the first time we have met, Rain."
Replied Shelfa, explaining how she came here to draw often, how only today she had decided to draw someone, and how it had turned out to look just like him.
......Because it was embarrassing, she didn't tell him about having already seen him in her dreams.
After listening to Shelfa, Rain tilted his head.
"What a coincidence, that is. It really looks just like me."
"Yes......it's quite a mystery."
Rain suddenly looked up at the sky, thinking deeply about something.
After a while, Rain spoke in a very serious tone.....
"Perhaps, this may be destiny."
"Yeah, destiny. Des-tin-y. You and I may not have just an ordinary relationship in the future."
"W, what do you mean by not just an ordinary relationship...?"
"In other words, someone you think of fondly, or a lover. Something like that."
He didn't seem to be joking.
Shelfa turned bright red. There was the content of the words, but what was more upsetting for her was the fact that she felt it wouldn't be bad at all...
Even though she had only just met him.
"What's with such a sour look? You're not worried about the gap between us because you're a noble, are you?"
"Eh! H, how did you know I was nobility?"
"You know, you do have blond hair and blue eyes, the symbol of nobility for this country. Especially your eyes which are blue even to the sclera, they really stand out."
"Ah, I see..."
"Okay putting that aside......You don't like that it's me? I guess you think so too, that status is everything. You scorn the commoners, don't you?"
"Not at all! No way......In reality I really dislike the nobility......"
Shelfa turned down her head, looking sad.
It was how she really felt.
She knew how her father only saw her as a tool for his convenience. When she is a little older she will become wife to a prince of some other country, just a tool.
Nothing more. That was the reason she couldn't do as she pleased.
After her mother had died, her father had grown even colder.
All of a sudden Rain's hands pressed gently on either side of her face.
"A kid can't make a face like that."
"You can leave it at just 'Rain.' What I mean is, stop making such a face. Alright?"
Rain asked softly.
Her cheeks being rubbed by such large hands――
The warmth that spread out from that touch seemed to seep all the way into the depths of her heart.
It was the first time someone had talked to her in such a manner since her mother's death.
Shelfa's eyes brimmed with tears.
Forcing her lips to cease trembling, Shelfa instead asked something she had been wondering about for a while.
"Rain......why are you here?"
"Right. I'm a centurion. In the last battle I did a few things and would you believe it, little one? In return I get invited to a ball. Jeez, if they're going to do all that, they might as well raise my status a little, right? I can't go along with them." "Oh, so then you slipped out and ended up coming here?"
Shelfa nodded. At the same time, she realized he was a skilled knight.
After all, her father who was so uptight about pure-blooded nobility, had let this commoner who wasn't a noble command a military unit.
The next moment, Rain's hand came to rest atop Shelfa's head.
"And what about you?"
"M, me? I always come here to draw......"
Rain scrunched up his face in concentration, looking intently at Shelfa.
Perhaps he had figured out her status...Shelfa thought in pained silence.
She was wrapped in uncertainty......But what Rain pointed out was something entirely different.
"In other words, you're always by yourself?"
"Yes...I like it best when I can be alone."
To her response, Rain put force behind his next words.
"That's no good! Sometimes it may be good to be alone, but not all the time!"
"Of course it is. All right! It's a good thing I'm here today."
Rain stood up in a burst of movement, extending his had to Shelfa.
"Personally, compared to some ball, a candidate for my future wife is much more important. If possible, I would like to have met you ten years from now though..."
Rain smiled brightly. All of a sudden her candidate status had been boosted from that of lover, to wife. At a loss, Shelfa looked up silently at Rain.
"Don't get it? I'm saying let's play together. Even though I look like this, when I was a kid I was called the 'castle of fun.'"
"In other words, you are inviting me?"
"Is there anyone else here? Come on!"
Automatically trying to refuse, Shelfa drew in a deep breath without thinking.
This man, what black, deep eyes he has ......You could almost pass through them. And he looks so gently at me......It's, it's.....deeper even than my late mother's.
Being gazed at so, it made her feel as though she were melting, just as the snow does under the sun.
"Do I have......your permission?"
Instead of refusing, Shelfa asked in a small voice,
"......You're really inviting someone such as myself?"
"Sure. You don't like it?"
"Not at all, Sir Rain. I mean, Rain. I put myself in your care."
Shelfa put on a brightly shining smile, one she thought she had forgotten how to make, taking hold of the hand held out to her.
It was hard to believe three years had already passed since then.
She could still remember it as though it were only yesterday.
This same place, that day.
At noon they ate the bread Rain had brought with him, and he stayed with her until evening.
The games he had introduced to her were those played by small boys, but for Shelfa it was still plenty enjoyable.
Looking at Rain's sunny smile, with only him occasionally gently rubbing her head, there was nothing else she could wish for.
Whenever she would jump, those black eyes always watched over her deeply and intently.
When she would fall over from playing, that large, warm hand held out to her.
Shelfa wished this time could continue forever.
But the joyful time didn't last. As the sun sank it became time for Rain to take his leave.
"I've got to be getting back soon."
Those words caused Shelfa to stand as still as ice.
From tomorrow she would be alone again......that truth pushed cruelly at her heart.
But that wasn't all. Shelfa had come to realize it.
That she had fallen in love with Rain.
To forever be by his side, she wanted to always see his smile. If possible, she wanted him to embrace her warmly.
That's why she made the request.
"Please, take me with you!"
"Now now, Michelle."
"I have no wish to remain here! I don't want to be alone anymore. Rain......I want to leave together with Rain!"
"Even if you say that...You're asking me to leave and go on a journey with a child."
Rain had on a troubled expression.
But, as though his heart was moved as he watched Shelfa, he nodded, and began to think. The fact that she was making a crazy wish, she knew it quite well.
Only, her feelings towards Rain were true, and that wish was truly that.
Shelfa was courting him with pure emotions. To the extent that she was willing to leave everything to follow after him.
"I understand. Then let's do this."
Coming to his decision, Rain stood up, searching his pockets. What he pulled out, was an old silver coin that had been turned into a pendant, with a chain attached.
"Here, I'll give you this."
From what she could see, a language she couldn't read was engraved on the surface of the coin.
The coin itself was quite old, as its faded color showed.
"What does it say, those letters?"
"Well you see, this is a magical item and on it is written, 'To bring me before that person.' It's a relic from a kingdom that has long, long since been destroyed. A time before the Magi were all eradicated in the Holy Wars. It's true."
Shelfa looked at the coin admiringly. It wasn't as though magic had completely disappeared, but the current state couldn't even be compared with the that of the past.
It was very rare to come across any weapons imbued with semi-permanent magic, and even if there was one its price would be astronomical.
"When I was traveling to the north of the continent, I found this in some ancient ruins.......It's true! I only have two but, I'll give this one to you."
Putting great emphasis behind his words, Rain brought his hands around Shelfa's thin neck, and attached the necklace for her.
Finishing, Rain rested both his hands on her shoulders and peered into her eyes.
"Listen closely, Michelle. Right now there are things I need to do. That's why, I can't take you with me right now."
At that moment Shelfa opened her mouth to speak, but Rain stopped here with his gaze, continuing.
"After five years, just another five years I need you to wait. At that time my mind will be settled――No...at that time my work will be finished, and you will have grown up. That's why, wait until this day five years from now. If you haven't changed your mind by then, I will take you wherever you wish to go."
Oh, how much she wanted to protest...
If possible, she wanted to tell him five years was impossible.
But she knew what Rain said was right. He had said he had things to do, but it would also be impossible for him to bring along such a small child as herself.
In the end, Shelfa tried hard to keep her expression from wavering.
She had decided to trust in, and wait for Rain. She intended to nod smiling, and she managed to do so.
Though to the greatly more grown up Rain, her actions were transparent.
Smiling, he patted her head.
"Don't make such a sad face, didn't I already tell you?"
Rain said in a soft voice.
"That's why I've given you this coin. It can only be used once, so only if something happens and you can no longer wait any longer, you can use it then. It's easy to use. Grip the coin tightly, and as you think of my face, shout my name as loud as you can. If you do――"
"If I do?"
Shelfa was wrapped in anticipation.
"――The magic will take over, and no matter where I am you will be by my side in an instant. It is completely, totally the truth."
Letting out a soft sigh, Shelfa tightly held the coin at her breast.
If I have this I can see Rain whenever I want. Whenever, wherever.
"Ahh, Michelle. You seem like you're ready to use it right now, but you should definitely save it for the right time."
At that Rain turned around, and gave his finally warning to Shelfa.
"There's such a thing as convenience for me too. Apart from when I finish the things I need to do, if I'm getting along well with some girl and you come dropping in from above, it would be quite the situation!"
Shelfa's heart beat painfully.
Even if she didn't understand the full meaning, the part about 'some girl' was still enough to hurt.
It was proof she had fallen completely for him.
"But I understand, Rain. The reason you gave me this coin, was so it would be my comfort, am I right?"
"As expected, you're very sharp, little one. The trump card should always be saved for last."
Rain laughed contentedly, nodding.
"Since it's you, I believe you can wait. Five years will be over before you know it."
Just maybe she could wait that long.
As long as she had this coin.
Rain looked at Shelfa holding firmly to the coin, and with a warm smile locked eyes with her.
"Little one. Today, you have really left a deep mark on me. So in return, I will tell you a secret of mine. Are you ready?"
"Yes, of course!"
"Alright. Then this is only for your ears."
Rain's voice lowered.
"Actually, there is nothing in this world that scares me. Do you know why?"
"Is it because of your bravery?"
"Nope. Nothing great like that. Due to something that happened a long time ago, my ability to feel fear itself was burned away. Probably."
At that, Rain swallowed deeply before beginning the story.
"You know I, a long time ago......i, in my home village......"
Something unbelievable happened.
Rain's black eyes began to shake, and in their depths the shadow of what could only be described as fear was plainly visible.
His shaking lips cut off the strange laugh, as the color drained from his face.
For some reason she didn't know, A horrible conflict was waging in the depths of Rain's heart, and fear began to take hold.
That Rain could be so afraid!
The moment she thought such, Shelfa stretched out her hand.
Rain's face showed his relief.
Shelfa tightly gripped Rain's hand, and in a firm voice spoke.
"......Rain, you seem to be in such pain, such sadness......so I don't want to hear it now. If you are able to tell me one day――then I will wait for that time."
Rain's cheek shook slightly, as he exhaled, relieved. After leaving his cheek in Shelfa's hand for a moment, He slowly pulled himself away.
"Jeez......You're truly a softy, Michelle. Not good, I feel like I could really fall for you in the future."
Letting go of her hand, Rain stood up.
His mouth had changed into his standard fearless smile.
"I'll be leaving soon, little one. I will definitely keep my promise."
"Those last words were unnecessary. After all, I trust in you, Rain. Today, five years from now, I will be waiting here for you."
Forcing herself to smile, Shelfa looked up at Rain.
Giving a broad smile in return, Rain lifted one hand into the air, turning his back to her.
His darkly clad visage did not once turn back, and melted into the growing darkness. Even after he had completely disappeared from her view, Shelfa didn't move from that spot for a long time.
――Rain. One day please tell me what you were about to. I will always be waiting. Always.
A long time had passed since she and Rain had separated.
It had been a long, long three years.
How many times have I regretted staying...
Why hadn't she tried harder to leave with him......Furthermore, why had she lied about her name?
Leaning up against the tree, Shelfa looked at the still surface of the lake.
She had lied about her name to keep Rain from disliking her, but now she was regretting her decision. Yet surely Rain would laugh and forgive her the next time they met.
The next time......just when would that be.
The desire to see Rain engulfed her. The need to see his smiling face once again was almost unbearable.
No matter what, it was no longer possible for her to keep waiting.
Galfort Castle was now empty of all she could call friends, and all that awaited the castle was to see the Zarmine army come.
Since the morning, Shelfa hadn't seen any of her servants or attendants.
Most likely they had already fled.
It felt as though she had become all but forgotten. As though it had always been this way, ever since her mother had passed away.
Pulling out the pendant she wore at her bosom, Shelfa gently stroked its faded surface.
If she only called his name, using the last charge of the ancient magic imbued in the coin, she could go to Rain at any moment.
This old silver coin has been all that has kept me going ever since I parted with Rain.
She gazed for a long time at the coin.
If she were to use it right now――
Unconsciously she just about called his name in a loud voice. With only that she could go to his side.
Only――As Shelfa had done ever since receiving it, she again carefully lowered the coin back to her breast.
"If I remember right, Rain told me a trump card should always be saved for last. I will prove faithful."
Shelfa voiced, as though to reassure herself. She slowly broke away from the tree.
Gazing around at the garden, she tried to burn it into her memory so she would never forget this scenery.
The flowerbed where beautiful flowers bloomed, the still, reflective lake and at last the great, light brown tree with its giant branches.
At long last, the time for action had finally come. I may never return to this place.
Even so, Shelfa turned her back on the resting grounds. If she could meet Rain again, no matter the sacrifice, she would have no regrets.
"Now if only there was still a horse left in the stables that could carry me."
By horse, it would take two days continuing through day and night without stopping to reach Cortecleas Castle.
She would need to pack clothes that would make movement easy.......with the exception of an outfit for her reunion with Rain.
Returning to her private chambers, she prepared the basics before hurrying out into the corridor.
――It was at that same moment, that a girl of similar age came walking towards her with a vacant expression on her face.
Her black hair was decorated with an alice band. She was a maid who worked in the castle. She walked in a somewhat defeated manner――but the moment she saw Shelfa, that defeated shuffling turned to relief.
"P, Princess......Thank goodness, you're still here."
"Liera......? What are you doing at this time?"
It wasn't as though they were particularly close, but Liera was the only one she had been able to talk to normally.
Shelfa had always thought of her as always being more composed than herself, but right now she seemed on the verge of tears.
"I, I've no idea what I should do......All the head maids that gave orders until yesterday seem to have all disappeared. ...Uhm, the rumor about losing the battle, it seems it was true?"
It seemed that even though the rumor had spread, it still hadn't managed to reach all the maids.
Shelfa put on a firm but calm expression before nodding.
"......Yes, it is so."
"――! No way..."
Liera's face lost some of its color.
For this girl who shared the castle for her living quarters, it wasn't easy to accept.
Just then, the sound of running feet from the other side of the hallway could be heard. Running in the castle was practically unheard of――
They exchanged shocked looks...and it was Shelfa who responded first.
She quickly opened an attendants room door that was right before them.
"Hurry, in here!"
Grabbing her hand, Shelfa pulled her inside.
She almost let out a scream of fear, but Shelfa stifled it by hugging her close.
――After a few seconds, the footsteps stopped before Shelfa's private chambers. There was the sound of the door being opened without any kind of reserve. ――Directly after, voices muttering to each other were audible. They were familiar......the voices belonged to some head attendants whose faces she knew.
"Hey, there's no one here!"
"That's not possible......that timid princess, there's no place for her to go alone, right?"
The two girls pressed close together exchanged a look.
Holding onto each other so, Liera's quivering passed on to Shelfa.
Trying to comfort her, Shelfa gently patted her back.
In reality, it was she who was frightened. But right now, she was determined.
No matter what I must get out of here!
"Well right now...we've got to hurry up and secure her."
"Yeah. When the enemies――I mean Zarmine army gets here, if we don't have her in hand, we're the ones in trouble."
"If you get it, then keep searching!"
The voice faded out as it grew further away.
Separating themselves, Shelfa let out a deep breath.
Her breath had caught once she knew they were searching for her.
Liera's tone sounded harsh.
"They are planning on handing you over, Princess!"
"It would seem so."
Shelfa smiled sadly.
"In exchange for that achievement, they must be hoping to receive a decent post with the enemy."
"Princess, doesn't that make your stomach turn?!"
Unable to respond, Shelfa could only gaze back at Liera.
"Liera, it would be best if you left here soon too......where is your home village?"
"Eh? Uhm, farther south......Ahh! T, this country might end!"
Liera began shaking again.
It had taken a while, but it seemed she had finally grasped the situation.
"If it's south, then that's perfect. I was just about to head that way......If you're alright with it, may I see you some of the way?"
Speaking as calmly as she could, she rested a hand softly on Liera's shoulder.
Her shaking ceased. She stared fixedly at Shelfa in a way she never had before.
Awed, she spoke.
"Princess, you're very calm."
For the first time Shelfa looked down.
She responded in a small voice.
"I won't die until I see Rain again."
"N, nothing! Instead, we need to hurry up and get away from here...alright?"
Just as Rain had done for her long ago, Shelfa extended her hand.
A little while later, two soldiers guarding the gate saw Princess Shelfa.
Because it was their duty, they made an effort to try and stop Shelfa and the maid riding fast on a horse together. They had been ordered to stop the Princess from leaving at all costs. No matter how they saw it, the one charging towards them was none other than the Princess.