"What are you implying, Young Master Joshua?" Chiffon frowned down at the boy. Joshua smirked back at him.
"It is what it is. Shouldn't you try it for yourself? See if I really did borrow a monster's power or not? You can tell if we fight, can't you?"
If I make a mistake… I'll be punished by the Master immediately. Chiffon's jaw clenched. Agreeing was not an option, right in front of the Duke. The vassals who'd raised their voices earlier now wore casual expressions and kept their lips sealed like it had nothing to do with them.
They're like vultures. Chiffon cussed under his breath.
In a swordfight… the boy's skills are… Chiffon was loath to admit it, but Joshua didn't need a monstrous weapon to be a monster. He'd seen Joshua fight Babel. The boy in question was looking him straight in the eyes with a devilish smile dancing on his lips.
"What, aren't you confident? Hahh… Shouldn't one of the Duke's commanders be among the bravest?"
Chiffon wouldn't normally react to such a blatant, childish provocation, but something about the situation made his blood boil.
This brat! There was death in Chiffon's eyes, but Joshua grinned daringly at him.
"Stop." The conference room rattled under Duke Agnus's mana-infused voice.
"Chiffon, you should stop. Joshua, you need to stop also."
Chiffon stepped back, and Joshua shut his mouth.
"There is one thing you all, including Chiffon, are overlooking. You hadn't forgotten who was there when Joshua's mana was assessed, have you?"
The doubt in his vassals' eyes faded, replaced by understanding.
"I don't believe our family's knights were somehow inferior to them, but… they are the best knights in the Empire."
"The Imperial Knights…" Armstrong was comparing them to the Golden Mane Corps. In terms of sheer power, the Golden Mane was the equal of one of the Imperial Knights' top five battalions—in other words, they were more than a match for the Imperial 9th Battalion.
But no one can predict that until they actually face each other in combat. The fact that the Imperial Knights Templar are the strongest in the Empire is unquestionable.
Yesterday's fight was spectated not only by the Imperial Knights but by the Imperial Chief Wizard Evergrant and the Master, one of the 9 stars of the Empire. One of the Imperial Knights personally crossed blades with Joshua.
If he really did use a monster's power, someone would have noticed. After all, these are the most extraordinary men in the Empire. Not to mention, Joshua had the Duke's utmost attention.
"I believe that should resolve the controversy. Any objections?" No one responded—their mouths were shut like the issue had never come up in the first place.
"I have no doubts. In my opinion, that weapon didn't look like a monster's artifact at all. But…" Duke Agnus turned his gaze onto Joshua. "...That doesn't mean all the questions have been answered."
Duke Agnus's grim, humorless smile seemed to pin Joshua in place.
"I have many things I'm curious about. I wanted to inquire about your sudden growth, and I'm sure my vassals are curious as well."
Yes! Chiffon cheered, exhilarated. What was I so worried about? If the Master wishes it, I'll gladly dig up this boy's dirt.
Chiffon gazed imploringly at Duke Agnus but wasn't spared a glance.
"Joshua… I will take you to the capital."
"Duke?" Chiffon was bewildered, and the rest of the vassals were no different.
You're taking him to the capital? That could only mean one thing.
"Questions aside, Joshua's talent is undeniable. According to the customs of the Duchy, we should give the child a chance."
Such was the iron rule of the Duke: all talented people are given equal opportunities regardless of rank. Anyone with a passion for swords would not be in need.
This damn—! Chiffon bit his lip angrily. The moment that brat gets away from here, it would disrupt all his planning. If he was talented now, then when he returned in a few years…
Young Master Babel would lose the race for succession! I don't even want to think about it… It wasn't far-fetched at all, seeing how fast he'd grown till now.
That monstrous talent can render all my power meaningless… but there's no point in fretting. The Master's words are final. What more can I say?
"Are you dissatisfied?" The Duke regarded Joshua with a slight smile dancing on his lips.
Obviously, going to the capital is a massive advantage at this point. But…
Joshua shook off his doubts.
"I have one request."
"I want to go to the capital with my mother."
"That's impossible!" Chiffon shouted. "If the Duke went to the capital with Madame Lucia, what would become of Duchess Vanessa?"
"What if people don't look?" Joshua's voice was frigid. "Are you saying the Duke should only care about these selfish reasons?"
This bastard! Chiffon clenched his teeth, feeling the atmosphere turn against him. Again, he couldn't say "Yes" here—he would sound like a mother-in-law. The feeling of being led around by this kid was driving him crazy.
"I-I am only worried that the Duke's reputation will suffer if he only favors Madame Lucia." Chiffon tried and failed to hide his embarrassment.
"Shut it." Duke Agnus raised his hand.
"I'll allow it."
"Thank you, Duke." Joshua bowed.
Duke Agnus smiled—Joshua's bow was unusually sincere.
He's still no ordinary child. The Duke chuckled to himself. I don't know how long it's been since I've felt this way. I never experienced it with Babel or that Red Cross "kid". 1
"Does anyone have an opinion on this matter?" Duke Agnus looked around.
"Everything according to the will of the Master." Count Anghel was the first to bow.
"Everything according to the will of the Master!" Even Chiffon followed.
"Then it's decided." With that, Duke Agnus rose from his seat. "As soon as we clear the Black Forest, we leave for Arcadia. All things related to your reports must be completed by then."
"And Armstrong? Bring Pontier's report to my room as soon as it's in order. Even better, bring the knights from the dispatch with you, if possible."
"I heed your order." Armstrong bowed.
"Joshua, I want to see you in my room as soon as the meeting is over."
"Today's meeting is adjourned." Duke Agnus walked forward with a satisfied smile.
"Wait a minute!" A loud voice slipped through the open door.
The person who emerged from behind the door left the vassals dumbfounded.
- I think he's talking about Cain/Kane↩
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