On a chilly afternoon in the Agnus Duchy, two men sat in the office staring at each other. The older of the two was, of course, Duke Agnus, lord of the duchy and commander of legions; The other was Joshua, a young boy with flushed ears. The thick soundproofing allowed no sounds inside to interrupt their terse silence.
“I received some reports…” The Duke heaved a sigh and drummed his fingers against the table. “...that said you requested a sparring session – no, more of a showcase – with the soldiers. And, hahh, some lives have been lost.”
Any ordinary person would find it mentally taxing to just look at the Duke right now. Behind his mild tone and stoic expression, he could be hiding a blistering rage.
The Duke must be uncomfortable with a child wielding such power. Joshua didn’t miss the disappointment in the Duke’s eyes—he knew he had to reply, and fast.
“Yes. But my actions were fair and just. They were executed for slandering the nobility.”
“Slander?” Duke Agnus’s frown creased his forehead.
“That soldier disrespected my mother. According to military law, a soldier who insults the nobility should be immediately executed.”
Duke Agnus knew that, of course. He knew everything that happened in the Duchy. But when he found out, the first thing he felt was anger.
I don’t think he did the wrong thing. Were the Duke in the same situation, he would have cut the soldier’s head off with a single strike. But what a pity.
In Duke Agnus’s opinion, Joshua mishandled the issue. While his actions were technically correct, soldiers were still human beings. From their point of view, a summary execution could be seen as a disregard for their lives; considering Joshua’s age, they would think their lives could end because of a child’s tantrum.
Most of all, the Duke was unhappy that Joshua hadn’t discussed it with him.
“Do you think it was just a child’s tantrum?”
Joshua didn’t miss the Duke’s surprise.
I have no intention of throwing away the favor I’ve accumulated.
“He insulted my mother… but no, that wasn’t the only reason.”
“There were others?”
Why would he do something that would obviously antagonize the soldiers?
“If that was the only reason, there would be no reason to do it in front of all the other centurions.”
It has to do with the Duke, too. Duke Agnus was a decisive factor in Joshua’s childish reputation, after all.
“I have two reasons. One is to make the soldiers treat my mother properly. Second—” Joshua savored the words on the tip of his tongue. He’d been looking forward to this moment for quite a while now. “—to stabilize my position in the Duchy.”
“The soldiers know me as a dung shoveler. After all that, they’d struggle to respect me no matter what skills I had. That is to say, the only way to make them respect me was to make them fear me.”
Duke Agnus gaped at him.
“I do not intend to sit still and make concessions because of my origins. I was also born from the Grand Duke’s bloodline.”
The Agnus bloodline begets great ambition and skill to match. Truly, these were the qualities of monarchs and conquerors. His eyes were never wrong.
Duke Agnus couldn’t control his twitching lips anymore and a chuckle rolled from his lips. When he’d returned to his hometown, exhausted from his stagnant life, he’d had no idea such a great gift was waiting for him.
“They say the Imperial family will send someone in tomorrow. To evaluate your mana, of course.”
Duke Agnus paused to examine Joshua. The boy was like a deep ocean, quiet but dangerous – he was clearly the Duke’s child, but he had no idea what went on in his head.
“I don’t know if it’s just my bias speaking, but… you seem to have changed.”
Have I changed? Joshua kept his expression politely blank.
As a child, there was no interaction between them at all. The relationship between the high and the low was more distant than any other family.
But neither of them would say that out loud.
“They say humans are adaptable creatures.” Joshua’s voice was practically a whisper. “An animal will adapt, or it will die.”
“That is true—”
“And!” Joshua pursed his lips. “Doubly so for me.”
Was there ever an Agnus with such a desperate heart? Duke Agnus was astonished. Could their environment really change a person like this?
The tense silence was broken by Duke Agnus’s laughter.
“It really is amusing. Let us see if you become the apex predator in this ‘environment’.”
Duke Agnus leaned forward.
“I received a message from the Imperial family not long ago. It seems this mana evaluation expedition is quite unusual… possibly because of you.” Duke Agnus thrust his finger at Joshua. “Perhaps because it was a nine year old…”
“They are planning to take me for the Imperial family…”
“Yes,” Duke Agnus’s smile deepened. “You may have attracted that level of curiosity.”
The Duke lifted a piece of paper off the table. It was embossed with the seal of a roaring golden dragon—a missive directly from the Imperial family.
“It says that the entirety of the 9th Battalion of the Imperial Knights will be dispatched on this expedition – including the battalion commander.”
In general, only two or three Imperial knights would be dispatched to a noble’s request. Depending on the talent and influence of the family, the numbers of the expedition increased but there was never1 a case where an entire battalion was dispatched like this. Even when Babel von Agnus, the “treasure of the Empire”, was tested, only a platoon of ten was dispatched.
“No matter how talented you are, doesn’t the size of the dispatch make you curious? The Emperor could just call you directly to Arcadia. Besides which, it’s being led by the battalion commander himself. Valmont, that friend.”
Joshua’s face flickered with suspicion. Despite being a battalion commander, the name “Valmont” wasn’t familiar to him.
He might be using a pseudonym. If not, he disappeared before I had a chance to meet him… such as in the civil war.
“And the Imperial Chief Wizard will be accompanying them as well.”
The current Imperial Chief Wizard…? If his memory could be trusted, there was only one possibility.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him—he’s greatly favored by His Majesty the Emperor. His name is—”
“Evergrant.” Joshua’s voice hissed like a winter storm.
“Evergrant von Aswald.”
Never/Rarely (Not really sure) ↩️
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