This is a tale of when Rudel and the others were hospitalized after the end of the tournament. In that sickroom where the eldest sons of the Three Lords were pained even to move, Rudel, Luecke and Eunius were chatting as per usual.
"Rudel, why did you overlook Aleist back then? If he gets back on his feet, whether you can win next time is… don't you think it would've been best if you let him drown in his talent?"
Luecke was talking about Aleist's unsightly cowering, when Rudel stopped the referee from declaring victory. If he hadn't done that, then Aleist would probably have just ruined himself. That's what Luecke wanted to say, but Rudel's answer was different.
"Back then… I wasn't really thinking when I did it, so I'm somewhat troubled to answer… but thinking back, I think I wanted Aleist to get back on his feet. I mean…"
The Aleist in question, having suffered only light injuries from Rudel, had been discharged from the infirmary that day. But up to the day of his discharge, he couldn't bring himself to drop by the room of the three lords. He wanted to apologize… but for what? And as he thought over such things, he found he was already discharged.
"Ah, it's at times like these that I hate my own spinelessness… but if it's just saying hi… no, but…"
Like that, Aleist loitered in front of the Three Lords' sickroom, glared at by the guards. His fear of the guards was another reason he couldn't enter the room.
There, Izumi came over for a visit. In her hand was a basket of fruit, and she offered a light greeting to the guards. The guards opened a path for her… at this point, her face was enough of a permit.
And naturally, Izumi had noticed Aleist.
"Hardie? What are you doing in front of this room?"
"Um, n-no! This is, well…"
(This might be the first time I've ever held a proper conversation with one of the romance event characters. But right now, she's Rudel's girlfriend, so… right! I'll ask Izumi.)
Aleist approached Izumi and lowered his head.
"I want to enter the room, can I please accompany you!"
"… I don't really mind, but you could've just gone in alone, right?"
Saying that, Izumi sent a glance at the guards to confirm it. Receiving that look, the guards gave a nod. Get-well visits from classmates were overlooked. In regards to Aleist, his identity was certain, so he had even less reason to worry.
Saying that, Aleist approached the door only to overhear Rudel's conversation. He stopped his hand as it moved to open the door, while Izumi and the guards looked at him wondering what was going on.
From within the room.
'Back then… I wasn't really thinking when I did it, so I'm somewhat troubled to answer… but thinking back, I think I wanted Aleist to get back on his feet. I mean… when he has so much talent, wouldn't that be a waste? And I want to fight Aleist when he's strong.'
'How fitting of you. Then I want to fight a strong Aleist too.'
'Et tu Eunius? Aleist's a musclehead and a crowd favorite… if it's in the field of magic, perhaps I wouldn't mind taking him on.'
Those words brought tears to Aleist's eyes. He had looked down on him. He had thought of nothing more than how to use him. And yet… he felt just how large an existence the character called Rudel was. At the same time, Aleist realized how small of a human he was himself…
Izumi and the guards heard the words from the room and they could see Aleist's expression. Izumi called over to him.
"Would you fight Rudel again? Next time, I'm sure you'll be satisfied with the result too… and thank you. You came to visit because you were worried about him, right?"
In response to Izumi's consoling, Aleist wiped away his tears and turned to leave without entering the room. To the doubtful looks that gathered, he let his tears flow as he spoke in a shaking voice.
"Right now, I'm too shameful… once I grow strong, once I'm not embarrassed of myself… I'll come again."
Izumi knew what she wanted to say, but hesitated over whether to say it or not. And as she watched over Aleist running off, she thought.
'They won't be hospitalized for that long, you know?'
… Perhaps Izumi had been dyed in Rudel’s colors.
Safely discharged, Rudel earnestly took on the few remaining classes of his second year. It was around that time. He received a letter from Princess Fina saying she wanted to give her thanks, but the contents were strange.
I want to thank you, so come to my room in the girls' dorm. At night. Alone… the letter stated it quite bluntly. If a normal man received such a letter from the princess, then they'd likely get their hopes up. But this was Rudel.
"The girls' dorm doesn't allow men in, right? What's more, night… will I be alright with curfew?"
A few things off here and there, he tried to understand the problem and take action. That was Rudel. From the individual's point of view, not answering the princess' call would be a problem. So he acted in the accordance… but at that time, if he had consulted with someone… right, if only he consulted with Izumi, then many sacrifices could have been avoided.
The night of that day. Rudel had come to the girls' dorm as directed. He explained the circumstances to the female knights and soldiers on guard before the gates, and had them guide him to the princess' room. There was a reason security was so lax. Not because Rudel was a son of the three lords, or because it was the princess' order.
The princess had her own team of high knight guards. The dorm guards weren't trusted… in a situation where there was no helping to think that, unknowingly turning away the princess' guest seemed idiotic. Just push the trouble onto those high knights! It was an action that came from such thoughts.
Rudel answered the princess' room. There were two high knights in front of the door, and one stationed inside. The one inside was Sophina, who he had encountered before. And another, he could see Mii hiding behind the princess' back.
"Welcome, it is a pleasure you could make it ma… Rudel-sama."
(You're not getting away, master.)
"? Yes, on this auspicious occasion I do… (Is it just me or is this princess kinda scary? Is she hiding something?)"
Perhaps her loungewear, Princess Fina wore clothing easy to move around with, giving her a different impression from the women he saw around the academy. But it would be troubling to say that tickled his heart as a man. On the contrary, Rudel found the princess' attire to be suspicious. Why such mobile clothing… does she need to be ready to move at a moment's notice? What else is there to do than sleep or read a book at night?
Irrelevant to Rudel's thoughts, Fina,
"The truth is… I've been in love with you from the moment you saved me. Please go out with me!"
Rudel gave an immediate reply. Sophina and Mii who happened to be present stared dumbfounded at the exchange between Rudel and Fina. To confess before so many outsider, Fina was one thing, but there was also a problem with Rudel for instantly turning down a confession from royalty.
"I-is that so… then…"
(I thought he'd at least give a reason, but for him to shoot me down just like that… as expected of my master. If it weren't me, he'd be tried for treason. My sister'd honestly try to kill him, so I'd prefer he be more careful, but that isn't the problem! Once they reject you once, humans are beings that become reluctant to reject a second, lesser request. And here's the main topic!)
"Please take me as your apprentice…"
"I refuse that too."
The princess' room fell silent. Fina cursed the royal tutor who taught her negotiation skills. Mii was surprised there was a noble who would decline the princess' request, while Sophina was mulling over whether she should scold the princess, or Rudel.
"C-could I ask your reasons?"
(Any stupid reason, and I'll have you sent off to the gallows! Even like this, that was the first confession of my life! When you reject me like… god, I think I'm going to cry. What's more, refusing to make me your apprentice… my dreams of fluffadise!!!)
"My reason… first, I already have two betrothed. If I left both of them aside to date the princess, I could never forgive myself as a person. And the princess' engagement is something decided by the upper brass of the country, so it's nothing that I can have a say in. As for the other matter, I am still much too immature, and it is too soon for me to take an apprentice."
In regards to the engagements, Rudel himself still didn't know what to do to sort out that confusion. But even so, he didn't want to take any rash actions… what's more, from Rudel's point of view, both his engagements were to dragoons he revered highly. He could never betray them.
"Is that so…"
(Those are some surprisingly decent reasons! I thought he'd give something more ridiculous… how impertinent, when you're supposed to be my master!)
Looking at the two of them, Sophina let out a sigh. And approaching Rudel, she scolded him.
"Rudel-dono, your current actions were too great a discourtesy against a member of the royal line. I ask that you answer with a little more tact."
"My apologies (Despite being called the doll princess, I get the feeling this princess is ridiculously abundant in emotion… is that just my imagination?)"
While Sophina was scolding Rudel, Fina assumed the fetal position on her bed in disgrace. Mii approached her in worry. To cheer her up, she pat her on the head, but…
(Hrrrngg, Mii, you're going to kill me from the cuteness!!! All I wanted was to take this little kitten to heaven… wait. Master said he's still immature… meaning something exists to surpass what he showed me before!? I must confirm this!!!)
"Rudel-sama, you are still immature? I was certain you already boasted considerable skill."
In order to confirm it, Fina interrupted Rudel's scolding. And to that question, Rudel.
"Yeah, there's someone I'm aiming for, but even now, I've yet to set foot into their domain…"
"Who is that?"
(There's an existence that surpasses even my master!? Who could that be!!!?)
"The author of How to Pet a Dragon, Marty Wolfgang. A dragoon of over a hundred years ago, he isn't around anymore. He was a great man who was never received the praise he deserved to the end!"
Rudel answered full of confidence. To Fina, rather than the book, the fact the individual was already gone was the problem.
"I see, that is unfortunate."
(A-a dragoon of a hundred years ago… why did you never praise him, damn bourgeoisie! If it were me, I'd have made him a hero of Courtois! I’d have made a country of fluffies!!! … Huh? Wait, are dragons even fluffy to begin with? Well, whatever.)
"Rudel-sama… won't you accept my assistance in elevating your skills?"
And thus the curtain rose on the incident at the girls' dorm.