The early afternoon on a certain day.
An unusual atmosphere hung over the “audience room”, which could be considered the centre of the royal palace of the Carpa Kingdom.
Queen Aura sat on her throne and various officials, in charge of the civil and military affairs in the Carpa Kingdom, stood at the lower end, showing a mixed expression of nervousness and curiosity.
You could very well call this an abnormal situation. All the present nobles were above a certain rank, namely important mainstays of the county.
It was extremely rare that these noblemen, up to all the dodges, would reveal their “nervousness” and even rarer that they couldn’t hide their “curiosity”.
However, it would be a bit unfair to call them “careless” for it. After all, they currently faced a situation that was compelling “nervousness” and stimulating “curiosity”.
A prince and a princess from the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell were visiting.
That fact was significant enough to make the nobles of the Carpa Kingdom, a major power, lose their composure.
Just as the Carpa Kingdom was the leader of the western part on South Continent, the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell was ruling supreme over the central area of the South Continent.
Moreover, Prince Francesco and Princess Bona were members of the “Sharrow Royal Family”. Unlike the members of the Jilbell Royal Family, who frequently visited other countries in demand of their “Healing Magic”, the Sharrow Royal Family, practitioners of the “Bestowal Magic”, basically never left their country.
At the very least, they hadn’t made any official visits abroad in the last century. So it was no wonder that the noblemen, usually experts at controlling their expressions and ways of speaking, would be unable to hide their curiosity when the royalty wrapped in such mysteries suddenly came over for a visit.
As they stood below the throne, the noblemen faithfully kept their facial expression in check, but even then, they couldn’t suppress the tint of curiosity from showing in their eyes while they gazed upon the still closed double door.
(I have heard rumours, but to think that they would really come…)
(It’s quite the surprise. I wonder what their aim is?)
(Who knows. Officially it is labelled as a “friendly visit”.)
(That’s obviously just an excuse. But either way…)
(Yes, there will be a stir for a while.)
If their whispered words as they stood faithfully at attention, were to reach Aura’s ears, she would probably heave a sigh of relief.
As a matter of fact, the “gossip” of the noblemen didn’t include any information that paid attention to the true aim of the visit from Prince Francesco and Princess Bona, such as Zenjirou inheriting the Sharrow blood or his glass marbles having a high chance at being a medium for the “Bestowal Magic”.
For now, the censorship was working as expected.
In the meantime, the double door was pushed open with a deep tone and a pair of a man and a women entered the audience room.
(Oho, so they are…)
(Prince Francesco and Princess Bona…)
With all the eyes of the nobles set on them from left and right, the young prince and princess of the Sharrow Royal Family, dressed in the formal purple garbs, advanced gracefully on the red carpet.
Behind them followed numerous knights clad in leather armour and a long sword at their waist.
Main armaments like bows or spears, let alone magic tools for combat, weren’t allowed in here, but judging by their natural, yet cautious manner of walking, it was apparent that they could execute deadly precision even with a single word.
They weren’t the Imperial Guards from the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell, the ruler of the central area on the South Continent, for show. The delegation of the Twin Kingdom made their way to in front of the throne and halted there while the military officers gave them looks of admiration and alertness.
Sitting on her throne, Aura silently looked at the prince and princess from the foreign country standing below her.
(Now, they are the prince and princess from the Twin Kingdom, huh? Their magical power certainly is royal class.)
She watched the magical power rising from the bodies of Prince Francesco and Princess Bona, and muttered that to herself.
Princess Bona’s magical power was slightly inferior to Aura’s husband Zenjirou, who was sitting almost next to her, but Prince Francesco had almost twice as much as him.
Amongst the royalty of a major power that was an extraordinary amount. He even had far more than Aura, who prided herself on having a top class magical power for a royalty.
(Hmm, this proves that Prince Francesco is the legitimate grandson of the current king and Princess Bona an atavistic royalty. But that makes it even less comprehensible. Why does a direct royal descendant have no claim on the throne when he got this much magical power…?)
The eldest son of the crown prince had come of age, was in perfect health judging by appearance and possessed an extraordinary amount of magical power for a royalty.
It was extremely unnatural that he hadn’t gotten a claim on the throne with these conditions.
(I guess there has to be some kind of issue with his personality?)
Wary once again, Aura spoke with a clear voice from her throne without voicing any of her inner thoughts.
“I am Queen Aura of the Carpa Kingdom. You have come a long way. I hereby welcome you in my palace. Please make yourself at home.”
The spoken words and assumed conduct were more or less predetermined for this kind of official event. But Prince Francesco’s behaviour betrayed Aura’s expectations for a bit.
“My name is Francesco. I am the first son of Giuseppe, the crown prince of the Sharrow Family. You have my deepest gratitude for your hospitality.”
Prince Francesco phoned in the predetermined words with a smooth tone and deeply “lowered his head” in a flowing motion.
It was one thing when an average member of the royal family did so, but a crown prince, who was destined to assume the throne next up, or his eldest son would be “kings in the future”, so they would never lower their heads, not even to the ruler of a foreign country.
In the exchange between a Queen and a Prince, some humility in his way of speaking and so on, was obviously in order, but “lowering his head” was definitely out of the question.
In fact, the noblemen, filling the room to capacity, showed surprise by whispering secretly.
On the other hand, each and every knight from the Twin Kingdom, standing at attention behind Prince Francesco, kept a straight face without even batting an eye.
(I see. His behaviour is nothing unusual to them. For now, that means it was no random line of action for him.)
Put another way, it meant that everyone in the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell knew that “Prince Francesco would not accede to the throne”.
“My name is Bona, likewise from the Sharrow Family. It is a great honour to be given the opportunity to meet your Gracious Highness…”
Thereafter, Princess Bona, standing next to Prince Francesco, lowered her head even deeper than him and spoke words in accordance with etiquette with a tense voice, but Aura was only listening with half an ear and was rather thinking about Prince Francesco.
(Just what keeps him from getting a claim on the throne? His personality after all? But he has at least enough prudence to make it through a formal verbal exchange….)
On the surface, Aura kept a straight face, but behind the mask, she was wracking her brains about possible occurrences in the future.
* * *
It was an unwritten rule that the higher your status, the later you appeared at an evening party, usually held in the royal palace.
As the “host” of the evening party, you were allowed to put on airs for a bit, but when the host happened to be from the royal family, you no longer had a choice but to appear as the very last.
Needles to say, the royalty couldn’t be punished for going against it, as it was no fixed offence, but they would incur the enmity of the nobles, who attended later than them, in the end, so they should avoid doing so unless there was a solid ground.
And the “welcome party for Prince Francesco and Princess Bona” in the royal palace this evening was hosted by the Royal Carpa Family.
Consequently, Queen Aura and her Prince Consort Zenjirou, both members of the royal family, had to show up last, because they were the hosts.
However, this world had no “accurate mechanical clocks” like modern Earth. During the day, they could rely on a sundial, but at night, everyone had to rely on its own biological clock alone.
As a result, Aura and Zenjirou had to waste time in the waiting room next to the ballroom until all anticipated guest for tonight had arrived.
“Puh… So boring.”
Zenjirou sat on the cushioned couch in the dimly lit waiting room as he inadvertently spoke his mind openly.
At the beginning, when he had entered the waiting room, he had been a nervous wreck due to the fact that he would have to speak with the prince and princess of the Twin Kingdom, but after more than one hour, not even that nervousness could last.
“ Phew…. Oh, whoops, I nearly crumpled my clothes.”
As the tension left his body, he unconsciously was about to slump into the couch, but recalled his attire and corrected his sitting position.
Tonight, he was flamboyantly dressed in the red native dress of the Carpa Kingdom. The third formal dress, which he wore at the moment, was more likeable than his first formal dress, which he had worn at the “welcome ceremony” a few days ago, but it was far from being comfortable, either.
“Zenjirou, you can take off some clothes if you are uncomfortable. I think it will still take some time until it is our turn.”
Sitting across from him, Aura said that, but his personality was a bit too diligent to take her up on the offer.
The third formal dress, clothing his body right now, consisted of a garment that overlapped at the front like Japanese clothes, and was held together with a strap around the waist. Over it he wore something like a vest.
As pathetic it may sound, Zenjirou had no confidence that he would be able to put back on his clothes properly if he were to take some off now, and he would feel guilty to trouble the busy waiting maids at the last minute.
“Nah, I’ll do without it. We might be called on any minute now anyway.”
Therefore, he shook his head with these words.
It definitely was boring to wait in silence, but he could do without creating an unnecessary panic for doing something rash. As he was bad at improvising to begin with, Zenjirou wanted to avoid unexpected situation as much as possible.
“Still, I’ve got to say it’s quite dark here…”
Commenting about that only now, he glared at the oil pan standing tall next to the table while he remained seated in a well-mannered position.
The ballroom was relatively well illuminated by a good many of candles on magnificent chandeliers, but that wasn’t the case for this waiting room.
The light of the four oil pans standing around the two couches facing each other, couldn’t be called bright even as a compliment. He could only make out the silhouette of his wife sitting on the other couch, her facial features were completely in the dark.
At that moment, Aura’s face was suddenly lit up from below.
When he noticed that Aura was fiddling with something in her hands on her lap as she sat on the couch, Zenjirou immediately knew where the light was coming from.
“Oh? You brought it with you even here?”
She skilfully handled the “portable music player” in her hands. Originally, Zenjirou had used it to distract himself when he commuted between home and work on the train.
Nowadays music players had so many functions that there were called “smart phones without a call function”, but the one in Zenjirou’s possession was nothing so high-tech. It was a small device with limited functions. Despite its small size, it still had somewhat of a display, so it wasn’t impossible to watch videos per se, but in practice, it was rather exclusive to music.
“Yes, to kill some time. Do you want to listen as well?”
In the past year, she had become perfectly accustomed to it, so she operated the music player with practised hand movements, then she removed one earphone and patted on the couch beside her with her hand.
“Mm, why not.”
As he had too much time on his hands anyway, he had no reason to decline, so he obediently sat down on the right side of his wife and plugged the earphone in his left ear.
The portable music player had loud speakers, too, so they would be able to listen to the music without sitting next to each other when they just unplugged the earphones, but the two of them basically refrained from using his brought tools openly outside the inner palace.
Besides, sitting shoulder to shoulder and sharing one earphone to enjoy the same music wasn’t all too bad.
A bright piano melody came from the earphone in his left ear.
“Ugh, a classical piano track.”
Zenjirou moaned somewhat disappointed.
The song Aura was playing was classical music, which Zenjirou had bought in a batch during a sale of “hundred yen for everything you can stuff into one bag” at a CD shop at one time.
He vaguely remembered that the covers were saying something like “Pollini’s Full Collection” or “Chopin Nocturnes”, but wasn’t too sure anymore, since he had thrown away the CDs right after copying them onto his computer.
Now it was a bit saddening that his wife preferred this kind of melody that he had no attachment to, over his favourite pop music.
“Hmm, my country has music as well, and there are a lot of first-rate musician employed in the royal palace, but there is nothing that comes close to this so-called piano instrument. It has a really pleasant tone.”
Out of the diverse music collection that Zenijirou had brought with him, Aura liked the track with the classical piano solo the best, and she showed a smile while she said that.
The traditional instruments of the Carpa Kingdom principally belonged to three types: percussion, stringed or wind.
The lack of know-how made it impossible to build a piano, of course, but “keyboard percussion instruments” such as the xylophone or metallophone didn’t exist here, either. Due to that, a piano recital must have sounded novel to her.
In contrast, the songs from Zenjirou’s favourite band seemingly went beyond a novel feeling and Aura couldn’t keep up with it, so she didn’t really like them. Though it might have been a more simple issue, namely preferring a simple instrumental recital over a song with incomprehensible lyrics from another world.
Anyway, even the music of a genre he didn’t really like, was good enough to relieve his boredom while he waited.
“You sure love your piano songs, Aura. Reminds me, Zenkichi seems to be in a better mood, too, when classical music is running in his room.”
The Queen somehow or other caught the mumbled words of her husband with her earphone-less right ear and grinned triumphantly.
“Yes. It seems Carlos has gotten his taste from me. Fufufu.”
Saying so, she gave her husband, sitting next to her, a provocative look.
Even the usually intimate royal couple would turn against each other when it came to their child.
“Grr… N- No, it’s okay. I still have a lot of good songs on my computer. The jury is still out. Not to forget, I got some ballads, too.”
Zenjirou, still seated next to Aura, clenched his fists irmly in his lap.
“Oho, now that sounds interesting. I would like to see you try. Well, you will not get Carlos to listen to the songs of your homeland until he has learned the language anyway.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right! B- But I can still turn the tables afterwards. I’ll definitely get even with you.”
“Ahahha, just go and try it, Papa. Remember though that Carlos will leave the inner palace in five years.”
Even a direct royalty was no exception to the ban of males in the inner palace. The only exceptions were the King, the master of the inner palace, (though in Zenjirou’s case, he was the Prince Consort and not the King) and an infant under five years, because it was treated as genderless.
An array of challenging words and a response putting up a fight. Contrary to the content however, their voices and expressions revealed that they were enjoying their little argument.
“Ehm, the increased tempo seems to be the problem, so I should focus on ballads as they’re close to a cappella. No, wait. I think I’ve got a few instrumental bands, too? These I could play even now….”
“Even though you know that you stand no chance, you still thrown down the gauntlet. I like that.”
Sitting shoulder to shoulder and sharing an earphone to hear music, the married couple continued their casual exchange until the waiting maid of the royal palace came to get them.
* * *
“Now entering, Her Majesty Queen Aura and Zenjirou-sama!”
While their names were called out loudly and everyone’s attention shifted towards them, Zenjirou took the hand of his beloved wife and advanced unhurried.
The ballroom for the evening party was illuminated by the flames of the candles burning on the tall candle holders standing in an orderly line, and the numerous chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Seen individually, they weren’t much of a light source, but all of them together lighted up the ballroom to a level that deserved to be called “bright”.
Naturally, that brightness didn’t come close to the one in the living room of the inner palace, where the LED floors lamps were at work, but compared to the waiting room they had been inside until now, it was almost dazzling.
As he squinted to the sparkling of the chandeliers, made out of silver and crystal, Zenjirou wryly smiled to himself, since he wasn’t as disturbed as all the eyes set on him ought to make him.
(Guess I’ve gotten a bit used to it after the nth time.)
More than one year had already passed, since he had married Aura, so he had made plenty of appearances at such events.
At first, he had a hard time even walking straight, but right now, he merely registered their glances at the back of his mind.
“Getting used” to something too much could lead to “carelessness”, so it was not necessarily a good thing, but it was fair to say that he had improved his first appearance, where he was too nervous and needed to lean on his wife to walk.
(Let’s see, I’ve to call out to the main guests first.)
While feeling Aura’s warm touch on his right arm, Zenjirou looked around the hall in search for his first targets to greet.
(Oh, there they are.)
He spotted his targets effortless. If anything, they were coming his way for a greeting, since the entrance of the Queen and Zenjirou had been announced with a loud voice.
Aura and Zenjirou stopped on the red carpet and awaited the quickly approaching pair.
The man with blonde hair seemed to be the same age as Zenjirou, whereas the girl with auburn hair looked not older than twenty.
The men and women, standing in the hall, made way for the guests of honour to pass.
Before long, the pair arrived in front of them and the blonde man spoke first as their representative.
“Your Majesty Aura, Your Majesty Zenjirou, let me express my deepest gratitude for arranging such a splendid welcome for us tonight.”
After saying that, the man with blonde hair made such an exaggerated bow that it looked pompous.
“You have my deepmost gratitude as well, Your Majesty Aura, Your Majesty Zenjirou.”
Following, the girl with the auburn hair, standing at an angle behind the man, expressed her gratitude and politely lowered her head, too.
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t their “first encounter”, since they had met in the audience room a few days ago, but because Zenjirou had simply watched the welcome ceremony from his personal throne in silence, this was pretty much a “first encounter” for him.
Being called “your majesty” made Zenjirou flinch unintentionally, but when he saw that Aura next to him made no move to say something, he decided to leave it be.
Since he was the very first Prince Consort in the history of the Carpa Kingdom, it hadn’t been decided yet whether his title would be “majesty” or “highness”. For that reason, the nobles of the Carpa Kingdom always just added a “sama” to his name at formal or informal occasions, but you couldn’t expect the two foreigners, who had only arrived in this country a few days ago, to understand that nuance.
“Yes, enjoy it to the fullest.”
“As one of the organizers, it fills me with pride when you enjoy the party, Prince Francesco, Princess Bona.”
While repeating after Aura, Zenjirou observed the two young royalty, standing before him, with great care.
“Of course I am enjoying it. It shames me to admit it, but this is my first visit abroad in spite of my age, so everything I come across is new to me. I have never tasted any of the food or drinks here before.”
Prince Francesco, replying cheerfully, was a young man with a clear voice and finely chiselled features beaming a generous expression.
He was taller than Zenjirou, but still more or less at eye level with him, so his height was probably around 175 centimetre. But unlike Zenjirou, he had rather long arms, legs and neck as well as well-proportioned flesh on his bones, so his figure was quite eye-catching.
The dark purple, formal attire of the Sharrow Family, a combination of a military uniform and a tuxedo, suited him accordingly well.
If Zenjirou were to wear it, he would undoubtedly only look like a courageous, but misguided cosplayer, whereas it looked like a well-suited outfit when worn by the Mr. Handsome with blonde hair and green eyes.
(Hmm, how shall I put it? He’s sociable— or frivolous.)
That was the first expression he got from the prince of a foreign country. Zenjirou let his wife Aura handle the conversation and shifted his attention to the girl on the side: Princess Bona.
The impression he got from her was, in one word and somewhat rude: “plain”.
“Yes, it is a major honour to be able to see the renowned prosperity of the Carpa Kingdom with my own eyes.”
In the course of replying with a clear enunciation, Princess Bona kept her spine straightened well-conducted and her hands casually crossed over her abdomen, showing an forced smile strained by tension.
Her dress had a fainter purple colour than the outfit of Prince Francesco.
Their royalty might express a “rank” with the shades of purple, but in Princess Bona’s case, the faint purple was quite becoming.
With her slender figure and somewhat plain features, she would be overshadowed by a dark purple dress.
Compared to Prince Francesco, her appearance left a weak impression, and if anything, her hair was the most striking feature.
It had an auburn colour and extended to half-way between her shoulders and waist. That in itself wasn’t worth mentioning, but as she herself seemed to dislike its plain colour, she had apparently sprinkled silver dust over her hair, which was now sparkling brilliantly as the light of the chandeliers fell onto it.
Her hairstyle was rather peculiar, too. Originally it must have been straight, but the long hair turned quite wavy from the midway through. It wasn’t as neat as a perm from Earth, but the fashion of deliberately messing about with one’s hair was known to this world as well.
Princess Bona’s hairstyle was a variation of that, but no other women in the hall even had a similar hairdo. Together with the shiny effect from the silver dust, she was drawing plenty of attention from the other ladies. There was a relatively large number of favourable glances, so some of them might imitate it the future.
And whilst Zenjirou was observing Prince Francesco and Princess Bona, Aura continued the conversation with affable small talk.
“Aha, then you both have come to my country at your own desire?”
“Yes. As you may know, our Sharrow Family rarely has the chance to leave the country, so I allowed myself to take advantage of this occasion. A real bonanza, so to speak. Ahaha.”
“Prince Francesco, you are in the presence of Her Majesty, so please be a bit more careful about your choice of words.
My apologies, Your Majesty. Nonetheless, the prince is speaking the truth when he says that he came at his own desire and was looking forward to the visit. The same goes for me as well.”
The blonde prince obviously enjoyed the light-hearted talk without showing the slightest tension, and the auburn princess was performing damage control the whole time while the actions and words of the prince kept her on tenterhooks.
Aura took care of the conversation for the most part, but since Zenjirou was attending the party, he couldn’t be an onlooker forever.
“Indeed. I actually have a good reason for why I wanted to meet His Majesty Zenjirou. It may be one-sided, but you see, I find something congenial in you.”
“You flatter me, Prince Francesco. I am also pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you.”
Zenjirou responded to the blonde prince, whose friendly interaction was definitely overfamiliar, with a forced smile.
* * *
Roughly one hour later.
“Ohhh, living is so wonderfuuul! Sing to this golden seeeea!”
The festivity was in full swing. Prince Francesco stood in the centre of the hall with a red face and was singing with a beautiful voice.
Singing, along with dancing and playing an instrument, was pretty much said to be the accomplishments of nobles, but it almost never happened that someone volunteered a sonorous song at an average evening party like this one.
That may be the case in the Carpa Kingdom, but perhaps it was nothing uncommon in the Twin Kingdom? Considering that possibility, Zenjirou looked at Princess Bona and the knights from the Twin Kingdom, who were in the same ballroom.
By doing so, he saw how the escorting knights were throwing their hands up in despair or stifling a bitter smile under their beard.
Judging by their reaction, the common knowledge in the Twin Kingdom wasn’t all that different from the one in the Carpa Kingdom.
“My apologies. He means no harm…”
As she felt guilty for not having been able to stop Prince Francesco’s eccentric behaviour, Princess Bona offered an apology for the nth time while she wanted to curl up and die.
“No, please do not worry too much about it. He is not really inconveniencing anyone.”
Although Zenjirou replied like that with a forced smile, he couldn’t help but feel guilty in his heart.
At some point, Prince Francesco had thrown off his purple jacket and was singing cheerfully. With just one look at his red face, you could tell that he was drunk right now.
That had happened, because he had lavishly emptied the fruit cocktails, which were mixed with Zenjirou’s self-made “liquor”.
The people of the southern continent were only used to fruit wine or ale, which had an alcohol content of less than ten percent, so when they were drinking the distilled liquor-based cocktails with the same mindset, they would obviously end up drunk.
(Well, I did warn him about the strong alcohol level. But I guess there’s no way he could have imagined the strength of a liquor he sees for the first time.)
“A cheer for loooove! Sing to the silver moooooon!”
At any rate, he was truly enjoying himself at singing. Seeing him sing so refreshingly made Zenjirou somehow misapprehend that he did something good. Although he did feel bad for Princess Bona, who was trembling uncontrollably.
In fact, even the other guests had overcome their initial shock and were now showing affable smiles while they surrounded the singing prince from a foreign country at a distance.
Moreover, you could hear some musical accompaniment to his singing at some point.
Zenjirou reflexively turned his head towards the origin of the music, where he saw a group of men and women, all dressed in the charming native dress of the Carpa Kingdom of old times, playing stringed instruments and cross flutes.
(Are they the palace musicians? Oh, Aura must have done that.)
Now he remembered how Aura had called for an attendant and given her some kind of order when Prince Francesco had started to sing with a loud voice.
It was nothing but a happenstance when he started to sing by himself out of the blue, but it would turn into a proper entertainment when accompanied with music from the band.
Of course that didn’t change the fact that the prince had gotten carried away by his own enthusiasm to sing, but as the host of this evening party, Aura officially authorized his song by making the musicians accompany him with music.
The present nobles must have understood her intention as well. The initial awkward atmosphere had completely vanished and everyone was honestly applauding the prince of the foreign country for his song with a smile.
“Prince Francesco truly has an outgoing personality, has he not?”
“I- Indeed. Uhm… Thank you.”
It was painfully obvious that Zenjirou picked the words for his evaluation very carefully, whereupon Princess Bona heaved a sigh of relief, but still showed an apologetic and troubled expression.
Aura’s eyes told him that she would go around patching up things for Prince Francesco.
Telling her in return with his eyes that he would manage, Zenjirou watched the back his beloved wife as she left with smooth movements, then he faced the foreign princess anew.
“Princess Bona, do you happen to be thirsty? If so, take this.”
With these words, he beckoned a waiting maid over, who was available with a silver tray near by.
On his signal, the maid quickly came over, the silver tray loaded with silver goblets in hand, and held out the tray to the princess of the Twin Kingdom in a respectful manner.
“Ah, yes, thank you very much. I will have some.”
Princess Bona took one of the offered silver goblets and emptied in one gulp despite her reservation.
The goblet contained a mild fruit wine that was common in the Carpa Kingdom. Zenjirou certainly wasn’t so thoughtless as to offer the princess the distilled liquor cocktail on their first meeting.
All the more, because he had made the mistake to offer the prince some on their first meeting earlier.
Maybe she felt better after taking in some liquid, or maybe the bit of alcohol affected her already? Either way, the princess with the auburn hair relieved a bit her unfortunate tension from earlier, and glanced Prince Francesco’s way searchingly once.
“Ohhh this beautiful capitaaal! The pearl of the desert, its name iiiis!”
The drunken prince cheerfully struck up a second song, now that he had gained reassuring comrades in the form of the palace musicians.
For Princess Bona it was a painful experience, since she had been appointed as a “chaperone” by the current and next king of her country, but she could no longer interfere, now that Queen Aura had provided the “stage”.
To look for the silver lining, Queen Aura and the other nobles were clearly showing their intention to not let it escalate any further in consideration of them. Well, that in turn made her feel pathetic and useless as a “chaperone”, though.
Anyway, she realized that it would be no use to worry about Prince Francesco any further at this point as it would only tire her out mentally, so she completely took her eyes off him for the first time this evening.
And then she noticed the “ring with magical power” on the ring finger of Zenjirou’s left hand as he held a silver goblet.
“Your Majesty Zenjirou, that ring…!”
Princess Bona had her eyes light up and she leaned forward, directing an intense gaze at Zenjirou’s left hand.
“Oh, this? Yes, you guessed right. It is the ring I had turned into a ‘magic tool’ by your family before.”
Saying so, Zenjirou switched the goblet to his right hand and brought his left hand, palm down, closer to the princess’ face, so that she could get a better look.
Anyone, who had awakened the ability to see magical power, could see it. The ring by itself emitted a magical power different than the one raising from his hand.
Zenjirou never took the “wedding ring” from Earth outside the inner palace, because its extremely detailed workmanship stood out in a bad way, but today he made an exception as it was expected.
Prince Francesco himself had applied magic to that ring, so it would be rude not to wear it today. Having said that, it might have been an unnecessary concern, considering the free spirit of the prince.
Either way, Zenjirou thought he had found a good clue to talk about with Princess Bona, because of her interest in it, so he purposefully spoke about the ring.
“If I remember correctly, Prince Francesco himself bestowed magic onto this ring?”
“Indeed. Prince Francesco is a prominent practitioner of the Bestowal Magic within the Sharrow Family. I had volunteered to help as well, but unfortunately I was disregarded. Well, it is understandable. I may have confidence in creating something from scratch, but when it comes to bestowing magic onto something pre-existing, my magical power is just not enough.”
Princess Bona kind of laughed at herself after she said that. The magical power coming from her body was certainly too low for a royalty.
She had even less than Zenjirou, who was already at the bottom level. It was the bare minimum for a royalty.
Apparently it was true that those, who inherited a “bloodline magic” atavistically, would have a minimum of its power.
(On the other hand, he’s amazing. Looks like he exceeds Aura by half.)
Zenjirou gave the blonde prince, who was happily singing his third song in the middle of the ballroom, a casual glance.
The magical power hovering over the prince’s body was enormous, distinguishing him as a dignified, direct descendent of the royal family.
Queen Aura also had a magical power worthy of a ruler of a major power, but Prince Francesco’s was so prominent that you could tell at a glance that it was superiors to Aura’s.
Compared to Zenjirou or Princess Bona, it was genuinely “more than twice as much”.
(Wow. Perhaps he’s even as much as Zenkichi?)
Keeping this impression to himself, Zenjirou turned his attention from the faraway prince back to the nearby princess.
“Interesting. So crafting is your specialty, Princess Bona? Reminds me, I have been told that the Twin Kingdom makes the finest jewellery on the South Continent.”
“Indeed. Of course my modest abilities are still far from perfect, but I am more confident in my crafting skills than in my magical power.”
Saying so, the Princess nodded briefly and her face showed more confidence than she had admitted.
The very princess, who was way too serious and seemed more or less introverted, had said she was “confident” about something. Maybe she really was already a full-fledged craftsman at her young age.
At least it was obvious that her interest and passion towards jewellery was outstanding.
“Isabelle-sama from the Jilbell Family had shown it to me once before. You brought it with you from your home country, did you not?”
It didn’t really go against the etiquette, but Princess Bona did cast a glance so passionate on his left ringer finger that Zenjirou inadvertently felt himself in danger.
Devouring something with one’s eyes meant exactly this.
Zenjirou winced innerly upon the unexpected passionate gaze, but managed to keep a smile on his face.
“Yes, you are right. In my homeland, it’s a custom that the man exchanges pair rings— meaning matching rings— with his bride when they marry.”
He simply explained the wedding rings like that. But Princess Bona didn’t seem interested in the story behind the wedding rings and paid him no mind. She was only focussing her attention on the “ring” itself.
“Oh, is that so. Then a ring like that is common in your homeland? I mean, the diamonds are cut into a brilliant polyhedron and moreover, the three of them have the same indistinguishable size and shape…”
“Y- Yes. Well, they weren’t exactly cheap, but you may do call them common.”
“Well then, do you know how the metal of the socket has been processed? Gold certainly is easy to process, but it is beyond me how they make such detailed patterns without distortions. If you happen to know about it, I would love to hear it, if possible.”
That the words poured out of her now even though she had been all restrained earlier, symbolized her enthusiasm for the “jewellery craftsmanship”. Although the alcohol had a finger in the pie for a bit as well.
“No, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t have the faintest idea.”
“No? Not even a little bit? Any trivial information would be fine.”
“So you say, but… I’m really not an expert. Superficial knowledge would not get you anywhere.”
“I do not mind. Please, something could be of use.”
Zenjirou couldn’t help being surprised about her zeal and appeal, which was so different from her initial demeanour.
(Uwah, she did a total 180. Did she put on an act? Nah, I didn’t mistake her character. It seems more like she only becomes a different person when it comes to jewellery.)
He wasn’t opposed to people, who went into a frenzy over their favourite thing or personal hobby.
“…Okay. On some future occasion then.”
“Thank you very much!”
In the end, Zenjirou caved in and made an utterance that could very well be understood as a “promise”.
* * *
After they had attended the evening party as hosts in sound condition, Aura and Zenjirou washed themselves clean from the sweat and perfumed oil in the bath, then spent the short while before going to bed in the air-conditioned bedroom.
“Aw, that was tiring. Man, I wish I could’ve seen Zenkichi before going to bed.”
“Fufu, do not say that. You know very well that it would trouble the wet nurse and maids when you visit Carlos this late at night, because they are obliged to wake up when we come by.”
“I know, I know.”
Even while he agreed with his wife, Zenjirou sounded regretful and heaved a deep sigh as he leaned back into the chair.
Right now, they were sitting on wooden chairs that had been placed in one corner of the bedroom.
One day after the air conditioning had been set up in the bedroom, Aura had already decreed that a small, round table (though small was relative in royal standards) and two, wooden chairs were brought into the bedroom. And one of the two LED floor lamps of the bedroom was moved from near the bed to the table in accordance with it.
From then on, they had obviously spent their evening recreation in the bedroom, but they even took almost every breakfast and dinner in there.
And these circumstances would surely continue until the hottest season was over.
The season had a lot of days, where the temperature didn’t drop below the body temperature, not even at night, so it was only natural that a person couldn’t resist the charm of the air conditioning anymore after experiencing it once.
Zenjirou washed the ice water in his glass cup down his throat in one gulp and placed the empty cup back onto the table.
Previously he had always drunken the low-malt beer from Japan after a bath, but as one would expect, his stock had run out by now. At first, he had carefully savoured it one by one, but near the expiration date, the flavour clearly had started to change, so he had quickly drunk the rest before it went bad.
Seeing her husband place his cup back on the table, Aura put her folded hands on the table and spoke.
“Well then, shall we begin? We have to get up early again tomorrow, so we cannot waste any time.
Zenjirou, what do you think about Prince Francesco and Princess Bona from the Twin Kingdom of Jilbell and Sharrow? Tell me everything, be it a simple impression or something that caught your eye.”
“Okay. Let’s see, hmm…”
He nodded shortly to her request and started to articulate carefully while he recalled what had happened at the evening party.
“I’ll start with my impression of Prince Francesco.
Well, I think it goes without saying, but he’s a ‘carefree idiot’ if his actions weren’t an act.”
Aura, too, wasn’t able to avoid agreeing with his honest evaluation while smiling wryly.
The behaviour Prince Francesco had shown at the evening party could only be described as “stupid”.
Although the evening party did excuse some frailties, drinking oneself to the breaking point and starting to sing with a loud voice was not something a nobleman did.
If that really had been no act, then it was explainable how Prince Francesco hadn’t gotten a claim on the throne despite being in his twenties.
However, Zenjirou inclined his head and continued.
“But if that’s the case, I think his behaviour was too uncoerced. I mean, if that was his true character, then wouldn’t he like have an unselfconscious and guileless personality that allows him to act so stupid?”
“Yes, guess so. What about it?”
“When you think about it, the Prince must have been shunned by the royal palace from a young age on, because he betrayed their expectation about his position as the legal son of the crown prince, if that carelessness and stupidity really happen to be his true character.
But would he really turn out that innocent when he was raised in such an environment?”
Zenjirou believed that the environment during childhood had an enormous influence on the development of one’s personality, and Aura didn’t object to that either, but that view was too one-sided to have her agree generally.
“I only know about it from hearsay, but Prince Francesco’s parents— namely Crown Prince Giuseppe and his wife are both respectable people. Would you not say that he could have grown up upright with plenty of love from his parents?”
Apparently her argument was worth agreeing with for him, too.
“Yeah, that’s more than possible. Besides, I heard from Princess Bona that Prince Francesco is a leading practitioner of the Bestowal Magic within the current Sharrow Family.
Having a principle like ‘I’ll keep up my chin for this at least’ plays an important role. So it wouldn’t be weird for this behaviour to be his true colours. For an act, it seemed too natural.”
He expressed his approval like this.
“But that still raises an issue.
Why would the Sharrow Family send a ‘good-natured idoit’ as the important ambassador for the first visit abroad in a hundred years?”
“Hmm, maybe they do not regard this trip as important as we do? So they just sent a prince, who is as good as disinherited, and a princess, who is royalty only in name.”
Although Aura didn’t actually think that, she urged an unconvincing argument to test her husband’s way of thinking.
His reaction was as she had expected. He shook his head immediately.
“No way. The prince’s a ‘prominent practitioner of the Bestowal Magic’, right? It’s obvious at least that he’s a skilled creator of magic tools, so there needs to be valid reason or advantage in going without his skills and sending him here, or it makes no sense.”
Yes, his conclusion wasn’t all that different from Aura’s.
“You are right.”
For now, Aura had confirmed that her husband was on the same page as her and raised a happy smile. Although the circumstances were annoying, it was pleasant to see that there were at least no problems in the communication with her husband.
“In other words, even if Prince Francesco himself has no ulterior motive, the leading royals of the Sharrow Family have an ulterior motive for sending in the unambitious prince to us. Either way, it would be dangerous to proceed on official reasons alone.”
Zenjirou affirmed Aura’s inquiring words.
In any case, tonight had been their first real encounter. Zenjirou didn’t believe that his insight was so excellent as to correctly evaluate a person he had only met once and spoken to for a little bit.
The same applied to Aura, albeit being a bit better off than him.
“Good. Then we will wait and see how things turn out with Prince Francesco for now.”
Bringing one topic to a closure like that, Aura then started to talk about the other royalty.
“Now, what is your opinion about Princess Bona?”
“Mhm, my first impression was that she’s a ‘serious person who has gone through a lot’. I’m quite confident that it’s adding up this time. She seems to be a chaperone for the prince and was so tense that I pitied her.”
He didn’t mention it, because Aura would probably not understand it, but a more accurate description would be a “timid and earnest class president”.
The image in his head was that of a girl, who had been made the class president, because she got along with the teachers due to her good grades, but wasn’t sociable and couldn’t bring the class together due to her timidity. And since she was too earnest, she couldn’t abandon the duty that had been pushed onto her, and was always doing her best with tears in her eyes.
“Yes, you are right. She was nervous and seemed to pay attention to Prince Francesco all the time. However, it looked to me like you two were talking quite livelily?”
“Yeah, at first she was a nervous wreck and kept saying ‘I am so sorry. Please forgive the inconveniences he is causing.’, though.
But as soon as the topic switched to my ring, she couldn’t hold her tongue anymore.”
A wry smile flitted across his face, as he remembered the situation.
“I was under the impression that she’s dedicating her whole life to it. She got so into it that I was a bit scared.”
“Your ring? Oh, your ‘wedding ring’. Well, that figures.”
Aura was able to relate at once, which seemed to surprise Zenjirou a bit.
Aura nodded briefly.
“Yes, because the branch families of the Sharrow family establish themselves as magic tool makers. Men commonly set up an armament business while the women usually set up a jewellery business.
Of course Princess Bona would have her eyes light up when she sees that ring.”
She said with a short shrug of her shoulders.
An appreciator would have had its breath taken away when looking at the brilliance of his wedding ring with three small diamonds embedded in a golden socket.
Not to mention an authority on the subject like Princess Bona, who could perceive that it was impossible to recreate the uniformity of the diamonds or the detailed craftsmanship in this world no matter how hard one might try.
“Uh-huh, but it didn’t come across as ‘pure business’. She was more enthusiastic about it, practically insisting that I show her the ring and talk about it with great zeal. In the end, I gave in and kind of promised her to do so in the future.”
Zenjirou scratched his head after saying this, whereupon Aura knitted her eyebrows for the very first time this night and adopted a stern tone.
“Wait a minute, Zenjirou. That was somewhat thoughtless of you. It does not sound like you made a promise with a definite date or terms, but you ought to abstain from making careless commitments.”
Being scolded by his wife on a rare occasion, Zenjirou ducked his head with an earnest expression.
“Sorry. I know she’s a princess from a major power even if she’s at the foot of the class. It turned out like that while I was carefully picking my words as not to be rude.
What now? I would say I can just brush it off when the time comes, because I didn’t make a concrete promise.”
As he asked, Aura put a hand against her chin and pondered for a moment.
(The promise in itself is not much of a problem. It was just a verbal agreement at a party and I doubt she herself believes that he will keep it. There are a lot of ways to talk our way out of it.
The problem is that it is the first time that my husband made such a careless remark.)
It would be so much better if he had made the mistake by force of habit. Judging by his current meek facial expression, Zenjirou had pulled himself together now and wouldn’t made the same mistake again for a while.
The scary part was that it might be a matter of “affinity to Princess Bona”.
A partner with a good compatibility. Or in other words, a partner that was easy to talk to. Or going even further, a partner, to whom he lowered his guard unconditionally.
She might be overthinking it, but to her it appeared like Zenjirou and Princess Bona were a bit too close for their first meeting.
(Normally he is rather conservative and cautious. Lady Octavia has spent a lot of time with him alone and Lady Fatima approaches him quite aggressively at every opportunity, but neither of them could get any closer to him so far.)
In comparison, Princess Bona had educed a promise to meet again at a later time from him on their first meeting, albeit in the form of just a vague verbal agreement.
(I just hope it is my imagination or jealously, but if not, it could get a bit troublesome.)
Down the road, Aura realized that she wasn’t all that pleased about another woman getting closer to her husband. She couldn’t confidently say that her judgement wasn’t dulled by jealousy.
For now, she decided to avoid digging any deeper into it here.
“Fine. She hardly seems to be the hard-hearted type, so just be more careful from now on.
Well then, that shall be enough for today. Let us go to bed.”
Hearing her words, Zenjirou checked the time on his cell phone laying on the table, stood up from his chair and moved over to Aura sitting on the other side.
“Already this late? Got it.”
Her husband naturally held out his hand to her.
His wife took his hand and stood up.
Hand in hand, the two of them then headed towards the bed… but Zenjirou abruptly stopped with something on his mind.
“Mh? What is the matter?”
As his wife looked puzzled at him, the husband scratched his head with his free hand
“Well, nothing of note. I was just thinking how cool it would be if I were to carry you to the bed like a princess now.”
and uttered something absurd.
“Like a princess??”
“Yeah, well, how can I explain? That’s how its called in my country when you lift someone up with one arm under the knees and the other around the back.”
The Queen mused for a while after hearing the explanation of her husband, then smirked and said.
“Mhm, you can count on me. I am feeling a bit dull lately, so it might not be possible right now, but with a bit of training, I am sure that I can carry you ’like a princess’.”
“Ehh? The roles reversed!? That’s not the least bit attractive, only hurtful. Wait, you’re saying that on purpose!!”
In the middle of his sentence, he noticed the evil smirk of his wife and artificially flew off the handle.
A woman carrying a man. Even if it was meant as a joke, a man of this patriarchic world, where strength was considered a virtue, was likely to get angry over it for real.
However, Aura had learned in the past year that her husband wasn’t the kind of narrow-minded man, who would seriously feel offended by this kind of joke, so she ended up teasing him on the spur of the moment.
It was a kind of “affection”.
“Let’s hit the sack already.”
As expected, Zenjirou merely chopped Aura’s head lightly with his free left hand while his right hand still tightly squeezed her left hand.
“Ow. Fufu, okay.”
Aura pinched his right arm between her cleavage and sweetly put her cheek against his right shoulder.
With their two bodies so close that they cast a single shadow, they went towards their shared bed.
Intermission 1: The Hero and the Youngster
Around the same time.
The third son and successor of Marquis Guzzle, Xavier Guzzle stood in one room of the fortress at the southern border of the royal domain, in a meeting with General Puyol Guillén.
Inside the fortress with its thick stone walls and small dormer windows, it was gloomy even at day, but in exchange chillier than in an average house.
However, Xavier couldn’t afford to enjoy the chill. A cold sweat was soaking his back as he straightened his back with all his willpower. He had his arms crossed behind him and stood at attention.
(He’s the hero of the previous war, General Puyol…!)
He looked up into the face of the huge man, standing in front of him, in awe.
Based on Xavier’s eye level of 160cm, the almost two metre tall General Puyol was truly a giant that he literally looked up to.
Moreover, Xavier, confident in his judgement despite his young age, could intuitionally tell that General Puyol was a seasoned warrior, whom he himself was no match for, from his posture alone.
In the presence of this man, who was overwhelming superior in social standing, combat strength and military tactics, Xavier had advanced his opinion.
Due to his nervousness, his mouth was dry and he didn’t dare to swallow his saliva. Then General Puyol opened his mouth.
“I see. So you are saying that you wish to follow the ‘Pack Dragon Subjugation’ mission through on your own instead of letting me take over, Sir Xavier?”
The voice of the general was easy to understand even though he spoke low-keyed and far apart from loud. In response, Xavier’s legs tensed up deterred and he replied.
“Not at all, General Puyol. I do know my place! From the moment on I requested help from the capital, my ‘Pack Dragon Subjugation’ ended up as a failure.
What I am asking of you now is that my nearly hundred soldiers and myself are allowed to participate in your operation as ‘volunteers’.”
The “I see” wording was the same as before, but the nuance was different. This time it was filled with appreciation, as he saw the shrunk youngster before him in a new light.
General Puyol stood there relaxed and mused for a moment, then he nodded short and spoke.
“Sir Xavier, I believe that this expedition will likely take up a lot of time.
You have located a large pack. If we can trust the theory of the hunters that the Pack Dragons get smarter and stronger with advancing age, they will turn out to be a tough opponent.”
“Ah, yes. I believe so as well.”
Although Xavier was perplexed about that fact that the general didn’t answer his question and suddenly voiced his own opinion eloquently instead, he still agreed with him.
And he was saying it in earnest.
If the leader of the Pack Dragons was really smart enough to understand the difference in strength between both parties, then it was more than likely that they wouldn’t appear in front of General Puyol’s “Dragonback Archery Knights” to begin with.
In that case, they would have to scour that large and dense forest for them.
And that in turn meant that it would inevitably turn into a drawn-out mission, unless they were extremely lucky or managed to set up a good trap.
“But then the emergency stock of salt in the March becomes a problem. If I recall correctly, your stocks last for around three months at best?”
Xavier realized what the General was getting at and nodded with a stern expression.
“Yes. It would be enough for half a year if we were to ration it, but it would worry the citizen and have a bad effect on the price. If possible, I would like to refrain from doing so.”
General Puyol was apparently satisfied with his response. He nodded briefly without changing his facial expression at all.
“To prevent that, I have brought large quantities of salt with me from the capital.
Of course it will be impossible to guard all this salt while hunting the ’Pack Dragons’. My initial plan intended to return to this fortress as soon as the subjugation is completed and transport the salt to your March.
But the addition of your men will change my plans a bit.
Sir Xavier, if you were to devote your men to transporting and guarding that salt, I would like to give priority to delivering the salt to the March first by forcing our way through the road.
Naturally, I will count on your troops to be on the front line during the military offensive afterwards, if we are not fortunate enough to encounter and wipe out the Pack Dragons on the way there. What do you say?”
Xavier innerly assented with his reasoning.
In other words, General Puyol was willing to bring them along as long as they occupied themselves with the transport and guard of the salt.
(Basically he’s saying that we won’t get a chance to join the battle when we encounter the pack on the way, but if they don’t finish them off then, we’ll be allowed to redeem ourselves on the frontlines afterwards.)
Furthermore, as the successor to the March, he ought to welcome the proposal of quickly delivering the salt to the domain with open arms.
Overall, Xavier had no reason to turn him down.
“Understood. Please let us do it, General Puyol.
I offer you my deepest gratitude for prioritizing the delivery of the salt to the March in place of all its citizens.”
“Do not mention it. I am just doing my part.”
General Puyol’s face showed a smile for the first time today when he replied like that.