Richard’s own followers had grown tremendously with the baptism of this war as well. Flowsand was now level 13, while Io had advanced to level 16. Olar had advanced a level both as an archer and a bard, now level 10 and 12 respectively in those classes. Zendrall had finally reached level 13 as well.
Gangdor finally reached level 15 himself, which in addition to some rune upgrades and his epic-grade axe put him on the level of a standard rune knight from Norland. Although he didn’t qualify to become a noble yet, he would have some status. As for his archrival, Waterflower was now level 15 as well. The immense power of the Guide of Secrets easily allowed her to overpower the brutish man, and a newfound tolerance for liquor meant he couldn’t outdo her in that department either. Whenever they met, all Gangdor could do was sigh and do her bidding.
Richard was basically the only one who hadn’t grown in level over the past month, his mana pool remaining at level 15. However, everyone who knew him felt a mysterious change in him after the battle. If before he was a deep lake that was hard to peer into, the runemaster now seemed like an ocean. On the surface he had quieted down greatly, no longer as sunny as before. His alcohol consumption also increased greatly.
It took until the third day after the battle for Richard’s forces to be done with sifting through the warzone. It was named the Land of Sacrifice in memory of the 50,000 fallen soldiers, the sturdy warflag that Richard had protected with his life still flying proudly in the wind. Of course, the fallen Norlanders would have no part in this pride. Faelor’s tradition was to feed the corpses to the vultures and hyenas, but Richard made a display for the nobles of the broodmother feasting on them all.
A thousand prisoners of war had been brought under his control. Although they were nominally slaves, he would soon find an opportunity to assimilate them into his army. Although they would normally be killed off as well, nobody had the energy or the courage to speak up about it. Hard times were on the way for all of the nobles who had participated in this battle; they would have to comfort their remaining soldiers and think of ways to rebuild; even victorious lions had to lick their wounds.
Raymond was put under house arrest, confined to a single room for all but an hour of each day. His life had been saved, but his magical ability continued to fall. The broodmother’s analysis of humans was currently at 230%; it wasn’t difficult for her to suppress someone’s mana and preserve their life for some time. Of course, this also caused Raymond to rely on her; if she stopped feeding him for even a week, he would die an excruciating death as the foreign life force withered away.
Raymond was currently seated in his room, staring idly at Faelor’s sky. The opening of the door reminded him that it was mealtime, but he didn’t turn his eyes away as he gestured for the tray to be put on the one table he had been given.
“Alright,” the young lady answered flatly, but the voice sent Raymond tumbling from his seat. He turned around to stare at the person he had assumed was just a maid, locking eyes for a long time before he calmed down enough to find his chair again.
“Rosie… I never expected to see you here. Why is Richard using you as a maid?”
Rosie put the tray down and stretched out her arms, allowing her bundled apprentice robes to flow freely, “Would a maid dress like this?”
“You’re Richard’s apprentice?” Raymond asked, bewildered.
“Apprentice, assistant, mistress… Actually, I think sex friend is a better word for it.”
Raymond’s face scrunched up as she spoke, the calm mastermind of the Joseph family suddenly turning into a lovelorn youth in his mid-twenties. Although he had expected as much to come out of Rosie staying with Richard, this information was still heartbreaking.
He lowered his head to cough a few times, hiding his expression while he forced his stopped lungs to work once more. When the ruse no longer worked, he turned his body away and looked out from the window, “Apprentice… What are you learning from him?”
The answer forced him to face her once again, face full of shock. It almost felt like the girl in front of him was someone else.
“It surprises you that much, huh?” Rosie tugged at her hair lazily, causing the ponytail to bounce, “But then again, if the Josephs knew this they wouldn’t have let that damned old man break the engagement.”
Raymond laughed bitterly, “That… Was something out of my hands. I already knew I didn’t have long to live, so—”
“So you watched and did nothing as I was betrothed to an old pervert, right?” Rosie’s eyes suddenly shot out a piercing glare, forcing Raymond to avert his gaze.
“Your grandfather had a vested interest in the Schumpeters. The Josephs had nothing to repay them with, so forcing the issue would… It would have ended in war.” It was all he could do to smile awkwardly. An individual’s wants and needs meant nothing compared to the future of the family; even if he had wanted to resist the decision, he did not have the standing to affect his family. His personal strength was far too pitiful to take on a family of Faust.
“Indeed,” Rosie nodded in agreement, but her expression reminded him of Richard’s battle with the Duke’s youngest grandson for the sake of a brother.
He heaved a long sigh, looking back at her and hesitating for a moment before asking, “Are you doing well these days?”
“You may be concerned about me, but you have no right to ask that question.”
“Alright then!” Raymond flung out his arms helplessly, “Why are you here? It can’t be so meaningless as to mock me.”
“I want to prove to Richard that you don’t matter to me anymore. As well, there’s something I wanted to ask.”
“Feel free,” Raymond smiled bitterly, “I’ll answer as best I can.”
“Ever since the Archerons entered Faust, you’ve been scheming and plotting to bring them down. I don’t recall Richard ever offending you, and I’m pretty sure his father never did either. Why?”
Raymond seemed to lose himself in thought for a while, “... Let’s put it this way. If a lion started sleeping next to your house, and you knew that it could bite you anytime, what would you do? The Archerons are that lion. Nobody can predict who they’ll bite next, but the one truth is that they will bite. The only way to deal with them was when they were still asleep.
“In fact, any powerful family is a lion. Some are more docile, some more aggressive, but none of them can be tamed. There are no allies in Faust, war is the only constant thing.”
“But…” Rosie frowned, but no matter how she thought about it there were no real flaws to his reasoning.
“I know what you want to say. The crux of the problem is that men can’t live peacefully with lions. The risk is simply too large. If the lion attacks your life is forfeit anyway, but if you strike first there’s a chance of victory. On one hand is an enormous risk to take passively, and on the other is a choice that gives you some amount of control. Shouldn’t a normal person’s decision be obvious?
“You can go tell Richard, the fourteen families will never stop fighting. Even if he wants to keep to himself, others might just strike first. Even if the territories are on opposite sides of the Alliance, expanding families will eventually meet. An outstanding leader shouldn’t be concerned about whether to fight or not, they should look for the right battles to win….”
Rosie committed everything to memory, asking a few more questions as well before finally turning to leave, “It seems like you’ve grown very generous with your advice, even helping your great enemy Richard.”
“I’m helping you,” Raymond said calmly.
Rosie looked back at him, her clear gaze making him crumble inside once again. He couldn’t help but turn his head away, an action that caused her to sigh, “You mages of Solomon have a major problem. Whenever you lie, you can make it seem so real. This is the same kind of thing you said to me years ago, and look how that turned out. Tch, whatever. I have no way to know whether you’re truthful, it’s better I just never believe a word of what you say.”
When she started heading towards the door, Raymond couldn’t find the courage to ask her to stop. He sat where he was quietly, back as straight as an arrow as he just turned back to the view of the distant valley.
“Everyone who’s ever held my hands has only said one thing; they’re beautiful. Do you know what Richard said? He said they’re firm. He said they’re the hands of someone with talent.” Rosie closed the door behind her as she left.
Raymond continued to gaze aimlessly at the night sky. To the best of his recollection, he had praised the beauty of her hands when he first kissed them as well.
Was that why she came to this decision?Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Styles
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA