Beyond the study was a long balcony sidewalk, every few steps was a stone pillar supporting the ceiling. Overgrown moss covered its granite surface, sunlight refracted through the lush greenery as it appeared fragmented across the ground.

Sparrows rested leisurely by the curb as they chirped away, seemingly in a merry mood. 

Brendel, after lecturing Romaine cranked open the door, scaring the birds as they fluttered away. Just as the door creaked and closed on his way out, his habitual remark,
“Scarlet, prepare the carriages, we’re going to Port Gris,” was just about to be uttered but promptly caught at the tip of his tongue. 

In his memory, the teenage girl with her trademark long ponytail had always stood by the second stone pillar by the corridor, her lance leaning on it while she occasionally fed the hungry sparrows. 

Several times he saw the exact scene. The young maiden was stunning and elegant, quiet as she was, resembling the heart of an illustrious painting. 

But as if time had wiped it all away, for this time, there was no one else by the second stone pillar awaiting his call, nothing but shimmering sunlight and overgrown moss.

Brendel lightly sighed.

He could not help but crack a bitter smile.

Far across the other end of the corridor, Amandina, holding a cluster of sheepskin scrolls stopped as she watched her Lord commander appearing rather disoriented, and had promptly understood as she too let out a dispirited sigh.

Her fingertips appeared pale, nearly creasing the sheepskin papers, of which were important documents of internal affairs within the kingdom. The Lord commander himself has yet to read through any of these. Afraid that she might have smudged the details, Amandina frantically loosened her grip and in turn, dropped all the scrolls across the floor.

Amandina panicked, biting on her lower lip as she stared blankly at the ground. After a long pause, belatedly bent down and hastily began recollecting the sheepskin paper scrolls.

Nonplussed, she reached out for the necklace under her collar, it was a necklace without its pendant. Yet she pinched on it as if it was never gone, and momentarily got back on her feet, glanced over towards Brendel on the far side before promptly retreating the other direction.

Brendel stood by the study room door for several minutes before coming back to his senses. It was from a certain point on he had gotten accustomed with the young Highland maiden by his side, silent as she was.

He had always teased her for this exact reason, for things like when she was planning to get married, yet little did he know, now that she was genuinely away from him, that the one truly unprepared to let her go was actually himself. 

“What…” Brendel nudged himself around his temples, “Brendel O’ Brendel, Scarlet can’t be by your side for eternity, she has her own life too doesn’t she?” 

The more he contemplated, the more frustrated he became. Shaking his head, he wanted to cleanse the rapidly clustered thoughts from his mind. 

Veronica and her ensemble settled for the night at a local guesthouse at Port Gris, from Coldwinter castle to Port Gris by carriage only required half a day, but Brendel understood why the Squad leader herself chose not to lodge at the Coldwinter Castle. Understandably due to her role as the Squad leader of a foreign nation, she was wary of being too chummy with a foreign count.

This was not news, notably since the wanted criminal Mephisto was also in her squad, and having him staying in Brendel’s castle would be treacherous, she made the respectable decision to keep her distance.

Nevertheless, Brendel was rather surprised by the news of her summon for a meeting with himself. Given that she had arrived in Trentheim for about two weeks now, according to rough estimates, she should be back at the kingdom by now. After all, her mission had already come to a natural endpoint, and most importantly she was escorting the crown prince and the Folded Sword Squad in her legion.

He could not quite comprehend the female Squad leader’s arrangements. Why is she still hesitant and wary, the kingdom’s internal affairs have been experiencing a peace spell...and besides the occasional squirmish by the borderlands there shouldn’t be anything much happening…

Filled with suspicion he strode across the corridor and down the flight of stairs. In the outdoor hall, a few of Ciel’s disciples were in an argument on magic-related issues.

Ciel built his Mage tower within the castle, and hence his disciples were to reside within the castle, albeit in the servant quarters. But due to the rigid rules in the world of mages, the disciples had not brought too much of a change to the life within the walls of the castle.

The few disciples noted Brendel passing by and instantly offering their greetings to the Lord commander, which Brendel took to acknowledge them one by one. 

These youngsters were chosen from descendants of adventurers or local nobility and with that, the families were eternally grateful to Brendel for offering an opportunity for their children to learn magic. 

Most mages in Warndt do not leave legacies, while Academy party mages were mostly from Buga. But what good was there to learn from Silver mages?

Even in Kirrlutz, only a naturally gifted apprentice like Shido would receive the adoration of the Silver Race, which meant mages with legacies to offer, whether in Aouine or Kirrlutz held a respectable status among society, way above the random brutes around.

As for Ciel who inherited from a Black tower mage, despite being a fraction of the Buga mages, was renowned enough for people to fight for a place amongst his disciples. 

A chance to receive guidance from a proper master for local nobility of far-off lands like Trentheim was quite literally a gift from the gods, even more so for the less well-off families of journeymen and adventurers. 

Amandina, too, was aware of that point, and with her position as organizer and advisor to Brendel she took the opportunity as a chance to offer its limited positions to the families loyal to him. Sue, daughter of Leto, the Red Bronze Dragon for example, and along with others secured their loyalty to the Lord as an all-encompassing war machine.

But Brendel naturally did not align with Brendel’s expectations in the beginning.

He did agree in part that it was a good position to seek the loyalty of his most prolific subjects, but he sees the training of young disciples more so as long-term planning for the future of Trentheim.

After all, an army without a mage squad is merely a third-tier battle legion, and it was not even to compare with the Kirrlutzians or the Wind Elves, in which their tantalizing Air Force had a mage at the helm of each and every unit!

With that armada in place, it was not too much of a superlative to consider the mages as Vaunte’s high-tech operatives, for each and every one of them cost a huge fortune, but they were undoubtedly worthy investments. 

And this was only the forties, the era before even the Slate Wars. 

Naturally, in certain ways Amandina had a point, not to mention that Ciel acknowledged on more occasions than one that Sue had brilliant gifts, which Brendel himself took notice of, beyond the rosy cheeks and her finely twisted braids of the teen. As a result, it prompted Brendel to consider their suggestions and kept a selected number of them. 

In the Battle of Ampere Seale, Sue displayed incredible composure despite her age, and that was the core aspect of being a mage, yet only few others several times her age could do quite as well. From that, it was clear that she could notice the Line of Law, and in her future lies a path of greatness. 

As a bonus from their recruitment, just as Amandina expected, the Red Bronze Dragon was beyond grateful to Brendel. Who knew the only weakness the old veteran of the Eleven Months War, unfazed in the face of death had, was his daughter. One he would readily give up the world for.

Originally, Leto wanted to leave behind a proper business for his young daughter, but it was sheer bad luck that the Madara attacked. Now that Sue was offered the opportunity to be a full-fledged mage, even if it weren’t too outstanding a position, to him, he found solace in the fact that at least she wouldn’t have to worry about her next meal, now standing on her own two feet.

That however seemed to have backfired for Brendel, as the old brute many a time beat around the bush to interrogate his true intentions, trying to know if he was actually interested in his daughter, yet insisted that Brendel had no idea of his ‘subtle’ interrogation, which Brendel felt deeply insulted by, prompting him to drive him back to Mindel range several times. 

And that was hardly a single occurrence, which with its repeated incidents, reasons unknown to Brendel, left him noticeably irked. 

Nonetheless, in Vaunte, women seemed to possess Magic privilege at a rate far higher than males. Even though male mages were more likely to become true geniuses, like Ciel and Fleetwood, the population of female mages far outweighs their male counterparts.

And that accurately translated to Ciel’s own disciples, now mostly female, he too began to experience visible suspicions by the many on whether his school was actually but an elaborate scheme to recruit aspiring concubines.

In a small, rather backward town like this, the rumors spread like wildfire. Nevertheless, not only did it not deter the minor lords and local nobilities, they began promoting their self proclaimed “talented” Ladies of the region to the Ciel and his Lord commander, which Brendel could not be bothered about as he promptly told Ciel to send home any and all of which without any Magic privilege. 

This repeated occurrence that was the pinnacle of Brendel’s annoyance quickly turned into a recurring joke within his social circle and was definitely teased by Medissa and Amandina on more than one occasion. 

What a putrid society!

Just the thought of it left him shaking his head in dismay, but as he walked out the dome of the hallway, he frowned at the aroma of grilled meats. 

He paused, turned around, and questioned, “What is that?”

A few of Ciel’s disciples were distraught as they all hung their heads low.

“Ciel didn’t teach any of you the mime spell did he?” Brendel grumbled, despite having assumptions of his own at this point. 

Just when he was done venting, a round-faced, young maiden, pale as a sheet, her nose sprinkled with freckles, which Brendel was informed was the daughter of the Head of the silversmith association, stuttered as she replied, “Mi...milord, Mr. Shitah told us not tell anyone.”

I knew it! Brendel shook his head from displeasure. Even Aloz was taken away but this little bastard is still here out in the loose?! Screw it, since we signed a contract, as ridiculous as it was, at least it’s better than sending him back into a cell with the Dragon Tribe!

Waving his hands, he hinted at the young female disciples not to worry. Then, following the smells of charcoal and searing meats attempted to locate the little chubby dragon, hoping he did not light the castle on fire by accident.

Which apparently was a genuine concern, given how the last time he was grilling meats in a sawmill it got burned into half, leaving Romaine to pay out a huge sum of money in compensation, and worse still was head butler Amandina heartbroken for days. 

Turning around to the corner of the castle engulfed by unkempt vines, under a grape rack there the Little Chubby Dragon was, stealthily controlling a bonfire, on it was a mesh rack, with several evenly grilled shrimp. The glutton even splattered the shrimp with condiments, naturally from the kitchen.

This cheeky little bastard was bang average in battle, but in terms of sneaky businesses, there were few quite as good as he was, even the Night Swallows Masters within the halfling ranks might even need to kowtow to him instead. 

Then again, someone who could sneak off with two dozen carriages under the noses of Veronica and Mephisto was a formidable presence in his own right. 

Brendel walked up to him and patted him on the shoulder, leaving Shitah shellshocked as he turned around, his chubby cheeks powdered with charcoal soot. Just his appearance alone could hardly draw any resemblance to the fact that he was a dragon, now more closely aligned with that of an adolescent bear. 

The moment Shitah turned around and saw Brendel, he howled like a lost child, petrified, “I didn’t cut down the grape trellis, I didn’t steal any of this! They...they lent it to me!”

“Haha, funny,” Brendel sneered. The parterres were left behind by Graudin to Amandina, and it had been her prized possession since. Even though he had never seen the young noblewoman furious at any point before, Brendel would really not want to push a calm and collected woman to her limits.

Genuinely amused, he patted Shitah on the shoulder, “You’re a brave lad Shitah, but lest I remind you that the one handling the daily arrangements in the Coldwood Castle is none other than Miss Amandina?”

“So what?” Shitah was baffled but was pleasantly surprised to see Brendel in a relaxed mood.

“It’s not much really,” Brendel chuckled, “If the kitchen prepared one less serving of dinner or a main course or whatnot, it is actually a genuine logical oversight since they have so many mouths to feed every day. Honestly, even if that happened for a few days in a row, it’s understandable.”

Shitah’s jaw hung low, his face dulled almost immediately as he glared at Brendel, his eyes wide, beads of sweat on his forehead. He seemed like he never once experienced the shady side of society his entire life.

“But that isn’t the worst of it, there were rumors around that someone ate something they weren’t supposed to, and it turned out to be poisonous! They’re probably dead now. I’m sure you know how close the black forest is from here, not to mention all the ingredients we have in the warehouses, I’m sure there are some that’d fit a Giant dragon well.”

Shitah was on the verge of tears, considering how these were all possible outcomes. What further reinforced his thoughts was when Amandina too, appeared gloomy and her lips tightly sealed, it was almost like they didn’t want him around, and were scheming to get rid of him!

He began to blabber as he held up the grilled shrimp from the pit fire, tears, and snot dripping from his face as he pleaded, “Lord commander, please don’t expose me. Here, have a shrimp, you take this and we’re all in this together.”

“Screw you, don’t drag me down this brazenly,” Brendel was not having any of it, seeing the grease and soot on the claws of the Frost dragon alongside mustard smudges, which seemed oddly familiar, which prompted him to ask, “Where did you get the shrimp?”

“The kitchen.”

“No it’s not,” Brendel interpreted, “Have you been to Hipamila’s room?”

The fatty rolled his eyes, his head vigorously shook sideways like a bongo drum.

Brendel in turn found it rather hilarious, for the shrimps in Hipamila’s room were her prized possession, when they were still alive at least. He had no idea why she had a hobby of rearing shrimp, but she sure did put in a lot of effort into cleaning the tanks and refilling the tank with freshwater, so it must be significant enough for her. 

Now they were nothing but finger food on Shitah’s plate, decisively ending her morning routine.

Just that a certain person or dragon for that matter will need to pay a hefty price for his misdeed.

He sympathetically stared at Shitah, then turned around and proceeded to leave him. Well damn, don’t want to be affiliated with this troublemaker over here!

But Shitah was surprisingly witty this time around, noticing the look on Brendel’s face that he was in deep waters, hastily wrapped his shrimps into a paper bag and ran behind Brendel like a long-lost brother.

“The hell are you doing?” Brendel was stressed out. 

Shitah, still preoccupied with savoring the grilled shrimps on one hand, stuffing himself a mouthful, and even licking his fingers, yet mumbled incoherently at the sight of Brendel leaving, “Lord commander, are you on your way out?”

“You’re smarter than I thought you’d be,” Brendel sarcastically replied, “Are you plotting your exit now?”

“Nope, Milord you have signed a contract with me haven’t you, and to fulfill my end of the contract I will stand by your guard.” 

Shitah gave it a serious thought, and while licking his lips he added, “It’s a dangerous world out there.”

My ass it is! It might still be half a year ago, but now Trentheim is safer than it ever was, arguably the best in the southern realms! The streets were lined with patrolling knights, the forests guarded by the Cave Dwellers, there wasn't even room for monsters or bandits even if they were to set up camp.

Besides, ordinary monsters and bandits were hardly more than an inconvenience for himself, Brendel thought. This cheeky little bastard actually lied to my face!

Brendel couldn’t be bothered as they headed towards the stables, one before the other. Passing by the flower beds handled by Madam Camille, Brendel was reminded of a certain something as he turned around with a question, “Come to think of it, why hadn’t the Dragon tribe send anyone to drag you little pest back to base?”

He half-expected Shitah to be delighted at his question, after all even Aloz was captured and escorted back, but this cheeky bastard was out and about, moving freely as he pleased. It must have been a worthy brag.

Notably, without the monitoring of the little Mother Dragon, the younger of the two would be free to do as he pleased, but the response he got instead was a diminished look on that chubby face.

“What is it?” Brendel was rather surprised.

“Aloz actually willingly went back with them. The truth is, our tribe rarely engage on any in-fighting, if she genuinely wanted to stay right here, they wouldn’t force her otherwise,” Shitah replied, albeit unamusedly, “But Aloz insisted to be treated as one of them, and as such had to abide by their rules.’

Brendel wittily picked up on the keyword, “You wouldn’t actually have gotten expelled from the dragon tribe too do you?”

“Pfft, what good is it to stay in there, all they hoard are strange things,” Shitah rather boastfully replied. 

“They don’t understand, food is the most important resource there is! So what if we have gold, platinum, mithril, and all those precious ores if people can’t even sustain themselves from hunger?”

“The hell is that logic, aren’t you an old-fashioned one,” Brendel found it hilarious that the chubby dragon was clearly unsatisfied with the outcome but was still acting like he couldn’t care less.

“But for us, our impression of Giant dragons, for them to be this obsessed with food is to uhm...bizarre. In our culture, Giant dragons would be sitting on fire mountains spouting fire, burning all and every other living thing near it, adventurous treasure hunters or whatnot. Dragons to us are mythical and formidable creatures.

If the Giant dragons in the myths were to sit upon a giant pile of grain, think about that, the majestic factor of it would have been drastically diminished.”

“That’s just what you think!” Shitah trampled furiously.