The “Meat Dragon” was a four-legged herbivore dragon that had been domesticated as a livestock on the South Continent for its meat. It breed often, grew up quickly and most of its body could be eaten, so these characteristics earned it the name “Meat Dragon” against its will.
The majority of the meat that currently landed on the dining tables of the South Continent came from domesticated “Meat Dragons”, but needless to say, there were numerous wild “Meat Dragons” living in the wilderness as well.
It was extremely easily to differentiate between a wild Meat Dragon and a domesticated Meat Dragon: The wild ones still had their two horns growing on their heads while the domesticated ones had them cut off.
With their horns cut off, the Meat Dragons did not only lose their means for a physical attack, but also became less aggressive in their nature, which made it easier to rear them. Hence the horns of cultivated Meat Dragons were cut off after they reached a certain age. On the other hand, it meant that the wild Meat Dragons were surprisingly aggressive and dangerous.
The furious onslaught from a wild Meat Dragon with its two horns could sometimes even catch a hunter or soldier off-guard.
So a powerless villager would avoid any contact with wild Meat Dragons as much as possible.
But it would be completely different matter, when they banded together as an armed group. With a glint in their eyes, they would then kill the wild Meat Dragon.
The Carpa Kingdom had a lot more preserved food than the North Continent for example, since it was the biggest producer of salt and spices, but it was not all that pleasant to keep living off just them for a long time.
Forced to eat mainly jerked meat seasoned with salt and pepper along with dry flatbread every day, the people started to see the initially dangerous wild Meat Dragons as nothing but a source for “juicy meat”.
And Zenjirou and his group on their way to the March of Guzzle were no exception.
As a result, the wild Meat Dragon, who carelessly had revealed itself from the forest along the Salt Road, was hunted by the soldiers with bloodshot eyes.
“There it is!”
“Don’t let it get away!”
“It’s coming your way, get ready!”
Several soldiers were chasing after one Meat Dragon in the thick forest besides the Salt Road.
An experienced hunter would immobilize it with a trap and finish it off with arrows from afar, but the ordinary soldiers took a more primitive approach: Cursorial Hunting.
“It’s friggin’ huge!”
“Don’t you dare to let it get away!”
With their brandished spears, the soldiers chevied the Meat Dragon towards the road from all sides.
A silver-haired girl and a blonde female soldier were awaiting it on the road.
Princess Freya, the silver-haired girl, could neither conceal her tension, nor her excitement, as she held a long spear that was almost twice the height of herself with both hands.
“Here it comes, Milady. Maybe I should take over after all?”
Skathi, the blonde female soldier standing next to her, took one step forward as though protecting her master with the short spear and wooden shield in her hands, when she called out to her like that.
But Princess Freya firmly shook her head in light of the consideration of her trusted retainer, so that her short silver hair fluttered about.
“No, let me do this, Skathi. I will not get another chance to take down a dragon like this again.”
Even more than nervousness, her two eyes, fixated on the forest before her, revealed an eager glint of excitement while she said that.
“Very well. From what I have heard, the Meat Dragon seems to behave like a boar. Please do not face it head-on, but rather attack it from the side with your spear.”
“Yes, I know.”
With the approval of her bodyguard, the princess from the Northern Continent showed a smile consisting of nervousness and elation alike, and glared into the thick forest.
A few moments later, it appeared in the forest near the road.
The wild Meat Dragon proudly bore the two horns on its head forward and jumped out onto the road while breaking through the thick branchwood with its massive body.
“Watch out, Milady!”
Princess Freya definitely was nervous, when she saw a wild dragon for the first time.
The comparison to a boar had been suitable, seeing as it rushed at her in a straight line with its small round eyes bloodshot with agitation. Its appearance was quite redolent of the dinosaur called “triceratops” that had lived on Earth a long time ago. But unlike the triceratops, it had no horn on its nose.
The biggest difference between a Meat Dragon and a boar was the size.
Assuming the Meat Dragon in front of Princess Freya had the size of an average specimen of his race, it meant that the Meat Dragon was two or three times bigger than a boar.
When the Meat Dragon rushed straight at her with a battle cry, Princess Freya inadvertently raised the corners of her mouths into a crescent-shaped smile.
At home, they only had her let hunt rabbits, foxes or a deer at best, but here, she was allowed to face a dragon, even if it was only a herbivore one.
A shiver of excitement ran down her spine and she suppressed the urge to launch an attack herself. Instead she peered hard at the approaching huge dragon with the long spear in hand.
She evaded the Meat Dragon by quickly stepping out of its path and then stabbed her long spear into the side of the dragon at full tilt.
Her all-out attack perfectly pierced the left shoulder of the dragon.
But even though the attack from the light-weighted princess did harm the Meat Dragon, it did not finish it off.
Moreover, she was suddenly in the path of its onslaught again, either because she had not stepped away far enough before or because she had pressed forward too far for her attack afterwards.
The watching female soldier reacted to the predicament faster than the person in question herself.
She was ordering her master like a pet dog, but given the circumstances, it could not be helped.
Princess Freya obediently did like she was told and ducked down, practically throwing herself onto the ground.
In the next moment, the leg of the female soldier swept over the ducked back of her master like a gust of wind.
Skathi was pretty much a giant of a woman, but even then, her body mass was not even a quarter of the Meat Dragon. It definitely was impossible for her to stop the onslaught of the dragon head-on.
But she could at least deflect it to the side for a bit by using a technique that applied all of her bodyweight to the impact of her leg.
Skathi performed a perfect textbook example of a roundhouse kick, kicking the Meat Dragon right into its side.
Just like she had planned, her attack deflected the onslaught of the Meat Dragon to the side and it staggered past the ducked princess.
After the combined attack from Princess Freya’s spear and Skathi’s leg, the Meat Dragon tripped over its own legs and fell flat onto the road. It seemed that it was not dead yet, seeing as it convulsed in pain on the ground with the white of its eyes showing, but it had obviously lost consciousness.
“Well done, Milady. Now, please finish it off before it wakes up again.”
The tall female warrior held out her hand to her prostrated master.
“Thank you, Skathi. But now it counts as your kill and not mine, or am I wrong?”
Princess Freya stood up with Skathi’s help, casually wiped the dirt off her cheeks with her sleeve and uttered displeased with puckered lips.
It certainly looked like the kick from Skathi had been the decisive blow.
Her grumbling was not met with a response from Skathi, but from a soldier of the Carpa Kingdom, who had chased the Meat Dragon here.
“Not at all, Princess Freya. You inflicted a lethal wound on the Meat Dragon without doubt. It would have only been a matter of time until it died. Miss Victoria merely intervened to protect you.”
In view of that, Princess Freya squatted down near the Meat Dragon and examined the piercing wound she herself had inflicted on it.
“…I see. That certainly seems to be the case.”
Looking at the collapsed dragon confirmed that her spear had pierced into its flesh quite deeply. Apparently the soldier had not been flattering her, when he had said that her spear attack had inflicted a lethal wound.
Princess Freya honestly acknowledged their pleas and drew her favourite hatchet from its holster at her waist.
“Where do I have to stab it to kill it? I have to admit that it is my first time going up against a dragon.”
“Right here in the back of the neck, Your Highness. Are you sure that you do not want to use a iron spear instead?”
The soldier asked her worriedly. His concern was reasonable. It was by no means an easy task to finish off a large dragon with a strong vitality.
But Princess Freya just smiled warmly.
“I appreciate your concern, but I will be fine. This is my speciality.”
With these words, she confidently raised up her right hand holding her favourite hatchet in a fluent motion.
As a matter of fact, Princess Freya was not lying. As a svenskar and a woman, she had a rather petite physique, so her overall fighting capacity was no better than an ordinary soldier, no matter how harsh she may train, but at least her skill with the hatchet was first-rate. Moreover, it absolutely suited her personality.
Hence she had never failed to finish off her “prey” with it, whether it was a two-legged or four-legged animal. And her achievement was not tainted on the South Continent, either.
“So, right here? Okay, here I go!”
Princess Freya swiftly struck with her hatchet and severed the neck of the Meat Dragon with one strike just like the soldier had recommended.
While Princess Freya worked up a sweat in the dragon hunt, Zenjirou patiently waited inside the carriage at the side of the road for its conclusion.
The young girl was bravely participating in the hunt, whereas the grown-up man holed up inside the dragon carriage. This sounded rather pathetic by itself, but as a matter of fact, Zenjirou would be of no help and just a burden, even if he were to go out there, because he did not even know proper self-defence.
He could only make himself useful by letting the princess protect him.
Zenjirou wriggled about on his chair inside the wide carriage a bit uncomfortable, when he suddenly heard the cheers of the soldiers from outside before long.
“Yes, it seems the hunt has ended successfully. It should be fine to head outside now. Will you go out, Master Zenjirou?”
Zenjirou agreed with Natalio sitting across from him.
“Indeed. You will take the lead, Natalio, Ines.”
Prompted like that, the knight and maid sitting across from him stood up together.
The dragon carriage Zenjirou was currently boarding was a huge carriage drawn by eight dragons for royalty only.
Its ceiling was so high that a grown-up man did not need to worry about bumping his head, when standing up.
The whole carriage was actually so big that a person from Modern Earth would rather associate it with a passenger wagon of a train than a carriage.
Just in case, Knight Natalio left the carriage first and checked, whether the situation was under control.
“Everything is alright, Master Zenjirou.”
Hearing his words, Zenjirou also got off the carriage.
“Phew, so bright.”
Stepping out of the carriage into the midday sun, he blinked a few times, because his eyes watered from the sudden change in light.
While he squinted against the sun, the soldiers, who had guarded the carriage so far, gathered around him and formed a protective wall.
As a former commoner, Zenjirou felt extremely uncomfortable to be flanked by armed soldiers at all sides, but now that he was royalty, it was a given that he was accompanied by so many guards, whenever he went outside.
Knight Natalio was leading the guards. For now, he was the only knight that had sworn loyalty to Zenjirou himself.
The guards, starting with Knight Natalio, stayed at his side by the same distance to him at all times, even without any directions.
Whether he slowed down, because he looked around, stopped for a moment, because of a misstep, or quickened his pace, because he wanted to gloss over his misstep, the circle of soldiers around him never got into a state of disorder.
Even if he were to suddenly start sprinting, it was unlikely he would be able to shake them off.
So Zenjirou advanced on the “Salt Road”, chaperoned by these diligent soldiers.
“Feels like I hit upon a wide forest trail on my way to my mountain cabin.”
Walking on the road of soil overgrown with weeds, Zenjirou mumbled to himself. People of Modern Earth rarely got to see roads that were not asphalted.
Zenjirou came from a country village in the middle of nowhere, but even there, the main road had properly been asphalted. You would only come across a holey path of soil as a cart track between fields or an abandoned mountain track.
And because he was still not used to wearing the leather boots of this world, Zenjirou struggled along a bit clumsily, when the maid Ines suddenly passed by him.
She outpaced him with a normal walking pace, so Zenjirou felt no need to reprimand her about it and just let it slide.
Overtaking her master, the maid smoothly went over to Knight Natalio keeping watch in front of Zenjirou, and whispered a word or two into his ear.
Knight Natalio gave a jerk to her words for a moment, but in the next moment, he pulled an arrow out of the quiver on his back, quickly nocked it and send it towards the crown of a tree.
The arrow was released with a small outcry from Knight Natalio and hit the “something” that was hiding high up in the treetop.
That “something” raised a shrill scream from high up and fell straight down to the side of the road.
Zenjirou impulsively stopped in his track, when he heard that scream and its thud.
Standing protective before Zenjirou, Knight Natalio still kept the dragon bow in his left hand ready and gave orders to the cautious soldiers near by.
“It was a ‘Thieving Dragon’. I think I finished it off, but you three, go take a look. Kill it if it is still alive. Everyone else, keep your eyes peeled!”
With the instructions from Knight Natalio, three of the soldiers guarding Zenjirou rushed over to the side of the road.
Apparently it was still alive as one of the soldiers impaled it with the short spear in his hands.
“All clear. It’s dead now!”
When the soldier waved his hand with these words, Knight Natalio acted as well.
“Master Zenjirou, the danger has been averted. Please move on.”
Overwhelmed by the all too fast development in front of his eyes, Zenjirou nodded absentmindedly and picked up the pace again.
Before long, he arrived at the side of the road, where it had fallen down.
“Well, this… is not a pretty sight.”
Seeing the dead dragon, Zenjirou frowned unconsciously.
“The ‘Thieving Dragon’ is an outcast of the forest in more than one way after all.”
Knight Natalio consented to Zenjirou with a wry smile.
In fact, it was quite the eerie sight.
Almost half as big as a grown man, its whole body was covered by dark green scales, so it was a dragon aka. reptile, but its physique was closer to that of a monkey.
Short legs and long arms coupled with a long and narrow tail. It had the typical build of an animal living on top of trees, but the face was that of a lizard.
As it was already dead, its long forked tongue hung out limply from its pointed snout, which only added to its eeriness.
“An outcast of the forest? So its appearance is not the only issue?”
Knight Natalio nodded shortly to the question from Zenjirou.
“Yes. As its name implies, it is a dragon that steals. It hides itself in the crown of the trees and attacks its prey from above, when it passes by. They are pretty daring in their efforts, so even pack animals like carnivore dragons fall an easy prey to them and get their eggs or nestlings stolen.
Needless to say, we humans are no exception. Children or small women are targeted by the ‘Thief Dragons’ first and if there is no such target, they go for the next best prey. In other words, they steal a ‘part of their prey’ by tearing it off with their sharp fangs.”
In case of humans, a part would probably be an arm or the head.
Zenjirou grimaced terrified in light of the explanation from Knight Natalio.
“That… sounds dreadful. I am glad you killed it, Natalio.”
“It was not me, but Ines, who noticed the ‘Thieving Dragon’. Please direct these words at her.”
Surprised by the knight’s words, Zenjirou shifted his gaze to the middle-age attendant, but came to a realisation at the same time.
Earlier, Ines had suddenly passed him from behind to whisper something into the ear of Knight Natalio at the front. At that time, she must have told him about the Thieving Dragon.
“I just happened to spot it. If anything, I say Sir Natalio deserves the praise for his swift and accurate reaction.”
Ines shook her head with wry smile and praised the skills of Knight Natalio like that.
Looking up the tree, Zenjirou was convinced by her words.
Even the smaller ones amongst the big trees standing on both sides of the road were at least bigger than an electricity pole, whereas the bigger ones were sometimes twice as big.
Knight Natalio had sent an arrow up that high and had hit the vitals of the “Thieving Dragon” with his bow, so his masterful skills were beyond all question. Moreover, he had done so quite quickly without taking proper aim at the hidden “Thieving Dragon”.
Even if you took into consideration that he was using a superior dragon bow, it was still quite the feat.
“It’s reassuring. Unfortunately I am no stronger than a woman or a child, so I will be counting on you well and truly.”
“Yes, Sire. Please rest assured. I will protect you, even if it costs my life.”
While talking with Knight Natalio like that, Zenjirou moved along the road and in time, Princess Freya and the others came into sight.
Princess Freya noticed him first of all and waved with a bright smile.
Zenjirou waved back, but his face was showing a dry smile.
“Her Highness Freya seems to be quite the active person.”
Maid Ines interjected somewhat far-fetched, to which Zenjirou nodded assenting without breaking his dry smile.
“Yeah, her vigour sure is to be envied.”
The hand the smiling princess waved with was firmly holding the blood-smeared hatchet.
Chapter 01: Arrival
Aside from some encounters with wild dragons, Zenjirou and his group arrived safely in the March of Guzzle without any further incidents.
The capital of the March of Guzzle was a city fortified with high walls.
Needless to say, it was nothing out of the ordinary. The South Continent was housing obviously hostile creatures in form of dragons, so every human settlement in the borderlands was protected by walls to a greater or lesser extent.
On top of that, the building of the feudal lord in the middle of the capital resembled a fortress, symbolizing the fortitude and straightforwardness of the Guzzle Family.
In other words, it was a fortification within a fortification.
That fortress was quite large, giving the townspeople the opportunity to withdraw there in case of need, but it had practically no pompous beautification.
Truth be told, it deserved the term “shabby”, when comparing it to the Royal or Inner Palace, where Zenjirou usually spent his time, or even the Mansion in Valentia, where he had stayed for a month not long ago.
But Zenjirou was glad to be in a proper building again after he had spent the last few days in the bumpy carriage and foreign wilderness.
Having reached his destination, he finally cast off his travelling attire and heaved a sigh of relief.
“Hah, sweet freedom…”
In the building allocated to him within the residence of the feudal lord, Zenjirou sloppily got rid of his shoes and socks, flopped himself onto the couch and rested his bare feet on the low table.
He rarely ever displayed such an ill-mannered behaviour, not even in his Inner Palace, but right now, he was too tired to care. The ride in the carriage without proper suspension and the unfamiliar camping outside had exhausted his stamina and mind to the limit.
“You have done well, Master Zenjirou. Would you like some water?”
Waiting Maid Ines gave a warm smile and offered him a silver goblet with cold water.
She and Zenjirou were currently the only ones in the room. In front of the acquainted maid of the Inner Palace, he could unwind.
“Yeah, thanks, Ines. But I’ve to say, you sure are tough. You should actually be even more tired than me, since you took care of me the whole time.”
Saying this, Zenjirou looked up to the waiting maid standing next to the couch.
Just like he had mentioned, the dignified appearance of Ines showed not the slightest hint of exhaustion.
The middle-aged maid showed a faint smile in reaction to the appreciation of her master.
“Well, I am used to it. I have been serving Her Majesty Aura on the battlefield during the previous war as well.”
“Oh, wow. Not bad.”
Zenjirou was honestly surprised at the confession from Ines. He was certainly surprised, but at the same time, he made sense of it. Ines surely had been sent with him this and last time, because she had that kind of backbone.
The attendance in the wilderness would be difficult for a normal waiting maid that had never left the Royal or Inner Palace before.
Ines took the empty goblet out of Zenjirou’s hand and said.
“It seems that you will be staying in this building. I am sure there will be all kind of inconveniences, but please bear with it.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s no problem. I expected this from the beginning.”
Still slumping down in the couch sloppily, Zenjirou answered Ines like that.
The oldest daughter of the Guzzle Family, Lucinda, was going to marry General Puyol. Zenjirou had come all the way to the March of Guzzle to attend their marriage ceremony.
It goes without saying that General Puyol was the guest of honour this time around. Hence the main building of the residence of the feudal lord was used by General Puyol and his relatives as well as the Guzzle Family itself.
So it was inevitable that Zenjirou was placed in the adjacent building, even as royalty. He usually did not need all that much personal space, so the annex building was not bothering him at all.
He had been a bit perplexed, when he found out that the building had no own bath, but they were going to prepare a bathtub for him every day, so he could put up with it. Of course he would refuse to live his life in a house without a bath, but it was no reason to become willful, when he was just staying in it for the period of his visit.
For a while, he just lazed around on the couch, when Ines suddenly called out to him.
“Master Zenjirou. I am sorry to interrupt your rest, but I think it is about time the Guzzle Family will send a messenger to welcome you.
Please compose your clothing a bit. Even casual wear will be alright.”
“Oh, already that late? Got it.”
With these words, Zenjirou reached out for some socks and indoor shoes.
The only maid he had brought along from the Inner Palace on this occasion was Ines. After all, the marriage between the eldest daughter of a feudal lord and a brass hat of the military was a big event, so an unbelievable number of nobles was rushing for the March of Guzzle.
The capital of the March of Guzzle was built to withstand long-time sieges, so it was big enough to accommodate that unbelievable amount of nobles, but it did not change the fact that the guests were putting a large strain on the capacity of their sleeping quarters as well as food provisions.
Because of that, the number of servants they brought along was supposed to be kept to a bare minimum.
Zenjirou fixed his attire and sat down on the couch again, mannerly this time. Before long, the door was knocked.
Three women entered the room. Two of them were obviously past their youth, but the third one was a girl so small that she still looked like a child.
Although they might as well be mother and daughter in age, it was obvious at a glance that the little girl was the important figure of them. For one thing she was standing in the middle, for another thing she alone was wearing different clothes.
The two middle-aged women wore something plain, almost like an uniform, whereas the girl was wearing a dress of clearly superior cloth, even if its design was simple.
She was not a mere messenger, but obviously the daughter of a noble.
(Is she the child of a branch family?)
While this thought crossed Zenjirou’s mind, the girl opened her mouth with an expression stiff from nervousness.
“It- It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Master Zenjirou. My name is Nilda, the second daughter of the Guzzle Family.
My father has asked me to take care of you during your stay here. Please just say the word, if you need anything.”
She must have practiced it beforehand. Despite her nervousness, the little girl, Nilda smoothly delivered her speech without stuttering and then lowered her head politely so that her short ponytail swung around.
“Okay. Then I shall take you up on your offer. By the way, could it be that you are the little sister of Lady Lucinda and Sir Xavier, seeing as you said that you are the second daughter?”
Zenjirou was puzzled by her introduction at heart, but kept his composure on the outside for now as he asked this.
Unaware of these inner thoughts of the Prince Consort, the little girl widened her already large black eyes even further
“Yes, quite so! Although our mothers are different, Lucinda is my older sister and Xavier is my older brother!”
and replied like that in an energetic voice. Judging by her expression seized with pride and joy, she seemed to harbour an honest affection for Lucinda and Xavier.
It was not uncommon that siblings of different mothers were harbouring complicated feelings towards each other in High Society, but that did not seem to be the case for the Guzzle Family.
“Sir Xavier looked after me in Valentia. If the chance arises, I would like to speak to him again.”
“Thank you for your kind words. I will relay it to my brother.”
Nilda smiled even happier as a result of his words.
“Then I already have the first request. Can you arrange a bath for me? I worked up a sweat on the way here and would like to wash it off before dinner.”
“Yes, of course. I shall arrange for it immediately.”
When Zenjirou requested that, the petite girl straightened herself and bowed with a jerk. Then she left the room together with the two middle-aged servants.
Zenjirou remained silent for a while after Nilda and the other two were gone, then called out the name of the waiting maid standing next to him with a stern expression.
“Yes, what is the matter, Master Zenjirou?”
“Her Majesty Aura has briefed me about the important people of the Guzzle Family prior to this. However, a Nilda Guzzle was not amongst them.
Can I assume that Her Majesty purposefully did not tell me about her?”
He was alone with Ines now, but he still kept the attitude and tone of Royalty, so she must have discerned the importance of his question from that.
The faithful maid kept her stern expression, when she immediately shook her head to the question of her master.
“No. I dare to say that is not the case. Her Majesty Aura has no reason to keep her existence from you, even if she is the daughter of a mistress.”
Zenjirou relaxed his shoulders a bit relieved, when Ines answered him flat out.
Aura was his beloved wife, but before that, she was also the Queen of a country, so he did understand that she obviously kept some things from him or schemed some ploys unknown to him, but at the same time, it was obviously not a pleasant feeling to have your wife do that to you.
Hence he immediately felt better, when that possibility was ruled out.
“Then she did not cause this misinformation on purpose. The easiest explanation would be that it ‘slipped her mind to tell me’…”
“Her Majesty is only human, too, after all, so that possibility is not unthinkable, but I would say we can rule it out for now, because Secretary Fabio is with her.”
“Then the only other explanation is that Her Majesty did not know about her, either… Is that even possible? That Her Majesty does not know about a child from an influential feudal lord?”
Zenjirou cocked his head doubtful, whereupon Ines responded with a businesslike tone.
“It is relatively well-known, when an illegitimate child does not get acknowledged. But it also not unheard of that a feudal lord tried to conceal his child from Royalty in the past, either.
But in neither of these cases, they would have made Lady Nilda appear before you like this.
So it would mean that she is abiding by some kind of conspiracy, but for that, Lady Nilda showed no guilt in her eyes and behaved straightforward, even if a bit nervous. And above all, the Guzzle Family is not known for acting underhanded like this, so I believe that possibility is extremely unlikely as well.”
“In the end, this got us nowhere.”
“So it would seem.”
The situation was obviously strange, but the other party was not behaving conspicuous, so their intentions were not perceptible.
Slumping deep into the couch, Zenjirou pondered for a while with his hand against his chin, but in the end, there was only one conclusion he could arrive at.
“I will inform Her Majesty Aura and await her instructions. Until then, we will not stir up this matter any further.”
“Very well. I will prepare everything at once.”
Like always, Zenjirou was going to rely on Aura’s judgment. Ines just lowered her head respectfully.
* * *
Evening of the same day.
After washing off the sweat from the travel in the bathtub, Zenjirou had taken a short nap to relieve his fatigue. Now waiting maid Ines woke him up and informed him about the dinner plans.
“Ehm, in other words, today’s dinner will be an ‘open-air banquet hosted by Princess Freya’ in the garden of this building?”
“Yes. Or more precisely, Princess Freya does want to hold it like that and is awaiting your approval for it.
We still have a lot of the smoked meat of the ‘Meat Dragon’ from the other day left over, so she suggested we share it with everyone. Well, if you are against it, the whole meat will just be gifted to the Guzzle Family.”
“Oh, that meat.”
A few days ago, Princess Freya had killed a wild Meat Dragon along the Salt Road and Zenjirou still had not forgotten about it.
Most of the killed dragon had been consumed for dinner on that very day, but they had smoked the leftovers and put them into the supply cart.
Apparently Princess Freya wanted to host a great banquet with that smoked meat now.
“I do not really mind giving my permission for it, but what are the respective consequences for allowing or refusing it?”
The middle-aged maid smoothly answered the question from her master without pause.
“Well, considering that the banquet shall be held in the garden, you would have to invite Lady Nilda, because she is responsible for this building, as well as some other nobles, too.
And when Princess Freya is the host of such an event with your permission, it will only reinforce their impression that she will be your concubine.
On the other hand, if you were to refuse it, it will give the opposite impression. Namely that you have reservations towards Princess Freya.”
Zenjirou could not help but grimace in reaction to the detailed explanation from the waiting maid.
In short, he would practically be announcing to the guests that he himself was welcoming Princess Freya as his concubine, if he were to accept her request.
He would literally do away with himself with that decision, seeing as he actually did not want to take a concubine.
Then he should just refuse her request. But unfortunately, it was not that simple. Refusing her in turn would be like officially announcing that he did not accept Princess Freya.
Queen Aura herself had officially recognized her concubine matter insofar as allowing her to attend this marriage ceremony as a partner for Zenjirou.
If Zenjirou were to reject Princess Freya in the open now, it would give other people the misunderstanding that the Queen and her Prince Consort had a conflict of opinions.
“Fine. Tell her she has my permission.”
In the end, Zenjirou could only do this, even if he knew that he was putting his own head in the noose.
His own self-interest against the reputation of the Queen. It goes without saying which he ought to prioritize.
His waiting maid lowered her head briefly in light of her master’s response.
“Understood, Master Zenjirou. I will convey it to her.”
With this short reply, Zenjirou stood up from the couch and started to change his clothes.
By now, he had gotten less reluctant to let the maids see him in pyjamas or underwear, so he blatantly took off his blue-striped pyjama and let Ines help him put on the traditional clothes of the Carpa Kingdom.
These clothes were the same as the third official attire he often wore in the Royal Palace, but with less decoration and easier to move in. Zenjirou had gotten used to the traditional clothes lately, so he had faith in himself to put them on by himself, but according to the waiting maids of the Inner Palace, it would turn into a “scandal”, if he were to appear in public after putting them on without their help.
While changing his clothes, he made some small-talk with Ines.
“Are you getting along well with Princess Freya, Master Zenjirou?”
“Hmm. I’m sure we’ve grown pretty close on the way here. After all, we spent several days together in the same carriage. And I don’t really dislike her personality, anyway.”
He was being honest, when he said that.
Her behaviour and choice of words was certainly sophisticated, but Princess Freya did not really beat around the bush like nobility usually did, liked to move around and displayed a variety of expression, so Zenjirou was by no means put off by her.
“Then there should be no problem to accept her as a concubine, right?”
But he firmly shook his head in reaction to the question from Ines.
“These are two different things altogether. The problem is not my feelings towards her, but my fear of disrupting our domestic peace by taking a second wife.”
It would work out, if they were “a happily married couple + a woman on friendly terms with both of them”, but Zenjirou could not envision a bright future, when “two women loved the same man”, no matter how well these two women might actually get along.
He did acknowledged the difference in their culture and moral values in the head, but his heart had a hard time catching up to it.
“It’s really comfortable in the Inner Palace with Aura, Zenkichi and me right now.
I know Princess Freya is a good girl, but to be honest, I’m scared to add her to our harmonic family.”
Ines narrowed her eyes to slits, like being blinded, when Zenjirou gave her his honest opinion.
“You sure love Her Majesty Aura and Prince Carlo-Zen from the bottom of your heart.”
“Ah, well, yeah. Oh, speaking of Zenkichi, you always call him Carlo-Zen.”
Embarrassed by the straight compliment, Zenjirou stammered a bit and quickly changed the topic.
Carlos Zenkichi. In short, Carlo-Zen. In fact, Zenjirou was the only one calling him Zenkichi and about everyone else called him Carlos. Ines was actually one of the very few that referred to him as Carlo-Zen.
Zenjirou had brought up the matter without any ulterior motive. He just had wanted to change the topic, but it was somewhat meaningful for Ines.
“You are right. The title of ‘Princess Carlos’ always reminds me of His late Majesty Carlos II. after all.”
With a distant look in her eyes, Ines uttered melancholic.
“His Majesty Carlos II.? You mean Aura’s predecessor? Now that you mention it, they do have the same name. Ah, but shouldn’t it be ‘His Majesty Carlos’ instead of ‘Prince Carlos’ for him?”
Recalling the knowledge he learned from Lady Octavia, Zenjirou asked this, whereupon Ines shook her head a bit, the distant look still in her eyes.
“Yes, you are right. But His Majesty had only assumed the throne for less than a year. I was always calling him ‘Prince Carlos’, back then when I served him.”
“Say what!? You have served the late king?”
He widened his eyes in surprise, but it was actually only normal that she did.
Ines was ten years older than Aura, so it was not all that surprising that she had served a different master before Aura.
“Yes. That is why I cannot help but recall His Late Majesty, when I hear the title ‘Prince Carlos’, so I would rather use the address of ‘Prince Carlo-Zen’. If you have a problem with it, I can correct myself, though?”
She asked him that, but Zenjirou shook his head with a smile.
“No, keep it up. I was just curious about it.”
No matter what she called him, it was beyond all question that Ines treated his son with respect and affection, so there was no need to stick at such trifles.
She must have noticed the faith he put in her.
“Thank you very much, Master Zenjirou. Okay, we are done now.”
After helping him dress up, Ines showed a warm smile and lowered her head a bit.
* * *
For High Society, it was nothing special to host a banquet in the garden, so the yard of the annex building in the residence of the Guzzle Family had all the necessary equipment as well.
Well, it was just a well for washing the ingredients, a counter for preparing the food and a stone hearth for cooking, but it was enough to do some simple cooking like a barbeque without problems.
The roasting meat and vegetables gave off an aromatic smell while the fire illuminated the smiling face of Princess Freya, which Zenjirou was observing from a bit apart.
“Okay, it looks done. I will slice it up, so please give me a moment.”
Princess Freya truly seemed to enjoy herself in the role of the head chef. With a smile on her face the whole time, she moved around busily while her short silver hair was dyed red by the fire.
She was supposed to be true-blood royalty, but her bright smile as she sliced the meat was genuine without doubt.
(Maybe she likes cooking?)
A large silhouette approached Zenjirou while he harboured that thought.
“Your Majesty Zenjirou, if you would like, please take this.”
He was offered a silver plate with a meat and vegetable skewer by a woman so tall he had too look up to her. It was Victoria Kronkvist alias Skathi.
“Oh, Miss Victoria. Thanks.”
Zenjirou took the skewer from the plate the trusted retainer of Princess Freya held out to him and thanked her while holding up the skewer.
“No, I should be thanking you, Your Majesty.
Thank you very much for allowing the Milady to host this banquet tonight.
I am expressing the greatest gratitude in place of my master.”
The female warrior solemnly lowered her head with these words, whereas Zenjirou cocked his head puzzled with the skewer still in hand.
By allowing her to host this banquet, Zenjirou had taken another step forward to accepting Princess Freya as his concubine, but he got the feeling that Skathi was not thanking him for that reason.
“…I am not familiar with the culture of the North Continent, but does an open-air banquet happen to have some kind of special meaning to it there?”
Zenjirou wondered, if he had been deceived, so he automatically asked this with a somewhat stiff voice, but the tall woman shook her head unintimidated.
“No, Your Majesty. You have nothing to fear from it.
But it is indeed somewhat special. You see, the Milady has always dreamed of hosting an official banquet with the prey she had finished off herself.
In our country, only ‘warriors’ are giving that privilege.”
He more or less discerned what Skathi was getting at. After taking a bite from the skewer and chewing it thoroughly, he opened his mouth.
“…That means Princess Freya is not a warrior? Our soldiers were praising her spearmanship, when she finished off the Meat Dragon, though.”
In the Carpa Kingdom, women could never become warriors, but it should be different for their motherland, the Uppsala Kingdom. After all Skathi, the woman in front of him, had proclaimed to be a “warrior” herself.
She must have realized why Zenjirou asked that.
Skathi shook her head with a small smile.
“Milady certainly does have the minimum fitness to fight. But a woman cannot become a ‘warrior’ with that.
For a woman to become a warrior, she needs to be at least as strong as a ‘Hundra’, which is three ranks above her current level.”
Even in the Uppsala Kingdom, the men generally took up the arms. So when a woman was only as strong as an average man, she was obliged to fulfil her role as a woman instead.
Their reasoning was that any other man could take her place, but only a woman could give birth, so she ought to fulfil that duty.
But precious few women were born with a talent for martial arts so great that it would be “a waste to force them into the role of a woman”.
Only women, who outperformed an average man by far, were allowed to become “warriors”, because their martial art skills were more profitable to the country or tribe than motherhood.
The female warriors of the Uppsala Kingdom literally had to be mannish women and more mannish than your average guy, at that.
Zenjirou was convinced by that explanation.
It was not hard to imagine how much Princess Freya yearned for the title for a “warrior”, seeing as she was not content with getting stereotyped.
So it was most understandable that she could not rein in her excitement for putting on a banquet with the prey she had finished herself, a privilege that was usually only given to warriors.
Zenjirou sat down on a trimmed tree stump and looked around.
The banquet resembled the outdoor camping event from his middle school days, but most of the participants here were the soldiers that had guarded him up till now.
Because this event was held in appreciation for the hard work of the soldiers, only a handful of nobility from rear vassals of the Guzzle Family had been invited in addition to Nilda Guzzle, the nominal caretaker of this annex building.
Everyone was busy preparing for the coming marriage ceremony, so it would nothing but trouble, if Royalty were to throw a big party here.
Thanks to that, Zenjirou did not have to deal with troublesome conversations. Something he was very glad about.
“I cordially thank you for inviting me today, Master Zenjirou.”
While he was making himself comfortable on the stump, a little girl approached him: Nilda Guzzle.
With her large black eyes beaming out on him, Nilda took hold of her skirt and did a curtsy.
“Well, it is not my party, but Princess Freya’s, though. The dish comes from a Meat Dragon she killed herself, too. I hope it suits your taste.”
“Yes, she was kind enough to share some with me earlier. It is really delicious.”
The common tinge of flattery was absent in her bright smile, when she answered like that.
The skewer of smoked meat seasoned with spices and salt was actually a rather plain dish, but she was eating it with relish.
“Princess Freya sure is courageous for finishing off a wild Meat Dragon with a spear. I have seen a wild dragon once, when I was still living in the village, but I cannot even imagine going up against one. My legs would give in just from standing in front of it.”
Nilda shivered with fright, whereupon Zenjirou smiled vaguely.
“You lived in a village?”
“Yes. I was born and raised there by my mother. My father Marquis Guzzle found me, when I was nine, and acknowledged me as someone from the Guzzle Family.”
In other words, the feudal lord had laid hands on a female subject, making an illegitimate child without intending to.
That sounded like a difficult upbringing, if it was really true, but with that said, her expression was not tainted with sadness in the least.
(Maybe she was born with a carefree nature? Or did she have really kind people around her in both households?)
Completely unaware of his thoughts, Nilda kept on talking with an amiable bright smile.
“So I do have taken care of domestic Meat Dragons or Hulking Dragons before, but docile dragons are still plenty scary.
To think that she stood up against a wild dragon. I really respect that.”
Her big eyes gleamed with respect, just like she had said.
At some point, the girl had all forgotten about her nervousness and reservation, talking to him most affable. Zenjirou gave her a wry smile and carefully picked his words to caution her.
“Yes, Princess Freya certainly is formidable. But you know, Nilda, it would be better, if you refrained from speaking so openly, even if it is meant as praise.
A lot of people in High Society tend to be offended by it and sometimes it can even cause a dispute.”
“Yes, Master Zenjirou. I will take it to heart from now on. Thank you very much for your advisement.”
Nilda looked bashfully at the ground as a result of his warning, exactly the kind of frankness Zenjirou literally had cautioned her about a moment ago.
(At the very least, there’s no doubt that she isn’t a natural-born noble.)
He came to that conclusion, when he looked at her ever-changing expressions.
On a closer look, Nilda appeared a bit awkward in her behaviour and choice of words.
That was surely the result of “deliberately putting her mind on“ acting like nobility, just like Zenjirou did it.
(It does worry me. She’s a bit too unmindful and friendly. I mean, she IS nobility after all.)
At the beginning, Nilda had been nervous and reserved, but she had opened up at the open-air banquet in no time, just like a little puppy to its owner.
(If that’s all part of their scheme, I tip my hat to the Guzzle Family, but Ines said they aren’t really like that.)
The reason Zenjirou was thinking about the Guzzle Family along these lines was because the girl named Nilda quickly made a favourable impression on him.
The girl did not harbour fear or wariness towards Royalty or Nobility, even though she had been adopted into a noble family at a young age. It suggested the assumption that the Guzzle Family had not treated her badly.
Zenjirou was actually quite fond of people with such rich expressions. Props to them, if that was what they were after.
“Master Zenjirou, is the Royal Capital really that big? I have heard that the Royal Palace is supposed to be quite a sight to be see, but I cannot quite envision it. Would you be so kind to tell me about it?”
“Well, I rarely ever leave the Royal or Inner Palace, so my opinion is pretty biased, but I believe it is quite beautiful.
The buildings are uniformly built with white stones and look sturdy, but also stylish. The gardens are affectionally maintained as well, growing beautiful flowers and trees, and the fountains or ponds have water as clear as crystal. A few ponds even have fishes in them to look at.
Its surface sparkles goldfish yellow, because of the golden fishes and clear water. Definitely well worth seeing.”
“Oh, wow. Fantastic! I would like to go there and see it!”
The Royal and Inner Palace were practically “his home” now, so he was happy, but also a bit bashful to see the outright admiration in her eyes.
“You have never gone to the Capital before? The Guzzle Family does have a residence there, no?”
“My family seems to have always attached more importance to its own territory, so only a bare minimum of personnel stays in the Capital. And I am still a minor, so I seldom if ever leave this place.
Ah, but I am pretty sure that I will be brought to the Capital once I turn fifteen!”
“I see. Unfortunately, I cannot show you around town in my position, but what I can do is show you around the palace, when you come by.”
It was extremely rare that Zenjirou made such a promise of his own accord. He seemed to have let his guard down a bit around the open-hearted Nilda.
“Yes, I am looking forward to it.”
Nilda answered him with a bright smile.
As the host, Princess Freya had been busy sharing the food with everyone, but she more or less finished exchanging pleasantries and had some time for herself now.
“You did well, Princess Freya. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.”
Zenjirou stood up and greeted Princess Freya, who approached him with a satisfied smile.
“Thank you, Your Majesty Zenjirou. May I sit down next to you?”
The silver-haired princess took a silver goblet with fruit wine from the tray waiting maid Ines offered her, had a taste of it and asked him that with a dazzling smile.
Zenjirou could not help but show his bewilderment.
He was currently sitting on nothing extravagant like a bench, but a mere “stump of a tree”. Needless to say, her question was not referring to another seat next to him, but whether she was allowed to sit down on the same stump.
It was quite the bold proposal, but it would not make a good impression, if he were to refuse her.
With a smile, Zenjirou took off the vest he had been wearing and covered the stump with it.
“Yes, of course, Princess Freya. Please have a seat.”
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty.”
Although the stump was relatively big, with two people on it, they were sitting close enough to feel each other’s body warmth.
The hem of her dress was even touching his foot. Zenjirou might as well put his arm around her waist to make this proximity more comfortable.
A man and a woman were sitting together on a single stump of a tree in a garden at night.
The flame of the fire bathed the silver hair and pale-white skin of Princess Freya in a reddish light.
Zenjirou was entranced by her without meaning to. The silver-haired princess cocked her head a bit as she smiled at him.
“Allow me to express my gratitude once more, Your Majesty. A dream of mine has come true thanks to you.”
Her illuminated smile was not the kind of superficial smile nobility always used, but one that revealed her honest feelings.
“I am glad to be of help. The customs of your homeland do not apply here on the South Continent, so I believe you may act as you see fit.”
“So Skathi told you. It is a bit embarrassing to have your childhood dream exposed. But I was really happy.
Hunting a dragon with my own hands and hosting a feast for the soldiers somehow makes me feel like an hero of old.”
On the South Continent, dragons were nothing but livestock, but on the North Continent, they were the stuff of legends. Creatures you only found, when you ventured deep into the uninhabited mountains.
It definitely was somewhat heroic to slay one of these with your own hands and prepare a feast with it.
Zenjirou neither had the guts, nor the skills to do something like that, so he did not even think about trying it, but he did understand her admiration for that kind of thing.
“I admire your courage and zest for action. That strong heart of yours surely has enabled you to make the long voyage between our countries.”
“Fufu. According to my brother back home, I am merely reckless and restless. I was just trying my best in my own way, though.
I practiced the bow as well as the spear and learned how to camp outside. For sea travel, I even memorized the sailor’s knot and the handling of a corded ladder. On top of that, I learned the necessary magic for long-distance sea-travels such as ‘Water Manipulation’ and ‘Drinking Water Treatment’.
None of these skills will help me get married in the future. On the contrary, they will be a burden.”
“But you are now here, precisely because of these efforts. In my opinion, every knowledge and skill you gain will be an asset for life.”
Zenjirou did utter these words as a praise, but at the same time, they came from the heart.
The Carpa Kingdom was even more set on enforcing the gender roles than the Uppsala Kingdom, the home country of Princess Freya, but Zenjirou was married to Queen Aura, an exception to the exception, so he barely had adopted the common sense of this country.
According to his moral values, learning seafaring or even a little bit of martial arts was a legit virtue.
To begin with, he would have never fallen for Aura, if he had deemed martial arts or vigour unnecessary for a woman.
Princess Freya must have noticed that his words were more than just simple fair-seeming.
“Thank you, Your Majesty. Shameful as it may be, I do like running around in the wildness with my spear or crossing the vast ocean in a boat.
I am well aware that I am going against all common sense, so I do not blame anyone for frowning upon my behaviour or reprimanding me for it.
But nothing could make me happier, when someone actually accepts what I like to do with a passion.”
“Haha, it makes me feel embarrassed, when you are this happy about it. But I did mean what I said earlier.”
The man from a different world and the girl from the North Continent had all forgotten about the fact that they were sitting so close to each other that their feet were touching, and were happily engulfed in their chit-chat.
* * *
It was obvious that the open-air banquet was coming to an end. The meat and vegetables were all eaten up, the empty barrels of alcohol were multiplying and the fire was starting to burn out. Anyone could tell that the party was nearing its end.
The earlier loud laughter and tone-deaf songs died down and only some hushed conversations remained. At this point in time,
The sound of a large bell suddenly resonated through the dark night.
Zenjirou immediately stood up from the stump and consulted the waiting maid standing at attention behind him, but Ines shook her head with a composed look.
“It seems to be coming from the main building, but I do not know why. However, I believe it is not an emergency, seeing as Lady Nilda is not reacting to it.”
His gaze automatically shifted to Nilda and she certainly did not seem surprised by it, nor did look the least bit worried or frightened.
When Nilda noticed his gaze, she stood up with a jerk and came trotting over to him.
“My apologies, Master Zenjirou. I did forget to inform you about this. The bell just know only signalizes that a guest has arrived at the main gate.
You there, please go over to the main building for more information.”
Upon her order, one of the soldiers on watch went off.
“A guest this late at night?”
Zenjirou could not help but cock his head puzzled.
Right now, nobility from all across the country were coming together in the March of Guzzle for the marriage ceremony, so a guest itself was nothing out of the ordinary. But it was strange that one would arrive at such an hour. It goes without saying that travelling at night was quite dangerous in various ways.
They were not pressed for time, since the marriage ceremony was not going to be held tomorrow or anything, so they would normally not push their luck and rather spent one more night in a suitable place, arriving here first thing in the morning instead.
While Zenjirou was mulling over this, the soldier came back from the main building.
Even amidst this darkness, you could tell from afar that the soldier was rushing over as fast as he could. He then reported with a loud voice.
“Reporting in! Just now, the delegation from the ‘Navarre Kingdom’ has arrived!”
“The Navarre Kingdom?”
As the name sounded familiar to him, Zenjirou recalled the necessary information in his head.
The Navarre Kingdom was a middle power situated in the middle west of the South Continent. It bordered on the Carpa Kingdom with a steep mountain range in-between them as a buffer. And that very border area happened to be the March of Guzzle.
In other words, they were practically neighbours, if not for that mountain.
It seemed somewhat odd that a neighbouring country would send a delegation to the marriage ceremony of local nobility, but it was not really unusual for a feudal state.
The feudal lords in the borderlands were given a certain level of freedom in regards to independent contact with bordering countries.
As soon as he remembered that, Zenjirou could get his head around their arrival.
“Oh, I see. If they are coming from the Navarre Kingdom, it makes sense that they travelled through the night to arrive by today.”
The mountain range between the March of Guzzle and the Navarre Kingdom was quite dangerous in terms of terrain and dragons living there.
It certainly was true that the risk of travelling at night was lower than staying an additional night in such a dangerous place.
Because he remembered these circumstances, Zenjirou accepted the situation and the soldier, still out of breath, continued his report.
“Moreover, the delegation of the Navarre Kingdom is headed by General Martín Nadal!”
The reaction to that name was dramatic.
Before, the garden had become so silent you could have heard a water drop hit the ground, but in the next moment, amazed outcries echoed through the night.
“Th- That General Martín!?”
“No way! Who’s protecting their country then!?”
“It shows how serious they take the liaison between the Guzzle Family and General Puyol.”
Be it the soldiers Zenjirou had brought along from the Royal Capital, the soldiers from the March of Guzzle or even the rear vassals of the Guzzle Family, no one could keep their surprise and excitement in check, saying whatever they wanted.
The only exceptions were Princess Freya and Skathi, since they had never heard of the name of General Martín and just cocked their heads puzzled, and waiting maid Ines, who never broke her calm mask.
Looking around, Zenjirou relied on Ines for information.
“Ines, who is General Martín?”
“Yes. Martín Nadal is the most prominent general in the Navarre Kingdom.
He emerged from the previous war as the hero with a lot of achievements and it is said that most of the credit for surviving the war belongs to him, considering the Navarre Kingdom is by no means a major power.”
She must have expected his question. The middle-aged waiting maid calmly answered him in a business-like tone.
Zenjirou widened his eyes surprised, when the evaluation turned out even better than he had expected.
“In short, he has the same standing as General Puyol in our country?”
His question was met with immediate approval from the middle-aged maid.
“Indeed. General Martín is on par with General Puyol.”
Something about her phrasing bothered Zenjirou. She had not used the phrasing “is said to be on par”, nor the phrasing “is considered to be on par”.
He was bewildered that she had called him his literal equal with all certainty. Ines amplified her explanation as though clearing up his confusion.
“More precisely, he is the very person that inflicted the wounds that General Puyol has on his cheek and forehead.”
The guest had an unbelievably meaningful connection to the groom, so Zenjirou bid adieu to his wishful thinking that this marriage ceremony would end without trouble.
Chapter 02: The Marriage Ceremony
General Martín Nadal was a man in the prime of his life, a little bit over forty.
Also known as the Guardian Deity of the Navarre Kingdom, this man looked exactly like what you would expect from his title.
One-hundred and ninety centimetre tall and over hundred kilogram heavy.
He was one head shorter than the almost two metre tall General Puyol, but surpassed him in body width. Needless to say, that did not mean that he was fat.
His body was a stronghold of trained muscles to the point that it did not show his age of over forty years at all.
Despite his massive boar-like build, he moved around smoothly like a feline predator.
General Martín was sitting on a chair in one room of the building the Guzzle Family had allocated to him, and cracked a wry smile.
“Oh man, have got to give the Carpa Kingdom credit. Or should I say, the Guzzle Family, in this case? Either way, they are not to be underestimated.”
When the hero of their country uttered this almost fearfully, the young knight standing at attention behind him gave a nervous response.
“Could you explain what you mean by that, General Martín? The Carpa Kingdom always had more fighting power than our country.”
“Hm, you don’t understand? Look at this chair and desk. The chair doesn’t even bulge under my weight and is quite comfortable. The desk has the right height, too.
And they immediately brought me to this room, when I arrived, without having to wait.”
Being told that much, the young knight came to understand what the general was implying as well.
“…In other words, word got out somewhere that you will be attending this marriage ceremony as our representative?”
The general was one-hundred and ninety centimetre tall and weighted over a hundred kilogram, so a normal chair and desk would obviously not meet his needs. The chair would squeak alarmingly, if he sat down rashly, or it could turn into a catastrophe, when he sat down in a chair with armrests, because his firm bottom did not fit in.
But nothing of the sort happened with the chair he currently sat in. It was a simple wooden chair without decorations, but easily supported the hundred kilogram of the general and was a perfect fit for him in terms of height and width.
“Well, I’m not sure about an information leak. I think they just anticipated it. After all, my connection to General Puyol is rather well-known.”
Saying this, General Martín unconsciously put his right hand on his breastbone and scratched his old wound over the clothes.
General Puyol had given him that wound in the previous war.
Not really the type to dwell on things, General Martín still could not help but pay attention to General Puyol, though.
“Did he arrange this? Maybe not. This is the land of his bride. Not even General Puyol has that much to say here, yet.
The only other logical explanation is that the Guzzle Family arranged it. But I can’t see the Marquis being so considerate. Does he have a smart adviser…?”
The giant general lost himself deeply in thought, but was brought back to reality by the gaze of the young knight in the corner of the eye.
“Hmm, what’s up?”
The young knight had been staring at one corner of the table for a while now.
His gaze went to a small rectangle box. It contained cinnamon sugar hardened in stick form.
It was an unnecessary provision for General Martín, since he hated sweets, but the young knight had a weak spot for it despite his virile appearance, so he could not ignore it.
“Ah, no, it is nothing.”
The young knight deliberately averted his gaze from it with a cough, whereupon General Martín smiled wryly.
“You sure love sweets.”
“…Something wrong with that?”
Turning a bit red in the face from shame, the young knight puckered his lips.
“Not per se. But I do hate them.”
“I do like them.”
“Yes and that’s the problem. Why do you think these are left here, when I hate them, but you like them?”
For a moment, the young knight was at a loss for words, when the general pointed it out.
Seeing the knight turn pale in the face, General Martín smiled sympathetic and called the things as they were.
“That’s right. Not many men like sweet things like that. I can‘t be dead certain, but I say it’s quite likely these are for you, Cristiano Pinto.”
The hero of the previous war called the young knight by his name.
“It goes without saying for a person with a standing like you, General, but why would they be aware of an obscure guy like myself?”
“Oh, come on, Cris. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Any person with a spark of intelligence would obviously keep the name Cristiano Pinto in mind.”
General Martín was by no means lying, when he said that.
Not even twenty years old yet, Cristiano was still young, but he had already risen to the envious position of a Knight Captain affiliated to the general. One reason for that was his ancestry: He was the oldest son of the famous Pinto Family, which had inherited the royal blood quite strongly. But the bigger reason was his own martial skills.
The general was not so shallow as to pick him based on the right pedigree alone. To begin with, General Martín had worked his way up from nothing, so he valued actions over words and thought little of lineage.
With these views, General Martín had pinned his hopes on Cristiano Pinto as the “next protector of the country”.
Nevertheless, it was a fact that it needed a really perceptive person to take notice of him from a different country at this point of time.
“A large territory does not make a major power, neither does a large population. Maintaining that large territory and large population by employing the right personnel is what makes a nation a major power.
Never forget that.”
“Sir, yes, Sir.”
The general and his protégée from the Navarre Kingdom called the caution against major powers, the Carpa Kingdom in particular, to mind once again.
* * *
Around the same time, the people from the Guzzle Family were extremely busy with preparing for the marriage ceremony and greeting the arriving guests in the main building.
That was nothing out of the ordinary by itself. The marriage between influential nobles was such a big event after all.
“Lady Lucinda, the adjustments to your wedding dress have been finished. Please try it on now.”
“I understand. Wait for me in the room next door. I will come over as soon as I am done here.”
“Lady Lucinda, Master Zenjirou and his group have had dinner and Miss Nilda reported that there were no problems.”
“Good. Tell Nilda to drop by my room before going to bed. I want to hear the report from herself, just to be sure.”
“Lady Lucinda, we have ushered the delegation from the Navarre Kingdom to their rooms. They have not expressed any displeasure for now.”
“Glad to hear that. Of course we cannot privilege a certain group, but it would become an international affair, if something were to happen with them, so please be extra careful, when dealing with them.”
The only abnormality here was the fact that Lucinda Guzzle, the bride-to-be herself, was managing the versatile planning in its entirety.
She had always been in charge of the territory, because the Marquis was generally working in the capital, but her duties did not even change on this special occasion.
Lucinda Guzzle was still unmarried at twenty-six, even though the etiquette in the Carpa Kingdom considered it to be already too late, when you had not married before twenty. Normally that would mean that she was unattractive or quick-tempered, but in actual fact, that was not the case with her.
Her facial features were admittedly plain, because of an inconspicuous small nose and mouth, but did not prevent her to be called a “spruce beauty” by some and there were no problems with her personality, either, seeing as the servants of the March trusted in her.
If anything, her zeal for running the business of the March despite being a woman, was somewhat contradicting the common sense of the Carpa Kingdom, but Lucinda always emphasised that she was just “filling in for her father until her little brother was old enough to take over”.
She was not the kind of unorthodox woman, who cleverly wielded the highest authority in the country despite being a woman such as Queen Aura or unashamedly risked her life on sea travel like Princess Freya.
To begin with, she only missed her timing to get married, because her nubile years happened to overlap with the previous war. In place of her father, who was out on the battlefield, Lucinda had to take care of the territory and her little brother, leaving her no time to think about marriage. These reasons had been completely beyond her control, so she was different from the usual “marriage failures”.
Once she had listened to all the reports from the servants, Lucinda turned to the table and looked through the documents with a cool-headedness that made you question whether she really was a noble daughter on the brink of marriage.
“As expected, the Navarre Kingdom sent General Martín as their representative. I did not foresee that Knight Captain Cris would accompany him, though.
I hope the sugar snacks were prepared in time?”
“Yes, we put them in the room before letting them in.”
“Well done. Thanks.”
Everything had been done on behalf of her. The right furniture was prepared for General Martín, because Lucinda had anticipated him as the messenger from the Navarre Kingdom, and the sugar snacks were served at such short notice, because she had acquired the information that Knight Captain Cris liked sweets.
As a proxy for her father working in the capital, but de facto leader of the March, Lucinda had paid special attention to the neighbouring Navarre Kingdom across the mountain and gathered all kind of information.
For the Carpa Kingdom as a whole, the Navarre Kingdom was nothing but a small middle power not worth their attention, but the neighbouring country posed enough of a threat to the independent March of Guzzle.
Hence Lucinda was as cautious about the Navarre Kingdom as General Martín was about the Carpa Kingdom.
“I have heard that General Martín is a lot more perceptive than his militant appearance lets on. He must have noticed the meaning behind the special furniture and snacks.
I just hope the feint will work.”
Lucinda mumbled and put the dragon bone quill in her right hand back into its stand.
In fact, General Martín had figured out that the matching furniture for him and the favourite snack for Knight Captain Cris had been a message from Lucinda.
A message that read: “I know all this about your activities.”
Lucinda was going to get married, which meant that the March of Guzzle would lose her as its representative.
Of course she had immediately started with the preparations for her succession as soon as her marriage was set in stone.
Her little brother Xavier, the next head of the family, and the mayordomo rear vassal were taught the necessary work and were introduced to as many spokesmen of their subjects as possible, passing on the information network she had build up till today.
But these were nothing but rough-and-ready measures in the end. Nothing could be done about it, though, since her marriage came on an extremely short notice, even by higher nobility’s standards.
Once Lucinda was gone, the March would more or less be thrown into turmoil, so she had wanted to send a warning to the neighbouring country not to take advantage of that turmoil.
“At any rate, I really come to appreciate the consideration from Master Zenjirou in this situation. I have to properly express my gratitude later on.”
The consideration was referring to his following words: “I am looking forward to seeing the newlywed couple on the day of the marriage ceremony.”
In other words, he had declared that they did not need to entertain him until the day of the marriage ceremony. Thanks to that, the Guzzle Family could give Royalty, originally the most high-maintenance guest, a short shrift by just assigning a bare minimum of servants to the annex building.
If not for his consideration, Zenjirou would have come to greet the Marquis in advance and congratulated the bride as soon as possible as Royalty. In that case, the Guzzle Family would have been overwhelmed with obligations by now.
Lucinda felt a shiver ran down her spine in light of that scary imagination. In the meantime, the door was opened and closed with a clatter.
“Excuse me, Sister. I have just returned from doing my rounds in the city.”
These words were uttered by the next head of the Guzzle Family: Xavier Guzzle.
Just like he had claimed, he had been patrolling the city and was still wearing his leather armour and longsword at this late hour.
“Well done, Xavier. Has the city been quiet?”
Lucinda thanked her little brother for his efforts with a warm smile and signalized the servant next to her to pour him some cold tea.
The siblings then sat down across each other on the couches.
“Yes, it has. Nothing worth mentioning has taken place. The people are all celebrating your wedding from the bottom of their hearts.”
Sitting on the couch, Xavier reported proudly while throwing out his chest.
He had lost his mother had at an early age, so Lucinda was more like a mother, who raised him, than an older sister to him.
No one was more happy about her marriage, delayed by unfortunate circumstances, than him.
Lucinda giggled embarrassed to herself, when she saw the joy in the eyes of her little brother as though it was his own wedding.
“Is that so. I am glad to hear that. So no one is picking any fights, because they are drunk?”
Maybe in order to hide her embarrassment, she quickly talked business.
Xavier looked a bit troubled and averted his eyes, when she pointed that out.
“Actually, a lot of that is happening. Should I have banned the alcohol instead?”
“No. It would be tasteless to celebrate the marriage without alcohol. Just continue to take those into custody, who cause a ruckus.
But please keep in mind to not let anyone without permission near the residence until the ceremony is over. We cannot risk a strife with another noble family.”
“Yes, I understand, Sister.”
The older sister gave instructions and the little brother accepted them as a matter of course. Considering that he was going to be the next family head, that hierarchy was not quite favourable.
“…I was anxious about leaving home after my sudden marriage, but it actually might be better that way. If I were to stay here any longer, I think I would cause more problems than I can solve.”
“Hmm? Did you say something?”
“No, just talking to myself.”
Lucinda brushed it off like that while heaving a sigh at heart.
If she were to remain in the March while Xavier succeeded the position of the family head, it would undoubtedly disrupt the balance of power.
At the very least, the rear vassals and influential citizens would rather trust Lucinda than Xavier in domestic affairs, and above all else, Xavier himself was too fixated on his elder sister.
In the worst case, the March might even split into two opposing camps, when she remained here unmarried and could not get along with any future sister-in-law Xavier might take in.
So Lucinda was of the opinion that her marriage was already worth it, even if avoiding that future was the only good thing that came out of it.
While she was on these train of thoughts, she might as well give her little brother a final lecture.
“Xavier, I will marry General Puyol in a few days and leave the March afterwards.”
“Of course. Congratulations on getting married, Sister!”
Lucinda gave her teary-eyes little brother a wry look.
“Thanks, dear. Anyway, this will be the last time I can give you an heartfelt piece of advice with only your wellbeing in mind, so please listen well.”
After that prelude, she wiped her usual warm smile off her face and showed a stern expression.
Xavier instinctively sat up straight and rested his clenched fists on his lap. A saying claims that the child is the father of man and in accordance with that, Xavier fundamentally could not go against his elder sister, who had raised him in place of a mother.
“Once I am the wife of General Puyol, you may not blindly trust me like before anymore.”
While the little brother was at a loss for words, the older sister overwhelmed him with further explanations.
“As soon as I marry him, I will have left the Guzzle Family and be a part of the Guillén Family. From then on, my first priority will be the Guillén Family. The Guzzle Family only comes in second.
I will belong to a different family and you do not blindly trust someone like that.”
Xavier was baffled, but Lucinda was only stating a fact.
Nobility valued their house, so it was only natural that they took the view that you had to put the family you married into above all and adopted their customs.
Needless to say, that opinion was more of an idealism, if anything, and hardly anyone put it into practice to such an extent.
In fact, the majority of people still considered themselves a member of their parental home at heart, even if they married into a new family.
The best example for that would be the little sister of General Puyol: Fatima Guillén. She really loved her older brother and valuated him above all things, so it was hard to imagine that she would suddenly prioritize her new family over him, when she got married at some point.
However, that general rule did not apply to the woman called Lucinda Guzzle.
She had naturally accepted that she, as a noble daughter, would devote her everything to her new family henceforth, now that she had been asked for her hand in marriage. The aforementioned idealism was embodied by her to an inhumane level.
“Are you saying you will become my political opponent from now on, Sister?”
Her little brother turned pale in the face, whereupon Lucinda realized that her explanation had been a bit lacking.
She deliberately softened her expression and cleared up the doubt of her brother with her usual kind voice.
“Not at all. I did not mean it in such a radical way. To begin with, our two families were never on such bad terms to call us enemies and my marriage will actually stabilize our relationship even further.
In reality, I doubt that I will ever be able to bring harm to the Guzzle Family or you, Xavier.”
“I- I know, right!”
Crying in one moment, smiling in the next. Her little brother changed expressions at his own convenience, whereas the older sister smiled back at him troubled.
“Marriage is a kind of contract for nobility. From now on, I have to bear the profit for the Guillén Family in mind, but as long as it does not harm the Guillén Family, I will obviously be allowed to bear a profit for the Guzzle Family in mind as well.”
Forget all about your parental home once you marry.
That would be way too disadvantageous for the family providing the bride. Hence the bride was allowed to draw a profit for her parental home as long as it did not affect her new family adversely.
Xavier listened to her explanation with a meek look.
“Considering the current standings of the Guillén and Guzzle Family in the Carpa Kingdom, I dare to say that it will be quite unlikely that the Guillén Family will cause harm to the Guzzle Family.
But the future is not set in stone. If one day, the interests of both families were to completely contrast each other, then I will bring harm to the Guzzle Family in order to make a profit for the Guillén Family.
I just want you to bear that possibility in mind, okay?”
“…Okay, I understand, Sister.”
Looking meek, the little brother answered with a nod to the warning of his older sister before she was going to marry into a different family.
* * *
A few days later.
The day of the ceremony arrived without any incidents.
They were holding the marriage ceremony in the banquet hall in the main building of the Guzzle residence.
It was not as pompous as the “Room of the Dragon King”, where Zenjirou and Aura had held their wedding, but it was almost as big.
The large hall was filled with numerous round tables and the invited nobles sat on chairs in a circle around them.
Needless to say, Zenjirou was one of them. With him at the same table sat his partner Princess Freya and her trusted retainer Skathi as well as his bodyguard, the Knight Natalio.
Ines stood at attention behind him in her usual maid clothes.
A marriage ceremony in the Carpa Kingdom was not all that starchy, so the guests casually enjoyed some chitchat with some drinks until the bridal couple made their entrance.
“So this is a marriage ceremony on the South Continent. I see that it is not all that different from ours.”
Lowering the silver goblet with fruit juice from her mouth, Princess Freya started talking to Zenjirou next to her with a lovely smile playing on her lips.
“Oh, is that so. I’m not all that familiar with the culture on the South Continent, either, but I’ve heard that they used to sit on a soft carpet during the ceremony in the past.
It might be the influence of the North Continent that all the guests are sitting on chairs at tables now.”
“That is quite plausible. I would like to thank my ancestors for it then.”
Zenjirou realized what she was implying, so he casually asked with a playful tone.
“Oh my, you are uncomfortable with sitting on a carpet?”
“Yes, I am afraid so.”
Princess Freya looked down a bit embarrassed, when she was exposed.
Although the culture of sitting down on a carpet was a thing of the past on the South Continent, it had not entirely vanished yet. Some traditional events still required you to sit cross-legged on top of a carpet and some tradition-conscious noble houses were refraining from setting up chairs and tables in the dining room to this day, setting and eating the dishes from atop the carpet instead.
Due to that, the nobility in the Carpa Kingdom was more or less used to sitting on a carpet, but Princess Freya was nobility hailing from the North Continent, so she could not come to like that custom.
On the other hand, Zenjirou was pretty much okay with the custom, too. Modern Japan was certainly seeing more and more appearances of chairs and tables, but there were still plenty occasions to sit cross-legged on the ground like in a room with Tatami mats.
Thanks to that, Zenjirou did not suffer as much during traditional events without chairs and tables.
(Won’t she have more troubles like that, when she actually becomes my concubine?)
Zenjirou was worried like that, but the only way to find out would be to directly ask her.
But if he were to tell her that he was worried about her life as a concubine, he would practically admit to accepting her as a concubine.
At the present time, everything was pointing to Princess Freya becoming his concubine. It was probably already impossible for him to avert that development by his own effort, but even then, there was no reason for him to speed up that process, either.
While Zenjirou pondered about that, the stroke of a large gong rang out and echoed through the hall.
“Looks like it is time.”
The gong attracted the attention from all the chit-chatting guests and today’s centrepiece, the bridal couple made their appearance.
The first to show up was the groom, Puyol Guillén.
Wearing his full dress uniform, the giant general imposingly strode over the red carpet while the decorative bronze sword hung from his waist.
It was typically of him to wear the military uniform instead of the traditional attire of the Carpa Kingdom at his wedding ceremony. As a matter of fact, an uniform suited him the best anyway.
Close to two metre tall and a hundred kilogram heavy, the steeled soldier wore the extravagant military uniform decorated with gold threads like a second skin. He personified the common image of a “General of the Army” par for par.
After him followed a woman in her late twenties wearing a white long dress.
Zenjirou was seeing her for the first time, but there was no question about it that she was the bride, Lucinda Guzzle.
According to the proper etiquette, she followed a step behind by the side of her preceding groom.
Aura and Zenjirou had walked alongside one another, when they had gotten married as the Queen and Prince Consort, but that had been an extremely rare exception to the exception.
Normally, the bride followed diagonally behind the groom at a marriage ceremony in the Carpa Kingdom.
The groom was attracting the most attention, but Zenjirou was looking at the bride, since he was seeing her for the first time.
(So she is Lucinda. Not the prettiest out there, but still beautiful.)
She looked smaller, because she was trailing behind the almost two metre tall General Puyol, but she actually had an average height and build.
Her black hair was full and glamorous, her black eyes beamed with kindness and her skin had the common brown tinge of a person from the Carpa Kingdom. Even clad in the snow-white wedding dress, she still looked somewhat plain, but her features were well-defined enough to get an immediate positive answer, when asking someone whether she was a beauty or not.
In the meantime, the bridal couple advanced on the red carpet and went up to the podium.
There an elder priest was awaiting them. He was going to perform the marriage ceremony.
Since the main religion on the South Continent, the faith in spirits, was not really institutionalized, the priest were only responsible for a hand of ceremonial occasions such as coming-of-age, marriage or burial.
The elderly priest faced the bridal couple standing in front of him and opened his mouth covered by a white beard.
“Under the protection of the Spirits, this man and woman will enter into the holy bond of marriage today. May the Spirits smile to their future.
From time immemorial, the brave man has always protected the frail woman behind him, whereas the compassionate woman has always offered the foolish man consolation in her arms. The Spirits are sure to respond to their mutual empathy.”
Because the Spirit Faith on the South Continent had neither been systemized, nor institutionalized, the ritual words at these occasions were generally determined by the priest on duty.
Zenjirou curiously listened to the self-penned speech of the priest, but he suddenly felt uncomfortable, so he looked around from the corner of his eye while keeping his gaze focussed on the bridal couple.
(Hmm? I sense a gaze on me? From whom?)
He could not see him all that clearly, because he was just looking out of the corner of his eye, but he did see a sturdy silhouette of a soldier.
(The foreign guests should be seated over there… So that’s General Martín from the Navarre Kingdom?)
In reality, Zenjirou was not looking at General Martín, but at Knight Captain Cris sitting next to him, but he could not discern it that well, because he was still looking ahead.
Having said this, Knight Captain Cris was slender and only one hundred and eighty centimetre tall, whereas General Martín was practically a giant with his almost two metre height and hundred kilogram weight.
Their auras were too different to begin with.
Zenjirou was puzzled as to why he was the target of his attention instead of the bridal couple in the middle of the ceremony, but it was actually not all that strange.
He was the Prince Consort of the major power known as the Carpa Kingdom. In short, a genuine Royalty with a bloodline magic.
So a foreign authority was obviously going to pay him more attention than the bridal couple.
In the meantime, the ceremony was moving along.
On the South Continent, the marriage ceremonies followed all kind of procedures like the speech from the priest or the marriage vows from the couple, but this ceremony was a bit different at the end.
“The couple will now exchange the weddings rings.”
The unfamiliar ritual of exchanging wedding rings prompted the guests to murmur agitated and Zenjirou to widen his eyes in surprise.
In that very moment, General Puyol faced Zenjirou and gave him an appreciative look while smirking for a second.
Zenjirou understood with that.
(Oh, right. Aura did tell me that my marriage rings had started the custom of exchanging wedding rings in this country, too.
So General Puyol also picked up on it, eh.)
The earlier look must have expressed his gratitude to Zenjirou for introducing them the custom of exchanging wedding rings.
Under the watchful eyes of the guests, the bridal couple took the pair rings from the priest and put them on the finger of their partner.
Zenjirou did not go as far as telling them that the wedding ring belonged to the ring finger of the left hand. It just happened naturally, since that finger provided the least inconveniences for wearing a ring at all times.
The same reason probably applied to its simple gold design without any gems.
As a soldier, General Puyol would by no means profit from wearing a cumbersome jewellery on his finger. The plain ring without any gem had probably been a compromise on his part.
It might be a bit too plain for a woman, though. Even in this world, most of the women had a thing for beautiful large gems.
A thought suddenly crossed Zenjirou’s mind.
(Maybe I should tell them about ‘engagement rings’, too? Women are sure to love a brilliant ring, but the men will have to bear the costs. I guess the wedding rings are enough for now.)
Apparently Lucinda was different from the majority of women as she narrowed her eyes happily, when General Puyol put the unadorned golden ring on her hand.
“Thank you, My Husband.”
For some reason, the soft voice of the bride resonated through the whole hall.
* * *
In the Carpa Kingdom, the marriage ceremony of higher nobility or wealthy people was followed by a ritual called the “Rite of Unveiling”.
As its name implied, the rite dealt with the bridal couple showing themselves in front of those, who could not attend the ceremony itself, and announcing their marriage. The invited guests of the ceremony were asked to abstain from attending the “Rite of Unveiling”.
On the plaza in front of the residence of the feudal lord, the newlyweds put themselves on display for the citizens of the March in their wedding attire. In the meantime, the guests of the ceremony were regaled with food and drinks in a different room.
The host of that gathering was the family of the bride, namely the Guzzle Family, but the people from the Guillén Family were also functioning as co-organizers.
“Master Zenjirou, I cannot thank you enough for going out of your way to attend the marriage of my daughter today.”
Marquis Guzzle himself approached Zenjirou first of all with these words.
He was as tall as Zenjirou, but a multiple of him widthwise. His neck was fatter than his face wide, his shoulders were sloping from excess muscle mass and his arms were round like a log. He should be over forty by now, but even an amateur like Zenjirou could tell that his body was still that of an active soldier.
A bit overwhelmed at heart, Zenjirou showed nothing of the sort on the outside and responded with a smile.
“No need to thank me, Marquis. The Guzzle Family as well as the Guillén Family are important pillars of our country. It goes without saying that I would attend the union of your families as a representative for Queen Aura.”
Zenjirou emphasized the fact that he was only a representative for Queen Aura, whereat Marquis Guzzle answered with an honest smile, which was quite rare coming from a high-ranking nobility.
“You honour me with your words. Of course I am grateful to Sir Puyol for taking my daughter after she missed out on marriage for too long due to my shortcomings, but I am even more grateful to Her Majesty Aura for allowing the normally unthinkable marriage between the Guillén and Guzzle Family. I, Miguel Guzzle, shall never forget this favour!”
“You have earned this trust by devoting your everything to the country so far.
Her Majesty sincerely hopes that you will not cease your endeavours.”
“Of course. I would not dream of doing so.”
Zenjirou reminded him that he admittedly had gotten a connection to the heartland now, but should not use this occasion to start meddling with the power struggle there, so the elderly marquis lowered his head deeply.
As a matter of fact, Queen Aura was really trusting Marquis Guzzle.
Of course the Guzzle Family was no different from the other feudal lords, so they put their own territory first and the kingdom second, but they were also known for their fidelity and loyalty.
Even in the previous war, the army of the marquis had obediently followed the orders of the country, which had been a great help.
Setting Marquis Ralah, pretty much a relative to Aura, aside, it would be no exaggeration to say that she trusted Marquis Guzzle the most of all nobility.
“Anyway, today is a day to be celebrated, so let this be enough of formalities. Let me introduce you:
This is Princess Freya Uppsala, the crown princess of the Uppsala Kingdom. She is accompanying me as my partner, because Her Majesty Aura could not leave the Capital.
Princess Freya, this is Marquis Guzzle. He is usually working in the Capital, so maybe you have seen him before?”
Upon these words, the princess from the North Continent took one step forward as she had politely waited behind Zenjirou so far.
“My name is Freya Uppsala. Congratulations on your daughter Lucinda getting married!”
She grasped the hem of her simple blue skirt and did a curtsey.
The etiquette in the Uppsala Kingdom was slightly different from the one in the Carpa Kingdom, but her gesture was so gracious that it would be rude to point it out now.
“Thank you very much, Princess Freya. As you can see, we live in the middle of nowhere, but please make yourself at home.”
Marquis Guzzle responded politely, but much to his regret, Zenjirou was unable to tell whether his respect was attributed to her current title as a “princess from the North Continent” or her future title as a “concubine of the Prince Consort of the Carpa Kingdom”.
“I appreciate the hospitality, Marquis Guzzle. We are being cared for quite courteously in the annex building. Am I right, Your Majesty Zenjirou?”
“Yes, that is right.”
She probably had asked for his opinion with a smile on purpose, because she wanted to spell out for the others that she was staying under the same roof as him.
“Heh, I am glad to hear that. You have done well, Nilda.”
Whether he was aware of her intentions or not, Marquis Guzzle showed a bright smile and called out to his beloved daughter standing behind him.
“Yes, Father. Thank you, Princess Freya.”
The little girl lowered her head with her big eyes shining. She did look a bit tense from nervousness, but more than that, she gave off an affectionate aura like a tamed little animal.
When he was looking back at his daughter, Marquis Guzzle was showing a soft expression as well. Or at the very least, Zenjirou could not catch any sight of some intrigue or ulterior motive in it.
(Even at the ceremony, he openly let Nilda sit with the rest of the family. That means he really isn’t trying to hide her? It’s getting more and more puzzling.)
The girl, who was apparently unknown to Royalty, was being treated as a normal daughter at an official event in the March. And not only that, she was even assigned the role to look after Royalty.
Zenjirou somehow started to get the feeling that the whole thing was just a plain old misunderstanding.
To begin with, the girl called Nilda and the man called Marquis Guzzle were way too sincere to actually consider this as some kind of scheme.
“By the way, I have heard that Miss Nilda has a different mother than Sir Xavier and Lady Lucinda?”
Just in case, Zenjirou probed them like this, whereat the elderly feudal lord scratched his greying head and honestly affirmed it, even if a bit reluctant.
“Yes, that is correct. Xavier and Lucinda as well as my other two sons, who died in the previous war, are the children of my legal wife.
On the other hand, Nilda is the product of my juvenility… Well, I was not at an age to call it that anymore, though. Anyway, she is the child I made with a female subject of mine.”
Saying so, Marquis Guzzle patted the head of his daughter standing next to him.
Having her head patted, the little girl narrowed her eyes happily like a puppy.
A person from Modern Japan would surely get offended, when its own birth was called a “product of juvenility”, even if coming from a parent, but Nilda showed no sign of concern.
Maybe it meant that the parentage was just too important in this world? Or maybe father and daughter were getting along so well that she would not get disheartened just from that kind of crude phrasing.
Zenjirou would like to say it was the latter, seeing her display of affection.
“As Princess Freya said before, Miss Nilda is taking good care of us. She is always so bright and cheerful. I often catch myself copying her. So far, I had a great time here, because of that. So let me express my gratitude once more: Thank you, Miss Nilda.”
“Oh no, your words are wasted on me, Master Zenjirou.”
At any rate, Zenjirou concluded that he should not dig any deeper into the issue without instructions from Aura, so he dropped the subject at a suitable point.
Even if Zenjirou and Princess Freya were the most important guests, Marquis Guzzle could not afford to spend all his time on a single group as the father of the bride.
After the marquis left, Zenjirou was unsurprisingly flocked by the other guests to exchange pleasantries.
The etiquette of the Carpa Kingdom dictated that it was bad manners for one of lower status to call out to someone of higher status, but marriage or burial ceremonies were an exception to that rule.
Apparently, all the guests were considered to be of equal rank in the sense that they all had the same motive, either congratulating the bridal couple at a marriage ceremony or mourning the deceased at a burial ceremony.
Due to that, Zenjirou had no time to enjoy the actual banquet and was busy dealing with nobility one after another.
“It is nice to make your acquaintance, Master Zenjirou. Her Majesty Aura was so generously to bestow me with the title of a viscount. My name is Primo Guillén. The groom Puyol happens to be my nephew.”
“Master Zenjirou, thank you very much for going out of your way to attend the marriage ceremony of my brother today.”
With these words, a man in his early fifties and a tall girl lowered their heads at the same time.
Just like he had introduced himself, the man was the uncle of General Puyol: Primo Guillén; The little girl was the little sister of General Puyol: Fatima Guillén.
“Oh, thank you for the polite introduction, Sir Primo. I am Zenjirou, the husband of Her Majesty Aura. And I am glad to see you are doing well, Miss Fatima.”
Primo Guillén was a tall man with the blood of the Guillén Family running through his veins.
He definitely was not as tall as the two metre tall Puyol, but there was still an obvious gap between him and Fatima, so he must be at least one hundred and eighty-five centimetre tall.
Nevertheless, there was no overwhelming aura coming from him like General Puyol did, when he was just standing there.
Although this might sound a bit rude, his height was his only redeeming feature.
In fact, Fatima was drawing far more attention in her moss-green dress as she stood self-confidently next to him.
“Yes, Master Zenjiou. As his little sister, it gives me a piece of mind that my brother has tied the knot.”
But if you looked carefully, you could tell that her smile as she said that was somewhat forced.
(Well, she practically got a brother complex, so it’s no wonder she can’t sincerely be happy about his marriage.)
And even more so, when his bride was the twenty-six years old Lucinda. Since the South Continent labelled women older than twenty as a lost case for marriage, she was practically the epitome of an old woman well past her prime.
Without exaggerating it, Fatima firmly believed her brother to be the “best man on the South Continent”, so it was no surprise that she was dissatisfied with such a late bloomer being his brother’s legal wife.
Despite that, she was making an effort to not let it show in her attitude and words, because she realized how important the marriage with Lucinda and thereby the connection to the Guzzle Family was.
Having said this, Fatima would never even think of opposing her older brother to begin with, no matter how much displeasure she harboured about his decision.
“Well then, Master Zenjirou, if you will excuse me.”
“It was a pleasure to have met you, Master Zenjirou.”
When Primo Guillén and Fatima Guillén left, the next guest took their place.
“It has been a long time, Master Zenjirou. I am glad we worked out that incident in Valentia together.”
A man wearing the traditional attire of the Carpa Kingdom like a second skin, greeted Zenjirou with an affable smile.
“Oh, Sir Raffaelo. You definitely played a big role in it.”
Zenjirou responded to the greeting of the successor to the Márguez Family, Raffaelo Márguez, with a smile as well.
At the same time, he looked at the “fiancée of Raffaelo”, who was standing behind him at an angle.
Keen as he was, Raffaelo notice the gaze and showed a broad grin.
“Allow me to introduce her, Master Zenjirou. She is my betrothed: Keyshia from the Massana Family.”
With these words, he put his arm around her waist and ushered her in front of Zenjirou.
Zenjirou was a bit captivated by the woman brought before his eyes.
Her glamorous long black hair was beautifully pinned up and her red dress revealed her bare shoulders and neck. Everyone knew what a faithful husband he was, himself included, but even then, Zenjirou could not help but be smitten by her beauty and charm.
She was an eye-catching extraordinary beauty with well-proportioned long arms and legs, smiling with conviction and confidence.
Keyshia had already been a sight for sore eyes in her maid clothes, but Zenjirou was in raptures about her enchanting dress.
“It is my first time seeing you wear anything else than maid clothes, Keyshia, but I must say, you are truly beautiful. Your charm was already standing out in the Inner Palace, but seeing you all dressed up like this makes me speechless.”
Praised by the man, who had been her master not long ago, the bewitching woman widened her eyes affected and puckered her lips a bit petulant.
“Oh my, thank you very much, Master Zenjirou. But what a surprise. I never thought I would see the day, where you compliment my appearance, because I thought for sure that you only have eyes for Her Majesty Aura.”
“I am human, too. When I see something beautiful, I will appreciate it.”
Zenjirou gave the well acquainted former maid of the Inner Palace a wry smile with a shrug of his shoulders.
That reaction of his prompted the nearby nobility from the Carpa Kingdom, who had been listening in so far, to be taken aback.
It happened very seldom that Zenjirou talked that casually with a woman. He was always “playing it safe” at official night banquets.
Zenjirou himself was no aware of it, but his reaction increased the value of being a “waiting maid of the Inner Palace”.
The waiting maids of the Inner Palace proved to be a connection to the Prince Consort.
While the nearby nobility renewed their understanding like that, Raffaelo Márguez already had a former waiting maid as his betrothed and said with a smooth smile.
“Well then, Master Zenjirou, we will excuse ourselves for today.”
“Okay. Take good care of Keyshia, Sir Raffaelo.”
He could have kept the conversation going for as long as he wanted by using his fiancée, but Raffaelo parted from Zenjirou with these words.
If anything, his time with Zenjirou was quite short, compared to other nobility.
In the past, Raffaelo had suggested his father Manuel Márguez to keep their distance from the “monstrous” Zenjirou for now, and he was faithfully abiding by his own words.
Be it the bride’s Guzzle Family, the groom’s Guillén Family or the Márguez Family, they were all important enough that Royalty could not afford to neglect making allowances for them, but since they were nobility of the same country, Zenjirou somewhat knew how to deal with them and even if he were to make a mistake, things could be smoothed over later on.
But right now, he was facing the guests of another country on whom these advantages did not work.
Namely: The representative of the Navarre Kingdom, General Martín and his attendant Knight Cristiano Pinto.
When the obviously trained foreigners approached Zenjirou and Princess Freya, their bodyguards Knight Natalio and Skathi put themselves on the alert behind them. Only waiting maid Ines kept cool and collected.
“Nice to make your acquaintance, Your Majesty Zenjirou.
My name is Martín Nadal, a general in the army of the Navarre Kingdom. I am extremely grateful to be given the chance to meet you today.
And this is Cristiano, a young knight in our army.”
“I am Knight Captain Cristiano, the eldest son of Marquis Pinto. It is an honour to meet you, Your Majesty Zenjirou.”
The general in his forties and the young knight probably still in his teens, bowed their heads to Zenjirou in unison.
By the way, General Martín and Knight Captain Cris were an exception in the sense that they were attending the ceremony without a female partner.
If possible, a marriage ceremony was usually attended with a partner, but there was no iron law that forbid to attend it alone.
They practically had passed over the mountain on a footslog, so no women had been capable of accompanying them.
Under such circumstances, a man was not really frowned upon for attending alone.
“Much obliged, General Martín. I am Zenjirou, the husband of Her Majesty Aura, the Queen of the Carpa Kingdom. Your reputation precedes you as even I have heard of it.
And this is Princess Freya Uppsala, the crown princess of the Uppsala Kingdom on the North Continent.”
“My name is Freya. I am from the North Continent, so I am afraid that I have not heard of your achievements, but it is nevertheless an honour to make your acquaintance, General.”
Following the introduction from Zenjirou, Princess Freya also introduced herself and lowered her head a bit.
Zenjirou withdrew his left hand he had put around Princess Freya’s waist, and faced the two man standing in front of him.
(So he’s General Martín, the Hero of the Navarre Kingdom. A giant of a man. And his presence is even bigger.)
Wearing a smile, Zenjirou managed to not let his anxiety show on his face, but at heart, he instinctively was afraid of the man standing in front of him.
The seasoned warrior in front of him was close to two metre tall and almost twice as heavy as him, so it already deserved praise that Zenjirou faced him without backing off.
As Royalty, Zenjirou was technically wearing a decorative sword at his waist, whereas the foreign general was unarmed, but there was no way that such a thing would compensate for the difference in their strengths.
“Greetings to you, Princess Freya. It is an honour to make your acquaintance.”
“Pleased to meet you, Princess Freya.”
General Martín and Knight Captain Cris returned the greeting to Princess Freya.
“But I must say, I am surprised to see you here today, General Martín. I assume your relation to General Puyol is the reason that a famous general attends a marriage ceremony of a neighbouring country?”
In reality, Zenjirou had not even heard of his name before, but he did not mention that, of course.
Nevertheless, he did have a point there.
It was not all that strange that they would send a messenger to the marriage ceremony of a feudal lord family from a neighbouring country, but it was an exception for sure that an important general was chosen for that role.
For anyone, who knew that General Puyol and General Martín had a feud with each other from the previous war, it was only natural to assume that General Martín came here especially for General Puyol.
All the nearby nobility curiously pricked up their ears, when Zenjirou asked that.
With all the attention on him, the famous general shrugged his shoulders a bit and affirmed it with a brazen smile.
“Well, to be honest, that is definitely the biggest reason.
Nonetheless, the Carpa Kingdom is an important neighbour to the Navarre Kingdom, so if not for me, they would surely have send someone of equal status.”
To be more precise: General Martín had been concerned about the character of General Puyol.
It was well-known after all that General Puyol was an ambitious man.
That capable and ambitious general was going to bond with the feudal family on their border in form of marriage, so the Navarre Kingdom obviously could not sit back and do nothing.
He was enough of a “threat” to send in their important general to check on him.
Zenjirou pretended not to have noticed that implied nuance in the answer from General Martín and responded with a smile.
“Yes, neighbours should get along well. I do hope we both do not forget that fact and continue to work towards it.”
“My sentiments exactly, Your Majesty Zenjirou.”
Two authorities from bordering countries were having a typical two-faced conversation.
Local affairs aside, Zenjirou was not yet used to dealing with foreign countries appropriately, so he could not help but play it safe.
Their conversation naturally avoided diving into political waters and shifted towards personal preferences instead.
“This reminds me, we are neighbours, but is our food culture actually different? I did hear that it is not unusual for a culture to change beyond the border.”
“Well, I am not all that familiar with your cuisine, but as far as I can tell, it is not all that different. If I had to name something, it would be the fruit wine. The fruit wine of the Carpa Kingdom generally tends to be sweeter than ours.
Thanks to that, Knight Captain Cris is treating himself to some on a rare occasion. Am I right, Cris?”
“S- Sir, you…”
Suddenly addressed, the young knight was at a loss for words for a moment and glared at the respectable general of his own country.
A lot of men with a sweet tooth were very self-conscious about it and apparently Knight Captain Cris was one of them.
Having said this, he had somewhat come to terms with it, seeing as he was not forcing himself to drink dry wine at an official event for appearance’s sake.
“You cannot help to like what you like after all. I do know that it is childish of me, but I let them prepare my food without certain herbs, too.”
Zenjirou tried to help him out by revealing a peculiarity of his own, but Knight Captain Cris was not man enough to honestly accept his good intentions.
“…Why, thank you.”
Although he lowered his head, he was giving Zenjirou a resentful glare. To him, it must have seemed like General Martín and Zenjirou were pairing up to make fun of his fondness for sweets.
Zenjirou read in the expression of the young knight that it would be unwise to pursue this topic any further, so he changed the subject somewhat forcefully.
“What about this then, General Martín? Does a drink like this suit your taste? This alcohol is the recent product of the Capital. It is quite strong, albeit light in taste. General Puyol seems to have taken a liking to it.”
With these words, Zenjirou recommended General Martín a silver goblet with the “distilled liquor” from the Capital.
“Oho! If it has your approval, I will have to try it. …Hmm, it certainly is strong enough to burn your throat, but it is a bit too tasteless to my liking.”
“I thought so. You are not the first to say this. I guess we have to think about improving the taste.”
“That sounds promising. I would like to try it once you have done so.”
“Please share it with your country then. I do hope it will become a local speciality of our country after all.”
Knight Captain Cris regained his composure while Zenjirou and General Martín were chatting like that, so he asked Zenjirou dubious.
“Your Majesty seems to think like a merchant. Maybe you come from such a family?”
General Martín frowned in light of the phrasing from the young knight captain. It was well-known that Zenjirou was not true-born royalty, but calling him a merchant could be considered an insult.
However, Zenjirou was not offended by it.
“Well, not quite correct, but not entirely wrong, either, I guess.”
He affirmed it to some extent without getting angry.
Originally, Zenjirou had been working in the sales department, so it was not all that wrong to call him a merchant.
“This reminds me, I have heard that Your Majesty has achieved a major victory against dragons the other day.”
General Martín had no way of divining what Zenjirou was thinking, so he touched on a flattering topic as though smoothing over the problematic statement of his subordinate about royalty from a different country. Unfortunately for him, he was barking up the wrong tree in the case of Zenjirou with that idea.
“Oh, I was just overseeing things there. To begin with, I am completely unsuited for battle. I was stretching myself to the limit not to get in the way. That alone made me break out in a cold sweat already, so I never want to have anything to do with it again.”
“Err… Is that so.”
His answer obviously bewildered General Martín, seeing as he stumbled on his words.
And Knight Captain Cris next to him could not quite conceal his contempt and disdain for him in his expression.
But he could not really be blamed for it, because Zenjirou was too much of an abnormality in this world for stating so brazenly that “he could not fight and was weary of it”.
A noble man in his prime that could not fight belonged to the minority and was usually ashamed of belonging to that minority.
Judging by the moral values of this world, it only looked like Zenjirou was putting up a defiant front.
“Then Your Majesty is not training on a daily basis?”
Knight Captain Cris was obviously looking at his hand, when he asked that, so Zenjirou showed him his hands with a wry smile.
“Yes, as you can see. And it would be an useless effort to start now. I resigned myself to it.”
As if emphasizing his words, the palms of his hands had no calluses and were as lean as a child’s or woman’s by the standards of this world.
If he had done baseball or kendo in university, he might have fooled them to some extent, but unfortunately, he had belonged to the soccer club. His road of life had not been the kind, where he got any calluses.
“It is never in vain to practice martial arts, even if only a little. Your Majesty should set aside any biases and just try it out.”
The words from Knight Captain Cris sounded like he was saying it in the interest of Zenjirou, but the contempt for him was still present in his eyes and voice.
Zenjirou was not so dim-witted that he would fail to notice that, but he also knew that it would become a pain in the ass, if he were to comment on it now.
“Haha, you are right. I will keep it in mind for next time.”
After a moment of deliberation, Zenjirou conquered his feelings and decided to ignore the vicious remark from Knight Captain Cris.
“…I am glad I could make you understand.”
As Knight Captain Cris did not abandon his contemptuous attitude, General Martín thanked Zenjirou for his lenience by casting down his eyes.
After the bridal couple completed the “Rite of Unveiling”, it was common practice that they returned to the banquet hall and participated in the party belatedly.
Unlike the marriage ceremony, the banquet was a sociable party, so the guests were allowed to speak directly with the bridal pair.
In a way, it was the main event for those, who had attended the marriage ceremony for diplomatic reasons.
Under the pretext of congratulating the newlyweds, they could approach them regardless of social standing after all.
But right now, not a single person was approaching the groom General Puyol, even though the bridal couple had finally made an appearance here.
The hall had fallen dead silent and everyone was just awaiting the issue without moving an inch.
Creasing his face into a smile, General Puyol was looking at General Martín, who was showing him the same kind of smile.
The awed guests in the hall were just supporting actors for the confrontation between the two great heroes of the previous war.
“Long time no see, General Martín. I’m glad you haven’t kicked the bucket yet.”
Shortening the distance between them at a leisurely pace, General Puyol spoke first.
It remained unclear whether he scratched the scar over his eyebrow with his left hand on purpose or unconsciously.
“Of course I’m alive and kicking, General Puyol. After all, I haven’t seen you in a while. There’s no way I would get wounded unless I’m fighting you, right?”
Replying like that, General Martín placed his right hand on broad his breast bone quite purposefully.
There was a scar under his clothes. The shallow, but long cut across his breast bone had been inflicted by General Puyol.
Both of them were veterans that had survived the previous great war and the countless scars on their bodies told its tale.
But most of these wounds were inflicted by projectiles like arrows or stones and the few wounds from melee weapons were all suffered through chaotic scuffles.
The only wounds they had inflicted on each other directly were the scars on the face of General Puyol or the scar across the breast bone of General Martín.
On the battlefield, one was always having a brush with death, no matter how brave or heroic they were. In that sense, neither General Puyol, nor General Martín were anything special.
But considering that they still could thrust death into your face, even if you were to keep yourself in perfect shape, sharpen your mind without the slightest neglect and ward off any ill fortune, you could not avoid calling both of them “special” after all.
General Puyol was almost two metre tall and over a hundred kilogram heavy, whereas General Martín was one-hundred and ninety centimetre tall and over a hundred kilogram heavy.
Accordingly, General Puyol surpassed him by ten centimetre in height, but General Martín outweighed him breadthwise.
While they glared at each other like a sabre-tooth tiger and a grizzly, the air in the hall was at an heavy standstill.
“Looks like you didn’t neglect training. It must be tough finding free time for training in your position as a general. I must say, I’m impressed, General Puyol.”
“Yeah, thanks. I dare to say I’ve grown stronger since then. I’m also glad to see that you still have been training, General Martín.”
“I had to work my way up after all. Strength has a bearing on your leadership skills, so I can’t afford to slack off. Yet the best I could do this year was maintaining my current form.”
“Oho, if that is true, you might prove to be an equal opponent now.”
“Pfft, cut the flattering. Back then, we were evenly matched, but right now, you are definitely stronger. That doesn’t mean you will win, though, if we have a bout.”
Neither of the two heroes was usually the chatty type, but the more words they exchange, the broader their smile got. At the same time, the tension and will to combat rose between them proportional to that smile, though.
Were they going to go at it right here?
Maybe they both had been joking in the beginning, but accidentally reached the point of no return?
Everyone was holding their breath with these worries, but the woman standing next to the groom, namely the bride, released them from that sorrow.
“My Husband, I do understand that you have a lot to catch up on with your old friend, but for how long are you going to neglect your new wife on this special day? I would like you to introduce me to him.”
Lucinda Guzzle, or rather Lucinda Guillén now, said this with a soft smile and tugged at the sleeve of her husband reminding.
Her expression was the quintessence of affability and you could not find a single trace of tension or fear anywhere on her.
It seemed like she was “cutting into the conversation of the two men thoughtlessly, because she was sulking about her husband not paying any attention to her”, but reality was different.
On the contrary, she had given thought to it more than anyone and concluded that it would be dangerous to let them continue like this, so she went in to stop them by pretending to be oblivious to the situation.
Dangerous as it may be, it was not like General Puyol and General Martín would actually start a fight here.
But Lucinda feared that if they were to continue to speak at daggers drawn, the others would get the impression that “the two of them really wanted a fight“, which would add unnecessary tension to the relation between the two countries.
“Although I do know that you two have just been joking around, a woman cannot help but be scared by it. Please apply yourself to me now, My Husband.”
Emphasizing the fact that they were joking around, Lucinda looked up into the eyes of her now husband from the side.
“…Hmm, you are right. My bad. Soldiers are oblivious to the delicate mind of women by nature, but I do admit that we have gone a bit too far. Forgive me, Lucinda.
General Martín, let me introduce her. As of today, this is my wife Lucinda.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, General Martín. I am the eldest daughter of the Guzzle Family and as of now, the wife to Puyol Guillén, the current head of the Guillén Family. My name is Lucinda.
I do have heard of your achievements, General. It is a great honour to get acquainted with you.”
A gentle voice and calm pronunciation coupled with a modest smile.
Without resorting to force, the newlywed wife pacified the atmosphere through mere words. General Martín changed his attitude as well in light of her smile.
“What a lovely bride. My name is Martín Nadal, a general from the Navarre Kingdom.
It seems you are not just lucky on the battlefield, Sir Puyol. To think you actually managed to win such a fine wife.”
“Yes, I am really glad that I stayed single until today.”
“You flatter me.”
Peace set in between the bridal pair and the general from the neighbouring country, so the rest of the hall resumed their happy chit-chatting as well.
Intermission I: The Queen in the Capital
Unlike before, Zenjirou had started to take on some jobs as Royalty in recent times.
Now that he was away from the Capital, it meant that the work he had been doing was left undone. Some of these jobs could temporarily be delayed, seeing as he was only going to be away for a month, but that was not the case for all of them, so these other jobs had to be done by someone else.
For example: Entertaining Prince Francesco and Princess Bona from the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell. With Zenjirou gone, Queen Aura had no choice but to take on that role upon herself.
“Oh, it’s been a while, Your Majesty Aura. How is Prince Carlos doing?”
Prince Francesco made himself comfortable on the couch as though he was at home and spoke to the red-haired Queen sitting across from him.
The casual tone from the blonde prince did not agitate Queen Aura as she just nodded with a smile.
“Thanks to you, he is doing well. I owe you a great deal, Prince Francesco. And I am even putting Princess Bona through a lot of trouble, so that we can meet like this.”
She replied with a calm tone.
“If that’s how you feel, please turn rhetoric into action later on.”
“That I shall.”
Princess Bona was a chaperone for Prince Francesco. Because of that, Prince Francesco was generally not able to attend an official gathering without her.
In order to get her out of the picture, Aura had requested a peculiar magic tool from Princess Bona as payment for their residence here.
Her request had been an “outdoor candlestick”. As the name implied, it was just an elaborate illuminant, but it actually required the combination of three different spells.
Namely the “Flame” magic as the source of light, the “Wind Wall” magic as a protection against outside influences as well as the “Water Manipulation” magic as an amplifier through reflections.
Each spell was relatively low class and would not take all that long to imbue into a magic tool. But the problem was that only one marble had been arranged for all three required spells.
The main “Flame” magic could be imbued within one day, if the marble was used as its medium, but the other two spells had to be imbued the normal way.
So no matter how hard Princess Bona might try, she would take at least one month for each bestowal. Adding the time required to craft the candlestick itself, she would need around three to four months to complete the tool.
Consequently, Princess Bona was going to be busy for a long time.
Needless to say, she was not going to spent the whole day working, even if she did allocate a lot of time to it, but she was going to be occupied for at least half a day every day until the tool was done.
During that time, Prince Francesco could act on own his behalf.
“This reminds me, His Majesty Zenjirou is attending the wedding by now, isn’t he? I must say I sure was surprised that you acknowledged the northern princess as his partner. You are as bold as ever, Your Majesty Aura.”
The blonde prince grinned broadly, whereas the red-haired queen kept her composed smile.
“Love is a matter of the heart. No matter how much influence you may wield, it is impossible to capture the heart completely through it.”
“Wise words, Your Majesty.”
Aura insisted that Princess Freya had only become his partner due to personal feelings, whereupon Prince Francesco nodded his assent exaggeratedly a few times.
Seeing as the reaction from the blonde prince was as unreadable as ever, Queen Aura obfuscated her smile and asked him.
“What about you, though? I am sure you know what it symbolizes to bring another woman besides your wife to a wedding ceremony. Is there nothing you want to tell me, considering our countries have a secret agreement in regards to the concubines of my husband?”
“Ahaha, oh please! No one actually expected that agreement to be kept.”
On the other hand, the reply from Prince Francesco was so blunt it made you question it instead.
Nevertheless, he had been telling the whole truth.
The secret agreement was not about “restricting concubines for Zenjirou”, but rather recited “what had to be done, when Zenjirou had a child with a concubine”.
“Then I can assume that Princess Bona is another chess piece in the same game?”
The reason Aura threw him such a provoking question was that Princess Freya had changed the situation drastically.
For the nobility of the Carpa Kingdom it was already only a matter of time before Princess Freya would become a concubine.
And since a second concubine would not make much of a difference anyway then, they had resumed their own offensive to push a concubine onto Zenjirou.
With the “secret contract” at work, Aura needed to know the intention of the Sharrow Royal Family, when they were going to increase the number of concubines for Zenjirou.
Having said this, it was almost impossible to have a reasonable discussion on the level of “sounding each other out” with Prince Francesco.
“Hmm, at the very least, the Sharrow Family won’t intervene if Bona gets intimate with His Majesty Zenjirou. Well, in my opinion, something will only happen between them when His Majesty visits the Twin Kingdom.”
The prince revealed the scheme of his own country with a nonchalant expression, whereat even Queen Aura had to fall silent for a moment.
It sounded too plausible to brush it off as a joke or bluff, but neither could she take it at face value.
In the end, she had no choice but to proceed cautiously.
“Oh, so you are saying the Sharrow Family would receive my husband with open arms to the Capital of the Twin Kingdom?”
“Why, yes, of course! Except maybe His Majesty himself, everyone is always ‘ready and waiting’ to welcome him.”
“…That sounds more like they are ready to catch or capture him, rather than welcome him.”
“Haha, you’re as perceptive as ever.”
Prince Francesco practically admitted it with his answer, whereupon Aura wrinkled her brow without breaking her poker face.
(I feel like I am fighting against an amorphous monster.)
The blonde prince showed not the slightest reaction to the deliberately shown displeasure of the Queen, and just grinned stupidly.
“I shall tell my husband to come back right away, if he ever feels to be in danger.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Oh, can I ask His Majesty Zenjirou to deliver a letter, when he visits the Twin Kingdom? I would like to write my parents and siblings back home once in a while.”
Prince Francesco had the “Burning Pair Parchment” to get into contact with them, but it was a scarce magic tool. He could not use it for a personal message.
The request from Prince Francesco prompted Aura to blink once in surprise.
“Hmm? Does that mean you are staying here? I thought for sure you two would take the chance to return home together with my husband.”
Aura suspected that Prince Francesco had come to the Carpa Kingdom to check upon the bloodline magic disposition of Prince Carlos Zenkichi and let them know about his special ability to use two different bloodline magic.
Princess Bona on the other hand was probably sent here to serve as a honey trap for Zenjirou.
The former one had already achieved his goal and the latter one would have the best chances to achieve hers, when they returned home together with Zenjirou.
But Prince Francesco dismissed these conjectures with a shake of the head.
“As if. I actually like it better here, because there’s too much nagging back home.”
“Princess Bona does it here, too, though?”
“She is the only one here. There are a lot more at home, who keep nagging at me.
But I want to give my family a status report or rather show them a sign of life from me. Hence a letter. Is that too much to ask for?”
Somehow or other, Aura discerned that Prince Francesco was telling the truth behind his nonchalant tone, so she narrowed his eyes and cleared up a misunderstanding he had made.
“Yes. That is exactly why I suggested you return together with my husband. You see, my husband will only visit the Twin Kingdom once he has learned the ‘Teleport’ magic.
The spell allows you to go back and forth between our Royal Palaces within one day in an extreme case.
I would send you there with my ‘Teleport’ magic and my husband would send you back from there with his ‘Teleport’ magic. Needless to say, it will cost you.”
“Oh, I see.”
Prince Francesco clapped his hands enlightened.
Just like she had said, they could establish a kind of finite warp gate between the Capitals of the Carpa Kingdom and the Twin Kingdom, when Zenjirou learned ‘Teleport’ and used it to go to the Twin Kingdom.
Considering the travel was going to be instantaneous and safe, Prince Francesco and Princess Bona had no reason to not go back home temporarily.
“If that is the case, I will gladly take you up on the offer. Ah, and I want you to do the same for Bona on a different day, too. Do you take gold coins as a payment?”
Prince Francesco asked with a beaming face, whereat Queen Aura replied with a sober voice.
“A magic tool would be more to my liking. I shall provide you with the gem for the medium, so I would like you to create a magic tool with ’Teleport’.”
That request surprised even Prince Francesco.
Rendered speechless for a moment, he then showed a bright smile.
“That definitely sounds like a worthwhile task, but I think the price is a bit too expensive for applying ’Teleport’ four times. How about this: I pay you in gold coins for my request, but make two magic tools with ’Teleport’ in addition, from which I get one in compensation for my efforts.”
The “Teleport” magic was the pivotal element of the Carpa Royal Family. So the Twin Kingdom had approached them numerous times to turn that spell into a magic tool, but the previous rulers of the Carpa Kingdom had never allowed this.
As Aura was proposing to break that taboo now, Prince Francesco leaned forward with a big grin, but Queen Aura just shook her head ungracious.
“No, just one. And even that one has to be a ‘disposable’ one with only a single use. If that is impossible, I will not force you.
Gold coins will just be fine as payment in that case.”
Whether she was just bargaining or never actually expected it to be possible, Aura outright rejected him with a steadfast tone.
“Hmm… Well… I would really like to get my hands on ‘Teleport’, though. But then again…”
Prince Francesco crossed his arms, wrinkled his brow and mumbled to himself for a while.
Before long, he seemed to have reached a decision. The blonde prince clapped himself on the knees and spoke.
“Okay, I’ll give up on the ‘Teleport’ for myself. But I do want that gem. You still have plenty of them, right? I want three of them, including the one I will need for your ‘Teleport’ magic tool. How does that sound?”
“You are being a bit too greedy now. I would be willing to compromise on two. But you will need to tell me for what kind of magic tool you want to use the second gem in advance. Otherwise I cannot comply.”
Strictly speaking, her answer was only to be expected.
Right now, Prince Francesco was staying in the guesthouse of the Carpa Royal Palace. Aura obviously had to make sure he was not going to make a dangerous magic tool.
But it apparently was not that obvious to Prince Francesco, seeing as he kept staring at the ceiling for a while.
“What for, you ask? Hmm, do I really have to tell you?”
His inner conflict continued for some while, but at some point, he seemed to have made a decision and faced Aura with a resolute expression.
“Fine. I will tell you in confidence. But keep it between you and me. Not even Royalty must know about it.”
“Okay. I shall not tell my husband about it.”
Aura nodded confirmatory, but Prince Francesco shook his head.
“No, not just him, but all ‘other Royalty’.”
“All other Royalty?”
She cocked her head puzzled, but realized what he meant after a moment of pondering.
Except Aura and Zenjirou, the only other Royalty in the Carpa Kingdom was the infant Carlos Zenkichi. He surely did not mean to keep it a secret from a child, who could not even speak yet.
It was also unlikely he would remind her to not reveal it to Royalty of an unrelated country such as Princess Freya at this point in time.
So there was only one possibility remaining: Concealing it from the other involved Royalty from the Twin Kingdom.
“…You mean to keep it a secret from Princess Bona?”
Aura narrowed her eyes to slits and asked him with feigned ignorance, whereupon Prince Francesco answered with a profound grin.
“Not just Bona. I also mean my father and grandfather back home. Especially them, actually. They snapped at me, when I tried to make that magic tool once before. Man, it was hell on earth.”
Prince Francesco scratched his head with a carefree smile, but even Queen Aura of all people became somewhat anxious now.
But there was no backing down after coming this far.
“Very well. I will keep it between you and me. Not a single soul shall learn of it from me. So tell me, Prince Francesco, what exactly are you trying to make?”
“Well, a magic tool imbued with ‘Bestowal Magic’.”
While he answered like that, his eyes beamed with rampant aspiration.
* * *
After Prince Francesco had left the meeting room, Queen Aura slouched on the couch and heaved a sigh.
“What a troublemaker. Announcing an important matter just like that…”
A magic tool of the “Bestowal Magic”. If it was actually possible to make such a thing, it could shake the civilized world to the very foundations.
To be honest, his motivations were too uncertain, so she should not let him make one.
“But I really want a magic tool with ‘Teleport’. Without one, I would be too worried to let Zenjirou leave the country as it stands. The Twin Kingdom may not be as much of a worry, but I definitely cannot let him leave for the Uppsala Kingdom like this.”
This was what Aura have had in mind.
Princess Freya was supposed to go home to get permission for her marriage, after the issue with the Twin Kingdom was more or less resolved, and Aura wanted Zenjirou to accompany her on the “Yellow Leaves” on that occasion.
The biggest advantage of “Teleport” was that you could instantly go back and forth between places you had visited before.
Because of that, the Carpa Royalty had split up to visit allied and neutral countries before the great war, expanding their possible targets for the “Teleport” magic.
If Princess Freya did officially became a concubine for Zenjirou and they realized an intercontinental trade with the Uppsala Kingdom in the future, it would do no harm to have a person, who could go back and forth between their countries with “Teleport”.
The problem, however, was that the intercontinental sea travel was far from begin safe, even with a large sailing ship like the “Yellow Leaves” from Princess Freya.
Aura loved her husband, of course, but even more importantly, Zenjirou was the Prince Consort, the only grown-up male in the Royal Family for now.
No matter how much of an advantage it was to be able to “Teleport” to the North Continent and back, it was not worth risking his life over it.
She needed something that could ensure his safety, namely the “Teleport” magic tool.
The “Teleport” spell was normally too difficult to cast in emergencies. This technically applied to all magic, because the magic would not activate without properly envisioning its effect. Hence it was impossible to invoke the magic in a life-threatening situation unless you had nerves of steel.
“And I do not see Zenjirou having these nerves.”
Aura truly loved her husband from the bottom of her heart, but she did not let that feeling cloud her judgment about his abilities.
Going by his nerves and personality, it was pretty much impossible to cast magic for him already, when someone next to him simply drew his sword.
Even if he were able to actually use “Teleport”, he would not be able to use it as a means of escape in an emergency.
As a consequence, Aura wanted a magic tool with the “Teleport” magic.
Depending on its setting, the magic tool could be used even when you were nervous or frightened as long as you still had a bit of reasoning left.
Zenjirou would be able to escape with it, when, for example, the ship capsized and sunk. Or when the delegation was dragged into some kind of conflict on land. Or even when the Uppsala Kingdom tried to detain him for some reason after he arrived there.
“I really want that magic tool, but for how much should I compromise? Prince Francesco even revealed that sensible information about a ’Bestowal’ magic tool to me.
Knowing him, he surely is going to go ahead with it on his own anyway.
I guess they do not call him a genius creator of magic tools for nothing.”
On the other hand, they did not call him a carefree idiot for everything else for nothing, either.
“I need to put some thought into how much I can afford to yield to The Twin Kingdom or the Uppsala Kingdom and how I can draw the best profit from them for my country.”
Aura generally preferred to keep a balance between domestic and external policies.
Of course her own country always came first, but whenever possible, she chose not to get on the bad side of her negotiation partners just for a quick profit, nor did she treat them too favourable and let them get overbearing.
Her careful consideration was interrupted by the dry sound of a knock on the door.
“Excuse me, Your Majesty.”
Called in after the knock, a middle-aged man with a slender face entered the room. It was Secretary Fabio.
“Master Zenjirou has sent a Small Flying Dragon from the March of Guzzle. Here you are.”
Expressionless as ever, the secretary placed three wooden cylinder the size of a finger in front of Aura with these words.
Taking one of them, Aura pulled the small Dragonskin Parchment out of it and read what was written on it.
“Hmm… Mh? Nilda Guzzle? Fabio, do you know of anyone called ‘Nilda Guzzle’?”
The faithful secretary immediately answered the question of the Queen.
“No, I do not. Who is that supposed to be?”
“According to my husband, she is the ‘second daughter’ of Marquis Guzzle. Apparently she just came of age this year, so fifteen years old, and is the illegitimate child the Marquis had with a woman from his domain.”
Hearing the explanation from the Queen, the Secretary shifted his gaze to the ceiling and pondered for a moment, but shook his head resolutely in the end.
“Still does not ring a bell with me. Marquis Guzzle had four children. Three sons and one daughter. The first and second son both died in battle, so there is only his youngest son Sir Xavier and his daughter Lady Lucinda right now.”
“Are you sure?”
“Certainly. Or at the very least, they are the only ones listed on the ‘roll of names.”
“I see… I am not questioning your memory, but check the ‘roll of names’ again, just in case.”
The so-called “roll of names” was a document from the Royal Family, where all the names of the local nobility were listed on.
Anyone on that list was nobility and vice versa.
In other words, the girl named Nilda Guzzle was “not officially acknowledged as nobility”, even when Marquis Guzzle actually claimed that she was his own daughter.
“It seems that very Nilda was entrusted with the duty to take care of my husband. It is unthinkable that a commoner would get to take care of Royalty, even if she may be his real daughter. In any other case, I would suspect a plot now, but…”
As though finishing her sentence, Secretary Fabio declared assertively.
“That is not possible. At the very least, its mastermind cannot be Marquis Guzzle. The best he could plot would be a pitfall.”
The Queen assented to his words with a wry smile.
“I see you are still not mincing your words, Fabio, But yes, I agree with you. It is hard to believe the Marquis can hatch a complicated plot.
In that case, we might as well just ask him about it. Fabio.”
“Dispatch an envoy to the residence of Marquis Guzzle here in the Capital. I assume most of them have returned to the March for the wedding, but someone must have remained to look after the place.
Make him come here. He might know something about it.”
“Very well. I shall arrange it immediately.”
The secretary bowed down to the order of the Queen so perfectly it seemed inhuman.