Shelfa quickly came out of the audience chamber with Gunther following behind her.
Gazaram blinked upon seeing the expression on her face.
He knew with one glance that she was uncharacteristically angry.
She was climbing up the stairs with quick, agitated footsteps instead of her normal graceful ones.
He saw from behind that her petit hands were clenched into tight fists and her shoulders were shaking. Something considerably unpleasant had evidently happened during the interview. Gazaram fell behind Gunther and quietly asked,
“she came out of an audience, or rather, she met with someone just now, didn’t she? In any case, did something rub her the wrong way?”
Shelfa stopped moving once she had finished climbing up the stairs.
When she turned around, Gazaram saw the expression of a pouting young girl on her face.
“He spoke ill of Rain.”
Her tone was seeped to the brim in the idea that she absolutely despised the interviewee for it.
Gazaram scratched his stubble and looked to Gunther, who was standing silently beside him.
He turned to the latter’s sullen visage, which, as usual, seemed to assert that he hated everything the world had to offer, and asked,
“Sorry. I don’t know what was up with today’s audience. Can I ask you for an explanation?”
Gunther unsociably explained the general details, while Shelfa followed up with a thorough supplementary explanation of things.
Basically put, this was how it went down.
Sunkwoll was in the middle of recruiting new personnel and currently had its doors wide open to those accomplished in both the civil and military arts.
The martial arts tournament set to commence tomorrow was the main event for the “military” aspect of things, but they were apparently recruiting civil officials from the capital regardless of what their previous rank had been.
In short, they had established recruitment centers all over the place and were conducting simple written and oral examinations. But the results of the exams weren’t the end all be all. Depending on how willing someone was to work hard, it was possible for them to pass even if their results had been poor. Those who passed from the recruitment centers would ultimately be allowed an audience with Shelfa——or so the system went.
Naturally, as long as Shelfa gave the okay, they would officially become her retainer then and there and would be selected as a civil official of the kingdom. It was apparently something that Rain had proposed to Shelfa in order to replace the civil officials who had readily fled after Zarmine’s defeat.
There had already been several promising personnel who had been recruited by this system.
It was a rather large change in policy, as Sunkwoll had only recruited the sons of nobles to such positions in the past.
Gazaram nodded deeply in agreement. He continued,
“that’s pretty good! It’s ten-thousand times better than choosing retainers based off their lineage or how much money they’ve donated to the throne. Hearing that people have already been recruited this way fires me up all the more.”
“I concur. I’d like to always continue recruiting in this manner going forward,”
Shelfa agreed fervently.
Though, Gazaram had never known the girl to have had ever ignored Rain’s proposals.
A believer of the Church of Rain——it was Folnier who had first teased Shelfa as such, but Gazaram could see that the title truly suited Shelfa well.
Still, his original question had yet to be resolved, so he decided to take another stab at it.
“It’s a good system, so was the guy from today a bust?”
Shelfa pursed her adorable lips together and nodded.
“He said——that letting Rain be as he is right now would be like setting a wolf loose in the royal palace!”
“Huh? Well, how should I put this——”
He’s an idiot, isn’t he?
Gazaram swallowed his words at the back of his throat.
Though he couldn’t exactly be blamed for it, but there was no doubt that this person had been utterly ignorant about what kind of person his girlish ruler was.
He probably would have said something a bit more proper if he had known even a little about what kind of person Shelfa was.
Suddenly, Gunther whispered,
“wolves are actually rather gentle creatures. It appears that he wasn’t aware of this.”
He elucidated further upon receiving Gazaram and Shelfa’s gazes.
“That young man’s intentions were plainly obvious. Essentially, he wanted to take Lord Rain’s place. I surmise he threatened you by saying that “you’ll be stabbed in the back if you rely too heavily on any one particular retainer” because he wanted to set the groundwork to sell himself by saying “that’s why you should appoint me as a military official in order to protect yourself”……”
Gunther revealed all too readily.
I see, thought Gazaram.
He must’ve been quite the ambitious man, judging by the content of his speech. It looks like he tried to arouse suspicions in Shelfa with clever words. ……Though in the end, he was doomed to fail from the get go.
Shelfa replied in surprise with her eyes open wide. It looked like the idea hadn’t ever come close to crossing her mind. She continued,
“no one could ever possibly replace Rain!”
“……Indeed. But not everyone is aware of this. Lord Rain’s current position must look rather enviable from an outsider’s perspective. It isn’t all that strange for those who would wish to switch places with him to exist,”
Gunther replied monotonously.
Shelfa looked down like she had been fed up and repeated,
Then, after staying in place for a short while……she sorrowfully continued,
“I want to see Rain……I miss him.”
She looked like she would crouch down and hug her knees at any moment.
Evidently, the mention of Rain’s name had made her exhaustion and loneliness surge up at once.
In a purposefully cheerful voice, Gazaram said,
“what’s this now? You’ll be able to see him soon! Let’s wait for him without getting too down, yeah? The longer you wait, the happier you’ll be when you see him again.”
She ignored him completely.
She hadn’t even been listening from the very start.
Shelfa fidgeted incessantly with the pendant at her chest as she kept her eyes glued to the floor with her shoulders drooping. It was a pendant made of an old coin attached to a silver chain. She normally kept it underneath her dress, but she’d taken it out and toyed with it persistently over these past few days. It was to the point that Gazaram was afraid that she’d rub it out of existence one day.
Gazaram didn’t know if it wasn’t supposed to be a good luck charm of some sort or whatnot, as he had yet to ask her about it. It didn’t seem like the time to ask about it frivolously.
And, just then, Gunther, who had also been watching as Shelfa grew depressed, nonchalantly made a surprising remark.
“It may be a good idea for you to enjoy yourself and go watch the martial arts tournament.”
Shelfa quickly looked up for rather mercenary reasons.
Her sapphire eyes looked straight up at Gunther’s sullen mien.
A spring had returned in her voice as she asked,
“will I be able to see Rain?!”
“……Was there anything in what I said just now that suggested anything about Lord Rain?”
His expressionless eyes looked back at Shelfa.
“Well, there’s no way that I’d be able to enjoy myself if Rain wasn’t there with me.”
——Hold up a sec!
It had been careless of him to only realize this now, but wasn’t what she said just now pretty bad?
Gazaram carefully looked up and down the silent corridor before he knew what he was doing. It’d be trouble if anyone had heard that.
Thankfully, he didn’t see anyone other than themselves.
“Sigh……. I’m begging you, Your Majesty. Please exercise a bit of self-restraint.”
Shelfa lowered her eyes again apologetically at Gazaram’s plea.
“……I’m sorry for making you worry needlessly.”
“No……well, I do understand where you’re coming from,”
he consoled her before looking to Gunther, who was staring out the window.
The fair and handsome young man had a morose look on his face that seemed to say, “Ugh! Hell if I care,” but Gazaram wasn’t one to be fooled by it as of late. It was actually true of Rain as well, but Gunther was a man who was very carefully considerate of others.
So wouldn’t there be a reason behind his unexpected words from earlier?
“Hey, Gunther. Just spit it out and tell us if it has something to do with the General.”
“That’s a rather pointless request.”
Gunther readily explained,
“there’s no way I would reveal anything if Lord Rain was planning something. In other words, my answer remains the same regardless of whether there was any hidden meaning to my words from earlier or not.”
Having taken this into account——
The man nonchalantly continued after prefacing his next words,
“I have not heard anything from my master, nor am I hiding anything. I surmise that Lord Rain is at Cortecreas Castle around now……”
——Though Gazaram hadn’t been acquainted with the man for long.
Gazaram thought that, judging by his reply just now, Gunther really wasn’t a very straightforward man.
How should he put it—Gunther had very particular habits? But Shelfa wasn’t one to give up so readily either, as the matter had to do with Rain. She continued to stare into Gunther’s sullen visage and asked,
“……will I not be able to enjoy myself, even more so than now, if I don’t watch the tournament?”
Gazaram could not help himself but smile, as her question had been quite cleverly worded.
The look on Gunther’s face didn’t change, but he did look back meaningfully at Shelfa.
“You’re free to choose not to, of course. But, personally, I would recommend against that. I wouldn’t think it’s all too enjoyable to be holed up in the castle all the time, no?”
What Shelfa saw in Gunther’s curt answer, and what she thought about it afterwards, Gazaram couldn’t say for sure.
A moment later, however, the girl had regained some of her cheer.
“I’ve changed my mind. I’ll watch the entire tournament, right from the preliminaries!”
“……Is that so?”
Gunther replied, looking as though he couldn’t have cared less.
Incidentally, Shelfa never forgot about the “ambitious young man” she had an audience with today, and the young man in question, too, kept the beautiful girl ruler deep in the trenches of his memory.
And, Shelfa would end up having to hear his name again in the not too distant future……
The registration period for the martial arts tournament ended and dusk had fallen upon Lydia.
Three men had their heads pressed together in secret talks in a corner of a desolate bar as the night chill settled in.
The largest and hairiest of the three —a middle aged man— spoke to his elderly peer, who was tilting his glass from side to side.
“There’s no mistake, right, Kevin? Rain’s not in the capital?”
“You two followed them partway too, did you not? I’m sure of it!”
The old man named Kevin appeared to be in a bad mood. He continued,
“have you forgotten that I’m a seasoned rune master? It’s easy enough for me to confirm that he’s not in the capital even if I don’t tail him on foot.”
“But he’s more skilled than we ever anticipated. We had no choice but to accept that after watching his battle with the Joe Lamberck. Do you have any proof that this isn’t a trap?”
“You just don’t get it, do you……? Listen up, I’ve had a magical trace on him ever since he left Galfort’s gates. There isn’t even a chance that he’s deceived me. Take a look for yourself.”
Kevin chanted a quiet spell and projected an image from his memory with Magic Vision. A miniature figure of Rain and about ten or so of his men, including the aide named Senoa, was projected on top of the table. The image was translucent, but was so very vivid that there was no mistaking Rain’s identity.
It was definitely Rain on his white horse at the head of the line.
A daring expression alighted his virile countenance. On top of that, a barely-visible brazen smile was carved on the edges of his lips. It was the very definition of the face of a man who knew no fear.
Kevin quickly erased the projection, as though to avoid prying eyes.
“This was back when he was on the highway, and it’s just as you saw. I “watched” him arrive safely at Cortecreas Castle too.”
“You could’ve just attacked him en route like we originally planned if it worried you so much,”
said Lester, who finally raised up his plump head after having been single-mindedly absorbed in his meal.
“……It’s the Princess who’s the easier target in this case. There isn’t a warrior we should be wary of in her immediate vicinity now that Rain’s left. It won’t be a problem to change our plans around.”
Bajeel, the largest man present, replied as though he was talking to himself.
“I suppose. I second that motion if it means we can kill her easily. Lady Claire……I mean, the Lady Suzerain wanted results. By the way, I saw the aide named Senoa in that image from before, but I didn’t see the other two aides, Gazaram and Leni?
“I can’t look for them because of the barrier. But they were probably left at Galfort in order to guard the girl. It’s better than leaving the noble girl called Senoa behind, I’m sure. But still, how disappointing……”
Kevin let out a sigh and shook his head. He continued,
“She may be an enemy we need to defeat, but that Shelfa girl is one excessively lovely and sweet creature. And she’s probably an untouched virgin too. ……I wanted to have her for myself.”
“You really aren’t very picky, old man. It’s fine and all that you like your women, but are you sure you’ll really make yourself useful here?”
Lester laughed vulgarly with his mouth crammed full with chicken.
“I’ll be on active duty for life, you fool! Besides…”
“Save the rest for when we’re back in our rooms,”
Bajeel quickly cut them off.
He felt as though they’d digress for a while if he let them be. He continued,
“anyway, we’ll do as we decided on today. ——May we grant death to our enemies!”
Lester and Kevin sobered up and cheered in unison,
“Death to our enemies!”
The young man with the elaborate name Joshua Fortaal Hash had turned fifteen only just the other day.
One of his ancestors from a few generations past had married a noblewoman from a fallen house, and his lineage had been blessed with blond hair and blue eyes ever since. However, one look at their eyes made it clear that they weren’t pure-blooded nobles and their house wasn’t particularly affluent either. On an individual level, he was just another commoner —he couldn’t even be called a pseudo-noble.
That was why he was originally just Joshua, without either a middle or last name. His noble-like appearance had caused him to bullied when he was young, and nothing good had ever come from it.
But not everything about it had been bad, however. Joshua had grown to be a beautiful boy whose appearance made him stand out in a crowd. By the time he was ten, he had been so beautiful that the middle-aged women in the neighborhood sighed whenever he was around, and the girls his age were always desperate to catch his attention.
The boys his age were never his allies, of course, but Joshua was always quite sharp for his age and always maneuvered to be taken in by the strongest bully in the playground —in other words, the leader of the kid’s gangs.
His parents, who were humble merchants, had also had extremely high expectations of him and had sent him to “preschool,” something that commoners generally never attended. Normally, ordinary commoners were taught to read, write, and do basic arithmetic by their parents and were satisfied with just that. At most, they would attend a cram school that had opened up in the neighborhood, and even then, it was the exception to the rule and hardly ever happened.
It required a ridiculous sum of money for a mere commoner to attend school, which most didn’t have because they were doing their best just to survive.
Still, Joshua’s parents took great pains to raise money just as he’d wished.
And in turn, Joshua answered to their expectations.
He quickly distinguished himself at the school he enrolled in and earned top scores in both the civil and military arts. He had excelled to the point where people unsarcastically called him a “prodigy”. His only problem was that commones were commoners no matter how much effort he put into his studies and no matter how good his grades were, so he would never be appointed to an important office in Sunkwoll because of this.
The son of a certain noble, who was always number two because of Joshua, had once said out of spite,
“well, you can only be pigheaded like that for now.”
As vexing as it was, Mr. Eternally No. 2 had been completely right.
——It would all be over the moment he left school.
His excellent grades up until now wouldn’t matter. No matter how intelligent Joshua was, no matter how versed he was at seizing control over other people’s (mostly women’s) hearts —it was all utterly useless.
That was just how large the wall between the nobility and commoners was —in other words, it was insurmountable.
Joshua, who couldn’t stand to see his brilliant talent get buried into obscurity, planned to find a path to governmental service in another country——or at least he had resolved himself to do so.
However, Sunkwoll had entered into an unprecedentedly large transitional phase the very year he graduated.
The authoritarian nobles had revolted like the idiots they were, and, despite holding the absolute advantage by securing the main castle, they had been ruined due to their own incompetence.
While the aristocratic rule hadn’t died away completely, it had still been considerably weakened.
Are we now in an age where only merit matters——an age for me to shine!?
It needn’t be said that Joshua, being the ambitious young man he was, jumped at the chance as soon as the Sunkwoll royal family opened recruitment for civil and military officials to the general public.
His first steps inside Galfort Castle, and the grand audience chamber.
It had all been wondrous beyond his every expectation.
Fancy chandeliers were hanging down from up high above his head, and the marble floor he was standing on was so polished that it could have seriously been used in the lieu of a mirror.
Joshua, however, feigned indifference as he stood there, as if to express that he visited places like this all the time.
Eventually, a guard ordered, “Her Majesty will arrive soon. Fall back and await her arrival over there, boy,” so Joshua knelt down on the rectangular carpet before the throne. He lowered his head reverently and waited.
It was do or die.
His opponent was a girl ruler of a tender age. Now was the perfect time for him to make the best use of his looks and his ability to seize people’s hearts (though this was only effective on women).
A few minutes later, he heard the faint sound of a door opening coming from the private corridor near the throne.
He heard the whisper of rustling clothes and an even quieter set of footsteps. They belonged to two people.
Joshua knew that his opponent had reached the throne as a fragrant scent wafted over. After he waited for a little while longer, a graceful voice called out to him saying, “Please stand, Lord Joshua.”
Really, I can stand? ……You’ll let me talk while standing?
Evidently, he would be allowed to speak on equal terms with this girl—the current ruler of the kingdom.
I can do this! The exam and the interview were worth the effort!
His fighting spirit continued to burn brighter.
Joshua spoke in the humblest tone he could manage after he moistened his lips with his tongue.
“Yes, Your Majesty. Then, I’ll allow myself to do as you say.”
He stood up slowly and looked up at the throne that was seated a few steps above him.
……And then he froze up.
The girl ruler of rumors was seated on the throne right in front of him.
She wore a circlet lavished with precious jewels rested on her forehead in the lieu of a crown, and it was the only accessory that she had decorated herself with. She was also wearing some sort of necklace around her neck, but he could not tell what kind of article it was because the pendant was hidden underneath her clothes.
In any case, he felt as though decorative accessories were completely unnecessary for the girl before his eyes. It didn’t matter what she wore, because her personal beauty would eclipse even the most extravagant of accessories.
——This is what Joshua honestly felt.
It could be said that no preliminary investigation into the character of the girl ruler, Shelfa Iras Sunkwoll, would turn up much information.
This was because the previous king had hardly ever allowed her to leave the palace and didn’t even let her attend even some of the most prominent parties. There wasn’t much information to dig up to begin with.
The only things that could be learned about her was that, as per her political policies, she had a magnanimous and compassionate personality, and that all who had ever laid eyes upon her agreed——that she was one tremendous beauty.
Joshua readily concurred after just one look.
She wore a silk dress that clearly outlined her bodyline from her slender waist to her chest. Her heavily pleated and fluffy skirt was on the slightly shorter side and provided a full view of her white legs from the knees down.
And there was nothing that could possibly be criticized about her all-important face.
It was her large sapphire eyes that stood out the most and Joshua found that his attention had been forcibly drawn to them.
The organization of her facial structures, from the gentle curves of her eyebrows to her soft pink lips to her tiny chin, were so perfect that it was surreal. And yet, she didn’t have a cold atmosphere to her as would a sculpture, and the kindness in her countenance was a huge plus.
The only demerit Joshua could find was that she was a little younger than his age preference. Then again, Joshua was only fifteen to begin with, so their respective ages were still a good match. Besides……her slender waist, in which no excess flab could be found, and the soft bulging form of her breasts were not all that bad to look at.
Joshua was lost in admiration as he narrowed his eyes ever so slightly.
There was an inconspicuous man standing idly in the shadows next to her, but Joshua ignored him. He didn’t like men.
He broke out of his reverie as Shelfa called out to him.
……Her voice was lower than before and the kindness had vanished from it.
When Joshua looked back up in a hurry, he found that, as he’d expected, Shelfa was looking back at him with silent censure in her eyes. It was a look that all fastidious girls carried that was born out of their resolute rejection of a man’s perverted gaze.
Joshua quickly erased the look of appraisal, which had been so faint that most wouldn’t have even noticed it, from his eyes.
Then, he put his “angelic smile,” which he always used to save himself from unfavorable situations with, on full throttle as he looked up at Shelfa.
He purposefully smiled so that she would see his white teeth peeking out from his lips.
“……My apologies, Your Majesty. I lost myself for a moment because you are as beautiful as the rumors paint you to be. I was captivated by you, though I’m aware this was quite insolent of me. I beg for your forgiveness.”
And then, Shelfa’s expressions changed and she suddenly looked to him with feverish passion in her eyes.
Then, her cheeks blushed a bashful pink and she let out a small sigh.
——Or at least that was how it was supposed to go.
To Joshua’s genuine shock, her expression did not change for the better. If anything, her pretty eyebrows narrowed and she looked as though she had just heard something offensive to her ears.
After a curt nod, she replied,
“please don’t worry. I thought nothing of it.”
She looked incredibly vexed as she spoke. She continued,
“……I heard from the proctor in charge of the civil officials’ interview. He said that you possessed rare talent in the field, Lord Joshua. Our kingdom is currently in want of such talented people. I would be overjoyed if you would agree to lend us your strength.”
……Her voice was so monotonous that it was almost sad.
Her voice had been extraordinarily stiff and cold when she had called his name earlier, too.
Moreover, she was speaking quickly from start to finish, and it was all but obvious that she wanted to get his audience over with as soon as possible.
She did not steal glances at him or have admiration in her eyes as had all of the other girls Joshua had ever met in his life.
As unbelievable as it was, she did not seem to feel anything in particular even after looking at him.
There’s no way a girl wouldn’t feel anything special even after seeing me and my smile!
His wits and his looks, especially the latter, were Joshua’s greatest weapons.
He had absolute confidence in them. Even an experienced prostitute would fall for him readily once Joshua smiled at her.
Much less a naïve little girl!
No, it’s not too late yet. It’ll be easy enough to make her fall for me as long as I can become a close aide of hers. I’ll make her go in heat for me soon enough. Joshua began attempting to regain the points he had lost with Shelfa with his inability to accept the situation burning in his heart.
“If you’ll allow me, I’d like to speak of my humble thoughts. It has to do with an important problem in this kingdom, so could I please have a moment of your time?”
Shelfa paid close attention as the young man named Joshua explained his thoughts.
She had already grown uncomfortable with him due to the brief duration of time when she had felt his gaze seemingly slather all over her body.
But she would feel horrible if she let that determine her entire impression of him.
Incidentally, the “lady-killing smile” that Joshua had cast incessantly over at her direction had less of an effect on Shelfa than a courtesy smile from a goblin would have had.
It had the opposite of its intended effect, as, personally, Shelfa thought, ‘Why is he smiling so much when this is our first meeting and nothing funny has happened?”
Besides, the “type” of guy Shelfa preferred was——
Someone tall with black hair and black eyes with very manly facial features, who was on the leaner side but with supple musculature, and looked very good in black clothes.
Plus, you couldn’t leave out the part that she liked guys who looked better with a bold smile, not a courteous one. Or rather, she didn’t like guys unless they smiled boldly. In other words, even after subconsciously listing out the traits she liked, they really only applied to one certain individual—so much so that it was almost quite scary
And so, a “boring pretty boy in light clothing” like the likes of Joshua was completely outside the range of Shelfa’s tastes.
Or rather, the direction of her sense of aesthetics was forever culminated on “one particular man,” so she didn’t even think that Joshua was even all that good-looking to begin with. Any other woman would have told her that she was blind. After all, most women would rank Joshua higher in the looks department if he and that “one particular man” were put side by side.
As, while it might be possible to put this “one particular man” in the pretty boy category, no woman would typically say that he was attractive enough to mesmerize them.
It was only Shelfa (and a few others) who would.
In any event, Shelfa’s opinion of Joshua grew slightly better as she attentively listened him speak his thoughts about what policies the kingdom should take going forward. This was because everything Joshua was advocating for was either an inferior version of something Rain had already proposed or something that Rain had already covered.
……Why is that enough for you to rewrite your impression of him? is what most people would have asked, but Shelfa would have replied that Joshua must have been fairly impressive just to be able to propose something similar to what Rain had already proposed.
“——and these are my opinions regarding policy. Next, I’d like to propose something that has to do with the court…”
Joshua cleared his throat awkwardly and looked up at the throne. He continued,
“if at all possible……I’d like for my proposal to fall on your ears alone, Your Majesty. It’s something a little difficult to say.”
“My apologies. Lord Gunther is precious to me, so I will have to refuse.”
Shelfa sounded truly apologetic, but she refused firmly all the same.
“Is that so? ……Then I suppose it cannot be helped.”
So she hasn’t let her guard down for me yet, Joshua thought as he internally clicked his tongue.
Still, he didn’t let it show as he continued,
“the matter that I felt was difficult to approach has to do with the current state of the royal court. At the moment, the nobles who supported an authoritarian form of government have left the political stage, and things have become more open to public discussion. But power is always relative. I’m sure that you find it undesirable as well, Your Majesty, that another power has stepped up to replace the nobles who are gone. To put it bluntly, I feel as though Your Majesty needs to be more cautious.”
“……What do you mean specifically?”
Shelfa asked with a slight hint of wariness in her voice.
For better or worse, however, Joshua did not pick up on it.
“In other words, I wanted to point out that——civil officials aside, you don’t have a single soldier to your name, Your Majesty. Please think through this carefully. Currently, all of our kingdom’s military forces are being monopolized by two high generals. The high generals may be Your Majesty’s personal retainers, but the soldiers who serve them are not. Right now, you’re holding the reins to a colossal army all by yourself, Your Majesty! And those reins are terribly brittle and next to incapable of controlling what they’re attached to!”
He leaned in as though to emphasis how critical it was.
Shelfa was only four, five meters away, but Joshua nonchalantly sidled up closer yet.
“Please listen to me, Your Majesty. I am not saying that the high generals plotting against you. But there are times when even the most virtuous of men can’t help but take a step forward if they see the perfect chance. Do you understand?—I am maintaining that you should be strengthening your own power.”
“……In other words, you’re trying to say that I should be more wary about them, aren’t you?”
Joshua, who had been making free use of his silver tongue in perfect form, finally began to feel as though he should exercise some caution.
Shelfa’s tone had lowered considerably and her face was stiff……had he been too quick to proceed the conversation?
——He hesitated for a moment.
In this case, his only choices were to either pass his claim off as a joke or to assert his position even more strongly and pulverize her censure.
He also knew that it would be difficult to leave things off on an ambiguous note because the girl before him was so serious.
Joshua came to a decision and readied his resolve.
He had chosen to assert himself further.
He had decided to bet everything on the influence he had on women and on the speech he had planned out thoroughly beforehand.
……Which of the two high generals, who represented the Sunkwoll army, should he emphasize as the more dangerous?
Naturally, the savage man who was unrelated to Shelfa and who’s personality probably didn’t match up well with hers was the better choice.
In other words, the upstart Rain!
It was common knowledge even outside the noble circles that it wouldn’t be all that strange for him to betray the crown at any time.
The common people did not know just how devoted Shelfa was to Rain yet.
And this was what led to Joshua making a fatal mistake.
“My words may sound cheeky and lacking in courtesy. But please, Your Majesty, withhold your anger and think it through. Relying too much on any one particular retainer may cause him grow arrogant and do nefarious things. You wouldn’t even be able to complain if he stabbed you in the back.”
And that’s why you should take me in as a close aide. I’ll kick him out for you quickly enough!
——But he hid away his true feelings and carefully arranged it so that his face only seemed to contain genuine concern for her and licked his lips again while completely misguidedly thinking, ‘It’s working. She’s getting worried now!”
Just one more push!
“An honorable noble general will always hold his liege in esteem, even if blindly. His honor may even become a final deterrent if he ever were to awaken to greater ambitions. However, that won’t be the case for those who have lived their lives indifferent to any notions of loyalty. Allowing such individuals to hold so much authority would be like setting a wolf loose in the royal palace——”
Then, Shelfa suddenly interjected,
“please wait! By “such individuals”, are you referring to Rain?”
It was only then that Joshua discerned that he had made a grievous mistake.
Shelfa’s gaze was so fierce that he felt as though it was piercing through his body.
In truth, Shelfa, who had an otherwise refined and gentle personality, had flown into what could be called the greatest fit of rage she had ever experienced in her life and had gotten up from the throne before she knew what she was doing.
“……You were referring to Rain just now, weren’t you?”
Her second verification was no longer a question, but a declaration.
She’s angry……she’s really, really angry.
Why’s she getting so angry over a single upstart general like him?
Joshua was uncharacteristically flustered by how unexpected her reaction was.
“Your Majesty, I was only worried about Your Majesty’s safety——”
He followed after Shelfa, who had quickly begun walking toward the door to the private corridor near the steps to the throne, in a panic.
Shelfa turned around and looked to Joshua for a single moment.
At that very instant, a shudder made its way up from the bottom of Joshua’s feet to the top of his head as though he had been shocked by lightning.
Cold sweat began pouring down his back as he was assaulted by a mysterious sense of fear. He inadvertently froze up and stopped in his tracks.
The exposed parts of his skin had even broken out in goosebumps.
“——Do not approach me!”
A voice of rebuke that allowed for no reply was showered upon Joshua.
Her words had been so relentless and impactful that it made her seem like another person entirely.
What the……why the hell am I so intimidated?
He naturally gulped.
——Those eyes that looked to him, and that voice just now.
It had only lasted for a mere few seconds, but they had made him feel so hopelessly terrified that it felt as though he had been tossed naked before an ancient dragon.
To think that someone like me would tremble from the bottom of my heart, even if just for a second.
This……what is this?
In any event, Shelfa had long since turned back around and headed for the door as Joshua was busy standing around blankly. He was finally able to move again because of this and chased after her again.
However, the man in the black mantle stepped in between them before he could catch up. He had a hand on the sword at his waist.
“——I’ll have you stop there.”
“Step, step aside! I have to clear up this misunderstanding to matter what! My life depends on it!”
“Personally, I don’t think it was a misunderstanding at all. In any case, do not approach her so imprudently. I will be forced to carry out my duty elsewise.”
Joshua had no choice but to stop after clearly feeling the bloodlust in his otherwise indifferent tone.
This morose servant, who hadn’t stood out very much until just earlier, was now separating Shelfa from Joshua like a sturdy wall.
He……he’s pretty good!?
Joshua, who was blessed with excellent talent in swordplay as well, felt the intangible pressure coming off of the morose man and found himself unable to move.
“……I thought that only those ranked high general and above were allowed to be armed in the audience chamber?”
“You’re quite well-informed. However, I am here as the High General’s proxy.”
His opponent refused to budge.
Shelfa had made her exit as they quarreled. Only Joshua was left behind grinding his teeth in frustration.
He felt his vision get dyed red in anger. The doors to his new life of glory had vanished like mist because of a small miscalculation.
His regret changed into resent before long, and Joshua found himself glaring at the small door that Shelfa had exited through.
I won’t give up…… I’ll definitely make you mine.
In one sense, it could be said that Joshua was experiencing his first love. His audience had ended on a miserable note, but Joshua found himself truly desiring a woman for the first time in his life regardless.