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――The next day. The sun, shining majestically in the eastern sky, was dazzling, and a soft breeze flowed over the ground. Spreading out on the surface was the Great Imperial Capital of Cladius, a city worthy of the word magnificent.
At its northern gate, a line of warhorses was lined up in an orderly fashion. In the center were 2,000 horsemen in jet-black armor. On the west side of the line were 5,000 reserve soldiers of the First Imperial Army with gold cloth wrapped uniformly around their shoulders and 3,000 cavalrymen of the Fourth Imperial Army with red cloth wrapped around their shoulders.
Further to the east, more than 5,000 soldiers of the Eastern nobility were lined up, and the flag bearers running through the gaps in the army line were sending up streaks of dust. Morale uplift, reaffirmation of command, and many reasons for this, but the effects are also varied.
Uplifting and tense, the two elements combined to create a strange atmosphere in this place. The citizens who were watching from the city walls were overwhelmed by the majesty of the city and watched with bated breath.
“Hiro, don’t do anything rash. If even a scratch gets infected, you’ll be in big trouble.”
The one who was stroking Hiro’s cheek with concern was the Sixth Princess, Liz. Hiro nodded with a wry smile at Liz, who was as overprotective as ever.
“I know, but I’m taking the doctor with me, so don’t worry.”
“No, you don’t understand, that’s why I’m telling you. You might get attacked by bandits or something along the way. I know Hiro is a great warrior, but you never know when something might happen.”
“…Yeah. That’s right.”
Hiro is overwhelmed by Liz’s close proximity to him and replies vaguely.
“Geez, you really should listen to what I have to say!”
She puffed up her cheeks in a cute way. Perhaps because of this, the widow, Rosa, who was standing next to her, intervened.
“Well, that’s it. I don’t want to be made a widow again before the wedding ceremony is over. As Liz said, don’t do anything rash.”
“That’s right. Yes, before the wedding ceremony is over ― Eh?”
In the middle of her words, Liz looked at her sister. With her smile, Rosa put a hand on her sister’s shoulder.
“The wedding ceremony, you say…”
“The neighing of the horses are too loud. You must have heard wrong. I don’t remember saying anything like that.”
“…I-is that so?”
It may be revenge for having fainted yesterday. Rosa is pleased to look at her bewildered sister.
“I’m a concubine, after all.”
“Huh? A concubine?”
“Because the prince is always looking out for the east. I don’t want him to die.”
“Geez, Anee-sama is always talking about money…”
Seeing Rosa playing with Liz, Hiro sighed deeply. Freeing her up to do whatever she wants can be dangerous, so Hiro decides to change the subject.
“Be careful, Liz. And Rosa too.”
In response to Hiro’s voice, Liz turned her red eyes that were blurred with tension.
“Y-yes. Leave it to me; I’ll make sure to get the results.”
“And Rosa, if you can, make sure you surround yourself with skilled people.”
“I knew you would say that. I’ve already asked them. Go ahead, don’t worry.”
Rosa patted him on the shoulder as if to reassure him. Hiro smiled in satisfaction.
“I’ll be going soon, then!”
Hiro took an involuntary step back. Liz’s beautiful face approached him.
“I’ll be riding a fast horse, so make sure you reply. You have a long journey ahead of you, so make sure you eat well.”
Liz placed her index finger on the tip of Hiro’s confused nose.
“And, as I said before, don’t be reckless. If you are in danger, run.”
She sounded like a mother, and Hiro’s mouth twitched. He tried to say that he was worrying too much, but Rosa interrupted him.
“I’ll be back to the east soon. If you need money or food, let me know, and I’ll have it delivered to the nearest nobleman. I can send soldiers without telling the emperor. I can just say that I’m maintaining security in the East.”
“No, I’m fine. You’re both worrying too much.”
The journey is well paid for, and there are a hundred elite guards with him. There is no problem with food and drink, and a safe journey is almost guaranteed.
“Your Highness, Hiro. We’re ready to go.”
The one who appeared from behind was Ghada. He was clad in black armor, which gave him the air of a warrior, but his unparalleled dominance was unmistakable.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Ghada asked in a whisper. Hiro nodded and reminded him.
“I don’t want you to worry about me, but take care of Rosa. I want her to get to the east safely.”
There was little chance that the rival factions would go to extremes, but it was worth being cautious with the existence of the Black Death.
“Leave it to me; I’ll make sure she gets there safely.”
“Then return to the south and train at Berg Fortress, will you?”
“All right, but… I have a condition.”
Hiro tilted his head at Ghada, who spoke strangely.
“Driks will be going with you to the Levering Kingdom. If so, take Hugin and Munin with you as well.”
Before he could ask why, Ghada spoke up.
“They are excellent. I’ve known them since the Liberation Army’s time, and they are perfectly capable of defending themselves. They’ll come in handy.”
“You can’t take them with you. I could abandon them if the need arises.”
“It doesn’t matter. They’re ready for it. But don’t underestimate them. Those siblings will do what they have to do.”
When he looked into Ghada’s piercing eyes through his armor, he saw that he was determined not to give up.
“All right. Then I’ll take them with me.”
“Okay, I’ll go talk to them. Be careful on the way.”
After watching Ghada’s back go away, Hiro turned to Liz and the others again.
“Liz, the Felzen region is still unstable. Listen carefully to Aura’s words and take action.”
“I understand. I’ll follow Aura’s instructions properly. I’m good at commanding, but I’m no good at planning.”
“You’ll learn slowly. Just take your time. Just be careful.”
“Yeah, good luck Hiro.”
They hugged each other and then patted each other on the back and pulled away. Liz smiled embarrassedly. Hiro smiled at her. But the uneasiness that lingers in his heart will not go away.
“I’ll be back from the Levering Kingdom as soon as I can, so don’t be reckless.”
“I’ll be fine, really. You’ll be amazed at how much I’ve grown when we meet up!”
In front of Hiro, who was trying to convince her, Liz put her hands on her hips and sniffled.
“Haha, that’s great. I’m counting on you.”
Then she turned to look at Rosa, and a soft shock came to her face.
“If you get lonely, jump on the fast horse. I’ll come to get you whenever I can.”
She hugged him out of the blue and said something that sounded like she was just a sweet mother.
“No, if I do that, the emperor will be angry with me…”
“I’ll take care of you even if you lose your position, don’t worry. You like that kind of thing, don’t you?”
“…I’ve never been a fan of that kind of life.”
Hiro smiled bitterly as he pulled away from Rosa.
“I’m off then.”
He turned his back on them and started walking to the carriage.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Hiro-sama!”
Munin opened the door for him. He thanked him and went inside, where Hugin bowed to him.
“I will definitely do my duty as the wise brother’s bodyguard!”
Hiro sat down in the chair provided, thinking that both of them were being overzealous. He looked out the window attached to the door and saw Liz and Rosa waving at him.
“It’s really okay. We’ll be right back.”
He was not overwhelmed. His mind was calm. His head was clear, and his thoughts were flexible. No matter what awaited him, he would not be defeated. No one would stand in his way.
He told the coachman, and the carriage began to drive slowly.