The Master of the Brave - Chapter 94
Chapter 94 – Count Elstead’s residence
“Wow, how tall!” said Lino as she held her hair, blown by the strong wind. “Heh! I can see the whole city of Erz from here. Even if there was a fire, I’m sure we could find it soon.”
The belltowers, which were a feature of the city of Erz, were not only for the use of the city’s residents, but were also a city facility that visitors were free to climb. After learning this from the lady at the restaurant, Wynn and his friends finished their lunch and went up to one of the belltowers. When they entered, they saw a spiral staircase extending upward. They climbed the narrow staircase, which barely held one person, and near the top they came to a door. It appeared to be a room. Perhaps this was the place where the guards acted as lookouts. As they guessed, when they knocked on the door an old man came out from inside. Hearing that Wynn and the others had come up to see the view of the city, he smiled and welcomed them.
“You are from the Imperial City?”
“Yes, from Simurgh. We just arrived in Erz this morning.”
“Hoho, I could see you from above. You’ve come a long way.” The old man wrinkled his face and smiled at Leticia as she answered her question.
Inside the room was a small table and two chairs. There were shelves and boxes for storage. There was also a bed that must have belonged to the old man. They were in summer, but since Erz was located near the Majil Mountains, at a high altitude, even during the day it was cold in the shade of the buildings or indoors. For this reason, there was a small fireplace next to the wall in which wood was burning. Thanks to the fireplace, the room was kept warm and comfortable even with the cold wind blowing in through the ventilation windows carved into the stone walls on all sides. On the opposite side of the bedroom wall, there was a door leading to the outside. Through that door, Wynn and the others could go outside and see the city. The hallway to the outside of the belltower to see the town was as narrow as the stairs. A little higher than Wynn’s waist, there was a stone wall, built as a barrier to keep people from falling.
“Ahhh, I guess I’m not good at heights. I get the creeps. I mean, it’s a little too high up here. I don’t know how everyone is okay with that.”
“There are several towers taller than this one in the Imperial Palace, you know?” said Cornelia as she peered over the wall and saw a half-slouching Locke, who opened the door and stepped back inside.
The Imperial Palace was built on a small hill carved out of the mountain. The view from the window of the highest tower room was still higher than this belltower.
“I thought the Imperial Palace was a place I would never have the chance to visit.”
“Oh, now that you have been selected as my squire, you must follow me, even when I climb to great heights,” said Cornelia with a mischievous smile.
“…If possible, try to stay away from those places…” asked Locke with a shrug and walked back into the belltower room with Cornelia.
Lino and Wedge had gone around to the other side of the place where Wynn was. They seemed to be looking out over the cityscape in the direction of the imperial capital, and it was impossible to see them from where he stood.
“What are you looking at, Onii-chan?”
“The Majil Mountains.”
With his hands folded on the stone wall to keep himself from falling, Wynn was looking at the Majil Mountains that seemed to be getting closer and closer. From the belltower, he could see them clearly, all the way to the forest at the base of the mountains. It was a wonderful sight. He could see the whole series of mountains and it was more striking than looking from inside the city. The grass and trees on the plains became greener with the coming of summer, and the small animals and insects became more active, but the Majil Mountains were still covered with snow.
“It’s striking how the mountain peaks seem to pierce the sky.”
“It’s a particularly nice day today. The sky is blue, and the Majil Mountains shine beautifully.” The old man came out of the belltower room, replacing Locke and Cornelia, and stood beside Wynn. “You are fortunate. To see such scenery so clearly is something that happens but a few times a year.”
There were only a few times a year when the peaks of the Majil Mountains looked so clear. The weather in the mountains was changeable, and most of the peaks were covered with clouds, so they could rarely be seen in their entirety. The old man shook his shoulders and laughed.
“And you, old man, do you live alone at the top of this belltower?”
“A few times a year I go back home where my son and his wife live. Other than that, I’m usually here.”
The old man told them that all the belltowers in the city of Erz had rooms and were inhabited by old men who had become city officials. The officials in charge brought food and other necessities, and the old men were in charge of guarding the city day and night, ringing the bell fixed at the top of the belltower to notify the guards below of any incidents, including fires. Each belltower had its own weekly watch schedule, and the guards lived by these schedules.
“It’s a very pretty sight, isn’t it? At night, when the city lights reflect on the river, the scenery becomes different. Then, at the foot of the Majil Mountains, you can see some places where the rock surface is exposed.” The old man pointed to a place at the foot of the mountain where trees grew thickly, but only in that place was the rock surface exposed, revealing the brown color of the soil.
“I see, I was wondering why there were no trees in that place.”
“That’s where the entrance to the mine is. At that point where you can see the rock face, there’s a hole, that’s the entrance. Nearby is a mining town and at night it glows brightly.”
“Wow, I’d like to see that.”
“Well, if you have time, do it. It won’t be a problem if it’s before midnight.”
“Yes, if you don’t mind, I’d love to come and see it.”
After looking outside for a while, they went back into the room, and the old man made them a cup of tea to refresh themselves.
“I’m sorry the space is so small. I wish I had more chairs or something…”
“No, that’s all right. Thank you very much.”
The old man and Cornelia sat in the chairs, Leticia and Lino sat on the bed and the three men sat on the floor. The floor was made of wood and was covered by a large pile of bearskins, which blocked the cold air coming from the floor.
“I thought so as I looked down on it from above, but this sure is a quiet city.” Holding a wooden mug full of hot tea in both hands, Cornelia opened her mouth, watching the steam rising from the glowing water.
“We take turns keeping watch. From the top of the belltower, we can see not only inside the city, but also if any flooding occurs.”
“Isn’t it hard to keep watch at night?”
When Wynn asked, the old man burst out laughing.
“It’s easier than you think, and much easier than during the day. This thanks to the fact that the night sky lights up when the fires are lit. Even from here, even if I’m in the room, I would notice it. I’m paid to live here, so they wouldn’t hesitate to punish me if I complained.”
“Wow, you get paid for this~. How envious~.”
“Well, it would be a boring job for a young person like you, and even if I get paid, it’s only enough for me to eat. But I’m grateful to the Count, for not abandoning old people like me a few years ago when there was an epidemic and food shortage, and for even giving us jobs.”
Evening. After spending some time in the belltower, Wynn and his friends went to Count Elstead’s residence. The count’s mansion was on the south side of town and was large enough to be seen from the belltower on the north side of the city, where Wynn and the others had been. As dusk approached, the streets of the city were filled with people returning home from work. The armed men walking merrily through these must have come from Simurgh like Wynn and the others. They must have had time off to go to the tavern in the evening to enjoy themselves. As they passed them on their way, the town changed from a busy area to a quiet residential area with somewhat larger houses.
In the city of Erz, it appeared that the city government offices were built closely around the Count’s house. There was a square in front of the gate of the Count’s residence, with the knights’ and soldiers’ quarters and the municipal office on the left side, and the church of Anastasia on the right side.
“It is quite a large gate.”
“Yes. I have been invited to many noble residences, but there are only a few as magnificent as this one.”
Behind the gate made of iron bars, they could see a garden and a large building behind it. Count Elstead’s mansion was so large that Cornelia and Locke, accustomed to seeing mansions of rich people, were surprised. There were many soldiers guarding in front of the gate, and there were also soldiers patrolling around the walls surrounding the mansion. Was it because Alfred, the crown prince of the Lemmrousell Empire, had been invited as a guest, or was it just the usual security? It was hard to tell, but considering the size of the count’s mansion, there would probably be quite a few soldiers guarding it just the same.
As Wynn and the others approached, the soldiers in front of the door gave them a deadly look. They seemed to be quite nervous as Prince Alfred was staying there.
“You six, don’t come any closer. Don’t move an inch until we give you permission!”
They were stopped and two soldiers came running up. They watched Wynn and the others nervously, not wanting to miss the slightest suspicious movement. They could have revealed Cornelia’s identity and explained why they were there, but for the moment they were shown the princess crest, the bellflower insignia, worn by Wynn, Locke, Lino and Wedge, as proof of identity. The insignia worn by Royce, the captain of Princess Cornelia’s guard, also had the same bellflower insignia as Wynn and the others.
After checking the insignia, the soldiers were courteous and led the six to the door. A knight attached to the count’s family emerged from the guardroom next to the door. He appeared to be in charge of security. He wore the insignia of a squad leader. He seemed to have been informed of the identities of Cornelia and Leticia, and after apologizing first to them and then to Wynn and the others, he immediately opened the iron doors and welcomed them inside.
As they walked along the white gravel garden path, they could see the entire mansion, which had been hidden by the trees. The two-story residence appeared to be symmetrical in shape. However, from the front, the right side appeared to be under renovation, as the rumors said, and scaffolding was being erected for the craftsmen. When the door to the house opened, Count Elstead’s maids welcomed Wynn and his friends.
“Her Imperial Highness Princess Cornelia, Her Excellency the Daughter of Duke Mavis. And their retinue. Welcome. Your Highness and His Excellency, my lord is honored to receive this visit. Allow me to escort you to the banquet table.”
One of the senior maids, who must have been the head maid, stepped forward and walked forward as the rest of the maids made their way down the hall.
“Hey, hey, are there only young girls? Captain, do you really have all these girls around you?”
“Who knows. That’s not necessarily true yet, is it? It’s a count’s house, after all. No wonder they have female servants.”
The head maid, who was showing them around, was no more than thirty years old. Locke and Lino were whispering to each other so that the maids bowing at the end of the hallway would not hear them. It seemed to both of them that most of Count Elstead’s maids were young women. Perhaps they were informed that the two women walking at the front of the guests were Imperial Princess Cornelia and the Brave Leticia, but they all had nervous expressions on their faces.
I can’t help but feel choked up… Wynn thought, and felt sorry for the girls because he was sure that, if he were in the opposite position, he would have the same attitude.
“Your Imperial Highness, Your Excellency. This room will be the site of the banquet.”
The room to which the head maid led them must have been the one the Count’s family used to entertain their guests. On the wall opposite the door to the hall, the national flag of the Lemmrousell Empire and the crest of the Count’s family were hung above the doors. There was a long table seating twenty people and a corresponding number of chairs, and on the table were seasonal flowers. Inside the room waited Alfred, Royce, Kelvin and eight women.
“Welcome, Your Excellency, Your Imperial Highness. I apologize for having members of my House escort you here when I, as House leader, should have been the one to welcome you.” Royce bowed his head as he said this. “What would you like to drink?”
After asking them all to be seated, Royce had the maids bring drinks. After confirming that they each had a silver cup with a drink in it, they toasted, and the dinner hosted by Count Elstead was underway.
“I had heard the rumors, but you really are a man in love…”
“Not that it was anything I did deliberately. As it turns out, this is what happened…”
When dinner was over, the mood was friendly and they moved on to chatting. Alfred spoke right away about the eight women who were present at the banquet. They were all young, in their 20s and 30s. Wynn and the others were surprised when they were introduced as Royce’s wives, all eight of them. All of them had already left the room, so the only ones left were Alfred, Leticia, Royce, Cornelia and their squires Kelvin, Wynn, Lino and Wedge.
The reason Royce had taken eight wives had to do with the crop failure and epidemic that had hit the region, including Erz. At the time, Royce was serving as General Zaunas’ staff officer as a Colonel in the Continental Anti-Demon Alliance, when news came that his father, the then Count Elstead, had died suddenly from the epidemic. When he returned to his mansion, he disposed of his family heirlooms and all his possessions and bought food and medicine to give to his people, who were suffering from hunger and disease.
Public safety was also deteriorating. The devastation was not only caused by famine and disease, but also by refugees who had evacuated from the north and east of the continent for fear of being attacked by demons. The inhabitants of the city of Erz could resume their work and earn a living once they were free from all the tragedies that plagued them, but the refugees had no hope of finding work. So, to restore the deteriorating law and order, Royce hired the men who had lost their jobs as guards and tasked them with climbing the belltowers to watch over the city.
A proclamation was issued to anyone who decided to go so far as to sell their daughters or sons to traffickers to make ends meet, that these would be bought by the count’s family. In other words, many of the maids in the count’s household were daughters who were to be sold to the traffickers. Eventually, the families’ lives returned to normal, and many of the girls ended up returning to their original lives or starting a new one, however, those who had nowhere to go continued to work in the count’s household, and some of them became so fond of Royce that they became his wives.
“I see. At last, I understand the cause of the rumors that have been circulating around you. The story about the large number of daughters who were about to be sold was distorted into a story about young women from neighboring towns and villages being taken as debtors.”
“To tell you the truth, our family’s finances are on fire because of everything that happened. We couldn’t afford to do something like that again.”
“And yet you still keep this big house?”
“I once sold this mansion, but the same people in town took it back. When we sold the mansion, we rented a small house in the city to live in, but we heard that letting the lord live in a small house would make the city uncomfortable. In the end, getting it back didn’t cost me any extra money. …And I was fine there…”
“I see. But maybe I can understand how people feel. If the lord lives more frugally than they do, it will be harder for the people to live luxuriously.”
“The townspeople have even renovated the house. This mansion will become a family heirloom for our House.” Embarrassed, Royce smiled as he shook his large body. “Well, Your Highness, leaving aside our family matters, it’s time to talk about the future.” Then, returning to his serious face, Royce began to speak.
The previously peaceful atmosphere in the room changed completely and became tense. Royce rubbed his eyes and rose from his seat to hand the documents to Kelvin. Standing next to him, Kelvin looked at Alfred, who was sitting in the upper seat, and began his report.
“The enemy behind those who attacked us is Marquis Cliffdorf, as well as His Highness Prince Neumann and Leticia-sama’s sister, Miss Stacia, daughter of Duke Mavis.”
“Yes. As for Miss Stacia, since the maids who were involved in the attack were directly arranged to care for Leticia-sama, she cannot be considered unrelated.”
Alfred nodded and looked at Leticia. Wynn looked at her, curious about Leticia’s reaction. Although they had been estranged since they were children, her sister, who shared the same blood, had come close to deliberately harming her younger sister. The estrangement between her and her sister was so deep that she couldn’t help but wonder how painful it would be for Leticia to be reminded of it.
Leticia kept her mouth tightly shut and her expression unchanged as she looked at Kelvin who was speaking. She merely placed her hand over Wynn’s, who was sitting next to her. Cornelia looked at Leticia with a pained look.
“Did they try to kill Leticia-sama?”
“No, something different.”
At Alfred’s question, Kelvin looked at Lino and urged her to speak.
Lino stood up on the spot, turned to Alfred and opened her mouth.
“In my opinion, it was some sort of sleeping potion or hallucinogenic. There was nothing mixed in breakfast and lunch, but there was in some of the food served at dinner.”
“It would most likely be impossible to defeat Leticia-sama with frontal force. But even if she were to become their enemy, it would be a pity to lose her power. That’s why she would be captured alive. The method of using a potion to put her to sleep, knock her unconscious and then make her do your bidding is a classic but very useful method.”
“Yes, I know of several drugs that can be used for that purpose.”
Lino nodded with a suspicious expression at Royce’s words.
“However, thanks to squire Lino, who was familiar with such drugs, switching places with Leticia-dono, the enemy’s plan was foiled. Hmm… a talented knight as an apothecary, eh? Well done, Squire Lino.”
“Uh… ah, no… I’m honored!”
When Alfred gave her an admiring look, Lino’s eyes widened and she shrank back, her face flushed and withdrawn. As Alfred said, it was because Lino had detected the drugs in the food that the enemy had been forced to change their strategy and launch a night attack under the direction of Stacia’s two maids.
“Captain Royce… is it true that you, who are the lord, would be responsible for if the crown prince was injured in Count Elstead’s territory?”
Royce stroked his chin and replied to Wynn, who leaned forward and spoke after Lino, who had finally sat down after finishing her remarks.
“That’s right. in addition to my demotion, if the crown prince were to be killed despite Brave Mavis accompanying him, the influence of Leticia-sama, who couldn’t help it, would fall so much that it would be a good excuse to target her!”
“So, now that we’ve completely avoided that night attack, we just have to accuse those who planned this!”
Locke said this with such vigor, however, but Alfred, on the contrary, smiled in amusement and opened his mouth.
“It would have been nice if things were as easy as Squire Locke says. But it seems that’s not the case.”
The betrothal banquet between Neumann, second prince of the empire, and Stacia, first daughter of Duke Mavis, was held exactly three weeks after the departure of the goodwill delegation from the Kingdom of Lyon. The royal family and one of the most prominent noble families of the empire, the two families would be united.
The maternal Neumann family, where Countess Gaunaherz came from, was another family that wielded great power in the Cliffdorf faction. As proof of the faction’s power, a large number of nobles belonging to the faction visited the wedding party.
The betrothal banquet was held in the main hall of the ducal residence in the capital of the Mavis duchy territory, Mer. Several tables laden with delicacies from home and abroad, as well as other high-class dishes, were lined up, and servants and maids carried drinks among the assembled nobles.
Standing by the wall, Jade watched the scene. He had returned to Cliffdorf territory, but had been invited by Duke Mavis to go to his territory. There were rumors that the link between the conservatives of Duke Mavis’ House and Marquis Cliffdorf’s House was to counter Crown Prince Alfred, who was actively recruiting commoners. The fact that this reception was held while Alfred was away from the Imperial City also lent credence to the rumors.
The nobles attending the betrothal banquet were whispering to each other with excited faces as they saw the magnificence of the event and the faces of many of the more important nobles who were visiting.
Neumann and Stacia, today’s celebrants, were surrounded by congratulating nobles near the center of the Great Hall. Next to them were Duke Lektor von Mavis and his wife, and Jade’s father, Marquis Welt von Cliffdorf and Countess Gaunaherz. After greeting the two honored guests, the nobles greeted Lektor and Welt, and then Countess Gaunaherz. It might seem strange that Welt received greetings first, and even more so Lektor, however, the fact that Welt, who was merely a relative of the Gaunaherz family, received greetings before the Countess, who belonged to the House of the prince’s mother, showed the power relations within the faction. The number of invited nobles corresponded to the power of the faction. If one were to observe the scale of this betrothal banquet, one would see that the nobles who had no affiliation to either faction and had chosen to be opportunists would join Jade’s faction in droves. Yes, as soon as Jade received the news he had been waiting for… And it was delivered as the party was in full swing. There were many nobles attending the banquet, and their servants, who were waiting outside for the celebration to end, were seen running towards them.
They had already arrived…
Jade’s servant Klaus, dressed in a tailed suit, was standing by.
“The crown prince’s royal carriage has just entered Elstead territory, and we have carried out the night attack as planned. However, it seems that the assassination attempt against Alfred and to stop the Brave failed.”
“Therefore, I proceed to the second measure.”
This consisted of notifying all parties that Alfred, although they knew was alive, his current status was unknown. While trying to maintain a calm demeanor, Jade glanced around. “It is unknown if the crown prince is alive or dead.” The nobles who received the notices began to whisper to those nearby with pale expressions. The small whispers formed a wave, and the hall was filled with murmurs. Due to the nature of the situation, no one was able to speak aloud. The nobles only communicated with their own relatives and followers, as if they were watching each other’s every move. If it was a false report, it would be a crime of disrespect to talk about the rumor that the crown prince might be dead.
The nobles were nervous, but from Welt to Stacia, including Jade, they seemed calm and collected.
“Don’t panic!” Neumann’s loud voice echoed in the hall. “We still don’t know for sure if the information that my brother might be dead, or not, is reliable! But we heard that he was attacked by bandits, but who would be foolish enough to do that?”
“We-we… we’re not sure yet.” The noble Neumann asked replied quietly.
“The first thing is to gather information! Since my father and Cornelia in the Imperial Capital are not in good health, I will take care of this matter. sir Cliffdorf!”
“At your command!”
“Deploy the Central Knights at your command to all parts of the Imperial City immediately! Have them investigate the authenticity of the information! And send the knights to the scene immediately! It could be an accident, or, as much as I hate to think it, it could be murder by foreign hands! You must also write a summons to Count Elstead! This has occurred on the grounds of his residence! He will be held accountable! If he does not respond to my demands, he will be first on the list of suspects for the murder of my brother! Very well, each of you prepare for the worst and take the utmost precautions!”
“Yes, sir!” Welt quickly spun on his heels and left the room. “I will inform His Majesty!”
Neumann then ordered as he returned to his carriage and followed Welt out of the hall with a hurried gait that did not suit his plump figure. The rest of the nobles, stunned by the unexpected situation, stayed behind. They were all surprised at the blunt attitude Neumann had displayed.
“Is that the same Neumann-sama, who was said to be mediocre compared to Alfred-sama?”
“Maybe he’s the kind of person who shows his skills only when he’s in an unexpected situation.”
People could be heard talking about it everywhere.
“In the case of His Highness Alfred’s death, will the next emperor be Cornelia-sama, the second heir to the throne?”
“No, no, look at the size of Neumann-sama and Stacia-sama’s wedding party. With the royal family and Duke Mavis behind them? This could make Neumann-sama the ruler of the Empire.”
“Countess Gaunaherz belongs to the House of Marquis Cliffdorf. Of the three armies, the Imperial Guard and the Central Knights, as well as the Court Mages Order, are said to be growing in strength these days. In contrast, the side of Cornelia’s mother, Duchess Lau, is in the doldrums because of the failure of her protégé Zaunas and the others. This could be so.”
“It seems that we too must decide our attitude.”
“We can’t afford to lose the winning horse.”
He couldn’t stop smiling. Jade walked out of the main hall with a leisurely pace, sneering inwardly, but shading his seriousness on the surface. As planned, Welt’s private army of central knights would already be deployed in key locations in the imperial capital. The private knights of the Cliffdorf territory would also have been dispatched, and Petersia would also have begun preparing for military action.
According to Petersia, these would suspect that Count Elstead, who had assassinated the Crown Prince of the neighboring Empire, Lemmrousell, would have led the recent encounter not accidentally but deliberately. The Crown Prince of the neighboring country would also be in mourning, and they would go to war for retribution under the orders of Marquis Cliffdorf, head of the Imperial Knights and a powerful noble. After that, they would have to take custody of the emperor and Cornelia as soon as possible.
“We’re heading to the capital as well.” Jade exhaled sharply as he climbed into the carriage that was to pick him up.
The night attack had failed to get rid of the crown prince, but even if he was still alive, they could claim he was a double. The bad rumors that had circulated in social circles about Count Elstead would support this claim. Count Elstead, a corrupt noble, would try to evade responsibility for the crown prince’s murder in his territory. They would also use their subsidiaries, such as newspapers, to spread these rumors and make them true.
“In any case, I think my father is already currently outside the Imperial City in a villa. And Cornelia, whom Marquis Cliffdorf wanted to keep, is here safe and sound.”
‘I’m sure he’s in a hurry to get into an empty room right now,’ Alfred said with a little laugh.
“By the way, brother. You’re well aware of the situation in faraway Imperial City.”
“When you’re my age, there’s no reason to ignore what’s going on in the Empire.”
“You don’t mean…”
“Not at all.” Alfred smiled at Cornelia and pulled a piece of glass from his pocket and showed it to her. “Here’s the answer.”
A magic crystal to communicate. The crystal split in two after applying magic, and was a valuable magical tool that allowed those holding each piece to communicate with each other. It seemed that Alfred used it to communicate with his subordinates hiding in the imperial capital.
“Now, although Marquis Cliffdorf is probably the one giving the orders, my unworthy brother seems to be up to the task. Neumann seems to be planning to issue a summons to Royce, but he doesn’t intend it to be a fair thing. After all, I’m not dead. And apparently, he’ll say I’m an imposter impersonating me, even if I tell him I’m alive.” Alfred’s eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted into a smile. “Eventually, an army is going to be sent to Elstead territory. If Marquis Cliffdorf, who is in command of the Central Knights, gives the order, the roads will be blocked. So, I want you to get out of here before Erz is completely surrounded.” Alfred then looked at the faces of those seated at the table, starting with Cornelia, and finally turned his attention back to his sister, who shared his blood. “As I said before, Cornelia. You and Leticia-sama are going to go to the Kingdom of Lyon from here in Erz, through the tunnels of Majil Mountain to the borders of Lyon.”
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