By the time a Small Flying Dragon reported the emergency from Port Valentia, Queen Aura was in her office in the Royal Palace and led an endless discussion about a vexing problem with her trusted Secretary Fabio.
“Your Highness, the numbers on the documents will not change, no matter how hard you glare at them.”
Sitting on a chair weaved from vines, the Queen slovenly leaned onto the wooden table with her elbows while the middle-aged secretary spoke to her in a flat voice.
“I know that.”
The sharp tone in the answer of the Queen was understandable. The documents at her hands were an estimate of costs for the coming “reinforcements for the Pack Dragon subjugation”, but the numbers written on there were exceeding her expectation by far.
It certainly was not so bad that she got the biggest number wrong, but the second biggest number differed insomuch that it could no longer be sugar-coated.
On a related note, the documents were put together by the civil servants of the Royal Palace, so the numbers were written in “Arabic numerals”.
At the present time, only the immediate subordinators of Aura knew them, but anyone that was familiar with them could testify the value of the Arabic numerals. Once you were used to them, you grasped the numeric value right away.
However, that simplification was a bit of a flop right now. Numbers that she did not want to see were practically jumping out at her.
“The provisions for the soldiers aside, I thought that at least the prices for the military goods were still lower, because of an surplus from the previous war.”
“It seems the supplies were already wrung dry. The merchants are always reacting faster than we think.”
The Queen and Secretary were rather complaining than discussing when they assessed the cruel state of things.
At that very moment, the door was knocked with a dead sound and the voice of a young soldiers sounded from beyond it.
“Excuse me. We have received an urgent Small Flying Dragon message from Port Valentia.”
An urgent message from a faraway seaport city.
That did not ring a bell with Aura, so she just cast a questioning glance at her secretary standing next to her, to which Fabio wordlessly shook his head, too.
Since her capable secretary with his authentic skills knew nothing of it, it really must be an unexpected urgent message.
She did not have a good feeling about it, but in her position as the Queen, she was more or less used to such “unexpected happenings”.
When Aura answered, her face showed not the slightest hint of surprise or worry.
* * *
Approximately one hour later.
Queen Aura was holding an unofficial emergency meeting in the small conference room of the Royal Palace.
The four attendees were Queen Aura, Secretary Fabio, Royal Archmage Espaldion and Zenjirou.
Whenever something serious happened, Aura often consulted with her two trusted retainers Fabio and Espaldion, but strictly speaking it was impossible that Zenjirou joined them.
Except for official events that had to be attended by royalty, the only time Zenjirou came to the Royal Palace was to “work on behalf of Aura”.
Due to that, it was quite rare that they were gathered in the same place in the Royal Palace.
The urgency of the matter already became more than clear when such a rare occasion happened.
A meeting attended by the Queen was usually quite excessive, but this time it was just a private meeting with her trusted retainers.
Aura tossed the little dragonskin parchment delivered by the Small Flying Dragon onto the table, then started to address the matter without ceremony.
“A Small Flying Dragon arrived from Valentia a short while ago. The information cannot be verified yet, because no other Small Flying Dragon has arrived, but considering the content of it, I dared to call all of you here ahead of schedule.”
Normally the exchange of communication through Small Flying Dragons was conducted by sending multiple Small Flying Dragons with the same message in order to increase its reliability. Usually, the receiver also did not regard the information as legit unless three to four Small Flying Dragons arrived from the same direction in order to dismiss the probability of getting misinformation fabricated by the enemy.
The fact that Aura broke that convention and shared the information, even if only unofficially, indicated that the content of the letter was quite urgent.
Aura read in the tense expression of her trusted retainers that her intention had been understood and she continued to speak clearly with an unusual low voice for a woman.
“Two days ago, a giant ship with ‘four masts’ anchored in Port Valentia. The ship belongs to the ‘Uppsala Kingdom’. The captain is a girl in her teens called Freya Uppsala. She claimed to be the crown princess of the Uppsala Kingdom.
The governor of Valentia decided that the matter was beyond his capabilities and asked for instructions. If possible, he would like us to send someone over.”
The middle-aged secretary twisted the mouth and the aged magician widened his small eyes in surprise when she mention the giant ship with “four masts”.
Only Zenjirou just looked blankly, showing no signs of surprise. That was no proof of his nerves, though, but rather his ignorance.
“A ship with four masts is a state-of-the-art ship. Even the North Continent only has a handful of them. If the information is really true, we cannot afford to brush aside the claim of the girl to be a princess.”
Knowing the score, Secretary Fabio went out of his way to explain the circumstances in detail in addition to his answer to the Queen.
Aura seemed to know what her secretary was getting at, so she nodded once, too.
“Yes. The four-masters all belong to major powers on the North Continent without exceptions. Even a three-master can only be obtained in the private sector by a very wealthy merchant.
Considering that, it is actually inevitable that the captain of that ship is royalty. Though I do not know why it has to be a young princess.”
She expressed her consent along with an explanation. Then she looked at the aged magician and asked a fundamental question that had bothered her the most.
“Still, I have never heard of that ‘Uppsala Kingdom’. What about you, Espaldion? Do you know anything?”
At that, Zenjirou and Secretary Fabio paid attention to the addressed mage as well.
The prevailing opinion was that a good magician was also a wise man, but that was not always the case.
Even amongst the third-rate magicians without inherited magical power or talent for magic, were wise men with a profound knowledge. The same was true for the opposite: Some of the great mages that could use magic freely, had spent their whole life researching magic, so they were surprisingly ignorant about other things.
Fortunately enough, Espaldion took after the general image: He was an extremely good magician and an extremely wise man.
The aged mage wrinkled his forehead so heavily that his long eyebrows quivered, and pondered before slowly opening his mouth.
“Let me think… I am deeply ashamed to admit that I am not as knowledgeable as you believe me to, Your Highness. Still, if I remember correctly, the Uppsala Kingdom is a country located in the far north of the North Continent.”
Only vaguely remembering the rough location of the kingdom, the elder magician kept his head down shamefaced.
However, it was already worth of praise that he knew at least something about the Uppsala Kingdom.
Considering how vast and informative this world was, his memory was more than reasonable.
To allege an example: It was the same as asking an Japanese about a country in southeast Asia or the Middle East, before the arrival of the black ships in Japan. Having heard of its name and knowing its relative location already counted as “broad knowledge” back then.
“Far in the north of the North Continent? Hmm, then it is no wonder that I never heard of it. But that leaves the question why they would come here all the way from the north.”
Aura posed such a question, but no one could answer her.
The North Continent and South Continent were not doing much of intercontinental trading. Moreover, the little bit they were doing was conducted by countries in the north of the South Continent and the countries in the south of the North Continent, of course.
The Carpa Kingdom was located more or less on the central axis of the South Continent, so they rarely traded with the North Continent directly. Their “intercontinental trading” was done through an intermediate, namely an international port in a country north of the Carpa Kingdom.
Even the southern countries of the North Continent that were trading with them like that, hardly ever came all the way to the Carpa Kingdom, yet a country further in the north had specifically sent a ship with four masts here.
“Our country could really need some direct trade relationships with the North Continent. We cannot let this chance slip away, but they surely have an agenda on their own. I imagine it will be a stiff piece of work to negotiate with them in our interest.”
The Queen nodded to the words of the middle-aged secretary, then replied.
“Certainly. We need to confirm their backgrounds first. It cannot be ruled out that she lied about her royal status. Still, it would be inexcusable when we did not treat her accordingly to her claim and it turns out she was telling the truth. Treating her with fair respect without taking everything she says at face value will definitely be a tough task.”
“Your Highness, I would like to add that Royalty on the North Continent do not necessarily have a ‘Bloodline Magic’. If anything, I have heard there are some royal families that never had one to begin with.”
“Oh, is that so. …”
The pointer from Espaldion made Aura obviously knit her brows.
They only had sparse contact to the North Continent through trading, so they knew next to nothing about their cultural customs. For example, it was equivalent to a feudal lord of the Sengoku Era knowing which country of his European trade partners was Catholic or Protestant.
The fact that Royalty on the North Continent could hardly ever use a “Bloodline Magic” was actually disillusioning for Aura.
On the South Continent, the fastest way to prove your royal status was to display your “Bloodline Magic”. If that method was not applicable, it would take quite an effort to simply confirm the royal origin.
“In that case, we need a really competent negotiator all the more. The question is, who will be up to that important task? Do you have anyone in mind, Your Highness?”
On a rare occasion, Secretary Fabio was asking seriously without sarcasm, whereupon Aura nodded briefly.
“Yes, if you have no objections, I am considering to appoint ‘Raffaello Márquez’ for the task.”
All three present men gave a jerk to the name that left the lips of the Queen.
“Sir Raffaello, you say? His abilities make him more than suited for the task, for sure, but he is still the son of Marquis Márquez, you know?”
Secretary Fabio was only stating the obvious, but the meaning behind his words was quite weighty.
Two points would make his appointment problematic: The fact that the Márquez Family was feudal nobility with their own piece of land, and the fact that Valentia was under the direct control of royalty.
As a rule, the appointment as a governor, an extended arm of the ruler so to speak, for an area under the direct control of royalty was given to nobility of the robe that had no piece of land on their own, meaning only top government officials that directly influenced the politics such as Palace Ministers or Generals of the Royal Army.
Of course that was not legally fixed, and even if it were, the decision of the monarch could overrule the law, so it was possible to enforce her choice, but the Nobility of the Robe was sure to react sharply then.
Needless to say, Aura had already considered that.
Still sitting orderly in her chair, the Queen crossed her arms beneath her breasts.
“I know that. I am not going to appoint him as my ‘delegate’, but as an exceptional ‘assistant delegate’. The actual ‘delegate’ will officially be appointed at his own expenses. That way, I can avoid getting pressured by the nobility of the robe. Needless to say, Raffaelo will actually be doing most of the work.”
She confidentially explained her plan.
“I see. But even if it is in name only, the ’delegate’ should have enough ’impact’ to keep Sir Raffaelo in check, should he not?”
Although he did phrase it as a question, Secretary Fabio had already discerned Aura’s intention. He glanced at Zenjirou, who had been silent the whole time.
Zenjirou may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he could picture where this was going after so much had been said.
(Oh, I see. I was wondering why I was called in for an unofficial meeting in the palace, but that’s how they’re going to play it, eh.)
Aura wanted to appoint Raffaelo Márquez as “assistant delegate”, but that was not an official position. That provided the advantage that he would not be tied to any laws and could reign freely, but at the same time his standing would be quite poor.
In short, it was something like a private secretary. That definitely was not the kind of position the eldest son of Marquis Márquez would take, even if temporarily.
Still, even the standing of a private secretary could raise greatly depending on whom he served.
There was only one acceptable entity for whom the eldest son of the Márquez Family, a prominent nobility in the Carpa Kingdom, would work as a private secretary: “Royalty”.
And at the present time, the only grown-up royalty in the Carpa Kingdom besides Queen Aura was Zenjirou.
Zenjirou had accurately picked up on the course of events, but he remained silent for that very reason.
As the Prince Consort, he better kept a “low profile regarding work”, even if only the trusted retainers of Aura were present right now.
The aged magician seemed quite good-natured, but the middle-aged man with the slender face was glancing at him conspicuously for some time now, eager to spot a careless behaviour from him.
Whether she knew about the inner conflict of her husband or not, the Queen directly looked at Zenjirou for the first time today and slowly began to speak.
“Yes. Raffaelo Márquez will only work as a ‘assistant delegate’ under someone with a higher status. At the present time that is just us ‘Royalty’.
At the extreme, I could personally seize the mantle, but it would be quite frightening to be cut off from any information in the palace, even if I can return with my ‘Teleport’ magic on the same day.”
Even as a practitioner of the ‘Teleport’ magic, Aura would not receive any information from the Royal Palace while she was working in a detached territory.
Although they were not at war right now, the Carpa Kingdom had only just now moved on from a great war, so it was about as likely as not that some unforeseen case of need struck.
In the first place, there would be no need to appoint an “assistant delegate” when Aura went to Valentia herself, since she had sufficient skills in politics and negotiations.
Any way you looked at it, all signs pointed at Zenjirou for this role.
Normally, Aura never went about such a roundabout way, neither at an unofficial meeting with her trusted retainers, nor at the discussions with Zenjirou in the Inner Palace. But at an unofficial meeting with both sides combined, she had to stick to the procedure of “advancing the topic logically while convincing everyone with a detailed explanation” to some extent.
The Queen declared her conclusion without taking her eyes off her husband.
“As such, no one else but you remains, Zenjirou.”
Called upon, Zenjirou did not flinch, because he has had enough time to prepare himself for it.
“Me, you say? Well, if that is your command, I will not oppose it, of course, Your Highness.”
He smoothly voiced the answer he had prepared in his head, whereupon the Queen frowned a bit affected.
“Hmm? Do you have any qualms about it? Then do tell.”
As expected of a harmonious married couple, the two of them were smoothly carrying on a conversation as if reading from a script, even though they had agreed upon nothing beforehand.
“Okay. I am currently carrying out the task of dealing with Prince Francesco and Princess Bona from the Twin Kingdom. I was wondering what would happen to them then.”
“You are right. We cannot turn our back on the obligations towards them as the host. I would undertake that task then.
It may be impossible to meet with them as frequently as you have, but we can only ask their understanding for it.”
“Very well. I, too, will meet with them once before my departure and apologize for the incontinences in person.”
“Yes, please do so.”
Completely different from their usual talks in the Inner Palace, they were obviously conversing as superior and subordinate right now.
Still, it was nothing out of the ordinary that the same two people talked different to each other depending whether they were at work or in private. Zenjirou was not unaccustomed to this either.
He had already envisioned an agreement, but still mentioned all of his worries just in case.
“But do you not think that the nobility of the robe will oppose my appointment? Is there no one amongst them with suitable skills?”
At the beginning, Zenjirou had taken the view that he was “not interested in any official duties” and had secluded himself in the Inner Palace.
But lately he had been in the Royal Palace a lot, because he was entertaining Prince Francesco and Princess Bona, and when he now went to a detached land on behalf of Aura, people would probably start to get suspicious of him.
His question was born out of that worry, but Aura resolutely shook her head.
“No, you do not need to worry about that. To be honest, there is someone suitable, but he is already working in a position fitting his abilities.
Forgive me for saying this, but your temporary absence will affect the governmental affairs least of all.”
Frankly speaking, she was telling him that he was doing the least work here.
He was in this situation by his own choice, but it was still a bit of a shock to hear it from his wife so straightforward.
For a moment, Zenjirou looked hurt. Nevertheless, all concerns had been more or less overcome, if he put his emotions aside.
Regaining his spirit in no time, he deeply lowered his head conform to etiquette just like he had learned it while still firmly seated in his chair.
“Very well. I will gladly carry out your command to the best of my humble abilities.”
“Good. I am counting on you.”
The Queen acknowledged the loyalty of her husband with a large-hearted nod.
* * *
At evening of the same day. The first thing Aura told Zenjirou when she came back to the Inner Palace was an apology.
Her point-black apology came out of nowhere, but Zenjirou did know what she was apologizing for.
“Mm, it’s fine. You had no choice but to make that call, right? Still, I hope you can explain it.”
He replied with a smile like always, then said down on the couch.
Following a sudden summoning to the Royal Palace, he was told to go work away from home in a detached royal property by necessity.
Of course he was not doubting the sincerity of his wife towards him, but this matter definitely needed further explanation.
No matter how much you trusted someone, it was not a pleasant feeling to be ordered around one-sidedly.
“Yes, of course I will do so.”
Saying that, Aura sat down on the couch across from her husband.
Compared to her usual relaxed sitting position, she had now folded her hands on her knees instead. The words “regretful” and “pious” would fit her posture best.
It also gave the impression that she was somewhat hanging her head.
In Zenjirou’s opinion, the matter did not really call for standing on ceremony to such an extent, but decided to keep that to himself and voice a question instead.
“Then let me be frank: Who really was your first choice for the assignment in Valentia? Raffaelo Márquez or me?”
That had not been an impromptu question. He had come up with it when he ruminated on the matter by himself after the meeting.
As she had not expected him to bring that up himself, Aura widened her eyes a bit surprised, then answered truthfully.
“I knew it.”
In light of her reply, Zenjirou looked convinced and sighed once.
“I thought about it and found it strange. If she claimed to be royalty from the North Continent, then we normally would invite her to the capital and give her a great welcome, right?
Despite that, you talk about being short-handed and still want to send a certain capable someone with so much status that he was your former marriage candidate, and me, the only other grown-up royalty, there at the same time.”
Even though the situation could be handled easier, she went to almost unreasonable lengths to send valuable human resources away. Even Zenjirou could guess that something was lying behind it.
“Indeed. Actually, when I received the news, I initially thought that I have to go to Valentia myself to take control.”
“Wait a moment, Your Majesty!! Think of your position!”
The unexpected remark of his wife lead Zenjirou into making an unwitting retort.
In turn, Aura seemed to have anticipated his reaction, as she just nodded unfazed.
“Of course reality is different. As such, my second idea was to send you.”
Her way of speaking had regained a bit of her usual tone.
“Well, at least I get now that you’re attaching quite the importance to this matter. So, why couldn’t we bring the self-proclaimed princess into the palace?”
“Yes, before I explain that, I want to check your background knowledge.
Zenjirou, do you know who is in control of Valentia?”
In accord with her slightly strange question, he recalled the summary of the country he had learned from Lady Octavia while answering.
“Ehm.. The ‘Duke of Valentia’, if I remember correctly. Right now, that’s you?”
When her husband replied exemplary, the Queen nodded pleased.
“Indeed. Everyone tends to believe that all the pieces of land that are usually called ’Royal Domains’ are under the direct control of Royalty, but as a matter of fact, only the capital and a few small resorts are established as property of the crown. All the other ‘Royal Domains’ have a title of nobility on their own, which is just succeeded by royalty. The fundamental difference to a common feudal lord title is that the appointment of a successor is not done by the titular himself, but instead by the current ruler.”
In other words: The title of a common domain was bequeathed from the parent to the child, from the child to the grandchild and so on. On the other hand, the title of a royal domain was granted by the monarch, which meant that the monarch could appoint a close relative as its next lord.
Needless to say, it did not have to be a close relative, appointing oneself was allowed, too. Due to that, it kind of became a rule that the monarch himself succeeded the titles of important domains such as Valentia.
Zenjirou was already aware of these circumstances, but was not able to relate how that fact prevented them from inviting the “self-proclaimed princess” to the capital.
Since he tilted his head puzzled, Aura explained it carefully.
“What is important in this case is that the Capital represents the country itself, whereas ‘Valentia’ is simply a domain under my direct control.
The domains are quite self-governing. To the point that the kingdom cannot meddle with them as long as they fulfil their obligation to the country, namely paying taxes.”
That self-government was a real nuisance to royalty, so Aura was making various plans to restrict the authority of the domains, but right now, the self-government played into her hands instead.
“Oh, you mean, it will fall within the country’s remit when the ’self-proclaimed princess’ comes to the capital, but if she stays in Valentia, it will fall within your remit?”
When her husband clapped his fist on his palm and checked with her, Aura assented it with a nod.
“Yes. For a normal domain it would be treachery to build a friendship with a foreign country without the country’s permission, no matter how much self-governing they are, but we royalty are excluded from that.
If I manage to befriend the ‘self-proclaimed princess’ as the ‘Duchess of Valentia’, I can ultimately establish close ties with her without much interference from within our country.”
“I see now.”
Zenjirou was finally convinced to some extent.
It was generally not really laudable when the monarch prioritized his own benefit over the one of the country, but at times it was inevitable.
A feudal state was mainly achieved by a power balance between the feudal lords and royalty. When you only focussed on strengthening the country, but weakened the influence of royalty in turn, it could call forth a rebellion.
A monarch needed to flourish the country, but at the same time grant the royal family enough power to suppress the enriched nobility.
“Okay, I get now why you want to deal with them in Valentia. Does that mean you’ve a beneficial deal in view?”
“Yes. And not just in view, it is almost certain.
Like we talked about this noon, a ship from the North Continent rarely ever comes directly to our country. Their arrival hence means that they pursue a large goal in our country or have been in an unlucky accident.”
“Mh? What are the odds for it being a whim? Maybe they didn’t come especially for Valentia, but rather dropped by after their trip to a harbour in the north of the South Continent.”
Aura denied his simple-minded question by shaking her head.
“No. We might not be allies with the countries in our north, but we keep at least a friendly relationship of neutrality.
If they came to Valentia after a stop in a northern country, we would have been informed of their arrival by the northern country.”
When Zenjirou showed his understanding, Aura continued.
“If they deliberately came here, there is plenty of room for negotiations. And if they have drifted here due to some accident, we have already won.
After all, they definitely need repairs at the dock when their ship has met with an accident. Even if it is a large ship with four masts, I doubt that they have so many shipwrights on board to do the repairs by themselves.
In that case, they inevitably need people from our country to repair their ship. And that will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to study the state-of-the-art ship of the North Continent.”
Befitting for a Queen of a major power, Aura then showed a confident smile and licked her lips.
“In short, you’re primarily after the blueprints of their large ship?”
“Yes. The North Continent has other advanced technologies such as a big furnace that melts iron in large quantities, but I want the ship first. Once we have a large ship, we can directly trade with the North Continent ourselves in the future.”
Although the fire of royal ambition was flickering in the eyes of his wife, Zenjirou inclined his head and took the wind out of her sails.
“Hmm~ But will it be that easy? I’m no expert, either, but I think you need the necessary skills first to reproduce a monster like that large ship.”
The advance in technology was not so half-hearted that you could copy a new technology right away, even if you had access to the finished product.
For example: An intelligent person was able to understand the construction of a carriage by analysing it. However, he would not be able to build the carriage from scratch so easily, even if he understood its build-up.
A skill to make equally sized wheels on both sides. A skill to make a straight and round axletree. A skill to make axle holders that kept the axletree in place but also let it rotate without restraint. Along with various other skills, one built a carriage.
And the same applied to a ship.
“Yes, you do have a point. But we have master shipwrights on our own and I would like to believe that the technology is not so advanced that it will be impossible to analyse and imitate it.”
After a moment of pondering, Aura replied with that.
“Okay. All right, then. But once I go over there, we won’t get in touch so easily anymore. So I want to write down a list about stuff like an order of priority or negotiating range. May I?”
“Sure. Normally it would be inconceivable to commit such classified information on paper, but in your case, no one in this world can read your writing anyway, so it should be no problem.”
“Thanks. I’ll write the numbers with Kanji instead of Arabic numerals, too, just in case.”
It should technically be next to impossible that a third party or even the negotiating partner caught a glimpse of the memo, but better safe than sorry. There existed a tiny chance that the Arabic numerals could be read, because they were gradually gaining currency, starting with the civil servants in the Royal Palace, but anything else would be written in Japanese and obviously enough, no one in this world could read that.
“…What do I favour in this case?”
“Of course the ship‘s…”
After that Zenjirou and Aura huddled together and had a long discussion, which resulted in a list of ten copy papers that outlined an order of priority about what Aura wanted from the “self-proclaimed princess”, and the allowed negotiation range for Zenjirou.
Needless to say, the actual negotiations would gravely differ from these predictions, but it surprisingly made all the difference whether you prepared like that or not.
Especially to Zenjirou, who was bad at ad-libbing and quick to get worried. Ever since his days as a salaryman, he had spent a lot of time for these kind of preparations.
“Okay, that’s all I could think of for now.”
Putting his ball pen onto the table, Zenjirou stretched oneself luxuriously while still sitting down.
Aura unwittingly cracked a smile when her husband rejoiced from having finished one task, but she suddenly remembered that she had something to tell him, so she checked herself once again.
“Forgive me. In the end, I caused you trouble for the sake of the country again.”
Saying so, she lowered her head a bit to him.
This was technically nothing new, but Aura still felt the need to apologize.
In the original promise with Zenjirou, she had said that she would meet his desires as much as possible as long as it did not conflict with the country, so it would not be quite right to say that she broke the promise per se, but she certainly felt bad about pinning politics on him every time.
Just as Zenjirou was about to continue with comforting words such as “It was inevitable” and “It’s not your fault” like always, he suddenly thought of something.
(Huh? Now that I think about it, I always shrug it off as inevitable, but isn’t my situation getting worse and worse?)
Of course it was not so bad yet that he would mention it aloud.
Although he was now more often in the Royal Palace during the day for some duties, he always had the time to go back to the Inner Palace for dinner and on one of five days, he could laze around in the Inner Palace.
And above all, this world did not have the concept of “working late hours”, because there was no light at night. Business hours ended as soon as the sun set, albeit with some exceptions, so from his point of view, the hours of work were not all that great.
But because of that, he could have some quality time with his beloved wife in the wired Inner Palace after the end of work.
When he worked away from home in Valentia, though, he would obviously be separated from the electrical appliances, his wife Aura and his son Carlos Zenkichi.
For a short period of time, it definitely was not something infeasible, but if he were to utter the word “inevitable” now, he sensed that it would affect his future.
As far as possible, Zenjirou replied with harmless words and a soft expression.
“Hmm, I know your position puts you in bind, but it seems to be especially bad this time. Before I noticed it, it had progressed so far that I could no longer refuse. I was really surprised.”
The Queen was taken by surprise when her husband did not reply with the usual “it was inevitable, don’t worry about it”.
And in the next moment, she realized her own line of thinking and turned red from shame.
(I am the worst. Even though I apologized, I had already assumed that he would forgive me unconditionally.)
If her husband had been someone else than Zenjirou, Aura would have taken the easy way out and brought the “self-proclaimed princess” into the Capital to deal with her.
But in reality, she had made the prompt decision to solve the matter in Valentia and reap all the benefits for the royal family as soon as she had read the letter from the Small Flying Dragon.
Even though she did not believe that the decision itself had been wrong, it did mean that she had unconsciously regarded Zenjirou as “a pawn that obeyed her unconditionally”.
(Otherwise I would not be so shaken right now.)
Aura reflected on herself self-aware at heart, then straightened out her expression and faced her husband anew.
“Yes, I am truly sorry. You have all the right to blame me. In the end, everything seems to work out just fine, but that was only possible because you said nothing and went along with my plan. I thank you for that.
I could say now that I will never let something like this happen again, but that will be impossible, so I will at least discuss things with you first from now wherever possible.
And once you have completed the job, I want to reward you with something material for sure this time. You do not have to choose right now, but could you give it some thought?”
“Ah, well, okay.”
Zenjirou answered her somewhat vaguely, but approvingly.
One of the reasons why Aura was so quick to rely on him was definitely the fact that he would not accept a reward.
Only starting to realize that now, he pondered for a moment.
“Something I want, eh…Hmm.”
Still, no matter how often you asked him about this, he really could not think of anything. To begin with, he had never been the greedy type. The best proof for that was the fact that he had saved up three million yen during his years as an subordinate salaryman.
On the one hand he had been too busy to spent the money, on the other hand he never cooked by himself because he was too busy. Most of his meals had been prepackaged dishes or taken at a restaurant. The only bicycle he owned had been second-hand, too. Except these expenses, he spent no money on hobbies, so he was able to save up as much as three million yen.
Not to mention that he usually spent all his time here in the Inner Palace or Royal Palace, so he did not come across any news that would become an object of desire. It did not help, either, that he was not feeling the need for anything in his daily life.
Troubled like that, Zenjirou asked Aura instead.
“Hey, what’s customary to receive in such a case anyway?”
Upon his question, the Queen looked up to the ceiling and mused for a bit.
“Hmm, the best bet is money. Lower or mid-level nobility often get paid directly in gold and silver coins, but upper nobility or royalty often receive something that earns them a regular income such as a title of nobility accompanied by a domain or an estate.”
Then she answered smoothly like that.
The reaction from Zenjirou on the other hand was anything but enthusiastic.
“Hmm, money, eh. To be honest, I don’t think it’s all that wise to have money at my own disposal in my position.”
Zenjirou was not giving much credit to his own skills, nor to his own personality. He honestly had no confidence that he could resist the temptation to cover up an incident with money, if he were to make some kind of mistake in the future.
The reward came with such a risk and he was not really keen on it, to begin with. Or at least, it was not something he would immediately jump at for now.
Zenjirou temporarily put the decision on hold and asked another question.
“Well, some material goods. Normally it is something related to the achievement. A soldier gets a good spear or lance for military exploits and a civil servant usually gets a dragon bone brush with a detailed pattern or a beautifully polished calculation stone.”
The dragon bone brush was, like its name implied, a brush made out of the bones of a dragon. It was a kind of dip pen and the ink was sponged up into slits that were carved into the bone. The design was similar to the glass pens in Japan.
On the other hand, the calculation stone was, again like its name implied, a primitive calculation device. On both surfaces of a flat stone like the ones used for the game go, rills were engraved in a cross pattern. Depending on how you put down the stone, you could display the numbers from one to ten.
An educated person of this world could apply the four basic arithmetic operations by using numerous of these calculation stones, but Zenjirou did not know how exactly.
He had used them once during a lesson with Lady Octavia, but could not really memorize their usage.
“A brush or stone, huh. Hmm, not really my thing.”
Of course he was not thrilled. In terms of usability, the dragon bone brush was no match for the ball pen, and the calculation stone was not even a patch on the hand calculator or the calculation software on the computer.
These presents had undoubtedly a great value as perfect pieces of art, too, but Zenjirou was neither a collector, nor an art enthusiast, so they merely left a “oh, cool” impression on him.
A decision was put on hold here as well. Still, he would not really be troubled by receiving a reward, nor would it affect his surroundings by accepting one, so he might as well compromise on this matter.
Just in case, he asked yet another question, though.
“The permission to marry, I guess.
The marriages of higher nobles usually requires the blessing of the ruler. In most cases, it is nothing but a formality, but it did happen before that the ruler opposed a marriage between two high-ranking families or between families with a too great difference in status.
In such cases, you can overrule the gap in class or inconveniences to the royal family, through military or civil exploits.”
“That got nothing to do with me, though.”
When her husband immediately interjected to remind her, Aura unwittingly showed a wry smile.
“Well, for now, yes. Another choice would be to simply award a ‘woman’ as a reward.
And by that I do not mean a woman that will be your wife, but rather someone, who brings her beauty to market, like a dancer or singer.”
She indifferently mentioned that in a composed tone, whereupon Zenjirou heaved a sigh with a somewhat disgusted expression.
That short utterance completely revealed his mentality.
Obviously enough, Zenjirou, too, was a healthy young man in body and soul, so he was sometimes driven by the urge to have a woman besides his wife.
But if anything, that was merely a “fantasy about having an affair”, and did not mean that he wanted to bring another woman into his home, the Inner Palace.
The Queen smiled wryly when her husband was as obstinate as ever about this topic.
“Okay. That is about all the common rewards I can think of. So, did it help you out?”
While scratching his head with his right hand, Zenjirou replied to her question with a sulky face.
“Hmm, well, yeah, I guess? If I don’t come up with something else, I’ll probably take a dragon bone brush or a calculation stone.”
His answer made Aura widen her eyes a bit in surprise.
“Oho? Did that pique your interest?”
She did not expect his next answer, though.
He shook his head
“No. Instead of an interest, it’s more of a harmless choice from all of them.”
and responded without mincing matters.
As such, Aura unwittingly heaved a sigh.
“You cannot really call it a reward then, though…”
Apparently her unpretentious husband was duteously trying to fulfil the “obligation” of accepting a material reward. Moreover, he was being extremely careful that it influenced his standing as little as possible.
Aura massaged her temples with the thumb and middle finger of her right hand in order to suppress a headache, then delivered an admonition.
“Zenjirou, there is no need to take others into consideration when accepting a reward. I will properly refuse you if you should ever wish for something that goes against the country. You just have to be honest to your desire, okay?
Is there nothing you want? You supported yourself back then in your former world, correct? What did you buy there? You were not so poor that you had your hands full already with basic necessities, were you?”
This time, Zenjirou looked up to the ceiling and mused.
“Hmm, back in Japan? I wasn’t short on money for sure, but short on time, I guess. I could never spare the time to get something I wanted.
Ah, but now that I think about it, there were a couple of things I wanted back then.”
Speaking of things that he wanted during his time as a student and working adult, respectively, there did come a few things to his mind.
For example, a wristwatch.
He had been in the possession of two wristwatches, a digital one for private use and an analogue one matching his suit, but both of them had been cheap exemplars that did not even cost a thousand yen.
One day, he really had wanted to own a wristwatch from a higher price level.
Other than that, he had considered a new car.
Half a year after joining the company, Zenjirou had bought a second-hand hybrid car, but that had simply been a compromise. The car he had “wanted” and perceived as “cool” had been a different one. Instead he had compromised on the hybrid car for its overwhelmingly better gas consumption and second-hand price.
Because he always went to work on the train (his company did not have a parking lot) and did his shopping with his bike (his leased parking lot was farther away than the convenience store or supermarket), he practically never needed his car, but did not get rid of it despite that, which disclosed his abnormal fixation on it.
The only other thing he could think of was a season ticket for the junior league team, whose fan club he had belonged to.
Money-wise, that had not been out of reach for him, but he did not buy it because his days had been filled with overtime work and he did not have the time to go into a football stadium.
Anyway, Zenjirou had racked his brain, but still could not come up with anything helpful.
“Hmm, I can’t think of anything. I did wanted a few things back in my old life, but these are no longer desirable here. To be honest, I haven’t come across anything in this world that piqued my interest.”
Saying so, he raised his two palms towards the ceiling as if surrendering, and shrugged his shoulders in an exaggerated manner.
Aura knew very well that he really meant what he was saying, hence she was troubled.
“Hmm… Is there really nothing? You can put aside whether it is actually feasible or not for now. Just name something for the sake of it.”
“That’s all very well, but I’m really not inconvenienced. I may be a bit busy with work, but I also got plenty of free time. And I’ve got enough DVDs and games to not get bored. If I had to name something, it would be the internet, but that’s clearly out of the question.”
He previously had discussed with Aura if it was possible to connect to the internet, even if only for a short time, by combining the “Time Reversal” and “World Bridge” magic, but that had turned out to be impossible.
“Time Reversal” was to be cast on objects, not on airspace, and “World Bridge” only deployed its effect for an instant, so his idea of “winding back time of a designed airspace to a date, where the right star constellation allowed the casting of World Bridge, and then connecting with a public hotspot for the internet by evoking World Bridge” was impracticable.
In actual fact, Zenjirou had not been convinced by her explanation. On an intuitive level, he somehow got the feeling that it was possible nevertheless.
But even if that was the case, he would need to know more about “Space-Time Magic” first, and considering that he currently could only use the first magic of it, he still had a long way to go.
Both of them no longer knew what to say next. This happened every time. Whenever this topic came up, they were both at a loss for words at the end for sure.
However, Zenjirou forced himself to say something in order to break this silence.
“Well, you know, I’ll be away from the Royal Palace, or rather from the Capital for the first time now, so I might find something interesting over there.”
“Indeed. It might breath new life into your lifestyle on that note. Valentia is a great place. The sun may be strong there, but the sea breeze makes it chillier than in the Capital. The seafood is quite delicious, too.
Though no matter how much you will like it, I will not cede the title of ’Duke of Valentia’ to you.”
Her joke caused Zenjirou to laugh, too.
“Ahaha. No worries, I’m not that unreasonable.”
“Also, do you not dare to bring the ’self-proclaimed princess’ back home with you. It will be troublesome regardless of whether her claim is true or not.”
“You’re such a worrywart.”
Before long, the royal couple was laughing frolicsome together.
* * *
A few days later.
Zenjirou was having a pleasant conversation with Prince Francesco and Princess Bona in a room of the Royal Palace.
Like always, the sunlight brightened up the room and they were sitting on couches across each other while enjoying some tea and dried fruits to their talking.
The only difference was the topic of their conversation: It announced a temporary separation.
“Oh, rumour has it that you were going to leave the capital. So it’s true then, Your Majesty Zenjirou.”
After Zenjirou had told him about his departure to Valentia himself, the blonde prince neatly put his teacup back onto the table and said this.
“To be honest, I am surprised about the suddenness. But I pray for your safe return.”
The princess with the auburn hair, on the other hand, could not conceal her restlessness and was unconsciously fidgeting with her hands resting on her lap.
Although Prince Francesco had been surprised, he was not concerned, whereas Princess Bona looked just as concerned as she was surprised.
Their different reactions could be related to their distinct mental toughness, of course, but the more important factor was their differential positions.
For Prince Francesco, Zenjirou’s absence only meant the loss of a “playfellow he got along with”. In Princess Bona’s case, though, it truly was a matter of life and death, because she lost the person, who “sympathized and cooperated with her the most” in regards to her chaperone duty towards Prince Francesco.
The usual behaviour of the prince, whether it was staged or not, was causing trouble without doubt.
And the one to be directly affected by that was Princess Bona. Consequently, the one to help her out the most had been Zenjirou.
Knowing this, it was understandable why Princess Bona felt like crying.
Zenjirou felt hesitation dwell up within him for a moment upon receiving the pleading look of the young princess, but he was not so thoughtless as to act on that emotion.
“Thank you very much. I will be going there for the first time, so I am a bit nervous.”
Continuing to put on a friendly face, he coped with it reasonable. Still, no matter how reasonable he might be, it would be all for nothing, if the other party did not accept it.
“Lucky you! Oh, please keep the souvenirs in mind!”
Prince Francesco, as cool as a cucumber, spoke to the royalty of another country as if a child pestering its father when he left on a trip.
That behaviour of his was nothing new, but Princess Bona still turned pale. She must be rather sincere or sensitive.
Having said this, it was probably a good thing to have someone with a constant prudence around, because it was an undeniable fact that the behaviour of the prince lacked courtesy, no matter how used you were to it.
Her state of mind could by no means be favourable, though, since she had to be attentive around the clock.
“Please relax, Princess Bona. This is just an informal meeting, so there is no need to be so uptight. I understand, Prince Francesco. I will get you something suitable.
Hmm, Valentia is a seaport city after all. It may not be much of a business, but perhaps they are selling beautiful pearls or good-looking corals. If I can get my hands on them, I will bring it along for you.”
When Zenjirou responded like that, Prince Francesco rejoiced while his face beamed with joy.
“Really!? Please do so! Phew, I’m really looking forward to it!”
Both, corals and pearls, were jewellery relatively unknown to the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell, because it was a landlocked country.
As a first-rate practitioner of the Bestowal Magic as well as a first-rate jewellery craftsman, it was only natural that Prince Francesco would be fascinated with unfamiliar jewellery.
And that applied to the girl with the auburn hair sitting next to him as well, because she dedicated her life to jewellery even more than him.
“Prince Francesco! Even if this is an informal meeting, please refrain from using such a casual manner of speaking!”
While reprimanding the in name only prince of her own country, Princess Bona looked at Zenjirou with her dark brown eyes glittering from desire.
“A- Allow me to extend my sincere gratitude as well, Your Majesty Zenjirou.
Corals are superb materials that can be altered in many ways, and although pearls are not suited as a medium for magic tools, their brilliance and shape make them extremely valuable for decorations.
Prince Francesco would surely produce a masterpiece from them.”
From her choice of words, you would think that she was merely completing the appreciation from Prince Francesco, but Zenjirou was not dense insomuch that he would fail to notice how her true motive seeped through her forceful tone and sparkling eyes.
“Yes, I would like to see it once it is completed. That goes for Prince Francesco’s work, of course, but for yours as well, Princess Bona.”
Hence he explicitly linked the “souvenir” to Princess Bona as well, and not just to Prince Francesco.
“Th- Thank you so much!”
Princess Bona realized what he meant and lowered her head with such vigour that the silver dust sprinkled on her auburn hair scattered around.
* * *
Zenjirou departed to Valentia a few days after that.
The reason for the delay was rather simple: The personnel to prepare for his arrival had to be “leaped” to Valentia before him.
Queen Aura did have enough magical power to use “Teleport” numerous times on a single day, but her magical power was considered a trump card for the Carpa Kingdom. They could not risk that she was out of magical power, even if only for a day, in case something happened.
Therefore, she could only sent one person per day to Valentia with her “Teleport” magic.
“Are you ready, Zenjirou? If so, I will ‘leap’ you now.”
In view of her question, Zenjirou put down the backpack he was shouldering and spread out its contents.
“Wait a sec. I’ll check one last time. Flashlight… check. Pocket knife… check. Distilled alcohol as a present…”
His backpack was mainly filled with stuff that he had brought with him from Earth.
General daily necessities like a change of clothes could just be obtained in Valentia and anything that could not be bought such as his official royal attire was already taken along by the personnel that “leaped” before him.
Frankly speaking, Zenjirou could have gone with nothing but the clothes he was wearing.
“…Okay, everything’s there. I didn’t forget anything.”
After he finished his inspection, he closed the backpack and carried it with his hand.
Right now, he was clad in his third official attire.
Although he was currently all alone with Aura in the Inner Palace, the government officials, starting with the governor of Valentia, would be waiting for him at the teleport destination, so he was expected to dress accordingly to his status.
And he definitely should not wear the backpack on his back while dressed like this. It would wrinkle the clothes, which were similar to Japanese clothes, for one, and it would look unbecoming, too.
Speaking of, carrying around a backpack was not all that favourable either, but they would have to tolerate that.
The Queen, wearing a red dress, looked her husband, who stood in front of her with the backpack in one hand, in the eyes again and slowly began to speak.
“Well then, I will send you to Valentia now. Raffaelo Márguez is already there, so approach him for any official matters.
He may lack initiative, but he is very capable in executing orders.”
He had been one of the two marriage candidates for Queen Aura.
Needless to say, Zenjirou was not holding him in high esteem.
“Okay. I’ll just be a figurehead and leave all the detail work to Sir Raffaelo.”
The Queen laughed when her husband contained himself by suppressing the complex feeling of relying on the former husband candidate of his wife, and nodded in return.
“Yes, do that. You are royalty while he is a vassal. Make the most of him.”
“Yeah. To be honest, I have my troubles with that, but I’ll manage somehow.”
Even during his time at the company, Zenjirou never got the chance to have a “subordinate” at his command. Therefore, ordering someone around was uncharted territory for him, but like Aura had said, he was “royalty” now, so he could no longer talk his way out of it by claiming it to have “troubles” with it.
Especially because he had to pose as a powerless royalty without ability and motivation. The skill to “leave matters to others” would surely be in demand more often from now on.
“Another familiar face you will see is Ines from the waiting maids in the Inner Palace. Your residence in Valentia will have maids, too, but they will likely not measure up to your standards.
To make matter worse, it is your first time spending the night outside the Inner Palace. For your own good, remain at Ines‘ side as much as possible.”
Next up, Aura advised him cautionary.
His view towards attendants would be regarded as heresy in this world.
It might go without saying for a citizen of Modern Earth, but Zenjirou was not thick-skinned enough, so that he could relax while an attendant stood wordless at attention in the same room.
The only ones, who understood his “sensitivity of propinquity”, were the waiting maids working in the Inner Palace.
The discomfort would not be unbearable if it only concerned the maids, but he also had to live in an environment without his electrical appliances for the first time.
It was a crumb of comfort that it was not the hottest season right now, but a lifestyle without refrigerator and ventilator, not to mention air conditioning, was surely tougher than he acknowledged.
“Just stick to Ines in any event. You will be fine if you leave all your private requests to her. Otherwise put, she will tell you if something really is out of the question.
Knowing you, this will be an unfounded worry, but please try to refrain from any selfishness.”
Forget about selfishness, Zenjirou never demanded more than what was absolutely necessary. Although Aura knew that it would be rude to bring it up, she had to say it just in case.
Something he had taken for granted so far might now turn out to be unattainable during his stay away from the Inner Palace. It was possible then that he would trouble the waiting maids with an “unconscious selfishness” at such a time.
“Okay. I’ll behave as well-mannered as possible.”
Zenjirou sensed that there was more to her advice of “sticking to Ines” than meets the eye, but he just responded affirmative without pursuing that matter further.
This time for sure, he would completely be separated from the culture of Modern Earth and plunged into the “life in a different world”. Zenjirou was positive that she was just that worried about him.
“Do you have your instruction memo? Do not dare to lose it, you hear? Once you have gone over there, we practically can no longer communicate with each other. Not even a Small Flying Dragon will be able to deliver a letter in a day or so.”
The instruction memo was written at the behest of Zenjirou and listed an order of priority in detail about what Aura wanted from the “self-proclaimed princess” and what he was allowed to promise in return.
Of course it was written in Japanese, so it would not turn into a disaster, even if it fell into the wrong hands.
“Yeah, no worries. I got it here. And I remembered everything just in case.”
Answering like that, Zenjirou patted the backpack, where the instruction memo was.
At a loss for words, the two of them just gazed at each other wordlessly. They had said everything that needed to be said. All that was left was to use the “Teleport” magic to send him to Valentia. But neither of them mentioned that and they simply remained silent.
From the day Zenjirou had come to this world until today, these two had never lift apart from each other. Even if they knew that Zenjirou would be back as soon as the matter was settled, they could not help but feel sad about the separation.
Breaking the silence, Zenjirou wrapped his right hand around the waist of his wife in a red dress, gently pulling her closer.
Aura discerned what her husband was up to from that alone, so she abandoned herself to his arms and flopped onto his chest.
When their bodies touched, they embraced each other and shared a kiss.
The kiss lasted for some time while they remained in a tight caress with both arms put around each other’s back.
“Mh, Uhn, Mm…”
Zenjirou suddenly became weepy when he thought about how he would not be able to relish that sensation for a while now.
Unlike their usual casual intimacy, they now were connected in a heartfelt embrace and shared a passionate kiss. Then they slowly let go of each other in a natural way.
“Well, see you soon then.”
Picking up the dropped backpack at his feet, Zenjirou finally said so to Aura with a resolved expression.
Nevertheless, his left hand was still resting on the shoulder of his wife regretfully even now, so he was not entirely resolved to separate yet.
Aura gently removed his left hand from her shoulder with her own right hand without wiping the smile off her face, then held up the palm of her right hand in front of his chest.
“Okay. Here I go.”
After answering like that, she closed her eyes and concentrated her energy. At the same time, her entire body started to emit an overwhelming magical power.
Zenjirou unwittingly closed his eyes, too, and waited.
With his eyes closed, he could hear the “chant” of his wife.
“Send my chosen person to the place I envision. As compensation, I make…”
It was neither hot, nor oppressive. A distinct “power” simply enveloped his whole body.
And in the next moment, he felt a bit drowsy, so he shook his head and opened his eyes reflexively.
“We have been awaiting you, Zenjirou-sama.”
Instead of Queen Aura,
“Welcome to Valentia, Your Majesty Zenjirou.”
he saw unfamiliar men kneeling down on one knee.