The carriage had been silent since the beginning of the ride until Brendel finally decided to break the silence. “Amandina, what are your thoughts on this issue?”

Amandina was shocked, and so she did not immediately respond. After a few moments, she appeared to snap out of her stupor, her voice straining to remain calm. “I think that this decision was made too hastily, My Lord. At the very least, it should have been delayed until Radner’s battle had ended. Honestly, I think that the current situation is rather advantageous for Aouine, but My Lord must not be the one to do it because of your status as a leader. The princess might not be suspicious of you, but others might see this as a sign of tyranny. Unlike before, the current circumstances require My Lord to be conscious of your relationship with the princess.” Amandina delivered her response softly, yet an aura of wisdom could be detected within her gentle voice.

Brendel was thoroughly impressed at her answer. He thought the cute yet serious noblewoman would immediately give him a lecture, reminding him that his impulsive actions might endanger his territory. She had always taken things too seriously when it came to Brendel. However, she displayed her intellect and coolness by astutely discerning his intentions based on his actions. Amandina’s reply was a much-needed reminder. He was so focused on creating the perfect opportunity that he had almost forgotten about the possibility of human interference.

Looking at Amandina, Brendel could still remember her following him around, trying to sort out the details of the festival with the villagers. In the blink of an eye, she had become an expert strategist who was comparable to the likes of Oberwei and Makarov. So even this lady has leveled up, he thought as his heart was filled with curiosity.

“What’s wrong, my lord?” Amandina was unsettled by Brendel’s intense gaze. However, she was unlike Scarlet or Freya, all she could do was avert her gaze, her cheeks flushed. Reminding herself of her position as his subordinate, she managed to calmly voice her question despite her heart pounding wildly in her chest.

“Call me Brendel.”

Amandina gaped at his words, her face turning redder by the second.

“Do you have any solutions?” asked Brendel nonchalantly. He found it amusing to watch Amandina try and compose her thoughts right after flustering her.

Of course, the person being teased did not notice her lord’s nasty sense of humor. She took in a light breath and nodded, “I think that it wouldn’t hurt to explain the situation to the princess. This task was given by Lady Veronica, Bren- My Lord had no proper say in this matter. Her Highness should be able to understand your plight.”

Brendel acknowledged her words with a nod before turning to look out the window. The carriage was riding through a forest right outside Port Gris. Rays of sunlight pierced the canopy of leaves, illuminating patches of the forest shrub hiding in the shadows. He pondered while taking in the scenery, turning his focus back into the carriage after a short while. He looked beside him, where the restless Shitah sat. He had just finished the cakes that Amandina prepared for him, and was now scouring the drawers for more.

“There’s no need to look anymore, Shitah. There’s nothing left. By the way, have you perchance heard of the name ‘Silver Queen’ or ‘Constance’?” said Brendel.

The chubby dragon closed the drawer disappointedly. “Who’s that?”

Brendel had already expected this reaction. “Then do the dragons have some kind of treasure that allows one to regain their youth?” he asked once more.

“Youth,” Shitah wiped his mouth with his sleeve, staining his expensive clothes with crumbs. “We do have a lot of those things. Fountains of Youth are deemed as rare treasures to you humans, but we have quite a few. Oh yeah, Aloz has one too.”

Noticing Amandina’s eyes light up, Brendel let out a sigh. Even with all her seriousness, she was still tempted by the prospect of never losing her youthful appearance, just as most girls were. Brendel shook his head in response to Shitah. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about literally turning back the clock. Not just the appearance, but also the flesh. A treasure that can revert oneself to their prime once again.”

Shitah stared at Brendel in disbelief. “How can such a thing exist? If there were, we dragons would already be immortal!”

“Not to the extent of immortality, but if it could work at least once. Is there such a thing?”

“Nope,” Shitah shook his head vigorously, “that would be violating Marsha’s laws.” He eyed Brendel for a moment before adding, “My dear Lord, you are still young, you should enjoy life while you can. Stop chasing after these non-existent objects. I’ve heard that every human king who has searched for immortality were all tyrants. However, if you truly seek an answer, I suggest that you go to Madara and ask the skeletons.”

“Fuck off,” Brendel jabbed at the dragon with his leg. To Amandina, he said, “Write a letter.”

“To Her Royal Highness --”

……

In the Viero region, the departure of summer signified the beginning of autumn. In the week that Freya had arrived at Castle Vallendaren, wisps of gold had appeared amongst the vibrant green forests. Princess Gryphine stood in the courtyard, her silver eyes gazing towards the Gonn Range in the south. One of her maids had draped a cape over her shoulders to combat the chilly autumn wind. The thickness of the cape accentuated her delicate build, but her upright posture exuded authority, just like her forefathers did. Her silver hair blew in the Sarmin wind as she opened up the letter in her grasp. As she read the letter, her fingertips started to go white as her grip on the letter tightened. Her heart filled with rage, she crumpled the letter the moment she finished reading it.

Her actions startled the servants nearby. One of them plucked up the courage to ask, “Your Highness?”

“It’s nothing. That bastard Radner.” The princess was mentally cursing at Brendel as she could not say it out loud. If any animosity between the Count of Trentheim and her were to leak out, it would surely bring disastrous consequences to the southern regions which had just recently stabilized.

Her grandfather could only help her so much. After all, Duke Viero was first and foremost a duke, one of the nobles of the kingdom.

“Would Your Highness like us to call for Lord Oberwei or the Count?” asked one of the maids. She thought that the letter was a report from the army in the south, but she did not dare to venture any more guesses. She was merely a servant after all.

Gryphine understood that the ‘Count’ her maid mentioned was referring to Audine. She shook her head frustratedly, “It’s fine. It’s not a big deal.” Looking back to the piece of paper in her hands, she held back the urge to stomp it into the ground. Instead, she unfolded the crumpled letter. The letter was now full of creases, just like her image of the knight who she once thought as perfect. Neither could return to their original undamaged selves. The half-elf felt a pang of despair. Why is it always like this? Makarov, Fleetwood, Arreck, and now this bastard, is there no one in Aouine that I can fully trust?

She could never let anyone know her feelings. Every single word on Brendel’s letter was like a punch to her chest. He had interfered with the empire’s heir situation of his own accord, only after that did he tell her about his decision. Gryphine could not resist clenching her jaw in anger when she remembered what had happened. As bad as it was, she was even more furious at the fact that Brendel did not understand how scary it was to incur the wrath of the entire empire.

This matter was not something that could be discussed with Oberwei nor Audine. Even though the Wolf Baron was her instructor as well as her ally, he was not someone who Gryphine fully trusted. Thankfully Oberwei understood that fact well, he had never overstepped his boundaries. Count Audine’s political awareness was definitely lacking compared to Oberwei, but Gryphine could tell that his loyalty to the kingdom was sincere. However, neither of them were the best candidates for the minister’s position.

For some unknown reason, Gryphine always felt that there was an ominous shadow looming over her. With a final click of her tongue, she turned and walked towards her study.

“Your Highness?” asked a few of her maids.

“I’m going to write a letter.”

Within the short span of five days, the princess received a second letter from Trentheim. Unlike the first one, this letter lacked any sort of formality. The contents described the details of Prince Lenarette’s escape, as well as Brendel’s own thoughts on the matter and the potential effects of their actions. Gryphine’s fingers traced over the mutinous words on the letter. I might have misjudged him, she thought. But he had already promised Veronica. This course of action will bring no benefits to his own territory. Is he really doing this just to clear his name?

Unlike the last time, after checking if the magic seal was working, the half-elf carefully folded the letter and placed it into her silver chest. The only two people who had the key to this chest were herself and Haruz. It was a gift from King Oberg the Seventh. No matter where she went, Gryphine would always bring it with her.

After storing Brendel’s letter, she immediately started to pen her reply. In the first half of the letter, she wrote her words like a princess regent addressing her subjects, stating that she did not see a problem with this issue as long as he did not create any more grievances. However, her tone shifted to one that was more gentle in the later parts of the letter. “Dear Count, I might be presumptuous and rude for saying this, but I would like to seek your advice. Please tell me your true thoughts on this kingdom’s future, as well as what you think will happen to the relationship between myself, Haruz, the kingdom, and the Count. I hope that the kind knight I had met a long time ago would answer my questions earnestly,” she wrote.

Upon receiving her letter, Brendel could not help but laugh. The princess had no way to deal with him, so she had to resort to sympathy. However, he was devoid of ambitions. He replied to Gryphine with yet another letter. This time, no words were written. In its place was a blank sheet containing the brooch that the princess had gifted to him.

After a week, he received yet another letter.

Her reply was only one sentence.

“Mr Brendel, do as you will, the future of Aouine and Haruz is now in your hands.”

……

The leaves rustled in the wind.

Princess Magadal was lying in her bed which seemed to be growing out of the wooden walls. Her golden hair was spread over the white sheets, her eyes shut tight, like a sleeping beauty from a fairytale. However, everyone in the room could feel that the princess was actually breathing. Her chest rose and fell with every breath she took, her eyelashes would quiver every so often, as if she would be waking up at any time.

Brendel let out a sigh of relief. He signaled for the others to leave the room. Ciel, Hipamila, Shitah, and the twin sisters complied. Brendel turned around and said to the stone-faced girl, “Thank you for your help, Miss Frofa.”

Shitah had hidden his Heart of the Dragon in another nest within the Deadly Tundra Forest, but it was destroyed in the explosion. The one in Magadal’s body was brought over at the behest of Aloz. Although reluctant at first, she still kept her promise. Initially, Aloz was supposed to transplant the Heart of the Dragon onto Magadal, but she was still under confinement. The only way was to have the stone-faced girl from the dragon tribe fulfill the promise. Coincidentally, Brendel had already met Frofa before at the Legacy of the Holy Saints.

At the start, Brendel was extremely worried that there might be some problems, but it turned out that Frofa was much more reliable than Aloz. The transplant process was very quick, and so far it seemed that it was a complete success.

His gratitude was one of utmost sincerity. Ever since the battle at Ampere Seale, he had regarded Magadal as his friend. If it weren’t for them, the princess would not be in this situation either. Every time he thought of the night the princess was murdered, an immense wave of guilt would swamp him. The Nun Princess must have been afraid and despairing, yet she still went ahead for the sake of her friendship with Princess Gryphine. In this day and age, the friendship between the two princesses was like a rare glimmer of light in the dreary darkness.

It was a tragedy that history did not allow this kind-hearted girl a happy ending.

Frofa looked the same as when Brendel last saw her. She turned to look at Brendel, silently holding out her palm.

Brendel was confused at her actions.

“The earring.” Frofa’s voice was like water droplets falling on ice.

The respect that Brendel was starting to build up for Aloz was immediately erased. Ever since they first met, he felt like she was constantly trying to catch him in one of her traps. At that moment, the biggest bomb was right in front of him, ticking slowly, counting down the seconds until it would explode. Unfortunately for him, Frofa’s earring had already shattered back in Ampere Seale, he had no way of returning it to her.

He gathered up his courage to look her in the eye. Thinking back to Aloz and Shido’s words about what a dragon’s earring meant, Brendel struggled to fight down his blush. “About that, Miss Frofa, I may have accidentally lost your earring.”

The dragon continued to stare coldly.

Brendel felt as if a sword was hanging above his head. “That… I think,” he stammered, “About marriage, I don’t think it should be reliant on an object, there are other important factors too…... But you see, you’re a dragon, I’m a human, we both have different cultures too. I hope you can understand, Miss Frofa. What I’m trying to say is I didn’t know what it meant at that time.” Truthfully, Brendel could take on Aloz herself in battle, not to mention a teenaged dragon like Frofa. However, he found it shameless if he were to make the first move. If he were to do so, it would mean throwing away his pride as a leader.

Frofa’s expression was still that frigid look.

“So you don’t want to marry me?”

Fuck! Brendel stared at her, his eyes wide with shock as he tried to understand how she came to that conclusion. He was silent for a good minute, before replying, “That… that was not what I meant.”

Frofa’s gaze turned even colder than before. Brendel could tell through her eyes that he was dead to her. “I never thought you were such a person, Duke. I absolutely hate womanizers like you. You had better stop this attitude of yours.” Finishing her sentence, she walked out of the door, slamming it behind her as she left, leaving behind a baffled Brendel.

Aloz! What the hell did you do?! Brendel screamed in his mind.