A few hours after Rio’s mock battle.
The Imperial Guard Commander Helmut Albo was receiving a severe reprimand from the current King of the Bertram Kingdom, King Philip III.
“Your Majesty! I believe it is necessary to perform further investigations on that boy! Please grant me your approval!”
“Rejected. To begin with, the mock battle from before was performed to prove he truly was the one who defeated the kidnappers. Did we not already agree on the fact that orphan was indeed my daughters’ saviour?”
Philip III spoke to Helmut in a forceful tone but Helmut could not accept the King’s response.
“Of course. But it’s strange a mere orphan can not only defeat four bandits but also win against an Imperial Guard! He most likely received combat training from somewhere!”
Helmut felt anger mounting against Philip III.
To the desperate Helmut, the King could only show a bitter smile while hiding his true intentions.
He was fully aware of Rio’s unnatural strength.
However he did not want to dig deeper into the subject due to having other goals.
“Isn’t that strange, Helmut. Then what do you make of that mock battle with the Imperial Guard? If my memory serves me right, you were the one who arranged the fight between him and the Imperial Guard to gauge his abilities and determine if he really was the one who defeated the four ruffians.”
Philip III pointed out a contradiction in Helmut’s words. But Helmut immediately stated another assumption.
“Indeed he won against the Imperial Guard; I agree that serves as proof that he really was the one who rescued both Hime-sama. But the one he won against was an IMPERIAL GUARD! An orphan whose age hasn’t even reached 10 yet! It’s too strange!”
Deliberately agreeing with the King that Rio was strong, Helmut admitted that fact.
Rio possessed abilities no mere orphan could obtain.
Even though the Imperial Guard did show an opening for an instant, there was no way a kid younger than 10 could have snatched victory from such a small window of opportunity.
Normally that kind of thing would be impossible was what Helmut was trying to say to the King.
But in this case, the situation was convenient for Philip III.
It was because Helmut’s influence in the Royal Palace had grown too large.
He had become a nuisance to the King.
When Christina and Flora were kidnapped, the ones in charge of their protection in the Royal Palace were the Imperial Guards.
It was a huge blow to the Imperial Guard’s reputation.
Naturally the fault fell onto Helmut as the Commander of the Imperial Guards.
And now Helmut was in a predicament.
He was desperately trying to prevent his downfall using all means available to him.
The he could succeed was if he found out who the mastermind was.
He knew very well the mastermind behind the incident was targeting him.
But this scheme was too vile. The mastermind left absolutely no trail.
Their only lead was the four kidnappers but before any useful information could be extracted from them, they were poisoned to death.
The jailers guarding the kidnappers were all sentenced to death but nothing really came out of it.
The only connection left was the orphan who rescued Christina and Flora.
At the time, the mastermind left Rio alone because he did not know anything.
When Helmut noticed the situation he could not keep himself calm and forced an investigation on Rio using all authority he had.
By using all means necessary.
Even a spec of information would be fine if it could lead to the mastermind.
The time limit was three days because Helmut would be court-martialed after that.
So he carried out interrogations over the three days but Rio did not know anything.
For his achievement of rescuing royalty, they were not permitted to use any violent methods during interrogation.
However the clock was ticking and Helmut defied orders and applied more forceful methods.
Unfortunately for Helmut, they still could not elicit any information from Rio.
Along with the interrogations, as a last resort Helmut arranged a mock battle between Rio and an Imperial Guard but that also failed.
He had the two fight because he still doubted Rio’s abilities.
An orphan who should not know anything about combat was able to defeat the Royal Family’s kidnappers.
Helmut refused to believe such an absurd report.
Christina and Flora testified that Rio was their saviour but it did not erase the possibility of someone helping him from the shadows. Helmut’s train of thought was approaching the realm of delusions.
Even if he insisted that Rio was weak, he could not refute the credibility of the princesses’ testimonies.
So to gain approval for his conjecture, the duel was held in front of the King and nobles.
The result was too much for Helmut.
Rio won against the Imperial Guard barely even moving from his initial position.
Everyone present was dumbfounded.
Helmut had glanced over at his old nemesis Duke Euguno. Noticing his stare, Duke Euguno displayed a sarcastic smile.
That man knew about Rio, about his abnormal strength.
So he did not interfere with the duel allowing Helmut to lose face.
That person. He was undoubtedly the mastermind. Helmut wholeheartedly believed in his delusions.
And so all those events finally culminated in the current situation where his words no longer reached Philip III.
Helmut knew it was his defeat.
He was aware the King’s words were absolute.
He was beaten and no longer had any chances at overturning his loss.
Yet his still struggled in vain.
“Feats of valour must be rewarded even if he is only an orphan. You claim he is the subordinate of a noble. Do you have any evidence?”
Hearing the words of Philip III, Helmet displayed a sour expression.
“…there’s no evidence proving his innocence either.”
Philip III knitted his brow in annoyance at Helmut’s rude conduct.
If Rio was present he would most likely be shouting ‘You must be joking!’.
“So you want to torture him to make him speak? Even when it’s not clear if he has any connections with the mastermind? Even as a joke I shall not allow a benefactor of the Royal Family to receive such treatment!”
Without trying to hide the irritation in his voice, Philip III said so in a sullen mood.
Even though Philip III clearly displayed his irritation, Helmut still ran his mouth in desperation.
“Helmut, enough… In the first place, was it not due to the carelessness of your guards that my daughters were kidnapped? In the case of emergencies Imperial Guards are to become shields for royalty, yet now they even lost to some no name kid. Who would have thought the Imperial Guards would suffer such disgrace.”
Philip III’s words instantly shut up Helmut from spewing any more of his delusions.
Helmut could not come back with a counter argument.
He was cornered.
For him to reach his current position, it took a tremendous amount of effort.
Helmut was a greedy and ambitious man.
There were two knight divisions in the Bertram Kingdom.
The Kingdom Knights served as the core of the regular army and served to protect the country while the Imperial Guards exclusively served the Royal Family and court.
The total number of knights active in the Kingdom numbered 6000, 90% of them were affiliated with the Kingdom Knights with the remaining were Imperial Guards.
The knights and mages serving as knights held considerable power and influence just falling short of that of nobles.
The selection process was harsh because anyone regardless of social position was allowed to apply. In only one generation, a nobody could receive peerage of a knight and overnight have their name included amongst the nobles.
In other words, becoming a knight was a gateway to nobility. It also held the highest employment rate for nobles.
As noted before, there were two possible paths in knighthood, Kingdom Knights or Imperial Guards.
So what made them different?
It was the hierarchy of their members.
The rank of Kingdom nobles from lowest to highest were as follows: knight, mage, baronet, baron, viscount, count, marquis, and duke.
Among senior knights and mages, only a small handful were granted higher nobility while the others could only ever reach viscount or count.
Only nobles who were counts or higher in rank received their own territory in the Kingdom. Lower nobles and knights received a small portion of a higher noble’s land to help govern.
Members of the Kingdom Knights primarily composed of commoners and lower class nobles. On the other hand, the Imperial Guards comprised of mainly lower to upper class nobles.
It was due to Helmut taking command of the Imperial Guards that this distinction was created.
Previously, the King was the one who led the Imperial Guards.
However, Helmut shrewdly wrested control of the Imperial Guards from the previous King.
During the time he served the former King, he put on a front appearing as a loyal and devoted knight.
The former King was fooled and appointed him as commander of the Imperial Guards.
Helmut finally revealed his true colours when the former King was on his deathbed.
Until the time Philip III ascended the throne, Helmut abused his authority as Imperial Guard Commander to sell Imperial Guard positions to sons and daughters of powerful nobles.
As a result, Helmut successfully built a formidable faction in the Royal Court.
He was only a knight yet he held immense political influence.
His influence became too large for Philip III to ignore.
(Just a bit more! A bit more and I could’ve become General! The whole country’s army would’ve fallen under my hands! That’s how things should’ve gone!)
Helmut’s ultimate goal was to snatch the position of highest authority from the King by having the Army under his control.
At that point Helmut’s influence would surpass even that of the King’s.
However, Helmut made a fatal mistake and as a result his influence plummeted.
Due to his greed, he made a great number of enemies along the way.
The number of nobles who felt jealousy and animosity towards him were not few in number.
There were many cases where nobles fell from power and were forced out of the court due to Helmut’s actions.
Personally, Philip III could not forgive whoever tried kidnapping his daughters but he could not pass up the golden opportunity of dealing a crushing blow to Helmut’s political influence.
“The Imperial Guards have been on a decline since some time ago. I think this incident is the perfect example why a reform is needed.”
Fortunately this incident gave Philip III an excuse to resolve the problems in the Imperial Guards. He finally raised himself slowly.
“From now on, the selection of Imperial Guards is restored under the authority of the King. As punishment, I hereby strip you of your position as Imperial Guard Commander. In the meantime, Alfred will serve as acting commander of the Imperial Guards.”
And with that declaration, Helmut was deprived of his powers by Philip III. It meant Helmut lost his position in the Royal Court and must leave the palace.
(Kuh, one day, I will definitely return one day! I’ll show that damned Euguno…)
While harbouring a deep grudge, he bowed.
However when he looked up, dark emotions swirled in his eyes.
“I will humbly obey Your Majesty’s will. However, it is a fact that the mastermind of the incident has not been found yet. Just in case, it is my duty to make preparations against the situation.”
Helmut responded without any changes to his facial expressions, as expected of a high class noble with a long military record.
“The chances of that orphan having connections with the mastermind aren’t zero. It’s safer to kill him than to let him live in the Kingdom.”
Helmut hinted about the potential dangers of Rio.
Philip III also held concerns regarding the matter.
“Fumu. Thank you for your concern. I still need to understand that child’s true nature. Therefore I will keep for your warning in mind with regards to his treatment. As for the reward, I’ve been thinking of bestowing him the rank of knight, for a 7 year old it should be more than enough huh…”
Helmut displayed a look of disbelief when he heard Rio was to be promoted to knight.
“But this is unprecedented treatment for a seven year old boy. If he is to become a knight, he requires corresponding education.”
“I understand your concern. That is why until he reaches the age of 12, I will have him enroll in the Royal Institute as a scholarship student to receive the required education. What happens after that will depend on him.”
“If that’s the case… I guess that seems reasonable. Management can be left to the Institute’s instructors.”
While thinking about the strange existence known as Rio, Philip III puzzled over the complicated situation.
He speculated the aim of the kidnapping was to weaken Helmut’s influence.
With inside help, the kidnapping could easily be carried out; it did not mean the bodyguards were irresponsible.
It could not be helped since Helmut had many enemies, not just the mastermind.
Such a ruthless person.
It was possible the mastermind never intended to put Christina and Flora’s lives in danger, but Philip III could not forgive anyone who used his cute daughters.
In fact Christina only suffered some minor injuries, but they were injuries nonetheless.
However it was true that he was angered by his daughters’ kidnappings and the incident clouded his judgement as a ruler. Philip III needed to calmly determine the mastermind.
The mastermind was probably not foolish enough to take action so soon though.
He guessed from now on things would become more hectic in the court, Philip III secretly sighed.
* * *
The next day, prior to the audience, Rio groomed himself in preparation.
The forelocks which reached his lips were cut revealing a face brimming with youth.
Rio was close to Amakawa Haruto in appearance, but not exactly.
It was more a mix of his current and former self.
His black hair was a rare sight in the Bertram Kingdom and was considered foreign.
He looked like a totally different person from the boy who performed the mock battle against the Imperial Guard the other day.
Many people sitting in audience sent looks of awe and admiration at Rio.
Being the center of attention, Rio lowered his head in embarrassment while waiting for the King to speak.
Aria already drilled into his head the required etiquette for the audience.
Though it was still far from perfect, many nobles were amazed at the way he walked. He was only an orphan yet he carried himself with astounding dignity.
Still, there were some who sneered at him.
Before long the Royal Family finally gathered, and the audience began.
“Rio, come forward!”
Obtaining permission from the King, Rio raised his head.
Seated on the throne on the stage was King Philip III. A bit further down sat the Queen along with the princesses, Christina and Flora.
Christina and Flora were astonished at Rio’s drastic change in appearance.
“For rescuing my daughters and displaying a valiant heart, I offer my most heartfelt thanks.”
“By Your Grace, I am extremely honoured.”
Bowing his head deeply, Rio responded in a flat tone.
“Hou~. Your manners are quite polished. Where did you learn such etiquette?”
“Manners are already engraved into my body. I asked the court lady last night to teach me so that I may not blaspheme royalty.”
Hearing those words, Philip III looked at Rio in admiration.
“I see. That is an admirable attitude. Very well-behaved for one who is only 7 years old. I am deeply interested in your upbringing.”
Philip III looked at Rio with gentle eyes.
Mixing a sigh and curse in his mind, Rio replied respectfully with a smile.
“Yes. I was born and raised in this city.”
“Hou~. To think you were raised in my Kingdom. What about your parents?”
One way or another, Philip III still held suspicions that Rio was a spy from another country.
But after hearing that Rio was brought up in his Kingdom, he became curious.
Of course, he still would not just take Rio’s words at face value.
Which was why Philip III inquired about Rio’s parents.
“Yes. My father and mother were adventurers from another country. During their travels, they stopped in this Kingdom to give birth to me. My father died while out on a quest and my mother died when I was 5 years old. After that… I lived by myself in the slums.”
Rio grimaced a bit recalling the moments before his mother’s death.
Philip III assumed something happened to Rio in the past that he was unwilling to talk about.
“That is regrettable… It must have been painful for you. Judging from the colour of your hair, I think you and your parents’ origin is from a Kingdom far in the East.”
“Yes. I heard that my father and mother originally came from a place in the Yagumo area.”
“Hou~. Yagumo huh… Is that not the name of the Eastern-most Kingdom in that area? Your heritage is from a very distant land.”
“Yes. I will one day return.”
“Hmm… I see. By the way, for rescuing my daughters, I was thinking of rewarding you but—”
Halting mid-sentence, Philip III sent a gaze at Rio.
“That’s right. I will grant you entry to the Royal Institute as a scholarship student. If you wish, you will also receive an appropriate position after graduating. If your performance in the Institute is good, I will also support your enrollment for higher education.”
The contents of Rio’s reward were revealed.
To receive education in this society, an orphan like Rio could not hope for better.
Though from Rio’s knowledge, the wealthy class played a major role in society’s development.
As a representative of commoners, he was reluctant to attend the Institute.
But he could not refuse the reward as it would be disrespectful to the King.
As long as he did not have a suitable reason, he could not turn down the offer. That was what Rio learned from Aria before coming to the audience.
“I express my sincere gratitude. Even though I do not believe someone like me is worthy of such a reward, I accept your generosity.”
The moment before Rio accepted his reward, he determined the advantages and disadvantages in an instant.
Incidentally, the Bertram Royal Institute was where the wealthy children of the Kingdom gathered.
The student body mainly consisted of nobles’ children but kids of wealthy merchants were also present.
The Institute included dorm facilities for its students to ease their commute.
The school curriculum was divided into six years of elementary education, three years of intermediate education, and two years of higher education.
Students were required to be at least 12 years old to partake in intermediate education and at least 15 years old for higher education.
The 7 year old Rio was eligible to attend the elementary course of the Institute. He was not required to take the admission exam thanks to receiving a recommendation and scholarship from the King.
It was decided Rio would start attending school in the middle of the year.
With the exception of Rio, only royalty would usually be allowed to receive scholarships. In almost over a thousand years of Bertram Kingdom’s history, the situation rarely ever occurred.
The nobles in particular raised their voices in surprise, but no one dared defy Philip III’s decision.
It should be noted that the level of education in the Kingdom was exceedingly low when compared to Japan.
More than 90% of commoners could not read or write save for the remaining wealthy 10%. At best, lower class nobles did not exceed the elementary education level.
As the only education institute in the Kingdom, Royal Institute graduates had an education level slightly higher than elementary level, but the Royal Institute was not a charity.
Entry to the Royal Institute cost 1 mystic coin with an additional yearly tuition of 10 gold coins. In short, the total cost for studying until graduation was 3 mystic and 10 gold coins1.
Other than wealthy merchants, famous lower nobles, and high class nobles, who could afford to pay that kind of money?
In addition, Rio also received 40 cold coins as a bonus reward as well as an additional 10 gold coins every year until his graduation from the elementary course.
By the way, the yearly income for a lower class noble was 40 gold coins.
And thus, several days later, Rio was admitted into the Royal Institute.
1. Exchange rate: 100 copper = 1 silver, 50 silver = 1 gold, 25 gold = 1 mystic