Chapter Eight: My Lord, I’m Confused (Part 1)
Earl Gilberto Schweitzer of Greeden was confused; profound wrinkles formed between his eyebrows.
Six months ago, after five years of clearing and ten years of developing the territory, he finally decided to spend the remainder of his life in the Royal Capital with his people. He had sent a letter to the king, informing him of the exact time and date, as he was urged to do so before. The messenger, though, had returned with a bizarre reply.
“Schweitzer-sama, what did the King say?”
Arnold, the butler, spoke modestly to the earl, who was still clutching the letter in his hand, his mouth void of words.
He wasn’t one to say anything to urge the earl onwards; however, the King’s Seal on the beeswax-bound letter, signifying an Imperial Order was too prominent as it customarily meant as an invitation for an unusual promotion, a grant of territory, or a request to go to war.
Considering his age and the situations before the current one, the unexpected Imperial Order was ominous in a way. Although Arnold had always been an excellent right-hand who had served the earl for many years, he could not help but be concerned.
The earl let out a small sigh as he held out the letter he had been holding towards him.
In all fairness, its contents were too ridiculous to explain plainly.
“Will it be alright? Well then, you’ll have to excuse me.”
Alfred walked up to the earl, carefully receiving the letter. He lowered his glasses slightly. As his pale gray eyes reached the end of the letter… His gaze lifted again to the beginning as if to confirm what he had just read. Perhaps the earl knew the reasoning behind this since he had done the same.
The earl put his hand on the back of his neck and sighed again, thinking that he wasn’t mistaken in understanding Arnold’s gestures, which seemed to trace his movements a few minutes ago.
He didn’t expect this to be happening now.
“It would appear so.”
He nodded at the words that came out of the other’s mouth that dripped with surprise and confusion.
The Divine Child summoned prior is to be given to you as a reward for your achievements by far.
However, in the imperial Order, such things were written in summary with exaggerated terms.
“…I heard that they summoned a Divine Child from another world to be the King’s Rightful Queen.”
“That’s right. It’s for that reason that I thought it wouldn’t even be talked about, let alone announced like this – is the king’s bad habits coming to light once again?”
The gently undulating red-colored sky seen from the window reminded the earl of his former student.
He had inherited the impeccable sociability of the former queen while being charismatic, bearing excellent sword skills and authority that fulfills the requirements to match a king, yet, he was most renowned for his bad habits involving women.
Perhaps the reason he’s ordered to summon someone for the first time from another world in probably hundreds of years was mere because he wanted to taste a woman from another world – I can easily imagine the answer without asking.
Maybe the reason why the rumors had not reached me until now… Was that the king had already fallen in love with the woman of a different world. Thereby hiding her in a secluded room in the Royal Palace. Ever since he was a child, he has had a bad habit of hiding his favorite toys at the bottom of his toy box, not wanting anyone else to touch them.
However, no matter how much he was and surmised to be still infatuated with his favored queen, he still did his duties as king, which is one of his few virtues – And in a way, was also a bad one. As long as he did what he needed to do, the people around him, including myself, an older man living in a remote area, had no choice but to give him a bit of grumbling.
I thought that after a certain amount of love, if she were not capable of becoming a full-fledged queen, she would be put in the rear court. However, they claimed that she would have the possibility of manifesting unknown powers.
The former king had shaken my hand on his deathbed, telling me to take good care of his son and the country after he died. I looked after him the best way I could, seaweed him up between busy work, and instructed him on how to wield a sword.
Once the coronation ceremony had passed, and although I was still concerned about his womanizing habits, which had already been showing in the slightest chances since then, I left the capital to explore untouched lands, thinking that it would not be something that would damage the country… But perhaps I had not given him enough guidance yet.
…The earl was, fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the situation, still unmarried.
He was initially the third son of a noble family, and as a child, he and his siblings had lived a life that could not be called wealthy, and becoming a knight was an inevitable part of earning enough to eat.
When the former king ascended the throne, there were many skirmishes with neighboring countries, which gave the earl many opportunities to play an active role. Each chance he received a new title and achievements, a new marriage request came in. However, he would always reject any matchmaking requests brought up by his superiors. It was because of his mother. She was a fragile woman, even from her children’s point of view. She had waited for their father, who was a soldier just like herself. When he was a child, he used to cling to her back. She, who pretended to be sweet and content, stared blankly at the lattice of the gate, stopping her embroidery needle every so often that she kept moving for comfort.
When they received the news of his death, he was not saddened but more resigned than frustrated. He was able to accept the information quietly. However, when his mother heard the news, she collapsed on the spot and cried out like a child. His mother’s grief was so deep that she died of an illness six months later, following after her beloved.
I am a professional soldier with no other talents, and I will probably die the same way my father did. The “loneliness” of those who await was deep and sad. I did not want the person I loved so much that I wanted her to be my wife… to feel the way my mother did. That’s why I’ve remained single until this age.
“What are you going to do, Earl Schweitzer?”
It was hard to hear about the treatment being given to the woman separated from her family and left alone in another world. She’s being forced to wed me, who has little time left to live as an assurance to the palace.
But then again, it was rare for the womanizing king to let go of a woman once he had given her his favor. While he went from flower to flower, he was so possessive that he placed them on pedestals like a trophy on the shelf, and no woman from his palace was ever given to his subordinates.
…Oh, I see.
I’m finally convinced.
The Divine Child was probably staggeringly different from what he had expected… She must have been an old lady. Probably around the age that suited me. That may have been the reason why they pitied her. She must have felt awful spending the rest of her life in a world where her body was declining, and she couldn’t tell right from left.
Although it was nominally unavoidable, it might be more comfortable for her to be my wife than in the noisy Royal Palace. If she didn’t want to live with me, she could stay in a separate villa. It is also possible that she already has a companion left in the world she came from.
“Arnold, I apologize, but I need you to find out more about the Divine Child.”
“I understand. My youngest son is in the castle, so I will set up a meeting with him. However, it would have to be set after you arrive at the Royal Capital. Would that be alright?”
This place was far away from the Royal Capital. Even if we travel fast by hours, it’ll still take three days. Therefore, no matter how urgent it may be, it will still take about that much time.
…Therefore, it would already be after the fact that I would be learning about the summoning of the Divine Child.
Even if they had taken some time to prepare, I would have grabbed the information during that time and stopped it even if I had to overthrow him. However, the king decided to still proceed as if on a whim and had all the scholars and sorcerers in the castle draw up the summoning spell in about 30 minutes.
I believed in the conscience of the prime minister, who was both a good friend and comrade-in-arms to myself; however, I wonder if he had already gone senile, unable to overcome his advancing age. Perhaps, he was persuaded by the strangely charismatic king, even into matters such as summoning a Divine Child to be taken as the queen. He may have been influenced by the former king, who had a sweet spot for his son, the present king.
“Oh, it wouldn’t matter. It takes a lot of time and preparation to marry a woman. No details have been given as of yet. It would probably be a month or two away.”
“All right. I’ll send out a message as soon as possible.”
After watching Arnold’s back as he walked out of the room, the earl sighed for the third time today, picking up a stack of books to resume his interrupted packing.
Thus, two weeks later, Earl Gilberto Schweitzer of Greeden returned to the Royal Capital with a grand welcome.
The earl was in front of a large window that reflected the dark clouds that were about to fall, unpacking the luggage he had sent earlier.
I raked the hair away from my slightly sweaty forehead and rolled up my sleeves. As I bitterly chuckled at the sight of my veins that protrude with age, a light knock sounded in the spacious study. I answered, and Martha, the head maid, came into view.
I was relieved to see her again after 15 years, and although she was now a mother of three, she still had the same cheerful smile that she had before. I was deeply moved by the fact that there’s still relief in seeing things that remain unchanged at even our age.
“Master, your lunch is being prepared.”
She took off the white cloth wrapped around her head and closed the window, which had been left open due to the dust flying across the room. She probably helped others do what was supposed to be their chores as everyone was busy.
“It may rain soon, so I’ll keep it closed afterward.”
“Oh, my bad. Speaking of which, something smells good.”
“The chef was very enthusiastic,” Martha said, tucking the cloth into her apron and smiling.
She wiped her dusty hands lightly with the cloth I offered to her and headed for the door. I followed Martha as she quickly walked towards and opened the door.
Martha was the maid the earl had hired the year he received the house from the king. She was also a good friend of his. Together with her niece, Maria, she had managed the mansion for the last fifteen years that he had been away.
“Everyone is already there, master.”
“Alright, let’s hurry.”
The buzz of conversation grew louder with each step we took down the hallway.
Immediately after being settled in a remote area that could even be described as a wilderness, we began building a mansion that would serve as the base of our operations. Since we were eating in an area without a roof, we all began to dine together for efficiency, but even the generally quiet people would chatter away during meal times, the time when they could take a breather.
It was an opportunity to hear the kept true feelings of the mansion’s people, who were also residents. It was the time to listen to the extensive opinions of the young people, which are usually difficult to hear.
As I was initially a poor aristocrat who had spent a lot of time in war zones, I felt uncomfortable eating alone in a large room while being served by servants, so at times, this just feels better.
Maria, who is a stickler for etiquette, frowned at first. Still, since more than half of the new servants working at the mansion were, people brought from the territory. She seemed to have realized that it would be an excellent place to exchange opinions and information, as well as an ideal place to relieve stress, and after three days, she stopped saying anything.
“Mr. Arnold’s son is here. I invited him to join us for lunch.”
“Thank you. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him.”
It was probably regarding the information about the Divine Child that the earl had asked Arnold for. It had already been three days since his arrival at the Royal Capital. Gilbert frowned, wondering if the security concerning the Divine Child was so strict for a man like Arnold’s son to be somewhat late with a request. He wasn’t sure what to make of the facts he already knew. The more the earl was given information to understand the depth of the king’s favor, the more he’s confused as to why the Divine Child was being given to him.
When I entered the main dining hall, everyone was already there, just as she had said. Near the top, the man who would be sitting next to me stood up and bowed his head. I waved him to sit down.
“It’s been a while. I’m sorry to call you here.”
“No! It’s my pleasure to meet you, earl.”
His freckled young face, which looked more like his mother’s than his father’s, looked the same as it did when he came to visit the estate a few years ago.
“I heard you turned twenty-one recently, but you seem to be doing well. I’m proud of you, Stan.”
I was his godfather. As a result, when I received guests from the Royal Palace, I was able to tell them about him. He seemed to be very talented, just like his father, so there were no lies in my words.
“Thank you very much.”
Stan’s cheeks were flushed, and he bowed his head with a frankness that his father never had. He seemed to be embarrassed. His innocence made me smile, and I truly felt lucky that he did not resemble his father, whose personality I still could not grasp.
“Can you tell me matters regarding the Divine Child?”
When everyone, including the dozen or so servants, had taken their seats and the meal had begun peacefully, Martha, who had her own bowl of soup in her hand, hurriedly took her place diagonally in front of Gil. Next to her was Arnold, the head butler, while in front of him was his son, Stan. Next to him was Maria, followed by the young maids.
“We’ll now be talking about your supposed wife, right?”
Martha interjected with a spoon in one hand.
The people at the same table were all looking at them with interest. When it came to the earl’s bride, she would be no different from their own actual master. In fact, she would be more like their intermediate master. The earl did not admonish them for their impudent gazes but urged Stan that they had the right to ask and that it would be a waste of time to bother explaining to them at a later time.
Stan cleared his throat and opened his mouth, looking a little tense.
“Her name is Saegusa Nako, and she is a healthy 14-year-old girl.”
The earl, who had become a good listener over the years and would never usually interrupt someone, however, couldn’t help but raise his voice at the unbelievable words that came out of Stan’s mouth.
“No, I just thought I heard you say she was fourteen.”
“That’s right. Although, I’m not sure, as it has more than a year since she might already be fifteen or sixteen…?”
He almost dropped the spoon into his soup before hurriedly grabbing at it. The earl was upset.
Fourteen? Fifteen? There was no way.
If I’m not careful, our age difference would be on the level of my great grandfather and his grandchild.
I never thought I would be assigned to marry a girl of that age. I’m sure that Arnold had already heard about this as he gave me a wry look. I was grateful as he replaced the slightly wet napkin for me, but I’m not sure how warmly the people around me were looking. I’m sure he could have replaced the napkin later, but I felt the sincerity that he hoped I could explain to them that the current marriage situation was not based on preference.
“May I continue?” The puppy-like man who tilted his head probably didn’t realize the power of his statement.
Nodding to hide his agitation, Stan opened his mouth again.
“It seems that she had been summoned to be placed as the official queen, but she hasn’t seen the king except on the day she was summoned. Ever since she has been confined in her room.”
I was momentarily taken aback by the unexpected words. It’s not unusual for royalty to get married at that age, even if they were still young, and above all, if the other party was morbidly fond of women. It was like being placed in a bubble to be reserved until adulthood.
“Why is that?”
Maria, who had kept her silence until then, opened her mouth modestly.
She, in fact, was once a young woman who lost her husband and was about to be taken in by the king, so I hid her in this mansion. It’s been fifteen years since then. Her daughterly air has disappeared, and she was now wearing a gray dress instead of mourning clothes and glasses, which was unusual for a woman, giving her a stoic yet sophisticated femininity. It’s been a long time, I thought… But at the same time, another matter came to mind: the king should have grown up.
At Maria’s words, Stan’s mouth closed shut. What he said after a short pause, as if he was having a hard time saying it, were words that would turn all the women present there to be against the king.
“I’m sure it was probably because she was of a different race… When she was first summoned, Miss Nako was much younger than expected, with the tanned skin color of a laborer and short hair; at first glance, she looked like a boy. It seemed like the king wanted a beautiful woman of a mature but young age… I don’t think he liked her.”
“He’s now an enemy of women!”
Martha, who snorted, agreed with Maria’s spiteful words.
Stan looked at his father to ask for help, but Arnold kept an impassive face as he elegantly sliced the bread and dipped it into the soup. Arnold tended to do this sometimes.
When Martha came at him with a scathing look, Stan’s face scrunched up, giving her a choppy description of the situation. The women were taking control of the conversation.
“Despite being the first Divine Child to be summoned in hundreds of years, she has not been allowed to attend any official events, let alone an unveiling, and to put it bluntly, her existence seems to have been and is still being ignored. Most of the vassals have been looking down at her.”
“Such a thing!”
This time, the young maids who had been listening at the end of the table let out a high-pitched cry that sounded like a scream.
“Poor thing! Such a young girl wasn’t even allowed to participate in the Flower Festival!”
Martha gave the same screech-like gesture.
As I recall, she told me that she and her husband, who worked at a factory in the town, were asked to marry at the Flower Festival. For her, the Flower Festival must be an incredibly precious memory.
Incidentally, the Flower Festival was the biggest in the country, and it’s a lively event where single people give flowers to each other. There are always many people courting each other, and there was no young girl who did not yearn to join it. Many young people are too flashy, so guarding them to keep the sanctity of the festival was no easy task. So she was deeply moved by the feeling of others cherishing the same event… It seemed like she had gone through a more lonely upbringing than I had thought.
After a moment of anger, my gaze returned to Stan. His hand had already moved entirely away from his spoon… The soup in front of him seemed to have already turned cold. However, a lot of eyes were urging him to continue the conversation.
“The maidservants who were entrusted to look after her either quit… Or stopped working to go back to their former masters or the inner palace on their own, and now there was only one left.”
In my mind’s eye, I imagined a small girl holding her knees alone in a spacious room.
A girl of that age in a territory unknown to me was once dressed in a simple but fashionable clothing style with her friends, laughing with each other, but suddenly… She found herself in a foreign land. Her situation was indeed pitiful.
“…Why did they let the Divine Child fall into such a state?”
“They were concerned that she probably did not have any special abilities.”
The earl frowned at the already-expected response, which he could do nothing but imagine.
“Ridiculous. They’re forcing a fantasy like that on her.”
The earl, who had gone through the battlefield with his strength, sword, and certainty in his hands, could not think of magic as anything more than an unrealistic fantasy. In the first place, summoning was a myth, and even the people, with a few exceptions, thought of it as a fable to discipline children.
There had always been doubts regarding the recorded claims of successive generations that Divine Children possessing healing and fertility abilities were true now that centuries have already passed.
The image of large adults surrounding a young girl and forcing her to do impossible things came to mind, and just as the earl lowered his opinion of the king to a lowest of the low, the steward came rushing into the dining room.
“I’m sorry I’m late!”
He sat down next to the man in charge of the garden and took a breather, taking it as an opportunity to look around and understand the unusual atmosphere.
“What… What are you all talking about?”
He was a talkative man by nature. He elbowed the gardener in the arm, but everyone’s attention, including his, was focused on Stan alone. Martha’s ‘Quiet!’ was met with a shrug of his shoulders.
“And… This is a matter I’ve independently done my research on…”
At the sound of Stan’s voice, which was naturally hushed, everyone at the table leaned forward at once. Out of the corner of his eye, the earl saw that even the steward had also bent forward. He thought that he must have been a good man to have people around him that cared.
“She seems to always be embroidering… To sell them.”
A buzz of confusion spread throughout the dining hall.
Embroidery – something that my mother used to do when she was still impoverished as a child – was what you would call a side job. Of course, the wives of noble families seldom do this, but more than that, it was not something that a Divine Child from another world should have to do.
“She seems to be a handy person by nature. She goes down to the city once a week to sell her craft, even going as far as to hide her identity. The only maidservant of the Divine Child… Miss Lynn told me that she was saving up for her independence if she were ever kicked out of the Royal Palace.”
For some reason, Stan’s face stiffened as he mentioned Miss Lynn… However, the words that followed were too much for all of us to worry about the tension that passed his features.
“They… They’re considering throwing out a girl with no family to the streets!?”
“They summoned her one-sidedly, and now they have the gall to kick her out just because the king didn’t like her!”
Martha was already in the shape of a demon. If I remember it correctly, didn’t she have a daughter not much older than the Divine Child?
She was overwhelmed by the strength of the girl who, despite being abandoned by the king, manifesting no special abilities, and being treated quite coldly, looked straight ahead and tried to stand on her own in a world of isolation. However, that’s why it was more painful to hear about her trying to stand on her own without relying on others.
…I’m going to have to give the king a good beating.
The dining hall became noisy as the words of abuse done by the king echoed from the mouths of the people present.
If a royal knight heard any of the conversations here, he would have thrown us all in jail. Fortunately, the grounds were extensive enough that no matter how much noise everyone made, it wouldn’t leak to the settings outside the gate.
In the midst of all that…
“…She seems like a good and strong child.”
After the perpetually silent gardener at the end of the table muttered those few words, the noisy dining room quieted down. The waters became still, and the air turned somber once more. Martha, whose face was red with anger as she spewed out her dissatisfaction with the king, shut her mouth as if she had just realized something.
Yes, indeed, it all came down to the words uttered by the gardener.
A girl embroidering quietly in the corner of a luxurious room… No matter how dexterous an embroiderer she may be, she probably only earns as much as a child’s wages… Though even that did not stop her—she’s too healthy.
The servants, who had pleasant personalities, seemed to have imagined the scene with a sense of realism.
“Oh, you poor thing…”
Martha clutched at her white apron as the maids began to weep silently in their seats.
“That child has been through such a hard time…”
Before I knew it, even the chef, who was supposed to be serving… He was bent over the table, wiping his eyes with his white sleeve.
“No, I can’t listen to this anymore…!”
However, the chef’s eyes were urging him to tell the rest. Stan, who had been distracted by the overzealous servants, had those words written all over his face. He looked at his father again, but Arnold ignored him and instead focused on the main course in front of him. ‘I wonder if this man really is my father…!‘ was written all over Stan’s face.
“It was about a week ago… She wondered if she should sell the ornaments given to her by the nobles when she was first summoned. It was, again, in case she was kicked out. After Miss Lynn confirmed that the ornaments were the least valuable of the gifts she had received, she went down to the city with the items in her hands. Still, in the end, she couldn’t bear the burden of her conscience, so that day, she turned around to go home even when they were already in front of the pawnshop…”
“She should have sold them! The nobles, other than the master, take a lot of tax money from the people without remorse, but she… Hu… Huuu…”
The steward, who for some reason must not have fully grasped the situation until now, shouted, his words melting into sobs. He started crying like a man who had lost everything, triggering the others to do the same.
As I recall, he was an already emotional man who cried every time a mare he was taking care of gave birth.
“What, what’s to become of her now…!?”
Martha, sniffling and red-eyed, glared at Stan for an answer.
“Well, the other day, she finally decided to sell them and got 1200 gold in return. She didn’t waste any of the money and just hid it under her bed for emergencies.”
“Why didn’t she just use that money to get out of the Royal Palace?”
Maria, who was somewhat calmer than the other servants, interjected, making several nod in agreement.
1200 gold was enough to buy a small house if she chose the right place. It would have been better for her to go down to the city than to stay in the uncomfortable Royal Palace. Embroidery, as far as self-reliance was concerned, was more for the purpose of getting a job than for self-support… There was probably another way to make a living other than that.
Stan held his tongue again, glancing at the earl.
I have a bad feeling about this.
“The prime minister… He can’t ignore the possibility of her developing special abilities, so if it does resurface… It’s better to have her marry a powerful nobleman as insurance… I was told that the Divine Child had already tried escaping several times, but all of them failed, and she is currently under house arrest.”
“That’s terrible! Who’s the nobleman…!? He’s not some balding, disgusting old man, is he…!?”
Wait a minute.
You know what and who we’re talking about here, right? Steward?
Stan, without thinking, blurted out words as the steward approached him snappingly.
“No… He’s slightly older than you, but… He’s a very kind man.”
Shouldn’t he just say, ‘I don’t know‘ and be done with it? I didn’t know how to feel about the glimpses asking for a follow-up, but if he were willing to say that much, I’d prefer he just said that I was the other person.
“Slightly? He’s not some perverted old man who’s as old as her father, right!?”
The earl braced himself for the worst.
“He’s about 50, I think…”
Stan seemed to have finally lost his patience. He turned his gaze away from the earl, muttering those words to himself.
The steward exclaimed, climbing over the table and grabbing Stan by the collar. He violently shook him back and forth.
“…Whoa! Stop…! Please don’t do this!”
The earl felt an unstoppable urge to leave the dining hall.
Perhaps it was just my imagination, but… Weren’t the eyes of the servants, who were supposed to know the situation to some extent, cold?
“Rick, I think you’re being a bit too rude saying that in the presence of the person in question.”
Arnold finally broke his silence and interjected. He had thoroughly enjoyed the dish in front of him. He wiped his mouth with an elegant gesture. No one in the dining hall could imitate the boldness of the head butler, who seemed to have cleared the misunderstanding without trouble even in a situation like this.
Rick, who had stopped moving at the drop of his words, slowly turned around to look at the earl.
“…Huh!? My lord is the nobleman he’s referring to? I don’t really understand what’s going on! But I’ve come all this way from the city because I trust in you, my lord!”
Rick, who seemed to have fallen into a state of panic, said, “Give me back my innocence…!” By the time everyone had settled down, the food was already at room temperature.
“As you’ve heard, the Divine Child has been through a pretty tough time… I hope you all will give her a warm welcome when she arrives at this residence.”
“Leave it to us!”
The earl nodded to all his reliable servants, who held their chests encouragingly. He began to think about what gift he could give her, sipping at the soup, which had gone completely cold by then.
It was a lovely spring day, about two weeks before the bride was expected to arrive.