The Curtains Rise on the Decisive Battle
After that, a week passed by. Cicadas chirped shrilly in the trees and on such a bright and clear day, the warmth of the sun was matched only by just how heated the political struggle about to play out was becoming.
The Imperial capital was chosen as the venue for the duel, in an ancient coliseum built into the mountainside that predated the very founding of the Empire itself, with views so good you could clearly see the Emperor’s palace in the distance.
In that arena that once played host to a myriad of mortal battles between mighty warriors but is now viewed as a historical relic, the cardinal sat in the ceremonial referee’s seat, whilst King Edward, Queen Alicia and their entourage of civil and military officials occupied seating on the south side of the coliseum.
Emperor Albert and Empress Alice, the northern side. They were surrounded by various nobles, as well as knights and ministers who enjoyed their favour.
“I never thought I would ever come back here…”
In the passage that runs under the southern side of the stadium, Shirley looked up at the old stone ceiling.
Since Sophie and Tio are the two people at stake, there’s no way the representative for the Kingdom could ever have been anyone but her.
That said, this issue has become far bigger than just being about Shirley’s family. The king himself wishes to avoid a war… The heavy responsibility of a nation’s peace now weighs on the shoulders of one adventurer.
It’s unclear just how far the Empire’s demands would go if they won the contest… No doubt, it would be an incredibly bitter pill to swallow for the Kingdom… The country’s very future could be at stake, so defeat isn’t an option.
“But, why did we have to come all the way to the Empire? From the story she told me, wouldn’t it make more sense to fight at the border?”
“Who knows? Like I could ever get what those bigwigs are thinking.”
“According to Canary-sama, it seems that the Emperor was heavily reluctant to travel a second time. It’s not a particularly strange thing for a man in such a position of power.”
“Really, isn’t the way His Majesty is acting weird? Even if he has an escort, just entering the heart of a hostile country like this is…”
Standing behind Shirley, the rookie training party formed of Kyle, Cudd and Leia led by Asterios were casually chatting.
“But, it’s so strange to think that Sophie and Tio are related to that Emperor, y’know?”
“And that Shirley-san was actually a former noble and a fiancée to the Crown Prince… I always thought she must have come from somewhere special, but that was a big shock.”
“Ahaha… I still can’t believe it, actually…”
“Mm, life sure is surprising.”
And finally, Sophie and Tio themselves were also there to see off their mother before she took to the stage.
Although custom dictated that such a duel should take place somewhere along the border of the two nations, Albert and Alice had no intention of moving and protested it.
Unexpectedly, Canary and Edward decided to indulge them. Making use of Canary’s spatial magic, the King and Queen along with a royal entourage had travelled to the Imperial capital at the invitation of the Emperor, despite fierce protestations by their own government officials back home at the thought of the Royal family visiting a nation they’re on such poor terms with.
Although Canary had gotten approval to bring adventurers to the Empire only on the pretext of bodyguarding the royal couple, when Shirley wondered just who she could ask to take care of Sophie and Tio when she was duelling, Asterios’ party was the first thing that came to her mind.
“Shirley-san! That Emperor is the enemy of all women everywhere, so when you kill him, give him a stab for me too!”
“Leia, that’s a bit… Besides, she’s not even going to be fighting the Emperor.”
Kyle remonstrated with Leia, who was swinging her fists in irritation.
Since they were officially taking up a request as escorts, it was unavoidable that they’d have to be told all the circumstances. Apart from Asterios who was an expert in defensive magic, there were probably much more skilled escorts she could have hired, but since she wants the truth about Sophie and Tio to stay as quiet as possible, she thought that this party would be the most reliable choice.
Three of the four are still young adventurers and the fourth is an ascetic who isn’t nearly as interested in physical profit as others. Personally, they were the best picks for the job.
“His crotch! Cut off whatever he has between his legs!”
“Then rub chilli powder in the wound!”
After hearing all about Shirley’s circumstances, they would never think of betraying her. Shirley turned away with a blush since their words were too vulgar, though she also hoped that they wouldn’t be charged with lese majesty if someone heard them.
“But, it really is surprising. Putting King Edward aside, I’ve never heard of that witch so readily agreeing to something like this… Does she have something up her sleeve?”
Shirley didn’t know the answer to that question. Although in saying that, she remembered the words that Canary had said to her before she entered the stadium tunnel, gesturing with her thumb towards the palace in the distance with a gleaming smile on her face.
――――”Incidentally~ When it comes to that imbecilic child who can’t stop running his mouth, do you not have some unfinished business to see to, hm~?”
She understood the implications clearly, Canary was trying to manipulate Shirley’s old grudge towards some end of her own, but whatever it was, it didn’t matter right now.
Tio gripped the hem of Shirley’s dress.
Sophie gripped her mother’s hand as she faced the looming battle. They held her with trembling hands, their eyes that looked into hers filled with worry, but when she looked at her two daughters that were bravely seeing off their mother… A peerless passion burned in her heart.
“Don’t worry… I’ll definitely win and come back, no matter what.”
Even though she usually tries to stay cool and dignified, Shirley looked at her two girls with truly gentle eyes, a kind smile on her face.
As they gazed at their mother’s back as she made her way towards that fateful stage, the twins wanted to shout, but they couldn’t find the words in the swirl of emotions running through their heads.
But, it doesn’t matter. Simply put, their mother is unbeatable.
In the passageway on the opposite side of the arena to Shirley, Lumiliana who had been selected as the Empire’s champion tied back her red hair behind her and gripped the hilt of her richly adorned family heirloom, a magical sword.
As she looked at the back of the girl who was both her knight and her best friend, she grit her teeth.
It’s only natural that the disputing nations would pick their greatest warriors for the duel… But, it’s problematic that Lumiliana is already one of the strongest knights in the country, despite her young age.
Even if she isn’t well versed in swordplay herself, Philia could at the very least understand just how great the abilities of the girl who guarded her life were.
Therefore, although she’s confident that Shirley is strong, she just can’t see her defeating Lumiliana.
She had thought to have Lumiliana feign injury or forfeit the match, but that wouldn’t have worked at all.
First of all, the entire purpose of the duel is to defeat the best the Empire has to offer in order to get them to give up their claims… To compare it to an adventurer’s work, it’s like defeating the boss monster.
If they didn’t do that, the legitimacy of the result could be challenged, conversely, it would be hard to challenge the result if the strongest warrior in your nation was soundly defeated. It was necessary to prevent the Empire from being able to protest the result of the duel.
The other issue is a sort of curse passed down the lineage of the Regnard noble family that Lumiliana belongs to.
The House of Regnard has been a family of knights since time immemorial. They have always had an uncompromising and diligent spirit, which in part is due to the compulsion of the magical trait that runs in their blood.
There is no way to dispel such ancient magic, passed from generation to generation as far back as anyone can remember. It’s usually a great boon when it comes to training and studying, but right now it was disastrous.
It’s incredibly difficult for her to fight against the magic, even if it was to save Philia’s life. That said, if Lumiliana were subjected to a priest’s 《Sense Lie》magic, they’d find that wasn’t the whole story.
It was because of this that Philia didn’t want Lumiliana to participate, but before she could do anything to prevent her being chosen, Canary had suddenly appeared in the Empire and…
――――”That little lady from the Regnard family will do just fine, no? So long as we defeat her, the rest of them are just worthless small fry.”
After being toyed with by Canary yet again, there wasn’t any way they could resist when Albert personally appointed Lumiliana as the Empire’s champion in a fit of anger.
Even if Canary is supposed to be working with her on paper, in reality, she probably has some vested business interest in this entire crisis, such as expanding the Adventurer’s Guild into the Empire. Even so, this kind of marketing campaign is really poorly timed.
“If it’s come to this, then there’s no choice, Your Highness. Let’s believe in Shirley-sama.”
“…I’m sorry, Lumiliana. I wish there was something I could do to help…”
“If I have to choose between my future career and the princess’ happiness, I will pick Your Highness every time without fail.”
Even if she’s not happy with the situation, for Lumiliana there isn’t a single good outcome she could possibly have from her battle with the sharp-eyed swordswoman.
She didn’t want to worry her, so she tried to keep her emotions concealed, but Philia’s face still cast a dark shadow.
She’s doing her best, but the princess is still only seventeen years old. She lacks experience and power, she has already lost a huge number of things important too her because of her own shortcomings. Now that the very future of her best friend was at stake, it was even worse.
For now, all she can do is hope that the Demonic White Sword could find a way to overcome the Sword Princess that protected her… Although soon, she would realize just how truly ignorant she was when it came to the great powers of the world.
“Is everything in place?”
“It has been done. They’re very old devices, so quite a lot of work needed to be done, but for now the last checks have all been completed.”
Alice nodded when she heard the answer from the servant at her side.
“You may think I’m being very underhanded…”
“It is no matter. I hardly think that she will lose to an adventurer, but it is better to be prepared just in case.”
“It is crucial for the future of the nation, after all. No matter what, my sister’s children must be brought back to the Empire.”
As she said that, Alice hugged Albert’s arm, looking up at him with a saintly smile.
When she first heard about it, she was absolutely against bringing the children of that disgusting sister of hers back to be the successors to the throne. But, she also knew full well that without an heir in place, her own position as Empress could become very precarious.
She had no choice but to endure it. She’ll even bear pretending to teach the princesses Imperial etiquette. The son of one of her followers… Perhaps she can arrange to have those two married to some fat and ugly hedonist.
“But, I’m worried. Can those children survive in the harsh world of court life… I will have to protect and guide them.”
“Oh, Alice, you truly never change. You’re such a kind and gentle soul, I will protect you no matter what.”
As she wrestled with the conflict inside her heart, she intended to not let him ever forget those words. Satisfied with Albert’s attitude as he hugged her back gently, Alice’s eyes shifted towards where the mechanisms were hidden under the stage.
“To think there were such things hidden underneath the coliseum…”
“Quite. Although it is a crude story, it seems like it was actually quite important in the early days of the aristocracy.”
There were many devices built into the arena, including snares and magical trip mines.
Historically, many of these fights had political importance and some ended up being rigged through bribery and tampering, a dark part of Imperial history that not even Philia knew about.
Although this time, it seems like the traps are going to be used against a mother trying to protect her children.
“But with this, Albert-sama can finally take another step closer to becoming the greatest Emperor the continent has ever seen.”
“Yes. So long as you are always by my side, the stars are the limit.”
The arena is full of conflicting hopes and ideals. The Empire sought to secure its own future, the Kingdom sought to protect its people and as for that single mother, the curtains were about to rise on the battle that would decide the fate of her children.
This novel has gotten very teasing lately, hasn’t it? Anyways, only two chapters remain in the second volume, but they’re pretty damn long so it may as well be four chapters left.