6 – 2
After the sun had set, the only thing that lit up the front porch of the Montchat estate was a small manastone lamp.
Without stepping foot inside, the envoys from the royal capital, who had arrived in the middle of the night and called for an audience with Alois, announced the purpose of their visit.
“Return Camilla to the royal capital… you say…?”
Alois looked stunned as he stared at the two envoys.
As if unable to resist the tense atmosphere, some of the servants of the house had gathered to watch. Alois was certain that somewhere in that crowd of onlookers, Camilla had to be there. But, Alois didn’t have the time to look over his shoulder to see.
Both entrance doors had been opened in the wake of the envoys. Judging by their uniforms, they seemed to be military attaches to the royal palace. Both of them stood at attention, seemingly not worried about the myriad of eyes that watched them from inside.
“Exactly. This is a royal decree. It would be unthinkable to leave the daughter of Count Storm in Mohnton, when a civil war is brewing and the land could become a battlefield at any moment. We are to escort her back to the capital as soon as possible.”
With that, the other envoy held out a letter to Alois. After receiving it, Alois quickly untied the string that bound the paper and unrolled it.
The letter unmistakeably bore the royal seal. The letters were written in a hasty cursive. At the bottom of the letter, a signature in red ink. Just as the messenger had said, the letter was a decree for Camilla to return to the royal capital.
“…The handwriting is wrong.”
He had received letters from the King several times in the past. He couldn’t deny that the quality of the paper, the stamped seal and even the colour of string that tied the letter in a roll were what he had come to expect of royal decrees
However, he hadn’t seen this handwriting before.
“Even though this bears the King’s emblem, this was not written by his hand. Why is that?”
“It was His Highness, Prince Julian who penned this letter. His Majesty is currently bedridden, so the Second Prince sent out this order in his stead.”
“Bedridden? This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Alois looked up from the letter. He often received letters and reports from the royal capital, but this was the first he had heard of the King being ill. But even if the King had recently taken very ill, could it really be possible for Prince Julian to have enough power to send royal decrees already?
“In the first place, what of the First Prince, His Highness Prince Eckhart? If anyone were to substitute for His Majesty, surely it would be the heir apparent?”
Eckhart, the firstborn prince, was the first in line for the throne. Even if the King was unable to rise from bed, there was no reason for the Second Prince, Julian, to take the reins of power.
But, the messenger didn’t answer that question. Standing tall, he palmed away Alois’ inquiry.
“That is a confidential matter, not something to be discussed in such a place. The fact that this decree represents His Majesty the King’s will is unalterable, however.”
A decree bearing the mark of the King was as good as receiving the King’s order in person. Even though they were a branch family of the royal house, a decree from the King was an immutable command for the Montchat family. He couldn’t go against it.
That being said, Alois wasn’t so eager to meekly accept the King’s – or rather, Prince Julian’s – command so easily.
“…He had her exiled, why is it that he’s demanding her return now?”
The person who had exiled Camilla in the first place and the one who was pressuring Alois for her return now were one and the same; Prince Julian. He was called the ‘Toad of the Swamp’, whom no one would ever want to marry, therefore Prince Julian set Camilla up as his marriage candidate. There was no way that Prince Julian had held any empathy towards Camilla.
So, just why was he suddenly wanting her to return now? Was it truly possible that he had suddenly felt a pang of remorse for what he had done?
But, that wasn’t the only reason he had to doubt what he was being told.
“What’s more… just why is it that you’re so keenly aware of Mohnton’s current situation?”
It would take at least five days to travel by carriage from the capital city of Sonnenlicht in the south to the northern Duchy of Mohnton. Even on a swift horse, the journey would take at least 3 days and nights. The revolt had only been declared three days ago. It was impossible for that news to have already been reported to Prince Julian, who resided in the capital.
Then, just how could Prince Julian’s envoys know of such a thing?
“…It was the Ende family, wasn’t it?”
Liselotte was betrothed to Prince Julian. Liselotte Ende. The daughter of Baron Ende, one of the rebellion’s ringleaders.
“Liselotte Ende… So she coaxed His Highness into this…!”
“Duke Montchat, I would remind you to watch your tongue.”
“Have the Ende family been whispering in His Highness’ ear since the beginning? His Highness must have known that this rebellion would occur, but instead of intervening or mediating, all he’s done is call for Camilla to be returned. This is clearly the Ende family’s doing!”
“The civil war taking place is all due to your own mishandling of this land. This royal decree is intended merely to save the life of the daughter of Count Storm, who so unfortunately got caught up in all this. Would you truly rebuke this royal display of benevolence?”
The envoy regarded Alois with a cold gaze.
To go against a King’s decree was the same as being in open conflict with the royal family. At the very least, if the order was something absurd or cruel, it would be understandable to at least petition for it to be rescinded or to tarry in carrying it out.
But, Alois couldn’t in good conscience follow through with this order, when it was so obviously a manipulation from the Ende family. There were far too many points of suspicion to consider it a benevolent decree on face value as well.
The two envoys exchanged glances as Alois couldn’t bring himself to answer. Would he give up Camilla? Or make an enemy of the crown?
The one who broke that terse silence was Camilla herself.
“…So be it. Shouldn’t I just go along with them?”
After making up her mind, Camilla stepped out from the ring of servants that surrounded the scene.
Nicole, who stood by her side, looked up at Camilla anxiously. After returning Nicole’s gaze with a reassuring glance, she turned to look at the two envoys.
Camilla looked at Alois, whose brow was furrowed in frustration.
“Returning to the royal capital isn’t something to agonize over.”
“They’ve set a trap there for you.”
“Then, it will be just like the old days.”
Camilla left her hands on her hips as she puffed out her chest. From the beginning, she had never been good at avoiding the traps that had been set for her. Sometimes she just pushed straight through them, and other times she would plot her revenge after the fact.
“They’ll probably want to make you a hostage. I can’t promise you’ll be safe there.”
“And if you make an enemy of the King, won’t things become even more difficult for you, Lord Alois?”
Seeing how troubled Alois looked, Camilla frowned.
Prince Julian suddenly issuing a decree for her return. Even though Camilla was honest to a fault, not even she could believe something like that so easily. There was definitely something malicious behind the order.
She couldn’t imagine exactly what it was. It was scary to think about and she truly didn’t want to find out. It was only for Alois’ sake that she stepped forward at all.
She wanted to help him. She wanted to support him in any way she could.
It was the way she had once felt towards Prince Julian.
She wasn’t quite as fiery and passionate in how she held that feeling as she had done in the past… but, the embers of those same emotions surely burned in Camilla’s heart for Alois now.
“Lord Alois, I will be fine. Because I… I believe in you.”
Hearing Camilla’s words, Alois could only blink in surprise.
Then, he drew his trembling lips tight. Sending a strong gaze back her way, he looked into Camilla’s eyes.
“…I’ll be sure to pick you up soon.”
Because of the looming crisis breaking out in Mohnton, Camilla Storm was to return to the royal capital. Once that issue had been dealt with, there was no reason for Camilla to remain there any longer.
That’s why Alois’ words were a hint that he would put down this revolt as soon as he could.
Seeing those sincere red eyes looking her way, Camilla smiled slightly.
When she first arrived in this land, she had pined to return to the capital day and night. Now, she truly loathed the idea of leaving this place behind.