21: The Kingdom's Darkness
Part 1: Vagabond Arc "Ash-crowned Princess of Slaughter" Chapter 2: The Black Ops' Combat Maid
Beginning of Chapter 2: The Black Ops' Combat Maid.
"Did Her Highness depart without any problems?"
Inside a room of the royal castle of the royal capital of Claydale, a large kingdom located in the southern part of the Thurs continent, a young butler calmly responded to the words of the owner of the room.
"Her Highness the First Princess left the royal capital today without any particular complaints about her physical condition. Provided there are no problems along the way, Her Highness will enter the domain of Margrave Dandall a fortnight from now as planned."
"I see. Her Highness Elena's selfishness is troubling, but once she gets there, we can leave the rest to her grandfather, Dandall."
The owner of this room, the Prime Minister of the Claydale Kingdom, Margrave Bert Pha Melrose, leaned back deeply into his chair, remembering the face of Margrave Dandall, an old acquaintance of his from their student days.
This Claydale Kingdom was originally three kingdoms, and the royal families of Dandall in the north and Melrose in the south were kept as the margraves of their lands.
Originally, the margraves were supposed to be the unifying force of their regions, but due to political problems at the time of the unification, the heads of the two families have traditionally been placed in executive positions in the country in order to suppress the discontent of the nobles and people of the former Dandall Duchy and the former Melrose Duchy.
Dandall was appointed to be in charge of military affairs, and all of the successive commanders of the knight order, which also acted as the marshal of the military, had been chosen from the direct line of descent of House Dandall.
Melrose was appointed to be in charge of internal affairs, and all of the successive prime ministers had been chosen from the direct line of descent of House Melrose.
More than a hundred years had passed since the unification. As a single nation, the rancour between the nobles of the former nations had already waned considerably, but it was difficult to change such an ingrained tradition now, so the two margrave houses were still holding the two executive positions.
First Princess Elena was born to the Second Queen, who was originally a young lady of House Dandall.
At the time, the ducal houses did not have a lady of suitable age, so the young lady of Dandall was originally considered suitable to be the First Queen, both in terms of family status and beauty, but the Crown Prince, who was a young man at the time, chose a classmate of his from the Sorcery Academy, a viscount's daughter, who was not even considered as a potential fiancée.
The viscount's daughter, who became the First Queen, had a boy who safely became the Crown Prince of this generation, and the young lady who became the Second Queen gave birth to Elena the following year.
The Second Queen, who at the time had her beloved fiancé snatched away from her, was eager to at least make her own child the next king, but having given birth to a girl, her wish was virtually doomed.
However, unable to give up, the Second Queen gave Elena a gifted education with an abnormal zeal as soon as she became aware of her surroundings. As a result, although Elena came to possess four sorcery elements, perhaps due to her excessive magic power, her health deteriorated.
Everything was for the sake of surpassing the prince that the First Queen had borne. But, in an ironic twist of fate, it was that same prince who cared for and supported Elena as her body weakened.
The young Elena showed such a strong affection for her half-brother that people suspected that there was something more to their relationship. The King, feeling that this was going a little too far, decided to send Elena to Dandall, the birthplace of the Second Queen, to "recuperate" in order to distance her from the Crown Prince for a while.
At present, Dandall was home to Miss Clara Dandall, one of the fiancée candidates for the current Crown Prince.
There was concern about whether there would be a problem with having the First Princess, who was so fond of her brother, near his fiancée, but Elena and Clara were cousins and had been playmates since they were little, so it was unlikely that Elena would bare her fangs at Clara. Rather, Elena was a brilliant girl with a fairly calm personality, as long as her brother was not in front of her.
"Is Mr Bert not planning to go there?"
"Oz... How can I go there when I'm the prime minister? While Her Highness' recuperation has not been made public, the security of the health resort is being handled by someone from the black ops, is it not?"
"My elder sister, Sera, is in charge, so I don't believe there will be any problem."
House Melrose, which was in charge of internal affairs, also doubled as the chief of the "black ops", an organisation that worked behind the scenes gathering information, escorting important people, and removing them if they were dangerous.
This young man called Oz was from a family lineage of retainers to the former Melrose royal family. While he was the butler of the Prime Minister, he was also one of the knights of the black ops.
Currently, the King's only children were the Crown Prince, the First Princess, and the newly born Second Prince. Although the King was still young, the number of offspring was obviously small for a nation of this size.
For this reason, certain high-ranking noble houses had been conspiring to send a concubine to the King. The Crown Prince and Elena had been the targets of several attempts on their lives by certain covetous individuals, but they had been eliminated in secret by the knights of the black ops, who were always around to protect them.
Currently, the Melrose domain was governed by Bert's eldest son as the acting feudal lord, but Bert, who to this day held multiple duties, glared at Oz, wondering if he was going to add more work to his plate.
As a noble with a lot of magic power, Bert's appearance made him appear to still be in his early forties, but his actual age had already reached his late fifties.
Bert would have liked to live the life of the former King, who had already handed over the throne to the current King and was now living in comfortable retirement, travelling around with his wife, the Queen Mother, or the life of the head of Dandall, who had handed over the position of marshal to his son and was surrounded by his grandchildren in his domain, but Bert's circumstances would not allow him that.
A grandchild...huh, he thought nostalgically.
"However, there is a report that the young lady has been found in the lands of Baron Horace..."
At Oz's words, one of Bert's eyebrows twitched faintly as he was getting lost in thought.
Bert had two sons and one daughter. He greatly doted on his first daughter, who was his youngest child. She was even one of the fiancée candidates of the current King.
But, his daughter was secretly developing a romantic relationship with an apprentice knight of all people.
Not wanting his daughter to experience a life of hardship, Bert could not approve of their relationship. Feeling at a loss, his daughter ended up eloping with the apprentice knight ten years ago.
Rumour had it that his daughter and the young apprentice knight had drifted northward. When their whereabouts were discovered, his daughter and the young man, who had taken a position as a soldier there, were dragged into the massive outbreak of monsters that had attacked their town and perished.
However, there was a girl born between the two of them, their only child.
The crest of the former Melrose royal family, the Moon Rose... The daughter who was given the name Alicia, which was another name for it.
That girl was also presumed to have been swept into the monster attack and killed, but Bert was unable to give up. When he had her investigated, he received a report that the girl in question had been found in an orphanage in a small town in Baron Horace's territory.
"...I heard about it from one of my men. But, the girl's hair is blonde verging on red, nothing like my daughter's, and her eyes are blue verging on black. And according to the description of the one who saw her, I don't think her face resembles my daughter either."
"However, might that not be due in part to the blood of that young lady's father, the apprentice knight?"
"...All the women of my family's lineage have the same pinkish blonde hair colour as the Moon Rose. Not only my daughter, but also my elder sister and my two aunts. Then why is it that the girl they found is different?"
All the women in the direct line of the former Melrose royal family had pinkish blonde hair. But strangely enough, it seemed that once they left House Melrose and were no longer considered direct descendants, they lost that trait after a few generations.
However, while Bert's daughter eloped, she was still registered with House Melrose. Therefore, Alicia, who was born outside, was also considered a "young lady" from the direct line of House Melrose.
The discovered girl, who introduced herself as "Alicia", told them that her deceased mother was the daughter of a southern noble.
That testimony alone would not be enough to prove that she was Bert's granddaughter, but it would certainly be premature to conclude that she wasn't just because of the colour of her hair.
"With regard to the girl, send someone from the black ops to that orphanage as a manager to see if there are any discrepancies in her testimony for a couple of years. And if it turns out that there is no falsehood in her words..."
"Will she be taken into custody by House Melrose?"
"...No, I will send her to another House until she reaches adulthood. That's right...the Viscount Mercis, a branch family, would be suitable. His ability is average, but his character alone makes him trustworthy."
"That man, as someone who manages the direct lands under House Melrose, would certainly be qualified enough. So, what would Mr Belt like to do?"
Bert frowned at Oz's words. He had known Oz since birth. Oz was similarly well acquainted with Bert's character.
"...As I recall, the retired Hoss should know my daughter's face, right?"
"Yes, although us siblings weren't acquainted with the lady, I am sure that our grandfather, who worked as a butler in the mansion, would be the right person for the job."
"In that case, send Hoss there to manage the orphanage. Go ahead and check that girl's face, then head to Dandall. I'll be there to hear the report in person."
Margrave Dandall was a high-ranking noble in the northern part of the Claydale Kingdom. A great noble with over forty noble houses as dependents holding territory.
On paper, the peerage of a margrave was the same as that of a earl, but in practice it was equal to a marquess. Especially in the case of the two margrave houses of Claydale, who, according to Viro, had more financial and political power than the ducal houses.
As expected, it seemed that the client was not that great noble, but it was a request from a noble who rented the health resort in the area.
The city where the margrave lived was a metropolis with a population of more than a hundred thousand people, but we only stopped there to make a report at the Adventurers' Guild. Without staying overnight, we headed south towards the health resort, while admiring with a sidelong glance the stone cityscape and the gigantic, fortress-like castle visible in the distance.
...I wanted to look at that castle a bit longer.
After about a full day on foot from the capital city of Dandall, a lake came into view through a break in the forest. As we made our way around the rather large lake, we found a small castle built on the shore of it.
Of course, it was on the smaller side compared to Dandall Castle, but it was still quite large in its own right. I thought that was our destination, but instead of heading there, Viro knocked on the gate of the three-storey white mansion beside it.
"I'm Viro of Rainbow Sword, on a request from the Adventurers' Guild. Please tell Castro, the butler, of my arrival."
Rainbow Sword...? I guess that's the moniker his fellow adventurers call Viro by, or the name of the adventuring party he belongs to?
"Rainbow Sword... Understood. I'll go confirm, please wait a moment."
One of the gatekeepers looked a little surprised and headed towards the mansion.
But I could sense that the surprise was more about the moniker than Viro's name, so I thought that perhaps it was a famous adventuring party.
A short time later, a tall, slim butler in his thirties with a somewhat ill-natured-looking face came from the mansion with the gatekeeper.
"Yo, Castro. You in good health?"
"Viro, you're late."
The ill-natured-looking butler, Castro, didn't seem bothered by Viro's casual greeting and turned his attention to me, who was behind Viro.
"So that's the kid. She's smaller than I expected... Is she usable?"
"I've crammed her with the minimum she needs to know. Besides, you shouldn't lump her together with any random brat out there."
Castro grimaced slightly at Viro's smirk.
"For you to say that much... Viro, go show your face to Lady Sera. You there, kid. Follow me."
With that Castro walked off towards the mansion. When I turned to look at Viro, he shrugged his shoulders and gave me a wry smile.
"He looks ill-natured and is also unfriendly, but he's just an inflexible and serious guy, so don't worry. For now, we'll part ways here temporarily. Have that guy tell you about your job."
From here, I would be alone, away from Viro. Still, Viro was supposed to be doing security work at this place, so there would probably be another chance to see him again.
At any rate, I followed Castro, who went on ahead of me, and headed towards the mansion. Just by looking at his back and the way he walked, I could tell he was reasonably competent.
♢ Castro Race: Human ♂
⦗Magic Power: 125/130⦘ ⦗Stamina: 260/260⦘
◼Comprehensive Combat Strength: 355
But not as good as Viro... He was dressed as a butler, but he was probably a scout of around rank 3. He would probably be around 400 when using Body Strengthening. I felt that if we fought I wouldn't be able to win.
As soon as I caught up with Castro, something was released from him without any preliminary movement. I was on alert, so I avoided it with a leap.
One very thin knife was stuck in the ground where I had been before I dodged. I only briefly caught sight of it, before lowering my stance and reaching for the knife at my waist. The thin killing intent that had been leaking faintly from Castro vanished.
"Ho... Looks like Viro's nonsense wasn't a lie."
"...what are you up to?"
Is he testing me? However, while he may not have been serious, a normal child would have been injured by such a test.
"If that caused an injury, it would be enough of a reason to fire you. As Lady Sera said, having a child watcher could be useful in some situations. Viro brought you here so I'll hire you, but let me tell you one thing."
Castro slowly turned around and glared condescendingly at me.
"I don't trust slum dwellers like you."
Next time, what will Aria's job be when she takes on her first mission?
Map update. Wrote the high-ranking nobles above earl rank.
- [+] Something that was added in the light novel.
- [–] Something that didn't make it into the light novel.
- [≠] Some difference in details.
- [+] A line describing how Bert's "A grandchild...huh." wasn't voiced but Oz still guessed from his expression and raised the topic of the found young lady.
- [+] Oz specifically stating that the territory of Baron Horace isn't far from Dandall's territory. I'm guessing this is why Oz asked Bert if he's going there, since that question made no sense otherwise, coming from his own butler.
- [+] A short sentence on how Viro and Aria arrived at Margrave Dandall's territory safely, right after the ⁂.
- [–] The mention that the information about the financial and political power of the margraves was according to Viro.
- [–] When Viro introduces himself at the door, he doesn't mention that the request is from the Adventurers' Guild specifically.
- [+] After parting with Viro, Aria wonders which part of what he said about Castro was supposed to reassure her.
- [+] Aria specifying that she's following Castro towards the back of the mansion.
- [≠] Castor's appraisal results are a bit different in the light novel: magic power: 123/130 and stamina: 244/260.