|Author: Sasaki Ichiro||Original Source: Syosetu|
|Translator: Mab||English Source: Re:Library|
In a secluded area of the imperial guard station — a facility once renowned as a detached palace — one section of land had been leveled to serve as a training ground. Here, a group of twenty-odd young men congregated. Each one was a scion of a noble family, gathered for the purpose of receiving hands-on instruction in martial arts and horsemanship under the watchful eye of the imperial guard order.
This initiative was conceived by an emperor from one…no, two generations prior. What began as a program to develop the physical and mental prowess of the imperial family soon expanded to include competition as a means of fostering growth. Consequently, the ranks swelled with the sons of aristocrats whose status granted them entry to the imperial castle. The young men assembled here were either part of the imperial family, royal family members, or holders of high-ranking titles within the empire.
Under the guidance of their instructor, two young men were paired together: Lucas, the son of a duke and member of the imperial family, and Daniel, the heir to the Marquis of Rätinen, a lineage that had long served as advisors to the emperor. Yet as the older boy, Daniel, diligently worked through his practice drills without uttering a word, a puzzled expression crossed Lucas’ face.
“What’s troubling you, Daniel? I never thought of you as a diligent sort, much less one who could endure a moment’s silence without spouting nonsense,” Lucas queried, a teasing edge to his voice.
“Is that commendation or contempt, mighty sir Lucas?” Daniel shot back, a forlorn look in his eyes. Luke, familiar with his friend’s usually playful and sometimes downright frivolous demeanor, sensed something amiss in his tone.
“I have my own concerns as well, you know. Like matters of love and romance with a certain noble lady…” Daniel trailed off, his voice tinged with melancholy.
Aah, the usual fare.
Luke decided at that moment that he had stretched enough and rose to his feet, wooden sword in hand. “Well, it appears it’s time to begin our sword training. We should head over to the instructor,” he said, nonchalantly dismissing Daniel’s woes.
“Hey, did you just overlook me? This is where you’re supposed to offer some wisdom or lend a helping hand, isn’t it?!” Daniel exclaimed, a look of betrayal on his face as he too stood up, wooden sword at the ready.
Luke, feigning ignorance, simply ignored his friend’s protestations and strode purposefully toward the instructor, leaving Daniel to scramble after him, still protesting.
In the peaceful era of the empire, particularly within the imperial court, swordsmanship had evolved into a sport governed by intricate rules. Though it bore the title of a real battle format, it had been transformed into a stylized, almost theatrical activity.
“Don’t strike here, or it’s a foul; don’t turn around, or you lose. What is this if not some inflated ego’s version of swordplay make-believe? I’ve heard that in a real battle, using a bow and arrow, or even slinging pebbles, is more effective than swinging swords. Even a game of cacket is taken more seriously than this!” Daniel complained. Cacket, a six-on-six game where one aimed a ball at the opponent’s goal using a stick, was essentially polo without horses.
“Make such a statement when you actually win. Otherwise, it sounds like nothing more than excuses,” Luke retorted.
“I’m cutting corners because I know I’ll lose either way. See, I’m winning the war by losing the battle,” Daniel quipped.
After easily clinching two out of three victories, Luke regarded Daniel’s comment with a wry smile, to which Daniel simply shrugged.
“…unlike sword fencing, marriage can’t be dodged even if you try to avoid it.”
With his attention still on the game in front of him, Luke glanced at his friend, finally giving in to Daniel’s heavy sigh.
“You’ve been going on about romance and such. What’s gotten into you?”
“Ooh, will you lend me an ear, my dear friend?”
“…truth be told, I couldn’t care less.”
His words, however, seemed to fall conveniently on his friend’s deaf ears.
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“You see, Lady Celestine and I went to dinner the other day.”
“I recall that you’re engaged to the daughter of Viscount Aleman,” Luke added, a mental image of the level-headed, dependable, and beautiful 14-year-old lady forming in his mind.
“Yup. Well… all this fiancée business is just what others have decided for us,” Daniel continued.
Luke responded, “No, that’s precisely what being engaged means. It’s our parents planning our future marriage since we were young.” He sighed, but this too conveniently fell on his friend’s deaf ears.
“Anyway, I asked her this: ‘Doesn’t it feel empty to have a life set from beginning to end by others?’ And truthfully, that’s how I feel. I’ll marry her, inherit my father’s title… and then what? Have children after a few years, and then our lives will settle into peaceful monotony. Fiefdom management? Tax collection? I can delegate those to local lords, and if I grow tired of my wife, we can live in separate mansions. If I want a concubine, all I need is permission from my relatives. And when I’m old enough, I might think, ‘Oh lord, perhaps I made the wrong choices in life…’ Damn it, what a wonderful life I’ve been given!” Daniel ranted.
“You certainly swing from one extreme to the other,” Luke noted.
But, as clichéd as it sounded, it was clichéd for a reason… Luke thought, his eyes catching his friend’s exaggerated expression of distress.