25: A Three-Way Struggle
It was the old man from my hometown who taught me that there were times when a man must not retreat.
I wanted to be a knight, I said as I placed my rugged hand, tempered through farmwork, on my head in annoyance.
“Well, Julio. No matter what, if you feel like you are in danger even if you become a knight, you should run away as soon as possible while you are still alive, okay?”
“But, Grandpa, it’s not cool.”
“That’s right. But you know, there are times when a man must not retreat. Until that time comes, you must cherish your life instead of pretending to be something you’re not.”
I never forgot the old man’s words, even after I entered into the chivalric order after coming to the royal knights as I had wished since my childhood. I always ran away immediately whenever I thought things were becoming dangerous, disregarding and not caring about honor or recklessly showing off. Thus I was able to protect myself until now even if others said I was a coward, and currently, my danger sensing ability could be said to be the best among the whole chivalric order.
Thank you, Grandpa. Please keep watching over me from the sky… Ah, it was not like the old man had died.
Right now, my danger sensing ability was furiously ringing the warning bell inside my head. Normally, I would be the first one to run away immediately.
However, I couldn’t retreat today. There was no way I could retreat as the division commander had entrusted me with a mission.
It wasn’t a battlefield shrouded in blood and smoke for which I was bracing my legs and hardening my tragic resolve but a splendid mansion of an aristocrat. In a wide entrance hall made of polished marble, I saw a young nobleman with his arms crossed elegantly.
The handsome young man, who gave the feeling of how an angel would become a human and grow up, was staring at me with expressionless, cold emerald green eyes.
“U-Umm, I would like to meet with Lady Philia…”
“Your way of addressing her is overly familiar. Call her young Lady Duchess d’la Love.”
“Y-Yes, I wish to have an audience with the young Lady Duchess d’la Love.”
“Rejected. She’s still resting.”
I was outright rejected even after rephrasing my request, as he said, but I couldn’t deal with Lord d’la Love if I gave up now. This was some sort of greeting because this person fundamentally hated anyone who tried to approach Lady Philia.
“B-But, it was our agreement from earlier to visit for periodic reports at this time, and If I just return like that, I’m sure she would feel bad…I have been ordered to report to Phili, I mean to the Duchess without fail myself.”
Lord d’la Love looked at me as if pondering where to start cutting me, but with a quiet sound, he took his gaze from me.
“It can’t be helped… Even though I did it until she couldn’t get up.”
I wondered what Lord d’la Love had done, but because I was sure he would smash me easily if I asked him, I pretended as if I hadn’t heard anything.
Today was the day for the first regular report to the Last d’la Love family, who had become the supporter of the Fifth Division. Although it was referred to as backer, it was only nominally necessary for socializing, so it was not that important. The contact point for this matter was entrusted to Lady Philia, the next Duchess.
If Lord d’la Love were to receive the report on my behalf, I wouldn’t have to feel so threatened for my life, but my deputy commander Lord Bernier instructed me to make sure that Lady Philia received the report. According to him, if we did that, Lady Philia would probably not have any choice but to keep reins on the devil.
As I was able to persuade Lord d’la Love for the time being, who was known as the devil in our Division and break through the first checkpoint, the Duke’s butler approached us as we were facing each other in the hall.
“Lord d’la Love, the guest is…”
It seemed to be a guest of high status clearly, for him to call out even though we can also be considered guests more or less. Lord d’la Love turned his eyes toward the entrance and squinted so coldly that the expression on his face earlier looked gentle.
“Hey, Lord d’la Love, I’m sorry to disturb you.”
The man who approached with a voice and smile that could make a woman spellbound if present and even taller than the tall Lord d’la Love was wearing the uniform of lifeguards, a regiment of the First Division having the absolute cream of crop members, in disorder state. I knew who he was at a glance, even without saying his name, and I was inwardly excited.
There was not a knight who didn’t know the name of the Duke of Cesari, Lord Cesari, the top of the military, and his son, Laurenz, Lord Cesari, was also a very famous knight. Not only had he been known as a master swordsman since he was a child, but he was also very smart, and it was said that when His Highness the prince ascended to the throne in the future, he would be the first in his entourage to inherit his father’s position. In other words, he was a person so far above the clouds that I couldn’t even aspire to be like him.
Lord d’la Love was also the kind of person who was sure to be in a position to take charge of national politics as the actual successor to the current Duke d’la Love, so it was not strange for him to be acquainted with Laurenz, Lord Cesari. Still, his expressions were too cold for a friend.
Maybe it was because Lord Cesari was so famous for his scandalous love affairs that fastidious Lord d’la Love didn’t see him eye to eye.
“What do you want, Lord Cesari?”
“Not from you but Phily. Besides, Lord d’la Love, weren’t you supposed to be in the parliament at this time?”
“I left it to my father this time. Because it seems that pests have sprung up in my house recently in my absence.”
“Oh. It’s really a need to worry about Phily, who’s alone then. But I will also keep an eye out for the pests. Don’t worry, Lord d’la Love. You can attend your meetings without fear.”
“The number one pest is truly impudent…”
Even with Lord d’la Love’s icy eyes, which would make me choke on my own, Lord Cesari was completely unfazed. I respected him a bit, no, a lot.
“You know that my father has recently been cooperating with the government’s plan to build a nationwide railroad in the future. It’s not a project that will end in their generation, and as we need to keep in touch with next-generation successors, I have come here to deepen my relationship with Phili.”
“I was wondering if you had suddenly moved on, but you’re still hung up on this…What’s your purpose?”
“Don’t say that. Of course, it’s for the benefit of both the Cesari and d’la Love families and ultimately for the kingdom’s prosperity.”
If even I thought so, there was no way Lord d’la Love was convinced. The ice-like emerald green eyes and ashen-purplish eyes clash against each other like the sword…The atmosphere was becoming absurd.
“Luca, you shouldn’t leave the guest standing at the entrance.”
A gentle voice resounded, tearing apart the tense air, and Lord d’la Love turned around in surprise.
Lord d’la Love raised his voice in criticism to Lady Philia, who was coming down the main staircase relaxedly. Lady Philia was in her cozy, casual clothes with her hair pulled back on the sides as if she were in the presence of her family. Her feminine body curves and the down hair looks erotic even without a corset, and her languid face without makeup gave her a kind of seductive woman’s look.
An ordinary man would already have his lower half body tingled with excitement, but I shuddered and immediately averted my eyes. Lately, whenever I look at Lady Philia’s cute face or her erotic figure, Lord d’la Love’s face popped into my mind, and instead of carnal desire, chills ran down my body.
It might be a pathetic story, but I didn’t think I’d be able to get it up even if I saw Lady Philia naked now…I was not sure if I was finished as a man or not.
I wondered if this was the “striking disorder of male’s function” prevalent in the Fifth Division.
Lord d’la Love, who had bestowed our sensitive part with such a serious blow, approached Lady Philia and hugged her to hide from the public eye.
“You shouldn’t come out dressed like this.”
“Geez, who do you think is responsible? I didn’t even have enough time to prepare myself.”
“If it’s about that trainee, let him wait. Your appearance isn’t good because there is some unfaithful person with a rotten head who only thinks about what’s under the dress when looking at a woman.”
“I wonder whom you are talking about, Lord d’la Love?”
Lord Cesari made a retort while grinning, but Lord d’la Love ignored him completely and tried his best to hide Lady Philia’s body with the jacket he took off.
Covered in the oversized coat, Lady Philia turned her eyes toward Lord Cesari over Lord d’la Love’s arm as if she had just noticed him.
There was an indescribable look in her eyes as if she was looking at a caterpillar or moth that had developed abnormally.
This was actually quite rare. Normally speaking, Lady Philia was unfriendly towards any other men except her family, division commander, and for some reason me, but it was a polite, distant coldness and not a blatant overtly disgusted behavior like this.
“My, my, Laurenz, Lord Cesari… You’re here again without even my invitation.”
Her slightly detached tone, unlike usual, didn’t try to hide her fed-up and tiresome feeling.
It was a disgraceful behavior as a Lady to reveal her personal feelings, and it wouldn’t be strange for the nobleman to become mad at being insulted.
I looked fearfully at Lord Cesari and was startled.
“Hi, Phily. Thanks for your passionate welcome as always.”
Lord Cesari was smiling like usual, but the way he looked at Lady Philia was euphoric, as if he couldn’t contain his uncontrollable delight. Such a scene would normally remind you of a lovestruck person, but in this case, it was more of obstinate and tenacious nature. Generally, I thought that if Lady Philia looked at me like that, I’d feel so depressed that I’d never recover.
As my heart was beating wildly at the premonition that this person was a bit dangerous… Lady Philia squinted her eyebrows a bit and said in an even colder tone.
“Although you’re the eldest son of Duke Cesari, it’s unbefitting of you to meet a lady without prior notice. We, the women, take time to appear in front of others… Of course, Laurenz, Lord Cesari should know this very well.”
“I wonder if you’re bothered about me playing with someone else’s wife. You’re cute, Phily.”
“Has your hearing ability gone bad along with your personality?”
Lady Philia glared at him with unconcealed contempt, not even bothering to beautify her words. Still, Laurenz, Lord Cesari’s countenance became coquettish as if it was just a hit on his pleasure points.
This was genuinely dangerous. Lord Cesari, the renowned knight, seemed to be a person of perv— no, slightly unusual tastes. Even though I had noticed it, Lady Philia didn’t seem to understand it well.
Although the light in her eyes was getting severe, and I was desperately shouting inside that “He is getting pleasure!” or “He is too dangerous!” unfortunately, Lady Philia nor I had that kind of tactical understanding.
Of course, I didn’t dare to give her a warning either.
“I don’t have the leisure time to accompany you on your shady task of deepening the friendship between two families. I have a prior arrangement already… Sorry to keep you waiting, Julio.”
After turning down, Lord Cesari, Lady Philia turned to look at me apologetically and with a gentle smile.
Just as Lady Philia’s gently smiling face turned towards me, so did the piercing gazes of the other two people.
“N-Noo, I didn’t have to wait at all!”
“Oh, so you’re Julio Fidel, the apprentice knight in the Fifth Division that Phili is friends with.”
He knew me! I didn’t know why but Lord Cesari knew my background! The terror inside me was at its peak from Lord Cesari’s meaningful smile. My danger sensing ability was furiously billowing warnings.
Lord d’la Love was weak against Lady Philia ultimately, so as long as I didn’t harm her, he’d stop at worst at half-killing. Still, the other guy would happily do anything that Lady Philia detested, which was scary.
His innate disposition as a bully was something keenly conveyed to me. I happened to have an innate disposition to be bullied.
While I was trembling at the appearance of a second devil (and a worse one than the first), Lady Philia approached me, ignoring them, and offering her hand.
“I’ll have tea prepared for you, so let’s go to my room. I had the cook make your favorite walnut cake.”
“But…I feel like I wouldn’t be able to taste anything I eat now…”
“Oh my, do you have a cold? It could be serious. It’s cold here, so let’s hurry up.”
Just as I took her hand and was about to escort her up the stairs reflexively, Lord Cesari’s voice pulled us back.
“Phily, today I brought a list of feudal lords who are against the idea of railway construction and the materials that might be used to persuade them but… I wonder if you don’t need them.”
Lady Philia stopped dead in her tracks and muttered something with a grim face. I thought she said something along the lines of “I will tear apart that man someday…” but there was no way a young lady of the Duke family would say that.
Turning half of her body backward, Lady Philia was showing a stiff smile strangely enough instead of the expression of rage.
“Thank you for your kindness, Lord Cesari. You can give Luca the details.”
“I think you already know, but I will give them to you only. Well, I will also permit the worrywart Lord d’la Love to be there.”
Why was he always choosing to enrage Lord d’la Love and Lady Philia?
Lord d’la Love was looking at Lord Cesari with eyes as if seriously contemplating, “Isn’t it all right to kill him?” and Lady Philia was wholeheartedly clutching my arm, stifling the feeling gushing out… Lady Philia’s grip was quite strong.
“I understood, then please wait till I finish my prior meeting. Luca, look after our guest.”
Lord d’la Love looked discontented, but he still nodded. As I watched the butler, who had respectfully disappeared, guide them to the reception, I headed to Lady Philia’s room as she exhaled a big sigh.
As soon as I entered the room, the dam on my patience broke, and I screamed.
“Lady Philia, why did you pull that act again?”
“W-What’s wrong, Julio?”
“I’m talking about Lord Cesari. That man is just too dangerous! He definitely has set his eye on me for sure…”
“Stop crying, Julio. How about you sit down first?”
Even if it was pathetic, as I really burst into tears, Lady Philia gently guided me to the chair and pressed the towel on my face.
“Ugh… You are kind, Lady Philia, but the rest are scary…”
“I’m relieved to see you are as attentive as ever. So, what’s wrong with Lord Cesari? I have incurred a bit of his grudge recently, so he’s being a nuisance, but he shouldn’t be putting his hands to you.”
“Yeah, since he was snarling at Luca excessively, I gave a shameful little punishment to that frivolous gentleman. And now he’s pestering me…”
It would be rude to say, but Lady Philia, who sighed, thinking it was much better than him pestering Luca, with all due respect, was thickheaded. Even I could tell that those eyes weren’t to look at someone holding a grudge or making fun of her.
Previously, she was even under the impression that Lord d’la Love hated her, and Lady Philia seemed to be ignorant toward the feelings of affection directed towards her.
Though I doubt if I could even call whatever was coming from Lord Cesari affection.
“Y-You know, I think Lord Cesari resents you. Or rather, he’s aiming for you.”
“Yeah, I told you. That’s why he changed his target from Luca to me.”
“I don’t mean that way. It’s more like he’s after you as a woman or more like, he sees you as an object of romantic interest…”
“Every woman is a target of romantic interest for him… No, maybe that lecher might even have the same thought towards men. Don’t tell me his excessive entanglement at Luca is also because of this… awful. I wonder if it was a bad move to leave those two alone.”
Why did it come to this?
I took Lady Philia’s hands, who, for some reason, suddenly started to panic at her crooked thoughts. Somehow I calmed her down.
“It can’t be! That person is a complete womanizer.”
“But Luca is incredibly beautiful and handsome, isn’t he? Even if he doesn’t have that kind of preference, it wouldn’t be strange if he fell for him.”
“You’re now boasting about your lover so casually! I am recently sensitive to people with strange ideologies, but that devil is absolutely not like this.”
“Julio, don’t tell me you…”
“I have been misunderstood strangely! Please don’t look at me suspiciously. I am devoted to females only. I don’t have much confidence lately, but if you do her best, Lady Philia…”
“I wonder what you want my fiance to do her best in.”
“Oh, L-Lord d’la Love!”
I wondered if it was because I was desperately trying to calm down Lady Philia, whose thoughts began to run in strange directions, I neglected my surroundings. I didn’t even notice the door opening.
Noticing that Lord d’la Love’s eyes were focusing on my hand that was on Lady Philia’s, I immediately retreated them with full force. I felt like I would get my wrist slashed if I didn’t.
I thought he was much better than Lord Cesari, but I was wrong. Lord d’la Love was also terrifying.
“S-Sorry, I tried, no, I’m innocent!”
Lady Philia rushed to Lord d’la Love and looked up at him anxiously, touching his cheek.
“W-what happened? By chance, Lord Cesari did something… Ah no, you don’t need to tell me if it’s hard to say…”
“Please calm down, Phi. You are most likely to be affected by this. A man like him with a mediocre face who looks harmless and doesn’t have any merit in anything but holds lustful desire towards you must be eyeing for an opportunity like this.”
Somehow, I was being casually insulted. Well, certainly, if compared to Lord d’la Love, my looks were mediocre to an extreme point.
First of all, I didn’t want to be told that by Lord d’la Love, who was apparently doing this and that to Lady Philia that she couldn’t get up from, with a face that said he had no sexual desire.
Of course, I couldn’t say it.
“Now, Luca, you are being rude to Julio. Julio is as harmless as he looks, mediocre, and doesn’t have much merit, but he will not do something that will disrespect our friendship.”
“Lady Philia, that doesn’t sound like you’re trying to defend me.”
In front of me, who thought they were a bunch of rude siblings, Lord d’la Love took Lady Philia’s hand touching his cheek and kissed her lovingly on the fingertips.
“I have left Lord Cesari in butler Dandro’s care. He’s not a child, so he should be quiet. After hearing the Division’s report, change to a proper attire, listen to what Lord Cesari has to say, and get rid of him quickly.”
“It can’t be helped. Listen, it’s not good to bully Julio too much, okay?”
In the end, Lady Philia, who had a soft spot for Lord d’la Love, forgave him with a gentle expression as if she was looking at a selfish child.
I somehow managed to finish the first regular report while being glared at by Lord d’la Love continuously and properly did my duty, but… Afterward, I would regret that I should have properly finished the talk left in the way at Lord d’la Love’s sudden intrusion at that time.
I resigned to my fate of being looked at by a suspicious expression for a while, but the tale where Lady Philia with her misdirected worry while misunderstanding Lord Cesari’s feelings would become even more troublesome… just a little further down the road.