“Well now, this is quite a collection of fools who think too highly of themselves.”
Looking down on the scene below her, the woman concealing her mouth with a fan spoke without concealing her contempt.
Cruel beauty, and loveliness like a poison flower. A bewitching girl, who unleashed her beauty like an attack.
Orange hair like the sun, gathered up with jeweled hair pins scattered through it, with her body wrapped in a blood-red dress that boldly exposed her shoulders and upper chest. Her bountiful breasts asserted their existence nearly to the point of spilling out, and complemented the girl with a bewitching allure that would scorch men’s ability to reason.
Her blazing crimson eyes were looking down at a castle-like courtyard made of stone – the event being held there, and the feverish madness of the participants.
It was a wide yard, but lacked the artwork and flower beds that are usually found in nobles’ mansions. Instead, stone paving was laid on the ground, and a circular stone stage was placed in the center of the site.
The event’s participants surrounded the stage, and while raising a roar of hoarse voices and the clanging of metal on metal, their attention was stolen away by the clash of arms occuring on the stage.
“…An exhibition match, competing with martial arts. Well, what an impressive collection of people with too much time on their hands.”
Looking down at the madness where jeers flew, the stage was stained with blood and sweat, and sparks flew from weapons, the girl spoke with an expression that said she couldn’t be more bored. As she did, someone down in the courtyard noticed her looking down at them, and all at once, all eyes were drawn to her.
It was a stare imbued with the intensity of a rude crowd of men wearing helmets and armor, and wielding rough weapons. While all of that focused on herself, there was no change in her cool expression.
“See that you all do your utmost. If you do that, perhaps these days that wear down your flesh and blood will be suitable for me to look upon.”
Opening her fan with snap, she haughtily cast those words down at them. Though her voice wasn’t that loud, it rang equally in the ears of everyone in the yard, and their madness erupted again.
…Even while watching that, her red eyes remained entirely cold.
“Priscilla! How many times have I told you?! Showing your face in front of them is too strong a shock! Just wait quietly in your room for the results!”
“This is an event that I opened for myself. If I were to not observe it, how would the zeal of the commoners be rewarded? It would be the epitome of inelegance. Indeed, you should stop repeating yourself, you bucket of bones.”
“Bucket of bones…why you… Wha… what is it you think I am to you?”
“A husband who bought a concubine for gold, are you not? Quit making such a fuss over such little things, bucket of bones. It will put me in a bad mood, and you will be the one troubled by that the most. It makes no difference to me, either way.”
The old man stood, choking on his words, grinding his teeth while a vein stood out on his forehead. He seemed to be nearing the age of seventy, but he stood straight for someone of his age, and his movements were youthful. If one thought of his excessive ambition as the driving force behind this, then the human desire for gain truly is nothing to scoff at.
While narrowing her gaze on the man who was exposing his anger, the girl – Priscilla – thought along those lines.
The relationship between the old man and Priscilla was that of a couple with a tremendous age difference. However, there wasn’t a trace of bonds or affection between them; it was a relationship entirely run on necessity.
To the old man, it was his ambitions. To Priscilla, it was… a result of the environment that she’d become used to by now.
“From the very beginning, I was opposed to this. You don’t understand the importance of choosing a knight! Pedigree! Status! The dignity of a knight is directly connected to the evaluation of his master’s person! To choose that sort of critical follower in this sort of nonsense, of all things…”
“I will do exactly as I please. Do not forget that I have only joined in your plot because it does not go against my whims. Know that the flowering of your long-held ambition depends on each and every one of your words and actions catering to my mood. See that you do your utmost, commoner.”
While dealing insensitively with her husband as he spoke hoarsely, Priscilla swung the sleeves of her dress and returned to the window. Despite having been told repeatedly not to show her face, she walked onto the terrace without hesitation.
Caressed by the wind, holding a hand to her hair as it streamed behind her, she looked down at the valiant warriors.
All of them had come seeking the prize of this fighting tournament – in other words, they were men who, seeking the position of Priscilla’s knight, had decided to wield their weapons and shed their blood.
Priscilla’s husband, Leip Barielle, was a man who worked in a key position in the Kingdom of Lugunica. If one were to become the knight of his wife, Priscilla, there was no question that they would be given exceptional benefits.
Normally, this was an honor that would not be bestowed on anyone who was not an ‘actual knight’, someone who was part of the royal knights. This time, it had been announced that they would gather together martial artists without official positions, and choose a knight from among them.
Penniless mercenaries, and those without the social status to hope to become a knight, leapt at the chance, and it’s resounding success had led to the fever pitch of the current events in the yard.
Every bit of this, large and small, was done at Priscilla’s initiative, over Leip’s objections.
“It is quite an assembly of commoners, indeed. But even with this many gathered…”
Even while looking down at the realization of her proposal, with so many glory-seeking warriors gathered together, Priscilla’s expression did not brighten.
Disappointment at unmet expectations dwelt in her eyes, and her heart continued to grow colder towards the mens’ fervor and conflict. It was not the face of one who was enjoying themselves. It was the look of one observing a barnyard territorial dispute.
“There is no one who would make my heart dance, then. At this rate, perhaps no one will become my knight.”
She murmured something so selfish that if Leip, still inside the room, had heard it, he might have actually burst a vein.
Neither would it have been odd if the martial artists, upon learning that nothing would come of so many of them gathering, had then and there rushed to attack Priscilla and those with her. The reason that Leip was looking pale despite his anger was that he knew he didn’t have sufficient troops stationed at the mansion to keep control of the martial artists.
All of these unfortunate futures would be decided on by a single whim of the girl known as Priscilla.
Just as she was about to give in to boredom and turn and walk away, Priscilla stopped.
Turning at the waist to check on something that had caught the corner of her eye, she walked over to the railing of the terrace. Placing her hands together on the waist-height railing and looking down at the garden, she saw it.
“…Hey now, if you cringe like that, someone could really have their feelings hurt. Who? Me.”
Saying that, a man stood atop the stone stage, glaring down at the men around him. Why did this man draw Priscilla’s attention? The answer is simple.
It’s because at the moment he appeared, the roar of the crowd ceased as though it had been doused with water. And the reason for that would be clearly understood the moment you saw him.
He was a man in an unusual outfit. His head was protected by a pitch black full helmet that covered his entire face. Despite that, below the neck he was wrapped in a cheap-looking cape, and finished off with light linen clothing on his upper and lower body. His feet, too, wore sandals woven from plants, and affixed with cloth, so he was sacrificing everything aside from ease of movement.
And more than anything else, what drew the attention of the people surrounding him, was that the left arm that should have been there, wasn’t.
It would be one thing to see that while walking around the town, but quite another at a fighting tournament where they were supposed to be competing with martial arts. Anyone would understand without even having to think about it, how much of a handicap it was to be one-armed.
“In that case, does it mean he has great confidence in that one arm?”
It’s likely that everyone there came to the same conclusion as Priscilla. With a wide-bladed sword over his shoulder, the fully-armored warrior facing the one-armed man began shortening the distance between them without letting down his guard.
In response to that, the man cracked the bones in his neck, and lazily spoke.
“Oh, oh, now you’ve gotten all serious. …Just so you know, I’ll cry if I lose.”
Drawing the sword that was sheathed horizontally behind his waist, he began casually closing the distance while tossing jokes.
“Interesting. Interesting, interesting, interesting, interesting. Mhmm, interesting!”
Accompanied by the sound of her fan opening and closing, Priscilla repeated that with a terribly pleased look on her face.
Walking restlessly about the room, a faint excitement colored Priscilla’s cheeks. Her appearance gave off an air of passion that was out of the ordinary, and not intended by the woman herself.
Leip, seated nearby, groaned softly at her bewitching elegance. An old man whose lust should have long since dried up, he shook his head to try and deny the thirst-like emotion pouring into his heart.
“What do you mean, interesting!? Honestly, what are you thinking!? You sent away everyone you had gathered, even the victor, and the only one left is that!? Are you insane!?”
“I have no intention of getting absorbed into a meaningless debate about whether I am sane or mad. Who, indeed, has declared you to be sane? The correctness of my actions will be proven by providence, through their results. You should not waste my time with tedious words. Instead, hurry up and bring him to me.”
As Leip sat unable to speak past his exasperation, Priscilla showed no hint whatsoever of giving ground to him. At the point the air in the room was stagnating to its worst, a knock was heard from outside the room.
“Leip-sama. Priscilla-sama. I’ve brought him.”
“Mhmm. I’ll permit it. Enter.”
As Priscilla responded before her husband, there was a brief hesitation outside the door. Then, a youth in his early teens came into the room, along with…
“When I’m suddenly called for by the higher-ups like this, an easily-spooked guy like me gets a little nervous.”
With the joints of his helmet rattling, the one-armed man entered. He looked around the room unconcernedly, and shook his shoulders when he realized that Priscilla was staring at him.
“It is my great honor to have been invited. …Should I kneel, perhaps?”
“I care not. There is no value in the empty posturings of the common rabble. Show me where your worth lies. If not for that, then there was no point in having called for you.”
“What a scary lady. …I hope I didn’t come to the wrong place.”
“You lout! How dare you speak to my wife like that!”
Watching Priscilla and the man exchange disrespectful words, Leip’s patience ran out. He marched over next to him, frothing at the mouth at his ongoing rudeness.
“This barbaric attitude and behavior! And what do you mean by keeping your face concealed, after having come to this place. For unseemly behavior like yours, I will strike you down here and now…”
“Bucket of bones.”
“What!? I’m in the middle of something…”
“Do be quiet.”
Priscilla’s attack was launched along with her words. Her closed fan struck the back of Leip’s head, and the red-faced old man fell without a sound. After having knocked her husband flat, Priscilla paused a moment, and then turned her eyes to the boy butler who was standing by.
“Take him away.”
At the short command, the boy butler obeyed without any sign of hesitation. Lifting the large-framed old man with his shoulder, even while his feet were dragging on the floor, the boy took him out of the room as though quite familiar with doing so.
As the door closed with a click, the only ones left in the room were Priscilla and the man.
“Well then, at last that nuisance is out of the way.”
“I’m not really in a position to point fingers, but isn’t this a little too eccentric? Also, suddenly being alone in a room with a guy who’s this suspicious-looking; it seems like you’re a little too lacking a sense of self-preservation.”
“You think you could do something to me? Don’t think so highly of yourself, commoner. The only thing that can do anything to me is my own will. Nothing aside from that can have any effect on me at all.”
Seeing Priscilla speak proudly in complete self-confidence, the man shook his head and let out a deep, deep sigh.
“I surrender. This is way harder than I imagined. What can I show you that would make you approve of me, princess?”
“Hmm, yes. …Show me you can survive.”
The moment after she finished speaking, Priscilla’s body spun at high speed.
She spread the folding fan she was holding and tossed it in the air to block the man’s sight. He immediately swept it away with his right hand. However, by that time Priscilla had already slid to his side, and extended her hand to his waist – she grasped the hilt of the man’s weapon, the broad-bladed sword, and drew it.
A short breath out. One flash of the drawn blade. Carried by centrifugal force, the blade mowed horizontally through the man’s neck. …I definitely got him. That conviction passed through the back of Priscilla’s mind.
“This is really what they mean by getting away by the skin of your teeth.”
But, at the end of her swing, the tip of the sword had cut nothing more than a shallow scratch in the man’s neck; he had leaned back out of the way. A head sent flying, and a fountain of blood erupting. It was a solid enough strike that one could vividly imagine that occurring. That result had been avoided by a literal hair’s breadth.
“Please spare me, princess. You’re not gonna try that again, are ya?”
“…Be at ease. I have seen all I needed to with that one swing. Hmm….interesting, indeed.”
As the man asked that fearfully, Priscilla smiled faintly and tossed his sword back to him. Seeing the unsheathed blade spinning in the air, he rushed in a panic to where it was going to land.
“But there’s no way I can catch that!”
With a sharp noise, the tip of the sword tore through the room’s carpet, and buried itself in the floor.
“Look here, commoner. What sort of disrespect is that? What do you think you are doing to my carpet?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault. No matter how you think about it, it’s you that went off like that, princess. Actually, how am I supposed to look at this? Can I pat myself on the back for meeting with your approval?”
“As long as the interest you provide me continues to be more valuable than this carpet. Whether it’s this moment just now, or your performance as a sideshow… your actions have value to the extent that they entertain me.”
At Priscilla’s words, the man gulped a little. Imagining the face on the other side of the helmet, Priscilla pulled a fan from her cleavage (different from the fan that had fallen to the floor), concealed her mouth, and continued.
“And so, what do you mean by not removing your helmet even in my presence?”
“…I messed up a little, and now it’s not a face I can show to people. I wouldn’t want to put you in a bad mood, so please put up with it. What’s more, I haven’t introduced myself yet.”
“Very well, I’ll allow it. Asking the name of a jester, and placing him by my side, is part of my generosity. Tell me your name.”
Without any sort of formal exchange, and with an imperious attitude, Priscilla allowed him to offer his name.
“…Aldebaran. My name is Aldebaran. Princess. I’d like you to just go with Al, basically, but I wanted to give you my name properly. …You’re my master, after all.”
“It has a nice ring to it. You have a good name, Aldebaran. And, I am generous. I will not ignore the first request from my attendant. I shall call you ‘Al’.”
As Al lowered his head in gratitude, Priscilla sniffed softly. Then, as she watched Al pull his sword from the floor,
“After this, I will be throwing myself into a contest that will determine the course of the country. It is a contest whose outcome is already apparent, but the way will most likely be rough. Al, I command you to clear the way for me. I trust you have no objections?”
“Ah, of course. …That’s the reason I’ve rushed to your side like this.”
Aldebaran’s murmur carried a deep meaning, but Priscilla overlooked it as unimportant.
It was obvious that he was a man with secrets. She knew well that they hadn’t yet shown each other enough of themselves for him to swear fealty from his heart. Despite that, Priscilla was able to be at ease because of the conviction she held.
It was her philosophy on life itself…
“…This world is designed to operate in the way that works best for me.”
That was the reason for the absolute self-confidence and self-esteem that the girl called Priscilla Barielle continued to carry.
<<Continued in The Day I gave up on being a Following Star >>