“You might not be able to return? Father, what do you mean?”
Roel paused briefly before inquiring further. Clearly, he was having difficulty grasping the meaning of his father’s message.
What a grim atmosphere this is! It sounds almost like the negotiations between two yakuzas breaking down. Then one of them goes something like ‘Hah, you won’t be making it out of here alive then!’ kind of feeling.
What is going on? Has the royal family arranged for 300 archers to camp outside the doors and will turn us into porcupines as soon as we walk out? But, that doesn’t make sense…
It was probably because Carter noticed the weird looks Roel was directing toward him that he quickly supplemented his words.
“It’s work. Some urgent matters cropped up, so I won’t be able to return home with you. That’s what I mean.”
“So that’s what you mean! Father, can you stop scaring me? I have a weak heart… Wait a moment, you just received the news?”
“Yes. His Highness Kane just informed the top brass of the Knight Orders of the matter. It’s likely that all of the military officers will be asked to stay back after the banquet.”
Carter sighed in deep worry, clearly brooding over something. His reaction made Roel realize that trouble had come. They were in the midst of a banquet starring both Nora and the Ascart House, and the venue used was the prestigious Saint Seshurs Hall too. In terms of scale, this was definitely grander than Nora’s birthday banquet.
For an urgent report to come in at a time like this, not to mention that all of the military officers would be asked to stay back to discuss the matter, it would appear that the situation was grim.
Roel took a glance back into the hall, and he could easily spot over a hundred people dressed in military uniforms mingling in the hall. It would be a huge deal to get all of them to stay back.
“Father, is it convenient for you to tell me what is this about?” asked Roel with a hushed voice.
Carter visibly hesitated for a moment before sighing deeply once more.
“Forget it, you’ll find out about it eventually anyway… We have detected some deviants moving about in the vicinity of the Tark Stronghold.”
Before Roel could voice out his words, Carter had already pressed his hands over his mouth to muffle him. The father and son duo quickly scanned the surroundings, and they heaved sighs of relief after seeing that no one was watching them.
“This is a confidential military intelligence. We haven’t announced it out of fear that it could spread fear and panic amongst the populace. Make sure that you don’t let the news leak out as well.”
“I understand. But still… this matter is way too big.”
Roel swallowed a mouthful of saliva. From the moment he heard the news, his heart had been pounding nonstop. Discovering the activities of the deviants might seem like nothing much, but anyone who had some basic military knowledge would know the true severity of this matter.
One must know that deviants wouldn’t just pop out randomly the way a wild beast would. Finding traces of deviants was as good as a prelude to war. It was either there were no deviants at all, or the entire area was already filled with them.
Human migration at the end of the Second Epoch was not like moving from one country to another. It was a mass migration at the level of nations, where the waypoints along their march could be estimated in years. It was only after covering a very, very long distance that they finally arrived at this land of peace.
Here was the question. If the deviants were to take the same long journey to arrive at the boundaries of the human territory, could they possibly be here for the tour?
The more you invested into an undertaking, the greater the returns you hoped to gain from it. This basic principle applied to the deviants too. The appearance of the deviants heralded a period of turmoil. Without a doubt, they will attempt a large-scale assault against the humans.
It was only 80 years since the last deviant invasion of West Sia. In this world where travel and communication were inconvenient, it wasn’t considered to be a very long period of time, so it was odd for them to suddenly launch another invasion so quickly.
“Roel, there’s no need to get too worried yet. While I don’t deny the severity of this matter, things haven’t reached the worst-case scenario yet.”
Carter patted the tense shoulders of his child as he began explaining the situation from his professional military perspective. After hearing Carter’s analysis, Roel’s worries alleviated a little.
As it turned out, such situations were common in history. The two key eastern strongholds of the human territory would face such situations once every few decades. However, they would usually be able to repel the deviants successfully due to their limited numbers and strength. It was just that the four famous examples of the invasions of West Sia that most people knew about happened to be the times when the stronghold failed to hold back the enemies.
“As long as we can hold them back, it’s actually not a big deal at all. We would also hide it from the civilians to avoid unnecessary disturbances. I reckon that the current situation should be something similar to that.”
“I see. That’s good.”
Seeing that Carter was still fairly calm about it all, Roel heaved a sigh of relief. As the son of a military man, it was inevitable that he was concerned that a large-scale war might break out. Thus, he was relieved to hear that things weren’t as dire as he thought.
“Alright, you shouldn’t pay too much heed to it. Make sure to control your emotions well. You’re the star of the banquet after all.”
Carter patted Roel’s shoulder once more before heading back into the hall. On the other hand, Roel had a deeply troubled look on his face.
“It’s too hard for me to pretend like I never heard anything…”
Roel took some time to compose himself once more before squeezing a smile back onto his face. He lifted his head and puffed out his chest before walking over in Nora’s direction. She noticed him coming, so she headed over to meet up with him too.
“Did something happen to Uncle Carter?”
“Oh? You were able to notice it even from so far away?”
“Of course. Isn’t it only natural for me to keep an eye out for my partner during a banquet?”
“As expected of Your Highness. Something did happen, but let’s talk about it after the banquet is over.”
Nora looked at the clearly brooding Roel, but in the end, she chose not to probe. The two of them headed over to Holy Eminence John’s side together, and Roel spent the last few moments of the banquet chatting with this old man.
As soon as they gathered together, John grabbed Roel’s hand and began talking about Nora’s childhood days with him. Perhaps Roel was just thinking too much into it, but John’s chatter about day-to-day matters seemed even more amicable than the first time they met. He couldn’t emphasise it enough, but it really was like talking to a friendly neighborhood grandfather. The old man unhesitatingly spilled Nora’s dark history, making the golden-haired girl fluster quite a bit.
“Grandfather, why are you talking about all of this?”
“Eyy, it’s nothing much at all. Roel is family with us, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
Looking at the black-haired boy nodding earnestly in response to his question, the smile on John’s face deepened further. Despite the occasional dark history being spilled, the three of them spent their time joyously.
Amidst chuckles and light-hearted banter, the banquet finally came to an end.
At the dining table in the Ascart House’s Labyrinth Villa, Alicia couldn’t help but notice the slight furrow marring the face of the black-haired boy sitting beside her.
It had been several hours since they had returned from the royal palace, but Roel still seemed out of sorts. Naturally, Alicia, whose eyes were always drawn to her older brother, was able to notice the difference right away, and it made her feel a little uneasy.
She took a quick glance at her surroundings—there was nothing about the two rows of maids and servants standing behind them.
She moved her eyes to the main seat of the dining table—it was empty.
Typically speaking, the trio of the Ascart House should have returned together, but Carter said that it was rare for so many personnel from the military and Knight Orders to come together, so they wanted to hold a post-banquet gathering together. As a result, Roel and Alicia left the banquet hall on their own.
Even when they were sitting in the carriage coming back, Alicia had already noticed that something was up. Usually, whenever Roel was preoccupied for the earlier half of the day and couldn’t spare any time for her, he would make up for it in the later half of the day. However, Roel only chatted with her for a short while after climbing into the carriage before looking out the window in a daze, seemingly in quite a gloomy mood.
Initially, Alicia thought that Roel was feeling down from having to part with Nora. They were going to return to the Ascart Fiefdom soon, and that would make it much harder for him to meet her. Due to this, Alicia threw a silent tantrum and made a decision to ignore Roel for the rest of the carriage ride. But soon enough, she realized that something else was bothering her Lord Brother.
Alicia turned her head back to Roel once more. The latter appeared to be eating as per usual, but with every mouthful of food he ate, his eyes would, for some reason, dart toward Carter’s empty seat. She had been keeping count throughout dinner, and this was the fifteenth time he had done this.
Unless her older brother had awakened to some sort of bizarre fetish, this could only mean that something had happened to their father. Though, what could possibly happen to their father?
One must know that their father was the patriarch of the Ascart House, one of the Five Eminent Noble Houses! Unless he committed a severe crime, even the royal family wouldn’t be able to punish him…
Wait a moment, could it be… a stepmother?
Alicia expanded the scope of her thoughts, and she recalled all of those noblewomen flocking around Carter earlier during the banquet. The more she thought about this, the more convinced she was about it.
Carter mentioned that it was going to be a gathering amongst the military men, but thinking about it, there were actually plenty of opportunities for them to gather together with one another. There was no compelling need for them to hold a gathering on this particular day, especially after the fairly tiring ceremony they had just been through.
It can’t be that… Lord Father has gone out to date another woman? Yes, that would explain why big brother Roel has been feeling uneasy all this while but hasn’t done anything yet.
But, would Lord Father really do that?
To be safe, Alicia thought that it would be best for her to try sounding Roel out.
“Lord Brother, are you thinking about Lord Father’s affair?”
“Hm? Alicia, you know about it too?”
“Yes, I have a rough idea of the situation.”
Alicia’s worried eyes left Roel slightly taken aback. He thought that Carter had yet to inform Alicia about the matter, but it seemed like their father was equally candid with both of them.
I guess there’s no point hiding this from Alicia since she’ll eventually find out about it anyway.
Roel lowered his head in contemplation for a moment, before he put down his soup spoon and sighed deeply.
“It all happened too sudden. I’m having difficulties trying to come to terms with it.”
“I can understand how you feel.”
Alicia lowered her head melancholically. She had been through the experience of having to get used to new family members, so she could empathize with the confusion Roel felt at the moment. She was fortunate to have encountered someone who doted on her greatly, but the same could not be said about the stepmother they would have if Carter were to remarry.
“Lord Brother, it would appear that Lord Father is intending to make a move this time around. Do you support him?”
“Hah… I can understand where he’s coming from, but to be honest, I don’t want him to get involved in it.”
There were descriptions of the Tark Stronghold in the books. It was located at the border of the human territories, and it was known to be barren and underdeveloped. No matter what, Carter was still a blue blood, so he would suffer a fair bit stationed at a place like that.
But again, there was no disputing that Carter was a military man through and through. All else aside, the invasion of the deviants was a threat to humanity. There was no way Carter would stay put before this.
“Hah… I really don’t know what I should do about this…”
Roel gazed out of the dimming skyline outside as he muttered worriedly to himself. Seeing this, Alicia felt her heart squeezing slightly in pain.
Big brother Roel is really pitiful. As charming as Her Highness Nora is, in the end, he still values his family more than anything else. The person he needs the most is me!
“Lord Brother, no matter what happens, I’ll never leave your side. Please believe me.”
Alicia placed her hand on her chest as she looked at Roel with eyes filled with tenderness.