“Does the dinner suit your tastes?”
“It ain’t bad. Anyhow, Reinhard’s cookin’ is more delicious.”
“This, really… The kitchen staff have been giving it their all, but it still isn’t up to par? Just as I thought, the world’s greatest knight truly seems to be great at everything.”
“It ain’t that big of a deal. This dude’s cookin’ is just one of the few things I acknowledge about him.”
Whilst saying that, Felt jutted her finger at the red-haired knight, Reinhard, who was seated next to her. Her comment, which was hard to tell if it really was a compliment or not, caused Reinhard and the dinner host—Russell Fellow, the merchant who’d invited the two of them there—to exchange glances while smiling bitterly.
Felt and Reinhard, who had escorted the Sin Archbishop, Sirius, to prison, were being entertained by Russell, one of the most influential people in the royal capital, and came to this place to be treated to dinner.
In the royal capital, Lugunica, this was the largest residence in the commercial district, as well as where Russell lived. The residence of the man who was known as one of the prominent merchants in the royal capital was even more luxurious than the mansions of your average noble in the noble district, highlighting the fact that he was a highly successful individual.
This was evidenced further by the fact that Felt and the others enjoyed a variety of different dishes that satisfied their tastebuds.
Narrowing her crimson eyes, Felt poured the post-dinner black tea into her mouth, as was only natural. Though it irritated her to no end, the life she had lived this past year was rather distinct, like a completely different world, when compared to the life she had lived for ten or so years in the slums. She may have been shocked by the differences in ideas and what could be considered common sense, but whether she liked it or not, the appearance and form of the person known as Felt had changed, having been dyed a different color.
—Felt was not afraid of change. For change was only the natural course of things.
No matter who or where you are, there will always be those with unparalleled strength whom you cannot match up to. However, the theory of ‘Only the Strong Survive’ only applied to the strong.
Felt was instinctively aware that she was most certainly not a strong person. Having been born and raised in the slums, she had not been educated, and to top it all off, she was a female. If it weren’t for Grandpa Rom looking after her, she likely would not have made it to the present day.
As a result, Felt had a preference for the theory of the Survival of the Fittest—where the one who could adapt to their situation and discern the best manner of survival would survive—rather than the theory of ‘Only the Strong Survive.’
She also believed that it was because of this belief that she is who she is today. Therefore, she did not blame herself for changing and adapting to her current situation and position. This was only the natural course of things. If there existed anything unnatural or unsatisfying, it would be—
“What the hell are ya smirkin’ at?”
“Smirking… Did I smirk in such a way? My apologies, milady. It’s just unusual for you to praise me in such a frank manner.”
“Frank? I was simply praisin’ your cookin’ skills, yeah? But you’re a knight, not a cook. Ain’t that right?” Felt wrinkled her nose at his smile, which made her feel as if he weren’t two-faced.
Reinhard was the knight who served Felt, as well as the knight who brought her into this different world against her will. Although they had spent time together for the past year, for some reason, Felt still hated him. —No, that wasn’t the proper word for it. Instead, it could be said that she got angry at the mere sight of him.
Even at this very moment, she felt angry at him like she usually did.
“No, my apologies. The relationship between the two of you simply feels surprisingly novel.” Observing the interaction going on between Reinhard and Felt, Russell provided a justification for his laugh, chuckling softly. “I’ve heard word of it before, but your Master-Servant relationship truly is incredible. The relationship between you two really breaks the bounds of common sense when it comes to the relationship between a knight and their lord.”
“This ain’t the first time I’ve heard something like that, but no matter how many times I hear it, I still don’t see where it’s comin’ from.”
“However, it came from Mr. Russell this time, who is famed for his excellent eyes in the royal capital. I believe it is a very good opinion. Lady Felt.”
The relationship between the two of them which Russell had evaluated was often said to be an unordinary Master-Servant relationship. However, to Felt, the idea of “Normal” didn’t exist. And, in the first place… “When it comes to human relationships, it’s only natural for there to be no such thing as ‘normal.’ Everyone is different. And if that’s the case, then every relationship ain’t the same. Ain’t that right?”
“That’s why I don’t wanna hear from a guy who often talks about what is ‘normal’. Even less so if it’s from a guy who’s said to have excellent eyes. That’d be outta the question.”
Even if a man were said to have a good eye for people, if he were held back by superficial values, it would mean the people around him had poor judgement.
Such uninteresting guys aren’t that hard to find throughout the kingdom, so… “What kind of guy are ya gonna be for me? If you’re just gonna be an uninteresting guy who talks bullshit, then I’m just gonna have ta thank ya for the fine meal and head on out.”
“…Now I understand. You’re more…tough than I heard.”
“Hmph. I ain’t sure where ya heard that, but if you’re truly a person who has a good eye for people, then don’t listen to such things, confirm it with your own eyes.”
With her arms crossed, Felt snorted at Russell in a provocative manner.
He was the one who had invited them here. To put it another way, there must have been another reason as to why they were invited here other than to simply have a friendly get-together.
—From this point forward, the main discussion would begin.
“—. Do you recall what we were talking about in front of the Prison Tower during the day, Lady Felt?”
“Are you referrin’ to the thing ‘bout the changin’ times and the tumultuous era?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
Russell nodded and began talking about the conversation they’d had when the Sin Archbishop was being escorted into the Prison Tower. He then called the trend of Sin Archbishops and the Three Great Witchbeasts being defeated one after the other, as well as how the royal selection first began, the changing times.
It was the flow of change comparable to 400 years ago, when the Witch of Envy was running wild.
“The signs of change are not limited to within the borders of the Kingdom of Lugunica. To the north, the Gustekan Church has begun hunting heretics, and to the west, in Kararagi, the thinking of the mayors there has begun to fester. Most importantly, in the south, in Vollachia…”
“Vollachia… Are there any signs of unrest in his empire?” Responded Reinhard to Russell, who’d folded his hands on the table and spoken in a lowered voice.
To the south was the Vollachia Empire, which was the nation that the Kingdom of Lugunica was most weary of. The relationship between the two countries could not be said to be friendly, and they often had conflicts with each other.
“However, what I can say is that the Kingdom exchanged a non-aggression contract with the Empire for the duration of the royal selection.”
“The Kingdom did indeed hold negotiations with the Empire for the forming of a non-aggression pact before the start of the royal selection. Weren’t you part of the delegation that handled that, Sir Reinhard?”
“That’s right. Felix and I accompanied Council Elder Miklotov and Council Elder Bordeaux.”
Felt raised her eyebrows when she heard the nodding Reinhard say that. Of course, one of the reasons why she was surprised was because this was the first time she’d heard about the fact that he had been in the delegation that’d been sent to the Empire, but—
“Wait, what? From what I can remember, wasn’t there some stupid little treaty called the Reinhard Law? And ‘cause of that, you can’t go to other nations, yeah?”
“Yes, that’s correct. However, it was the Empire that asked me to go with the delegation. I heard it was the wish of the Emperor himself.”
“That guy has strange tastes… if ya ask me, I definitely wouldn’t wanna see this guy’s face if I could avoid it.”
“This… Even I can be hurt sometimes.”
Felt shrugged her shoulders at Reinhard, who was sitting across from her and smiling bitterly.
Whatever the case may be, since it was the Emperor himself who’d requested Reinhard’s presence there, and the non-aggression pact came about because of that, then even if the Empire was rather warlike, it would never dishonor itself by violating the pact and attacking the kingdom.
“It’s precisely as you have presumed. Even the Empire wouldn’t violate the pact made between the two nations by making a move on the Kingdom.”
“—. That really worsens the mood, ya know.”
Russell had picked up on that guess and agreed with it completely. That kind of attitude, as if he were fully aware of her ulterior motives and saw through them, annoyed Felt to no end.
If the topic of this conversation ended with this, then she had no idea why he would bring it up in the first place. In that case, Russell should have enough material to continue with it.
Then why was he withholding it from them?
“Are ya tryin’ to say that there’s no goin’ back after hearin’ what comes next? I’ll tell ya what, once I boasted to the arrogant guys in the castle, there was no goin’ back after that.”
“And it is my duty to remove all of the obstacles in Lady Felt’s path.”
Felt’s eyes took on a stern expression, and Reinhard’s expression became serious as well.
Russell’s eyes could only widen slightly at the sight of the master and servant, who were near each other and looking in the same direction. Then, he reluctantly shook his head in the next moment.
“I was rather rude earlier and apologize for that. I did say that you two did not fit within the mold of what could be considered normal when it comes to the relationship between a knight and their lord… However, it is clear now that you two are, without a doubt, master and servant.”
Even though Felt did not really see this as a compliment, she felt like there was no point in interrupting him here, so she remained silent.
Russell then raised his hand and had all of the staff in the room leave.
Then, with only them in the room, and without any outsiders present, he lowered his voice and said—
“Now then. What I am about to say is confidential and must not be shared with the outside world… There is a bit of a loophole in what Sir Reinhard said.”
“A loophole? Are you referring to the non-aggression pact?”
“Yes. Who actually signed the non-aggression pact between the two countries?”
Reinhard dubiously scrunched up his finely-shaped eyebrows in response to that question.
“The King is actually not present at this time. It was a representative of the Sage Council, Council Elder Miklotov, and Emperor Vincent Vollachia of the Vollachia Empire who… It can’t be.”
In the middle of saying this, Reinhard’s eyes widened in surprise. Felt, who did not share in that surprise, asked for an explanation with a “What the hell is it!?”
“There’s nothin’ weird about that, yeah? The Sage Council represents the Kingdom now. Ain’t it only natural to talk to the highest rankin’ person on the opposing side? No one is gonna complain now that the opposing side ain’t in the same rank as them, right?”
“…There’s no need to worry about that. His Majesty, Vincent, is a wise man. He should know very well that it doesn’t work like that, right? But…”
“—This pact…was made with the Empire ruled by His Majesty, Vincent.”
Russell said that in the place of Reinhard, who was hesitant to say it. After thinking about it for a moment, Felt understood what he was saying, too. The true meaning behind his roundabout words was—
“There are signs of civil unrest in the Vollachia Empire. If that is true, then the Kingdom is not unrelated to this. —Because there is a possibility that the pact will be dissolved.”
“What do ya think ‘bout what that guy said?”
Asked Felt, on the way back to the mansion. The dinner meeting and secret talk now over, their current plan was to return to the Astrea Family’s mansion in the royal capital. In it lived Grimm, who was its caretaker, and Carol, his wife. It was time to see them again after a long time.
Felt was quite fond of the old couple. Therefore, she did not want to return to the mansion with a sad, troubled expression on her face, and intended on getting rid of it on the way there. The source of said expression was none other than the discussion she’d just had with Russell.
“Do ya really believe that something will happen in Vollachia?”
“In my personal opinion, this is not something I want to believe. However, Mr. Russell is not one who would speak such irresponsible words without evidence, after all.”
“That’s very important for a merchant, ain’t it. That’s only natural.”
What could be gleaned from speaking with him was that Russell was the kind of guy that would never spread rumors without gaining anything from it. It would not be right to describe him as being a good person. However, he wasn’t necessarily evil, either. He was the type of person who would use the information at his disposal in order to guide others towards fulfilling his own plans.
Moreover, whether he acted with good or bad intentions would more or less depend on the situation he was currently in and what he needed to deal with, so it wouldn’t be possible to know which one it was until all was said and done. Therefore—
“If Mr. Russell’s speculation turns out to be true and the throne is handed over to another…”
“The Empire would be able to make a big move against the Kingdom. But there ain’t no way the new Emperor wouldn’t know about the pact made by the previous Emperor, yeah?”
“According to the way things are done in the Empire, it is the norm to negate whatever the previous government did, so his speculation is no laughing matter.”
The more she heard about it, the more idiotic the theories of the Empire sounded. While an ability-based system sounded good in name, if it got taken to an extreme, it would advance past what could be considered a good thing and into the realm of anarchy.
Therefore, it could be said that Reinhard and Russell’s fears were by no means ungrounded.
“What will ya do if the Empire attacks?”
“I will ensure your safety first and foremost, Lady Felt. Fortunately, I have met and fought against many of the Empire’s most skilled, so I am sure I’ll be able to take care of things.”
“I ain’t worried ‘bout myself. If I gave a damn about that, I’d just find a way to turn tail and run, anyway. By the way, if that were to actually happen, ya wouldn’t even be able to stay with me in such a situation, would ya?”
Though it was just a hypothetical, if the Empire did indeed invade, then it would end up being a war between two nations. If that were to happen, it would only be natural for there to be no way to deal with the matter of the royal selection.
The strongest knight in the kingdom, Reinhard, as he was a former knight of the royal guard, would be assigned a different role. He would then no longer be in a situation where he was by Felt’s side, doing things like cooking meals.
However, in front of Felt who was having such thoughts, Reinhard shook his head. “That’s not the case,” he said. “Although I am not certain what decision the Sage Council will make at that time, I have already pledged my sword to you, Lady Felt. I will ensure that my duties as your one and only knight and my duties as a member of the royal guard are properly balanced.”
“Even if I were to tell ya to turn your back on your country, ya have no intention of turning your back on me…?”
“At the very least, that is the meaning behind the oath I made to you in the royal castle.”
Felt couldn’t help but scrunch her face up whilst looking at the display of Reinhard looking pleased with himself, a slight smile on his face.
In the royal castle, she had made a vow to make Reinhard her knight, and he had also made a vow to be her knight. In any case, it was something that had been done based on the circumstances she had been placed in, and she had no intention of stepping away from it. Well, she did still feel angry at the very sight of him, however.
“Having said that, it would be best if nothing actually happened in the Empire. The unfortunate thing is that I cannot do anything in such a case if I am not close to the border.”
“What we can do, then, is prepare for war. I really don’t like this negative way of thinkin’ AT ALL.”
Pouting, Felt turned her head upwards and gazed at the starry sky. However, whilst being in trance-like state, what suddenly sprang up within her mind was—
“Even if there ain’t nothing we can do, I’m sure there may be others who can figure out a way to do something about it.”
“Others… You mean the other royal selection candidates? But the others are all…”
…Preoccupied with dealing with the problems in Priestella. She thought that was what Reinhard was about to say before cutting himself off. Much like Felt, who was tasked with transporting the Sin Archbishop to the capital, the Emilia and Anastasia camps were acting in order to overcome the great disaster that had occurred in Priestella.
If they thought about it in this way, it would only be natural that no one had the time or energy to worry about the workings of neighboring nations, however—
“It is a tumultuous era, or so they say, right? I’m lookin’ forward to what’s gonna happen.”
Although she didn’t like borrowing Russell’s words, there must be someone that brought about these tumultuous times. —Perhaps Emilia or the dark-haired boy by her side, for instance.
Looking back at things, she thought that it was because of them that her and Reinhard’s paths intertwined. I’m so lookin’ forward to what is to come. —Lookin’ forward to them making big waves once again.
“No, it’s nothing. Anyway, let’s go and do what we gotta do. First things first—”
Stopping herself midsentence, Felt then grinned at Reinhard in a rare display of emotion. Without thinking, with her heart overflowing with joy, and her canines in full view, she said, “It’s been sooo long since I’ve had Grandma’s red tea and snacks. Let’s get goin’ already!”
“—Yes. As you wish.”