Chapter 68: Marina’s Side — A Discussion With A Court Mage

“I-I can’t tell you that,” Glinda replied, still all red from my question. “It’s all stories of the past anyways.”

“…Is it something relating to love?”

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I only made such a brazen hypothesis because of her blush. I knew very well what that blush was. It was the blush of a girl in love, even if she was far too old to be called a girl. I had seen it multiple times back at the academy, when my classmates talked about the boys they liked (I never joined in such conversations, naturally). To think that I would find it again on a woman in her thirties like her, it took me completely off guard.

“Y-you know, if I’m going to tell you this, you have to promise not to tell anyone,” she said, still blushing.

“Of course,” I replied with a smile. “I’ll be gone the next morning anyway.” I didn’t know why but I was suddenly fascinated by her little secret. Perhaps it’s true that girls always fancy any topics relating to love.

“Fine.” She sighed. “I used to… I used to have a crush on the crown prince.”

What.

“You see, I met Prince Albert a few times before I was sent to the academy. And I was immediately charmed by his gallantry, even though he was younger than me. In my heart, I promised that I would learn to be the best court mage that I could be. And perhaps, even make myself worthy enough to be his wife.” She chuckled. “Ah, what a silly childhood romance that was. When I returned, he was already happily engaged with another noble girl. And both of them loved each other so much, to the point that I decided to just bury my feelings altogether. And today, they were both happily married in a blissful relationship that I wouldn’t dare to tread upon. The prince is a good man. He wouldn’t betray the love of his life for some other women. A lot of people in his position would sleep around with maids and the like, you know. And that’s why I’m perfectly content serving him and his father. They were always kind to me, both him and his wife.”

The expression of sadness was clear on her face. There was no doubt that it was genuine love she was experiencing towards him.

But I, not being a foolish romantic, decided not to tell her to confess. What would it gain, other than causing unnecessary suffering? The prince’s wife would never look at her the same way again if she realizes that she’s after her beloved husband. And the good prince would suffer, knowing that he inadvertently had abandoned a girl that liked him to the cold. And Glinda herself could be entrapped in a scandal that led her to being demoted off her position.

Unrequited love happens. It’s the way of the world. There’s no Goddess of Love that makes sure each of us has our own romantic pair with no overlapping.

“Do you have a husband yourself?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“Ha, I sure hope I do,” she replied in a surprisingly bitter manner. “But I’m getting too old for marriage anyway. All the ones interested are perverts and degenerates, wanting me just for my body or for my position. Or both.”

So she doesn’t have a man to replace him. I now genuinely feel bad for her.

“Anyway, enough about me. Let’s return to Selendia. After I told her about it, she turned terribly cold, mocking me for being a fool, clinging into that reason when he didn’t even know about my feelings. She was right, of course, like she always was.” She paused for another dry smile. “And then, she turned cruel. She banished me off her inner circle, and told me to my face that I was an ungrateful little whelp and that she regretted doing all the nice things she had done towards me.”

“If I have to guess, she was just getting close to you only to use your talent.” I interjected.

“You’re right,” she replied. “We became friends right around when I was starting to get the top of the class in all of my subjects. She was the one to approach me.” She sighed. “I was blind back then. I cried instead, begging her to take me back as her friend. But she refused, slapping and kicking me in the process. And every time I tried to get close to her, her clique, under her orders, would attack and humiliate me in retaliation.”

Just like what Merinda did to me…

“And so I woke up from the dream. I realized she cared nothing about me in the slightest. And that she was just using me from the start.”

“And that’s why you dislike the Magocracy?” I asked, just as a confirmation.

“Such is the way of their kind. The ruling mage families are obsessed with power, one way or another. And I was to be part of their power, if I had joined them.” She smiled wryly. “On the outside, they might project themselves as an enlightened country, ruled by wise mages instead of corrupt nobles who had no real power and only sponged off the backs of their people. They could manipulate nature itself and improve the lives of their subjects. They would be benevolent rulers that truly cared about the weak.”

“And there’s no bigger lie than that.” I finished her monologue.

———-

Afterwards, she called in the maids and butlers by ringing the bell she had in her possession. She told me that we should continue our discussion on her study later on, and that we should have our dinner, or else the food her servants had so painstakingly cooked would go cold.

Her friend didn’t return in the end. So she really was tired and it wasn’t just an excuse to leave the two of us alone. Glinda ordered one of the serving maids to bring some of the food to her room later on.

It was delicious, far different from the meals we had on the road. I decided to be thrift and ate in ordinary restaurants, not high-class ones that were much more expensive. We might have a lot of money right now but who knew the problems we would encounter on our road to Ferus.

I ate quite a bit more than usual, and Erika was the same. She especially loved the noodles, asking the maid serving her for seconds a few times. And eating such delicious food clearly improved her mood, as she began to smile as she ate, which made me smile as well.

If only Hugo could be here right now…

Erika finished with a burp, which earned a giggle from the court mage.

“Bring your little sister to bed first,” she told me after she cleaned her lips with a handkerchief. “You then go to the second floor and to my study. Ask one of those three to take you there.” And by “those three”, she could only mean the trio of maids assigned to me.

“Sis, you’re not going to sleep with me tonight?” she asked, giving me that puppy-eyed look that was always so hard to resist.

“Don’t worry, Erika.” I patted her head. “I’ll join you before you know it. I just need to chat with Miss Glinda there a bit more.”

“Alright…” she agreed, though with a downcast expression.. “Don’t take too long, okay?”

“I’ll be back before you know it. I promise.”

It would be good for her if she starts being able to sleep on her own again.

In the end, she didn’t need me to accompany her back to our room. Heydel, who had been waiting just outside the room with her friends, was the one who received that honor. She and the others promised they would take care of her, and from what I had seen of them, I believe I could trust them.

“Alright.” Glinda smiled at me. “Follow me.”

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And so I did, walking behind her as we went to the main hall and climbed the spiral staircase, going straight to said study on the second floor. We went down a dimly lit hallway, as there were only candles giving the much needed light, unlike the first floor which was bright and well-lit, thanks to the generous usage of shine stones.

“Sorry about the dimness.” She chuckled. “I prefer this part of the house to be like this at night. It always calms me down, being alone in half-darkness like this.”

We soon arrived at said study. It was both a study and a library, with rows and rows of bookcases filling the place up. And just like the hallway, it was dimly lit as well.

“Here.” She took her seat behind a table, filled with parchments and books, gesturing to me to sit on the other chair across. I sat on said chair, resting my hands on the armrests, surprised by how comfortable the cushion actually was. “So, resuming our discussion from before, if I might ask, where are you going now after this? Like we just had discussed, you and I both know that Marchen couldn’t provide asylum for the two of you. At least, not a permanent one. I could arrange you a modest mansion on the boonies to the south for you to live in as a knight, just like your father. I’m a noble, just like my brother after all. Thanks to my current position, I was also granted the title of Countess, though really, people just refer to me as the court mage. It’s a more exclusive position after all.” She smiled. 

“Do I have to answer that question?” I replied, perhaps more rudely than I wanted. “I believe I have given you enough information already.” I didn’t wish to give her more information than necessary, in case of her being coerced by the Magocracy’s agents to spill the beans.”

“Hehe, clever girl.” She smiled instead of taking offense. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell them anything. Or rather, I would just concoct a lie of you going south instead. You’re going through Duskglow Plains, right, since you’re going to the northwest? If I have to guess… Ferus. Your grandfather is there and it’s so far away from the Magocracy that they couldn’t really immediately be invaded, even if those mages wanted to. Not to mention that it’s so close to the Holy Land and those guys would just love to have a good fight against them.”

“…You’re right. We are going there.” There’s no point in denying it anymore, I suppose. “And do you already know who my grandfather is as well?”

“Of course I do.” She continued to smile. “Lord Philip Archimond, the Earl of Grandfort.”

She’s right. That’s the name of Grandfather. Greenwood is a surname that Father made up himself when he ran away from home.

“You know my brother already knew who your father really is, right? He made him tell everything when your father begged him for a job. So yes, technically you’re a noble, Marina.”

“Father was disowned by his family. I have no claim to nobility, and neither does he,” I replied matter-of-factly.

“Oh, but you’re going to meet him, right?” She smiled. “You know, if your grandfather takes you in, you will become a noble.”

“I don’t plan on asking him to make me his granddaughter. I only wish for refuge and protection from the Magocracy, nothing more. I shall earn my living on my own.”

I never fancied on becoming a noble, being attended by servants all day without having to work for a living. In fact, I couldn’t help but feel I would lose myself if I became accostumed to such a lifestyle. I would become lazy and complacent, enjoying life’s pleasures without a care in the world.

Not to mention that it really is embarrassing, having to be seen naked by other people like that.

“Impressive. I see now that you really have your father’s blood in you.” The court mage grinned. “But if you really want protection, I suggest getting close to the throne. Make yourself be an important person there. Make the king himself be behind your back. Tell me, how skilled are you in magic?”

“I am Master-level at Earth,” I replied honestly. The Magocracy already knew what I was capable of so there was no point in hiding it.

“Wow, seriously?’ She clapped her hands. “That’s wonderful! You’re a genius then! Just like Selendia!”

“I would prefer if you don’t compare me to her,” I replied with a cold tone.

“A-ah, sorry about that.” She chuckled nervously for a bit. “Anyway, back to my point, with that level of skill, any kingdom should want you as part of their fighting force. Master-level mages are rare in general, and having even one more would make a fine addition to any country’s strength.”

“Not as rare as Grandmaster-level ones though,” I retorted.

“Haha, of course not.” She chuckled again. “But you don’t really need to be one to be a court mage. Look at me for example.”

“Ferus already has a court mage, doesn’t it?” 

“Yep, of course she does,” she replied. “I’m not saying you should be a court mage there. I’m saying that you could easily become part of its magic corps. And as an elite-ranking member at that. That’s quite the prestigious job, you know. And with your connection with your grandfather, it should be even easier for you to enter. The king might even grant you your own title and land, you know.” She smiled.

I paused. For a split second, I actually considered her words. I could provide for both myself and Erika easily if I went that route.

However, that would also mean I wouldn’t be able to leave the country to look for Hugo. I would be tethered there, as part of that kingdom’s military. And I don’t think I can enjoy such a life, being stifled by the rules and codes of a soldier. 

I put the thought aside for now. It would still be quite the long journey until I actually got to Ferus. I would have all the time in the world to think about it on route.

“I’ll think about it,” was my answer to her.

“Great! I believe it is the best way for you and your little sister to be safe.”

Our conversation then moved onto a different topic entirely after a few minutes of us just sitting in silence, with only the clock in the room making any sound.

“There’s another thing you came here for, isn’t it? My brother’s letter said that you want to become stronger as well. Are you perhaps, aiming to reach Grandmaster-level, correct? Honestly, when you’re already a Master at this age, reaching Grandmaster shouldn’t be impossible, as long as you keep up your magic training. Me though, I don’t really have time for that anymore.” She grinned sheepishly.

“…No. If I’m going to take on the Magocracy one day, I would need to reach the level beyond that. I would need to be an Archmage.”

“A-an Archmage?” She started to laugh. “I-I’m sorry, but no one has ever reached that level in ages! The only mage I know that had reached that peak was Mira herself! Aren’t you aiming a little too high there?”

“Perhaps,” I replied. “But how else am I supposed to take on multiple Grandmaster-level mages all by myself?”

I know I was being conceited, to even dream of one day reaching that height no one has even dared to dream about. But if it is what’s necessary to accomplish my goal, then I would reach it, even if it takes me my entire life to do it.

“You don’t have to do it on your own, you know.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “Many others want the Magocracy to fall as well. You can form an alliance with them. If I were in your shoes, and I want to seek revenge against them, I would train myself until I reach Grandmaster-level, and then, I’ll offer myself to be part of their force.”

“You mean like the Church of Milicis or the Holy Empire over at the Holy Continent?”

“Yes. Though, if I were to be honest, I wouldn’t do that.” She smiled wryly. “I wouldn’t want another war to happen after all. And you wouldn’t as well, right? You’re a good girl. You wouldn’t want to drag innocents into your crusade.”

“You’re right. Which is why I want to do it on my own.”

The court mage sighed, before returning back to her normal smile as she drew her hand away from me. “Fine. I’ll give you my notes. This is top level secret, you understand? I said I no longer train myself but that’s not entirely true. I still train from time to time, whenever I feel like it. As a result, I was now able to Dual Cast. Can you do that?”

My eyes brightened. “I-I can’t.”

“Good. Then my notes should prove very useful to you.”

Afterwards, she sat up from her chair and walked up to the bookshelves. After looking around for quite some time (it seemed she had actually misplaced it), she finally found the book. It was a journal-sized book, filled with handwritten texts, no doubt hers.

“Here. Sorry for the chicken scratch by the way. My writing’s never that great to be honest.” She blushed.

I opened the book and saw that it was indeed filled with barely legible words. However, after reading and skimming it for a short while, I could indeed confirm this was her personal notes on magic research.

“No books ever taught Dual Casting. They say it’s just something you eventually would be able to do on your own once you’re good enough and talented enough at being a mage. But I disagree. I think it’s a propaganda piece, set by the Magocracy so people wouldn’t train themselves to Dual Cast. Because a mage would be much more dangerous if they can cast two spells at once. They don’t want that knowledge to spread around, threatening their dominance. I believe all the good spells they got were kept as secrets inside their own families. Hah, stingy, aren’t they?”

“Thank you.” I looked up to her with a bright, almost childlike smile. “This would be useful. I’m sure of it.”

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