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Though the troubles of the world continued to proliferate, Noel spent her days as happily as always. She trained all the members of the White Ant Bloc until sunset, and when the night rolled in, she took to raising tumult with wine in hand. Of course, she hadn’t forgotten to practice with her trumpet. She forced Riglette to join in, each of them moving crisply as they accustomed their ears to the sound. After two weeks, their movements had gotten to the point that Cynthia began keeping watch over them.
“Wonderful. I never would have guessed that these were those filthy… I mean, disorderly gentlemen. Yes, this is quite splendid.”
“Sir Cynthia, we don’t know how to respond after yer changin’ yer words like that,” Barbas responded, laughing dryly at Cynthia’s hasty rewording.
In his hand was the bugle he had been practicing with. Both he and Riglette had been given bugles by Noel. Riglette was a Coimbran soldier, and Barbas was made mediator for the White Ant Bloc.
“Sorry. If you are offended, I apologise.”
“Nah, nah, don’ worry ‘bout it. Yer pretty cute compared to that fool Riglette. That woman ain’t yet bothered ta see us as fuckin’ humans.”
“You haven’t reconciled with Sir Riglette, then?”
“Ha, there’s no way I’d stoop low enough to wag my tail for that fucking bitch who calls me a monkey. And we’ve only acknowledged Captain Noel, anyway. It’s ‘cause of our deal with her that we’re here.”
Cynthia nodded vaguely at Barbas’ open animosity towards Riglette. Cynthia’s own status was greater than Riglette’s, but she was still Major General Wilm’s daughter. Their father-daughter relationship was apparently rather cold, but Cynthia still took pains to watch herself whenever they met. Above all, there was her personality to consider. Simply put, Cynthia didn’t like it either. Every time she opened her mouth, it unleashed a torrent of sarcasm and negativity. In all honesty, speaking with her carried the risk of accidentally starting a fist-fight, and so Cynthia made sure to avoid her. That high-handedness aside, it was impressive that Noel could even deal with her.
“By the way, where is your Captain Noel? I came thinking that she would be training with you again today, but…”
“Ah, the captain said that she’s off to borrow a book from the lil’ prince today. There’s somethin’ ‘bout a promise about showin’ her rare books. I’m in charge of the trainin’ today.”
It was true that something along those lines had been agreed upon. It was difficult to imagine Noel properly reading something, but people didn’t always match their appearances. Despite the slightly dubious nature of abandoning her training for it, so long as it was related to her promise with Elgar, it couldn’t really be helped; however, she still wanted to voice some complaints about how self-importantly Barbas had talked about bein’ in charge of the trainin’.
“I see, shall I show my face then? We can’t let her be rude to the young master after all.”
“Haha, you might already be too late. Well, I’ll get back to my trainin’ then.”
Barbas began to walk as he spoke, bugle in hand. He released a thunderous tone, and the soldiers who were clashing swords all rushed over. Having always been an armed faction, they had adjusted rather quickly. With Noel as their head, they were sure to flourish. Cynthia felt shivers as she found herself imagining their red haired commander laughing dangerously on a galloping horse, whilst brandishing a bident.
“I wonder how her destiny will play out. Hmm, no, I just can’t imagine it.”
After a strained laugh, Cynthia raised her gaze skyward. There hadn’t been much rain recently, and the good weather had continued that day too. Noel was likely in a good mood because of it.
As she entered the Coimbran archives, a cheerful voice rang out. It was there that all of the Coimbran histories, strategic manuals, and literary works were packed away by the nobles. It didn’t look particularly useful at the moment, but records remained highly important. A specialist librarian was in charge of the collection. The figure of Noel crossing her arms with a large brush in her mouth became visible between the rows of bookshelves, and Cynthia called out to her. Surrounding her, Elgar, a maid, and the librarian all stood, looking in with great intent. Cynthia approached stealthily, wondering what they were up to, and she found that Noel was painting a picture on a white cloth.
“What is this? Weren’t you reading a rare book? Skipping out on training to do some painting is certainly a pretty interesting thing to do, isn’t it?”
Noel dropped the brush from her mouth in surprise at Cynthia’s suddenly calling to her from behind. Elgar smiled as he quickly offered explanation.
“Don’t be so panicked, Noel. And Cynthia, she’s already finished the arranged book.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. Though she borrowed the writings of a Coimbran philosopher, Noel managed to run through it all in half a day. Not satisfied with even that, she read through many of our military manuals also.”
“Is that true, Noel? Don’t try to deceive the young master.”
Cynthia shot Noel a doubtful look after listening to Elgar’s explanation as Noel appeared to be on the verge of proudly declaring that she had thoroughly flipped through all it. It being Noel, she might have calmly flipped the pages even in the presence of the viceroy’s son.
“I read it properly, you know. I’m a pretty fast reader. I wasn’t able to find what I wanted, but it was interesting.”
“The most interesting one was the Coimbran history book.”
“I doubt it was that interesting, though. It’s essentially a history of defeat.”
There were almost no remaining records from the pre-unification Coimbran dynasty. What was left consisted of nothing but their pathetic defeat; it was why Coimbra had a reputation for weak soldiery.
“From what I’ve concluded, there isn’t much about this country, eh? That’s how the world is. What’s important is what we do from here on out.”
Noel had begun her tale whilst grandly stroking her chin. As she was disrespecting the heir apparent, she would quickly receive some reeducation.
“Don’t talk like you understand, you moron!”
Noel clutched her head with a miserable expression after being thrashed by Cynthia’s fist.
“Sir Cynthia, please remain quiet in the building. There are many precious works here, so we cannot take any risks.”
Chided by the wiry librarian, Cynthia hurriedly apologised, missing Noel’s secret, proud little smile as she did.
“Ah, it struck me when I looked at Cynthia getting angry! As expected of Cynthia!”
“Just a minute…”
Twirling the brush once, she put it to the cloth which soaked up red, and, in the blink of an eye, the image began to take shape. The finished piece depicted crossed hammers, likely in an attempt at creating a crest. Not only was Noel surprisingly good at painting, but the end result was sufficient that it wouldn’t be embarrassing to display it publicly.
“What is it?”
“Knights publish their family crests on their banners, right? That was what one of the books I just read said. I don’t have a family crest, so I thought I’d ask the young master to help me think of one.”
“Unfortunately, I’m not good at those sorts of things. Only scales come to mind when I think of crests. That’s why we all put our heads together to come up with something. The thought was that if it was bad, it would bring shame to Noel.”
“Sir Noel, what is the meaning behind the two hammers?” the maid directly asked.
In response, Noel proudly took up the white cloth and fluttered it about, proclaiming proudly that, “These crossed hammers represent my promise with the young lord. Basically, this crest is the proof of the deal. I’ll work as long as this twin hammer banner exists.”
The maid and librarian nodded in understanding, and Elgar was lost for words; red with embarrassment. Seeing the state that Elgar was in brought an image into Cynthia’s mind: a fully grown Elgar and Noel, wrapped in splendid costume, waving to the plebeian masses. Elgar had succeeded his father, and ruled Coimbra, bringing great development to the territory with the support of Noel as his lovely wife by his side. Cynthia wondered where she would be at that time. Perhaps she would guard and help raise the children, with hectic days…
“Wait… that means I’d have to refer to Noel as a Lady?”
“What are you spacing out about?”
“Ah, n-no, it’s nothing at all! Yup, nothing!” Cynthia panicked at Noel’s enquiry into her disconnected expression, and shook the wild delusions from her thoughts.
In any case, their social statuses were far too different. It probably couldn’t happen, but it wouldn’t be strange if Elgar had strong feelings for her anyway. He gave off that impression rather strongly ever since she had saved him. Furthermore, she was a beautiful, highly skilled, young woman with a promising future in Coimbra. The thought of it wasn’t particularly strange, but it was wrong in all sorts of ways, particularly in Noel’s personality department.
In the mean time, to hammer home his point, Elgar spoke up with a darkened expression, “Okay then, I will take this crest to my father for approval. I’m sorry but, that’ll be it for today.”
“Yup, that’s fine. You don’t seem too well today, somehow, young master. It seemed like you were tired when you laughed and all.”
“Ah, yes, the truth is that my mother’s condition is not well. Even though we hired a new court physician.”
Elgar shut both eyes and sighed. He was only 12 years old, but his voice sounded tired and mature. Sarah had received an arrow wound in the escape from Rockbell. It wasn’t severe and shouldn’t have been an issue, but if the arrow wound was at fault, Cynthia was liable.
“Young master, is this because of the arrow wound…”
“No, this is different. The wound healed fine, but the court physician says it’s some cursed disease. All kinds of things have been happening in Coimbra, so mother is probably worn out. Lately, she hasn’t been able to eat enough, and can only drink water. She keeps losing weight.”
“Is that how it is…”
“What of it, it’s probably just temporary due to the heat. We’ve received some medicine and rare foods from Gemb, so she’ll get better soon. Father would be lonely too if mother was gone.”
Elgar was forcing his smile. Without a clue as to what to say, Cynthia could do nothing but silently nod. The same could be said for the maid and the librarian, but Noel stood quietly, and gently patted Elgar on the shoulder.
“Yup, I’m sure it’s fine. She’ll be as bright and healthy as the sun. I’m sure that’s how it’ll go.”
“N-Noel! That is disrespectful to the young master!”
“It’s fine. It is true that my mother wouldn’t be happy if we had dark expressions. That’s why I’m the only one who needs to keep it up. Noel, I thank you.”
After thanking Noel, and staying the exasperated Cynthia, Elgar spoke up again as though he had just thought of something, “That’s right, I mentioned the food that just arrived from Gemb, right? Actually, a delegation arrived from them too. To welcome them we’ll hold a dinner party tomorrow. If you would like, you all may attend.”
“Yup, sure- I mean, I understand!”
“Haha, I don’t mind if you speak informally to me, but Cynthia would get angry, so maybe it is for the better.”
“Young master, don’t be too easy on Noel. This idiot wouldn’t hold back at all, so you’ve got to be moderately harsh. Not moderately, actually, show her no mercy.”
“Cynthia’s too strict, eh? She’s always scolding, and it gets annoying.”
“And whose fault is that!?”
“Haha, it never gets boring with you two around. I’d love to talk some more, but it can’t be done. I’ll leave the rest to you Cynthia. Noel, let’s see each other tomorrow.”
Elgar raised his hand, and, together with the maid, left the archives. Confirming that they had left, the librarian returned to his duties.
In the silence, Cynthia and Noel’s eyes locked. Noel placed the white cloth upon which she had painted her crest over her head, and pivoted. It looked like she was trying to hide. While she attempted to slither away, Cynthia took hold of her hair from behind, stopping her.
“Ah, perfect. Considering the location, why don’t we review your etiquette and speech for today, right here?”
Tossing the cloth aside, she jabbed a finger at Noel.
“B-but there’s training today. See, I’m the captain, after all. Aaah, busy, busy, busy.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. Barbas was doing just fine.”
“Yes, well I need to write a report about it. I’ve been told to do it, so it needs to be done quickly!”
“You hand all that off to Sir Riglette, so what are you trying to say!? And you really need to do something about that habit of handing things off to get by!”
“Yes, that is absolutely correct! Senior Commander of One Hundred Cynthia, I apologise from the depths of my heart!”
Noel saluted perfectly in the Coimbran style. She had unexpectedly switched to rather charming movements, but completely missed the point. On the contrary to what she had intended, Noel had poured oil into the fire.
“Those were splendid words and a lovely salute, but you haven’t acknowledged it in your mind at all. I’m not going to let you get away no matter what you tell me, so give up and take a seat.”
Noel reluctantly seated herself on a chair after Cynthia had issued her final warning. It wasn’t as if Cynthia had much free time either. There were documents that she needed to sort out too; however, knowing that this too was part of her job, she nodded deeply and began to explain to Noel just what it was to be lord and retainer. Some three hours later, she called out to Noel, who was sprawled across a desk.
“I’ve forgotten something essential. Do you have a ceremonial dress?”
She shook her head disinterestedly, “Of course I don’t. Mobility is shit in those fluttery things, so I thought I didn’t need one.”
“Then what exactly do you intend to wear to tomorrow’s diner banquet?”
“The uniform I just got. I want to show off the gilded splendour of my decorations. If we’re just going to eat, it’ll be fine. I mean, I’m on active duty, right?”
Certainly, men wouldn’t have a problem with simply wearing the military uniform. In the glorious days of old, however, the Coimbran traditional garment for women was the dress. In the first place, female knights were so fundamentally rare that there wasn’t a precedent.
“Unfortunately, that won’t do. It is customary in Coimbra for women to wear dresses to these kinds of events. You might not want to, but this is how things are, so deal with it. Isn’t that your favourite phrase?”
‘Such is the way of the world,’ and ‘It can’t be helped,’ were things that Noel liked to say. Though she said them often, she didn’t particularly like them, so it didn’t help her much. In fact, instead of giving up more quickly, she became almost as obstinate as she was about her ‘promises’. Her personality had been extremely warped such that her greatest vice was in regards to what she wouldn’t protect; what she didn’t want to protect. She would cover herself with simple agreement and a nod, glossing over the full meaning that she understood what was wanted, but wouldn’t do anything about it. She would calmly equivocate and so it was important to be cautious when dealing with her.
“Yeah, but I don’t have a dress. So, I’ll go in uniform. It’s fine, it’s fine, nobody will fuss over me.”
Cynthia was amazed at Noel’s complete lack of self-awareness. Noel was certainly going to receive a significant amount of attention; all the more because she was a future leader who had appeared in Coimbra, as well as being an attractive woman. At any rate, Grohl had been spouting her praise in every which way for some time, painting a vivid image of her valour at the battle of Kanan highway. If Noel made a mistake, it would destroy Grohl’s reputation. That was why Cynthia had been giving her strict officer training.
“I’ll fuss over it, so you can’t do that.”
“No, I don’t mind…”
Cynthia interrupted her words by striking her with the palm of her hand.
“All right, let’s head off to a tailor next. It would be fine if I could lend you something, but there obviously isn’t anything your size. It probably won’t be luxurious, but I bet we can work something out in one day. It’ll be fine if we tailor something that they already have in stock.”
If they could go to a shop that she knew, and could foot the bill, things would work out somehow. They couldn’t get an entirely custom made dress in such a short amount of time, but the tailoring could most likely be finished quickly enough.
“But, it would waste your time, and I’m tired today, and my stomach’s empty, and in all honesty, it’ll be a pain.”
“It is the same for me. Look, if we don’t go soon, the shops will close!”
“W-wait a minute. Don’t just pull…”
Ignoring her complaints, Cynthia forcefully dragged her by the arm. Every day had been busy since Noel had come to the castle. Rather than busy, it had become boisterous. That was to say, it hadn’t been all bad. It felt like she had a cheeky little sister. She wondered if her late brother had felt similarly about herself, though she still couldn’t understand fully.
After first meeting her as an enemy, it is unbelievable that we ended up like family. Life is such a mysterious thing.
Smiling slightly, Cynthia set her mind fully on finding a dress that suited Noel, who, on the other hand, had found her eyes spinning.
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