The first night on guard duty.
Izumi and Millia stayed alert in the princess’ private room on rotation.
There was little to be found in that frugal room one wouldn’t imagine belonging to a princess. Her garments were always prepared by the maidservants, so there very many pieces in the closet.
Izumi investigated the room for what it was worth, but Cleo, who should’ve hated it, seemed to slightly enjoy the notion.
Sitting on her bed, Cleo grinned as she looked at Izumi keeping guard at the side of the room.
“S-something the matter?”
The place was different to Courtois, and Izumi thought perhaps she had committed a discourtesy as she called over to Cleo. But Cleo’s response was different.
“No. It is simply the first time I’ve invited a foreigner into my room… I found it a tad joyous.”
Izumi didn’t feel too bad, hearing that from her. This was also part of the mission, and she would keep up the conversation.
“Is that so? I’m something of a refugee. I’m sure the color of my hair is rare around these parts.”
“Really? Would it be alright if I heard the story?”
Cleo’s eyes glistened as they looked at Izumi.
(It’s not a bad feeling for her to be interested in me, but in the middle of a mission, it’s a bit…)
Troubled, Izumi apologized that she would have to stay standing.
“My house was originally from an island nation in the far east. Let’s see, the knights there use swords like this one, similar to sabers. They’re called bushi and samurai over there, but their role is similar to the knights of this country.”
As Izumi gave a simple explanation of her homeland, Cleo happily listened in. While she got the feeling she was acting a bit too young for her age, Izumi couldn’t bring herself to hate her.
“And the fact you’re seeking refuge means, umm…”
“Yes, my house was caught up in a war, and left the country. If they didn’t do so, I’m not sure I’d be living in this world.”
Seeing Cleo’s saddened face, Izumi regret her words. She should’ve talked about something more interesting, she thought, as she gave a meaningful clearing of her throat to change the topic.
“But now that I think back, I don’t see it as a bad thing. I attended the academy in Courtois, and I’m here as an honorable high knight.”
When Izumi smiled, Cleo did too. And she looked out the window.
“I don’t know anything… unlike my younger brothers and sisters, I was fated to be offered as the maiden from the start. So my education was kept to a minimum. I rarely had any opportunities to speak to a foreigner, so today was fun.”
To be offered. It meant her life would be forfeit. Izumi and Rudel had investigated the internal affairs of Celestia beforehand, and it was the most famous story about the country, so she knew about it.
About the blue-haired tribe that offers life to the god who made even Courtois stand down.
“I know I’m really not supposed to say this, but I’m happy that my attack let me meet everyone. I was even able to see a dragon.”
To change the topic, Izumi picked up the thread on Sakuya.
“You should mention that to Rudel tomorrow. If you tell him you want to see a dragon up-close, Rudel will be delighted.”
“Rudel-dono will? I don’t mean ill, but he’s a peculiar one, isn’t he? Millia-san did say, ‘he’s the strange one, you’re not crazy’.”
Cleo’s impression towards Rudel seemed to be fixed on him being a strange one. Labelling that a misunderstanding or mistake was something Izumi found exceedingly hard to do. Thinking about Rudel using Courtois’ knights as a frame of reference brought about numerous problems.
“H-he is strange, but he’s a good guy. A really good guy!”
It was the greatest defense she could muster.
“Fufufu, you get along, I see.”
“Yes, he’s a precious friend.”
Seeing Izumi’s expression as she said that, Cleo tilted her head. Something wasn’t sitting right in her stomach; she tried asking Izumi.
“You’re not lovers? Um, you make a wonderful face whenever you talk about Rudel-dono, you know.”
“That’s wrong. He’s a dear friend from the academy. A little circumstance has led me to stay by his side as a colleague, nothing more and nothing less.”
If she called it a little circumstance in Courtois, the royal palace would be abuzz with cries of, ‘are you sure you’re taking this seriously with an attitude like that?’. For the sake of the country, Izumi was appointed as Rudel’s special inspector. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say it was a mission of the utmost importance.
Rudel was generally classified as a first-rate knight. Strong, proud, and even loyal. But the most important thing was… he was an idiot.
Not the sort that couldn’t study, the type that burst into erratic conduct the very moment the idea struck his head. Even after he was instated in the dragoon brigade, he had repeated numerous bouts of problematic behavior that dragged all his surroundings in. What’s more, the biggest problem to Courtois was the fact Rudel had obtained an outrageous dragon like Sakuya.
‘If that thing gets serious, this country is seriously done for.’
The reason the upper brass seriously thought so was largely due to a single knight, feared by Courtois and all the countries that bordered it.
Rudel idolized that knight… Marty Wolfgang.
It’s been said the King of Courtois once cried out, ‘Why did it have to be him of all people!’ or something along those lines…
Putting all jokes aside, there was no doubt keeping Izumi with Rudel was an important measure.
“Are you sure?”
Said Cleo with a slight laugh.
As Izumi found it strange, Cleo spoke.
“I’m sorry. Love gossip, was it? I wanted to try doing something like that.”
Cleo was raised in the castle. She was raised as if the only important thing was that she was alive until the time came… or so was the feeling Izumi got.
The room’s interior was modest, and she could think it belonged to a princess who held an important role.
“At the end, my dreams keep getting granted one after the next, I’m overjoyed.”
“… Is that… so.”
Izumi didn’t know what words to send her anymore.
Once the night had advanced, two faces peeped out of an inn window with a view of the palace.
It was Aleist and Nate.
Nate peered into her telescope, changing the magnification with the regulator stuck to the side as she inspected every last detail. Aleist wasn’t very knowledgeable on the matter, but as it was constructed as a magic item, it was most certainly an expensive piece. Not something Nate would be able to purchase.
There was one at Aleist’s house as well, but he had only ever seen his father carefully stow it away a few times.
“I was also thinking it around noon, but who really are you, Nate?”
When Aleist asked, Nate continued peering into the telescope as she conversed.
“You want to know? Once you know, there’s no going back? Senpai, you might just get swallowed up in the mysteries of an enigmatic woman like me.”
“Yeah, not happening. I just wanted to ask what sort of secret you have.”
Aleist waved his hand, laughing Nate’s words away. And he decided to change the topic.
“So what are you doing?”
“I’m confirming the state of the castle. The departure’s the day after tomorrow, but there’s no telling what’ll happen until then.”
“The day after tomorrow?”
Aleist tried to recall what would happen in two days.
He remembered Rudel’s main mission would take place at that time.
“Come to think of it, is Rudel alright?”
“Sakuya-chan’s nice and quiet, so I think he’s just fine. Rather, she’s fidgeting restlessly, and it doesn’t seem she can settle down.”
“Eh? You can see her with that? Let me have a go.”
“Go ahead. If you adjust it here, you can change the scaling.”
Accepting the telescope, Aleist zoomed out to search for Sakuya. He spotted her popping her head over the castle wall from time to time.
She seemed restless and unsettled.
“What is that girl doing?”
As Aleist said that, Sakuya’s eyes met with Aleist’s across the telescope. That was scary, he thought, putting the telescope down, and looking at the castle in the distance. From here, he couldn’t see Sakuya’s form. Somewhat relieved, he tried peering in again, only to find her staring straight at him this time.
“… Nate, thank you.”
He didn’t want to think Sakuya had noticed them, but Aleist was hated by Sakuya. In the case that he really was sighted, the very fact Sakuya moved would become a huge problem.
“You’re already done with it?”
He returned the telescope to Nate. There, as if suddenly hitting on something, she began to speak.
“Come to think of it, senpai, you have any interest in peeping? In that case, you want me to lend you my telescope?”
Nate gave a sly laugh as she held out the device, but Aleist was getting tired, so he wanted to return to the bed. What’s more he had no interest in peeping.
“What’s that? Ah, no, I’m fine.”
Having lost interest in such talks as of late, it was on a level where he wanted a magic device to prevent being peeped on. Within Aleist’s harem, there were a few who specialized in magic. Those girls would identify Aleist’s bathing time to launch their attacks.
“Rather, you know, give me something so I don’t get peeped on myself.”
While Aleist made a relatively sincere plea, Nate’s face twitched.
“… I know I’m not one to speak, but you really are an off one, senpai.”
“You think? I don’t notice it myself anymore. I’ve just kinda been real tired these days, see… ah, you’d better honor your promise and not assault me.”
Nate looked at him with a dubious face.
“Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? I’m the one who should be worried about getting assaulted.”
Nate spread out her arms to show off her own lightly dressed fresh-out-of-the bath form. Short, white pants, a simple shirt above… what’s more, the slight see-through nature of her clothing allowed a faint glance at her undergarments. Though it just looked to Aleist that she had purposely chosen undergarments with striking colors for the contrast.
“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t even assault you if you asked me to.”
Giving an immediate reply, he took his eyes off of Nate and looked at the room. Two single beds…
(Well, even if she tried, I’ll be able to run away. My intuition’s been particularly sharp in those things as of late, I’ll be able to notice before she makes her move.)
Flopping down on the bad, Aleist was delighted he’d be able to get his first restful sleep in a long time. While Nate was there, he didn’t seem to pay her the slightest mind.
“Early to bed, early to rise, what a wonderful phrase! Goodnight.”
Nate’s face was filled with conflicted sentiment.
Once morning came, Rudel went out to the plaza to see Sakuya.
Perhaps because of her presence, the plaza looked a little narrow. And around, the soldiers seemed to be surrounding her on lookout.
When Sakuya moved, the surrounding soldiers cowered. There were some whose hips gave out, and others that readied their spears.
“What’s wrong? You don’t look too peppy.”
Seeing Sakuya not in the best health, he worried a bit, when Sakuya took a look around.
‘Um, well, you see… someone was looking. And Sakuya can’t calm down when she’s not in the ground.’
Sakuya was a subspecies of the gaia dragon that made their homes in the soil. As expected, they were most calm in the ground, and when sleeping outside… what’s more, an unfamiliar place, it was too unsettling.
(But even if she says looking, with so many soldiers around, isn’t that natural?)
Rudel looked around and saw the cowering soldiers looking at him with eyes demanding he did something about this. While Rudel could hear Sakuya’s voice, only Rudel could hear Sakuya’s voice. To the others, it just sounded as if she was raising a growl.
“Don’t worry. Right… I’ll ask if there’s anywhere nearby you can dig a hole. Your special mission is tomorrow after all. It should be fine if you stay on standby until then.”
A dragoon and dragon could communicate with their hearts. Rudel thought he could just call her if it came down to it. Though he didn’t think he would actually get permission for her to dig a hole.
‘Really!? The earth around here feels really warm, so it was on my mind the whole time! I want to build a house soon.’
“… No, making something so full-blown is a bit…”
Rudel felt somewhat apologetic. When it came to digging holes… no, to making dens, Sakuya had her hangups. She would make a number of chambers, designating the room furthest in as her private room. It wasn’t just a bit of a cave… it was a full-blown cave system.
Perhaps she had a good feel for the ground, or it was just intuitive, but amazingly, even if she arbitrarily dug with her power, it never crumbled. But even if he explained that, he doubted the people of Celestia would understand.
“Can you make due with a simple one? We’ll be returning tomorrow.”
Sakuya’s sulking hurt Rudel’s heart.
(Sakuya… how cute can you be.)\But as a dragon idiot, even if his heart hurt as he looked at her, he still found her cute.
Rudel sat at the same table as Cleo and Millia for breakfast. Izumi was still asleep, so it was a meal for just the three of them.
Near the door, Ben and Passan stood at attention. The party of three consisted of soldiers, and they were unable to eat breakfast with the princess.
For Rudel and Millia, it was treated as special.
“No, I went and asked Emilio-dono if there was anywhere Sakuya could dig a hole, early in the morning. When I did, he got permission.”
“… Is that really alright?”
As Millia sent him a doubtful glance, Rudel thought over it as well.
(This does feel a little off. Normally, he’d want to keep Sakuya as close as possible, but… could it be the soldiers just complained that much.)
He thought over various things, but he had received permission, he started devising a plan to lead Sakuya to the location. It was already arranged that Rudel would be told the location after breakfast, sending Sakuya in the right direction once he returned to the castle.
Once the maidservant finished the preparations for breakfast, the three gave a Celestia-styled prayer and began to eat.
The scent of bread and bacon wafted through the room.
Rudel looked at the princess, thinking of her almost as a small animal as he watched. The way she ate wasn’t unruly. More so, she was firmly following proper manners.
But the air around her was restless.
(Perhaps she’s mindful of me and Millia.)
He thought, and after he had eaten his meal and sipped his tea, Cleo came out with a request.
“U-um… if it’s possible, I’d like to see your dragon up close, would that be alright? Erm, Izumi-san said you would show me if I asked…”
After Cleo had shyly asked, Rudel quietly set down his cup. He looked at Cleo with a serious face.
Perhaps she was nervous, her body stiffened.
Millia sent over a worried voice. But Rudel…
“No problem at all. While we’re at it, would you care for a journey through the sky as I tell you the wonders of a dragon–! Millia, that hurts, you know.”
“Don’t hit on the princess! And there’s no way that would be allowed!”
As Millia talked on and on with a rough way of breath, she has a point, Rudel ended up agreeing. He had been delighted to hear of her interest in dragons.
But his aid came from an unexpected place.
“Something the matter.”
After the maidservant let out a voice, she lowered her head towards Rudel. And she made a desperate plea.
“I am aware of how discourteous this may be, but please take the princess into the sky!”
When he wondered what was up, the maidservant said something like that. He did think it wrong, but there Emilio made his appearance.
“A dragon, is it… I don’t see why not.”
Unlike the day before, Emilio was taking on an attitude much too lenient. And he made a proposal to Cleo.
“Whatever the case, today is the only day the princess may have her freedom. Let’s see… all the more, why don’t you let her see the lands around the castle?”
“Don’t you think that’s going too far?”
Millia sighed, but Emilio let a slight laugh.
“No, I’ve actually been thinking it a while now. At least at the very end, the princess should be given some time to have fun… I’ve already received permission, everyone, please just unwind.”
As he said that and left, Rudel and Millia gazed at Emilio’s back. The difference between yesterday was one thing, but the problem lay elsewhere.
“I kinda feel something really off about this.”
The maidservant answered Millia’s words.
“That’s not true! Emilio-sama is Celestia’s finest knight. He is thinking about the princess. I was also desperately searching for something I could do for her and…”
The maid lowered her head and apologized for her rudeness. Next, it was Ben and Passan’s turns to lower their heads to Rudel.
“Boss Rudel, I’d like to make the plea too! Show the princess what it’s like outside the castle!”
“I’m beggin’ you here, boss Rudel!”
Millia endured a laugh as the two of them called him boss. Rudel looked over at Cleo.
(Well, I guess that depends on how Cleo-sama feels.)
He called over. But Cleo’s face was turned down.
“Cleo-sama, do you have any obj… Cleo-sama?”
A red face, shaking a little, when Cleo looked up into Rudel’s face, she started to panic.
“I-I! Um, uh… it’s the firth time anyone’s tried to hit on me!”
(Ah, she bit her tongue.)
Rudel was casually mindful of how she bit her tongue around the word first. Millia beside him held her head.