Editor: Vnovember, Hasr11
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Chapter 26: Triumphant Malice
“With the exemption of tariffs on wheat brought about by its excessive demand, we have raised the tariffs on cotton products. The frequent adjustment of government fund acquisitions during the period of this special event is generally understood by the counties affected.”
“Cotton is predominantly grown in Count Hanning’s territory. I heard that this year’s harvest was particularly abundant… he has gained our favour quite well.”
“You’re right. After that, I received an offer from Count Hanning, and he said he would love to cooperate to make His Highness’s accession ceremony a success.”
“Hah… he’s already made his plans to earn a connection. Not bad.”
A stark contrast to Morino who happily bowed his head, Anderheim wearily took off his thin silver-rimmed glasses. He threw the documents he was going through on the table, giving out a long sigh.
“And for how long do you intend to keep coming here?”
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He glanced at Jolga and Morino as he asked, only to see them tilt their heads in confusion. Seeing them acting such, the former Prime Minister Anderheim massaged his temples and gave another long sigh.
A month had passed since the former Prime Minister Anderheim and his daughter Julieta had moved out of the Asbal family mansion, known to have housed generations of Prime Ministers. Their new residence was a small mansion built on a hill to the west of the capital. The old butler Thomas, the cook and few maids accompanied him to the new mansion saying that they would follow him no matter what. Taking Julieta’s hand, Sigurd guided her along the beautiful verdant gardens. Learning the art of gardening from the gardener who frequented the place, he built an elegant garden that seemed to melt into the forest. Seeing the finished product, even Anderheim felt a little admiration for him.
From the day Sigurd came to know the truth of his birth, he began opening his heart up to Anderheim little by little. He also began doting on Julieta in a literal sense.
Anderheim’s abuses at Morino’s lack of preparedness seemed to have been quite effective. He had put in place an effective management system for all the gold hidden underneath the Asbal Mansion that now belonged to him. He groped for answers for a way to tip the scales that made the nation move and put them into practice, and then came to Anderheim to chronicle his successes in detail.
Lutora was sleeping over at the Shrine as usual, but the twins— Cain and Abel, were called by Anderheim. They were to study the management of the territory along with Sigurd. The twins’ intelligence had caught Anderheim’s eye from the very beginning and he had often expressed his wish of making them his ‘successor’s’ aides to Malacia.
“No matter how soon Julieta was blessed with His Highness’s child, I would still not live to see them reach adulthood. I thus needed to groom an outstanding aide beforehand.”
“But it’s a different story if Sigurd temporarily succeeds the title. While the two are a bit young, as they gain experience together, making them the aides to the one who succeeds the territory ‘after’ you would maintain stability. It would reduce confusion amongst the citizens of the fief.”
Morino was in admiration of Anderheim’s far thought-out education. Sigurd, deeply impressed by his father’s well-thought plans, further resolved himself to put his heart into studying the management of the territory to splendidly protect its denizens, albeit temporarily.
Somehow, even Jolga seemed to find time to frequently visit the mansion on the hill, just to deliver to Julieta a book with a knight motif and jacket. The book was rare to find outside the knight’s personal salons, even within the royal capital. He narrowed his eyes at receiving his reward— a smile.
“…Well, it’s fine. I’ll be going now.”
Tempted by Anderheim who got up as he combed up his hair, Jolga too arose from the sofa facing Anderheim.
“Lord Anderheim, where are you going? What about your guards?”
“I don’t need them. I have only been called to the site of construction on the banks of Luft river. I heard that they dug up a part of an ancient relic of some kind. They requested me to come and look it over to see if it was possible to continue the construction. Although I have retired from the post of Prime minister… in these kinds of matters, experience speaks volumes.
“I see…would you mind if I accompany you in that case?”
Morino prepared to get up, but Anderheim lightly pushed him down with one hand.
“I don’t mind, but it is on the border of the fiefs. It also includes territories disputed between the two lords. If you, the new Prime Minister, were present, it would make it difficult for both of them to say what’s on their minds. I’ll call you once the situation calms down.
“I see. I understand.”
“Once Sigurd and Julieta return from their excursion, tell them that it might rain today and that I told them not to spend too long out in the garden.”
A while passed since Anderheim said he would leave, and rode the carriage, his coattails fluttering in the wind.
As Morino taught a new mathematical operation to Cain and Abel, who had finished their studies, and Jolga slept for a while on the sofa, Sigurd and Lutora came rushing to them.
Hearing their questioning voices, Jolga opened his eyes. Morino blinked his eyes in surprise.
“Commander, why are you here…? I heard that the maids wanted to meet Julieta, and I took her to the royal salon. I didn’t think it was appropriate to listen in on a conversation between women, and they told me that you would come as a guard. I was relaxed and left her behind at the salon to pick her up later…”
“Morino, you’re here too? I heard that you had called Malacia to discuss the Shrine’s budget and came here after escorting him to the castle…”
A chill run up his spine, as if something vile were caressing him.
Jolga sprang up to his feet and ran to his favourite horse he had tied up in the barn. Lutora and Sigurd followed in quick succession, each jumping onto their own horses. From the other side of the gates of the mansion, the neigh of horses sounded.
The broken voice atop the horse, calling Lutora, belonged to the Templar knight Amy. As she passed through the gate, she slipped down from the saddle and caught a hold of Lutora who came rushing. He wondered why she came here, when he saw a large slash across her back, stained with blood and grime. Her hands and feet too, had countless wounds on them.
“Why, what happened!?”
Gasping for breath, Amy desperately swallowed back the blood in her mouth, grabbing onto Lutora’s clothes in a bid to catch his attention.
“T-There’s a problem! Sir…Lutora. Strange men broke into…the Shrine. They said…Lady Julieta is going to be… eaten by the Dragon…!”
“They…took the children as hostages. I brought back…Lady Julieta and Lord Malacia…from the castle…! We all tried to…tried to stop him…but…!”
Amy bit her lips and raised her chin. It couldn’t be helped that she felt frustrated at her powerlessness.
“This…is…bad…! The two…agreed to do as they said…in order to not let us…get hurt!”
“They were taken to the passage leading to the underground lake…! P-Please. Save…them…!”
“…Big Sis Amy!?
As Cain and Abel came to check what the commotion was about, they let out a scream seeing the bloodied appearance of Amy, who was raised in the same orphanage as them.
Entrusting Amy to Morino, who came rushing soon after, Lutora jumped onto his horse, and ran out, hooking his feet onto the stirrups. Sigurd and Jolga followed quickly after, riding side by side. Crossing the muddy fields, they leapt across fences, taking the shortest path to the Shrine.
“…Malacia is a quick thinker…!”
Lutora gnashed his teeth as he spoke as if to console himself.
“They are buying time! The path to the underground lake is a confusing maze…!”
Sigurd’s face was pallid as he gripped the reins tightly to the point his fingers turned white.
Although it was within the castle, why did he have to leave his precious little sister behind?
Barely any time had passed since the last incident when Nasha screamed at her at the Shrine.
He didn’t know what had plotted this, but it wasn’t as if there wasn’t anyone who would side with the enemy.
“Sigurd, don’t rush!”
“Believe in Sir Malacia.”
Turning his horse around, Jolga skilfully manipulated his horse along the clifftop path from where he could see the roof of the Shrine. With swift handling of the reigns, his horse slid smoothly down the slope. Sigurd and Lutora somehow managed to remain on his heels. The three rode there horses till the staircase at the entrance of the Shrine. Led by Lutora, the three ran to the doors of the passageway leading to the underground lake.
Even on their way to the back of the Shrine, they saw countless injured Templar Knights and fallen priests.
“Ah, Sir Lutora…!”
“Please, save Lord Malacia…!”
“Please, Lady Julieta is…!”
The fact that they all entreated in unison was something for later. Throwing open the doors of the underground passage, Lutora held a torch as he led Sigurd and Jolga unhesitatingly through the maze-like path. He could retrace any route he had gone through just once without any mistakes. It was Lutora’s ability. It was a part of his skills as a spy. Malacia taking him through the path once to show him the storage site of Suimo turned out to be of quite help.
“Going straight ahead will lead you to the underground lake!”
Reaching the end of the passage where the ceiling was quite high, the three rushed past. Someone was waiting for them.
As they threw open the gigantic steel gates, there was a man collapsed in front of the gate, cradling the children, his head bleeding. Malacia.
Lutora rushed to him, helping the limp Malacia to his feet.
Only the current Head Priest of the Shrine, Malacia could open the doors leading to the underground lake. Although the children were hostages, he took the men round in circles in the maze-like path, buying as much time as he could. He even put up a clear fight right in front of the doors to the lake. The two men— one who tied up Julieta’s hands and feet and carried her like a sack, and another with a scar on his face, were irritated. They hit him and made him faint. Grabbing his unconscious hand and placing it on the doors, they opened them.
Reflected in Sigurd’s eyes was Julieta’s figure along with the men carrying her on their shoulder along the path illuminated by the gathering spirits. Hearing Sigurd, the men noticed the three’s presence. They roughly tossed Julieta’s thin frame onto the Sacrificial Altar.
Her bound limbs robbed her of freedom as the momentum pushed Julieta off the altar and towards the lake.
She fell into the lake where the Ancient Dragon Kharis rested half his body, a lake filled with water that was deadly poison to humans.
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