A flood of pitch-black armor continued to pour out from the castle.
The army was marching surprisingly quietly for its size, and there wasn’t even a hint of a whisper among its ranks. All that could be heard was the clopping of horse hooves against the stove pavement and the grating of armor chafing against armor.
The knights were wearing black armor from head to toe, including a black, pot-shaped helmet on their heads, and looked like an army composed of the King of Hades’, Varyus’, grim reapers.
Their faces were completely obscured when they wore their faceguards, and it became impossible to tell who was who. The white breaths escaping their helmets was the only sign that the army was indeed composed of the living.
Then again, they were still marching to utterly destroy their enemies —they were simply wielding lances instead of scythes. There weren’t all that different from grim reapers.
The knights’ master looked down upon them from his private chambers. There was no hint of emotion in his frozen eyes, and his bangs, which were so long they covered one of his eyes completely, were a vibrant silver.
……The hair of those who used magic frequently, whether they be human or daemon, usually turned silver for some reason or another as the years passed. It was generally known to be a side effect of using the source of magic —or as humans called it: mana.
And it was a fact that this man ——whose name was Leygur, had indeed been fighting for many long years.
And now, for the first time in the continent’s history, he, a daemon, was ruling over a group of humans. This had been true ever since he had first usurped the throne, of course, but the humans under his rule were aware of the fact as well now that he had declared his proclamation.
“I am a daemon, but I do not plan to change the policies by which I have been governing this country. My goals are to enrich this land and ultimately unite the entire continent. ……In other words, neither my means nor my methods will change. Leave this country in silence if you are displeased with my identity. I will simply meet you as yet another enemy on the battlefield one day.”
It was almost refreshing. It needn’t be said that Leygur’s proclamation plunged the kingdom into chaos. Most of her high generals revolted and the spot and were immediately struck down——and about a fifth of the knights serving the kingdom left after the proclamation had been made.
Surprisingly, however, the confusion was dying down among the people. They were confused and terrified immediately after the proclamation had been made, but things had settled down for the most part by now.
One reason for this was because nothing had happened after the proclamation had been made. Well, technically, there had been rumors of another official notice of war circling about the castle, but that was a common occurrence for a kingdom as strong as Zarmine.
Looking back, the reason why Zarmine boasted the greatest territory of any nation in the Northwest was because it had suffered the least losses during the Hegemonic War.
The Hegemonic War was said to have spread across every corner of the continent, but the main stage had been set in the Central Plains, and it was the kingdoms located in the Central Plains that had played the biggest roles. For better or for worse, the Hegemonic War had happened before Zarmine had been founded, and the daemons had not invaded the Northwest because it had simply been an empty frontier at the time. And so, the people in the Northwest were not as afraid of the daemons as were most others.
Moreover, all Leygur had done was to confess that he was a daemon —he had not begun a reign of terror. Rather, he had punished some outlaws who had been running rampant through the towns and had even rescued a foreign woman.
As an aside, Leygur had not planned for any of this to happen, but rumors of this coincidental matter had spread throughout the capital and greatly increased his popularity.
“I do not plan to change my ways.”
He had only judged the outlaws, just as he had promised.
Putting aside the way Zarmine treated the citizens of other nations, Leygur’s administration was unusually gentle to his people. Taxes were significantly lighter than what successive generations of kings before him had imposed, and he had spearheaded an unprecedented restoration of the kingdom’s public safety.
He was merciless to those who broke his laws, but his laws were not overly restrictive to the average citizen. They only really targeted crimes such as theft, murder, or arson……crimes that any average citizen would frown upon regardless. There were a few who wondered if the punishment that befell any criminals was a tad excessive, but most people agreed that this was still better than the alternative.
Leygur was particularly merciless when it came to punishing the nobility, but, ironically enough, this only served to increase the people’s trust in him. He did not make any special exceptions for anyone who broke his laws or gave anyone special treatment. In fact, any noble who broke his laws was punished more severely than the average civilian.
This had not been true of the king before Leygur.
The previous king had been sweet on the nobility, especially his relatives, and had been horrendously cold to the people. He had only seen civilians as a resource to be exploited. If they couldn’t pay their taxes, he would rip families apart and sell the women and children as slaves.
——But that nightmare was long over now.
Other countries might have feared him, but the people of Zarmine did not despise their new king. Rather, the populace supported him.
And the people were the first to show him their support.
In other words, no one had lost their mind after the king’s proclamation and everyone had gone about their everyday lives as per the norm —and tacitly, the people accepted their daemon king.
——A revolt was highly unlikely at this time.
Leygur oversaw the situation at hand and quickly acted in accordance to his plans. It had been twenty days since he had mobilized the kingdom for war.
Their main enemy this time around……was Fanooj, one of the kingdoms to the east.
But there was also yet another target they were planning to invade.
His two comrades bowed reverently, as if they had been waiting for the moment, when Leygur turned around to head back to his chambers. They were Dewy, who was wearing aristocratic garb as per usual, and Sera, who was wearing a glossy black dress cut from satin.
Incidentally, the large-framed Philander was also present, but he simply stood there in silence.
“We will direct the humans and head toward our enemies’ lands,”
said Dewy as his stroked his pointed beard, prompting Sera to smile and add on,
“I pray that you have high expectations of us, Lord Leygur.”
……Her voice was modest with a touch of flattery, a stark change from how she sounded when standing before her enemies. This was the norm, however, so no one was surprised for it.
“……I will watch over our state affairs for just a little while longer before joining you. I’ll trust you to take care of things until then.”
“Goodness, you’ll be coming personally, Lord Leygur……? I suppose I won’t be able to stop myself from getting excited, in that case.”
“Indeed. I have high expectations of you, Sera.”
“Yes! Oh, I mean, yes, my lord. Thank you!”
“Still, I cannot help but think that it would be faster to let them struggle amongst themselves,”
Dewy pointed out as he looked to Sera, who wore an intoxicated look on her face, out from the corner of his eye.
“No. We have enemies in this world who are stronger than even Joe Jervael was in the past. If we were to engage in such tactics, our enemies might use the same methods against us.”
“Did you participate in the last war, Lord Leygur?”
Sera asked in surprise.
“Yes and no. Our side withdrew the moment I tried to interfere. Just like what happened earlier,”
Leygur said as he smiled wryly.
Then, as though he was changing the topic, he continued,
“The only reason why I know so much about this world’s happenings is because I’ve done a lot of research after coming here. One must first know his enemies before fighting them.”
For once, Philander joined in on the conversation.
“——You said that we have enemies in this world who are stronger than even Joe Jervael. Do you mean to say that we have strong enemies here other than Rain?”
“Yes. You’ll know soon enough as for whom. But in any event, there is no doubt that Rain is our greatest obstacle. He is clearly at the center of our enemy forces——in other words, he is their core. I’d like for you to get to know more about him first.”
Then, Leygur looked toward the door leading to the next room over. A woman holding a stack of papers opened it and silently walked in, as though she had been signaled to do so.
She was undoubtably the woman whom Leygur had saved the other day —something that Dewy and the others were fully-aware of. And yet……Dewy and Sera could not help but gulp because she was so different from how she had been when they had first seen her.
“This wave of power……did you grant her power, Lord Leygur?”
Dewy stared at the woman, who was actually better described as a girl when it came to age. Dewy’s eyes were piqued with interest, but Sera’s, standing next to him, were extraordinarily cold.
“I did. Her name is Sofia.”
The girl with pitch-black hair and eyes bowed slightly to the other three when Leygur looked to her. Then, she handed over her papers to Dewy, who was standing closest to her.
“Read it, Dewy. I looked into that man’s battle records. Some of them are from when he used to be known as the Unknown Genius Swordsman.”
Philander walked up to Dewy upon hearing this. He peeked over to read the papers in Dewy’s hands. Sera, on the other hand, only peeked at them from where she was standing at Dewy’s side, perhaps out of deference to Leygur.
Dewy’s, Philander’s, and Sera’s faces grew colored with surprise as they skimmed through page after page.
“This man……not only has he slain a dragon, but he’s also fought fierce deities, soul eaters, and even berserkers that wandered out from the spirit world. Surely, whoever investigated him has made some sort of mistake?”
Dewy grounded, prompting Leygur to chuckle.
“No, this information is accurate. He has fought mythical beasts powerful enough to cross the wall between dimensions, and he’s even defeated them. He’s fought countless other powerful enemies as well. Don’t you find it strange that he’s still alive? He’s done well to grow so strong in just a decade or so.”
“Certainly. ——Still, we will kill him regardless.”
“I would like to fight this man,”
Philander suddenly interjected.
Everyone looked to him, but he didn’t seem to mind in particular as he smiled. Then, he added,
“I see, no wonder Noelle lost. He’s pretty good for a human.”
Dewy stopped flipping through the pages and openly scowled.
“I would ask that you don’t utter that woman’s name, as it would only serve to sour my mood!”
“Exactly. Just hearing her name makes me nauseous! The next time I see her, I’ll slaughter her and take her organs and——”
Sera continued after Dewy had spoken his piece before placing a hand at her lips when she realized what she was saying. She flushed red upon looking toward Leygur and lowered her head.
Leygur, however, did not so much as smile.
“I am sure that the opportunity you seek will come soon enough, Philander. I showed this to you all on purpose because I wanted to tell you not to make light of that man. Fight him with everything you have if you get the chance to fight him, and kill him. Let what happened to Noelle serve as a lesson. Don’t consider going easy on him even in your wildest dreams.”
“……Are you sure?”
Philander asked, perplexed. He continued,
“I thought that you wanted to defeat him yourself.”
But there was no warmth in his smile, and it was so wintry that those seeing it could not help but feel a chill run up their spines.
“If any of you are able to defeat him, then it simply means that is as far as that man goes. There would be no need for me to fight him personally.”
“……I see. That is something you would say,”
Philander said as he nodded with a wry smile.
He did not get angry at Leygur for being rude. And neither did Sera or Dewy.
After all, they all knew how strong Leygur was.
“We shall keep that in mind as well, Lord Leygur.”
Sera’s reply was even more radical.
“In that case, shall I go and kill him at once, Lord Leygur?”
“No, there is no need for that. He will come to us regardless. ……He plans to defeat me, after all.”
Then, unusually enough, Sera refuted him.
“But he’s far too cheeky for a mere human. Not only does he make light of us, but he also makes light of you, Lord Leygur. I would like to take the opportunity to teach him his rightful place. And Noelle too, of course! It would be too difficult to chase them down should they run——”
Leygur walked up to her slowly and touched her silver hair.
Sera opened her eyes wide, unable to stop herself, and stared back at him.
“We are trying to overtake an entire world. This is something that even we daemons, who are strong enough to cross over worlds, have yet to accomplish. ……Don’t you think it’s only natural that some enemies should stand in our way?”
Sera replied with a bla~nk face.
Anyone who was familiar with how extremely arrogant Sera normally was would have been surprised to see her now.
“For now, just carry out the tasks that have been given to you, Sera. Rain will not run……after all, he isn’t afraid of us daemons. He will come to settle his score with me without fail. He will try to stop me, and he will try to change the flow of history now that it has begun moving.”
Then, Leygur laughed again.
He seemed to be having fun.
“It is both his merit and his weakness. Trust me, Sera. That man will appear before us without fail.”
“How could I ever doubt you, Lord Leygur? I understand; I will wait only for that time to come.”
Leygur nodded slightly and turned around.
Sera reached out toward his back for a moment before putting her hand back down in a hurry.
Leygur then turned back to the three daemons and, characteristically of him, gave them a concise order. His order was so explicit that it would soon become the topic of conversation for every daemon under his command.
“Let us now begin…… We will make this entire world our own.”
Sera was the first to bow from her waist.
“——Only for you, Lord Leygur!”
Dewy bowed beside her.
“Please await the results of our battles.”
Only Philander nodded in silence.
——The rest of the world did not know yet.
But, now that Leygur had given his command, the Second Hegemonic War that would draw in the entire continent had begun in fact…… In other words, it was the outbreak of the Second Holy War.
There was something decisively different about this war than the first.
In the past, the daemon army had been composed entirely of daemons, though of the lowest classes, but the Zarmine army under Leygur’s command was comprised of mostly humans.
Put another way, the people of Zarmine had completely accepted the daemon race, including Leygur, for the first time in history.
Sofia finally stopped being nervous only after the other three daemons had left. Philander and Dewy were one thing, but she could not help but be extremely bothered by the way that Sera had looked at her.
After all, Sera had glared at her with a pressure that suggested that the daemon would kill her if she showed even the slightest of openings. It was impossible for Sofia to not be concerned.
“You no longer have anything to fear……I thought I told you that already,”
Leygur said curtly.
He had long since seen through the fear that had sprouted in Sofia’s heart. He continued,
“Your power is greater now than even that of Sera’s. This is only natural, as I personally shared my own power with you.”
“……It hasn’t hit home for me yet, Master.”
“And yet it is the truth. You are no longer human. You have power equal to that of an upper-class daemon, and you will live for eternity alongside me.”
“For as long as you live, yes?”
“I will not die that readily. And even if I died, you would simply go back to being human again…… Are you dissatisfied?”
Leygur stood before Sofia and placed his hand on her chin. He gently lifted her head.
He was neither scolding her nor being affectionate to her, but was simply trying to look her in the eyes because she had been facing down. ……Leygur was the type of man to be direct in everything.
Sofia made a conscious effort to look her master in the eyes and smiled.
“Not at all. My fate was to either starve to death or be sold off by another. I am grateful to you, Master —never dissatisfied.”
“You chose your own destiny, Sofia. I simply answered to your choice.”
“……May I ask you something?”
Sofia gulped a little.
She forced her quivering frame to still, and she stared into Leygur’s pitch-black eyes from up close.
“Master, is conquering this world truly what you wish for?”
“To conquer every human and every territory in these lands —that is what I must do.”
Then, as if he suddenly remembered something, he added,
“though there are always those who will oppose me no matter what the circumstances are.”
The edges of his lips curled up into a smile as though he had found something funny. It vanished in an instant, but there was no doubting that he had smiled. He continued,
“……the entire kingdom knows what my wishes are. So why are you asking? Did you think that conquest wasn’t my goal? If so, then you are mistaken.”
“I don’t know……but seeing the way you rule this kingdom makes me wonder if invading other kingdoms isn’t necessarily your objective, Master.”
“You say the strangest things. Did I not just dispatch an army to invade others? I have done nothing to warrant your doubts.”
Leygur softened his tone after a moment of silence.
“Well, whatever. The others do not know, but you, at the very least, have the right to ask.”
Sofia, whose gaze had been pointed down, looked back up again when she heard Leygur’s indifferent reply. He continued,
“……I don’t know what is it that you were expecting, but I was simply telling you where you stand.”
Leygur let go of Sofia’s chin and whipped his mantle as he turned around.
“How long are you planning to eavesdrop? I was planning to wait until you announced yourself, but I will kill you where you stand if I find you too brazen.”
Sofia looked around the room in surprise. But she didn’t find anyone else there. The room, catering to Leygur’s tastes, was furnished with only basic furniture. There was nowhere to hide.
But……Sofia had jumped to conclusions. A slender arm appeared out of thin air, as if it an invisible door had suddenly opened, and the rest of the body followed after it.
A boy who looked to be of a similar age to Sofia “appeared” in the room a moment later.
He was carrying something that looked like long rod, and he bowed before the two of them.
“You found me out too? Goodness, I’m starting to lose confidence in myself as a warrior as of late. ……It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Leygur. My name is…”
But Leygur cut him off.
“It’s Mercure, no? The man whom Rain met in the abandoned mine.”1
The boy with a handsome and kindly face opened his eyes wide in surprise, but he quickly smiled it off.
“I see —you’ve been looking into Mr. Rain just as he’s been looking into you. News travels fast.”
“I don’t look down on those whom I’ve acknowledged as my enemy. That being said, I know nothing about you save for your name. ……What business do you have with me?”
“It’s not exactly business, but……”
Mercure was still smiling. He continued,
“I simply wanted to say hello. I introduced myself this way to Mr. Rain too, but I am a self-proclaimed “Ally of Justice”. As such, I’ve taken a great interest in you. After all——”
The smile suddenly vanished from the boy’s face.
His voice changed to a serious whisper.
“You are someone who will hold the world in your hands one day.”
Leygur’s reply was curt, just as Sofia had quietly expected it to be. He continued,
“you are wrong on two counts. First, if you were truly an ally of justice as you say you are, then you should have cut me down long before you bothered to introduce yourself. And second, you are only arrogant if you truly think the future is set in stone.”
“……Even if I have the power to see the future?”
A truly contemptuous sneer alighted Leygur’s face.
“You would not have needed to come out of your way to visit me if you could truly see the future. Or, perhaps, is the future you see so fickle that it can be changed by the most trivial of things? It would be laughably presumptuous of you to even call your power foresight, if that’s the case.”
“Ahh, you’re just what I expected you to be. And now that I think about it, Mr. Rain told me this too.”
Mercure sighed and continued,
“he said that you aren’t the type of man to be moved by the words of others.”
“He’s read me well. Not that he’s in any position to say that about someone else, of course.”
Leygur chuckled from deep within this throat.
Sofia was a little surprised to hear him laughing audibly. Generally, his lips only slackened a little when he smiled. She stared deeply into Leygur’s profile……but her master had already long since stopped laughing by then.
“Let me say this first. Your warnings are wasted on me. I don’t mind taking you in if you’re offering to be my subordinate, but you’d do well to leave if that’s not the case.”
“All right. I’d prefer not to clash blades with you like I did with Mr. Rain last time. But please at least let me say this.”
Leygur was expressionless as Mercure earnestly continued,
“I don’t plan to get in the way of your fighting, but please do your best to keep casualties to a minimum along the way…… I’m sure it’ll be more than possible for you to at least try.”
“I thought I told you your warnings are wasted on me. And you seem to have misunderstood. The path I follow is but a simple one. I will defeat every enemy who stands in my way, and I was obtain everything. That is all there is to it. There is no form of war simpler than this.”
Leygur placed a hand on the sword at his waist once his had given his response. He clearly indicated that he no longer thought any further discussion was necessary. Mercure, too, held up his rod diagonally and braced himself……but that was all he did.
Then, his figure seemed to fade away as Sofia watched.
“Very well. I am still just a third party at the moment, so I will abstain from intervening. But that doesn’t mean that I will always stay like this. I will probably have to take a side and fight once I have made my resolve…….”
The words seemed to melt away as he finished, and Mercure himself was no longer visible.
Sofia, who had been tensed up until then, sighed out deeply in relief. She had been nervous because she didn’t know if and when a fight would break out.
She never thought that Leygur would lose, of course, but she had been worried about whether she could act properly as his servant when push came to shove. To put it plainly, she had been worried about whether she could fight properly if she had to.
After all, Sofia had never raised her hand against another before in her life. She hid away her anxieties as she looked to Leygur.
“Who was that, Master?”
“He wasn’t a daemon. In all likelihood, he was probably an Outsider from another world.”
“An……Outsider? But before that, I’ve never heard anything about other worlds existing?”
“As I told you earlier, you have the right to ask.”
Leygur slowly began his explanation as he looked back, as always, at Sofia with unwavering eyes.
He told her the astonishing truth about the world.
Thanks to Rain’s intelligence operations, Sunkwoll had already heard that Leygur had mobilized his army the very day he had given the order.
But they wouldn’t know where the army was headed until Leygur actually dispatched it. Leygur had not even informed his subordinates who their next enemy was to be.
At Sunkwoll, the army had been ordered to mobilize under Shelfa’s name because they assumed that their enemies would march south——only to be let down when news told them otherwise twenty days later. Zarmine’s main army was apparently heading east.
Most people, save for a few, relaxed and an air of relief filled the kingdom when the news had reached their ears. There were several smaller countries east of Zarmine, but in any case, it looked like the battle would have little to do with them for now.
But, in the meanwhile, Rain had secretly counseled Shelfa,
“don’t cancel the mobilization order. We’ll probably need the army anyway soon enough.”
Naturally, Shelfa trusted what Rain had told her. She heeded his counsel and did not cancel the mobilization order.
Rain’s predictions came true the very next day.
An army had been organized in the lands that had once been Lunan, their arch-nemesis, and it had suddenly begun marching south. According to the intel Sunkwoll had received, the army was composed of Lunan’s former generals.
They had apparently taken up on Zarmine’s offer for support and rallied. Rain and Ralphus aside, the knights of Sunkwoll were furious to learn about it.
“What dastardly knaves! Zarmine is their enemy who ruined their kingdom, and yet they shamelessly became as their dogs! How dare they think they can simply show up before us!”
And, to everyone’s indignation, Sunkwoll was pulled into the flames of war yet again.
Incidentally, it was decided that Rain would be the one to march north and confront the enemy army. This was because Rain had strongly asserted, “It would be best to leave some soldiers behind at the capital instead of moving the entire army.”
When Shelfa asked why, Rain had answered thusly with a troubled look on his face.
“If I was Leygur, I would attack multiple places at once. It’s the most effective way to get things done since he has more than enough soldiers for it. He’s already fighting a two-front war, but there’s always the chance that he might increase his number of targets. We need to keep this in mind when we make our move.”
Ralphus agreed, and Shelfa naturally adopted Rain’s idea as well. Though it wasn’t as though she had blindly accepted his ideas for what they were, as, when Rain had frivolously said, “I’m gonna go clean up Lunan real quick, so you stay home and hold down fort here —thanks!” she replied at the speed of light and said,
……A long and lengthy discussion followed, and it was decided that Shelfa would accompany him because Rain had ultimately caved.
It was normally one of Shelfa’s virtues that she was always humble and listened to what others had to say, but she tended to exercise her selfishness as a ruler whenever things had to do with Rain.
It was the night before they were scheduled to leave the capital, and, as could be expected, Shelfa was about to go and search for Rain.
She always knew where Rain was when he was in the castle……or she was supposed to, but she would lose track of his presence completely from time to time. Even Shelfa understood that this was likely because Rain himself was erasing his presence. But she hadn’t been able to see him as of late, in part due to the chaos before the war, and Shelfa was feeling terribly lonely.
She was able to speak with him during war counsels, of course, but Shelfa didn’t count it when Rain had to speak courteously to her.
If he’s erasing his presence on purpose, then Rain must not want me to disturb him right now——Shelfa understood this. She understood this, but she was already at the limits of her patience, and so she told herself, “If I can’t sense his presence, then I’ll simply look for him in person,” as she left her chambers.
But even Shelfa couldn’t help but stop in her tracks when she saw a familiar face at the other end of the hallway as soon as she stepped out.
She stared at the girl wearing a maid’s uniform.
“Your Highness! I mean, Your Majesty!”
It was undoubtedly Riella, who had fled Galfort with Shelfa last year and accompanied her for a part of the journal to Astal, who joyfully scuffled over in high spirits.
“Your Majesty! Thank goodness……I’m so glad you’re safe.”
Tears were falling from Riella’s eyes as though time had wound back to the day they had parted. She had run over to Shelfa as if she was running in for a hug, but she just barely managed to hold herself back at the last moment.
“Miss Riella, I thought you had returned home——”
“I did! I was home. It was all thanks to you, Your Majesty……I went straight back home when you dropped me off at the entrance to my village that day. And I’ve been at home ever since.”
A beat later, she grin~ned and continued,
“I came back because I received an invitation that I am very grateful for, though I was a little embarrassed to accept it!
“……Um, by invitation, you mean…?”
“One of the Lord High General’s men came all the way to my village and asked me if I wanted to return to the castle and wait on Your Majesty again. I thought I could never show myself before you again, Your High——I mean, Your Majesty, because I felt like I had escaped alone without you back then, but I jumped at the invitation that was extended to me.”
“Hold on a moment please.”
Shelfa interrupted Riella’s guilt-filled confession in a hurry. She continued,
“by High General……which one are you referring to?”
“The messenger came under General Rain’s name. Your Majesty doesn’t have many friends your age, so the Lord High General wanted me to stay with you again if I could——or so the messenger said. I’d thought I’d never be able to return to you again, so I was so happy to accept the invitation!”
“Goodness……so Rain did that.”
Shelfa placed a hand against her cheek as she smiled radiantly. She was happy to see Riella again, of course, but she was overjoyed for the warm consideration that Rain had shown for her. He did all that just for me——she thought.
Riella misread Shelfa’s smile and smiled along.
“I’m so glad to see you again too, Your Majesty.”
“T, thank you…… Umm…”
Shelfa hesitated for a moment before gesturing toward the door she had just exited from. She continued,
“It won’t do to keep talking out here in the hallway like this…… Please, come inside.”
Riella looked truly happy.
——I suppose it cannot be helped; I’ll have to look for Rain later.
Even Shelfa, who always put Rain as her first and foremost priority, could not ignore Riella’s blissful smile.
As befitting of a maid, Riella took the initiative and began preparing tea for Shelfa even though she had been invited inside as a guest. Shelfa helped too, of course, and the two of them set the table together. Riella told Shelfa that she needn’t bother, but it weighed on Shelfa’s heart to let others do everything for her.
That aside, Shelfa noticed that Riella was sneaking glances at her as they busily prepared for tea and tilted her head to the side.
“……Um, is there something on my face?”
“No. It’s nothing like that at all! It’s just that your skin is as white as fresh snow……and……well, you’re wonderful.”
Huh? Shelfa thought as she blinked her sapphire eyes.
She would hear similar things from high-ranking civil or military officials from time to time as they rubbed their hands together, but they were all generally men. Now that she thought about it, she wasn’t used to having her appearance praised by another woman.
The court ladies who waited on Shelfa hardly ever spoke to her out of deference to the difference in their respective stations. But Shelfa often overhead them gossiping boisterously amongst themselves. Shelfa had better hearing than people realized, and she could hear all sorts of things even when people thought she couldn’t. That being said, all the court ladies gossiped about were men whom Shelfa had little interest in or pointless ghost stories.
Riella was the only person whom she had been able to properly converse with. But the war had broken out just as they had started to get close.
“But……I’d say you’re far more beautiful than I am, Miss Riella.”
Riella nearly dropped the teapot on the table when Shelfa seriously expressed her honest opinion.
“P, please don’t joke around like that! Your Majesty, you’re so much more…”
Riella was about to go on, but she opened her eyes wide upon realizing that Shelfa was being serious. She instead continued,
“……You’re being serious, and not just trying to be nice, aren’t you, Your Majesty?”
“Yes, of course…… I have so little confidence in my appearance…… If only I were prettier——”
Then maybe Rain would surely spend time with me more often——Shelfa swallowed her words just before they came out.
But even what she had said still brought their own troubles, and a sour look crossed Riella’s face.
“I would have been suspicious of you for saying that if you weren’t you, Your Majesty…… But you’re being completely honest……Sigh.”
She even sighed at the end.
She looked incredibly vexed for some reason as she looked back at Shelfa.
“I’ve always admired you ever since that day, Your Majesty. You’re so very beautiful, and you’re able to make the best decisions when push comes to shove. And, and……you’re just so very beautiful,”
Riella repeated herself as if she was enchanted as she smiled bashfully.
“I nearly ran up to hug you when I saw you in the hallway, Your Majesty. I’d missed you so much, and……I was so happy to see you again.”
Riella sighed yet again.
Her confession sounded so outrageously lonely that Shelfa uncharacteristically proposed,
“um……I don’t mind reenacting our greeting and embracing you, if you’d like? Unless you don’t want to, that is?”
Riella did not decline.
“Huh? You don’t mind?! But it’s so discourteous. How could I, a commoner, possibly hug Your Majesty?”
Or so Riella said, but she was ever so radiantly happy for it. Her black eyes were sparkling. Shelfa thought, ‘Miss Riella must truly love greeting people,’ to herself as she smiled back.
“Status doesn’t matter when all we’re doing is greeting one another.”
Shelfa smiled gently and spread open her arms. She continued,
“I would have refused even if the heavens and the earth split open had you been a man, but you’re a woman, Miss Riella. I don’t mind so long as you don’t mind.”
“Th, then……p, please allow me to do as you say……”
Riella looked nervous as she walked up to Shelfa. She nearly tripped along the way.
Shelfa walked forward as well and pulled Riella into an embrace. She was still a little hesitant, as Shelfa was shy even if Riella was the one maid whom she actually got along with, but she still hugged the other girl firmly nevertheless.
Shelfa was ever so slightly the taller of the two, so she ended up wrapping her frame around Riella’s.
“Welcome back, Miss Riella. I am so happy to see you again.”
“……Sob. You’re being……much too kind.”
Riella’s face was filled with tears of joy as she looked up.
To think that she would be so overjoyed just to share a ‘greeting’ with me.
Even Shelfa could not help but cheer up a little. Now that she thought about it, Riella was the only person whom she’d ever embraced other than Rain. The last time she had hugged someone who wasn’t Rain was when she had held Riella while hiding in the castle during Zarmine’s invasion.
“Now, more importantly. We went out of our way to make ourselves some tea, so we should drink it before it gets cold.”
“Yes, Your Majesty!”
I should share news about this with Rain after tea…… I’ll have to thank him for inviting Miss Riella back.
——Was what Shelfa had immediately decided upon.
But Riella was so moved that she did not part from Shelfa until much later into the night.