* * *
“If you aren’t invulnerable and can be wounded, shouldn’t you get assistance from others? You shouldn’t be holding onto the wound that wouldn’t stop bleeding by yourself.”
Was it because of the transformation magic?
She suddenly had the courage to question the duke.
It was thoughtless courage that could be seen as bravado if she wasn’t careful.
“I must have seemed rather pitiful that even an escort is worrying about me.”
Meanwhile, Leonhart got up from his seat immediately like he was ridiculing her.
“I am a Duke of the Empire.”
Leonhart touched his herb-covered nape lightly and turned his head in both directions.
“The Lord of Esbaden owns immeasurable wealth and land. In order to protect them, gaps shouldn’t be seen.”
Even if the other party was their only relative.
No matter how trusted of a person they were.
“I’m mentioning all sorts of useless things, too.”
He gave himself a self-mocking laugh like he found himself ridiculous.
“Forget it, you’ll never understand this anyways.”
Leonhart gazed at Dooha, who was staring up at him blankly.
His gaze rested on Dooha’s bow and quiver of arrows momentarily.
Arrows that were normally used by Bashalians were visible.
He normally wouldn’t have paid attention to that, but he kept eyeing it.
Obviously, it might be due to a certain someone’s influence, but the Duke didn’t want to admit that fact.
“…An escort from Bashal is rare.”
Most of the Bashalians in the Empire were prisoners captured during battles.
They held a deep antipathy towards the Imperial citizens as they were generally sold as slaves.
Therefore, no matter how outstanding the Bashalian’s skills were, Imperial citizens wouldn’t hire them as guards.
“How did you end up becoming Daniel’s escort? Did the Duchess, by any chance…”
When Dooha raised her head with widened eyes, the duke glossed over his words.
“Forget it, that can’t be the case.”
Even if the duchess had sent Daniel as a representative, she couldn’t have arranged an escort for him.
In the first place, while Sir Nate’s private residence was uncertain, there wouldn’t be any Bashalian within the Esbaden ducal castle, other than Dooha and her handmaiden.
When he married her, he’d freed all the slaves from Bashal and let them out of the castle as free men.
Leonhart put on the tunic that he had thrown aside and turned his head around.
“So what is it that you wanted to talk to me about? Didn’t you say you had something to inform me?”
Oh no, she’d completely forgotten about that.
When Dooha belatedly recalled her purpose, she sprang up from her seat.
Just as she was about to say something, someone popped out from the bushes.
It was Baron.
He stared, surprised, the moment he saw Dooha next to the Duke, but that was it.
Baron’s face reverted to its usual expressionless look and he quickly delivered the news.
“Count Jive’s party has arrived. The count would like to meet with the Lord.”
“Let’s head over right away.”
Leonhart put on his armour roughly and strode through the bushes with his lieutenant.
“I’ll listen to what you want to say when the monster subjugation has ended. I thank you, for the kindness that wouldn’t have been easy to show to those that aren’t your people.”
He’d only left behind an indifferent line.
* * *
“My sincerest apologies, Duke.”
Count Jive bowed his head like he was ashamed.
At the same time, Leonhart’s expression turned fierce.
“You’ve lost half of your soldiers?”
“Yes, the monsters attacked from an unexpected direction, and everyone’s guard was lowered, so…”
“Your guard was lowered? A wizard was with you so you let your guard down?”
“This wouldn’t have happened just because you’ve let your guard down. Weren’t you a knight that also went on monster subjugations before?”
Leonhart stared at the count, who was unable to raise his head, with gritted teeth.
“How in the world did you command the troops for something like this to happen?”
Even if he was caught off guard, the resulting damage was too great.
The soldiers led by Count Jive exceeded tens of thousands, and there were as many as three wizards in their party.
“My sincerest apologies. I have nothing to say for myself.”
“Yes, I don’t think so. As there’s nothing you can say that will excuse yourself.”
Leonhart’s right hand was balled tightly into a fist, as though he was about to punch the count in the face.
But his gaze soon turned towards another direction.
Daniel was standing there with a pale countenance.
From the bloodless-looking face, he seemed as though he was about to collapse at any moment.
“What’s wrong with that punk?”
“That’s, it’s because Lord Daniel fainted for a moment as he’d used too much magic. He had just regained consciousness.”
Daniel, who swayed like a reed in the wind, ended up leaning heavily on the escort that stood next to him.
Leonhart’s brows furrowed at that sight.
He turned his head towards the count again after clicking his tongue disapprovingly.
“Count Jive, what were you doing while the son of my uncle, whom you had so much respect for, was unconscious? What about the wizards that you’d brought?”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t have left him until he overworked himself. Or, has your relationship with my uncle become estranged these days?”
“No, Duke, how can you say that…”
Instead of answering, Leonhart gently rubbed his temple like he had a headache.
As the number of troops has decreased, the plan to divide into three units became slightly ambiguous. It was necessary to change strategies.
“We will enter the valley as it is.”
“What? What are you suddenly talking about?”
Count Jive was quite bewildered by Leonhart’s orders.
He dissuaded the duke while sweat dripped down his face.
“But the remaining soldiers are also in an exhausted state. Shouldn’t we at least wait until dawn?”
“The monsters’ behaviour patterns are constantly changing. If we continue to wait like this, there’s no telling when we’ll be attacked again. And yet you’re telling me to wait? Why? What for?”
“Duke, what I meant to say was…”
“I’ll decline the advice of an incompetent commander.”
Just as the face of Count Jive, who was openly ignored, turned red.
“My lord, I’m in agreement with the count’s opinion this time.”
Leonhart frowned at Baron, who suddenly took the count’s side.
“It isn’t just the soldiers. Many of our knights are injured, and everyone is exhausted. Not everyone is as special as the Duke.”
At his lieutenant’s words, Leonhart glanced at his surroundings silently.
He saw groaning knights and soldiers that trembled fearfully everywhere.
They were allies who had to fight together, and at the same time, they were also citizens of the territory that he, the Duke, had to protect.
He wouldn’t have been at ease, even if he was a cold-hearted duke.
Nevertheless, there were times when he had to move forward despite the sacrifices.
Given the current situation, where unexpected situations kept cropping up, it was better to put an end to the entire situation as soon as possible, before any more variables appeared.
That was definitely the case.
“Are you hurt? When? How did it happen?”
“I’m fine, so don’t worry too much. It wasn’t a very serious wound, and it was tended to immediately.”
Leonhart looked at Daniel, who was making a fuss at a distance away.
No, to be exact, his gaze was affixed upon the small bodyguard that was next to Daniel.
The bandage around his forearm, which seemed like it could be grasped with a single hand, had traces of blood.
‘Are all the people from Bashal a different kind of person?’
His injury was definitely worse, and yet he still made a fuss about treating Leonhart.
On the other hand, as the furrow between Leonhart’s brows deepened, the shadow on the count’s face gradually darkened.
“Duke, are you really going to press forward like this…”
“Prepare to make camp.”
Leonhart stared back at the count, who asked back in surprise.
“Don’t make me say it twice. Prepare to make camp here. We’ll set off for the nest before dawn.”
He turned to the wizard that stood beside the count.
“Have you found any monster with detection magic?”
“Oh, uh, there aren’t any right now. They all seemed to have retreated back towards the nest.”
“Very well then.”
Leonhart gave his commands with a blank face.
“Convey the news that we’re making camp here. Let the wizards set up boundary magic nearby.”
As soon as the Duke gave his approval, Count Jive led the wizard away hurriedly.
Baron also moved towards the knights in order to make camp.
Leonhart, who was left alone, stared in the direction of Daniel and the escort, before eventually turning around.
* * *
“Daniel, are you alright?”
Dooha looked at Daniel, whose countenance was still poor.
He was sitting on the roots of a tree with a blanket draped around him.
“I’m fine, as my mana isn’t completely depleted. I was dizzy because I used a lot of magic at once while fighting against the monster earlier.”
“That’s a relief, but…”
“Rather, is Madam alright?”
His gaze became serious when he saw the bandage that was wrapped around Dooha’s forearm.
“How did you get hurt?”
“I was just grazed slightly while dealing with a monster. It isn’t a big deal.”
Daniel’s face became darker when he heard that it was due to a monster.
“What? Why are you apologising, Daniel?”
“Even though I’m a wizard in name, I wasn’t even able to protect a Madam, and even ended up like this. I’m deeply ashamed.”
“Honestly, Daniel. If it weren’t for you, the others wouldn’t have been able to reach here, much less me. That’s why you shouldn’t say that.”
“…Do you really think of it in that way?”
“Of course, so cheer up.”
Dooha placed her hand on the shoulder of Daniel, who looked as pitiful as a drenched puppy.
The almond-shaped eyes that could be seen between the gaps of her headscarf were bent gently.
“Daniel looks great when he’s sly and full of confidence as always.”
Daniel’s pale face suddenly flushed at the smiling eyes that were aimed towards him.
“T—the Madam is also being too much. How can you smile like that so abruptly?”
“What? What did I do? I was just doing what Daniel would always do to me.”
“When have I ever acted like that towards Madam? I’ve never given an eye smile that’s as bewitching as that before!”
That clearly was the case.
Dooha burst into laughter.
“You look much better now. From how you’re talking like you normally do.”
“Didn’t I tell you earlier that I’m alright?”
Daniel shook his head like he didn’t want to recall that.
“I’ve never been lifted by an adult male before, but that wasn’t a very pleasant experience. It also gives off a weird feeling.”
Daniel turned towards Count Jive, who’d scooped him up and dashed away when he was about to faint.
The count was acting unlike himself, and following behind Leonhart stupidly.
“…it definitely smells.”
Daniel’s eyes narrowed with suspicion.
* * *
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