Translator: Denryuu; Editor: Ryunakama
「Roland. Wake up.」
I opened my eyes to see Elvi there.
The room was dark. My eyelids were heavy, and I figured that I must have slept in. Lyla was still asleep on the adjacent bed.
『It’s your alcohol! Why do you refuse to partake?』
Lyla had tried her best to make Elvi drink with her the previous night, but…
『I have work to do tomorrow.』
…she was immediately rejected.
I had then taken Elvi’s place, promising to drink with Lyla until I blacked out. I knew that even if I managed to wake up, I would have to nurse my hangover for the entirety of the next day.
Moving Lyla to another bed proved to be the right choice.
「I’d like you to watch my morning training routine.」
Elvi waited patiently while I changed out of my nightwear.
「You… gave up your arm to protect Almeria, right? Was it a tough opponent?」
Sharp as always, she inquired no more of it. She led me to the rear garden — the place at which, according to her, she usually trained. Taking a wooden sword that had been propped against the wall in one hand, the Holy Knight performed a few practice swings that immediately left her panting.
「Your technique is good」, I said. 「I can see the effort in every swing.」
「It’s what –」
She cut through the air again with a crisp swoosh.
「– you taught me」, she said. 「If I’m training for the real thing, then I have to swing like I’m doing the real thing.」
「So you remember.」
Every swing of the sword embodied Elvi’s steadfast character. There was no hiding the fact that she trained every single day.
「Is ‘guild employee’ a job that keeps you even after you get injured?」
「It is. My injury doesn’t affect my work.」
「I see… you know, if you quit one day… could you come and serve the Heidens family?」
「I don’t see myself doing that, but come and find me if you need me.」
「Ah, that’s good.」
The sun was high in the sky by now. Elvi, who was gasping for breath, called it a day for her training. An attendant approached her with a towel, which she took and used to wipe her sweat.
「I need a bath. Breakfast is ready — please follow this lady」, she said, turning to her servant. 「You know what to do.」
「What have I been telling all of you –」
The servant chuckled.
I wondered if Almeria was also shy about being addressed as ‘milady’. Though it was a usable title, she was more often referred to as ‘your Highness’ or ‘Heroine-sama’.
I followed the servant down a corridor. As we walked, it was obvious that she was sneaking glances at me every now and then.
「Yes?」, I asked.
「Ah… I apologise for my impudence. I couldn’t help but marvel at the Roland-sama being right in front of me. Milady spoke about you often.」
「I see. What does she say about me?」
「Without going into the details, she spoke of how you saved her life and her time under your tutelage. Fufufu… I am afraid that I cannot disclose more.」
I figured from that short exchange that Elvi had earned the love and respect of many.
We headed for the castle after breakfast.
「Even now, only a handful of people within these walls know of his Majesty’s unfortunate passing.」
「Understood. I will watch what I say.」
Upon entering the castle, we stopped at a guardroom. Elvi ordered the guards resting there to relieve the duty of those who had been standing guard through the night. They moved quickly but awkwardly, no doubt because their commander was present. As I was not introduced to them, some looked at me with curiosity but said nothing otherwise.
「The officials have gathered in the meeting room, Commander」, said a man who looked like the second-in-command.
「Roger that. Thank you.」
He saluted and exited the room. We followed suit shortly after and made our way to the aforementioned meeting room.
「Having you there will be a great help.」
「I will offer my opinion as an expert if the need arises.」
「If it was actually a meeting.」
Elvi smiled bitterly.
「Today marks the third one」, she continued. 「The third ‘meeting’, only in name, where in reality the different factions will be engaging in a power struggle. His Majesty left a number of potential heirs behind, all of who have different officials backing their claim to the throne — for personal benefit, of course.」
「Vested interest is the same no matter where you go」, I agreed.
Good grief, said Elvi, bemoaning the current state of affairs.
Every seat, save one, was already filled when we arrived. The heads of twenty or so officials, military and non-military, turned to face the door.
「I apologise for the long wait.」
「Who is that, Commander Heidens?」, asked an official with a goatee, echoing what the others doubtlessly wanted to know.
「A person exceptionally well-versed in assassination techniques, who even the Heroine respects. An… employee of the guild.」
An unpleasant mirth could be felt among the seated officials. I bowed respectfully nevertheless, and the moment Elvi was seated, the goateed official spoke again.
「Commander Heidens. You were tasked with protecting his Majesty, and yet he met with such a tragic fate. What do you say of this?」
As with any post-mortem discussion, assigning blame was first on the agenda.
「I will receive the necessary punishment without complaint」, she continued. 「But only after concrete measures to prevent this from happening a second time have been established.」
「Just like that, the good name of the Heroes’ Party bites the dust」, sneered an official.
「Not only the Heroes’ Party, but the Heidens family as well」, said another deliberately loudly.
Elvi bit her lip and made no effort to deflect their scathing remarks.
「Any defence, Commander Heidens?」
A power struggle, where people are ready to break each other’s backs at a moment’s notice, will never be the place for an earnest girl like her.
「After the new king is crowned, a similar occurrence is not out of the question. One who truly accepts the responsibility will choose to step down while they can.」
I placed a hand on Elvi’s shoulder before she could reply. These officials must have already discussed her dismissal beforehand, I thought — at this rate, their momentum will sweep her away.
「While it is true that the responsibility lies with Elvi –」
Twenty hateful, vulture-like gazes turned on me as I spoke up. Were they that angry that I had thrown a wrench into their plans, I wondered. As Elvi was the daughter of a marquis, quite a few individuals had potential benefits to reap from her resignation.
「– her plans were as waterproof as they could have been. This would have happened no matter who was in charge.」
「Uh, Roland…」, muttered Elvi, looking up at me.
「Might you know of what happened at Fiegaron Castle?」, I continued in spite of her. 「The battle where the Heroes’ Party defended Fiegaron Castle, turning the tide on the brink of defeat.」
I had been busy planning for an enemy commander’s assassination, by the way.
「About a hundred brave warriors fought for two days against an enemy force numbering a hundred times their own, repelling wave after wave. The person in charge of all that — that was Elvi.」
「And what does that have to do with anything!?」, thundered an official.
Elvi, who had already surrendered on the inside, looked down almost as if she agreed with him.
「This castle and Fiegaron Castle are similarly designed. They are fortifications built atop mountains, the most famous example of which is Whorlton Castle. While defending a castle and protecting a person may differ somewhat, I find that Elvi, who succeeded in defending her stronghold, did not fail this time either.」
The lady in question nodded again, thankful that I had stepped in for her.
「Because her defences were set up in the same way.」
I knew that I had caused a stir. The gathered officials cast furtive glances at each other — proof that my unexpected interference had made them extremely uneasy.
「But at the end of the day, a failure is a failure!」, blurted one at last.
「Exactly!」, added another. 「There must have been a loophole in her plan!」
More officials joined in as they gained momentum.
「So? Was it you who killed his Majesty?」
「Does the Heidens family wish to usurp the throne?」
They cackled like hyenas. I’m not letting this go, I thought.
「That’s enough of your ridicule!」, I yelled, causing half of the hyenas to fall off their chairs.
As long as they maintained that Elvi had failed in her duties, it was impossible for me to gain any ground.
「Do I see grown men conspiring to witch-hunt and pillory a young lady? She may be partially to blame for the king’s assassination, but that’s not where the buck ends. Do none of you know shame?」
None of them managed to retort, as my killing aura had them quaking in their shoes.
「The person who performed the act was a special person — one who made assassination his life’s work. I find that you should stop pretending that your ‘common sense’ gives you the full picture.」
A picture speaks a thousand words. A live demonstration? Ten thousand, maybe more.
I activated my skill, nabbed a few officials’ spectacles and stood at the wall opposite.
「My point is that whoever did this had a skill that allowed them to sneak around unnoticed — in a manner that you have just seen with your own eyes.」
The officials looked at me with terror, gasping with unmistakable fear in their voices.
「Instead of trying to assign the blame, I find it more pressing to prevent such an incident from happening again.」
I returned their spectacles and walked back to my seat.
「I think that will make for a more productive meeting.」