A girl sat on the second-floor patio sipping tea, eyes darting quizzically. Charles, hair burning like a beautiful open fire, looked over the edge of the terrace where she heard voices coming from.
“Cox?” When she discovered Cox looking up at her with a flushed face, Charles tilted her head.
“Princess! This is an emergency! I have to tell you something!”
“Calm down first, Cox, and then speak.”
“A new C-Class Knight was promoted here yesterday! Yes! Right here!”
“Cox, please.” Rather than excited, Charles just frowned. “You must have forgotten that this is the Agnus Estate—they’re famous for producing great knights. Such a fuss over a C-Class promotion. Hah. I expected more from you.”
“What if that C-Class Knight was only nine years old—even younger than the princess?”
“What?! …No way.”
“Yes! Fortunately, Young Master Joshua has finally been recognized by the Imperial Family! Now he’s a legitimate mana user!”
“Yes, he is.”
“Aren’t you surprised?” Cox was puzzled by Charles’s lukewarm reaction. “You’ve been cooped up in your room for quite some time now, so I thought the news wouldn’t fly so fast to you—but I guess you already knew?”
“No,” Charles shook her head. “In fact, this is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“Then why are you reacting like that?”
“You’re the weird one, Cox. This isn’t anything new; we already knew his talent.”
“Yes, but this is different from such an informal evaluation. Official Imperial recognition means that he will be known across the Avalon Empire as the youngest mana user in history!”
Cox’s face scrunched up in frustration. His life revolved around money; he rarely thought of the knights as anything more than numbers in his checkbook. As far as he was concerned, money was the truest transcendental power—but such boundless talent was a whole different story.
What happens when the world knows of Joshua’s incredible talent? The world could not leave Joshua alone. Cox knew that better than anyone.
“Honestly, when the Princess first took an interest in Young Master Joshua, my head felt heavy. Back then, he was just the bastard son of a concubine with a smattering of talent—or so it seemed. But now, it’s clearly different. Never before in the history of the continent has someone become a mana user before the age of ten.”
Charles stared silently at him, making Cox feel somewhat self-conscious.
“The Pontier family have money and fame aplenty. However, even the most talented person can only do so much with it… Sometimes, money isn’t the solution.”
“...What is it?” Curiosity crept into Charles’s expression.
“Do you know why your father sent both of us here?”
“...He must’ve sent me here to do something with Babel’s brother somehow,” Charles muttered bitterly.
“Half right, half wrong.” Cox shook his head.
“The important issue is why he wanted the Princess and Young Master Babel together: the Mercenary King. Nobody thought he would be with the Marquis of Crombell.”
The Mercenary King Barbarian: a Sword Master of common birth, with the skill of an A-Class Knight. No—he would be more accurately described as an Ax Master. He wielded an ax the size of a grown man in one hand and with it battled his way across the continent, gathering mercenaries as he went. Thus, he was known as the “Mercenary King”.
He was widely considered to be just below the Nine Stars—really, he could be one of them if he wanted to.
Unfortunately for the Pontier family, there were rumors that the Mercenary King had secret ties with the Marquis.
Marquis Crombell was the second most wealthy noble in the Avalon Empire, after Duke Pontier. The head of the family lived in the same area as the Pontiers, so they inevitably bumped shoulders from time to time. In recent times, their clashes had intensified; now, it has reached the point where war could break out at any time.
“If the rumors are not true, it doesn’t matter—but if it’s the other way around, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Charles said with a serious expression. “It’s not like I’m in a situation where I can tell the people around me about my situation.”
“You understand very well, Princess.” Cox smiled softly and nodded.
Both families were closely tied to the merchants and were thus very sensitive to rumors. What if whispers arose of a war between their two families? Their customers would react poorly, and their competitors would come snapping at their heels. The Imperial Palace forbids warfare without justifications, but the investigation they would send was a problem in its own way.
Therefore, the struggle between the two families stayed within the shadows.
“If a territorial battle takes place, the whole world would be watching. The best solution would be to finish the job in the shortest time possible… In the end, the key is how quickly you can repel your opponent.”
“‘Money isn’t the solution’... You were referring to the Mercenary King?”
“You really are the daughter of the Pontier family.” Cox nodded.
“That’s why they were trying to curry a relationship with Babel’s brother… If it develops, the Crombell family won’t be able to sit still.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“...I like strong people too, but I can’t help but feel bitter after learning the truth.”
What? Was he mistaken, or had this free-spirited girl matured at some point? Then… am I going to be the keystone of this operation?
“Can’t we just ask uncle1 for help?”
“I don’t think so… Don’t you know this isn’t a normal situation? It’s the Mercenary King. I don’t think he’s solely driven by money, so it’s not an emergency. I don’t believe it’s necessary to bow down and beg for help first.” When Charles’s expression did not improve at all, Cox sighed. “...That’s what the elders of the family think… You may not understand it yet, Princess, but for a noble, there is nothing more important than his pride—even more so in front of a higher-ranking noble.”
“You mean you don’t agree?” Charles looked up. “...At least I don’t do anything stupid that would put my pride in jeopardy during a family crisis.”
“You say that, but… I know you, Princess. You pretend to be interested, but you don’t really like Young Master Babel at all. I have served the Princess for a long time; I hope your life will not be sacrificed in the name of your family.”
“Cox…” Charles looked moved.
“But… as a vassal of the Pontier family, this crisis cannot be ignored. It is my wish that the Princess and Young Master Joshua have a serious conversation at least once, if both of you are willing. For a brief moment, you were somehow different when you dealt with Young Master Babel versus Young master Joshua. There was nothing strange about it—I felt, shall I say, ‘sincerity’?”
Cox scratched his head.
“I’m sorry if I was mistaken… It is indeed a great setback for the Pontiers for them to have a second child of such unprecedented talent. Don’t worry too much about it—I only said it because of greed.”
“No, Cox.” Shaking her head, Charles’s dull eyes sharpened. “Before we leave… arrange a meeting with the Young Master. When that child is available… I hope Cox would be kind enough to arrange a meal for the two of us.”
Cox’s expression brightened.
“Leave it to me!” Cox bowed and moved away from the terrace.
Is this really okay? Charles, left alone on the terrace, let the worry show on her face. Cox didn’t know, but Charles still couldn’t forget the way that child had reacted.
Charles’s sigh wafted quietly across the terrace.
Father and son sat across from each other in the Duke’s room.
“Do you understand why I said that?” Duke Agnus was the first to broach the silence.
“You don’t want the family to bleed; the battle for succession is not just a matter between the heirs. Many will be purged—if it were within my abilities, I’d make it so that no one would get hurt.”
Duke Agnus examined Joshua’s face without saying a word.
He has the right idea. Joshua’s precocious talents made the Duke like him more and more.
“Confidence and arrogance are separated by a thin line.” The Duke chuckled. “In that sense, your confidence is not bad.”
“Now, before you go to Arcadia, you will have to give up the name of ‘Joshua von Agnus’.”
“Let me give you a present.” Duke Agnus held out something to Joshua.
- Duke Agnus↩
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