Nagras Kingdom, the house of Duke Nyrestria.
The origin of their house is a royal prince, although a lower peerage, they are still the noble among nobles that has the right to succeed the throne. Although their history isn’t long, their financial and political power in the Kingdom aren’t to be underestimated. When compared to territorial lords like Sir Thoria, their peerage is far superior.
The third-generation head, the grandchild of the founder of such family. Five years after having succeeded the title of Duke from his father. Being able to manage his territory without any issues, it is said that he is trusted by the current king.
From what Ardis heard from Chezare, 『Praised by his citizens. He’s a loyal person and one of the few most prestigious figures in the royal faction. 』
Although being a noble, he hadn’t looked down on commoners, he’s even known as an honest person among soldiers and mercenaries of common birth. Of course, 『But being a noble, it’s impossible to be a clean slate anyways』, Chezare said so, after all, there’s no way a noble house can stand with just clean business.
No one knows what those with political power do behind the scenes. But at the very least, he wasn’t as bad as Sir Thoria who would impose impossible challenges with his power.
Of course, it’s not like everyone is out there to get Ardis. Although he wouldn’t spare mercy against those that comes at him with malicious intents or those that is overbearing with their power, Ardis knows to treat someone respectfully when he should.
「It seems like you’ve been making her work quite to the bones. 」
「Was it not to your likings? If that’s so, I don’t mind getting relieved of this position now? 」
Although his words are still being courteous, Ardis’s meaning that are obviously not beautiful was directed to the man who seemed to be in his forties.
After instructing Minerva as usual, Ardis was now in an office-like place in the mansion. As for who was waiting him inside, even Ardis who doesn’t do well with the high society could tell.
It was obvious that he is born in a prestigious family. Albeit a simple design, the clothing that wrapped him must be of finest grade. Holding others’ livelihood in his hands, Ardis could see that the pressure and responsibilities his back carried.
His name is Lavest, the current head of Nyrestria family.
「It’s what my daughter desired. Since she asked for it, I won’t bother about it. In any case, she is still an unmarried maiden. Please refrain from any lasting wounds on her face or body. 」
Ardis thought the Duke is totally against the training procedure that he had put on Minerva, and was pleasantly surprised. Ardis expected he would get reprimanded, or fired from his job, but all of that didn’t happen.
「Unexpected, your face spells. 」
Ardis’s face probably told everything. The duke caught Ardis’s expression and pointed out.
「Well it’s natural. A noble’s daughter, on top of that, someone who has the right to succeed the throne, working her hands until they become coarse from swinging swords is something unheard of. It’s unladylike for a noble like her to learn how to fight, many would definitely say. There’re other magicians that we reached out for the same task before you came, but of course, none of them took it seriously. 」
「That’s why you resorted to hire a mercenary like me? 」
「I don’t like how you say it. A noble has a noble’s, and a mercenary has a mercenary’s role that each should fulfil. Only their standing is different. 」
Ardis who had purposely lowered his esteem caused displeasure to the Duke.
「No matter a knight or a soldier, or even a mercenary, it’s natural to value those with abilities, and of course, reward them appropriately to their achievements right? 」
The talk somehow shifted to the war two months ago.
「There was a discussion whether you should be rewarded or not. Of course, they couldn’t grant rewards just based on a few rumors as it wasn’t officially recorded. 『It’s already strange to think that he can deal with a thousand calvaries by himself. On top of that, only one messenger soldier and students were the witness. I’m sure it was overexaggerated』, is what many thinks. 」
Though the Duke himself didn’t seem to suspect Ardis. He probably had done prior investigations regarding Ardis’s background and the rumors way before requesting Ardis to become an instructor for his daughter.
「It’s not like I joined the war for a reward or anything. So please spare me from that kind of talk. 」
Ardis didn’t participate the war looking for fame or rewards.
「Isn’t it fine that you take what you should. 」
The Duke spoke something unlike what a noble would towards Ardis who easily refused the reward.
「I’m not troubled with money. And though it’s a little rude saying this to Your Excellency, my honest wish is to not mingle with any nobles or royalties and live a peaceful life. 」
「So do you mean that it is a trouble for you this time? 」
He meant teaching Minerva.
Although it wasn’t something Ardis thought wonderful, any other mercenary would’ve probably replied differently. After all, it’s a simple teaching job that has more than enough rewards and isn’t life-threatening, on top of that, a connection with the Duke’s house is very valuable.
「……If it was not for a favor I owed to the battalion commander, I would’ve probably never set foot in this residency, is all I would say. 」
But for Ardis, he thought than rather than the rewards or his life safety, getting mingled with the higher society are much more dangerous. After all, Ardis who is sheltering the twins thinks that those related with power and religion are more likely to be his enemies.
But it seems like the Duke isn’t going to fire him just because he’s a mercenary. Leaving that aside, Ardis returned the topic back on track.
「May I have a question? 」
「What is it? 」
As Ardis couldn’t make the Duke relieve him of his duty, he had no choice but to continue the classes even if Minerva’s effort is possibly fruitless.
「Honestly, I thought Minerva-jou would’ve said something within a week. Although I was being a little loose considering her standing, it’s still quite intense. 」
Ardis spoke his perspective and asked.
「Why is she so fixated on sword magic――no, sword magic probably isn’t her focus here. She wants to learn how to fight. But as to why she wants to learn, I have no idea. Does Your Excellency have any idea? 」
As a Duke’s daughter, she would naturally have her own escorts, and there’re servants and followers that would protect her if the situation needs it. If she feels danger to her life, she can just increase her escorts, just hiring more experts will do.
Ardis can understand if they want to hire him as an escort but, there’s no need that she needs to learn how to fight herself.
Why is she so fixated in getting strong? Ardis didn’t get it.
「She couldn’t let it go, I suppose. 」
As for the answer, the Duke replied shortly without any additional explanation.
A time of silence flowed for a while.
It was the Duke who spoke first.
「Eight person. 」
「Eight person? 」
Ardis asked for the true meaning as he didn’t understand it.
「The number of people died protecting me. 」
The Duke that had looked away from Ardis was looking outside the window towards the direction of the training grounds.
「Three by the time I became an adult. Four by the time I succeeded the family. And one after I succeeded the family. They are all escorts or servants died protecting me from those wanting me dead. There’re those that took a blade for me, and those that took poison for me. 」
The Duke narrated his story calmly. But Ardis understood that it was only the surface of what the Duke managed to hold down in his heart over the course of many years.
「……I don’t quite understand but, isn’t it what it meant to be a noble? 」
Ardis couldn’t understand his anguish.
One side having born as someone whose life is targeted, a noble that lives through with someone else’s sacrifice. Another side having lived their life along with death, a mercenary who can only survive by depriving someone else’s life.
The Duke affirmed Ardis speculation.
「That’s right. It’s just how it is. A noble can’t be a noble if he can’t let them go. 」
「And you’re saying Minerva-jou can’t do it? 」
「My daughter has the right to succeed the throne albeit a lower rank. She’s also seen as a strong successor substitute being similar of age to the first son of the crown prince, Prince Karst. There’s no shortage of reasons to assassinate her. Two escorts had lost their lives for her till now. One of them having died not longer than half a year ago. 」
Assassins were sent because she has the right to succeed the throne or because she can become a crown princess. Either way, it’s a fact that her life was targeted, and because of that, there were people who were sacrificed for her to live.
「Even nobles are human. It’s natural to feel sadness when someone who is as close as sisters to her took the blade for her. 」
「That’s why she wants to be stronger herself? 」
The Duke nodded, while still looking outside the window with his back facing Ardis.
「It’s just a repeating cycle. I understand well how she feels. After all, I felt the same way when I was young. 」
Staring into the distance as if looking for something, as if tasting the same regrets in his daughter’s heart. Ardis who now understands Minerva’s thoughts spoke.
「There’s no need for others to lose their lives if she gets stronger. Minerva-jou is probably thinking about it. 」
It’s meaningless, of course Ardis couldn’t say that.
Even if she gets strong enough, it’s still not a reason why there won’t be any escorts around her, and also wouldn’t mean there’s no need for anyone to protect her. In the end, it will still become a case that someone else loses their life before Minerva herself can fight.
The Duke could let them go probably because he understood that, and it’s probably something Minerva will come to understand in the future as well. The Duke sent a gaze through the reflection of the window towards Ardis who now had his questions answered.
「She’s still only twelve. Even if she will have to face the reality eventually, I will let her do as she wish now. Just that――」
The Duke turned only his head around and smiled bitterly.
「I didn’t think she had that much perseverance. 」
It was a face with complicated emotion, perhaps with the joy of finding a new side of his daughter, and also surprise at the unexpected new side.