This four-story structure housed the administrative offices of the Knights, making it one of the busiest places within the imperial court.
Amidst the footsteps of various aristocrats arriving to voice their complaints, an anxious figure paced near the entrance of the building.
Each time someone approached, they quickly darted behind the building, only to reappear and continue their restless pacing.
The signs of worry were evident, with dark circles under their eyes and disheveled brown hair. Although slightly different from their usual appearance, anyone could recognize this person as Berl Altroot, the Vice Commander of the Black Knights.
As the third son of the renowned Altroot family, known for their diligence and integrity, Berl was the sole knight in a family primarily occupied with administrative duties.
Despite being viewed as an anomaly within his family, his exceptional work ethic and skills earned him recognition among the Knights, eventually leading to his promotion as Vice Commander.
However, today, the diligent and proud Berl Altroot seemed to be absent.
The administrative staff of the Black Knights, having just arrived for work, respectfully greeted Berl with bowed heads.
Yet, Berl didn’t even acknowledge their presence, simply raising a hand before taking his seat at his desk.
One of the staff members approached him, a concerned expression on their face, and inquired, “Um… Vice Commander, is everything alright?”
Berl had been a Knight for almost seven years and had never been late until recently. Yet, in an unusual turn of events, he had consistently been five minutes late for several days now.
“Do I need to explain why I’m late to you?”
Taken aback by the coldness emanating from Berl, so unlike his usual self, the staff member accepted the paperwork and retreated.
Looking at Berl giving a sardonic glance, the departing member, muttered, “Do you have any idea why the Vice Commander has been behaving this way lately?”
“I have no clue. Maybe something unpleasant happened in his personal life?”
“Well, in that case, he should take a break.”
“He definitely won’t. Where else would we find someone as dedicated as the Vice Commander?”
Berl, his expression growing even darker, observed those whispering about him and thought, ‘So, now they finally realize how incredibly irresponsible I am. Hah…’
Berl was in a state of rebellion.
He had always taken pride in his unwavering loyalty, claiming it surpassed that of anyone else. He believed himself to be the closest to the Commander.
For the past five years, despite any conflicts that arose, he had patiently waited for his Commander.
But what came to him, the dutiful one, was the news of the Commander taking parental leave without a single word about the pregnancy.
Enraged by this unexpected revelation, he saw it as an opportunity for a rebellion of the highest level.
‘Yes, it will be painful. Particularly because I didn’t even bother to groom myself today. It’s only a matter of time before such behavior reaches the Commander’s ears. Naturally, she will deeply regret it. And only then will she feel my absence. Hah…’
As Berl joyfully embraced his solitude, the staff members who served under him made a collective resolution.
“Even though he’s under such pressure, how does he manage to keep everything so organized? He’s truly amazing.”
“I completely agree. And have you noticed how he recently started wearing bangs? It makes him look even younger.”
“Well, now that the commander isn’t here, let’s lend him our support!”
“Yes, let’s give him our full assistance!”
As Berl observed them whispering once again, he felt an even greater sense of satisfaction.
‘Alright, once again today, I, the one who is consistently late by a whole five minutes, the lazy and rebellious me, the mischievous vice commander! Members, hurry up and inform the commander!!!’
Berl, intoxicated by his rebellious appearance, relished in his role as the vice commander.
Then, something caught his eye.
A peculiar document on his desk drew Berl’s attention.
It was a list of responses to the letters sent by the Black Knights’ Brigade.
“……Hey, why are there three replies when we only sent out two letters this month?”
Upon Berl’s question, a member promptly stood up and responded.
“A few days ago, right when office hours began, the commander’s adjutant handed us a letter to be sent urgently. We dispatched it as requested, but we only received the reply today. Honestly, getting a response from the commander is always a challenge. Haha… Vice commander?”
As the member continued to speak with a bright smile, Berl’s complexion grew increasingly pale.
‘……Oh no, an invitation to the general assembly for the commander…!’
Berl despised those meetings, and it was always him who received the invitations on behalf of the commander and attended as her proxy.
Due to his mere five-minute tardiness, the invitation had already been sent to the commander.
And to make matters worse, it happened during a time when she was facing criticism for taking parental leave!
‘Oh no! Commander…!!’
In an instant, Berl’s frailty dissipated, and he sprang from his seat, rushing towards the meeting room like a cheetah on the plains.
It was an inevitable task that had to be done.
Lucia arrived at the conference room punctually.
As she entered through the open door, her gaze fell upon the semicircular table, facing a chalkboard that occupied an entire wall, with four intricately adorned chairs.
These chairs were reserved for the commanders of the Black, White, Red, and Yellow Knights’ Brigades.
At the center of those chairs, two men exuded a formidable aura.
Bengart, the commander of the Red Knights’ Brigade, possessed a robust figure akin to a red bear, his shoulder adorned with elaborate armor. Alongside him was Ashan, the commander of the Yellow Knights’ Brigade, with a tan complexion and an exotic air.
Both men were about ten years older than Lucia, and like her, they were influential figures who had made significant contributions to the empire’s establishment.
“Oh, look who’s here. Quite an impressive individual, aren’t you?”
“It’s been a while, Commander Lucia.”
While Bengart and Ashan greeted Lucia, their demeanor did not exude warmth, despite the time that had passed.
“It has indeed been a while.”
With that response, Lucia passed by them and took a seat at the far end, next to Commander Ashan of the Yellow Brigade.
She kept a watchful eye on the seat farthest from her own, which remained unoccupied.
That seat, reserved for Leon, held an air of uncertainty and discomfort.
Threats, uncomfortable gifts.
Having been subjected to a strange trick upon her return, Lucia was already tired, wondering what would happen in this uncomfortable conference room.
“I heard you’re on parental leave. Is that true? It’s hard to believe.”
In the hushed conference room, Bengart, the Red Brigade commander, sneered and spoke in a tone that didn’t match his imposing presence.
When Lucia chose not to respond to what seemed more like a statement than a question,
“Hmm! Becoming a Sword Master in just five years after giving birth! How can a woman who has experienced childbirth… Impressive. You haven’t fooled His Majesty’s discerning eyes, have you? Hahaha.”
It was evident that he was purposefully trying to provoke her.
However, getting under her skin was a difficult task, considering her mental age of 92.
Anticipating that the conversation would drag on, Lucia reacted minimally, her lips curving slightly as she glanced at him.
“……Oh, Commander! What’s with that smile? Are you ignoring me?!”
Lucia intended to let the comment slide quietly, but as always, her subtle smile seemed to further incense him.
If the atmosphere of the Black Knights’ Brigade was damp and frigid like that of a wolf, the Red Knights’ Brigade, in contrast, was a group with tempers as fiery as lava.
Perhaps it was natural, considering the constant bickering that occurred among its members.
“That’s enough. It’s unbecoming of commanders to bicker like this. Oh, Commander Lucia, we were just discussing that matter. There might be a military disciplinary committee meeting before your return.”
The commander of the Yellow Knights’ Brigade, who had been observing the tension, spoke in a calm tone.
However, the topic change carried a significant amount of hostility.
The Yellow Knights’ Brigade was a secretive group serving directly by the emperor’s side.
It was only natural that they held a closer relationship with the emperor compared to the other knights. However, since the emperor always sought Lucia’s aid during the most perilous moments, he also seemed to harbor some unfavorable sentiments towards her.
‘…Disciplinary action, huh. How bothersome.’
Considering that her leave had been approved by the emperor himself, it was unlikely that any major disciplinary action would be taken.
It would probably amount to a small gathering of conservative nobles who desired to voice their grievances.
Lucia recalled the sudden change in attitude from these nobles when she announced her early retirement and retreated to the mountains.
These nobles, sensitive to hierarchy, were always discontented with her, as she had gained the emperor’s trust. Yet, they were the ones clinging to fading power until the very end.
Dealing with such foolish individuals again was tiresome, but considering Nia’s well-being, it was advantageous to remain in a position where she could quickly gather information.
As Lucia contemplated this and attempted to let the situation pass, the commander of the Red Knights’ Brigade sneered once more and spoke.
“Disciplinary action, huh? Will it be carried out properly? His Majesty, who sent you for training and even granted parental leave to someone who returned with a child. Your training must have been quite extensive. The renowned commander of the Black Brigade seems to have lost her edge.”
His remark was a clear taunt, disregarding gender.
Lucia’s eyebrows twitched in response to his offensive comment.
That’s when it happened.
“Such words should not be uttered.”
A low, smooth, and decisive voice cut through the room.
The owner of the voice, entering the conference room with composed steps, was Leon. Leon Ruins, the commander of the White Mage Brigade.
Leon, perpetually wearing a gentle smile, promptly grabbed a chair upon entering and placed it beside Lucia.
It was widely known that Leon had held a deep admiration for her for quite some time, yet he had never openly sided with her in such a public setting.
Taken aback by his directness, the commander of the Yellow Knights’ Brigade stood up to adjust his chair, while the commander of the Red Knights’ Brigade awkwardly rose and spoke.
“What, what’s going on? Why are you sitting there? No, more importantly, Commander Leon! Are you trying to teach me, a fellow commander? What is happening?”
“Yes, exactly. I’m teaching you what you failed to learn during your time.”
Bengart, the commander of the Red Knights’ Brigade, was stunned by Leon’s subtly sarcastic tone, a side of him they had never witnessed before.
Despite the reaction, Leon settled comfortably into the chair he had placed next to Lucia, as if nothing had transpired.
Then, with his customary angelic expression, he emitted a contented smile.