The Laynoble Guard Knight
“You are my brother, and this incident involves our entire family. You understand this, yes? Then tell me, Damuel—why did you propose to Lady Brigitte, then shamelessly refuse her when she agreed to marry you?”
Soon after I had turned down Brigitte on the night of the Starbinding, my brother—the head of our house—dragged me back to our estate. I now sat facing him and his wife Juliane in his quiet office, with all the servants having been cleared out of the room. Juliane was staring daggers at me with her narrowed green eyes.
“You had an entire year to prepare,” she said. “Should you not have made arrangements ahead of time for Lady Brigitte to refuse you instead? She was surely deeply wounded that you would turn her down in public when you yourself were the one to propose. Do you not even remember why you defended her against Lord Hassheit? Was it not to protect the very honor you have now worked to undermine?”
I gritted my teeth. My intention had never been to hurt Brigitte. I had thought she would accept my proposal, and that would be that. Never did I think she would suddenly impose such a bold prerequisite, especially with everyone watching us.
“I thought we had agreed that I only needed to increase my mana capacity. I never thought she would suddenly force a new condition on me then and there.”
My eyes had widened in shock when Brigitte asked me to move to Illgner with her, and it was then that I saw Lady Elvira watching me with a slight smile. The moment I saw the look in her dark-brown eyes, I heard her voice in my head: “You certainly know much about Rozemyne, don’t you, Damuel?” It was a question she had asked me prior to Lady Rozemyne’s baptism, when she and the knight commander summoned me to ask whether I would continue serving as her guard knight.
Lord Ferdinand and the knight commander had then warned me to, in their words, “Think carefully and understand the significance of someone who knows so much about Rozemyne resigning from serving as her guard.” I couldn’t quit serving her when she had allowed me to be her guard knight out of the kindness of her heart, and it was precisely because I knew her secrets and remained loyal to her that a laynoble like me had been given such an important role in the first place. Tragically, this was the very same reason that her guardians would never let me leave.
“I was more surprised than anyone when she asked me to come to Illgner...”
“What...? Hold on, are you saying that you expected not to marry into Illgner, but for Lady Brigitte to marry into our family?” my brother asked incredulously. I nodded, a little confused.
“Brigitte and I are Lady Rozemyne’s guard knights. Would it not be unthinkable for the both of us to leave the Noble’s Quarter at the same time?”
It simply wasn’t an option for me to quit being a guard knight, and Brigitte was staying in the knight dorms precisely because she couldn’t remain in Illgner. To me, it made perfect sense that we would stay in the Noble’s Quarter after getting married.
“No, what’s unthinkable is that you ever thought such a thing. Lady Rozemyne certainly does favor you, but you are a laynoble who everyone thinks should quit his position as soon as possible, and Lady Brigitte is Giebe Illgner’s little sister. In what world would you not be marrying into her family? Who would waste their one chance to rise in status from a laynoble to a mednoble?”
It was then that I realized I understood things differently from other laynobles. They shifted factions constantly based on trends and happenings, but I was the odd one out, locked into my position due to secrets that I couldn’t tell anyone.
“So you mean to say that everyone thought my proposal was founded on the idea I would marry into Illgner...?”
“Of course. It would have been beyond us to take Lady Brigitte into our own estate,” my brother said flatly, leaving no room for argument.
Juliane looked at me with an absolutely baffled expression. “Could it be that you intended to have a mednoble like Lady Brigitte lower her status to that of a laynoble to marry you? How in the world did you expect to live in the Noble’s Quarter after that?”
I was stunned into silence for a moment. My previous engagement had ended up getting canceled, but I had at least gotten halfway through the preparation phase before then.
“She wouldn’t have been able to stay in the knight dorms, so I planned to rent a home in the Noble’s Quarter after our wedding,” I explained. “It wouldn’t get in the way of us going to the temple and castle for work, and we would each have one attendant, which wouldn’t be too different from Brigitte’s current situation.”
Both my brother and Juliane brought their hands to their foreheads in disbelief.
“Your previous fiancée was a laynoble, remember? Would you really force the mednoble little sister of a giebe to live like that?” my brother asked.
Juliane nodded in agreement. “That would make it difficult for Lady Brigitte to ask her family for help with matters related to her marriage and eventual childbirth, would it not? And it would certainly not be similar to her life in the dorm.”
I blinked in surprise. The two of them had helped me with my marriage before, so I hadn’t at all expected them to react so negatively to this.
“Damuel, I think being so friendly with the mednobles and archnobles serving as Lady Rozemyne’s guards has blinded you to how significant a mednoble marrying down into a laynoble family truly is,” Juliane said with a sigh.
She went on to explain what life after marriage was like for a woman. Socializing remained their primary endeavor, just as it was before marriage, but they had to socialize based on the status of their house.
“One’s status changes depending on their marriage, so Lady Brigitte would be forced to live as a laynoble,” Juliane summarized. “She would no longer be able to remain friends with those she had been equal to before, and when visiting her home province, she would be expected to bow in subservience to her family and relatives.”
“Damuel, a landowning mednoble marrying a laynoble who isn’t even the head of his house is just as significant as you marrying into a rich commoner family,” my brother added.
I tried putting myself into that position. As a commoner, I would no longer be able to freely meet with my family, having to instead send word ahead of time, and I wouldn’t be allowed to act as their equals. Just how much a person was distanced from their friends and family of another status became even clearer when I remembered the way Lady Rozemyne was forced to interact with those from the lower city. But while she had gone up to a higher status, Brigitte would have gone down.
As I was just a bachelor and a second son, my brother had always dealt with our relatives, which meant I hadn’t thought very hard about what Brigitte’s life would be like after marriage.
“It’s true that I didn’t think things through enough, but Brigitte became a guard knight to support her family, since canceling her engagement with Lord Hassheit had made it difficult for her to stay in Illgner. She herself said that strengthening her bond with Lady Rozemyne in the Noble’s Quarter was important for her home province, and so I never thought she would want to return there after getting married.”
I had thought Brigitte would be happier living in the Noble’s Quarter, continuing to get Lady Rozemyne’s support through my serving as her guard knight. My hands, still clenched on my lap, started to tremble.
“Did she not already solve that problem by securing Illgner’s involvement in the expanding printing industry? It is only natural that her thoughts would shift to getting a husband and growing the giebe’s family as much as possible to help support Illgner’s future.”
According to my brother, Brigitte canceling her engagement to Lord Hassheit had led to all the laynobles supporting Giebe Illgner leaving the province, meaning there were almost no nobles in Illgner at the moment. The giebe’s family and the few remaining nobles were banding together to survive, and since their highest priority was getting more noble support, they wanted Brigitte and her husband to grow their numbers.
“Your marriage was accepted by Giebe Illgner despite your laynoble status precisely because you are Lady Rozemyne’s guard knight, are not of an opposing faction, and are not the head of your house. He had originally planned for Lord Hassheit to marry into the family, so we can guess they always intended for you to do the same.”
“...You sure know a lot about Illgner, brother.”
“Our house would be tied to them if you married into the family; it is only natural that I would learn what I could about them. The real question is why you evidently never thought of all this despite having been the one to propose. Surely you spent the past year learning something about Illgner, no?”
In reality, I hadn’t learned a thing. I was completely unaware that Lord Hassheit had intended to marry into their family, that Illgner had fallen into disarray after Brigitte’s marriage was canceled, and that they were suffering such a serious noble shortage.
“When I visited Illgner with Lady Rozemyne, I did notice that there were exceedingly few nobles... but I didn’t realize why that was, nor did it occur to me that Brigitte wanted to return home,” I said, and as the words left my mouth, I remembered something—the time Brigitte had asked me what I thought about Illgner.
Could she have asked that with me marrying into her family in mind...?
Upon hearing me respond positively, she had beamed with delight and sincerely accepted my proposal. We were both trembling with joy over our hearts having connected, but it seemed we had misunderstood each other even that early on. I didn’t want to believe it. I shook my head, trying to drive away that spine-chilling thought.
“I am a laynoble risen to the position of a guard knight due to Lady Rozemyne’s good graces. I cannot quit my post without her permission, nor can I leave the Noble’s Quarter. Brigitte should have known that from working with me,” I said, trying to convince myself at the same time.
My brother’s eyes widened with surprise. “Ah, I see... You are in a position that most laynobles would never find themselves in. The very idea that someone should have known your feelings, however, is nothing short of arrogance. Even as your family and someone who knows the circumstances behind your employment, I did not consider this. Everyone judges things based on their own perspectives.”
Brigitte had interpreted things based on her own thoughts, whereas I interpreted things based on mine. As a result, neither of us had ever truly understood each other.
My brother, who had been staring at me intently, broke into a bemused smile. “Damuel, you certainly have worked harder than anyone expected. You increased your mana capacity to the point that you could feasibly propose to a mednoble, and while you maintain that this was thanks to Lady Rozemyne having taught you her compression method, increasing one’s capacity is no simple task. As your brother, I am proud of what you have accomplished... but that is not good enough. Getting married takes more.”
My heart wrenched at his remark. I gritted my teeth and lowered my eyes. To think I had come so close... I didn’t want to accept that this failure was my own fault—that I hadn’t been good enough.
“An equivalent mana capacity is the bare minimum you need—not even fellow laynobles can get married on mana and feelings alone. You two spent an entire year with the proposal in mind, and yet neither of you managed to deduce there was a line between you that could never be crossed.”
His words stabbed into my heart one after another. I had worked desperately over the past year to increase my capacity as much as possible, believing that was all I needed to do for Brigitte to accept my proposal. But this ignorance meant that I hadn’t considered the marriage carefully enough.
“Marriage and love are not the same. For a couple to succeed in marriage, what’s important is not the love that blooms between them, but rather their ability to live together. Lady Brigitte’s and your visions of the future were simply incompatible. It would have been hard enough for you to live together given your difference in status, but with you two not even having understood each other, marriage would have proven impossible.”
A tense silence hung in the air. Where would we live after marriage? What circumstances were we both grappling with? Brigitte and I hadn’t once discussed these basic matters.
What should I have done? Could we have worked things out if we had just spoken about them ahead of time? If so, what should I have said to her?
I racked my brain, trying to put the pieces together.
If only Lady Rozemyne were here...
Perhaps then things would have gone differently. She had aided me in more ways than I could count, so there was no doubt in my mind that she would have helped me think this through. Maybe she could have gotten Lord Ferdinand and the commander involved.
But would it have been right to ask for even more help, after she already taught me her compression method...?
Neither Brigitte nor my brother knew this, but Lady Rozemyne was a commoner who had allowed herself to be adopted by the archduke to protect her lower city family. She ultimately wasn’t in a position where she could defy the wills of her guardians, and me giving her a request that she couldn’t grant would only hurt her young heart.
What kind of guard knight would do that to the one they serve?
I questioned myself over and over, digging as deep as I could, until I finally reached the conclusion that it was impossible for Brigitte and I to be together. A heavy sigh escaped me as I looked back up, only to find that Juliane had since left. Just my brother remained, sipping from a glass of wine as he watched me.
“Did you find an answer you’re satisfied with?” he asked, a warm look in his eyes as he poured a glass for me as well. I accepted it from him and took a sip. The wine tingled and burned my throat.
“It seems the Goddess of Marriage did not bless me after all. No matter how hard I think about it, I can’t ever see us getting together—not when I can’t quit my post as guard knight and Brigitte is so dedicated to Illgner.”
“I see... In that case, be sure to apologize deeply to Lady Brigitte. Regardless of your circumstances, you proposed to a mednoble in public and then refused her despite being a laynoble yourself. As your brother, I will apologize to Giebe Illgner as well,” my brother explained, before sighing as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. “To be honest, I am just glad that Lady Brigitte questioned whether you would be willing to join her family before accepting your proposal. If she had accepted without either of you noticing your misunderstanding, the wounds would have been much deeper when reality came to light.”
Had our engagement been confirmed, it would have ceased being a problem between the two of us and turned into one that involved our entire families. My brother was the head of our house, and he wanted to avoid conflict with Giebe Illgner more than anything else.
I just wasn’t paying enough attention to other people...
Marriage wasn’t something that affected only the two directly involved, and by letting my emotions run wild, I hadn’t given those around me even the most basic considerations.
I met with Brigitte at the temple the next day. It was painfully embarrassing, but better than having to talk to her at the knight training grounds with a bunch of nobles watching.
“Forgive me, Brigitte. When you said you couldn’t return to Illgner, I accepted it without question. I never even tried to find out Illgner’s circumstances or whether you did one day hope to return after all.”
“No, the fault is all mine for not realizing that your position prevents you from leaving the Noble’s Quarter. It took my brother pointing it out directly for me to understand. If only I had noticed sooner...” she replied with a sad smile.
I couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. Neither of us had understood the situation until those we knew spelled it out for us. My brother was right—thank goodness we had found this out before the marriage and not after.
“Damuel... can you truly not leave Lady Rozemyne’s side?” Brigitte asked, her amethyst eyes gleaming with a familiar determination. She didn’t want to give up yet, nor did she want me to. My heart begged me to move mountains for her, but my brain reminded me that no matter what happened, our love simply wouldn’t be possible.
“Brigitte, is leaving Illgner truly not an option for you?” I asked. Perhaps it was cowardly of me to respond to her question with yet another question, but my heart was screaming for me to ask it. I couldn’t give up yet. If only she could stay in the Noble’s Quarter, then everything would work...
Our eyes met, and it was clear we both still had strong feelings for the other.
After a lengthy period of silence, Brigitte let out a slow sigh and lowered her gaze. When she looked up again, I could tell from the gleam in her eyes that a rejection was coming.
“I am family to Giebe Illgner. I became a guard knight solely to aid my home, and so I cannot live in the Noble’s Quarter as a laynoble. I seek only a marriage that will benefit Illgner.”
I could practically hear the Goddess of Marriage forever severing the thread that joined us. The strength drained from my body, but I gave a weak smile nonetheless. “It’s a bit rude for me to ask, but... do you have someone else?”
“Lady Elvira spoke to my brother and is due to introduce me to someone from her faction. We need to hurry if I am to marry before I’m twenty, so she told me to resign from my post as guard knight sooner rather than later. Hah... At the very least, you won’t have to feel awkward seeing me in the temple or at the training grounds...” she said with another sad smile before turning her back to me. “May we both meet the one tied to us by Liebeskhilfe the Goddess of Marriage’s threads.”
The day after I said my final goodbyes to Brigitte, it was a training day for the archducal family’s guard knights. Just thinking about how all my colleagues would antagonize me for refusing to marry a mednoble despite my position as a laynoble made my stomach hurt.
I could feel the stress building up inside of me as I arrived at the training grounds, where I found the knight commander Lord Karstedt and Lord Bonifatius waiting for me. The former wore a sympathetic smile, while the latter was punching the air with enthusiasm.
“You’re a good man, Damuel!” Lord Bonifatius shouted. “Takes a strong heart to have that kind of loyalty!”
I had been petrified with fear over how I would be treated, but it seemed that my bosses actually held a great deal of respect for my decision to prioritize loyalty over marriage. Lord Karstedt was nodding along with the exceptionally pleased Lord Bonifatius, seeming to understand my situation completely. It was a big relief to know that the training grounds weren’t filled with scornful people.
“I’m moved. As a show of respect for your loyalty, I’ll train you even harder!” Lord Bonifatius declared. “To me, Damuel!”
Please go easy on me...
But of course, Lord Bonifatius had never gone easy on anyone in his life. My days of suffering both a broken heart and a broken body continued until the day Lady Rozemyne woke up.