Chapter 6 – The Fourth Spring
To Jade van Cliffdorf, becoming a knight was merely a stop along the way. Generations of knights had worked hard for the Cliffdorf family to earn its position within military circles.
As the scion of such a family, he had entered the Knight Academy at the age of thirteen. In his first year, he became a squire, and at the end of his second year, he earned the qualifications to become a knight. Due to regulations, however, he still needed to attend the academy for six years, so he was officially considered to be a student. It was under these circumstances that Jade returned to the Cliffdorf estate.
Marquis Welt van Cliffdorf, Jade’s father, was sitting at a round table in the mansion’s largest room.
For a soldier, especially one who held the rank of general, he didn’t look much like one. Having pale skin from constantly working indoors and not wielding a sword in ages, not just his belly, but his whole body was bulging and swollen. Jade greeted his father as he entered the room.
“I have come home, Dear Father.”
“Excellent, it’s good that you have returned, Jade.”
He nodded, then slowly sat down in the chair across from his father where he had indicated.
How could someone like him be the general of the Knight Order?
An unsightly bulging belly. Folded flesh flabbier than any chin.
If someone like him is a general, then what am I…
Keeping his contempt hidden in his heart, he smiled brightly at his father.
“For what business have you summoned me, Dear Father?”
“Have you heard of the Brave?”
“Of course. She is famous, after all. Her name is Leticia van Mavis, daughter of Duke Mavis, is it not?”
“I have heard that she is extremely beautiful.”
Jade had never met Leticia.
As a problem child, Leticia had never been allowed to make her debut into high society when she was young. Then, she left on her odyssey soon after the oracle proclaimed her to be the Brave. But a portrait of Leticia had circulated in the newspapers, along with many articles describing her appearance. So of course he knew of her beauty.
“During her audience with His Majesty, and during the banquet, I managed to catch glimpses of her. Her beauty truly is unrivalled. She may be only fourteen, but even I am tempted to join the fray to aim for her.”
Welt smiled vulgarly.
“Oh? Surely none of the men around her could leave her alone?”
“Even his Majesty seems to want her to become the princess consort to Prince Aldred. He was rejected once though,” Welt chuckled, his corpulent body jiggling. “His Majesty wants to use the Brave to keep the other influential noble houses in check.”
Jade was surprised. The prospect of becoming the prince’s wife was extremely appealing to a lady of nobility. To turn it down would be preposterous. It would make sense if she declined the emperor’s offer due to the difference in status, but Leticia was a duke’s daughter. Her status was second only to royalty. That she was even able to decline the Emperor’s wish to betrothe her to the prince, such was the existence called the Brave.
“Did Duke Mavis have any remarks on the matter?”
“She may be his daughter, but she is also the Brave. He couldn’t force her, it seems. That fact is most helpful to us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jade, obtain the Brave.”
Welt’s eyes narrowed, the smile disappearing from his face.
“You’re around her age. If you obtain the Brave, the Cliffdorf house will gain more power than even the royal family!”
The Brave held a special place in the hearts of the commoners within the Lemmroussell Empire. Rather, all across the continent. If Jade was able to make the Brave his wife, then there was no telling what they could do.
The only thing occupying Welt’s mind was how recently, the emperor’s faction had been meddling in the management of the nobles’ territories. They were fussing about how taxes were collected from the people, and about raising the standard of living of the commoners. Welt was fed up.
If the Brave became his daughter-in-law, it would become harder for the emperor to interfere.
He would become the most influential noble, able to silence even the emperor. If he pushed, he could probably gain even more concessions.
As Jade listened to his father go on about the heights they would reach if Jade could only obtain the Brave’s hand in marriage, his eyes glazed over, a superficial smile plastered onto his face.
If he obtained the Brave, his ambitions would not stop there.
Welt didn’t have to do anything and, just by virtue of his birth, he became a general. Likewise, even if Jade didn’t do anything, he probably would easily become a general, as the man who was his father had done. But that was not enough for Jade. He wanted more. If a man like that was able to become a general, then what greatness awaited Jade?
If he could make Leticia his wife, his journey to greatness would be secured.
Thinking this, Jade could feel his blood boiling in excitement.
The current emperor was too soft on commoners. The path to knighthood should have been one that only the chosen could walk on, but now the road was littered with commoners. Commoners now dared to walk brazenly around the prestigious Knight Academy. Jade refused to accept this.
Leticia the Brave was one of the chosen ones with noble blood in her veins. The appearance of his wife, whether ugly or beautiful, mattered not to Jade. What mattered most was her lineage. While he would rather that the imperial family and the Mavis house disappear for the sake of his ambitions, he held no grievances towards their pedigree. Just by having her in his palm, many allies would follow. Those who knew the true value of bloodlines would surely support him, as would the foolish plebeians.
The country would then be reborn.
A country where blue-blooded nobles ruled over the masses. A country that followed the natural order of things.
Jade emerged from his thoughts and interrupted Welt’s own tirade of future plans.
“Where might Miss Leticia be right now?”
No matter how far his ambitions went, he had yet to obtain the Brave. She was just a fourteen year old girl; there were many ways to accomplish this. But he would have to meet the person in question first.
Welt looked slightly irked at being interrupted. He stood up from his chair and made his way to the window, his belly shaking as he walked.
“She’s in the palace right now. She said something about returning to her ‘Master’ or something, but His Majesty is trying everything to prevent her from leaving, throwing banquet after banquet, party after party each night.”
“Then shall I attend one of those parties?”
“That’s right. Soon, we Cliffdorfs shall sponsor one of the evening parties. I’ll set up an opportunity for you. You should prepare a gift.”
Other nobles would also be making their moves. Even those from other countries. Jade’s lips curled up ever so slightly as he wondered how he would outmaneuver them.
The sky was clear, and gentle sunlight shone on the earth, heralding the coming of spring. Early in the morning, Wynn headed towards the cathedral to help with preparations for the Knight Academy’s entrance ceremony. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the towel draped around his neck.
Migratory birds, returning for spring, drew small white lines across the blue sky as they flew.
Wynn turned around, hearing someone call out to him. It was his roommate, Locke Marin, running to him while waving.
“Whoa. You’re not just attending the ceremony, but also helping set the place up?” Locke looked down at Wynn’s hands. He was carrying some extra chairs to the cathedral, since there weren’t enough chairs already there.
“I was practicing on my own, when a teacher found me. I didn’t really have any other plans until the ceremony anyways.”
“It’s your fourth time, huh.”
Locke took half the chairs from Wynn.
“Don’t mind me. You just became a squire, right? Congratulations!”
“Oh, thanks, I guess.”
Locke made a vague reply while scratching his head with his free left hand.
“Honestly, when I look at you, I don’t think someone like me deserves to get ahead.”
“I just didn’t have enough ability to pass the exam. That’s all there is to it.”
Three tests, three failures. For some reason, he was unable to imbue the practice sword with his magic power. In front of an imbued sword, his plain steel sword may as well have been a wooden stick. Moreover, his opponent the third time around had been at the top of the class that year. Just as it had in his second year, he had been kept in check by magic, and the match ended with his sword being broken.
“Well, you’re always at a disadvantage, given how your opponents, and even the format of the test itself, are selected.”
“You can’t choose your opponents on the battlefield. If I can’t win against each person I face, then I can’t call myself a knight.”
Sheesh, what a straight-laced guy he is, Locke thought.
Locke watched as his friend silently continued to work after delivering the chairs. They had been roommates for three whole years now. Locke had never met someone like Wynn before. The day after the entrance ceremony, Locke woke up to find Wynn’s bed empty. Upon searching for him, he found Wynn swinging around a well-worn wooden sword. He would come back late every night. After the daily lectures and grueling training ended, he would hurry out of the classroom.
Most of the students were nobles or children from wealthy families. Many students would go play around in the town, but few people did so every day. Locke, curious as to where Wynn was going, decided to follow him to town one day. It turned out that Wynn wasn’t playing around, but washing potatoes in the kitchen of a tavern. After finishing that, he would wait on the tables and bring the diners their food. His movements were practised and precise. It turned out that his reason for coming back late was that he worked.
Locke felt that he shouldn’t call out to Wynn, who was working busily. That day, he didn’t feel like playing around in town, and had instead gone straight back to the dorm. Wynn came home as if nothing unusual had happened at all. But he was dripping with sweat, no doubt from swinging his wooden sword.
In the days that followed, everybody was surprised by Wynn’s unexpected aptitude in the swordsmanship and martial arts classes, but not Locke. He took it as a matter of course.
If only he could show the fruits of his effort. Wynn had learned the foundations of swordplay from adventurers when he was young. He built upon those foundations by himself. His skill was superior to the young nobles, who should have been taught by famed tutors, surpassing even the instructors.
However, Wynn struggled in the classroom lectures. There was no way he could keep up with the other students, whose families had hired tutors to teach them. In addition to that, he lacked magic power.
At his examination in his first year, he faced off against someone who specialized in offensive magic, and was helpless to do anything but await his loss. He came up with a countermeasure, but a new rule in the second year prohibited weapons other than the standard practice sword, leaving his planning for naught. During his third year, he was unable to conduct magic power through his sword.
Locke had tried to go to an instructor about it, but the instructor replied: “Other students shouldn’t interfere with the examination.” At Wynn’s silent urging, Locke could do nothing but give up. Time passed like this until this year, where Locke earned his promotion to become a squire.
Locke was the second son of a merchant family. The one to inherit the family business would be his elder brother. Rather than apprentice himself to another company, or try to marry into wealth, Locke decided to enroll in the Knight Academy, seeking a life of freedom. Despite him not having Wynn’s unwavering resolve and immense effort, he had ended up becoming a squire first. That made Locke feel guilty.
“Um, excuse me.”
The two boys were headed back to the cathedral after delivering a package from one of the staff.
“You are upperclassmen, right? You two know your way around here?”
A girl called out from behind them.
Locke let out a murmur. “Whoa, she’s hot.”
Even Wynn, the self-acknowledged blockhead, blind to anything unrelated to becoming a knight, couldn’t take his eyes off her. She had soft, blonde hair that glittered in the spring sunlight and emerald green eyes. She looked pure, pristine, unsullied.
“Uh, um, I guess in this case I’m an upperclassman. Are you a new student?”
She nodded with a charming smile on her face.
“According to the front desk, there is a special guest room that’s not in the cathedral for me to change into my uniform, but I don’t know where that is.”
“Oh, isn’t that over this way, in the other direction?”
She had been heading towards the normal changing room inside the cathedral.
“Excuse me for my mistake. I was too early, and there aren’t many people yet. The few that are around all seem busy.” The girl looked apologetic.
“And then I saw you two upperclassmen walking around. You seemed free.”
“Well, I guess.”
“Go guide her, Wynn. You’re also going to attend the entrance ceremony, anyway. You can go together.”
“But I still have to help out.”
“With those chores? I’ll do them for you. You’d be putting the cart before the horse if you were late because you were helping with the preparations.”
With a wave, Locke quickly walked away.
“See ya later, Wynn!”
Wynn called out towards Locke as he left, then turned to the girl.
“Well, I guess we should get going?”
Wynn started walking and the girl followed along behind him. Something felt unusual, like there was something he should know, but he couldn’t figure out what.
“I thought you were an upperclassman, but were you actually also a new student?”
“I am older, but this is my fourth time repeating this year.”
“Then I guess we’ll be classmates.”
“I guess so. Please excuse me for asking, but seeing as you’re looking for the special room, could you be an exchange student from abroad?”
Normally, even nobles used the changing room in the cathedral. Only royalty or high-ranking foreign exchange students were given another room.
“I am from this country. I just have a few special circumstances.”
“I see. Should I speak more politely?”
“No, you’re fine speaking like this.”
The girl giggled.
“You’re repeating for the fourth year, but why are you going so far to become a knight?”
“I swore to myself that I would become a knight.”
Even if the path he walked was endless, he would continue walking, never backing down. That was what drove him as he practiced his swings each day.
“Also, I have a friend. We haven’t met for a long time, but she is doing her best in a far off land. I don’t think we’ll ever meet again, but if I see her again, I want to be able to hold my head up high, even if I don’t become a knight.”
Wynn laughed sheepishly, looking away in embarrassment. Which is why――
“You haven’t changed, have you…”
She whispered. Having turned away, Wynn missed the fact that, for an instant, it seemed like she was about to burst into tears behind her smile.
“Why am I saying such things to someone I just met? How about you? Why did you enroll?”
When he looked back to ask the question, the girl’s smile had returned to normal.
“Oh, me? Hmmm. There is a person who I wanted to meet. Who I want to walk alongside. He was the one who brought light to my world. I am still chasing his back, to this day.”
The smile on her face as she spoke was truly brilliant. Wynn froze in place, spellbound. That smile looked familiar for some reason――
“Oh, we’re here.”
The girl had continued walking, and knocked on the door to the building.
A giant, old figure came out. His hair was gray, but his face still looked young and his body looked sturdy as steel. It was Zaunas, the principal of the Knight Academy.
“You took so long I thought you were lost!”
“I apologize. I did get a bit lost.”
Leticia bowed slightly. But Wynn could only stare at the girl named Leticia as she turned back to him, an impish smile on her face.
“If I remember correctly, you were the repeater, Wynn Bard. Thank you for guiding her. You may leav-”
“Leti… are you Leti?”
Cutting off the principal, Wynn staggered towards the girl. Shock and anxiety rushed across his face.
“I was wondering when you’d notice…”
Both hands on her hips, Leticia sighed.
“It’s been too long, Big Brother, I’ve returned.”
Leticia smiled at the petrified Wynn. It was the biggest smile he had seen all day.
AN: Finally, the two of them reunite. Did I write it well? If I could write better, there would be more feels….