“I still don’t get it. How did you end up with someone like her?”
We were now back inside the tavern, eating together on the very same corner table Nicole and Fiora used a while ago. Fiora and her maid weren’t around however. They had retired back to their own room, perhaps taking their own meal there.
After making sure that no one was eavesdropping, we began our conversation.
“I suppose I can tell you a little, on how we first met,” Nicole replied, as she cut a small portion of the beef jerky on her plate with a knife and fork and put it inside her mouth.
“Please do,” I replied, taking in my own beef jerky but using my hand instead. “This whole thing really confuses me, you know.”
“I have told you before that I was a graduate from the Milicis Academy to the northwest of here, right? Well, it was there that I met her.” Nicole began her tale.
“So she went into the same school as you? That’s odd. If she’s really an Imperial Princess, shouldn’t she be educated in a more—I dunno—exclusive and sophisticated place that someone like you, no offense, shouldn’t be able to even come to let alone enroll in?”
She replied with a small smile. “That’s quite observant of you, Hugo. And indeed, there is something odd going on. The academy I went in was indeed a mixed facility where children of nobles as well as those training to become knights would attend, not just a training facility for us priests and priestesses. However, for an Imperial Princess to enroll in such a place is indeed an oddity. There is already the Royal Academy at the Capital, where the sons and daughters of the most powerful and influential aristocrats would enroll in, and that’s where her elder brother and sister enrolled. But she alone was sent to my academy, far away from the Central Region. Can you guess why, Hugo?” she asked me.
“Hmm,” I folded my hands. “If I have to guess, then it’s because for some reason, she’s deemed more lower ranked than her brother and sister. Or perhaps it can also be because it would be dangerous for her to study so close to the capital. How long has this whole assasination thing been going on anyways?”
“Very good. I’m surprised, Hugo. It’s like you already knew a thing or two about court intrigues and the like.”
Ha, I only learned them from all the novels I’ve read.
“Your second assessment is correct. There has been a number of attempts on her life, ever since she was little.”
“Seriously? That’s horrible!”
“Indeed it is. It’s one of the main reasons why her personality ends up that way, and why she took up the sword in the first place. Knowing that there are people after her own life, instead of cowering, she decided to face them head on with her own strength, which was why she trained herself hard everyday in the way of the sword.”
“Shouldn’t the Emperor do something about it?”
“Ah yes, the Emperor.” Her smile turned bitter. “…No, I don’t think I should be the one telling you this.”
“Aw, come on! You can’t just leave me with a cliffhanger like this!” I protested.
“No.” She shook her head. “It’s a highly guarded secret and I believe you should ask Fiora herself if you really want to know.”
“As if she would ever tell me.” I huffed, before drinking the coffee in front of me. “…Hold on. Isn’t that odd though?”
“I mean, she’s the youngest princess, right? She shouldn’t have any claim to the throne in the first place. If it were really her elder siblings who wanted her gone, then their motives wouldn’t add up.”
“Ah, that.” She took a sip of her coffee. “That’s yet another secret I am not at liberty to discuss.”
Gah, this is seriously starting to get aggravating.
She didn’t say anything to my upset expression. She simply returned to her usual smile before continuing her story.
“So, we were both enrolled there, which her enrolling later than I was. It didn’t take long until the story spread, that the Second Imperial Princess had enrolled in the academy. She, of course, got the most royal treatment imaginable. She had a number of butlers and maids with her, even though you were only allowed to bring one servant with you if you were a noble, and she got a room far bigger than any of the other students.”
“Heh, I can just imagine that,” I replied, envisioning her sitting in a large, fancy room, ordering her maids to dress her up and her butlers to do her homework like a true bratty ojou-sama. “So how did you meet her? You can’t be in the same class right since she enrolled later than you?”
“That’s right. I could only see her from afar, being surrounded by other nobles who wanted to be acquainted to her. It would be extremely useful in the game of aristocracy, to have an Imperial Princess as your ally after all.”
Politics… nothing good ever comes out from it.
“But then, after a certain incident, it all changed.”
“A certain incident?”
“It was, sadly, yet another attempt on her life. Poisoning, to be exact. After participating in a tea party, she suddenly got sick. It was soon clear that it wasn’t a simple fever, and that she was going to die very soon if left untreated.”
“Let me guess.” I interrupted her. “You cured her, didn’t you?”
“Correct.” She smiled. “I had to thank the Heavenly Dragon to align our fates so perfectly that I was already able to perform Master-level Detoxification magic when it happened. Lady Miriam was out doing her Grand Priestess duties so no one else could do it.”
“No one?” I raised my eyebrows. “Not even the teachers? And doesn’t she have her own healer?”
“Some of our teachers are indeed High Priests and Priestesses, but the only Master-level Holy Magic they knew was either the usual healing spell or attack spells. No one knew the detoxification magic needed. It’s the same with her servants.”
“And so, she recruited you to be her servant,” I replied, folding my hand as I leaned back on my chair. “Makes sense. A cleric of your caliber would certainly be very useful to her.”
Haah, she’s totally being used by her, isn’t she? Well, I just hope she pays her well.
“I still don’t understand though,” I continued. “Why are you so loyal to her? It’s fine if you just healed her but to be roped into becoming her bodyguard against assassins sent by the other imperial heirs?”
“I haven’t finished yet.” She took another sip of her coffee. “Afterwards, it was discovered who the culprit of the incident was. It was a daughter of a count, who was there with her at the tea party. And do you know what Fiora did to her afterwards?”
“Execute her in the most gruesome manner?” I gave a little smile.
She frowned in response. Guess she didn’t appreciate my joke.
“She forgave her and her entire family. Saved them from the chopping block by hiding the result of the investigation. You see, the poor girl was only doing it because her father told her to. He wanted to curry favor with the Imperial Prince.”
I sighed. Just what you would expect from your usual power-hungry noble, I suppose. It’s not enough that they have to force their children into political marriages as a power grab move. They actually turn them into assassins now.
“So you believe she’s a merciful ruler just because of that?” I continued. “I can easily imagine her forgiving them to gain more advantage for herself. They must be indebted forever to her now, and if the count has something he can offer her, like influence or so, then her forgiving them was the wiser thing to do,” I argued. Sorry, but in politics, nothing is ever free.
“Not just from that,” she replied with a smile. “But I can’t tell you the other reason. She has promised me not to tell anyone, you see.”
I sighed. “Again with the secrets.”
She giggled, covering her mouth with her hand. “A girl has to have her secrets. I have my secrets as well. You too, right?”
Welp, can’t argue with that. My secret? All those raunchy books I got in my bag. That, and me being a pervert in general.
“So? Do you think of her more kindly now?”
“Nope. I’m still not buying that she’s anything other than a spoiled princess. She might have a horrible childhood, but that doesn’t excuse her attitude.” I crossed my arms with a huff. “You know, it’s not fair. You told her everything about me, even the embarrassing part, but now you refuse to tell me everything about her.”
“Is it about the crying part?”
“Yes, about that.” Oh great, now my face is starting to warm up. “Do you even need to tell her that part?”
“I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about it though.” She kept her smile without any hints of a laugh.
“Maybe not to you but she certainly thought otherwise.” I grumbled. Look, I don’t want to be called a crybaby by a twelve or thirteen-year old brat like her. It just reminds me of all those times my little sister in my old life would mock and throw insults at me. Respect your seniors, goddamnit.
And now Miss Cleric here is all smiling. She must be holding back her giggle or something.
“You know, I have to tell her that so she would trust you, Hugo,” she answered my question. “What better way to convince her of your innocence than to tell her how you have had a heart-to-heart conversation with me to the point that you cried in the middle of it?”
“Does she trust you that much?” I couldn’t help but ask. “I mean, you can just be lying to protect me.”
“The last time I lied to her, she saw right through it in an instant. And so she made me promise never to lie to her ever again. And it’s a promise I have kept to this day,” she answered, staring away to the distance as if she was reminiscing about something. “You know, she sympathizes with you, Hugo. It’s not the crying that she dislikes. Well, maybe a bit, since she thinks it’s a sign of weakness. But what she hates even more is your defeatist attitude.”
“Defeatist? What do you mean?” My voice rose. I couldn’t help but be offended, even if just a little.
“If she were in your position, she wouldn’t have stopped training and polishing her skill. She would want to get back to those that had wronged her and her family.”
“I already got back at her. I killed her, remember?”
“Then how about the rest of the Council? You believe they have no part in it?”
She’s right. I never thought about that.
…Wait, that letter! Could it be that it—
“You’ve realized it, haven’t you?”
“…We were used as assassins. To kill Vera without getting their own hands dirty.” I clenched my fists.
“I figured it was something like that.” Nicole spoke with a pensive look as she took another sip from her cup. “If the Council weren’t in it as well, then you and your family wouldn’t have survived.”
In my panic, I didn’t consider the possibility in the slightest.
“Dammit!” I slammed my fists to the table, earning a few looks from the other patrons. They quickly returned to their own business soon after, thankfully enough.
“So, now that you know, what are you going to do about it?” she asked, still with that same smile.
“I want to make them pay, of course!” I replied. “Do you even need to ask that?”
“Revenge, huh?” Her smile turned melancholic all of a sudden. “I wouldn’t suggest that.”
“So why did you even bring it up in the first place?!”
“My intention wasn’t to make you go after them. My intention was to enlighten you, that there would be a possibility for you to clash with them again in the future.”
“I know that! They probably would send their actual assassins after me soon enough.” I certainly remembered the tale of the necromancer who was chased by the Magocracy all the way to this continent. And that was just because she murdered the granddaughter of a Council member (and practicing forbidden magic too, I guess). For someone who actually killed a member, the retribution would no doubt be harsher. “That’s another good reason why I shouldn’t follow you guys. Do you really want two groups of assassins going after you at the same time?”
“Hmm, true enough,” she replied, taking another small bite of her meal. “If you’re not traveling with an Imperial Princess, that is,” she added with a smile.
“What does she have to do about it?”
“They wouldn’t risk killing her. Not if they wanted war.”
“But she’s already being attacked by her own people! By her own siblings too!”
“Oh no, you don’t understand. There’s a major difference between death from internal politics and death from an assasination by foreign powers. The former is acceptable while the latter is an insult to the sovereignty of the empire itself. So you wouldn’t be touched by them as long as Fiora is protecting you.”
“Wait, I thought I’m the bodyguard here.”
“Hehe. She’s quite the amazing swordswoman you know. So I really do think you should accept her offer of tutelage. You have nothing to lose.”
“Hey, weren’t you just saying back at the church that I shouldn’t be involved?” I protested.
“I changed my mind,” she replied, unflinching. “After seeing the way Fiora spoke to you, I choose to believe in you—the same way she does.”
“And besides,” She took my right hand that hadn’t been gripping anything for the past minute and wrapped it around her own two hands. “Aren’t you tired of running away?”
I looked down to my near empty plate. With a sigh, I replied, “I am. I want to get stronger, both in combat and as a person. I want to be able to face anything life throws at me head on.”
“Then, you know what to do, don’t you?” She smiled.
There was a pause in our conversation for a while afterwards as we finished our meals. I sat silent, unable to really respond to her. Of course, I knew the answer of my conundrum if I saw it in a purely logical manner. But I really, really don’t want to get stuck babysitting that brat for God knows how long.
“Where is she going anyways?” I started the conversation again. “Some faraway country where she can take refuge?”
“Mmm, something like that,” she replied. “But before that, she wants to visit the Grand Priests and Priestesses in the continent. Well, some of them anyways. She wants their support, you see, as the Church really hasn’t supported one candidate to the throne over the other. Another fortunate turn of fate, as I too need to visit them for my pilgrimage, if I am to become a High Priestess.”
“High Priestess? Is that like an organisational rank in the Church?” I asked, purely out of curiosity.
“Yes. I am now already a Priestess of the Milicis Church. After that is the title of High Priestess, which is only given to a few. Since I have reached Master-level in Holy Magic, and I have earned a recommendation from Lady Miriam, I can take the pilgrimage as an aspirant for the position. And after that, Grand Priestess, which is even more stringent in classification as you would first need to reach Grandmaster-level in Holy Magic, something very few ever managed to accomplish. Only a very small number of Grand Priest and Priestesses exist—each having their own territory that they have to guard and lead to the faith as part of their profession.”
“I see,” I replied. I never learned about this kind of stuff, mainly because there were no books explaining it to me back home.
“Why do you want to take it anyways?” I asked again. “You get higher pay or something?” I imagined, thinking back to the office promotions back in my old world.
“Well…” She smiled bashfully. “Lady Miriam told me to take it. So I would. I am indebted heavily to her.”
“Who is this Lady Miriam anyways? You’ve mentioned her a lot yet I don’t think you ever explained who she is.”
“Her Grace Miriam Blanchimont, the Grand Priestess of Silipha. And the headmistress of the academy where I graduated.”
“…Wait, Blanchimont? Isn’t that your—”
“Yes, that’s my last name. She adopted me, you see, so I carried her name now.” She smiled so brightly from that statement, there was no doubt she was very happy from it.
On that happy note, our conversation ended. Soon after, after wiping her mouth with a napkin, she excused herself, as she had finished her meal earlier than me, leaving me alone with my own thoughts. She didn’t need to say anything. Just her look was enough to convey her wish for me to think about Fiora’s offer carefully, and consequently, my future as well.
Soon after, I left the table as well, heading to the room she had purchased for me. Once there, I threw myself to the bed, not even bothering to take off my boots and socks. I put my two hands behind my head and started to think.
Aah, what should I do?
Should I really be the bodyguard of that snotty brat who’s apparently an imperial princess? I really don’t want to be involved in some country’s politics that I don’t care about.
But on the other hand, Nicole is with her. And knowing just how much she meant for Sherry, I don’t want anything bad happening to her. And she seems like a really nice girl too…
Sword training huh? Maybe I should focus on that for a while. This sword on my belt barely does anything in a fight.
She definitely is a skilled swordswoman—even I can tell by how fast and precise her sword swing was. But can she really teach me? Do I even have the talent? Shouldn’t I just go pure mage instead of multiclassing?
Argh, this is too hard! Maybe I should sleep first before using my tired brain like this…
It didn’t happen though. The thoughts kept swimming inside my mind, I couldn’t fall asleep. I turned around back and forth, after kicking my boots off lazily, leaving only the socks on.
I only managed to fall asleep after quite some time had passed, once I settled on the decision I was going to take—a decision that I was still not sure I should take.
Even so, I resolved myself. That I wouldn’t regret that decision.
I am done living with regrets. I will walk forward, no matter what kind of misfortune I will encounter on the way.
And that decision was…