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One hell of a carriage ride and arrival at Reese Castle. This is the beginning of the Reese Castle Arc. (FYI from chapter 200 to 224, all events take place in the span of 24 hours.... Quite a long day for both our protagonists!)
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Episode 206. About 10 months (83)
The reason was that Matilda, the doctor Walter had brought, was sitting in the carriage. Her house wasn't far from Reese Castle, so she would be traveling with us.
By the way, the Second Pince was supposed to be ill, why wasn't he riding in the carriage?
I didn't have to wonder for long.
"He's fine! After all, he's a Swordmaster!" Matilda said, looking at Kyle in his chainmail armor.
"Yes. He's special."
"Well, it's probably because of my medicine. Fufufu."
"Yes. I suppose so," I replied noncommittally as I sat down, and looked out the carriage window.
He was on horseback, holding the reins in one hand and a map in the other while having a serious conversation with Walter.
He looked like he was in good condition.
How? This was the same person who asked me to give him his medicine because he couldn't lift his arms at dawn. No. I thought we were going to travel in the wagon together!
Just the two of us...!
What? Was I... disappointed?
I uttered the words suddenly without realizing.
"Huh? What do you mean? What's the matter, Aide?"
Matilda, who'd been looking out the window, asked me with a face alight with curiosity.
"Ah..it's nothing. Just an exclamation due to the Princes' fast recovery. It's amazing, really."
"Indeed. For ordinary people, this is an astonishing ability to witness."
I nodded without replying.
As I was staring blankly out the window, Kyle jumped off his horse and strode towards the carriage.
"It will take about four hours. We'll take a break midway, and if you are inconvenienced at any time, bang hard on the ceiling."
"Yes. Your Highness."
"From now on, we are the tax collection team from Deoran Company and I'm the tax collection officer. You are the chief accountant."
"An accountant all of a sudden? Isn't that risky?"
"Don't worry, you don't have to prove that you're an accountant. You just need that to be your name on the Reese Castles visitor's list. 'Deoran Company.' only exists on paper."
"Ah... I see. Well, I am good at figuring things out."
My joke didn't get a single smile out of him.
"Well, it probably won't be necessary, but it will be more natural that way."
Then I asked why he chose to be a tax collection officer.
He said that, generally speaking, it was easier to disguise yourself as an Officer because, oftentimes they were baronets or barons.
If he chose too high a status for his disguise he could be discovered, as the faces of those of high status were often known to the public. On the other hand, if his status was too low, it could prove difficult to meet with the Lords.
During the Dragon Fruit Incident investigation, I remember the story he told me about Reese Castle was very detailed.
Therefore, it was clear he had some sort of connection with Count Reese.
The purpose of his personal schedule was to meet the Lord of Reese Castle
"Your Highness, do you wish for me to understand your intentions behind this visit? Other than the superficial Earth Festival one."
One corner of his mouth rose slightly at my question.
He was enjoying this, wasn't he?
"This is very personal. Don't bother thinking about my intentions. I like the attitude though."
"Yes, Your Highness, I'm always prepared."
"I know," he said with a soft smile.
It was embarrassing having my self-praise acknowledged like that.
“It’s cold, so close the window.”
As the conversation had ended, Kyle knocked on the carriage ceiling.
The carriage finally started moving following his signal, and I closed the window after watching him mount his horse in one fluid motion.
Some time after becoming Second Aide, Walter informed me that the Second Prince often disguised himself during war.
Sometimes as a soldier to spy on the enemy's position himself, an envoy to negotiate armistice or even a prisoner of war.
Also, as the Ministry of Security leader, he often went about in various disguises, as a result, the Order of the Phoenix and his subordinates seldom heeded his status as Second Prince.
To be fair, I first met him in the guise of a vagrant.
Whereas most of the Imperial Family showed up at every event in the Palace and had their portraits in the newspapers on their birthdays, the Second Prince scarcely attended those festivities.
In addition, he didn't disclose his face to the newspapers, enabling him to freely hide his identity.
He really did a thorough job of concealing himself.
Being an Imperial Family Member, wasn't it common sense to show off ?
If it were me, I would use my status as an Imperial Family Member to the fullest.
But that was me.
Later, Walter explained the details of how Kyle often disguised himself as a tax collector from 'Deoran Company' when he went to unofficially visit castles in the provinces, including the one in Reese.
This was similar to how the upper echelon retainers in the Elias Family organized tax collection. They used various contractors as collectors that reported either to the General Manager, Knight Master, accountant or lawyer.
Since the number of collectors was determined by the size of the company, it was common to travel with only one or 2 knights if it was a small collection agency.
"Whether on the battlefield or here, he doesn't look like a real Imperial Prince. Don't you think, young Aide?"
The voice that pulled me out of my train of thoughts came from none other than Doctor Matilda.
"Indeed. He's not a typical Prince."
"Seeing the Second Prince again reminds me of the battlefield where we fought together. Although it is a very dangerous place, it's also a very dynamic one."
My travel companion started talking out of the blue.
"I was so sick and tired of the bitter smell of blood and the screams of pain, but after I retired, I realized that those scenes of life and death were where this old lady really felt alive. I still remember the battlefield from 4 years ago...."
Starting with that story, the doctor excitedly began telling me about when she worked on the battlefield.
Matilda’s stories about ‘when she was young,’ filled the carriage and the sound of her voice faded into background music.
I didn't sleep well last night. I tried to keep my eyes open but dozed off before long.
But my travel companion woke me up each time so I wouldn't miss a moment of the thrilling soundtrack....
It was one hell of a ride.
In the afternoon, we arrived at the southern entrance of Reese Castle. Matilda had departed with Walter 20 minutes earlier.
As we parted ways, I politely thanked the doctor and we promised to meet again so she could finish her battlefield stories next time.
I promised myself to have Nick and Matilda meet on that occasion.
They'd probably get along very well.
"What are you laughing about, Tara?"
Well, look at you...
"I thought it would be fun to have Matilda and Nick meet. Don't you think so, Kyle?"
"Ha...! So this is how it feels."
"How does it feel?"
"It's new. It's the first time I've felt my name has had such a nice ring to it. But, am I mistaken or is there a sense of playfulness when you say it?
"You're not mistaken. You're very quick-witted... Kyle."
I thought it would be awkward to call him by his name, but it wasn't.
We left the carriage at the gate house at Reese Castle's entrance. Carriages weren't allowed in the castle square because of the Festival.
Walter was supposed to rejoin us in the evening.
When he arrived at the gate and displayed his forged ID card, the gatekeeper checked it against Kyle's face and greeted him immediately.
"You're from 'Deoran Company'. Orders are to guide you straight to the main hall. Follow me. I'll show you the way."
Oh... This was the advantage of pre-booking! Besides, the Lord of Reese Castle was Count Philip Reese.
It wasn't until we arrived on the Festival premises that I realized I hadn't asked Kyle about his relationship with Reese.
What kind of personal appointment did he have?
I didn't have the opportunity to ask since we had traveled separately the whole time.
We entered the main hall alone.
It was full of aristocrats visiting Reese Castle.
This was the third day and the peak of the week-long Festival.
There were to be fireworks, and acrobats along with a lavish dinner party. The knight who informed us also said, without prompting, that there would be free drinks all night.
After a while, Count Philip Reese, who I'd only heard stories about, came to greet us alone.
He saluted Kyle in a very stiff and tense manner, overly conscious of his surroundings.
"Hahaha. This, uh, how much it is this time? How are things going in 'Deoran Company’ these days? Hehe..."
It felt like I was seeing my own Father...
Not only was he stuttering, but his tone was very strange. Like that of an actor trying too hard. You could immediately tell just by listening to a single word.
Did all the Counts in the Empire behave the same?
Oh! If it was an act, didn't that mean the Count knew Kyle's identity? Did they know each other?
"It's been a while, Count. I came to offer my congratulations on my way to collect taxes not far from here."
"Haha! Is that so? Haha. It's noisy here. Would you like to come up for a moment? I also have a favor to ask you, Officer. Hahaha. My servants will guide you to your accommodations. Haha," he said with exaggerated laughter.
Fortunately, thanks to the commotion in the crowded hall, the Count's strange tone and excessive laughter were drowned out.
Despite the bad acting and awkward laugh, Kyle nodded gently and smiled softly.
Oh? A genuine smile. How should I put it? He looked comfortable.
He really was. Kyle's expression was much softer than it was in the Palace.
"Yes, then I'll follow you."
Two servants picked up our luggage while another told me to follow him, indicating that he was taking me to my assigned accomodation in a separate annex.
"Then I shall go unpack my luggage first."
As I was taking my leave, Kyle looked at me and shook his head.
"Let's go together. There are documents the accountant should take a look at. We'll get information regarding our accommodations later."
The Count, who had been walking a few steps ahead, turned around at Kyle's words.
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