Chapter 11:

Duel (part 1)

Painted Tale

It's been a week since I agreed to help Elisabeth with her goal.

Right now, we're attending a council meeting where all the senior state officials gather to discuss important matters. Of course, the king has the absolute authority to make decisions. In other words, the council merely exists to provide advice to the monarch.

However, at the moment, things are different. After all, the king is unable to make decisions while he's sick. That's why all the matters in The Kingdom will be decided by the council.

" the next topic we need to discuss is the matter regarding The Duchy of Donwell. The envoy they sent recently stated The Duke's desire to start a cooperative relationship. What are everyone's thoughts in regards to this?" says Chancellor Darius, as he asks the council's views on the matter.

The Duchy. In recent years, they went through some turbulent times.

A civil war began at the bidding of the current Duke. He, accompanied by his loyal knight, overthrew the previous ruler and stated his desire for the "new" Duchy to be born.

One of the core changes to their policy was — their stance in regards to Renoa. Recognizing that they can't defeat The Kingdom without suffering excessive losses, they began to seek an establishment of diplomatic relationships instead.

That's what is currently being discussed at the council meeting.

In response to the previous question, various opinions begin to follow.

"We should not trust The Duchy. We've been waging wars against them for an entire century, and now they want peace? Even if they are sincere in their intentions, the risk is too high."

"I agree. There are too many uncertainties in this matter. In the first place, how do they want to establish a cooperative relationship when the sole passage between our countries is overrun by monsters?"

"In regards to that, they've offered us two ways the problem can be dealt with and asked for our cooperation." Chancellor starts answering the question.

"Firstly, it is possible to launch a collective extermination mission. Send an army from each side of The Gorge and systematically kill monsters until they exist no more. Their second option is to build a passage on the steep mountains near The Gorge."

"That's impossible! Just how do they want to accomplish that? Our earth mages will spend years—no, decades on this! Are they just planning to sit still while we do all the work?"

The magic is not nearly as widespread in The Duchy as it is in The Kingdom. The reason for that is because a century ago, the Duke of that time declared magic to be a bane that prevents technology from moving forward. That's the reason why the war between the two countries began in the first place. The systematic discrimination against magic has already stopped, yet its effects can be felt to this day.

"They said that they have their own means of helping with the construction of the passage. Their intent is to split the creation of it in half, with us taking care of our side and them dealing with theirs."

"Still, as I said previously, we can't trust The Duchy. Everyone who agrees with that, please raise your hands."

While plenty of the officials hesitate, the majority of them lift their hands in agreement.

Seeing that, she expresses her disagreement.

"I think we should agree to their proposal."

Immediately, the council erupted.

"Your Highness! Cooperating with The Duchy is too dangerous. We can't guarantee that they won't stab us in the back. They might use the newly opened passage to invade our lands!"

"That's right! Since His Majesty is sick and the situation in The Kingdom is unstable, we have to refrain from such ri—"


At the sound of the Chancellor's voice, the officials immediately went quiet.

"The bearer of The Spirit's blessing has stated her view on the matter. Besides, I agree with her on this matter."

The council stays silent, waiting for him to continue.

"Currently, sending an army to exterminate the monsters is impossible. Firstly, because our military has not come even close to recovering from the previous war. Meanwhile, the second reason, as Lord Enwill said, is that it's too risky. However, we can afford to send our mages to build the passage. It will take over a decade, and by that time, our forces will have recovered enough to intercept The Duchy if they decide to betray us."

As Lord Darius finishes his words, the council members are deep in thought, considering the pros and cons of his plan.

It's hard for them to voice their disagreement since the current highest authorities of The Kingdom have agreed on the matter.

That's when Elisabeth starts speaking.

"Council of The Renoa Kingdom... For a long time, The Kingdom has been stale... Stuck in constant strife with The Duchy, we have stopped moving forward," she says as she gauges everyone's reactions.

Seeing that everyone's attention is on her, she keeps going.

"The wars have taken far too many lives. Blood was spilled, soldiers were murdered, heroes were sacrificed."

I can feel my chest tightening at her last words. Without noticing that, Elisabeth concludes her speech.

"It's nigh time for the people of Renoa to move on! The Duchy has already made the first step towards the future. As for us... that will depend on your decision. Will you help this Kingdom move into a bright future?"

As she finishes talking, Lord Darius takes over.

"Everyone who agrees to accept The Duchy's proposal — raise your hands."

This time, almost everyone in the council accepted the proposal.

With that, the council meeting comes to an end.


"...To think that The Duchy would be the first one to propose negotiations..." Elisabeth says, deep in thought, as she puts a hand on her chin.

We've come back from the meeting and are now sitting in Elisabeth's office.

"Is that bad? I thought you were keen on building a friendly relationship with them."

"I am, but the officials weren't wrong. There are too many uncertainties with the current Duchy."

She sighs and starts her explanation on the current state of affairs in The Duchy.

"The current Duke's influence has started massively increasing six years ago. He claimed that the reason they lost the war is the lack of magic on their side. Although the conflict technically went unresolved due to the interference from the horde, their army was in a bad state even though they had rune cannons on their side. Since the previous Duke began the war under the premise that their victory is guaranteed, losing it made his reputation plummet. He lost a lot of support, both from the masses and from the high-ranked officials."

She paused here, letting that information sink in, before continuing to speak.

"Right now, they're going through significant changes. I heard that The Duke's right-hand man is a knight."

"A knight?"

"Well, that's what he calls himself. They say he is unbelievably strong and is extremely capable at both magic and swordplay. He might take inspiration from our Kingdom's knights, but that's highly unlikely. It's more probable that he is influenced by or hails from The Great Endron Empire."

With that, she concludes her story.

"Anyway, have you drawn any new paintings?"

"Yes, I have. I asked a servant to bring it here. It should arrive at any moment."

"Oooh! Have you finally decided to commit to helping me? I knew you can do it if you put your mind to it."

At that moment, a servant enters the room with a canvas in his hands. He places the painting on the ground, bows, and leaves the room.

As for the painting he brought...

Dark blue.

...A man in an attendant uniform, struggling under a heavy burden...

Dark purple.

...A girl in a crown sits on his shoulders as she—

"—as she threatens to overload him with the worklo!—"

"That's just you complaining! If you have enough time to draw a picture dedicated to your whining, you shouldn't complain about being overworked!"

"How rude, Your Highness. I was sincerely expressing my feelings as I drew this painting. Didn't I tell you that I can't draw pictures on a whim?"

That answer seems to surprise her as she falls silent for a few seconds.

"...Fine, I will think about it from now on. I promise not to burden you too much. By the way, have you drawn any other paintings?"

"Oh yeah, like a dozen of them."

"In a week?! I take my words back! ...I should have known that you're shamelessly lying..."

"Your Highness... Would I ever lie to the bearer of The Spirit's blessing?"

"That's a running gag now?!"

As we finish exchanging our meaningless banter, the princess's tone becomes more serious.

"Khem. Let's get back to a more serious topic. Disregarding the tasteful contents of the painting, I do like the style and the tone. Why do you have to waste your talent like that..."

"What do you even like about my pictures so much?"

She falls silent for some time, thinking of a suitable answer.

"...They speak to me. The emotions behind them, the tone, the imagery... All of them resonate with me."

"With you? You're like the brightest person I can even think of."

"What? Does the gloomy guy think that a princess cannot possibly relate to his struggles? Sometimes, there is no one lonelier than the one who stands at the top."


This time I stay silent.

"Anyway, don't forget that there is someone here who loves your works, alright? Remember, you're not alone in this world."

I love your works. They resonate with me.

Those words made me feel warm and fuzzy... As if the words I always wanted to hear finally made their way to me...

I avert my face away, hoping she doesn't see my facial expression.


We're in the training grounds, watching soldiers' practice matches.

Renoa is really proud of its soldiers. They learn swordsmanship to a pretty decent degree, and some of them can even cast magic. That's why they put a lot of effort into their training.

Since the royal family is revered here, their presence is sometimes used to motivate the trainees.

During the last month, we've already attended several of these.

And yet, right now...

The atmosphere feels different.

As if I'm surrounded by enemies on all sides...

I can feel them staring at me, watching my every move. Waiting for an opportunity to strike.

Despite my senses screaming danger at me, the training matches went on as usual. I was starting to think that I'm just being paranoid when they make their move.

The last sparring match finishes, and one of the knights walks up to Elisabeth. He kneels and starts speaking.

"Your Highness, it has reached my ears that the person standing next to you is your attendant, is that correct?"

"The information you have is correct good Sir."

"If that's the case, can I have the pleasure of facing him in a sparring match?"

"A sparring match? I am afraid I do not understand the reasoning behind your words. He's my attendant, not my bodyguard. William does not need to fight anybody."

"Forgive my rudeness but is it not true that one's attendant should also serve as a shield for your life in case of emergencies? That's why I'm just trying to make sure that the one beside you is capable of that."

This guy is spewing some bullshit. There are guards everywhere in this palace, and Elisabeth is always followed by a squad of bodyguards. They won't let a single fly through. And in case they somehow fail, a single person wouldn't make much of a difference. In other words, he is obviously just picking a fight with me.

Knowing that Elisabeth answers his request with a hint of exasperation.

"This is frankly ridiculous. I'm going to pretend this never happened, so come back to your tra—"

"Pardon my rudeness, Your Highness."

"Lord Bernard?"

His Excellency, Lord Bernard, starts speaking.

"I agree with Sir Mark. The attendant certainly needs to know at least the basics of combat, so he can protect you from danger. Hence, I think it is a good idea to run a sparring match."

The soldiers surrounding us don't dare to speak in front of the princess; however, you can feel them expressing their silent agreement.

This is bad. Grand Master of the knight order, the commander of the army of Renoa, has spoken his agreement to the sparring match.

It's not impossible for Elisabeth to just not agree to the duel, but at this rate...

"This is ridiculous! I've had enough of this farce. William, we're leaving!"

"Your Highness. Is it not right to ask the man in question what he thinks? Do you agree to the sparring match, William Arklight?"

As I hear His Excellency's question, I start listening in to the crowd.

"Is this guy really the princess's attendant?"

"He's just a coward, isn't he?"

"To think that he would tarnish his brother's reputation to this extent..."

What a troublesome bunch. They're trying to ruin my reputation by branding me as a coward. Since this is "just a practice match," I should have nothing to be afraid of, or so they want everyone to think.

By asking me directly, they can diverge everyone's attention from Elisabeth so that she's not affected by rumors.

I can see the old man's smirk as he uses me to teach his subordinate a lesson, and that annoys me to no end.

Fine, I'll play your stupid game.

"Your Excellency, I agree to the match."

"What?!" Elisabeth exclaims. "William, are you serious? You're facing off against a real knight!"

I start walking towards the training ground, leaving behind only a few words.

"Your Highness, I'll be back in no time."

She seems slightly shocked at my calmness as no words come from her mouth.

Elisabeth Renoa, The Renoa Kingdom's crown princess.

I watch William walk over to the training grounds without a single shred of nervousness.

What is that idiot thinking? He is going against a real knight, not just some greenhorn with zero battle experience. Sir Mark is a veteran of the previous war with The Duchy, and he made it out alive. William has absolutely no chance of winning.

While I'm busy feeling desperate, my attendant has already made it to the training ground.

Seeing William ready for the fight, Sir Mark introduces himself.

"My name is Mark Ardell, knight of The Kingdom. State your name."

"...William Arklight."

"Sir William, we will use real swords since we want to test how you would fare in realistic life-or-death situations."

Hearing that, I found myself inadvertently cutting in.

"What is this supposed to mean?! I am ag—"

"Your Highness, please calm down."

"But Lord Bernard, at this rate..."

"As I said, just calm down and watch. Open your eyes wide and enjoy the spectacle. After all... you are about to witness this Kingdom's most talented knight in action..."