Aside from some encounters with wild dragons, Zenjirou and his group arrived safely in the March of Guzzle without any further incidents .
The capital of the March of Guzzle was a city fortified with high walls .
Needless to say, it was nothing out of the ordinary . The South Continent was housing obviously hostile creatures in form of dragons, so every human settlement in the borderlands was protected by walls to a greater or lesser extent .
On top of that, the building of the feudal lord in the middle of the capital resembled a fortress, symbolizing the fortitude and straightforwardness of the Guzzle Family .
In other words, it was a fortification within a fortification .
That fortress was quite large, giving the townspeople the opportunity to withdraw there in case of need, but it had practically no pompous beautification .
Truth be told, it deserved the term “shabby”, when comparing it to the Royal or Inner Palace, where Zenjirou usually spent his time, or even the Mansion in Valentia, where he had stayed for a month not long ago .
But Zenjirou was glad to be in a proper building again after he had spent the last few days in the bumpy carriage and foreign wilderness .
Having reached his destination, he finally cast off his travelling attire and heaved a sigh of relief .
“Hah, sweet freedom…”
In the building allocated to him within the residence of the feudal lord, Zenjirou sloppily got rid of his shoes and socks, flopped himself onto the couch and rested his bare feet on the low table .
He rarely ever displayed such an ill-mannered behaviour, not even in his Inner Palace, but right now, he was too tired to care . The ride in the carriage without proper suspension and the unfamiliar camping outside had exhausted his stamina and mind to the limit .
“You have done well, Master Zenjirou . Would you like some water?”
Waiting Maid Ines gave a warm smile and offered him a silver goblet with cold water .
She and Zenjirou were currently the only ones in the room . In front of the acquainted maid of the Inner Palace, he could unwind .
“Yeah, thanks, Ines . But I’ve to say, you sure are tough . You should actually be even more tired than me, since you took care of me the whole time . ”
Saying this, Zenjirou looked up to the waiting maid standing next to the couch .
Just like he had mentioned, the dignified appearance of Ines showed not the slightest hint of exhaustion .
The middle-aged maid showed a faint smile in reaction to the appreciation of her master .
“Well, I am used to it . I have been serving Her Majesty Aura on the battlefield during the previous war as well . ”
“Oh, wow . Not bad . ”
Zenjirou was honestly surprised at the confession from Ines . He was certainly surprised, but at the same time, he made sense of it . Ines surely had been sent with him this and last time, because she had that kind of backbone .
The attendance in the wilderness would be difficult for a normal waiting maid that had never left the Royal or Inner Palace before .
Ines took the empty goblet out of Zenjirou’s hand and said .
“It seems that you will be staying in this building . I am sure there will be all kind of inconveniences, but please bear with it . ”
“Yeah, I know . It’s no problem . I expected this from the beginning . ”
Still slumping down in the couch sloppily, Zenjirou answered Ines like that .
The oldest daughter of the Guzzle Family, Lucinda, was going to marry General Puyol . Zenjirou had come all the way to the March of Guzzle to attend their marriage ceremony .
It goes without saying that General Puyol was the guest of honour this time around . Hence the main building of the residence of the feudal lord was used by General Puyol and his relatives as well as the Guzzle Family itself .
So it was inevitable that Zenjirou was placed in the adjacent building, even as royalty . He usually did not need all that much personal space, so the annex building was not bothering him at all .
He had been a bit perplexed, when he found out that the building had no own bath, but they were going to prepare a bathtub for him every day, so he could put up with it . Of course he would refuse to live his life in a house without a bath, but it was no reason to become willful, when he was just staying in it for the period of his visit .
For a while, he just lazed around on the couch, when Ines suddenly called out to him .
“Master Zenjirou . I am sorry to interrupt your rest, but I think it is about time the Guzzle Family will send a messenger to welcome you .
Please compose your clothing a bit . Even casual wear will be alright . ”
“Oh, already that late? Got it . ”
With these words, Zenjirou reached out for some socks and indoor shoes .
The only maid he had brought along from the Inner Palace on this occasion was Ines . After all, the marriage between the eldest daughter of a feudal lord and a brass hat of the military was a big event, so an unbelievable number of nobles was rushing for the March of Guzzle .
The capital of the March of Guzzle was built to withstand long-time sieges, so it was big enough to accommodate that unbelievable amount of nobles, but it did not change the fact that the guests were putting a large strain on the capacity of their sleeping quarters as well as food provisions .
Because of that, the number of servants they brought along was supposed to be kept to a bare minimum .
Zenjirou fixed his attire and sat down on the couch again, mannerly this time . Before long, the door was knocked .
Three women entered the room . Two of them were obviously past their youth, but the third one was a girl so small that she still looked like a child .
Although they might as well be mother and daughter in age, it was obvious at a glance that the little girl was the important figure of them . For one thing she was standing in the middle, for another thing she alone was wearing different clothes .
The two middle-aged women wore something plain, almost like an uniform, whereas the girl was wearing a dress of clearly superior cloth, even if its design was simple .
She was not a mere messenger, but obviously the daughter of a noble .
(Is she the child of a branch family?)
While this thought crossed Zenjirou’s mind, the girl opened her mouth with an expression stiff from nervousness .
“It- It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Master Zenjirou . My name is Nilda, the second daughter of the Guzzle Family .
My father has asked me to take care of you during your stay here . Please just say the word, if you need anything . ”
She must have practiced it beforehand . Despite her nervousness, the little girl, Nilda smoothly delivered her speech without stuttering and then lowered her head politely so that her short ponytail swung around .
“Okay . Then I shall take you up on your offer . By the way, could it be that you are the little sister of Lady Lucinda and Sir Xavier, seeing as you said that you are the second daughter?”
Zenjirou was puzzled by her introduction at heart, but kept his composure on the outside for now as he asked this .
Unaware of these inner thoughts of the Prince Consort, the little girl widened her already large black eyes even further
“Yes, quite so! Although our mothers are different, Lucinda is my older sister and Xavier is my older brother!”
and replied like that in an energetic voice . Judging by her expression seized with pride and joy, she seemed to harbour an honest affection for Lucinda and Xavier .
It was not uncommon that siblings of different mothers were harbouring complicated feelings towards each other in High Society, but that did not seem to be the case for the Guzzle Family .
“Sir Xavier looked after me in Valentia . If the chance arises, I would like to speak to him again . ”
“Thank you for your kind words . I will relay it to my brother . ”
Nilda smiled even happier as a result of his words .
“Then I already have the first request . Can you arrange a bath for me? I worked up a sweat on the way here and would like to wash it off before dinner . ”
“Yes, of course . I shall arrange for it immediately . ”
When Zenjirou requested that, the petite girl straightened herself and bowed with a jerk . Then she left the room together with the two middle-aged servants .
“…Ines . ”
Zenjirou remained silent for a while after Nilda and the other two were gone, then called out the name of the waiting maid standing next to him with a stern expression .
“Yes, what is the matter, Master Zenjirou?”
“Her Majesty Aura has briefed me about the important people of the Guzzle Family prior to this . However, a Nilda Guzzle was not amongst them .
Can I assume that Her Majesty purposefully did not tell me about her?”
He was alone with Ines now, but he still kept the attitude and tone of Royalty, so she must have discerned the importance of his question from that .
The faithful maid kept her stern expression, when she immediately shook her head to the question of her master .
“No . I dare to say that is not the case . Her Majesty Aura has no reason to keep her existence from you, even if she is the daughter of a mistress . ”
Zenjirou relaxed his shoulders a bit relieved, when Ines answered him flat out .
Aura was his beloved wife, but before that, she was also the Queen of a country, so he did understand that she obviously kept some things from him or schemed some ploys unknown to him, but at the same time, it was obviously not a pleasant feeling to have your wife do that to you .
Hence he immediately felt better, when that possibility was ruled out .
“Then she did not cause this misinformation on purpose . The easiest explanation would be that it ‘slipped her mind to tell me’…”
“Her Majesty is only human, too, after all, so that possibility is not unthinkable, but I would say we can rule it out for now, because Secretary Fabio is with her . ”
“Then the only other explanation is that Her Majesty did not know about her, either… Is that even possible? That Her Majesty does not know about a child from an influential feudal lord?”
Zenjirou cocked his head doubtful, whereupon Ines responded with a businesslike tone .
“It is relatively well-known, when an illegitimate child does not get acknowledged . But it also not unheard of that a feudal lord tried to conceal his child from Royalty in the past, either .
But in neither of these cases, they would have made Lady Nilda appear before you like this .
So it would mean that she is abiding by some kind of conspiracy, but for that, Lady Nilda showed no guilt in her eyes and behaved straightforward, even if a bit nervous . And above all, the Guzzle Family is not known for acting underhanded like this, so I believe that possibility is extremely unlikely as well . ”
“In the end, this got us nowhere . ”
“So it would seem . ”
The situation was obviously strange, but the other party was not behaving conspicuous, so their intentions were not perceptible .
“… . . ”
Slumping deep into the couch, Zenjirou pondered for a while with his hand against his chin, but in the end, there was only one conclusion he could arrive at .
“I will inform Her Majesty Aura and await her instructions . Until then, we will not stir up this matter any further . ”
“Very well . I will prepare everything at once . ”
Like always, Zenjirou was going to rely on Aura’s judgment . Ines just lowered her head respectfully .
* * *
Evening of the same day .
After washing off the sweat from the travel in the bathtub, Zenjirou had taken a short nap to relieve his fatigue . Now waiting maid Ines woke him up and informed him about the dinner plans .
“Ehm, in other words, today’s dinner will be an ‘open-air banquet hosted by Princess Freya’ in the garden of this building?”
“Yes . Or more precisely, Princess Freya does want to hold it like that and is awaiting your approval for it .
We still have a lot of the smoked meat of the ‘Meat Dragon’ from the other day left over, so she suggested we share it with everyone . Well, if you are against it, the whole meat will just be gifted to the Guzzle Family . ”
“Oh, that meat . ”
A few days ago, Princess Freya had killed a wild Meat Dragon along the Salt Road and Zenjirou still had not forgotten about it .
Most of the killed dragon had been consumed for dinner on that very day, but they had smoked the leftovers and put them into the supply cart .
Apparently Princess Freya wanted to host a great banquet with that smoked meat now .
“I do not really mind giving my permission for it, but what are the respective consequences for allowing or refusing it?”
The middle-aged maid smoothly answered the question from her master without pause .
“Well, considering that the banquet shall be held in the garden, you would have to invite Lady Nilda, because she is responsible for this building, as well as some other nobles, too .
And when Princess Freya is the host of such an event with your permission, it will only reinforce their impression that she will be your concubine .
On the other hand, if you were to refuse it, it will give the opposite impression . Namely that you have reservations towards Princess Freya . ”
Zenjirou could not help but grimace in reaction to the detailed explanation from the waiting maid .
In short, he would practically be announcing to the guests that he himself was welcoming Princess Freya as his concubine, if he were to accept her request .
He would literally do away with himself with that decision, seeing as he actually did not want to take a concubine .
Then he should just refuse her request . But unfortunately, it was not that simple . Refusing her in turn would be like officially announcing that he did not accept Princess Freya .
Queen Aura herself had officially recognized her concubine matter insofar as allowing her to attend this marriage ceremony as a partner for Zenjirou .
If Zenjirou were to reject Princess Freya in the open now, it would give other people the misunderstanding that the Queen and her Prince Consort had a conflict of opinions .
“Fine . Tell her she has my permission . ”
In the end, Zenjirou could only do this, even if he knew that he was putting his own head in the noose .
His own self-interest against the reputation of the Queen . It goes without saying which he ought to prioritize .
His waiting maid lowered her head briefly in light of her master’s response .
“Understood, Master Zenjirou . I will convey it to her . ”
“Good . ”
With this short reply, Zenjirou stood up from the couch and started to change his clothes .
By now, he had gotten less reluctant to let the maids see him in pyjamas or underwear, so he blatantly took off his blue-striped pyjama and let Ines help him put on the traditional clothes of the Carpa Kingdom .
These clothes were the same as the third official attire he often wore in the Royal Palace, but with less decoration and easier to move in . Zenjirou had gotten used to the traditional clothes lately, so he had faith in himself to put them on by himself, but according to the waiting maids of the Inner Palace, it would turn into a “scandal”, if he were to appear in public after putting them on without their help .
While changing his clothes, he made some small-talk with Ines .
“Are you getting along well with Princess Freya, Master Zenjirou?”
“Hmm . I’m sure we’ve grown pretty close on the way here . After all, we spent several days together in the same carriage . And I don’t really dislike her personality, anyway . ”
He was being honest, when he said that .
Her behaviour and choice of words was certainly sophisticated, but Princess Freya did not really beat around the bush like nobility usually did, liked to move around and displayed a variety of expression, so Zenjirou was by no means put off by her .
“Then there should be no problem to accept her as a concubine, right?”
But he firmly shook his head in reaction to the question from Ines .
“These are two different things altogether . The problem is not my feelings towards her, but my fear of disrupting our domestic peace by taking a second wife . ”
It would work out, if they were “a happily married couple + a woman on friendly terms with both of them”, but Zenjirou could not envision a bright future, when “two women loved the same man”, no matter how well these two women might actually get along .
He did acknowledged the difference in their culture and moral values in the head, but his heart had a hard time catching up to it .
“It’s really comfortable in the Inner Palace with Aura, Zenkichi and me right now .
I know Princess Freya is a good girl, but to be honest, I’m scared to add her to our harmonic family . ”
Ines narrowed her eyes to slits, like being blinded, when Zenjirou gave her his honest opinion .
“You sure love Her Majesty Aura and Prince Carlo-Zen from the bottom of your heart . ”
“Ah, well, yeah . Oh, speaking of Zenkichi, you always call him Carlo-Zen . ”
Embarrassed by the straight compliment, Zenjirou stammered a bit and quickly changed the topic .
Carlos Zenkichi . In short, Carlo-Zen . In fact, Zenjirou was the only one calling him Zenkichi and about everyone else called him Carlos . Ines was actually one of the very few that referred to him as Carlo-Zen .
Zenjirou had brought up the matter without any ulterior motive . He just had wanted to change the topic, but it was somewhat meaningful for Ines .
“You are right . The title of ‘Princess Carlos’ always reminds me of His late Majesty Carlos II . after all . ”
With a distant look in her eyes, Ines uttered melancholic .
“His Majesty Carlos II . ? You mean Aura’s predecessor? Now that you mention it, they do have the same name . Ah, but shouldn’t it be ‘His Majesty Carlos’ instead of ‘Prince Carlos’ for him?”
Recalling the knowledge he learned from Lady Octavia, Zenjirou asked this, whereupon Ines shook her head a bit, the distant look still in her eyes .
“Yes, you are right . But His Majesty had only assumed the throne for less than a year . I was always calling him ‘Prince Carlos’, back then when I served him . ”
“Say what!? You have served the late king?”
He widened his eyes in surprise, but it was actually only normal that she did .
Ines was ten years older than Aura, so it was not all that surprising that she had served a different master before Aura .
“Yes . That is why I cannot help but recall His Late Majesty, when I hear the title ‘Prince Carlos’, so I would rather use the address of ‘Prince Carlo-Zen’ . If you have a problem with it, I can correct myself, though?”
She asked him that, but Zenjirou shook his head with a smile .
“No, keep it up . I was just curious about it . ”
No matter what she called him, it was beyond all question that Ines treated his son with respect and affection, so there was no need to stick at such trifles .
She must have noticed the faith he put in her .
“Thank you very much, Master Zenjirou . Okay, we are done now . ”
After helping him dress up, Ines showed a warm smile and lowered her head a bit .
* * *
For High Society, it was nothing special to host a banquet in the garden, so the yard of the annex building in the residence of the Guzzle Family had all the necessary equipment as well .
Well, it was just a well for washing the ingredients, a counter for preparing the food and a stone hearth for cooking, but it was enough to do some simple cooking like a barbeque without problems .
The roasting meat and vegetables gave off an aromatic smell while the fire illuminated the smiling face of Princess Freya, which Zenjirou was observing from a bit apart .
“Okay, it looks done . I will slice it up, so please give me a moment . ”
Princess Freya truly seemed to enjoy herself in the role of the head chef . With a smile on her face the whole time, she moved around busily while her short silver hair was dyed red by the fire .
She was supposed to be true-blood royalty, but her bright smile as she sliced the meat was genuine without doubt .
(Maybe she likes cooking?)
A large silhouette approached Zenjirou while he harboured that thought .
“Your Majesty Zenjirou, if you would like, please take this . ”
He was offered a silver plate with a meat and vegetable skewer by a woman so tall he had too look up to her . It was Victoria Kronkvist alias Skathi .
“Oh, Miss Victoria . Thanks . ”
Zenjirou took the skewer from the plate the trusted retainer of Princess Freya held out to him and thanked her while holding up the skewer .
“No, I should be thanking you, Your Majesty .
Thank you very much for allowing the Milady to host this banquet tonight .
I am expressing the greatest gratitude in place of my master . ”
The female warrior solemnly lowered her head with these words, whereas Zenjirou cocked his head puzzled with the skewer still in hand .
By allowing her to host this banquet, Zenjirou had taken another step forward to accepting Princess Freya as his concubine, but he got the feeling that Skathi was not thanking him for that reason .
“…I am not familiar with the culture of the North Continent, but does an open-air banquet happen to have some kind of special meaning to it there?”
Zenjirou wondered, if he had been deceived, so he automatically asked this with a somewhat stiff voice, but the tall woman shook her head unintimidated .
“No, Your Majesty . You have nothing to fear from it .
But it is indeed somewhat special . You see, the Milady has always dreamed of hosting an official banquet with the prey she had finished off herself .
In our country, only ‘warriors’ are giving that privilege . ”
He more or less discerned what Skathi was getting at . After taking a bite from the skewer and chewing it thoroughly, he opened his mouth .
“…That means Princess Freya is not a warrior? Our soldiers were praising her spearmanship, when she finished off the Meat Dragon, though . ”
In the Carpa Kingdom, women could never become warriors, but it should be different for their motherland, the Uppsala Kingdom . After all Skathi, the woman in front of him, had proclaimed to be a “warrior” herself .
She must have realized why Zenjirou asked that .
Skathi shook her head with a small smile .
“Milady certainly does have the minimum fitness to fight . But a woman cannot become a ‘warrior’ with that .
For a woman to become a warrior, she needs to be at least as strong as a ‘Hundra’, which is three ranks above her current level . ”
Even in the Uppsala Kingdom, the men generally took up the arms . So when a woman was only as strong as an average man, she was obliged to fulfil her role as a woman instead .
Their reasoning was that any other man could take her place, but only a woman could give birth, so she ought to fulfil that duty .
But precious few women were born with a talent for martial arts so great that it would be “a waste to force them into the role of a woman” .
Only women, who outperformed an average man by far, were allowed to become “warriors”, because their martial art skills were more profitable to the country or tribe than motherhood .
The female warriors of the Uppsala Kingdom literally had to be mannish women and more mannish than your average guy, at that .
Zenjirou was convinced by that explanation .
It was not hard to imagine how much Princess Freya yearned for the title for a “warrior”, seeing as she was not content with getting stereotyped .
So it was most understandable that she could not rein in her excitement for putting on a banquet with the prey she had finished herself, a privilege that was usually only given to warriors .
Zenjirou sat down on a trimmed tree stump and looked around .
The banquet resembled the outdoor camping event from his middle school days, but most of the participants here were the soldiers that had guarded him up till now .
Because this event was held in appreciation for the hard work of the soldiers, only a handful of nobility from rear vassals of the Guzzle Family had been invited in addition to Nilda Guzzle, the nominal caretaker of this annex building .
Everyone was busy preparing for the coming marriage ceremony, so it would nothing but trouble, if Royalty were to throw a big party here .
Thanks to that, Zenjirou did not have to deal with troublesome conversations . Something he was very glad about .
“I cordially thank you for inviting me today, Master Zenjirou . ”
While he was making himself comfortable on the stump, a little girl approached him: Nilda Guzzle .
With her large black eyes beaming out on him, Nilda took hold of her skirt and did a curtsy .
“Well, it is not my party, but Princess Freya’s, though . The dish comes from a Meat Dragon she killed herself, too . I hope it suits your taste . ”
“Yes, she was kind enough to share some with me earlier . It is really delicious . ”
The common tinge of flattery was absent in her bright smile, when she answered like that .
The skewer of smoked meat seasoned with spices and salt was actually a rather plain dish, but she was eating it with relish .
“Princess Freya sure is courageous for finishing off a wild Meat Dragon with a spear . I have seen a wild dragon once, when I was still living in the village, but I cannot even imagine going up against one . My legs would give in just from standing in front of it . ”
Nilda shivered with fright, whereupon Zenjirou smiled vaguely .
“You lived in a village?”
“Yes . I was born and raised there by my mother . My father Marquis Guzzle found me, when I was nine, and acknowledged me as someone from the Guzzle Family . ”
In other words, the feudal lord had laid hands on a female subject, making an illegitimate child without intending to .
That sounded like a difficult upbringing, if it was really true, but with that said, her expression was not tainted with sadness in the least .
(Maybe she was born with a carefree nature? Or did she have really kind people around her in both households?)
Completely unaware of his thoughts, Nilda kept on talking with an amiable bright smile .
“So I do have taken care of domestic Meat Dragons or Hulking Dragons before, but docile dragons are still plenty scary .
To think that she stood up against a wild dragon . I really respect that . ”
Her big eyes gleamed with respect, just like she had said .
At some point, the girl had all forgotten about her nervousness and reservation, talking to him most affable . Zenjirou gave her a wry smile and carefully picked his words to caution her .
“Yes, Princess Freya certainly is formidable . But you know, Nilda, it would be better, if you refrained from speaking so openly, even if it is meant as praise .
A lot of people in High Society tend to be offended by it and sometimes it can even cause a dispute . ”
“Yes, Master Zenjirou . I will take it to heart from now on . Thank you very much for your advisement . ”
Nilda looked bashfully at the ground as a result of his warning, exactly the kind of frankness Zenjirou literally had cautioned her about a moment ago .
(At the very least, there’s no doubt that she isn’t a natural-born noble . )
He came to that conclusion, when he looked at her ever-changing expressions .
On a closer look, Nilda appeared a bit awkward in her behaviour and choice of words .
That was surely the result of “deliberately putting her mind on“ acting like nobility, just like Zenjirou did it .
(It does worry me . She’s a bit too unmindful and friendly . I mean, she IS nobility after all . )
At the beginning, Nilda had been nervous and reserved, but she had opened up at the open-air banquet in no time, just like a little puppy to its owner .
(If that’s all part of their scheme, I tip my hat to the Guzzle Family, but Ines said they aren’t really like that . )
The reason Zenjirou was thinking about the Guzzle Family along these lines was because the girl named Nilda quickly made a favourable impression on him .
The girl did not harbour fear or wariness towards Royalty or Nobility, even though she had been adopted into a noble family at a young age . It suggested the assumption that the Guzzle Family had not treated her badly .
Zenjirou was actually quite fond of people with such rich expressions . Props to them, if that was what they were after .
“Master Zenjirou, is the Royal Capital really that big? I have heard that the Royal Palace is supposed to be quite a sight to be see, but I cannot quite envision it . Would you be so kind to tell me about it?”
“Well, I rarely ever leave the Royal or Inner Palace, so my opinion is pretty biased, but I believe it is quite beautiful .
The buildings are uniformly built with white stones and look sturdy, but also stylish . The gardens are affectionally maintained as well, growing beautiful flowers and trees, and the fountains or ponds have water as clear as crystal . A few ponds even have fishes in them to look at .
Its surface sparkles goldfish yellow, because of the golden fishes and clear water . Definitely well worth seeing . ”
“Oh, wow . Fantastic! I would like to go there and see it!”
The Royal and Inner Palace were practically “his home” now, so he was happy, but also a bit bashful to see the outright admiration in her eyes .
“You have never gone to the Capital before? The Guzzle Family does have a residence there, no?”
“My family seems to have always attached more importance to its own territory, so only a bare minimum of personnel stays in the Capital . And I am still a minor, so I seldom if ever leave this place .
Ah, but I am pretty sure that I will be brought to the Capital once I turn fifteen!”
“I see . Unfortunately, I cannot show you around town in my position, but what I can do is show you around the palace, when you come by . ”
It was extremely rare that Zenjirou made such a promise of his own accord . He seemed to have let his guard down a bit around the open-hearted Nilda .
“Yes, I am looking forward to it . ”
Nilda answered him with a bright smile .
As the host, Princess Freya had been busy sharing the food with everyone, but she more or less finished exchanging pleasantries and had some time for herself now .
“You did well, Princess Freya . Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves . ”
Zenjirou stood up and greeted Princess Freya, who approached him with a satisfied smile .
“Thank you, Your Majesty Zenjirou . May I sit down next to you?”
The silver-haired princess took a silver goblet with fruit wine from the tray waiting maid Ines offered her, had a taste of it and asked him that with a dazzling smile .
Zenjirou could not help but show his bewilderment .
He was currently sitting on nothing extravagant like a bench, but a mere “stump of a tree” . Needless to say, her question was not referring to another seat next to him, but whether she was allowed to sit down on the same stump .
It was quite the bold proposal, but it would not make a good impression, if he were to refuse her .
With a smile, Zenjirou took off the vest he had been wearing and covered the stump with it .
“Yes, of course, Princess Freya . Please have a seat . ”
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty . ”
Although the stump was relatively big, with two people on it, they were sitting close enough to feel each other’s body warmth .
The hem of her dress was even touching his foot . Zenjirou might as well put his arm around her waist to make this proximity more comfortable .
“… . . ”
“… . . ”
A man and a woman were sitting together on a single stump of a tree in a garden at night .
The flame of the fire bathed the silver hair and pale-white skin of Princess Freya in a reddish light .
Zenjirou was entranced by her without meaning to . The silver-haired princess cocked her head a bit as she smiled at him .
“Allow me to express my gratitude once more, Your Majesty . A dream of mine has come true thanks to you . ”
Her illuminated smile was not the kind of superficial smile nobility always used, but one that revealed her honest feelings .
“I am glad to be of help . The customs of your homeland do not apply here on the South Continent, so I believe you may act as you see fit . ”
“So Skathi told you . It is a bit embarrassing to have your childhood dream exposed . But I was really happy .
Hunting a dragon with my own hands and hosting a feast for the soldiers somehow makes me feel like an hero of old . ”
On the South Continent, dragons were nothing but livestock, but on the North Continent, they were the stuff of legends . Creatures you only found, when you ventured deep into the uninhabited mountains .
It definitely was somewhat heroic to slay one of these with your own hands and prepare a feast with it .
Zenjirou neither had the guts, nor the skills to do something like that, so he did not even think about trying it, but he did understand her admiration for that kind of thing .
“I admire your courage and zest for action . That strong heart of yours surely has enabled you to make the long voyage between our countries . ”
“Fufu . According to my brother back home, I am merely reckless and restless . I was just trying my best in my own way, though .
I practiced the bow as well as the spear and learned how to camp outside . For sea travel, I even memorized the sailor’s knot and the handling of a corded ladder . On top of that, I learned the necessary magic for long-distance sea-travels such as ‘Water Manipulation’ and ‘Drinking Water Treatment’ .
None of these skills will help me get married in the future . On the contrary, they will be a burden . ”
“But you are now here, precisely because of these efforts . In my opinion, every knowledge and skill you gain will be an asset for life . ”
Zenjirou did utter these words as a praise, but at the same time, they came from the heart .
The Carpa Kingdom was even more set on enforcing the gender roles than the Uppsala Kingdom, the home country of Princess Freya, but Zenjirou was married to Queen Aura, an exception to the exception, so he barely had adopted the common sense of this country .
According to his moral values, learning seafaring or even a little bit of martial arts was a legit virtue .
To begin with, he would have never fallen for Aura, if he had deemed martial arts or vigour unnecessary for a woman .
Princess Freya must have noticed that his words were more than just simple fair-seeming .
“Thank you, Your Majesty . Shameful as it may be, I do like running around in the wildness with my spear or crossing the vast ocean in a boat .
I am well aware that I am going against all common sense, so I do not blame anyone for frowning upon my behaviour or reprimanding me for it .
But nothing could make me happier, when someone actually accepts what I like to do with a passion . ”
“Haha, it makes me feel embarrassed, when you are this happy about it . But I did mean what I said earlier . ”
The man from a different world and the girl from the North Continent had all forgotten about the fact that they were sitting so close to each other that their feet were touching, and were happily engulfed in their chit-chat .
* * *
It was obvious that the open-air banquet was coming to an end . The meat and vegetables were all eaten up, the empty barrels of alcohol were multiplying and the fire was starting to burn out . Anyone could tell that the party was nearing its end .
The earlier loud laughter and tone-deaf songs died down and only some hushed conversations remained . At this point in time,
DONG, DONG .
The sound of a large bell suddenly resonated through the dark night .
Zenjirou immediately stood up from the stump and consulted the waiting maid standing at attention behind him, but Ines shook her head with a composed look .
“It seems to be coming from the main building, but I do not know why . However, I believe it is not an emergency, seeing as Lady Nilda is not reacting to it . ”
His gaze automatically shifted to Nilda and she certainly did not seem surprised by it, nor did look the least bit worried or frightened .
When Nilda noticed his gaze, she stood up with a jerk and came trotting over to him .
“My apologies, Master Zenjirou . I did forget to inform you about this . The bell just know only signalizes that a guest has arrived at the main gate .
You there, please go over to the main building for more information . ”
“Yes, understood . ”
Upon her order, one of the soldiers on watch went off .
“A guest this late at night?”
Zenjirou could not help but cock his head puzzled .
Right now, nobility from all across the country were coming together in the March of Guzzle for the marriage ceremony, so a guest itself was nothing out of the ordinary . But it was strange that one would arrive at such an hour . It goes without saying that travelling at night was quite dangerous in various ways .
They were not pressed for time, since the marriage ceremony was not going to be held tomorrow or anything, so they would normally not push their luck and rather spent one more night in a suitable place, arriving here first thing in the morning instead .
While Zenjirou was mulling over this, the soldier came back from the main building .
Even amidst this darkness, you could tell from afar that the soldier was rushing over as fast as he could . He then reported with a loud voice .
“Reporting in! Just now, the delegation from the ‘Navarre Kingdom’ has arrived!”
“The Navarre Kingdom?”
As the name sounded familiar to him, Zenjirou recalled the necessary information in his head .
The Navarre Kingdom was a middle power situated in the middle west of the South Continent . It bordered on the Carpa Kingdom with a steep mountain range in-between them as a buffer . And that very border area happened to be the March of Guzzle .
In other words, they were practically neighbours, if not for that mountain .
It seemed somewhat odd that a neighbouring country would send a delegation to the marriage ceremony of local nobility, but it was not really unusual for a feudal state .
The feudal lords in the borderlands were given a certain level of freedom in regards to independent contact with bordering countries .
As soon as he remembered that, Zenjirou could get his head around their arrival .
“Oh, I see . If they are coming from the Navarre Kingdom, it makes sense that they travelled through the night to arrive by today . ”
The mountain range between the March of Guzzle and the Navarre Kingdom was quite dangerous in terms of terrain and dragons living there .
It certainly was true that the risk of travelling at night was lower than staying an additional night in such a dangerous place .
Because he remembered these circumstances, Zenjirou accepted the situation and the soldier, still out of breath, continued his report .
“Moreover, the delegation of the Navarre Kingdom is headed by General Martín Nadal!”
The reaction to that name was dramatic .
Before, the garden had become so silent you could have heard a water drop hit the ground, but in the next moment, amazed outcries echoed through the night .
“Th- That General Martín!?”
“No way! Who’s protecting their country then!?”
“It shows how serious they take the liaison between the Guzzle Family and General Puyol . ”
Be it the soldiers Zenjirou had brought along from the Royal Capital, the soldiers from the March of Guzzle or even the rear vassals of the Guzzle Family, no one could keep their surprise and excitement in check, saying whatever they wanted .
The only exceptions were Princess Freya and Skathi, since they had never heard of the name of General Martín and just cocked their heads puzzled, and waiting maid Ines, who never broke her calm mask .
Looking around, Zenjirou relied on Ines for information .
“Ines, who is General Martín?”
“Yes . Martín Nadal is the most prominent general in the Navarre Kingdom .
He emerged from the previous war as the hero with a lot of achievements and it is said that most of the credit for surviving the war belongs to him, considering the Navarre Kingdom is by no means a major power . ”
She must have expected his question . The middle-aged waiting maid calmly answered him in a business-like tone .
Zenjirou widened his eyes surprised, when the evaluation turned out even better than he had expected .
“In short, he has the same standing as General Puyol in our country?”
His question was met with immediate approval from the middle-aged maid .
“Indeed . General Martín is on par with General Puyol . ”
Something about her phrasing bothered Zenjirou . She had not used the phrasing “is said to be on par”, nor the phrasing “is considered to be on par” .
He was bewildered that she had called him his literal equal with all certainty . Ines amplified her explanation as though clearing up his confusion .
“More precisely, he is the very person that inflicted the wounds that General Puyol has on his cheek and forehead . ”
“…I see . ”
The guest had an unbelievably meaningful connection to the groom, so Zenjirou bid adieu to his wishful thinking that this marriage ceremony would end without trouble .