A few days later at noon.
“Knight Otario, I hereby appoint you as my personal knight. I expect much of your bravery and loyalty.”
In a room deep inside the palace, Zenjirou stood in front of the kneeling young knight and called out to him with a voice as dignified as possible.
The name of the knight that was kneeling before Zenjirou.
He was probably in his mid-twenties, close in age to Zenjirou. Dark brown hair, grey eyes and brown skin. The man had the typical colour hues of the Carpa Kingdom and was on his knee with a faithful expression.
His braced features gave the impression that he was honest and serious, but hardly anyone would be brave enough to relax his features during an oath ceremony in front of a direct royalty. It would be dangerous to judge his character from the first impression alone.
Zenjirou smoothly drew the sword he had taken from Otario out of its scabbard.
The well-forged iron blade reflected the sunlight shining in from the windows, and sparkled.
The blade was about fifty to sixty centimetre long. It seemed to be a one-hand sword, judging by the length of the hilt, but he didn’t think that one could swing its heavy weight with one hand so easily.
Zenjirou patted the shoulders of the kneeing Otario one after another with the flat surface of the drawn sword, then slowly sheathed it again.
Next up, Otario respectfully took the sheathed sword offered to him by Zenjirou, with both hands while still kneeling on the floor on one knee, and answered.
“I hereby swear to be yours to command, to put my life on the line, to never defy your orders, to never stray from the righteous path and to never be afraid of a distress.”
Thus, the oath ceremony of Knight Otario ended without a hitch.
After Knight Otario left the room of the palace, Zenjirou made a sigh of relief, so small that no one near could hear it. He somehow managed to get over it without committing any mistakes.
“Thank you for your hard work, Zenjirou-sama.”
Zenjirou shivered his body reflexively when the middle-aged man with a slender face— Secretary Fabio, standing in attendance behind him, called out to him.
Based on their social standings, the middle-aged man was a subordinate lent to him from Aura, but if Zenjirou’s eyes weren’t playing a trick on him, then the secretary showed not the slightest bit of such an acknowledgment in his eyes directed at him.
For Zenjirou, they rather seemed to show something on the lines of “I’m keeping a close watch on every single movement of the stallion, who came out unwanted, so he doesn’t do anything stupid”.
(He wouldn’t use something like “thank you for your hard work” to begin with, if he acknowledged my superiority…. Wait, not good. That’s not quite right. The words are translated smoothly thanks to the “soul of words”, so I forgot about it, but this is a different world after all)
From their first meeting until now, the middle-aged man had only taken an attitude that could never be misunderstood as favourable, so Zenjirou, too, unconsciously ended up harbouring negative feelings more than necessary.
Words of appreciation were directed from a superior to an subordinate and the opposite was considered to be rude. At least that was common sense in the Japanese society. It certainly went too far to suspect a spite behind the words “thank you for your hard work”.
Zenjirou opened his mouth while he recalled the proper response as a royalty that he had learned in his lessons with Octavia, in his mind.
“No, it was nothing. I did it alright, didn’t I?”
He turned about and asked that, whereat Secretary Fabio asserted while keeping his stony mask as always.
“Yes. From now on, Knight Otario will be a direct henchman to you, Zenjirou-sama, while at the same time he serves for the Dragonback Archery Knights. The salary for a royal henchman accounts for twenty large silver coins per year, so it surely will be a great asset for the Maldonado Family.
Her Highness Aura will actually be paying him, but nominally you are doing the payments, so please keep it in mind.”
“Oh, he gets an extra salary?”
Zenjirou raised a slightly surprised voice, whereupon Secretary Fabio affirmed it without so much as twitching a muscle on his face.
“Yes. A knight’s loyalty is bought with money after all.”
These dreamless and uninspiring words didn’t match the idea of a different world in a fantasy setting.
Zenjirou tilted his a bit puzzled and inquired further.
“Is that so?”
“Of course it does not come from money alone. The words of the master strengthen the loyalty and the actions of the master maintain it. However, the foundation is kept up through money to the bitter end. Loyalty will not be established without the base of money.”
The frank words of Secretary Fabio were extremely pragmatic, but easily understandable for Zenjirou because of that.
It was disillusioning, but the knights without an own piece of land, only lived from the salary they received from the country. Bravery and loyalty were literally for sale and needed to fetch a price as high as possible.
With his inexpressive mask, Secretary Fabio watched Zenjirou as he nod convinced, and called out to him with a verbal expression of suddenly recalling something.
“Oh, that reminds me, do you have any plans to take a peerage or domain, Zenjirou-sama?”
Zenjirou shivered inside again upon the sudden topic chance while he replied without letting it show on his face or in his tone.
“Peerage or domain? What do you mean?”
“Yes. Our Carpa Kingdom has scattered landholdings under the direct control of the royalty, besides the capital and its outskirts. The lord of these lands is Her Highness Aura at the present time and governors are installed there, but as royalty, you have the right to take them over, Zenjirou-sama. Though your accession of them would only last for your lifetime.”
It wasn’t all that unusual that the king or royalty owned another peerage and land of their own besides the crown or right of succession to the throne. On the contrary, kings without a domain of their own were a minority. There were even some complicated cases, where the king of one country owned a peerage of a different country.
“It will be redundant when you stay inside the inner palace like you have so far, but when you increase your activities outside from now on, you would certainly need your own title and a capital you can spent freely. Not to mention, an independent source of funds will be essential should you desire to add more henchman like Knight Otario.”
Secretary Fabio brought his explanation to a finish like that.
Zenjirou was immersed in his thoughts.
(I see now. He got a point there, but…)
Considering that he was the “loyal retainer of the Queen”, it was obviously weird, even if he had a point.
When Zenjirou, the husband of the Queen, gained a title or domain, even if only nominal, and obtained an independent income, it meant that Aura would lose the control over him. To begin with, sharing even a part of the earnings from the scattered landholdings currently unified under Aura, simply meant that she had less money to spent freely, too.
The Prince Consort had a status and income of his own, levying an army of his own with that income.
That was obviously not something the close adviser of the Queen would suggest.
(Is he suspicious of me? No, it’s too obvious, even if that’s the case. If anything, he’s giving me a warning, I guess, in a roundabout manner)
While he pondered like that, the secretary stood at attention and suspiciously watched his every movement with his strict eyes.
This man would definitely not miss an suspicious attitude from Zenjirou.
As he had sworn loyalty to Aura, he was trustworthy, but when he gave him a cold glare of suspicion like this, Zenjirou felt uncomfortable and fearful.
When Zenjirou was on Aura’s side, the answer to this offer could only be “no”.
Zenjirou knew at least that this wasn’t the place to be obstinate and give an uncooperative answer, so he cleared his throat once with an affected cough, then honestly denied it.
“That won’t be necessary. The centralization of finances and power is essential for the restoration of the ‘royal family’.”
“However, I thought you had made up your mind to leave the inner palace to be of use to Her Highness Aura? Excuse me for saying this, but even when you are Her Highness’s consort and acknowledged as a direct royalty, your repertoire of what you can accomplish is rather limited without a title.”
Provoking words from an inexpressive face with a flat tone. Zenjirou let his inner irritation boil up, temporarily softened his fear and wariness towards the man standing in front of him through anger and replied somewhat emotional.
“…Even if that’s the case, it’s a problem to be discussed between my wife and I. You’ve no right to propose it to me over her head.”
After he said that, Zenjirou immediately regretted it with “damn, I went too far”, but it was too late. However, surprisingly enough, the biting words and irritation uncloaked in his answer were satisfying for Secretary Fabio.
“…Yes, please forgive me for speaking out of line.”
His inexpressive mask crumbled for a tiny bit and revealed a smile as he deeply lowered his head towards Zenjirou.
* * *
A few hours later. The sunlight, shining in from the windows, started to get a sunset tinge, when Secretary Fabio visited Aura, who was attending to her duties in her office.
“Your Highness, I have returned.”
Aura only glanced at him as he bowed curtly while remaining seated at her desk.
“Well done, Fabio. You have done well, too, Alejandro. You may leave now.”
The young and serious-looking man standing behind her— her second secretary Alejandro handed Secretary Fabio the pack of dragonskin parchments he was holding, upon his master’s words.
“Fabio-sama, these are the documents for today.”
“Okay. I will take over from here on.”
“Yes, please do.”
After handing the dragonskin parchments to the middle-aged first secretary, the second secretary sincerely bowed once, then left.
While hearing the door shut with a clatter behind him, Secretary Fabio headed over to the desk and called out to the writing Queen.
“Did you fare with Alejandro well, Your Highness?”
Aura stopped her hand that was leading the ball pen upon his question and raised her eyes from the paper at her hands to the slender face of her secretary standing in front of her.
“Quite so. His conduct is rather adorable, unlike yours. Still, he is not all that ‘quick on the uptake’ for his job yet. If I were to be feeling well, it would be alright to have him around to let him get accustomed to it, but right now he can fulfil a substitute role at best.”
The Queen gave a harsh evaluation, whereat Secretary Fabio answered with a light shrug of his shoulders.
“Understood. I will do my utmost from now on to teach him, so that he will meet your standards.”
As the first secretary, teaching the young secretaries was one of Fabio’s duties as well.
Aura had known Fabio for a long time, so she subtly sensed his burning passion for teaching the younger generation behind his stony mask, and pitied the young secretaries a bit.
Nevertheless, it was a fact that the skills of the young secretary were still lacking.
“Do that. By the way, how did it go?”
Not panicking on the sudden topic change, the middle-aged secretary was “quick on the uptake” and responded.
“Very well. The oath ceremony of Knight Otario finished without a hitch. Zenjirou-sama has already returned into the inner palace.”
Aura spilled a sigh of relief for now from the everything-is-fine report of her secretary.
“I see. Glad to hear. So, let me hear your opinion. How did my husband come across to you?”
It had already been to half a year since Zenjirou had come into this world. At this point, it certainly was a bit late to ask this now, but since Zenjirou had shut himself into the inner palace, where entrance was forbidding to other males, Secretary Fabio had no real chance to strike a genuine conversation with him until now.
However, now that Zenjirou had made up his mind to be more active outside of the inner palace to a reasonable degree, it was necessary to inquire what kind of impression her loyal retainer with the stony mask had of him.
The middle-aged secretary replied at once, as he already had prepared an answer to the Queen’s question.
“Very well. It appears that he is somewhat accustomed to keep up appearances from the outset. Due to that, I believe that he will not commit any fatal mistakes if we were to entrust official matters to him.
His etiquette gets a passing mark as well. There is much I would like to point out, but everything still is within a permissible scope. I would dare to say that it is unlikely that he will cause a problem due to being unaware of the etiquette outside.”
The secretary talked swiftly in a fluent speech, then temporarily stopped and added some more at the end after a short shrug of his shoulders.
“Also, I tried to tempt him into accepting a peerage and land from the holdings of the crown, but he rejected it.”
Aura showed a sullen face and buried her head in her hands when her secretary said so blatantly.
“There you go again with your provocations… Still, a peerage and land, huh. It certainly is worth considering in prospect of my husband’s future activities.”
The Queen took her hands off her face and supported her chin with them, immersing herself in her thoughts with a serious expression. In reaction, Secretary Fabio twisted the corners of his mouth into a faint smile and said bantering.
“Please talk about that in plenty between the two of you. Because it apparently is not a matter a mere secretary as myself can poke his noise into ‘over your head’.”
Aura discerned from his tone that Zenjirou must have said that and replied with a small smile.
“How typical of my prudent husband. I have it so much easier thanks to it. It might be better to prepare him only a peerage first of all for now, to gain some prestige.”
She gave him a favourable impression like that, but in fact, Zenjirou hadn’t really acted with prudence in mind. He simply was aware of the fact that Aura and him may be on equal terms in private, but had a distinct distribution of roles, namely superior and inferior, in public.
From his experiences as a working adult for roughly three years, he had internalized how easily an organisation could go astray when they didn’t share accurate information and had no coherent chain of command.
“Would it not be alright to let him succeed the title ‘Duke of Valentia’, considering his position as your husband?”
Aura answered the provoking words of her secretary with a low tone as if to threaten him while she kept her smile.
“Fabio, refrain from testing me. Do not worry, I have no intention to grant my husband that much power. At least while I sit on the throne, the dukedom of ‘Valentia’ and the county of ‘Potosi’ will remain under my control. I will not pass them on to anyone.”
“A wise decision.”
Being scolded by the Queen, the secretary shrugged his shoulders lightly without showing any sign of repentance, and evaluated her decision like that.
“Valentia” was the most flourishing seaport within the kingdom and “Potoshi” had the greatest silver mines in the whole kingdom.
The independent royal income from them exceedingly strengthened Aura’s power in this feudal state. It would be nothing but a foolish move to entrust one of these two major sources of revenue to someone else besides her, even her husband.
“However, you currently cannot ‘leap’ to the locations, since you are pregnant. And leaving it all up to the governors is dangerous in itself.”
Aura frowned when her secretary pointed that out, but she was sane enough to just nod to it.
“Yeah, I know. Giving him the title may be out of the question, but I would really like him to act as an administrator for it, when he learns to use ‘Space-Time Magic’.”
Detached lands originally tended to be an good breeding ground for corruption or revolts, but the reason why it functioned exceptionally well without problems in the Carpa Kingdom was the “teleportation” spell amongst the magic that the members of the royal family could use.
It required some guts and wits for people to scheme revolts or corruption when they didn’t know when a sudden inspection would take place.
But at the present time, the Queen aka Aura was the only person in the Carpa Kingdom, who could use “teleportation”. In that sense, it was desirable, too, that Zenjirou learned magic and many children with a direct bloodline were born.
“Indeed. Such an appointment would be worthwhile. That said, his greatest appointment remains to make a child with you.”
“Well, yeah. Fortunately, that matter is progressing well. And I did not feel sick even once today either. According to Doctor Michelle, I already have the toughest phase of the morning sickness behind me.”
Aura showed her brightest expression of today, whereat Secretary Fabio
“Glad to hear that. Come to think of it, you personally met the envoy from the Twin Kingdom today, did you not? What did he say?”
changed the topic and asked her.
The diplomatic differences with the Twin Kingdom. To find a point of compromise over what to do with the latent power of the “Bestowal Magic” that Zenjirou had, they had held a secret meeting today.
Aura lightly shrugged her shoulders on his question and answered.
“First of all, my initial impression was that they do not intend to restraint our child. But they seem to be ready to intervene if my husband were to make a child with someone else than me.”
After she said that, she leaned her full body weight against the backrest of her chair and craned her neck once to ease the stiffness.
That reaction was what he had anticipated from the beginning. Convinced, Secretary Fabio inquired further.
“However, the child between Zenjirou-sama and yourself will definitely have inherited some remains of the ‘Sharrow Royal Family’ blood. Will the Twin Kingdom really be appeased just by not letting Zenjirou-sama take any concubines?”
Aura shrugged her shoulders once more and honestly shook her head.
“I doubt it. In fact, they hinted at tying the knot between my husband and a Princess of a branch family of the Sharrow Family. With the premise of taking the child between them to the Twin Kingdom, naturally.
This is nothing definite, but my gut feeling tells me that they are more focussed on winning over the ‘Space-Time Magic’ bloodline for their own country rather than trying to prevent that our country keeps the ‘Bestowal Magic’ bloodline.”
In that case, a royalty with mixed blood of the Carpa Family would be born into the Sharrow Family just like their child was going to born with mixed blood of the Sharrow Family. Probably something along the lines of: We’re even with you.
Of course, that was only an excuse from their side, while Aura had her own excuses.
The information that Zenjirou had latently inherited the Sharrow blood wasn’t verified, so if they were to accept their excuse as it is, then it could very well result in the simple theft of their “Space-Time Magic” bloodline.
To begin with, Zenjirou hadn’t intentionally stolen their bloodline or anything, so they had no reason to comply any further. Logically speaking, the Twin Kingdom had sent Aura and Zenjirou their “blessings” when they had married, so they had no right to complain about his bloodline now. That said, Aura didn’t expect either that foreign affairs followed such prim rules.
“I wonder at what point a compromise can be reached.”
“No idea. It is hard to say anything at this point. I am afraid that we will talk past each other for a while longer. After all, there is a ‘bloodline magic’ at stake. We both cannot yield for various reasons.
To look for the silver lining, they also recognize war as the very last and worst option.”
After saying that, Aura craned her neck again while still leaning against the backrest.
The Carpa Kingdom and the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell. Both were prominent major powers that reigned supreme on the South Continent. And both were aware that it wouldn’t end with a simple burn if they played with fire. However, there was nothing impractical like honour at stake this time. It concerned the “bloodline magic”, the power that made up the heart of a country. It seemed unlikely that a comprise would be reached so easily.
“In the worst case, it might not even reach a conclusion in your lifetime.”
Aura frowned from the realistic-tinted bad prediction that her secretary mentioned.
“…If possible, I would like to avoid that. The longer it takes to solve a matter like this, the more both sides will see the legitimacy of their own claims and stop compromising. I would rather not see that the generation of my child will spark the next great war.”
That said, Aura was a ruler, too. As a ruler, she couldn’t make any secret arrangements that would disadvantage her own country. If she were to do that, the foundation of her power would start to sway, bringing about the next crisis of a revolt.
“We can only prepare ourselves for a drawn-out argument. I am restricted until I give birth anyway and making overhasty decisions is never good. Further on, it will be troublesome when the secret gets out by chance. I am sure you can imagine what someone like Puyol would say if he were to get wind of this?”
As Secretary Fabio understood what Aura was getting at, he made a small sigh and agreed.
“…He would gleefully push a concubine onto Zenjirou-sama for sure. In order to actively steal the ‘Bestowal Magic’.”
The ambitious General Puyol would never let the chance to capture the bloodline magic of another country escape. And the prediction that sympathetic nobles would become a majority when General Puyol proposed the above, was even more troubling. The “Bestowal Magic” lineage was just that attractive.
It was quite likely that the moderate faction, anxious about the Twin Kingdom, would be cast aside.
“Prudence is the key, prudence.”
Aura mumbled as if to convince herself and unconsciously stroke her stomach holding the child with her right hand.