The Scarlet League
“Very well. Then, this is war,” the woman proclaimed, stunning and red as blood, proudly brandishing a raised fan in her hand. Those in her presence and anyone who heard her declaration found themselves filled with astonishment, perplexity, and in some cases, fervor. However, there was one unifying thread woven through them all—that being that each one of them were very young.
The enchanting woman’s resounding voice carried across the gathering of young boys and girls, all in their teens, with only a slight variation in age. On top of that, as children, they were far from war-savvy. Rather, they were simple boys and girls from the city. And while not entirely removed from the conflict, they were not expected to join the battlefield themselves. It was an audacious act to declare war to such youths, even attempting to draw them into its clutches.
An act that, even if said as a joke, could easily be misconstrued as malicious intent. Regrettably, however, in this particular instance, the person making the declaration showed not the slightest inkling of speaking in jest. The person was a tyrant for whom even the slightest suggestion of dissent would have the offender’s hand chopped off at the wrist. Be that as it may…
“We are going to war. Both sides should be well prepared,” declared the captivating Priscilla Barielle, repeatedly and with a distinct air of amusement. Her iron-helmeted squire, observing from behind, couldn’t help but think that perhaps it was more than the fear of losing his remaining arm that deterred him from challenging her outrageous words.
Several hours before Priscilla’s declaration of war…
“Lady Priscilla! We have a problem beyond my control!” The shrill voice of a child reverberated throughout the grand mansion. It wasn’t due to the sheer volume of the cry, but rather because the maidservants had sporadically thrown open the doors and windows to ventilate the building.
The desperate tone in the voice carried a sense of urgency. However, having already figured out its identity, the women all pursed their lips into a smile and returned to their work. Amongst them, only one individual sat up heavily at the sound of the high-pitched voice while scratching their neck.
“Well, well, seems Schult’s as peppy as ever today,” remarked a man in a black iron helmet, rising from the comfort of the sofa where he had been resting with a hint of irritation. In contrast to his head, which was fully concealed with jet-black steel, the armor protecting his body from the neck down was noticeably lacking. On his feet were customized sandals that looked so out of place, they would surely be seared into one’s memory.
Despite his eccentric appearance, however, only a select few were aware of the true nature of the role he fulfilled. In fact, it would be accurate to say that he himself hardly grasped what his position was. “Princess calls me a clown, but is she gonna pay me?” he wondered.
He knew that his mistress was very generous with the wages she paid her attendants. She was never known to be stingy, and her propensity to properly compensate them for their hard work had earned her their respect and admiration. However, his compensation did not come in the form of a monthly salary deposited into an account, so she must have handed it to him in some other way. But the exact details of this arrangement escaped his memory.
“I hadn’t really thought about it. I don’t really desire much, and she usually gives me pocket money when I ask,” he thought. “But maybe I’m just a useless old man with a crappy resume and no savings.” Saddened by his unintended self-analysis, the man headed for a room in the building without hesitation.
Considering the identity of the owner of the high-pitched voice and the nature of its cries, he had only one destination in mind. And sure enough, his intuition proved to be correct.
“I tried my best, but nobody would listen to me! At this rate, it will be all my fault that Your Ladyship’s… Your Ladyship’s…reputation will…!”
“Hmm, my reputation?”
“T-They will doubt you! I can’t bear it!”
Peering into the room, the man’s gaze fell upon the hunched figure of a petite back. Clenching his tiny fist in frustration and trembling impishly was a boy with pink hair, a distinguished butler of the mansion who wore short trousers that complimented him well. This was Schult.
Seeing him in all his childish glory, and his valiant efforts to navigate the challenges before him, he had a charm that made one want to tenderly take care of him. The adoration bestowed upon Schult by all the attendants of the mansion was not only due to his age, but because of his own personality. Yet the attendants themselves were hesitant to openly express their affection for Schult, not because of their overwhelming workload, but for another, more fundamental reason. Namely…
“Your demeanor sure is adorable as always. Say, how can someone so small worry so much about me?” remarked Priscilla, the owner of the mansion, her narrowed eyes fixated on Schult as she doted upon him. Seated in a gaudy chair, her elbow resting on the armrest with her hand placed on her cheek, Priscilla lent an attentive ear to Schult’s heartfelt plea, with a book she had been reading left on her lap.
Priscilla, who was surprisingly well-read, dedicated much of her leisure time to reading. Princess’s time devoted to reading is sacred to her. Interrupting her during this time is like stepping on a landmine that triggers relentless verbal abuse. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that person gets sent to the guillotine and bites the dust. Of course, the exception being Schult, that is.
“Wait, don’t the maids get let off the hook too?” the man wondered aloud. “Which means, the only one getting special treatment is me, the one being abused.”
Priscilla, having caught Al peeking into the room from the hallway, called out, “I thought I heard a crude, unusual voice. And indeed, it is you, Al.”
“Well, this sucks,” Al muttered to himself. He bowed his head as he appeared. Although he hadn’t necessarily been trying to hide, he was well aware of Priscilla’s unpredictable temperament, akin to the volatility of her own stock price—a frightening thing to say the least. One wanted to take as much time as possible to carefully gauge her mood.
Fortunately, Priscilla chose not to address his eavesdropping. Instead, she simply cocked her chin, and said: “Enlighten me, pray tell. Are you also here to bring me yet another report with a look on your face suggesting the end of the world?”
“Of course not, Princess,” replied Al. “You think I’d work as hard as Schult without this helmet on?”
“Even if you did, such unsightliness shall not stir my heart in the slightest.”
“Huh?!” Schult blurted out, unable to contain his curiosity at this particular part of Priscilla and Al’s exchange. “Lady Priscilla, have you seen Sir Al’s face!?” His curiosity having gotten the better of him, Schult immediately clamped his hands over his mouth in remorse for his lack of composure.
“I really am a mess, aren’t I?” he lamented. “I should become a bug that does nothing but chirp…”
“Foolishness,” Priscilla chided. “I have no desire for insects within the confines of my abode. If you wish to avoid being trampled upon, hatch into the best version of Schult as fast as you can.”
“I will grow up!” he vowed.
“Seeing you in such haste, it is indeed adorable.”
Al stepped forward, placing a hand on Schult’s drooping head from behind. To Al’s surprise, the child seemed more delighted than repulsed, a testament to his innocence. I really do hope this kid feeds on the favor of those around him in the future, and grows plump and fat.
“So, what’s your complaint today, Schult? Princess making unreasonable demands again?” Al inquired.
“What do you mean ‘again?’” Priscilla asked indignantly, furrowing her shapely eyebrows. “When have I ever made an unreasonable demand of Schult? Whenever he laments as such, it is usually due to his own self-indulgence.”
“His own self-indulgence, huh?” Al chuckled, appreciating the cuteness of Priscilla’s remark. “Well, that’s pretty likely.” He turned to Schult and tilted his head. “What’s up? It’s not unusual to see you all flustered, but I can’t turn a blind eye to an emergency that affects the Princess’s reputation. Tell me what happened.”
“Well, you see…” Schult began.
“If I recall, you were supposed to accompany the maidservants into town this morning,” Priscilla interjected.
“Surprise! I did!” Schult exclaimed. His reaction was to clutch his small chest, as if she had struck a chord.
Al, who had never witnessed someone exclaim “Surprise!” in such a manner, stared blankly out the window and mumbled, “Into town, huh?” In this case, the town Priscilla was referring to was Krufuna, located in the mansion’s vicinity.
The city of Krufuna, which wasn’t too far from the Barielle residence, held great significance and prosperity within the Barielle Domain. To be precise, it would be more accurate to say that it was Priscilla who made it flourish.
“I heard things were pretty bad when ol’ Leip was the lord,” Al remarked to himself.
The tyranny of Baron Leip Barielle, Priscilla’s late husband and the former lord, was so extreme that it was almost impressive to watch from the sidelines, while the people suffered both body and soul. That’s when Priscilla, Leip’s “beloved wife,” gallantly emerged to save them with her benevolent governance.
In retrospect, one could almost perceive Leip’s excessive arrogance as a calculated strategy intended to boost Priscilla’s future popularity. But from Leip’s perspective, who died after succumbing to mental deterioration and a near-bedridden state, such an assessment would serve as nothing more than a rhetorical argument not worth entertaining.
“Schult, what did you do in Krufuna?” Priscilla asked.
“I-I was…utterly useless!” Schult moaned, biting his lip, his slender shoulders burdened by a weight too heavy to bear. The incident occurred earlier that morning when he accompanied the maidservants on a shopping trip.
“So basically, you couldn’t mediate a siblings’ argument about Princess?” Al summarized.
“Y-Yes…” Schult admitted, nodding slightly in agreement. Regret filled his eyes, growing moist with remorse. Al gazed down at him and tapped his helmet thoughtfully as he pieced together the details of what transpired. According to Schult, that was the crux of the matter.
While en route to Krufuna with the maidservants, Schult came upon a boy and girl quarreling in the streets. If it had simply been a trivial argument, Schult would have paid them no mind. However, it became evident that the two, presumably brother and sister, were engaged in a dispute concerning Priscilla.
“The older brother was saying bad things about Lady Priscilla! And the little sister was arguing back with tears in her eyes. But while they were arguing, the younger sister was pushed away…” Schult explained.
“And you just had to butt in,” Al remarked. “But that brother sure had guts if he wasn’t intimidated by the sight of you, Schult.”
“Huh?” Schult looked at him quizzically. Yet it went without saying that he belonged to Priscilla’s entourage. Schult was a well-known figure in the Barielle Domain, and there likely wasn’t a single soul in Krufuna who would not recognize him. The boy had indeed displayed remarkable audacity to continue slandering Priscilla, even in the presence of Schult. He seems like the daring type of individual that would have been beheaded had he been born in a different era.
“Of course, I’m sure not even the Princess would do something so tyrannical—”
But before he could finish his sentence to defend what was left of her sense of righteousness, Priscilla was on her feet. “I shall make my way to Krufuna!” she declared.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! Calm down, Princess! You can’t do that!” Al protested, attempting to appease her anger. Sure, there’s nothing more foolish than for citizens to criticize their lord so openly in public, but—
“After all, they were only kids, right?” Al continued, “Those siblings weren’t much older than you. Right, Schult?”
“Yes, that is right!” Schult agreed. “The brother was just a little older than me.”
“See! No matter what he said, would you really behead a—”
“Foolishness!” Priscilla said, placing her fan against Al’s throat before he could utter another word. Al, immediately silenced, felt a scorching heat searing his larynx from the outside, causing him to holler and roll over in agony.
“Ow! Ow, ow, ow, ow! Ain’t this a bit too much!?” he moaned, clutching his scalded throat under Priscilla’s piercing, fiery gaze.
“Too much, you say? If you cannot even comprehend the intentions of your mistress, then there is no point in keeping a fool like you by my side. Do not take your position for granted,” Priscilla stated coldly, unfurling the fan that had left a mark on Al’s throat.
“Do not take it for granted that I will continue to keep you in my company,” she threatened. She concealed her mouth with the fan as Al groaned. “I am not as short-sighted as you seem to believe. However, Schult will not stop crying about his lack of strength. If I do not take action, my reputation as a lord will suffer.”
“What do you really want?” Al asked.
“I simply wish to alleviate my boredom,” she confessed. “Additionally, I would like to know exactly what insults were spoken about me.”
“Sounds like you.” Al dropped his head in disappointment, convinced by Priscilla’s characteristically straightforward response. He then scanned his surroundings with a quizzical look. “By the way, where’d Schult go?”
Just as Al was about to search for the vanished Schult, a voice rang out directly behind him. “Sir Al! Here you go!”
“Huh!?” As Al spun around to face the voice, his face was doused with a deluge of water. Upon closer inspection, a breathless Schult was holding a flower vase that had been on display in the hallway. He had carefully removed the flowers, using the remaining water to drench Al. Dripping wet with water that smelled and tasted distinctly of plants all over his helmet, he could do little more than stare in shock at Schult’s abrupt and unanticipated act, asking, “Why?”
“You were burning up, Sir Al,” Schult responded innocently. “So I thought I should cool you down…”
“I see…” Al nodded at Schult’s explanation, then turned his attention to Priscilla with a snap of his head. “I’m gonna wipe down my helmet. Gimme a moment, ‘kay?” he requested, indicating the need to postpone their departure.
“And that is why I have come here to see for myself,” Priscilla declared, crossing her arms and causing her opponents to stiffen before her. Al sympathized with them from the depths of his heart. He sympathized, but there was little he could do about it. He had no power to stop her, nor had he intended to in the first place.
“You’d have to be a real wise guy to speak openly of the Princess,” Al remarked. In truth, it was a rarity for Priscilla to even listen to Al’s opinions, despite his role as her loyal servant. In fact, she hadn’t even waited for his return after cleaning his helmet drenched with vase water. Once he heard that Priscilla and Schult had already departed the mansion, he hurried after them. By the time he caught up, Priscilla was already standing before her intended audience.
“Ah… Oh…” A boy of around thirteen or fourteen stood there, eyes filled with fear as they darted around under Priscilla’s piercing gaze. With red-toned hair and freckles, he was a rather ordinary looking boy with no remarkable features. For a boy like this to receive a sudden visit by the lord of the land, he would surely wilt away. Even more so given the reason for her visit.
“The Sun Princess…! Wow, it really is the Sun Princess!” Beside the boy was a girl, bouncing up and down in excitement, hand over her mouth. She appeared around ten years old, and wore her hair in two red pigtails. Based on Schult’s earlier explanation at the mansion, these two were most likely the brother and sister in question—the siblings who had been arguing about Priscilla.
“And it’s the big bro who was bad-mouthing the princess…” Al muttered to himself. The expected scenario would have been for the sister, in defense of Priscilla, to confront her brother, who had been bad-mouthing her. Then, Schult would have joined forces with the sister, only to be defeated. Had the roles been reversed, however, with the older brother chastising his sister for her ignorance, there wouldn’t have been a problem.
Yet this was not the case. It was a much more delicate matter. Not to mention, the boy’s age is also a concern. Priscilla’s surprisingly patient with children, but this boy looks like he’s teetering on the edge of her tolerance. But when push came to shove…
“Would I have to put my life on the line to prevent rumors of her cutting down one of her subjects from spreading?” Al said to himself. “It’ll sure be a pain to convince the Princess, though.” In fact, it would require more than just pain—it would be a matter of life and death.
Regardless, Al stepped onto the scene on that late afternoon, ready to intervene at a moment’s notice, fully alert for potential confrontations. Just then, Schult spotted Al and called out, “Sir Al! You caught up with us! Um, is your helmet okay? Did it get rusty or damaged?”
“Nah, don’t worry, it’s fine,” Al replied. “Well, if it does break, just use your savings to get me a new helmet that suits me more, ‘kay?”
“A new helmet?” Schult asked, “But I think a hat would suit you better! It would be more fashionable. Plus, we would be able to see your face, Sir Al!”
“That curiosity’s one of the things that makes you so adorable, y’know, Schult,” Al remarked, glancing at the inquisitive young boy who eagerly desired to see his face. Then he turned his attention to Priscilla. “So, what’s up with you, Princess? Already making the kids cry?”
The stunning, sharp-tongued Priscilla dismissed him with a single word: “Foolishness.” She then elaborated, “Do you truly believe I would engage in such behavior? I simply clarified the nature of my visit to them.”
“The nature of your visit? How so?” Al inquired.
“I heard that he slandered me, and I was curious to know what kind of nonsense he had concocted.”
“How I pity them…” Al mumbled.
It’s awkward enough for the accused to know that his words had reached the person in question. However, to be confronted directly about it is undoubtedly an unbearable situation. Not to mention, the fact that the person in question happens to be the lord of the land in which he lived. He must feel like he’s on thin ice.
The girl, unaware of her brother’s distress and unable to comprehend the gravity of the situation, made a heartfelt plea to Priscilla. “Sun Princess! My brother is so mean! He said bad things about you! Please scold him! Tell him it’s not nice!”
If Priscilla were to grant her request, there was a high probability that the boy would face more than a simple scolding. However, it was impossible for this girl to understand that.
“Hmmm, a scolding from me, you say?” Priscilla mused. “That sounds like quite an interesting proposal. What do you think, Schult?”
“U-Um… well, you see,” Schult stammered, “it was my fault for not handling the situation properly. So it would be a bit odd for you to do it, my lady…”
“You are not being very articulate,” Priscilla chided. “Can you not speak up?”
“I-I want you to watch me do my very best, Lady Priscilla!” Schult exclaimed, standing tall in front of Priscilla. Mustering his courage, he turned to face the boy, his face flushed with determination.
Al observed the scene beside Priscilla in admiration. Schult had apparently reached the same conclusion as him, although from a completely different perspective—that this matter should not be left up to Priscilla.
Schult looked up at the boy, who was only slightly taller than him.
“Why did you have to say such mean things?” he demanded. “Priscilla is incredibly beautiful and charming! And she is smart, too… There is nothing wrong with her!”
“W-Well…” the boy stammered.
“That’s right!” the sister chimed in. Encouraged by Schult’s words, the girl joined in on proclaiming Priscilla’s beauty to her brother. “Whenever I said something nice about Lady Priscilla, you always denied it! Just look at her! She’s so incredibly gorgeous!”
Priscilla, being complimented on her beauty by these two young children, did not so much as flinch under the boy’s uneasy gaze. She proudly and unabashedly displayed her bold and blazing beauty to the public. However, the boy’s gaze held a mix of complex emotions, contradicting what she had been told earlier. It appeared the tension he felt was not solely due to her lordship, but also because he was faced with the beauty of a woman that his eyes couldn’t help but admire.
“Well, he doesn’t seem to hate you, Princess,” Al observed, “but…ain’t it just that typical youngster bravado? Y’know, refusing to admit that someone’s a looker even though everyone else says so?”
“I fail to see the point of your analogy,” Priscilla remarked, brushing off his words, “but I suppose I have a good idea of his motivations. Al, do you happen to have any siblings?”
“Me? Nah, I’m an only child.”
“Then it would be futile to expect you to comprehend,” Priscilla retorted. Al grimaced at being told off so bluntly. However, his expression remained hidden beneath his helmet, invisible to the eyes of others.
“Cease your frowning. Your gloom is stinking up the air,” Priscilla ordered, despite being unable to see Al’s facial expression.
“Wha!?” he blurted out, startled.
Ignoring him, Prischilla stepped forward. The boy, cornered by both his sister and Schult, timidly retreated, shrinking once more under Priscilla’s commanding beauty and power. However…
“You two siblings both have red hair, I see,” Priscilla observed, combing her fingers through the petrified boy’s red locks.
“Huh?” The boy appeared startled by the gesture. “Your sister’s hair is a brighter shade of red while yours appears to be a tad darker, but it’s safe to say they belong in the same category,” Priscilla continued her observation, to which the girl eagerly affirmed.
“There aren’t many kids with red hair,” the girl continued, “so I told my brother how lucky we were to look just like the Sun Princess! But he got really mad at me for saying that.”
“Simply having red hair is quite a rarity,” Priscilla explained, “so it tends to attract the attention of others around you. Some people will pick on you over the most trivial of things. Has that happened to you?”
“You mean like people saying mean things? Yeah. But, when that happens…” the girl’s voice trailed off. Priscilla’s question seemed to have triggered a memory, and the girl’s gaze shifted toward her brother.
The meaning behind her look was clear. Before today, the girl’s brother would have stood up to any criticisms regarding their hair. That is, until a certain red-headed Sun Princess named Priscilla Barielle appeared.
“So that’s it, huh,” Al deduced, finally grasping the core of the siblings’ dispute, albeit long after Priscilla had. In short, the brother’s antipathy toward Priscilla stemmed from jealousy. “At first, he was the one defending his sister when she got picked on for being a redhead. Guess that all changed once the Princess entered the picture…”
The boy must have felt his self-respect and pride as an older brother stripped away, causing him to object to his sister’s admiration of Priscilla. And then, at the most inopportune moment, Schult happened to pass by. Unable to take back his words, the situation had soon spiraled out of control.
“When you add it all up, the truth’s pretty obvious,” Al continued. “It’s no one’s fault, really. I’d just call it bad timing…or maybe just an unlucky star.”
“Hmm? Did you figure something out, Sir Al?” Schult asked as Al nodded to himself thoughtfully. Schult turned and looked up at him, tugging at the hem of his vest.
“You’re adorable, looking up at me like that,” Al commented.
“Huh? What do you mean?” Schult asked. “It’s unfair to keep secrets from me! I want to know too! And I also want to see your face, Sir Al!”
“You’re really hung up on that, huh? It ain’t that big a deal. You really…” Al intended to simplify the situation by describing it as a case of adolescent sibling rivalry. He didn’t want to further drag out the story and embarrass this boy who loved his sister so much.
People were slowly beginning to gather, drawn in by Priscilla’s extraordinary beauty and captivating presence. Many of them were younger onlookers who were originally there after being caught up in the energy of the sibling rivalry. Al figured the situation would get out of control as the commotion escalated and more people began to flock around them. If there’s any moment to wrap up this mess, it’s now, he thought.
Then, a sudden declaration came forth, seizing control of the entire conversation and dominating the scene:
“Very well. Then, this is war.”
The sudden declaration of war left everyone, except Priscilla who held the reins of power, in a state of shock. Of course, Al and Schult were no exception. However, for the siblings, unexpectedly thrust into opposing roles, the astonishment was perhaps even greater.
The older brother’s face grew pale as his eyes widened in disbelief. The younger sister was genuinely taken aback, unable to fully comprehend the situation. Their whispered utterances of confusion made them look exactly identical in their panic.
Unperturbed by their reactions, Priscilla unfurled her fan as she proceeded to command everything within earshot of her voice. Priscilla was an unquenchable flame, engulfing everything in her path and dying it all red. Al wondered if this was really the right crowd for Priscilla to display this side of herself to. However, he couldn’t bring himself to interrupt her.
“We’re going to war. Both sides should be well prepared.” Her smile as she declared war was so magnificent, it silenced any objections.
“Just outta curiosity, why are you playing war?” Al asked, standing behind Priscilla.
“I am not playing. Do not selfishly dismiss it as a mere game based on your own perspective. When there is a clash of differing opinions and military power is involved, it can be considered war, no matter what,” Priscilla said, dismissing Al’s doubts. She peered down into the garden where the preparations for “war” were underway.
“Military power, huh?”
“Schult said that the brother made the first move,” Priscilla explained.
The commotion, which began with a trivial sibling rivalry, had unexpectedly, and quite literally, made its way into Barielle Manor. The siblings at the center of the commotion, along with every other boy and girl they considered friends, had been assembled and brought to the mansion in a dragon carriage.
There, the children, mesmerized by the unfamiliar surroundings and atmosphere of their lord’s mansion, were gradually being acquainted with the intricacies of war. Needless to say, this was not a war that would require actual swords or shields.
“Well, it’s a big relief to see wooden swords and mud balls and such,” Al admitted. “Knowing you, Princess, there was no guarantee the children wouldn’t have been given actual swords.”
“If you give them tools they cannot handle, they shall not be able to achieve their true potential,” Priscilla explained, “Not only are they not warriors, they haven’t even trained to be soldiers.”
“If you’d suggested giving them weapons if they had even a little training, I’m afraid you’d have been roasted.”
“Why would I suddenly go up in flames? Your words make no sense,” Priscilla countered, raising a shapely eyebrow at Al’s remark as she questioned the meaning of “roasted.” Al shrugged off her question, redirecting his attention to the children diligently “preparing for war,” as they had been instructed. It was war, after all, and so they had been divided into two distinct camps.
In essence, there was an Eastern Army and a Western Army, led by the older brother and the younger sister, respectively. Although there were exactly 15 members on each side, the older brother’s side boasted a higher average age since they were predominantly his friends. The male-to-female ratio was also skewed in favor of his faction, which unofficially suggested their higher probability of victory.
Of course, that wasn’t to say that there were no boys on the sister’s side. However, with Schult as one of them, despite his fervent enthusiasm, victory would be a challenge. “Let’s do our best and work together to prove how amazing Lady Priscilla is!” he exclaimed with unwavering confidence.
Schult had naturally developed more slowly in comparison to other children his age. In addition, due to Priscilla’s deliberate attitude towards him, he struggled to maintain a serious demeanor. He was highly unqualified to act as an effective soldier. His gusto could be described both as amusing and painful to watch. However, on the other hand, it was hard to believe that Priscilla was oblivious to these circumstances.
“Why the long face?” Priscilla said, gently touching her own lips.
“You can’t see through my helmet! How could you possibly know what I look like, Princess?” Al demanded to know.
“Well, perhaps if I had never laid eyes on your face before,” she retorted, “but we both know that is not the case, do we not?”
“Tch,” Al clicked his tongue at her cutting remark, unable to find a suitable response as her gesture and cherry-red lips drew his gaze. The memory of that inevitable moment when she had glimpsed his true countenance came rushing back. However, Priscilla and Al played different roles. Despite their pretenses, neither could deny the fact that they had been caught in a moment of vulnerability.
“You questioned the purpose of this war,” Priscilla addressed the silent Al. She sat in her chair, propping herself on her cheekbone. Al closed one eye at her words, having assumed that this conversation was over. Priscilla looked at the children below, and continued, “When both parties possess unwavering convictions, times will arise in which they must cross swords, even amongst parents and siblings. Blood ties alone do not dictate where one’s resolve is tested.”
“I get that, but is it really necessary to ask them that question now?” Al inquired. “Regardless of the little sis’ excitement, the big bro probably didn’t expect it to become such a big deal.”
“As I have already informed you,” Priscilla reminded him, dismissing his opinion with the same logic as before, “it was the brother who displayed his military prowess first.”
Al scratched his head, unable to articulate his thoughts any further. He understood the cause of the siblings’ quarrel and the brother’s sense of obligation, but he couldn’t agree with the brother’s decision to use violence. So is this a form of punishment?
“But if big bro wins this ‘war’, won’t that defeat the whole purpose?” Al asked.
“Indeed, if the older brother triumphs, it would,” Priscilla acknowledged. “However, the morale favors the side of the sister. Plus…”
“The sister’s side has received a little strategic advice from my end.” This new information caught Al off guard, shattering his pessimistic expectations.
To be honest, Al did not know if Priscilla was familiar with battle tactics. He could not know, yet he held lofty expectations for her, believing there was nothing she couldn’t accomplish. After all, this fearless Scarlet Princess seemed to possess an uncanny knack for receiving favor in all events. Precisely for that reason…
“Everything in this world is made for my convenience,” Priscilla declared. And indeed, it truly appeared as if the entire world was united in advocating for her philosophy.
With these winds seemingly blowing in Priscilla’s favor, Al couldn’t help but voice a question. “Princess, do you happen to have a brother?” The query slipped out before he could contain himself, and he immediately regretted the possibility of upsetting Priscilla with his words.
However, regardless of Al’s inner turmoil, Priscilla narrowed her eyes. “And just what makes you think that all of a sudden?” she challenged.
“Ah, well honestly, it just kinda hit me,” Al explained. “It’s like you understood the reason for the siblings’ fight from the get-go, and then, uh…”
“Do not stumble over your words there,” she said curtly. “Are you simply seeking my attention?”
“Well, you were pretty hung up on the big bro’s antics,” he continued. Yet, as he was speaking from a mere idea, he struggled to verbalize it, even to himself. Yet the more he pondered it, the more it made sense.
Thinking back, he recalled the first time Priscilla said she was going to Krufuna. It was not a mere whim on her part, nor due to Schult’s perceived shortcomings. Rather, the decision came after hearing the details of the siblings’ quarrel. The more he thought about it, the clearer it became.
Upon hearing Al’s guess, Priscilla became unusually silent, keeping her mouth shut. Surprised by her uncharacteristic composure in response to his accurate assumption, Al leaned forward and peered into her face. However, in an instant, the tip of her fan extended and pressed under his chin.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow!” Al winced as Priscilla’s scorching punishment seared through his curiosity. “Agh! Ow! W-Wait, Princess!”
“Do not gaze upon my face with impure thoughts,” Priscilla warned. “It is natural for men to be captivated by my beauty, but those who desire more must be willing to pay the appropriate price.”
“That’s no reason to carbonize someone’s vocal cords, damn!” Al grumbled in pain and frustration.
Having had his sense of superiority scorched by her scathing response, Al shrugged and withdrew, rubbing his throat in discomfort. Priscilla let out a small sigh as Al retreated, and replied, “I had numerous siblings. Older brothers, younger brothers, older sisters, younger sisters.”
“Wow, I can’t even imagine,” Al commented, pondering Priscilla’s family structure with a tilt of his head.
Priscilla responded to his reaction. “Hmm? What exactly is so difficult for you to grasp about it?”
“I know I asked if you had siblings. But seriously, Princess, you don’t strike me as the kind of person who fits into the typical family portrait,” Al confessed. “You don’t really give off that big or little sis vibe, y’know? It’s like my brain gets all buggy and glitchy when you tell me you fit in both categories.”
“What was that, a ‘bargain’ on words from beyond the Great Waterfall?” Priscilla asked, a slight chuckle escaping her lips as she attempted to wield her recently acquired vocabulary. However, Al wasn’t oblivious to the subtle undercurrent of nostalgia in her words.
Nostalgia, yes, nostalgia. I’m honestly surprised to know that even the Princess gets nostalgic about things. Not to mention hearing how many brothers and sisters she got. Or how she spoke of them in past tense…
“Lady Priscilla! Everything is ready to go!” Schult’s voice rang out from the garden below as Al and Priscilla’s conversation came to a close. Looking around, the scene revealed the children adorned in their valiant “war” attire deployed on either side of the garden, each exuding a fierce determination to prove their prowess.
It was evident that both the younger sister’s camp, already brimming with high morale, and the older brother’s camp, initially hesitant to engage in battle, now displayed a remarkable level of ambition.
“Things are gonna get messy,” Al commented with an unexpected touch of excitement. Priscilla rose from her chair in response.
“That is precisely why it was well worth the effort,” Priscilla proclaimed. Her profile as she spoke, and the fleeting emotion that passed through her eyes, captured Al’s attention. But before he could decipher its meaning, Priscilla thrusted her fan forward and continued, “Both sides must exert their utmost effort. For those who cannot abandon their wills, the only path to prove themselves is through victory. So, let the battle commence.”
“I am off!” called Schult.
The shrill cries of the children filled the air, echoing in response to the commanding voice of the Scarlet Princess. The “war” had begun within the grounds of Barielle Manor, with the brother and sister locked into fierce battle. Watching this scene unfold, a realization dawned upon Al regarding his earlier concern.
What he detected in Priscilla’s profile was the subtle flicker of anticipation. There was an expectation in her eyes, a glimmer of hope that she might witness what she desired.
“So what the hell was all that commotion about earlier?” the man grumbled, tilting his head as he stroked his stubble-streaked chin, his face flushed with booze.
He was a towering man with blazing red hair, sporting a shirt without any armor over his moderately fit physique. It gave him a distinct appearance different from his usual worn-out demeanor. However, it was questionable whether that was the impression he wanted to give.
That evening, on the balcony of Barielle Manor, Al found himself in a rather uninspiring encounter with a man, rather than in the presence of Priscilla or Schult. It wasn’t that they had prearranged this meeting. They just happened to be in the same place at the same time, quietly spending the evening. Neither of them sought to seek out or avoid the other’s company. Sometimes, a man simply needed a moment such as this on an empty balcony to reflect on things.
“Well, it’s a complicated thing for dudes our age, y’know?” Al began to explain.
“What?” asked the man. Al shook his head and answered the man’s frowning gaze with a gentle shake of his head.
“What I mean is, men are always going through puberty, y’know?” Problems keep piling up as we get older, but deep down, it’s the same basic stuff. In the end, we’re still asking ourselves, ‘Who am I?’ It’s like we’re stuck in this eternal adolescence.
“Well, whatever,” the man grumbled. “And you still haven’t answered my question, have you?”
“Oh, Princess’s whim?” Al asked. “I’m still trying to figure that out myself, bro. It’s a mystery to me.”
“You’re awfully laid-back for a supposed knight of the Sun Princess, huh,” the man scoffed.
“Give me a break, bro. I’ve told you before, I’m not a knight,” Al said dismissively. The man stayed silent.
Al detested being referred to as a knight, even in jest. He harbored a deep prejudice against those in the knight profession, considering them little more than chumps. And it wasn’t only Al who held such resentment. Neither he nor Priscilla intended to glamorize their relationship with each other. Besides, this guy must also hate any topic involving knights and whatnot. After all…
“You’re the father of the Knight Among Knights, Reinhard van Astrea,” Al pointed out.
“Tch,” the middle-aged Heinkel Astrea clicked his tongue in disgust at the reminder. His frown, unkempt stubble, and simple attire were far from impressive, but upon closer inspection, one could see that he indeed shared similar features to the renowned Sword Saint, with his well-defined face and blazing red hair.
This was only natural, given the fact that they were father and son by blood. Of course, there was no question that their relationship was certainly a complicated one. Otherwise, he would not have been able to serve a master from a different camp than his own son.
Heinkel, still silent, took a swig directly from the bottle in his hand. He was now a member of the Priscilla Camp, joining the ranks alongside those contesting for the royal selection. Nevertheless, Al had no idea what role he played. That was up to Priscilla. It was hard to fathom that his involvement held no significance.
“That ain’t really how I measure things, nor how I think,” Al concluded.
“But if you keep on like that, you’re gonna cause people trouble,” Heinkel remarked. “If Lady Priscilla is dead serious about the throne, she can’t afford to become some queen that nobody understands.”
“Not my concern, bro,” Al said, leaning against the balcony railing. He gently patted the area where Priscilla, fresh in his memory, had been leaning, and spoke with determination. “For Princess, I’ll do whatever it takes to make her win.”
Upon hearing Al’s reassurance, Heinkel glanced at him briefly, and sneered, “Well, isn’t that something. I thought you didn’t give a damn about the royal selection’s outcome.”
“Oh, come on, don’t go exaggerating,” Al said. “I think about it every day.”
“Right, let me rephrase that. I just assumed you didn’t give a damn about sticking your nose into the royal selection process. Lady Priscilla’s perfectly capable of handling everything on her own, right?”
“Oh,” Al let out a voice expressing his amazement.
He was a bit taken aback by Heinkel’s astute observation. Not because he said something unexpected, but because it revealed Heinkel’s keen eye for what was happening around him. Nah, considering how Priscilla managed to see through my helmet twice today, perhaps I’m just not as hard-to-read as I thought.
“No. The reason I wear this helmet is because I already know that, isn’t it?” Al wore his helmet with a sense of detachment, yet his overwhelming emotions remained palpable. Perhaps he should have become an actor instead of an outcast.
“Oh dear, you’re refusing to answer this too,” Heinkel remarked. “You’re quite the secretive one, aren’t you?”
“That’s never been a secret,” Al replied. “I mean, I hide my face. Ain’t that normally the first thing you see? Well, you won’t find anything interesting in my secrets. If anything…”
“I think you and I are pretty much alike,” Al shared, drawing from the bits of information he had heard about Heinkel’s complex circumstances.
Between his legendary father, known as the Sword Demon, and his son, the Sword Saint, who was hailed as the greatest swordsman of all time, Heinkel was of a quiet generation, caught in the middle. A pathetic man afflicted by his melancholy and his position. A man deserving of intense sympathy. For Al painfully understood the fear of being overshadowed by one’s own illustrious bloodline.
“You don’t know a damn thing about me,” Heinkel spat bitterly, wrinkling his nose.
“I knew you would say that, though!” Al chuckled wryly. It seemed that Heinkel neither desired nor cared to be understood. Al leaned his back against the railing, gazing up at the moon in the night sky.
“As far as I can tell, today’s ‘war’ was just Princess’s way of assessing things,” Al said thoughtfully.
“Let’s just call it boisterous merrymaking,” Al explained. “You got two people with their own stubborn opinions, rallying their buddies, breaking up into teams, then using all their might to prove their point. Ain’t that just what war is, bro?”
“Sounds like bullshit to me,” Heinkel scoffed. The use of obscene language was a telltale sign of him becoming drunk. The more drunk he became, the further removed from dignity and sincerity he grew.
Al observed this shift from the sidelines with amusement. Al didn’t drink, so he was unable to personally gauge the effects of alcohol. But the unappealing spectacle of an intoxicated stranger was enough to reinforce his aversion to it. In any case, Al’s examination of Priscilla’s awareness and intentions regarding the “war” served as a means of both affirming and analyzing her intentions.
“Princess had something she wanted to see, y’know? And she used that sibling showdown to figure it out,” Al commented.
“What the hell did she wanna see?”
“Unfortunately, she didn’t exactly spill the beans to me, so I can’t really say. My guess could be way off, y’know.”
“You’re useless,” Heinkel grumbled. “Might as well ask her to chop off your other arm.”
“Damn, you’re so vulgar when you’re drunk!” Al complained. “Someone with both arms intact might not get it, but this arm means a hell of a lot more to me than it would to y’all that still got both!”
It was a dispute that could have easily escalated to an all-out fight, yet Heinkel showed no remorse or apology. Not because he viewed others as unimportant, though. On the contrary, it was because he had little regard for his own self, which seemed to justify his reckless demeanor. In fact, Heinkel would gladly accept a duel that came about as a consequence of his outspokenness. However…
“I’m telling you, bro, once anyone finds out you’re the father of the Sword Saint, they’ll back off real quick,” Al said.
“Tch.” Heinkel averted his gaze and clicked his tongue in annoyance once more. No matter what they talked about that quiet evening on the balcony, they always seemed to circle back to the same question: Who am I? It was a question that nobody could escape.
A gruff, liquor-infused voice brought Al back down to earth as he gazed blankly at the night sky, contemplating the constellations above for which each of them were named. “So, you said she wanted to see something,” Heinkel grumbled, his sky-blue eyes somewhat vacant as he gazed into his half-full bottle of liquor.
“Yeah,” Al acknowledged.
“You also got something you want to see, Sir Al?” Heinkel asked.
“I’m surprised you’re interested in me, bro. Thought you only cared about your own family.” As soon as Al said this, Heinkel scowled and clicked his tongue once more, hurling his bottle of booze at Al.
Al ducked with a “Whoops” to avoid the spinning bottle as it sailed over the railing and into the garden, smacking the ground with a resounding crack. Heinkel turned away without sparing a glance, as if trying to distance himself from Al, who had clearly struck a nerve.
“Yes, I do,” Al called out abruptly after Heinkel, walking away from the balcony. Heinkel paused for a moment, listening to Al’s words without bothering to turn back. Al cracked a slight smile at his apparent curiosity, but had nothing more to add.
“I do have something I want to see,” Al continued. “Princess in the bath!”
“Tch!” Another click of the tongue was the only way Heinkel could possibly respond to Al’s mischievous joke.
“Well if that ain’t the loudest tongue click I’ve ever heard in my life!”
“I am so happy that the siblings made up!” Schult beamed. His reaction was one of pure joy and innocence, with no uncertainty whatsoever. Priscilla closed one eye and drew her fan from the open bosom of her nightgown.
“Oh, so you think so too, Schult?” Priscilla asked.
“Yes, I do! I knew you could do it, my lady! I am so proud of you!”
With the tip of the fan, Priscilla gently lifted Schult’s chin and turned his head to the side, causing the boy to make a quizzical face. She could clearly see the reddish tint lingering on his right cheek. It was a visible remnant of today’s “war”, and what one might call a badge of honor.
“To me, considering a battle wound as a badge of honor is a reflection of one’s own shortcomings,” Priscilla remarked.
“Lady Priscilla?” Schult questioned.
“Does your cheek hurt?”
Tightly clenching his small fists, Schult demonstrated his unwavering determination. “It tingles a bit, but I’m fine! It was all part of our winning strategy!”
In addition to the redness of his cheeks, Schult bore scars all over his body from the war. He had scraped knees from falls, a bruised back from being hit, and possibly many other marks of battle. In moments of injury, pain often follows, and one may even shed tears. Indeed, Schult had shed a tear or two. However…
“This whole thing started because of me. Do you despise me?” Priscilla asked.
“Me? Hate you? Lady Priscilla? That’s impossible!” Schult exclaimed in disbelief.
“I was so happy to fight for you, my lady!” Schult’s gaze shifted downwards as he marveled at his own modest display of bravery. “I would have been more scared than hurt if I just cowered in fear…”
His introspective posture, although typical of him, was at the same time as painful as the scars on his body. This mental anguish, however, was not particularly unique to Schult. It was a sort of “fever” that could afflict anyone, regardless of who they were.
After the tumultuous events of the day, Priscilla had finished her hot bath and lay on her bed. Schult, having changed into his own nightgown, nestled beside her—a customary routine that had become an endearing ritual. This small, adorable boy had become an indispensable cuddle pillow for Priscilla. However, Schult himself yearned for a more significant role than that of a mere cuddle pillow. A fact that Priscilla astutely recognized, as evidenced by the day’s war.
The quarrel between the siblings, which Priscilla called a war, unfolded just as Priscilla had predicted. The younger sister’s camp, guided by her counsel, emerged victorious. And Schult had played a significant role in securing their triumph. He was one of the first ones to fall, in a rather spectacular fashion, and left the other side bewildered.
“I thought my hard work would pay off, but I was wrong…” Schult said with a hint of disappointment. “Enemies appeared left and right. They were all over me… They were destroying me.”
The title of the vanguard may have held a certain allure, but in Schult’s case, the first sacrifice may have been more fitting. As the morale of the younger sister’s camp dwindled, that of the older brother’s only grew in strength and momentum. The sister’s camp was driven back by the advancing forces of the brother’s. However…
“Well, he is a big brother, after all,” Schult said with a smile, acknowledging the reason for the brother’s defeat. Despite countless setbacks endured by the sister’s camp, once they finally reached their opponent’s leader, the brother hesitated to let his sister down in the face of victory. It was at that moment that Priscilla’s wiles came into effect, bringing the war to an end.
“The condition for victory is the downfall of the other team’s general,” Priscilla had explained. “Which means, If the opponent’s leader falls, even if you are the last man standing, if you manage to take down the other side’s leader, the victory is yours. Whether you win will be determined by the very last moment.”
In this respect, the sister heeded Priscilla’s words and displayed great courage. Priscilla’s advice was simple yet effective: “Your brother will hesitate to kill you in the very end. That is precisely when you should strike.” And indeed, true to Priscilla’s prediction, that is exactly how the conflict was resolved.
“In the end, it was amazing that the brother defended his sister from his teammates, even after she stabbed him,” Schult marveled. “That is why, as you said, Lady Priscilla, they were able to make up!”
However, the final outcome was not as heartwarming as the innocence Schult portrayed. The sister’s strategic move managed to topple her brother and his followers, who had been on the brink of victory. Naturally, they refused to accept defeat, instead directing their anger at the sister. Yet, it was the brother himself who bravely shielded her from their wrath head-on.
Originally, this situation came about due to the deep bond between the siblings. The brother could not bear to see his sister vilified, and the sister, amidst accusations and fear, reaffirmed her love and respect for her protective older brother. And thus, that was the conclusion they reached.
Pricilla maintained her silence. Despite witnessing the outcome, and the resolution unfolding somewhat as she had envisioned, an unsettling darkness lingered in her heart. In Priscilla’s mind, there were two potential outcomes: whether her advice would have proved effective or not.
Her intuition was right on the mark. The sister successfully stabbed her hesitant brother, thus claiming victory. However, this was not a triumph, but a certainty. It was proof of the elder brother’s undeniable love for his sister. It was a war, albeit a false one. The death of the men may have been staged, and the wounds received may have been superficial, but nonetheless, it was still a war.
If she so desired, Priscilla possessed the power to incite and manipulate countless individuals to engage in real warfare, where real lives were at stake, just as she did today. She could sway naive, ignorant individuals like Schult, who mustered strength through blind faith. Priscilla was fully aware that she held that power, responsibility, position, and beauty. And the outcome of today’s events only reinforced that. Why then won’t the dark cloud in me dissipate?
“I knew I was not mistaken,” Schult said as he sat beside Priscilla, lost in thought. The tone of his voice had suddenly dropped.
“Hmm?” Priscilla turned her attention to Schult. It was an unusual reaction for a normally cheerful boy.
Schult rubbed his cheeks with both hands. “Lady Priscilla, you looked kind of lonely,” he mumbled with a hint of concern, dropping his gaze.
“Lonely? Me?” Priscilla asked with surprise.
“That is how it looked to me,” Schult continued. “I thought you seemed a little lonely when you were watching that brother and sister…”
Could it be this child blames himself for not being able to mediate the siblings’ quarrel? Does he blame himself for my own upset? If so, he couldn’t be further off the mark. More so…
“Ha—” She gently put a hand over her mouth, but nevertheless, a breath escaped her, unexpectedly bubbling up from within.
“L-Lady Priscilla?” Schult stammered, taken aback.
It was a laugh that Priscilla had not intended, and one that Schult had unwittingly evoked. It was Schult’s achievement that unveiled the true nature of the dark cloud lingering in Priscilla’s heart.
“How dare you suggest that I, Priscilla, could be lonely? Oh, how dare you?”
“W-W-Wha—? I-I was wrong, wasn’t I? I knew it…”
“No. I commend you, even though your choice of words may have been incorrect,” Priscilla praised her young servant, suppressing his agitation. She placed her fan on the flustered boy’s forehead with a smile.
Schult looked shocked at her statement, then patted his chest as if relieved. Foolish, ignorant, and thus innocent, Schult’s crimson eyes may have caught a glimpse deep into the heart of the Scarlet Princess, continuing to burn with an intense, fervent heat.
“Schult, you must not divulge your observations about my emotions to anyone,” Priscilla cautioned.
“About Your Ladyship appearing lonely?”
“I shall not admit to feeling lonely,” she replied defiantly, “however, I do wish to avoid any misunderstandings. I order you to keep your mouth shut, my loyal servant with your radiantly burning eyes.”
Schult’s red eyes twinkled, and he paused for a moment before nodding his head. “Yes, I understand,” he replied. Hearing his response, Priscilla placed her hands on her ample bosom, feeling the dark cloud gradually dissipate. How humiliating yet intriguing it is that this boy, Schult, was both correct and incorrect in his observations.
The siblings’ war, driven by their love for one another, had ended precisely as Priscilla had foreseen. However, on the other hand, it was still not quite what she had hoped for. If one cannot conclude definitively that the thoughts, feelings, and love between siblings loses its radiance in the face of various factors, and their warmth and glimmer eventually gets overshadowed, then…
“Was it me who was lacking? Or was it you, Brother?” Priscilla murmured, gently poking the cheek of the sleeping child in her arms on her bed. She directed her question to a fragment of cloud that had dissipated within her heart. Naturally, there was no response. The opportunity to ask had long since slipped away. However, she held on to the feeling that an answer to her nagging doubts would come to light in the near future.
It would have been sufficient if I could simply forget about it and keep myself distant. However, if such a premonition were to resurface from the searing heat within my heart, the answer would undoubtedly find its way to me. Because after all…
“Everything in this world is made for my convenience.”