”Amazin’! This is amazin’! Just look at it, iss’ amazin’! It’s all white!”
Mimi’s excited voice could be heard from out in the garden..
Boisterously dashing out of the porch, the girl opened the iron gate and started running around.
There was the resounding sound of her footsteps as well as a noise that sounded as though she was hopping on the wall and gate.
The animated nature of the girl known as Mimi was nothing unusual at this point, they could imagine what she was up to without even needing to look.
And since Mimi had taken the initiative to rush outside like this―
“S-sister! It’s dangerous to hop onto places like that! Come on, get down here!”
“Just forget it, brother. There’s no way we can stop her when she’s that excited. More importantly, I believe it would be in our best interest to ensure she does not end up falling.”
“T-Tivey, you’re saying that too…”
Two boys’ voices rushed out, chasing after the noise of her running around. Their exchange couldn’t really be called a discussion since it felt like the conclusion was already decided.
In their voices, one could clearly perceive faintheartedness and resignation just as the contents of their conversation would suggest.
These two voices definitely belonged to Mimi’s two little brothers, Hetaro and Tivey, who were always at the mercy of her innocence. The two brothers had rushed out into the garden in pursuit of their overly energetic elder sister, wracking their brains looking for a way to stop her.
“Just what is all this commotion about? What’s got Mimi so excited…?”
Yet another person with an entirely different kind of voice cut in.
That was the voice of a young man, retaining a little of the high pitch from before his voice dropped. The young man had come out here to find out what exactly was causing all of this commotion, and was rendered speechless mid-sentence.
His breath seemed to catch for a moment, after which the young man’s lips parted once more,
“W-What is this scenery?! Don’t tell me you lot went and did something… Mugyu!”
“Ohh! Joshua, you suck at dodging! That was a super direct hit!”
His astonished shouting was immediately followed by the sound of him falling onto his behind as he shrieked. He then heard Mimi burst into laughter, and found that Hetaro was at a complete loss, “Aaah”
“Calm down, Joshua. Sturdy yourself. That just now was our sister’s doing. Unfortunately for you, you’re going to get wrapped up in this.”
“Wrapped up in… Eh, Ehh?! H-Hold on a minute!”
The young man ― Joshua desperately called for some restraint in response to this abrupt situation. However, Mimi who prioritized having fun above all else complete ignored him and resumed whatever she was doing with a “Take this!”
Faint sounds rang out consecutively as something rapidly struck the wall and the ground. The three of them desperately ran around trying to escape from this something.
“S-Sister! That’s terrible! That’s so mean!”
“Fuuhahaha! The conditions of a battle are always changing! If you’ve got time to whine, then go ahead and launch a counterattack, Hetaro!”
“Talking is useless, brother. And Joshua, you’re going to be her victim yet again at this rate.”
“T-This, this isn’t why I came out here… Hii!”
Strained shrieks and joyful laughter overlapped, and the area was turned into a battlefield in an instant. The man who was listening to all of this intently smiled as he heard the nearby garden turn into a fierce battleground.
And then, when he took a look outside the window in the direction the voices were coming from, the reason Mimi and the others were frolicking about so joyously gently descended into his field of view.
“Looks like those kids are having the time of their lives, huh.”
As he looked out the window, the woman who was with him casually addressed him.
The owner of this voice was also the owner of this room in which she was at a large desk, attending to her paperwork. In response to her voice, the man returned his gaze to her and nodded, “Yes.”
“If you find them to be a disturbance, I shall head out and warn Mimi and the rest…”
“Aah, it’s fine, it’s fine. I’ve just finished my work myself. I had completely blocked it out while I was working, so it was a bit of a surprise when I suddenly heard it.”
“Is that so. If so, this might surprise you even further.”
Closing one eye in response to the woman’s gentle, elegant smile, the man ― Julius Juukulius directed his refined countenance towards the window.
And when he felt her turn in the same direction, he continued,
“― It is snowing, Anastasia-sama.”
Standing up, she walked over to the window and gazed upon the scenery outside it.
Before her, in the garden of the Hoshin company branch office which was serving as Anastasia’s base in the capital, she could see that just as the earlier commotion suggested, Joshua and the three siblings were enjoying themselves as they played in the snow ― Although Joshua and the brothers might object to putting it that way. After all, them playing in the snow essentially amounted to just running away from Mimi as she rapidly formed and threw snowballs endlessly.
It was a problem of sentiment for Hetaro, a problem of pessimism for Tivey, and a problem of endurance for Joshua, due to which they were each unable to launch a counterattack against Mimi and were thus forced to remain on the defensive.
Regardless, this game wasn’t dangerous enough to warrant a scolding, and Mimi and the rest probably weren’t the only ones enjoying themselves in the snowy capital right now.
Even setting aside the fact that this wasn’t the right season, it was quite rare for the capital to see snowfall. Surely most of the capital’s residents would accept that this was an unusual occurrence.
And the way they accepted it would vary from person to person. This place was no exception―
“― Snow? Why’s something so troublesome gotta go and happen…”
In contrast to the tumultuous merriment going on outside, the woman ― Anastasia was extremely troubled.
Possessing wavy, light purple hair, adorned with high quality goods even though these were her work clothes, with her beloved white fox scarf wrapped around her neck, she was a woman whose pale blue-green eyes could see through almost anyone.
Her mutter offered a glimpse at her anguish, causing Julius to smile wryly as he perceived this.
“What’s with that face of yours. Perhaps you have something you’d like to say to me, Julius?”
“No, please do not concern yourself. I was simply relieved that the reaction you had when you heard it was snowing was no different from the image of you I had in my mind.”
“I wonder if I can really be happy about what that implies.”
Alluding to the slight change in his expression, Anastasia pouted in displeasure. Regardless, Julius’ words did not really have any hidden implications or anything.
In truth, Julius really was relieved, and he understood too.
That Anastasia Hoshin, the woman Julius Juukulius had recommended for the royal selection which would decide the next ruler, was this kind of person.
One could only naively feel delight at the mention of snow if they were in a position free of responsibility. If one was aware they were in a higher position, they could not simply receive such news with joy. In order to live up to their responsibilities, they would also have to consider what would happen after the fact, and what secondary effects it would have.
“Anastasia-sama, about this snow…”
“Supposing this snowfall continues with no signs of stopping, I guess I’ll have to devise some ways to cope with it. The company’s transportation fees and storage charges are nothing to sneeze at, you know. We do have reserves for winter stored in each location, but perhaps it would be ideal to check out the big cities at least.”
Linking her hands in front of her chest, Anastasia’s expression turned serious as she thought about how she ought to deal with the snow. He couldn’t fully read how the abacus of thoughts in her head was moving, but even that part served as more than enough proof that she was qualified to compete for the throne.
“The items in demand will probably change too, the sun’s whims sure are troublesome… Julius, there’s that expression again. Really, what exactly is the matter?”
Julius was staring intently at Anastasia’s face as she agonized over how to best deal with the situation, causing her to frown at him. She felt around her face with her hands and,
“Could it perhaps be that I have some ink splashed on my face? That would be quite embarrassing.”
“No, your face bears not a single blemish. Please be at ease.”
“The way you put it… Well, if that’s the case, what is it that you want to say?”
With a small sigh, Anastasia urged Julius to continue. In response, Julius bowed theatrically and,
“This is somewhat belated, but I shall now offer my report. I had one of my buds, Ia, examine the condition of the sky. According to her, this snow will not last long.”
“Can a quasi-spirit really know that sort of thing?”
“It would seem that this time is an exception. It appears that this snowfall is the work of a Great Spirit ― Of course, you can rest assured that they did not have malicious intent in doing so, and that this is nothing to worry about.”
Saying this, Julius nimbly raised his right arm and announced the contributions of the faint red glow that was perched on it ― His contracted quasi-spirit, Ia.
The noble spirit which had accomplished its task somehow seemed to be proud as it brightened its red glow. Seeing this, Anastasia nodded several times, “I see, I see.”
“If you’re saying all of that, then it’s probably no big deal after all, what a relief. But anyway, quasi-spirits sure are convenient, huh. Can they comprehend the sun’s mood at any given time?”
“No, as I just said, this time was an exception. Although, this does not apply if it is a spirit changing the weather.”
“I see. That’s unfortunate. If it were possible to determine the sun’s temperament, that could become a business in its own right…”
As expected of a utilitarian like Anastasia, she wouldn’t give up her pursuit of profit even when it came to the work of a quasi-spirit. Standing next to Julius who was smiling wryly at this attitude of hers, she looked towards the window,
“If it’s not going to be a problem, then perhaps this snow is actually pretty pleasant. Although snow isn’t really something you see in Kararagi…”
“In Lugunica as well, it is rare for the capital to see any snowfall. Of course it would be a different matter in the territories closer to the Holy Kingdom, but it is certainly unusual.”
“And if it were the Vollachian Empire in the south, there probably wouldn’t be any snow in a lifetime.”
The Vollachian Empire Anastasia spoke of had high temperatures throughout the year, and it was known for its exceptionally clear climate barring the rainy season. Most of its populace would probably never see snow in their lives unless they left the empire.
“But even snow can be quite the threat in large enough quantities. Have you ever been to the Holy Kingdom of Gusteco, Anastasia-sama?”
“Well, as far as the Albis river goes. Any further would be too harsh for a delicate maiden such as myself, after all.”
Anastasia giggled with a hand against her mouth. However, Julius nodded deeply in response and spoke, “How very discerning of you.”
“Given your current position, perhaps the opportunity might someday come, please do take care when it does. The terrain of Gusteco eats away at those of other lands more than one would imagine.”
“You’re once again speaking in a manner filled with genuine emotion. What, do you have a story like that?”
“… This is a story passed down from when my grandfather was part of the royal knights.”
Giving in to Anastasia’s deeply curious eyes, Julius revealed a story which had been passed down from the era in which his grandfather had been part of the royal knights.
“This is a tale of several decades ago, when the Kingdom of Lugunica was under heavy pressure due to the precarious situation it was in with the Holy Kingdom of Gusteco and the Vollachian Empire. The Kingdom’s royal knights and the Holy Kingdom’s acolyte knights clashed along the countries’ borders, and some of the royal knights including my grandfather were left behind in the snow.”
Gusteco was originally said to be an extremely cold land, a threat to human life with its never ending snowfall and blizzards, and in the face of nature itself the royal knights were forced into a horrendous battle. Julius’ grandfather was among the knights who ended up separating from the main force, ultimately being abandoned in the snow.
“Losing his way, with his body temperature dropping, surrounded by allies who had lost their sanity and fallen into derangement, my grandfather was ready to die. If he really had died back then, I probably never would have been born.”
“That’s quite the scary story. So, how did your grandpa make it back home? In all of that snow, he must have been completely helpless, right?”
“Hah. According to my grandfather, he was saved by some kind of phantom.”
Anastasia frowned, her expression suggesting that she didn’t quite get it. Julius agreed with this reaction. Because when his grandfather first told him this story, he too had the same reaction.
But his grandfather firmly insisted on the existence of the phantom.
“My grandfather dragged his comrades’ bodies as he desperately struggled to escape the labyrinth of snow. Like so, he wandered around in the blizzard… And before he knew it, he was in a forest.”
“Forest? You mean a normal one with a bunch of trees and stuff?”
“Yes. However, it was a frozen forest. And it was in that frozen forest that my grandfather met the phantom. When the phantom saw my grandfather and his comrades, it said this.”
The way Julius told this story took Anastasia’s breath away as she eagerly awaited the answer.
“― ‘If you cause any chaos around my beloved daughter, I will never forgive you.’“
“The next instant, my grandfather and his comrades were in an unfamiliar place. But not in a snowstorm, they were in an open plain. After this, my grandfather safely linked up with the the royal knights and attempted to report the details of what happened, but he was not taken seriously.”
Ever since, this story known as ‘The Phantom Father in The Snow’ was passed down among the knights in scrupulous detail. It was said that it was all a delusion brought about by the extreme cold and frightfully ferocious snow.
“… Umm, what was that story about again?”
“It was a cautionary tale from my grandfather to teach us of how dreadful snow can be. If it was at all useful to you, I think my grandfather can rest in peace.”
“You sure are sincere, huh.”
It seemed the conclusion was not to her liking, Julius reflected on his insufficient storytelling prowess in response to her forced smile. However, this story from his grandfather who hated snow had a continuation―
“In truth, I wondered if this phantom that saved my grandfather might have been a spirit. Due to the effects of my divine protection of spirit attraction, I have always felt the presence of spirits nearby from a young age, but… Perhaps that was the reason I was interested in the spirit arts.”
“What’s with that, it suddenly turned around and became a nice story.”
He didn’t know whether or not it was a good story, but that he was here now was definitely thanks to that phantom. By saving his grandfather, and becoming one of the reasons he chose his current path.
Supposing that phantom really was a spirit, he would like to meet it someday.
“Well, anyhow. One way or another, your story about snow was pretty interesting. Although I can’t really use it as reference for when I head to the snowy regions.”
“That… Let us devote ourselves to that when we next get the chance.”
“I’ll be waiting, I suppose. You went to the trouble of telling me that story, but with the amount of snow we’ve got right now, it looks like Joshua’s going to be the only victim.”
Outside the window, Mimi’s laughter could be heard even now, causing Anastasia to shrug her shoulders.
Julius’ younger brother Josha was most likely desperately resisting Mimi’s snowy attacks even now.
They could no longer hear the screams that had been present until just now, so it seemed he was really concentrating now.
“Maybe he got done in and ended up getting buried in the snow.”
“It is me saying this, but Joshua too is a member of the Juukulius family, Anastasia-sama. It is true that he was not blessed with combat ability or stamina, but he has received the same training.”
Furthermore, Joshua too had heard their grandfather’s tale of his hardships in the snow. Perhaps Joshua had his own feelings towards snow, and measures against it.
But in response to Julius’ assertion, Anastasia closed one eye.
“It’s good that you love your little brother, but it’s a different matter when it makes you misread the situation, isn’t that right? To put it in terms of suitability, this is a match to which Mimi is suited and Joshua is not.”
“That is… Just as you say.”
Even Julius had no rebuttal to what Anastasia had earnestly pointed out.
Certainly, no matter how he looked at it his statement just now was far too biased. In truth, Mimi’s ability was at a level even Julius wasn’t used to. Unfortunately for Joshua, he was most likely completely outmatched.
“Ah, are you perhaps feeling down? You don’t really need to feel that way, though? I don’t think the way you want to have faith in others is a bad thing.”
“Hah… Want to have faith, is it?”
“Although you could perhaps use just a little bit of self reflection considering that apparent lack of self-awareness.”
Julius’ yellow eyes showed bewilderment in response to these unexpected words.
Wanting to have faith, that was the first time anyone had said anything of the sort about him. As Julius sincerely thought about how he should take this, Anastasia tilted her head, “Don’t ya think?”
“The way you have faith in Joshua is part of it too, at your core, you’re fundamentally a person who believes in others’ potential, isn’t that right? That’s also the reason you became my knight, I’m sure?”
“That… Applies to everyone, does it not?”
“It’s probably true that everyone has a part of them that’s like that. But that’s usually tangled up with a number of ulterior motives. But you, Julius, you don’t have any of that. That’s why, it’s dangerous.”
With her skills refined through innumerable negotiations, there was no one who could see through others’ ulterior motives and true natures as well as Anastasia could.
The reason Julius wished to help her reach the throne was not simply because the insignia recognized her as a dragon maiden, it was because of this nature of hers.
Her eyes had deemed that that was the sort of person Julius was on the inside. That he couldn’t earnestly accept this was no different from rendering his own judgement useless.
“Perhaps it really is as you say, Anastasia-sama. To have this danger pointed out by my master, it is a disgrace worth reflecting on as a knight who is supposed to protect those around himself.”
“You really are sincere.”
“But allow me to make one correction. It was not because I was expecting anything from you that I became your knight. Of course, I do hope to see you managing the country’s affairs.”
“I know, I know.”
With a gentle expression, Anastasia urged Julius to continue as he worried about putting it in a way that would be misunderstood. Supported by his master’s magnanimity, Julius straightened his posture and continued.
Julius’ yellow eyes pierced her pale bluish green ones.
“― The reason I became your knight was because you chose me. From this perspective, could it not be said that you were the one who had faith in me?”
“Haah, I see, I see. Simply put, don’t call me someone who wants to put their faith in others, is that what you want to say, my knight?”
“Meaning we are both equal in this regard, that is correct.”
“Mm, you actually went and said it.”
Anastasia spoke in a teasing tone, and then looked surprised at Julius’ answer. She then touched the scarf around her neck, and stroked its fur as she sighed.
“Right, right, I get it. I lose, I lose. We both put our faith in others, and we each have the other’s faith put in us, huh. That’s kind of complicated.”
In response to her words, Julius started to reflect on what he had done, wondering if he had inconvenienced her. But when he saw her expression, he put a stop to this.
Anastasia’s smile would not let him do something so inelegant.
“―What’s this now! Looks like you guys are having a great time! How about I join in as well, you lil’ brats!”
“Kyaa! It’s the captain! Amazin’, captain! That’s an amazin’ snowball―!”
“Cap! Captain! That’s kinda dangero… Sister! Here! Over here!”
“Joshua, let’s run away while we still can… Joshua? Joshua!”
“J-Just leave me behind… I don’t want, to become… A burden…”
The tiny space that had formed between master and servant was completely overwritten by the chaotic noise outside.
It seemed Ricardo had barged into Mimi’s snow game. If the huge dogman joined and started throwing snow without holding back, the situation would probably turn all the more chaotic.
“Hah, I can already picture it. Honestly, he never settles down no matter how old he gets…”
“However, I believe that is one of Ricardo’s strengths.”
“Well, I do think he makes a great pet?”
Somehow, this praise for Ricardo caused Anastasia to pridefully puff her chest a little. Finding this reaction of hers charming, Julius once again directed his attention towards the commotion outside.
He heard the loud laughter of the comrades who would fight side by side to the bitter end in the royal selection. This produced a very pleasant sensation in Julius’ heart,
“Perhaps it is a bit late to ask this, but what do you think of snow, Anastasia-sama?”
“Didn’t I tell you right from the start? Depending on the situation, it can block roads and thereby cause the transportation fees to pile up, ruin our storage charges, and change what’s popular, it’s a real pain.”
Anastasia outlined a number of points concerning snow from a merchant’s perspective. However, after she mentioned all of these grievances about snow, she continued, “But,”
“If I’m just looking at it, it’s actually rather beautiful, snow.”
“Yes, I think so too.”
Anastasia reluctantly muttered this under her breath, and Julius agreed with her. The knight then slowly turned towards his master, and offered her his hand.
Anastasia stared at this hand.
“Anastasia-sama, would you not like to take a short break?”
“―Fufu, to make your master slack off, what a bad knight you are. You’ll make that ‘Finest’ title of yours cry, you know?”
“If it is for the sake of this moment, I do not regret that.”
Julius answered Anastasia’s teasing provocation with a bold smile.
In response to this answer, Anastasia nodded with satisfaction,
“―Alright then. Just a little.”
And saying this, she took the hand her knight offered her and stood up.