Chapter 1 Part 8
The first time I met Aldia was before the entrance ceremony of the military academy.
I was the first princess of the Vulcan Empire, Valtrune von Felsdorf.
Because of my title as the first princess and my superior talent in magic compared to others, I always had annoying people around me.
‘Princess Valtrune, please choose me as your personal knight!’
‘I have won the provincial swordsmanship tournament. If you are looking for someone to be your personal knight, I would like to receive that position.’
‘Valtrune, I think I’m the only one worthy of being your personal knight… What do you think?’
I was approached by numerous men, asking to be my personal knight.
Becoming the personal knight of the Imperial Princess would guarantee a secure future.
While it was a well-known fact, it was truly troublesome to be approached in such a manner by people I barely knew. I was tired of people with obvious ulterior motives.
―― That was why I said,
‘Do you want to become my personal knight? Then prove that you are stronger than me. If you can do that ―― I will consider appointing you as my personal knight.’
I set strict conditions for becoming my personal knight. Fortunately, I have never been surpassed in magic by anyone.
‘I-Is that so…’
‘With this level of skill, you wanted to become my personal knight? That’s out of the question.’
Whether they were of the same age or older, I defeated them all.
Many people wished to test their skills against me, and I continued to defeat them. Perhaps because of that, hardly anyone said they wanted to become my personal knight anymore.
‘…Finally, it’s quiet now.’
Once people knew of my abilities, no one approached me anymore. At the same time, I could not make close friends. It would be a lie to say that I did not feel lonely, but more than that, I disliked being bound by troublesome relationships.
Quiet moments passed by. However, that was only within the Empire. Such peace was ephemeral.
When I was about to go to the city of Filnots, a neutral zone, to enroll in the military academy, nobles and knights from other countries, including the Kingdom of Leshfeld, who were unaware of my magical prowess, began to gather around me and try to win my favor, just like the people from the Empire did before.
‘Oh, beautiful Princess of the Empire. Please make me your personal knight.’
‘I heard that the position of your personal knight had not been decided yet. Could you please give me a chance?’
‘Your Royal Highness Princess Valtrune!’
‘I am the most suitable!’
‘No, I am!’
―― Ah, here we go again. It was truly exhausting.
On the day of the military academy’s entrance ceremony. And to think that such a commotion would occur so early in the morning, it was too noisy for the beginning of the day.
‘Um, please calm down a little…’
I tried to settle the situation amicably, but my efforts were in vain. In a space where people tried to assert their claims, gentle responses had little effect.
‘Your Royal Highness!’
‘Please, I beg of you!’
At first, all I could do was wear a perpetually troubled expression.
―― Endure it. As the Princess of the Empire, I must avoid acting on my emotions.
I desperately tried to suppress my emotions, but the discomfort overshadowed my efforts and began to dominate my heart.
If I were to use magic to make all the people gathering around me disappear, would I be able to have peaceful days?
It was at that moment when such dangerous thoughts flickered in my mind.
‘Um… You’re obstructing the way if you stand there.’
‘Huh? Who are you?’
In front of the gate of the military academy, a young man passed by the crowd surrounding me. The crowd was indeed obstructing the way, and I thought it would be inconvenient for everyone around me.
‘What’s the matter? Do you need something?’
‘I’m a new student here, but it’s bothersome for everyone if you all gather like that.’
‘Huh…? Listen, I’m an upperclassman at this military academy. You, as a mere new student, shouldn’t butt in.’
Ignoring the offensive language, he continued,
‘…I see. If someone as uncouth as you is considered an upperclassman, it speaks volumes about the integrity of this military academy.’
‘…Hey, what did you just say?’
‘I said that you all are a bunch of incompetents.’
The short black hair that casually swayed caught my attention. He directed a piercing cold gaze toward the people who had gathered around me, grabbed the hair of what seemed to be the son of a noble closest to him, and forcefully lifted him up.
‘Haa, if you’re going to make a fuss… could you please do it somewhere that doesn’t inconvenience others? If you can’t even grasp the bare minimum of common sense, I don’t think you’re suitable for this academy.’
Struggling to release the hand gripping his hair, the young man pleaded, but Aldia maintained his expression without a hint of change, holding onto the young man’s hair firmly. Tears welled up in the young man’s eyes as he frantically kicked his legs.
The gazes that were directed at me swiftly turned to him.
‘Hey, cut it out… Let go of him.’
‘He is the one who should cut it out. I want him to consider the inconvenience he is causing to others.’
Uttering such a provocative statement, it was only natural that the people present would voice their opposition to him.
Some turned red in the face, and others brandished their weapons. It seemed like his provocative words had struck a nerve with their pride. However, even in the face of their hostility, he remained unfazed. His demeanor, tinged with a chilling aura, was somehow different from the others, and the moment I realized it, my eyes continued to follow him.
‘Hey, you commoner, don’t get too carried away.’
‘I’ll teach you to know your place!’
He glanced at the people gathered around him.
‘―― I don’t recall saying anything wrong, though?’
Those who were met with his crimson eyes momentarily flinched, but they quickly resorted to the use of force.
‘Shut up! Take this!’
‘Learn your place in this military academy!’
Considering their aspirations to become my personal knight, they displayed decent moves. However, he effortlessly dealt with them without using any weapons, relying solely on his bare hands. His movements were precise and graceful, without wasting any effort, and I was captivated by them.
‘You must be kidding me…! He is taking on all those people by himself!?’
‘This is impossible…!’
Many were disheartened before even laying a hand on him. He had demonstrated such extraordinary physical abilities that it exceeded the confines of social status. He instilled overwhelming fear in his surroundings and stood there with a calm expression.
‘H-He’s… a monster, isn’t he?’
The scene was littered with bodies. It was only natural for everyone to fear him. Including those who had fallen around him, everyone present could not help but feel a sense of terror toward him. And then he casually turned his back, directing his cold gaze toward the fallen individuals.
‘…Is this the extent of the upperclassmen’s abilities?’
His presence at the center embodied the essence of a perfected knight. No, he exuded the aura of an overwhelmingly powerful individual that seemed to surpass the very concept of a knight. It was impossible to envision him being defeated.
Everyone felt a sense of intimidation, realizing that he was not someone to be taken lightly.
As he let out a sigh, his eyes were a vivid shade of crimson. It was horrifying, yet at the same time, I found myself captivated by his dignified posture.
―― Before I knew it, I had called out to him.
This was the first time something like this had happened.
I had never been so nervous when talking to someone before. My heartbeat resounded loudly, and I could feel my face growing warm.
When someone addressed me, they usually responded with a pleased expression. However, he calmly bowed towards me and knelt down on the ground.
‘I apologize for causing a disturbance, Your Royal Highness.’
‘N-No… I don’t think it’s a disturbance. In fact, I’m grateful.’
The killing intent had vanished, and he exuded a tranquil atmosphere.
‘If you say so, then I am relieved.’
He was the ideal knight that I had been searching for. Stronger than me, never shows flattery towards anyone. Yet, he also possessed a polite side. A mix of wanting him to be my personal knight and feelings of romantic attraction overwhelmed me. I had completely fallen for him at first sight.
‘Um, if it’s alright, could you… tell me your name?’
He displayed a slightly perplexed expression, but quickly regained his composure, wearing a composed expression.
‘My name is… Aldia Graetz.’
‘I see. Aldia Graetz…’
‘Yes, that is my name… Well then, I shall take my leave.’
Before I could call out to stop him, Aldia swiftly left the scene.
I wanted to talk more, but just getting his name was enough.
I found someone who might be stronger than myself for the first time. I would not need a personal knight if they were weaker than me. It was at that moment that I changed my ways, something I had believed for a long time. The catalyst for that change was the encounter with Aldia Graetz, who would later be hailed as the strongest knight in the Kingdom.
And he was also my first love.
‘Aldia… Graetz… Yes, if it’s him, then…’
I had been gazing at his back the entire time. He is also a student at this academy.
―― Can I become friends with him in this place?
…This is not like me. When was the last time I felt this elated? My lips curled into a smile, and I did not care about the people around me. Unfortunately, I never exchanged another word with him during my five years at the military academy. The main reason for that was his commoner status and being from the Kingdom.
‘Your Royal Highness Princess Valtrune. The investigation of Aldia Graetz, enrolled in the Knight Department, has been completed.’
I had the Imperial Intelligence Operatives immediately investigate Aldia. He was not a noble, and there were no records of him being mentioned as a knight. Just an ordinary student from a common household. His performance within the military academy was average, neither outstanding nor failing.
The image of a person emerged that could not possibly mesh with the scene I saw at that time.
‘Um… with all due respect, it may be better to refrain from appointing him as your personal knight. It could cast doubt on your dignity as the Princess of the great Vulcan Empire. He is too ordinary and not suitable for the position. I recommend looking for someone else.’
‘I understand… Thank you for your hard work.’
It felt unnatural, but I did not feel like complaining about the work of the intelligence operatives.
I nodded in agreement with the intelligence operative’s words and decided not to appoint Aldia as my personal knight. Although I had been observing him for five years, I could not become close to him until the end.
In addition to the difference in social status, it was because I believed secondhand information rather than what I had seen with my own eyes.
‘Aldia… Graetz. Who are you?’
There was no one to answer my murmured words. The vacant expanse of the blue sky was remarkably clear, seemingly unconcerned with my troubles.
‘Why am I so concerned about him…?’
―― I wonder if he is aware of it.
While thinking that way, I never found the right answer. After graduating from the military academy, I no longer had a chance to meet him. I thought I would never see him again. I thought there was no reason to meet him. So I desperately tried to forget.
I tried to convince myself that it was just a fleeting emotion. My love for him was surely a mistake.
A suitable personal knight for me will never appear. He is different. That was the conclusion that came out. It was pointless to cling to regrets forever.
―― Why could I not realize that my judgment was wrong?
I was truly foolish and naive. In the end, I did not even believe in my own intuition.
After graduating from the Filnots Military Academy, I broke off the engagement with Prince Yuri.
The annulment of our engagement worsened the relationship between the Empire and the Kingdom. The collapse of the engagement caused turmoil not only in both countries but also in the surrounding nations. It led to great chaos in the world.
…And it would lead to the worst outcome.
Just one year after the annulment of the engagement, both countries fell into a state of war.
The surrounding countries unilaterally condemned the Empire.
Originally, the Empire had a few allied nations, and we had failed to communicate the reasons for the annulment to those allies properly. It was all due to our mishandling of the situation.
And so, the entire world sided with the Kingdom. No matter how powerful the Empire was, dealing with acts of aggression from multiple countries was difficult.
The war lasted for six long years, but it ended with the Empire’s defeat. The Imperial Army could not even set foot in the Kingdom’s territories.
The enemy was too numerous to be defeated by force alone.
‘If only… I had become closer to Aldia, would the outcome have changed?’
While running through the battlefield, I suddenly thought about that.
It was right after I had failed in my attempt to win him over.
‘I’m sorry. I have friends and family in the Kingdom. That’s why I can’t betray them by siding with the Empire…’
―― Well, I suppose it’s a problem to hear that from an enemy country… especially from a princess. Friends and family are important, so it cannot be helped.
It was something I could understand immediately if I thought about it. He is a knight of the Kingdom. Betraying his homeland is impossible.
‘Still… I can’t help but think.’
―― Would he have accepted that proposal if I were his friend?
I blame myself for not reaching out to him when we first met.
Aldia Graetz had become a splendid knight, feared even within the Empire.
‘The cold-hearted Black-Claded Demon King.’
He continues to move forward without hesitation, no matter how wounded he becomes, and he keeps advancing without hesitation, even when his allies are completely wiped out.
The pitch-black sword he tightly grips becomes stained red with the blood of Imperial soldiers. His merciless and one-sided fighting style creates numerous scenes of unimaginable horror, truly deserving of the title ‘Demon King’ as the strongest knight.
For the Imperial Army, his appearance was considered the greatest threat. He ruthlessly tramples fleeing enemy soldiers, leaving a mountain of corpses in his wake. If he had been on our side, the Empire would have had a better chance of holding on. He has shown his invincibility to such an extent that it makes one believe that.
Conversely, the fact that he was an enemy forced the Empire into a difficult battle against the Kingdom.
―― The reason I am being sent to the battlefield like this is because he exists. It was ironic. Every time the wounds of my homeland spread, I could meet him. But somewhere deep in my heart, I find myself slightly happy about that.
‘Princess Valtrune, you did nothing wrong…’
Even after the war ended and I was imprisoned in the Kingdom’s dungeon, he never mistreated me. He showed respect and treated me as the Empire’s princess. I still wanted to walk the path of a princess together with him.
‘Aldia… Why are you so kind to me?’
‘I am not a cruel person who would be cold to someone who saved my life.’
It must be about that time.
When I treated his wounds… In truth, I should have done nothing and just watched him take his last breath. As the princess, it was a big mistake to treat Aldia at that time. However, I do not regret what happened then.
‘You are kinder than anyone, and you never truly desired a war… You shouldn’t have been treated like this just because you are of royal blood.’
Because he showed such a face filled with anguish for my sake, I felt happy that he genuinely cared for me. He did not just see my title. He saw the real me. He was the one who understood me.
The day of my execution was fast approaching, but strangely, I felt no fear.
‘I will come again tomorrow.’
When I met him, all my anxieties vanished as if they were lies.
The day of my life’s end draws closer with each passing moment.
Aldia visits me every day, attentively bringing me meals and other daily necessities.
‘Princess, Aldia-san has arrived.’
Only Aldia and the child who was assigned to me in the dungeon treated me with such empathy.
‘Welcome, Aldia. I’ve been waiting for you.’
―― However, I was happy. Many people around me have disappeared, but there are still people who care about me, and that fills me up.
‘Aren’t you cold? It’s chilly in the dungeon.’
‘Yes, it’s a little chilly.’
‘Please take this. It should provide some comfort.’
He gently places the blanket he brought over me.
‘Thank you, Aldia.’
Even trivial conversations became precious treasures when exchanged with him. They became warm memories that I cherished.
I have walked through harsh battlefields, and my feet are covered in wounds. However, when I see his face, I feel as if those wounds are healing.
The moments right before death may have been the happiest time for me ―― I genuinely felt that way.
‘From this point forward, we shall carry out the execution of Valtrune von Felsdorf, the highest-ranked war criminal of the Vulcan Empire.’
At the moment when everything ended for me, I saw his face.
Though he was amidst the crowd, I recognized him at a glance.
His eyes were filled with deep sorrow, and his mouth remained silent.
―― Please don’t make such a mournful face. I will be alright.
My heart was remarkably calm.
―― Thank you, Aldia. Becoming the last member of the Vulcan Empire’s royal family was dishonorable, but I will never forget the time I spent with you, even in death.
‘Carry out the execution!’
―― That’s why, if I were to be reborn, would you walk by my side next time?