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60: The Young Man and the Hero

 Rudel woke up early every morning to carry out his training. After draping a blanket over the former goddess, her body spread grandly over the center of the bed, he took up his weighted wood sword and made for the courtyards. Lately, he had begun training with a wood sword made to imitate the weight and length of the blade Basyle had given him.

There were a number of reasons for that. Especially as of late... ever since he was professed as a White Knight, he felt power overflowing from the depths of his body. Perhaps of that, it was growing more difficult to control his power. If he tried to use magic, it would run out of control, and if he flowed mana into his sword, he could no longer maintain the mana in the sword's shape.

Hesitating at his rapid growth, Rudel carried out the training required to control it. When he practiced swinging his sword, the sound it made was clearly different from the other students around. His movements as well, while the individual himself wasn't satisfied with them, from the eyes of those around, his feats already looked superhuman. And to Rudel, everyone around exercised some tact, and no one would normally call over to him.

But on that day there was an individual to call out. His friend Luecke. Luecke generally carried his research late into the night, so his mornings never started too early. Yet now he wore mobile clothing with a wooden sword in his hand.

"You sure are energetic in the morning, Rudel."

"Luecke, how rare. You didn't do research yesterday?"

Rudel stopped swinging his sword and looked at Luecke. Wiping away his sweat, he tried to have a little chat. Ever since Vargas Graduated, there were few students who would ever talk to Rudel in his training, so Rudel was delighted to hear Luecke out.

"Can you lock blades with me for a bit? The way things are going, my grades are going to end up the same as Eunius', and that's something I can't bear."

Holding up his wood sword, Luecke took a stance for a sword style focused around thrusts. Without thinking anything in particular, Rudel took a stance as well. But in this circumstance, Luecke was the one receiving instruction. If there were any students capable of decently exchanging blows with Rudel, it would have to be Eunius or the upperclassmen.

"You're not stepping in far enough. And there's excess in your movements."

Parrying and repelling Luecke's thrust, Rudel pointed out his points of issue. Luecke tried to stress on and correct them, but as he focused too much on them, his balance crumbled. Rudel went right into lowering his own wooden sword, stopping it just short of his neck.

"Hah, I guess it's too early for me to practice with you... sorry for taking your time."

"It's fine. Rather, is your research going alright?"

"It's going just fine. But I don't want to have things end as a loss, right? If I graduate with nothing but a loss against you and Eunius, I'm sure I'll regret it. In that case, I have to do my best now."

As the two shed sweat, they wiped their brows and sat right over the lawn. Looking up at the sky, it was high today once more.

"More importantly, how's Aleist doing? The first semester's almost over, but is he still being pummeled around?"

"I wonder... last I saw of him, the tiger tribe men were taking turns having match after match with him. They were quite surprised with Aleist's stamina. Delightfully surprised, and they said the way things were going, he'd pick up their techniques in no time."

Luecke felt some pity for Aleist as he turned talks to the ceremony at the palace he had been unable to undergo the year before.

"That's a pity. But that aside, the knight appointment ceremony at the royal palace is this week. We were under house arrest so we couldn't attend last year, so we've got to get through with it this time."

It was an important ceremony where they would swear their loyalty to the country as knights. As they were receiving disciplinary action the year before, the three of them were unable to take it. Similarily, Izumi would be taking part this year as well.

"Ah, so it's been a year since then. It really does fly by..."

"Given our status, the king will personally be appointing us as knights. As the heads of the Three Lords are all gathering together this time, it seems the palace is in a festive mood."

As Rudel and the others were being appointed, the heads of the Three Lord Houses were dropping by the palace. Hearing that, Rudel informed Luecke he hadn't been told anything about it. Even when Rudel had been recognized by the king, Luecke gave a bitter smile at the Arses House's treatment of him.

Another reason for the palace's revelry was that this would be Rudel's debut in high society. The nobles showed some interest in finally seeing the individual who had received various forms of assessments. Luecke and Eunius' fathers were no exceptions.

"The bell's about to chime six. Shall we go to the dining hall, Rudel?"

"Yeah, Eunius might be awake too. He was making a ruckus over how starting yesterday, he had a class he couldn't be late to."

"He really is no good."

The two of them laughed as they made for the dining hall. By the time they arrived, a sleepy Eunius, and a similarly sleepy former goddess were restlessly eating breakfast.



Meanwhile, in the empire, Askewell and Mies were confirming the results of their experiment in the research facility on imperial soil. Inside a large cage, an ogre of black body and white markings was obediently taking a seat. It was only the prototype, but its performance was more than enough to satisfy Askewell.

"I received a report that it defeated one of its own ogre brethren under our orders, but I never thought it would develop to such an extent."

As Askewell seemed satisfied with the test subject, Mies killed her feelings and gave her thanks. But her mind was in chaos all the way. While Mies had been carrying out the experiments from before she met Askewell, she never thought she would be able to achieve such results. It felt almost as if all of it was contrived to work in her favor.

"Your words are wasted on me, general."

"You're quite the stiff one, Mies. But after reading a report on the experiment's results, I just got an urge to see the real thing. Even if I look like this, I used to be the scholarly type, see. I once intended to discard the sword I inherited and take up the scholar's path."

Hearing that unexpected tidbit, Mies was a little surprised. It was the moment she learned an unexpected side of the young imperial prince Askewell. Seeing the prince's face turn to a childish smile, Mies felt a little happy.

"You, general? Now that's a surprise. What sort of research were you doing?"

"Yeah, it was mostly on agriculture... hey, Mies. When the empire and the kingdom exist on the same continent, why must they be so different?"

On Askewell's question, Mies thought over what she should answer. She could tell he wasn't talking about a difference of custom, culture or language, but she didn't know what he was getting at.

"... Compared to the kingdom's abundance, the people of the empire have barely any to eat. I, you see, I set out to be a scholar to save the empire's people. But an experiment that's success I was certain of failed, and no matter how many theses I wrote, no one would ever look my way anymore. I was heartbroken, but even so, as a prince of the empire, I chose to work for the sake of its people."

"The land of the kingdom truly is plentiful. That's precisely why the empire needs to obtain fertile land even if it means going to war, but... so there was such a time for you, general."

Askewell hung his head, and as he raised it, his previous childish smile changed to a haunted one.

"It's laughable, really. No matter how hard I tried to save lives, I was just running in circles, but the moment I became a military man, the achievements just kept piling up. It's as if I was never cut out to be a scholar from the start. I get the feeling god is telling me that war was always the only option."

"General..."

Mies was coming to understand the individual called Askewell just a little bit more. But as Askewell's smile returned to its normal state, he spoke to Mies once more.

"I don't need the sympathy, and I haven't lost my objective of being useful to the people. The more land we obtain from the kingdom, the more of the empire's people we can save... and I'll be delighted if you could lend me your power at the time."

"Yes!"

Seeing Askewell's back as he walked from the facility, the anxieties Mies had to that point were blown away. Feeling as if all would be well as long as she followed him, Mies didn't feel the slightest sense of unease.

For Askewell was the third prince of the empire, and the Hero Aleist couldn't become.



Paying a visit to the palace, Rudel and the other students were split between nobles higher than Count Rank and those below for their investiture. As last year's class was noble-concentrated, there were fewer participants than average this year, but with the Three Lords' eldest sons taking part, the palace was rowdy.

"How stiff. Hey Rudel, wanna ditch?"

"I cannot do that! If I don't become a knight, I cannot become a dragoon."

Hating these sorts of formalities, Eunius invited Rudel to run off. But just as he expected, Rudel declined. The exchange was watched over restlessly by their underclassmen, the third years.

Luecke was calm, sitting at ease in the meeting room that had become their waiting room. But in that meeting room was a nervous Izumi. Thinking Izumi was worried about something, Rudel called over. But the cause of Izumi's anxiety was Rudel.

"Are you nervous, Izumi? It's alright, the ceremonies go the same way for both groups."

"... Rudel, why am I here?"

"That's easy. When I tried asking, they gave permission."

"Why did they give permission for me?"

"That's also easy. When the officials were hesitating over it, Eunius and Luecke came at just the right time and helped out."

"... You two..."

As Izumi directed her face to Luecke and Eunius, the two of them averted their eyes. But both their shoulders were shaking ever-so-slightly. They had taken such action for the kicks, but they had never imagined it would actually be permitted. But as the Three Lords' eldest sons requested it, the king also acknowledged Izumi's participation.

"Don't worry, Izumi. It used to be that the king personally did all of them. We only use this system because the numbers were so great that there was no helping it."

Izumi wanted to hold her head. She understood what Rudel was saying, but even so, there was something called atmosphere. It's not like everyone would hold a favorable impression of her, a foreigner in Courtois land. As Izumi hated stepping out of line, this ceremony was starting to feel like the trial of her life.

"There's nothing for you to worry about. If you're aiming to be a high knight, then that investiture will be a much grander one than this. You should get used to it while you can."

Luecke explained to console her, and as Izumi was weak when it came to that, she resolved herself. Just at the moment she set her resolve, officials of the palace informed those in the meeting room the preparations were in order.

In the hall, starting with the royal line, the ministers and the high ranking officials, officers, the high nobles and young knights watched over them. The students walked along the carpet spread over the hall, kneeling before the king all at once. This was where the royal orchestra was to show their mettle, and they put their all into their performance.

(So I've finally come all the way here...)

The king saw Rudel kneeling and gave a bitter smile as he recalled his meeting with the three in the infirmary. After two years, those three were finally becoming knights; looking at those around, the king turned his expression serious.

The ceremony went on as planned, and while the Diade and Halbades House heads' expressions were serious as they watched on their sons, they were rejoicing within. The nobles around each held a high assessment as they saw the Rudel of rumors. The way he carried himself was perfect. Even he wouldn't do anything outrageous during a ceremony, so the eyes of the nobles as they watched Rudel were serious indeed.

But the Arses House, Rudel's father alone held conflicted emotions. The honor he lost in Chlust's mishap had been regained by Rudel. But even so, he had grown to hold an emotion close to hatred towards him. He learned jealousy at this situation so different from when he was to step up.

Each individual was called individually by the king, and each would express words of loyalty in return. Once they became knights, they would earn status from the country, but the knight's status was accompanied by an obligation. If a war broke out, they were not permitted to flee. They swore to fight for the country's sake.

Ane like that, the hero prince Askewell and Rudel plunge forward towards their fated battle. The preparations were gradually underway for the war in a few years time.