“Do you like this Lord’s Castle, your highness? Of course, it is difficult to not like this place!”
‘Why are you asking me if you’ve already made a conclusion?’
“It’s amazing. It looks like it came right out of a painting.”
“Hahaha! I hear that a lot. You have excellent aesthetic senses, your highness.”
I was currently walking in front of the Lord’s Castle with the already extremely excited Marquis François Duhem looking for the Sword of Wisdom from the Flaming Star.
The silvergrass-like plants that filled my view were swaying nonstop.
The Marquis was chatting away at full speed as well.
There wasn’t much behind how I ended up in such a situation.
After the welcome banquet last night, I slept in until 10:30 a.m. and was leisurely eating and enjoying my rest when……
‘Ah right, Demy. We need to go see your friends.’
I finally remembered after seeing Demy begging me to hold him.
One of the reasons I came here was to see Demy’s red panda family, the other two divine beasts.
I wanted to set up some time for Demy to say hi to them and make sure that they are doing well because it has been a long time.
Benjamin and Ganael were planning to go with me, as expected, but I happened to run into Marquis Duhem in the hallway……
After that, well… It’s pretty obvious as to what happened.
‘Would you please give me the honor?’
The Marquis said that he was the person who had the most contact with the divine beasts and that he would personally escort me, so I let the two tired-looking attendants rest in their rooms.
That was how this awkward combination was created.
Of course, I was the only one feeling awkward while the Marquis seemed quite excited.
“Demy, you shouldn’t fool around on top of a horse. Your horse friend is working.”
– Clack, clack……
I quickly grabbed Demy, who was trying to crawl onto the horse’s head, and held him in my arms.
It was my first time riding a horse, but miraculously, Prince Jesse’s body remembered horsemanship.
I avoided being a prince who couldn’t even get on a horse at the age of twenty-eight.
‘How come he can do things like this but can’t throw a dagger……’
“They are putting up the tents so it would be better to go around this way, your highness.”
“Ah, I understand.”
The Marquis pointed to the side with dramatic hand gestures.
I didn’t think that there were many people on the plains when we left the Lord’s Castle, but I could now see that it was packed with people preparing for the Great Clearance of Demonic Beasts tomorrow.
I followed the Marquis’ guide and moved past the tents.
Then, I saw something that made my jaws drop.
“……Are these all seats for spectators?”
“That’s right! Are you shocked, your highness? I’m sure you are! This competition will be the largest one ever!”
The Marquis’ light pink eyes curled like crescent moons.
I couldn’t close my jaws while looking at the 10 level bleachers cutting through the plains on both sides.
The two sets of seats were facing each other about 100m apart and they each seemed at least 300m long.
Anybody would think that this looked like a large outdoor stadium.
The white tents that should block the heat of the May sun seemed to cover not just the top of the seats but also the sides and the back.
The area was full of people pulling the cloths taut, hammering stakes into the ground, shouting, and creating circles with their arms.
A portion of them bowed after noticing the Marquis and me.
I greeted them back and took a look at the mountain range and the stadium.
“You are herding the demonic beasts that come out of the mountain into the center of the two sides.”
“To be more specific, it is the demonic beasts that pull in the participants. The Sword of Wisdom from the Flaming Star is stabbed over there.”
Marquis Duhem pointed toward the middle of the stadium.
I could see something black in the distance, sparkling from the warm rays of the sun.
My mind blanked out a bit and I moved my horse toward it.
“Yes, we’re here.”
Demy must not have been able to hold himself back anymore as he climbed up my chest and sat on top of my shoulders.
I held the little punk with one arm and got off the horse after seeing the Marquis get off.
I focused my gaze on the grass and walked forward until the divine item appeared.
I felt as if I had stopped breathing for a moment.
The sword that was nonchalantly stabbed into the dirt was pitch black. It was as if no light could get through it.
About half of it was buried in the ground, but the parts I could see were completely clean without even a speck of dust.
The hilt and the area under the blade were all black as well, except for the blood-red jewel at the bottom of the hilt.
It looked extremely vibrant, as if it had been stabbed in there just yesterday, but it also looked extremely old, as if it was here before anything else.
This was the divine sword that had been here for over 1,000 years and never took a master despite countless people trying to pull it out.
This was the Sword of Wisdom from the Flaming Star.
“……That’s a ton of ether.”
I finally shared my thoughts after a long while.
The reason Demy had been chatty since morning and the reason I felt as if I was in front of a large bonfire right now were probably all because of this sword.
It wasn’t hot or actually making the area warmer, but I could feel the presence of the overwhelming fire attribute ether.
It made me think that this was what a divine item was supposed to be like.
Even their reason for existence was different from the items humans created and used for convenience.
This was the manifestation of the Almighty God’s will and ability.
“All priests say the same thing whenever they see the sword.”
The Marquis continued speaking almost as if he was humming.
“Isn’t it beautiful? The demonic beasts pass through here at least once to attack the divine item and the participants come down chasing after them. The Sword of Wisdom could be called the flower of the competition.”
He then looked to one side of the grass. Demy reacted quicker than I did.
Two red pandas jumped out.
The Marquis must have been telling the truth when he said that the divine beasts always stay close to the divine item.
Thankfully, both of them looked healthy.
Demy was dangling on my right arm so I gently put him down on the ground.
I couldn’t help but smile after seeing these little guys meet again in this distant March.
The three of them were in a ball, rolling on the ground the same way they had been on the day they said goodbye.
I was looking at them with concern because I was worried that they would be cut by the Sword of Wisdom when the Marquis resumed speaking.
“I heard that you were competing as a team, your highness. You are teaming with his Royal Majesty, Vice Captain Élisabeth, and young lady Christelle.”
I turned toward him.
‘This is the first time I’m hearing about it……’
It was an established fact that I was helping the Imperial Prince and that Vice Captain Élisabeth was probably doing the same, but I guess Christelle is in our team too because she is as likable as a side dish that goes well with anything.
Of course, it was just a temporary alliance that will end once we return to the Imperial Palace.
“You’re not wrong.”
I gave an indirect response when he smiled and asked a different question.
“Do you think that I should trust you, Prince Jesse?”
“…What did you just say, Marquis Duhem?”
I asked back.
I realized that only his lips were smiling since some point earlier.
His light eyes seem to hold faint traces of suspicion.
‘I didn’t know he was capable of such a look.’
“My apologies, your highness. I know that his Royal Highness and her Eminence chose you to be here. However… I have sworn my loyalty to her Majesty, Empress Frédérique. I cannot lower my guard around you until you have her Majesty’s complete trust.”
The Marquis smiled elegantly with his eyes before lowering his head. It was a gesture to show his apology.
I took a long look at him as I organized my thoughts.
He was saying that unlike Cardinal Boutier and Imperial Prince Cédric, the Empress did not trust me yet.
It was hard enough to accept that the damn Imperial Prince bastard trusted me but it felt a bit burdensome bringing the Empress into the discussion as well.
I had not done anything for the Empress to see me in a good light.
It was best for her to not see me in any light.
“Marquis Duhem, you are her Majesty’s close confidant so I’m sure you know about his Royal Highness’s secret.”
However, I still had no intentions of leaving any suspicion in the Marquis’ mind.
I was someone who could not make any enemies here.
“When you say secret……”
“I couldn’t ignore a hurting child.”
The adult’s relaxed face instantly stiffened.
The Marquis raised a hand to cover his mouth while looking at me with his pupils shaking.
‘So this guy does know about it.’
“I am not doing this because I want something from Her Majesty or His Royal Highness. I am simply helping because I wouldn’t be at peace. You do not need to think about it with such complication.”
“……I didn’t expect that you would know about that, your highness! My goodness!”
“I somehow ended up finding out. Please do not worry as I have not shared it with anybody else.”
The Marquis quickly knelt down on one knee in front of me.
I gasped and took a step back.
“What are you doing, Marquis Duhem? People are watching.”
“I understand now. There was a reason his Royal Highness relies on you, Prince Jesse.”
“Who relies on whom? Are we talking about the same Imperial Prince right now?”
“I had no idea that you were helping his Royal Highness with completely pure intentions that don’t even have a speck of dust on it…… Please forgive me for being such a benighted fool!”
‘Wait, wasn’t the mood extremely cold like three minutes ago? I already knew about this, but why is this guy so extreme?’
“You were saying that you suspected me…”
“I will go to make a confession today. If I am asked about my sin, I will say that when I met with Prince Jesse……”
“I am going to go touch the Sword of Wisdom while you reflect.”
I left the man who swayed from one extreme to the other and quickly grabbed the Sword of Wisdom from the Flaming Star.
I was planning on checking it leisurely but I could not do so because of that guy’s silliness.
“But the sword wouldn’t come out so I kicked it. I’m sorry.”
[I see. That was wrong for you to do, Sophie.]
I answered as gently as possible.
I could hear the child on the other side of the wooden window tapping her feet.
I barely managed to hold my laughter back as I thought about what to say next.
I had heard many confessions until now but I had never had such a cute little penitent.
I was currently fulfilling my ‘duty’ for coming to the Duhem March.
My job as the priest was to hear the confessions of the participants for the Great Clearance of Demonic Beasts but my schedule was pushed up half a day with the Marquis opening the Lord’s Castle’s Confessional earlier today.
It worked out for me since I was going to be busy tomorrow.
But the Marquis, he really…… He looked normal but his brain was not normal at all.
Thanks to him, the front of the small Confessional was packed since early in the evening.
Pretty much every noble who came to the Lord’s Castle as a guest were gathered in a line.
The person who was currently in the penitent’s seat was the soon-to-be-five-years-old Sophie.
The girl who would be almost six in Korean age said that she came here with her mom, who was participating in the competition.
‘I remember when Eunse was this little.’
“Will I be punished now?”
[It won’t be a big punishment. Sophie is still young, so you should get a small punishment.]
“But I don’t want even a little punishment……”
[To be honest with you, this uncle tried to grab the Sword of Wisdom earlier too and it didn’t budge.]
“Did you kick it too, your highness?”
[No, I couldn’t do so because some mister was watching me.]
The child laughed at my comment. I smiled bitterly.
To be more specific, I was not trying to pull the sword out but to make a wish.
I prayed to the Almighty God first in case the divine item didn’t understand me and even channeled my ether into it with high hopes.
I then tightly held the sword and prayed desperately. I prayed for it to let me go back home.
And the results? Well, I’m still here in this body.
Yes. There was no way I would be able to go home that easily.
[Sophie must eat all of her veggies for the whole week. You must also only kick balls outside and make sure that nobody is in the direction you are kicking. That is your penance.]
“Oo…… But bell peppers don’t taste good……”
The child sounded depressed at my stern demeanor.
Sophie rustled around for a while and then left the Confessional before…
“Goodbye, your highness!”
She urgently opened the door back and respectfully said goodbye.
Her mother must have asked if she said goodbye to me.
I was half laughing as I responded to the child. The outside sounded quite chaotic right after that.
A new guest must have arrived.
I thought that I would rest after one more person.
The door to the other side was slammed open again. I could hear someone’s clothes rustling.
“Who is that?”
A familiar low voice pierced my ears. I anxiously turned toward the window.
“Your Royal Highness?”
“Did you tell that Sophie person too?”
‘What the heck is he talking about?’
I quickly leaned my body and looked through the wooden window.
I could see his orange eyes burning intensely through the tightly woven pattern on the window.
His large body was torturing the small chair.
I could not understand why this bastard was here right now. Was it for the Great Clearance of Demonic Beasts tomorrow?
“Did you come to make a confession, your Royal Highness? By the way, did you just cut in line?”
“Even the Marquis knows about it now.”
“Know what, your Royal Highness?”
Imperial Prince Cédric kept his mouth shut. Even that four years old Sophie was better at talking.
He should confess if he came to confess, and he should speak if he had a complaint but the Imperial Prince was acting exactly like his son.
This was clearly an obstruction of business.