A large carriage drawn by eight dragons advanced over the main street of the Royal Capital.
Of course a magnificent carriage like that was not travelling alone. The front and back were tightly protected by knights and soldiers. A relative smaller carriage trailed behind it, but it was still large enough to make it obvious that it belonged to nobility.
That were Zenjirou and his company coming back from the March of Guzzle.
Normally, the sides of the road would be brimming with cheering citizens, when a Royal Carriage passed through, but this time, it was relatively quiet.
Nevertheless, the main road was currently closed off and there were some curious bystanders or nosey kids running along on the sidewalk, but the atmosphere of a “royal procession” did not really come to be.
It was hardly surprising. The leading characters of the preceding marriage ceremony were the groom General Puyol and the bride Lucinda after all.
Even if Zenjirou was Royalty, he could hardly afford to stand out more than the important newly-wed couple.
As a matter of fact, when General Puyol and Lucinda had returned to the capital a few days prior, they had ridden an open carriage in their wedding dresses (the groom was wearing his full dress uniform, though) and waved their hands with a smile on their faces while they proceeded along the main road.
And although some days had already passed, it was expected that Zenjirou made a less flashy return, since he had been nothing but a guest to the wedding ceremony.
In a way, Zenjirou was quite happy about that.
He might have gotten a bit used to it, but riding a carriage without suspension over the hardly paved “Salt Road” had actually been quite tiring for him.
So he was grateful that he could lean back inside the carriage without having to wave to the citizens with a smile.
“Are you alright, Your Majesty Zenjirou?”
When Zenjirou unconsciously heaved a sigh, the first princess of the Uppsala Kingdom on the North Continent, Freya Uppsala, called out worriedly from beside him.
The young woman shook her short silver hair as she checked his complexion, so Zenjirou answered her with a smile.
“Thank you for your concern, Princess Freya. But I am alright. I was just relieved to be back in the Capital.”
He was not putting up a brave front. Sure, Zenjirou was a bit harassed from the long ride in the shaking dragon carriage, but not so much as to call it exhaustion.
Simply put, he was just “really tired”.
More importantly, he was bewildered by the fact that he did not mind having Princess Freya sit next to him so close that their legs were almost touching.
“I see. Once we let Her Majesty Aura in the Palace know about our return, we can finally relax, so please hang in there a bit longer.”
“Hahaha. You sure seem full of energy for all that, Princess Freya. I guess you are not the captain of an intercontinental voyage for show.”
“Fufu, thank you.”
His smile revealed not the slightest hint of wariness while he chit-chatted with her.
To begin with, Zenjirou had been nothing but a commoner in Japan not long ago and ascended into Royalty out of nowhere, so his mentality was not toughened to the point, where he could sustain scepticism while a woman in the same carriage approached him with affability or rather affection day in and day out.
On the other hand, Princess Freya was full-fledged Royalty, albeit a young one, so it was understandable she would get the better of him.
But even then, the current situation was not entirely going according to her expectations.
“It was quite strenuous at times, but it certainly was fun, was it not, Your Majesty Zenjirou?”
“Yes, for sure.”
When Princess Freya spoke about their mutual experience at the March of Guzzle, Zenjirou did confirm it with a smile, but immediately cast his eyes to something else.
He was looking at the Royal Palace.
His mind was already filled with the Royal Palace, or more precisely with his home, the Inner Palace.
Although Princess Freya sat so close to him that he could feel her body temperature, Zenjirou was captivated by the thought of reuniting with the still faraway Queen Aura.
Realizing she was not even in his field of vision, Princess Freya heaved a sigh as if to say “This is going to be a stiff piece of work”.
* * *
The first destination after arriving in the Capital was obviously the Royal Palace.
Only after “Prince Consort” Zenjirou reported his safe return to “Queen” Aura in the audience room and was complimented for his work by the “Queen”, his expedition officially came to an end.
A marriage ceremony between high-ranking nobility was pretty much a state ceremony already. And when Royalty attended it on top of it, it became an official event completely without doubt.
Hence it was necessary to report the return from such an official event, even if it was quite troublesome.
Needless to say, neither Zenjirou, nor Aura could call it a “warm welcome”, when they were exchanging stiff words at such a formal occasion.
So Zenjirou only experienced a “home coming” in the true sense of the word, when he returned to the Inner Palace after finishing the formal greeting in the Royal Palace.
“I’m home, Aura.”
Back in the living room of the Inner Palace, Zenjirou gave his welcoming wife a genuine greeting with a tired expression.
“Welcome back, Zenjirou.”
Gone to the Inner Palace a bit ahead of him, Queen Aura smiled a gentle welcome to her returning husband.
It was still before afternoon. Normally, Queen Aura would still be busy with her duties, but since her husband was returning home today, she had taken time off by rearranging her schedule a few days ago.
Zenjirou could never hope to imitate her in that. He took the definition of diligence a bit too serious, so he avoided pushing his work onto others at all times.
Closing the door behind him, Zenjirou pulled his wife standing in front of him into an embrace with both arms.
The married couple was almost equally tall, so they placed their chins on the other’s shoulder, rubbing cheek on cheek, while repeating the greeting one more time.
Wrapping his right arm around her back and his left arm around her waist, Zenjirou tightly caressed his beloved wife while breathing a relaxed sigh.
Holding the tender body of his lovely wife in his arms in the only room with electricity in this world, Zenjirou finally felt “at home”.
At the same time, his whole body was assaulted by fatigue and sleepiness as though the threads of tension that kept him going had suddenly been cut.
Although Aura had no way to see his face in their embrace, she seemed to sense his state by touch.
“Are you okay? Why do you not sit down on the couch for now?”
With these words, she lent him a shoulder and led him to the couch.
Even though Zenjirou was propping half of his bodyweight against her, Aura showed not the slightest shakiness in her steps or in the arm holding him.
If their position were to be reversed, it might not be impossible for Zenjirou, but it would still take all his strength to pull it off.
Like always, he did consider himself a bit pathetic for it, but obediently indulged in the goodwill of his wife and leaned back into the couch.
When he slouched on the familiar couch, the sleepiness was about to overwhelm him.
“You might as well go to bed. I do not mind, you know?”
Standing next to the couch, Aura called out to him gently, but Zenjirou shut his eyes tightly, shook his head a few times and refused.
“No, it’s too early for that. And it’s been a while for us, so I’ll endure it.”
He was actually the type of person to struggle with correcting his inner clock once it went wrong.
It was still afternoon right now. If he were to go to sleep now and wake up in the middle of the night, he would end up being sluggish for a few days until his daily rhythm was fixed again.
Before it came to that, he might as well bear with it for today.
Hearing his resolve, the Queen nodded an “Okay” and took the silver jug out of the refrigerator, bringing it over along with the red and blue Kiriko glasses.
“Alcohol will only make you more sleepy, so I suppose fruit juice will be better. It should clear your sleepiness a bit.”
When the Queen eagerly poured him some fruit juice, Zenjirou took the glass with a happy smile. They chinked glasses, Zenjirou with his blue one, Aura with her red one, and downed it in one gulp.
The cold water mixed with black sugar and the juice of a citrus fruit certainly swept away the sleepiness for a moment.
“Fuh, it’s been a while since I drunk something cold. You can’t get your hands on it outside, no matter what.”
“All thanks to you. Anyway, we still have some time until dinner, so how about we review our current situations for a bit?”
Zenjirou wrinkled his brow, when his wife suggested this with a smile.
“Hmm, that would certainly be an effective way to spend the time, but to be honest, I don’t think I’m in any shape to hold a meaningful conversation right now.”
The fruit juice refreshed him a bit, but his brain was still only working at half its capacity. Even if they were to exchange information now, he doubted he would report it accurately or remember what she might say.
But the Queen removed his doubts by shaking her head.
“No problem. We will hold a proper meeting tomorrow, when you cleared your head after a good night’s sleep. I have already made time for it. For now, you can just give me a rough outline of things. To begin with, I do not want to use time effectively, but keep you awake through it.”
Zenjirou was convinced by the words of his wife.
It definitely was a good idea to battle his sleepiness with talking. Of course it was no cure for the sleepiness itself, but it should distract him to some extent.
Although he was in no state to “exchange information” meaningfully, he could at least make some bantering chat.
“Okay. Who’s going to start? You said our situations, so I take it you have something to report?”
“Yeah, I kind of do. The fine details in the proper order can wait until tomorrow, so let us just present the important bits for now.
Zenjirou, I am sure you have noticed it already, but Nilda Guzzle currently does not have her name recorded on the ‘Roll of Names’.”
“Ah, I knew it. Good. Then I most likely took the right course of action. Well done, if I may say so myself.”
“So you did noticed it. Did something happen?”
Instead of an exchange of information, Zenjirou and Aura continued more of a relaxed conversation about their recent circumstances from then on.
Even without reporting all the details in the right order, they could more or less get a grasp of their respective circumstances, when they shared the important pieces with each other.
By the time they finished the casual meeting, Zenjirou had already forgotten about his fatigue or sleepiness and his back was soaking wet with cold sweat.
“I did have a hunch, but she really wasn’t nobility, eh. Phew, close call. If I hadn’t make her take a backseat, things could have gone really sour with the Navarre Kingdom.”
“Hmm, I was sure you would notice and deal with it, so I choose not to get in contact with you, but the situation seems to have been worse than I had imagined.
Who would have dreamt that Miss Nilda would actually have a brush with a knight from the Navarre Kingdom.”
Informed about the incident in the March of Guzzle by him, Aura also heaved a sigh of relief.
In retrospect, it had been the right choice of her to believe in Zenjirou and not contact him, but at the same time, she was aware that it could have escalated into something outrageous.
Considering the power difference between the Major Power known as Carpa Kingdom and the Middle Power known as Navarre Kingdom, it would not have been impossible per se to deal with an incident, where the non-noble Nilda picked a quarrel with the knight from the Navarre Kingdom, but it would have been extremely troublesome for sure.
In that sense, Zenjirou truly achieved the best possible result as he negotiated that ultimately “nothing happened and no one would pry into it any further”.
“Well done, Zenjirou. You really outdid yourself this time.”
Aura smiled and clung to the arm of her husband sitting next to her.
For serious conversations, they were always sitting across from each other, but for casual talks, they sat next to each other.
Aura was kind of breaking that custom by sitting next to him, when the content of their conversation was obviously serious, but she probably wanted to emphasise the fact that it was “not a proper meeting for information exchange”.
A pleased Zenjirou narrowed his eyes to slits in reaction to the praise from his wife and her body temperature he could feel on his shoulder and arm.
“Then it was worth all the trouble. Yeah, I really did give it my all this time.”
Normally, Zenjirou was always being modest, but for a change, he declared this proudly.
As a matter of fact, he had all the reason to be proud of himself this time.
Seeing her husband all puffed up with pride, the Queen narrowed her eyes a bit and smiled back at him.
“Marquis Guzzle and Miss Nilda should still be in the March of Guzzle. Okay, I will have a talk with Severo, so something like this will never happen again, and since it is kind of our fault, I will use ‘Teleport’ for him free of charge.”
When Zenjirou cocked his head puzzled in light of the unfamiliar name, Aura quickly explained it.
“Yes. He is a rear vassal of Marquis Guzzle and in charge of his residence here in the Capital. Everyone of the Guzzle Family is currently attending the wedding ceremony, so Severo is the only one left in the Capital. He is acting as a representative for the house now.”
In the Carpa Kingdom, a noble household was obliged to have either the “previous head of the house”, the “current head of the house” or the “next head of the house” be present in the Royal Capital at all times, but for special occasions like a “Wedding Ceremony”, they could temporarily withdraw the whole clan from the capital.
“I see now. But it’s quite a delicate subject. Can we trust that Severo?”
Rear vassals were not necessarily faithful to their lord. When they were competent, they were often part of the branch family of their lord and it was not unheard of that they would try to usurp him.
But Aura cleared Zenjirou’s doubt with a shook of her head.
“Nothing is certain in life, but it should be fine in this case. Quite untypical for nobility, that rear vassal family is actually very loyal to the Guzzle Family, so a lot of its member can be trusted.
By the way, Severo is the husband of Amanda.”
Zenjirou widened his eyes and forgot all about his sleepiness for a moment in light of the unexpected piece of information.
“Our Supervisory Maid Amanda? Wow, I suddenly feel like I can entrust my life to him. I might be exaggerating, though.”
It was dangerous to unconditionally trust someone, just because he was related to someone else you trusted. The family of an upright person was not necessarily upright as well.
Zenjirou understood that notion in his head, but on an emotional level, he could not deny the fact that he thought it would be alright to trust him, now that he had heard that he was family to a person he already trusted.
“For this reason, I am going to ’leap’ a messenger to the March of Guzzle either today or tomorrow. Marquis Guzzle should be returning to the Capital with his ’Copy of the Roll of Names’ and Miss Nilda then.
The Marquis is quite dutiful. I am sure he will want to express his gratitude to you, once he hears about it, so be prepared for it.”
Zenjirou curtly acknowledged what Aura said.
Considering the personality of Marquis Guzzle, it certainly was easily to conceive that he would take such an action.
Well, Zenjirou concluded that it should suffice to think about how to deal with Marquis Guzzle and Miss Nilda once they arrived in the Royal Capital.
“That’s all from me, I guess. Do you have anything to report, Aura?”
Approached like that, Aura pondered for a moment, then began to speak.
“Well, a few things, yes. First off, the glass research is progressing well. Thanks to the sand and shells you brought back from Valentia, the colour became a lot more transparent. Its viscosity increased as well, so it is a lot easier to handle now.
We are at the point to start experimenting with making these jewels now.”
“Oh, I remember you telling me about that before. So we’re finally at that stage?”
Zenjirou sat up on the couch with a glint in the eyes, but Aura threw cold water on his hopes by adding her objections.
“Yes, the glass itself is at that stage, but there has been almost no progress for the furnace of the glass, so there is no hope for a mass production at this point. At the present time, our furnaces cannot withstand the heat to make glass, so they break during the production.
Due to that, work is being delayed. Well, it is a tedious task to begin with, since not many people are assigned to it and they do have to take breaks.”
It definitely was a shame that there was no prospect of mass production yet, but before they reached that stage, they currently still had a lot of things to do.
They were striving to make colourless transparent glass on purpose, not by chance, and learn how to shape it into a sphere. If possible, they wanted to remove the bubbles from it, too.
“If it’s more viscous now, it should become spherical by itself, when we just let small amounts flow down a metallic slope…
You won’t get it, when I say it’s shaped like a water slide at a pool, right?
How do I put it? I mean something like a spiral-shaped stair. In theory, molten glass with a high viscosity will naturally end up as a sphere by the time it has rolled down all the way down to the ash pit…”
Zenjirou remembered an old method to make marbles he had seen during his school trip to a glass manufactory in middle school, and tried to explain it, but he was not eloquent enough to depict it with words alone.
“…I’ll explain it with some illustration at another time.”
“That would be most helpful.”
As expected, Queen Aura could not fully grasp it, so she said that with a shrug.
When the making of marbles became possible in the future, albeit in small quantity, they needed to tackle a new problem: the creation of “Magic Tools”, which used these marbles as a medium.
“On the topic of Magic Tools, Prince Francesco mentioned something troublesome again.”
Suddenly remembering it, Aura wrinkled her brow and heaved a heavy sigh.
“Mh? What did he say?”
Prince Francesco said something troublesome. That subject and adjective came in pairs nine times out of ten, so Zenjirou showed almost no bewilderment and asked back.
The troublesome part was obviously referring to his declared desire to create a “Magic Tool” imbued with “Bestowal Magic”.
Even the smallest of brains could comprehend that his idea to imbue a Magic Tool with Bestowal Magic would shake the continent to the very foundations. Aura had the urged to tell her husband all about it and ask him for his opinion.
But she shook her head after a moment of contemplation.
“Hmm… No, I cannot tell you yet. Prince Francesco asked me not to speak of it to others. It would not be wise to break that promise at this point of time.”
For Royalty or Nobility, verbal promises were not something that had to be kept at all costs, but at the same time, it definitely hurt your reputation, when you broke them too often.
“As such, I cannot tell you the details now, but the matter quite likely involves these jewels of yours.”
“Ah, I can more or less see where this is going.”
Zenjirou nodded a few times, seemingly convinced by her words.
Considering Prince Francesco (literally) had only brains for his craftsmanship and mentioned something “in secret” that was going to involve the marbles from Zenjirou, he was probably trying to make an outrageous Magic Tool.
Seeing as Aura had not outright declined him, it was highly possible that the matter had some kind of advantage for the Carpa Kingdom as well.
Although not extraordinary bright, even Zenjirou could easily make a supposition about it.
“Okay. I’ll be ready to hear you out, when the time comes. But I want to confirm something: The marbles I brought along are mine for sure, but the ones the craftsmen make from now on won’t be mine, right?”
He was making sure rather than questioning it, but the Queen pondered for a while.
“Hmm, you devised the whole manufacturing process, so it technically would be legitimate to accredit their rights to you, though…”
Well aware of these circumstances, Aura still did not outright say “They are yours”, because she knew it would be disadvantageous to give these rights to Zenjirou.
At the present time, it was nothing but counting the chickens before they hatch, but when the Carpa Kingdom made the mass production of marbles possible in the future, it would be a huge issue of who owned the rights.
If the Carpa Kingdom were to get their hands on both the mass production of marbles and a practitioner of the Bestowal Magic one day, it would mean that they could mass produce Magic Tools.
The mass production of Magic Tools was a double-edged sword. In the hands of the monarch, it would strengthen the Royal Authority by far, whereas it could divide the country into two, when a different member of the Royal Family controlled it.
And it would become a lot more likely that someone else than the monarch secured the rights in the future, if the rights of the marble production were to be given to Zenjirou now.
It was relatively unlikely that a practitioner of “Bestowal Magic” would be born between Zenjirou and Aura in the first place. Crown Prince Carlos Zenkichi was said to be able to awaken to both “Space-Time Magic” and “Bestowal Magic” due to his vast amount of magical power, but he was more of an exception to the exception.
Normally, the stronger “Space-Time Magic” predisposition from Aura would be prominent in their child while the “Bestowal Magic” predisposition had almost no chance to surface.
Accordingly, a possible practitioner of the “Bestowal Magic” in the Carpa Kingdom would have to be a child from Zenjirou with a different woman than Aura. In other words: Indirect Royalty.
Needless to say, that Indirect Royalty would become the central figure of the Magic Tool production. Things would get rather complicated then, when Zenjirou possessed the rights to the marbles, a necessary ingredient for the creation of these Magic Tools.
The Indirect Royalty would be the child of Prince Consort Zenjirou, but not of Queen Aura. Considering the child would be mainly using the marbles, it would obviously expect to inherit these rights from its father.
Whether the mother was Princess Freya or some other woman, the relatives behind her would, without doubt, strongly lay claim to these rights, too, for their own interests.
On the other hand, that kind of trouble in the next generation could be avoided, if the rights to the marbles were given to Queen Aura in the first place.
Even if she shared that right with her husband, she had no obligation whatsoever to let a non-blood related Indirect Royalty inherit that right. It was much more natural to let her own child, the next monarch, inherit it.
Zenjirou obviously comprehended these circumstances as well.
“As a matter of fact, the glass craftsmen are acting upon your orders, so it should be yours. I’ve no right to meddle in it.”
He declared indifferently without showing any attachment to it.
“…Are you sure?”
Well-accustomed to his considerate personality already, Aura still showed some bewilderment this time round.
It goes without saying. This matter was different from the previous incidents, where he rejected all the rights or rewards Aura was supposed to give him, after all.
Zenjirou was basically relinquishing the rights to his knowledge without condition. And quite profitable knowledge that would become the backbone of the country in the future, at that.
Based on their time together, Aura was certain that he was being dead serious, but she could not relate to these moral values.
Although she understood it in the head that something like this was nothing special to him, her heart could not keep up with it.
Whether he knew about the emotional state of his wife or not, Zenjirou affirmed it with an indifferent expression.
“Yep. No matter how you think about it, the monarch should have direct control over the technology to make a medium for magic tools or it would be dangerous. Well, I will help as much as possible until a mass production is in place, of course.”
At wit’s end from his apathetic statement, Aura heaved a sigh.
“…Sometimes I question myself if you are really human. Maybe you are just a convenient illusion or the manifestation of a benevolent spirit?”
Prince Consort Zenjirou was such a “convenient guy” for her that it made her consider that for real.
His actual capabilities aside, he principally did everything she asked for on the one hand and showed not the slightest interest in what she did not ask for on the other hand.
In the previous war amongst others, Aura had been made aware of how unfair reality was and how difficult it was to balance the pro and contra of things, so she could not help but be scared of his consideration at times.
Needless to say, Zenjirou was not all that dense, either.
He did know that his moral values were quite abnormal in this world and also that consideration or modesty did not necessarily bring about good results once a relationship reached a certain familiarity.
But at the same time, it was an incontrovertible truth that authority or fortune were nothing but “troublesome” baggage for him. And as a born commoner, he had an extremely low tolerance for power and wealth.
It was not humility or anything, when he said he wanted to avoid opportunities to order around others with his authority as much as possible, but his true feelings.
With a bitter smile, Zenjirou tried to voice these true feelings as accurately as possible.
“Hmm, these kind of things are just work to me. A burden, so to speak. I’m not really trying to please you, but rather just speaking my mind.”
“I do know you are speaking the truth. But it unsettles me on an emotional level. It feels like I am slave-driving you one-sidedly.
No, it is not just a feeling. I am definitely slave-driving you in all objectivity.”
“Don’t worry about it, is what I would like to say, but we do have to consider the public view after all. Our positions are complicated enough as it is.
If you can’t leave me out of the picture, I guess we need to give the impression on the surface at least that you rewarded me in some way, so if you know of something appropriate, I’ll accept it.”
Aura showed a wry smile and heaved a sigh, when her husband was only worried about outer appearance.
“I do want to reward you for real, not just for show, though. But yes, outer appearance certainly is quite important for Royalty like us.
Giving you a title would be the safest choice in this case. Of course I cannot give you a title with a territory like the Duke of Valentia or Count of Potoshi, but there are still a couple of titles without land, so if you could accept one of them, it would help.”
A title without an associated territory, meaning a title of honour. Unlike the officials in the palace, such a title did not get a remuneration, so receiving the title alone could drive you into a financial corner instead, because you had to prepare the clothes appropriate to its rank, but that was not causing any concern for Royalty.
All necessary clothes and accessories for Royalty were being provided anyway and if they ever needed money for something else, Royalty could easily earn it through their “Bloodline Magic”.
“A title, eh. Yeah, sounds good as long as it doesn’t come with a troublesome territory management.
And personally speaking, there’s only one thing that counts as a genuine reward for me.”
Saying that, Zenjirou let his refreshing smile turn into a more suggestive one. In short: a “wolfish grin”.
He put his right hand around the back of his wife and pulled her closer with a jerk.
Aura obviously knew what that implied and for this very reason, she was quite troubled by his behaviour.
“Ah, well, you know, Zenjirou. Please keep calm and listen to me…”
Leaning against her husband, but still keeping a bit of a distance to him by placing her right hand on his chest, the Queen began to speak.
Zenjirou got a bad feeling about her unusual hesitant way of speaking and indecisive line of vision, but asked anyway.
“ Yeah, what is it?”
“Well, you see, it is not quite certain yet, but… we might be getting a ‘second one‘.”
A second one.
Comprehending what this was referring to, Zenjirou tensed up on the spot while still embracing his beloved wife.
There might a second child in the belly of his wife. That was wonderful news. Really wonderful news.
It could be called a great success, considering the reason Zenjirou was summoned into this world for.
And of course, he personally welcomed the fact that Aura was going to bear his child in a “fundamental way“, too.
His first child Carlos Zenkichi was essentially the greatest treasure to him and getting one more such treasure was truly a joyous occasion.
It was joyous indeed, but… Zenjirou was rather conflicted about it right now.
Because they would have to put their night activities on hold for a while, when Aura was believed to be pregnant.
Zenjirou loved children without doubt, but he loved the process of making them just as much.
Especially after returning from the month-long expedition in an “unsatisfied” condition.
The Queen and her husband maintained a stiff silence while embracing each other on the couch.
After more than a minute, the silence was broken by Zenjirou.
“…I… I’m… really happy to hear that.”
The prince consort struggles for words of pleasant anticipation and congratulations while his expression was a mixture of happiness and sadness alike. He was literally “smiling through his tears”.