Over ten days had passed since Gazaram had entered Rain's command.
No other suspicious individuals had appeared after the attack in the baths, and a stretch of generally peaceful days continued.
And, while today was the day before the coronation ceremony, it could be said that it would be infinitely busier than the day of the actual ceremony itself.
As for the reason why——most of the people of Sunkwoll did not know Princess Shelfa's name, much less what she looked like, so the day before the ceremony was to be "the new ruler's debut," as aptly named by Rain.
That being said, it wasn't a very elaborate affair, and Shelfa would simply dress up like a princess and circle the capital city, Lydia, in a carriage……such was a summary of the event.
Rain also informally emphasized the aim of "showing off Princess Shelfa's beauty to completely secure her popularity with the masses!"
It was an incredibly cunning and blunt objective, but, as Rain put it, "the people were more likely to support a lovely young girl, rather than a moody, smelly, middle-aged man (the previous king)." Of course, it needn't be said that it was Rain who had proposed the debut to begin with.
And thus, it was finally the morning of the debut, and Rain was seriously and dutifully——not attending to Shelfa's security at her side, and was instead scarfing down breakfast at the plaza that was used exclusively as a place to eat.
Shelfa was currently being waited upon by a large number of ladies-in-waiting and changing into a brand-new dress, so Rain would not have been allowed at her side anyway. Well, it wasn't as if Shelfa herself cared about Rain watching her change, but the people around her would have stirred up a fuss.
As such, Rain had filched a bottle of liqueur from the kitchens and was drinking it straight from the bottle as a means to treat himself after his meal during his short break.
Alcohol was especially good when drank in the morning.
However, Leni hurried over to him in the middle of his long-awaited drinking bout.
"Aah! You're drinking again~?!"
"Who cares, it's just a little! It's not like I can get drunk no matter how much I drink anyway, so there's nothing for you to nitpick about. ……Besides, why aren't you out guarding the Princess, huh?!"
When Rain scolded him back, Leni responded,
"oh, that's right! The Princess, she was calling for you, General. She wanted you come asap. She was really earnest about it too."
"——Seriously? I was with her just thirty minutes ago."
Leni smiled a small, wry smile and said,
"she sees you as her pillar of support. I'm sure she gets anxious when you're not with her. Can't blame her, since it's not like the uproar over the assassination attempt has died down yet."
He was right about that.
The lone prisoner that Rain had captured the other day had been found dead the very next morning. They could not figure out how or why. Guards had been patrolling the prisons, ensuring that no one had entered or left the area, but the prisoner had been dead by the time they had brought him food. It was made more unsettling by the fact that they could not figure out whether the man had committed suicide or if he had been murdered.
Worse, they had suddenly lost all contact with the agent that Rain had sent inside the assassin's guild from which the commission was thought to have originated from. They didn't even know if this was because the agent had been outed and silenced, which would make it all the more difficult to figure out who the client was.
Rain pushed his bottle aside and muttered to himself,
"well……it's only natural for her to get anxious. Still, and she can take all the time she needs, but that child should start expressing interest in other people besides me, yeah."
"Wait……caller her 'that child' is… She's technically our ruler, you know? Though I get what you mean. I'd thought that she'd break out of her shell by now, but she doesn't know any signs of doing so at all,"
Leni grumbled his misgivings and nonchalantly reached out for the bottle. However, Rain snatched it up first.
"Don't you touch this! You're already a lightweight as it is."
"……That's too bad. Well then, please do hurry. Her Highness is calling for you."
"I get it, I'll go. ……And here I wanted another two or~ three bottles…"
"Look here……you're in an enviable position where the Princess is clearly friendly to you, aren't you? I can barely get Yuri to eat lunch with me."
"What's this about Yuri? I don't give a crap about your love life,"
Rain readily brushed the matter aside and stood up in good grief. He had already been thinking about returning anyhow.
He took one last rueful look at the bottle on the table and headed for the room where the Princess was waiting for him.
"Has anything changed? ——Or so I say, but I'm sure nothing has. It hasn't been that long since I left,"
Rain asked Gazaram, who was standing in front of the room. The latter smiled in a truly old man-ish manner and teased back,
"there's nothing out of the ordinary, but the Princess is waiting for you, you know? She's been peeking out of her room for a while now, checking to see if you've arrived yet. But man~, our Princess here's one unbelievable beauty. If I was only thirty years younger, my heart would be all aflutter and I wouldn't be able to sleep at night because of it."
Senoa, who had been standing straight upright in attention, sharply knit her beautifully-shaped eyebrows and continued,
"there was a lot of unnecessary information in your report. You only need to answer the question that was asked of you."
She spoke strict and stuffy words with a strict and stuffy expression. It was likely that, as Rain had expected, she did not get along too well with Gazaram. Rain thought that it was a rather troublesome issue but brushed it aside, as if it had absolutely nothing to do with him.
But then again, Gazaram did not seem to be the slightest bit perturbed by Senoa's feelings and remained as jovial as ever.
"Now, don't be all stiff like that, sister. How about a drink together later? And then we can all be good friends and whatnot?"
Gazaram said, suddenly on full-throttle old man mode.
Leni stared at him as if he was saying, he's really brave…
Senoa was slightly taken aback at first, and then her expression turned more severe by the moment.
Rain butted in. He continued,
"tease her when I'm not around. Else, she'll get all loud and fussy again."
"General! Just what is that supposed to——"
"Well then, I'll trust you to keep up guard duty."
Rain opened the door without bothering to knock and took refuge inside the moment that Senoa whipped back her blonde hair and headed for him. He made sure to lock the door behind him. The voices outside became so quiet that he could barely believe it. The soundproofing of the walls of the royal palace were as amazing as he expected, unlike their cheaper and flimsier counterparts.
When he turned to face the front——
Shelfa had turned around halfway from the window with her eyes wide open, likely because she had been surprised by the sudden intrusion.
However, her openly wary expression soon gave way into a smile as she tottered over to him.
She immediately reached out for him. Her palms were covered with sweat, possibly because of how nervous she had been.
"Seeing as there aren't any ladies-in-waiting around, I'm guessing you're done changing?"
Shelfa dropped her gaze down to the fluffy carpet and nodded.
Her silk dress had a white motif with a bold cut at the chest and an airy, princess-style skirt. Rain didn't know who had designed the dress, but the tailor seemed to have gleaned that Shelfa looked good in white.
In fact, she would probably be rushed by a flood of stares the moment she stepped out into town……
Shelfa, however, did not look too well. Rain could tell that she was shivering through their interconnected hands.
"I'm afraid…… It's……my first time going out before such a large crowd of people."
"I see, now that you've mentioned it."
"Um……would it be possible to cancel the event by any chance?"
Shelfa's cheeks were slightly covered in sweat despite that it was winter. She was completely worked up, and was frightened on top of that. She looked like her knees would give away at any moment.
"Hey……c'mere for a second."
He pulled Shelfa, who was standing uptight like a doll, closer by the hand, brought over a chair, and sat her down in front of the luxurious stone fireplace.
"Today's debut is something that will definitely benefit you. I've explained this to you multiple times before, right?"
"That's…… But, I'd still rather not."
"I'll be following along right by your side. I'll be keeping up with your carriage on Kris, and I'll never be too far apart from you."
"You will, Rain?"
A little bit of vigor returned to her cheeks.
Shelfa squeezed Rain's hand as if it was her lifeline and turned her clear blue eyes to him.
"Will you accompany me until the very end?"
"Yeah, 'till the very end."
"……Will you hold my hand as well?"
"No, I think that'd probably be pushing it."
Rain smiled wryly and placed a hand upon Shelfa's head. He continued,
"but, I'll be right there, so you can look to me if it gets to be too much for you. Just like how you're staring at me now. Only if it helps you calm down, of course."
"It calms me to be by your side and look at you like this…… My heart was racing furiously until just a moment ago, but now it has slowed down considerably."
Shelfa brought Rain's hand, which she had been grasping tightly, up to her chest.
Whoa, it's soft……no, wait, that's not the point here.
"Hmm…… I guess the only difference is that I'll be a little farther away. Oh, and while we're at it, make sure you only do stuff like this when we're alone."
"Why is that?"
"For adult reasons."
He summed up his reasoning with that one line and said,
"anyways, you're feeling better now, right?"
"Please wait just a little longer. I feel like you're sharing your strength with me when I look at you like this……"
Shelfa stared at Rain with her large eyes open as wide as they could go, as if she was reluctant even to blink.
Her sincerity and purity did not hold even the slightest trace of doubt, and her heart seemed to calm down just by looking as Rain, just as she had claimed.
However, Rain, too, felt "something" from Shelfa.
He felt that her monochromic blue eyes, characteristic of the nobility, were faintly emitting light. Just as she gained an unseen power from Rain, Rain, too, felt some kind of "surge of power" from the princess before him.
It was not simply his imagination, but rather as if something that had been slumbering within the deepest depths had abruptly reared its head.
If it had been some ordinary warrior who had been looking into her eyes……they would have likely felt some sort of power that caused them to inadvertently begin to tremble.
Rather than being affected by Shelfa's mysterious power, however, Rain felt awkward and ashamed by her eyes, which her filled with her wholehearted trust for him, and purposefully looked away.
"Shall we head out on our date now?"
Shelfa, who had regained much of her cheer, tilted her head to the side.
"In other words, I'm saying that you should think about the matter from a perspective that's convenient to you, Little one. Forget about the mobs of people for now. Think of them like they're pumpkins or something. Just think that you're going on a date around the capital with me. You can just ignore the noise around you and pretend that we're the only people present."
"A date……with you, Rain?"
she said in an almost sacred tone, as if she was uttering the name of a god.
"Exactly. Just look at it that way. Or do you not want to go on a date with me?"
Shelfa shook her head so furiously no sooner than the words that left Rain's lips that Rain almost wanted to tell her that she didn't have to shake her head so hard.
"I……want to go on a date with you."
"Let's go on one someday. We can go whenever we want from now on. Press through today with that in mind."
Shelfa looked up at Rain with upturned eyes and a suddenly flushed face.
"Somehow, I don't feel afraid anymore."
"I see, that's great. ——Oh yeah, I'll give you this too."
Rain pulled out an aged silver coin from his pocket and pressed it into Shelfa's hand. It had unrecognizable letters engraved close together on its surface and hole had been punched through it to allow a chain to pass through and turn it into a necklace.
"Here, this is genuinely the last one. Or rather, there was only two to begin with. You might not need it anymore, but I'll give it to you just in case."
Shelfa rose from her seat as if she was being pulled away and leapt into Rain's chest after one look at the worn-out silver coin.
"Thank you so very much, Rain!"
"I'm happy……so very happy…… I'd been feeling uneasy about having used it ever since I did,"
Shelfa said with her arms wrapped tightly around Rain's back.
Naturally, Rain had his arms around Shelfa's back as well, and he wondered how a third wheel would see them if someone walked in on them. Well, many princesses were often married off in their teens, so it was entirely possible that the public might not view them in too strange of a light.
"……Here, I'll put it on for you. Ah, would a shabby coin not go along well with your current stunning get up?"
"No, it's alright. Please……put it on for me."
She lifted her head up ever so slightly and patiently waited.
As she wished, Rain took the magic coin back from her and put it on her slender neck as she watched.
"There, that'll do it. Put it under your clothes so it can't be seen."
Shelfa looked spellbound. She stared at the dingy coin that was placed around her neck as if it was a treasure of priceless value (though, it certainly was expensive).
Rain began to worry that she had completely forgotten about the event that was soon to commence.
"Also, there's actually still something else I wanted to talk about……"
Rain said, bringing up a topic that he had been putting off.
"It's about the guys who attacked you the other day —you know they haven't given up or anything yet, right?"
"……I don't want to say anything that'll make you too uneasy, but to be blunt, it'll be easy to target you today…… Or rather, if I was on the assassins' side, I'd definitely target you today."
"But you'll be with me, Rain, won't you?"
"I will, but……. That's not the point, I'm saying that I'm basically about to use you as bait. If I miss this chance, I won't be able to round them up all at once."
"But, when all things are said and done, all of this is for my sake, is it not?"
She smiled without a single complaint and continued,
"please don't let this worry you. I entrust everything that I am, including my life, to your judgement, Rain…… So please, do as you wish."
Hmph……Rain almost groaned out loud. There was an infinite amount of trust held within Shelfa's earnest eyes as she looked at him, which gave credit to her words.
"……Are you sure about saying something like that me? You might find yourself in a fix and regret it later."
Instead of replying, Shelfa silently drew nearer and held him again.
"I can see the feelings that you're hiding away, Rain. I won't ever regret it."
……There was nothing else he could say.
Preparations for the debut were already underway at the plaza just inside of the castle gates. The snow-white carriage, which was to be pulled by two white horses, was seated with a velvet sofa and lacked both a roof and windows.
It wasn't very spacious, but that wasn't a problem since Shelfa would be its only passenger. She would become the target of the people's attention simply by sitting there, so a "debut" was the perfect name for the event.
Rain's and Ralphus' mixed unit, which was in charge of escorting her, had already begun to gather around, and the area was overflowing with noise. The soldiers were chatting about as they liked because no one of the captain rank had arrived yet, so there was no one to censure them for idle chatter.
Yuri and Selphie were no exception and were chatting with one another as a means to kill time. Actually, as squires, they should not have been able to participate in the debut, but Yuri was a squire under Leni's, the general's aide's, charge and Selphie, though she had no official placement, was considered to be under Rain's care in one way or another, so both girls had been given special permission to participate.
In any case, they had been outfitted with a white uniform with leather armor on top. The reason that they were not equipped with armor was because they were not full-fledged knights yet and thus were not allowed to wear formal armor.
Still, Selphie aside, Yuri was happy because it was "much better this way."
To begin with, Yuri did not only see her participation in the event as a pain in the ass, but was rather indignant about it too because she felt that she had drawn "the short end of the stick." From Yuri's perspective, she would have much rather spent the day sleeping in her lodgings than attend the debut.
Yuri never stopped complaining between her messy bites into the bread, cheese, and wine the two of them had bought in the lieu of a proper breakfast.
Both girls were crouching in a corner and giving their undivided attention to appeasing their appetites, and they looked so unkept that their parents would have cried out loud if they had seen them. Though, this was a moot point since both girls had been orphaned long ago.
"Besides, it's not like she's a circus monkey or anything, so what's all~ this about a "debut"? Honestly, all of the General's plans are always so messed up!"
After complaining for a while about how she was called out for work so early in the morning, Yuri recapped all of her complaints and reached the above conclusion.
"Eh? I don't think so. Isn't Lord Rain doing his best for the Princess' sake?"
"You think? I don't really like publicity stunts like this. Wouldn't it have been better to implement actual policies to rack up public support instead of holding a show like this?"
Selphie carefully chewed the food in her mouth before she refuted,
"I don't think the publicity is all that bad. There's a need to show the people that "things will be different from now on" before anything else. It's only bad if you don't change things in accordance to what you said you would. But, I think that the Princess does really intend to change things…… And so does Lord Rain."
Yuri frowned, unable to give an immediate response, and nibbled on her bread for the time being to buy time. I tip my hat off to you, that was a pretty good point. In a small burst of frustration, she decided to go in for the kill.
"——By the way, and I'm changing up the topic here, why do you call the General "Lord Rain"? Don't tell me that it's for some cliched reason like you fell for him or something?"
Selphie surrendered readily, to Yuri's surprise. Her face immediately turned bright red and she began to write on the ground with her finger.
How could this be?! Yuri found herself exasperated.
"Look here. You're the one who'll suffer if you fall for someone like that. He's incredibly capricious in temperament. Besides, if you take out the fact that he's ridiculously strong, he's just braggart and nothing elsee."
"That's not true at all!"
What are you talking about?! Selphie seemed to add on as she opened her light green eyes, the same color as Yuri's, wide and gulped down her wine like a man. She had been mild-tempered and timid up until now, but she seemed to have been provoked into action.
"*exhale* Lord Rain looks so manly, he's very perceptive, and——"
Her words cut off there.
"And, isn't he really kind?"
Selphie began to scribble on the ground again.
Ah, she's beyond help, this one,
Yuri thought right off the bat. Then, she asked,
"Selphie, are you the type of person who falls in love easily by any chance?"
Selphie cried out as she sharply raised her head. Then, of all the things, she confessed,
"this is my first love, okay?! ——Wait, ahh!?"
After boldly asserting herself in a loud voice, she buried her head in her hands after realizing her blunder. She continued,
"ugh…… I was planning on keeping that a secrett."
"……That's impossible for you, Selphie. I mean, it was written all over your face."
Selphie blushed again after Yuri pointed this out, likely because she had already had an inkling of the issue herself, and drowned herself in wine. The event hadn't even begun yet, and she was already completely buzzed.
And she looks like some kind of well-to-do princess on the outside, too,
Yuri thought as she looked up and braced herself.
"Selphie, watch out!"
"Huh? K, kyaa!"
Selphie yelped as a horse stuck out its long neck right beside her. She hugged her bag close and stood up in a panic.
Yuri, on the other hand, was not all that surprised because she had experienced this before. Instead, she sullenly muttered, "you again, Kris?"
"Yep. General Rain's horse. He lets him run free for some reason, and he has a big attitude for a horse. He comes over re~al quick whenever people are eating. It's like he's messing around with us."
Selphie had stopped listening mid-way through Yuri's explanation.
She had been captivated by how Kris was a size larger than normal horses and was such a fine white horse with an abundant mane.
"Such a beautiful horsey……"
Her voice was becoming dangerous.
"……I don't really care, but give up on that "horsey.""
However, Selphie took no notice of her and reached out for the horse's mane, which looked enticing to the touch. Unfortunately, Kris shook his head and avoided her.
"Huh, what's wrong? I want to pet you……"
"Isn't it that? He'll probably let you touch him if you give him something to eat. He's probably saying, "I won't let you pet me for free,""
Yuri explained with a hand on her hip as Selphie laughed at her antics.
"I'm sure that's not it. But it's too bad. Even if I wanted to give him something, I only have some bread. I don't think horsies eat——"
Kris stole away the piece of bread that Selphie was waving around in her hand with astonishing speed. He raised his head (neck?) and gulped it down in just two bites. Afterwards, he listlessly waved his tail once and stared at Selphie……or at her bag of food, to be precise, from of the corner of his eye.
Yuri pointed this behavior out in a dry voice,
"he's saying, "won't you hurry up a give me more, huh?!""
Selphie staggered, confused. She continued,
"Y, Yuri, you can talk to horses?! And I never knew that horses ate bread……"
"Of course not! Oh, I mean that I can't talk to horses. The General talks to Kris pretty often, but don't lump me together with him! It's just that it's easy to understand what he wants, that's all."
"Okay, aand……what about eating bread?"
"That's a mystery. I don't know how, I think Kris is an omnivore. He doesn't eat fodder, though."
"He doesn't eat fodder, even though he's a horsey?"
Selphie asked while finally stroking Kris. "Apparently," Yuri answered curtly.
"Whoaa, he's kind of……cute!"
——Just what about this conversation made you think he's cute, huh?!
Yuri quipped back silently. She acknowledged that Kris was large, pure white, and was of a great breeding, but she didn't quite like the horse because he was rather cheeky. The horse eventually trotted away from Selphie's hands as Yuri watched on, exasperated.
Selphie then looked over to her for some reason, so Yuri helplessly explained Kris' actions.
"He's telling you to hand over more food instead of just petting him."
At Yuri's words, Selphie hastily pulled out cheese and pastries from her paper bag and offered it to the horse.
Kris devoured the food like a bottomless hole and soon enough, he had finished off everything that Selphie had on hand.
Not only that, but he had also drunk Selphie's wine.
When Selphie had poured her bottle of wine down Kris' throat to see if he would drink it, the horse had emptied the bottle. He had even neighed a little and was obviously in a good mood.
"You're so silly, Selphie. Why would you give him your entire breakfast?"
Yuri herself had eaten her own breakfast at the same speed as Kris had in order to ensure that she would lose none of it to the horse. She continued,
"he'll abandon you soon enough, now that he's eaten his fill. That's just the kind of ill-natured horse he is."
Yuri huffily looked the other way while laughing scornfully. She couldn't put up with this any longer.
——And just then.
Kris turned to Yuri and stuck out his sturdy teeth the moment that the girl had turned around whinnied as if he was making fun of her.
Selphie was surprised because the timing had been so perfect. It could not have been a mere coincidence.
When Selphie expressed her surprise by raising a hand to her lips, Kris met her gaze —and Selphie could declare with certainty that she wasn't simply seeing things— and winked.
"What is it? He'll get mad at you if you yell."
"That's not it! Right now, he just w, winked at me! And he was sticking his teeth out at you too!"
Selphie and Yuri, who had turned back around, stared hard at Kris and observed him.
However, unlike before, Kris was looking away with a distant look in his eyes.
It was as if he was saying, "I'm just an ordinary horse~."
……It's like he's playing stupid,
Selphie thought as Yuri shrugged.
"He's not doing anything?"
"No, but he really did earlier…"
"Argh, whatever. Isn't it fine as long as you get along with Kris? Look, it's the General and the Princess. It's time."
Just as Yuri said, the General, with his three aides in tow, was walking toward the carriage with the Princess.
They were bombarded by the stares of the knights who had gathered around, causing the Princess to falter in her steps. She stood frozen in place with her eyes cast down. Even Selphie could tell that she was nervous. She looked like she would curl up in a ball at any moment.
The aides followed after her like ladies-in-waiting and looked like they were trying to console her with words of encouragement. Nothing changed. Seeing this, General Rain himself stooped over and spoke to her. He spoke to her about two, no, three times. It appeared that his words were stupidly effective as the Princess, who looked like she was about to retreat back into the palace at once, looked up once more.
The General nodded at her with a smile, and the Princess began walking toward the carriage again. ……While looking at the General the entire time.
He probably had not said anything too out of the ordinary. General Rain had probably said some simple words of encouragement like the aides had. Only, the General's words were probably special to the Princess…… Selphie felt the same way, so it was easy for her to understand this.
Selphie's heart hurt.
But I won't lose! Selphie immediately regained her cheer. I should still have a chance…… I won't give up so easily! she thought as she caught up to Yuri, who had gone on ahead.
She locked eyes with Kris when she turned to her side.
And she could swear.
She definitely, definitely had not been seeing things.
Kris had winked at her again.
Shelfa was rather composed at the moment, likely due to the effect that she had secretly named, "the Rain effect."
No matter what anyone else said, the state of her feelings changed greatly depending on whether Rain was close by or not.
A countless number of knights, who all looked the same according to Shelfa's standards, were staring absentmindedly at her for some reason. She was even able to smile back at them.
Her heart jumped in her chest when a loud cheer arose from them. She had no idea what was going on. Had she made some kind of blunder?
Then, Rain rebuked them in a voice that carried well.
"Hey, are you guys a bunch of pubescent brats?! Quit stirring up a fuss just because the Princess smiled at you! And stop with the staring, you're staring way to hard!"
They reluctantly looked away. Though, there were still a few knights who glanced back at her every now and then.
Rain silently cast a cursory glance over his men. Something akin to an impalpable pressure was imbued within his gaze, and the impolite gazes eventually dropped away.
After confirming that all of the looking had stopped, Rain nimbly climbed atop of Kris. His line of sight rose to approach Shelfa's, causing the princess to look more than a little relieved.
She gently stroked Kris' neck with a gloved hand. She had been talking to Kris rather often as of late, and had become able to read the horse's expressions to a degree…… He was in an exceptionally good mood this morning.
"Fall in line!"
Gazaram, who had recently come under Rain's command, yelled in a raspy voice.
It hadn't been very long since his arrival, but he already acted more like a captain than either Leni and Senoa did.
She had had the impression that he was only "a scary person……" when he was first introduced, but Shelfa's evaluation of him had changed completely over the past several days.
One reason for this change was because Rain seemed to trust him deeply. Another was because Gazaram had surprisingly kind eyes.
This knight, who could be called elderly at this point, was similar to Rain in the sense that he was extremely friendly despite what his appearance may suggest (though perhaps this was rude of her to say).
Besides, he never stared at her like Leni did, so Shelfa's feelings about him were on a one-way track toward favorability. She was sensitive to people's gazes because so many people ogled at her on a constant basis. People who stared at her about as much as Leni did only bothered her a little, but most of the scrutinizers looked at her with "distasteful eyes," further fostering her dislike of people.
Still, Gazaram didn't look at her like that, so Shelfa was quick to classify him into her 'good people' category. Once, when she had told Rain about her personal classification system, Rain had told her, "you shouldn't judge people so easily," but she found it difficult to forsake her habit of many years.
Gunther appeared while Shelfa was watching Gazaram give orders. He was technically also a captain, and he was accompanied by his men today, which was a rare occurrence.
Several of his men were mages wearing black robes, a sight that was worthy of the attention and awe that it garnered.
Those who could learn magic had become exceedingly rare ever since the Daemon War.
Contrary to countries like Zarmine that proactively gathered rune masters, mages were extremely valuable in Sunkwoll, a kingdom that was second-rate in terms of national power.
To begin with, the fact that there were civilian rune masters in military employ was a secret in and of itself.
Ignoring the inquisitive looks he was getting, Gunther motioned for his men to wait and approached Rain on horseback.
"Lord Rain, I have a report."
"Yeah, what's up?"
Gunther whispered something in Rain's ear after casting a glance at his surroundings. Did he have a secret to share with Rain?
Shelfa immediately switched her interests over from Gazaram to Gunther and, while she knew that she was being improper, held her breath and tried to listen in. Unfortunately, she could not hear anything. Still, she could tell that other people had also taken interest in Rain and Gunther by the way that their surroundings had suddenly become quiet.
Eventually, Rain, who had been listening to Gunther's report without a word, twitched his eyebrows. It was rare for Rain of all people, who was always calm in any situation, to express his surprise. Just what on earth could have happened?
"……Are you sure?"
Rain whispered back.
"Yes. My men have identified them. I'm having my men standing by watching them silently for now…… How should I proceed?"
"Hm~mm…… I see…… They read through us."
Rain folded his arms while on top of Kris.
He looked over at Shelfa out of the corner of his eye while growling. He hastily looked away when she ardently looked back. ……She was finally starting to feel uneasy.
Rain remained deep in thought for several minutes even as he was bathed in the curious attention of a large crowd of people including Shelfa.
Then, he suddenly slapped his thigh.
"I've got it. Gunther, lend me your ear."
This time, Rain whispered something into Gunther's ear.
Shelfa……and everyone else, were almost writhing with curiosity about what they were talking about.
Upon hearing what Rain had to say, Gunther abruptly raised his eyebrows.
Then, in his ever-calm voice he asked,
"have you made your decision?"
"I wouldn't go that far. But laying down some groundwork beforehand is always the smarter option, no? Or are you opposed to it?"
Gunther replied immediately,
"I believe it is a good idea."
"I know, right? It'll be difficult……but you can do it, right?"
"Please leave it to me."
He swept back his mantle and bowed elegantly from atop his saddle. Then, Rain whispered into his ear again. This time, Shelfa caught a bit of the conversation.
"And, if you're successful, leave a scrap of paper behind. As for what to write on that piece of paper——"
Gunther nodded and listened to his orders with a heavy scowl…… Without moving a single eyebrow, he answered, "understood."
"Alright. Then, I'll leave the rest to you."
With a low bow, Gunther took his mages, whom he had brought all the way here, and disappeared off to somewhere. He left not towards the castle gates, but toward the back of the castle.
"Rain……um, what were you talking about?"
"It's better that you don't know for now. You'll know about it soon enough whether you want to or not."
It had not been Shelfa who had interposed with an objection. It had been the girl named Yuri, who had appeared nearby at some point. ……Along with the girl Shelfa had seen before at the exam.
"This doesn't even have anything to do with you! Quit trying to eavesdrop."
"Just hurry up and go back in line. Selphie, you too."
"Ye, yessir! Lord Rain!"
Rain looked back at Selphie with 'what?' written cleanly across his face. However, Shelfa was even more surprised than he was. She stared at the other girl relentlessly.
Her face is kind of red…… This person……could she…?
——Selphie's face was red because of the wine she had downed earlier, but, nonetheless, Shelfa's instincts were not wrong. Selphie noticed the princess' gaze and the two locked eyes.
Both girls looked at the other with extremely mixed feelings.
"……? Well, it's always a good thing to hold me in high esteem. Keep up the good work."
Rain, the person at the heart of the issue, seemed to think little of it as he wrapped the issue up and yelled at the somewhat unsatisfied soldiers around them,
"hey! Straighten up! We're gonna start a little early and head out right now! Gazaram, Leni, Senoa; are the three of you good to go?"
In the blink of an eye, Shelfa became unable to worry about the secret talk. The people around her were moving about in a hurry. They were running back to their respective captains, calling roll, and lining up in front of and behind the carriage as she watched.
The woman called Selphie and Rain's secret talk with Gunther temporarily vanished from Shelfa's mind. She no longer had the leeway to worry about them.
"Um, Rain? Lord Ralphus and his men aren't here yet?"
"Yes, I asked him, Gwen, and the rest to go somewhere else. I originally wanted to go myself, but it would be bad for me to leave your side, Princess."
"That's…… I would be very troubled if you were not here."
She wanted to know where "somewhere else" entailed, but Rain did not explain any further.
Well, that was fine.
Except, she was troubled that she had started to grow a little nervous again.
When she immediately turned to look at Rain, he leaned his upper body closer to her. Then, he whispered so that no one else could hear,
"C'mon, let's go on our date. ……Yeah?"
And with that, she immediately felt better.
A small smile slipped out of her in self-exasperation.
The people around her were making up a noisy fuss again, but this time she paid them no heed.
A date, a date with Rain……
she repeated over and over in her heart like a spell.
It's all right, I'm not scared anymore.
After all, Rain was right by her side.
Yes. And, what even is there to be afraid of? As long as Rain is with me, I am the happiest girl in the world.
"Is everyone lined up?! Alright, let's march!"
At Rain's command, the lines of soldiers in sparkling armor (although Rain alone was still in his usual black outfit) gracefully headed out the castle gates.