Although with some unexpected turns and twists, everything somehow wrapped up without problems and Zenjirou returned to the annex building with Princess Freya .
Behind them followed their two bodyguards: Knight Natalio and the female warrior Skathi . Waiting Maid Ines, who had been with Zenjirou ever since he left the Royal Palace, was otherwise engaged for the moment .
Apparently she had “accidentally spilled some water” and was going to clean it up before returning as well .
Zenjirou could not imagine her ever making a mistake on the job, but no matter how capable, the maid was still a human, so she was bound to make a mistake at some point .
Back in the annex building, Zenjirou separated from Princess Freya and changed clothes in his allocated room .
A well-rounded waiting maid of middle age in the service of the Guzzle Family helped him with it .
He felt a bit uncomfortable having someone else than the waiting maids of the Inner Palace help him change, but there was no other way, since he had only brought along Ines as his waiting maid .
Fortunately enough, the plump waiting maid seemed quite capable, so Zenjirou managed to change the stiff third formal attire for his casual wear in no time .
“Well done . You may leave . Oh, and send Nilda to me, when she arrives . ”
“Understood . I shall take my leave now . ”
The plumpish maid swept a curtsy and left the room .
“…Puh . ”
Unlike with the waiting maids of the Inner Palace, Ines included, Zenjirou was vigilant about his conduct and speech in front of other maids, so he was tensed up at these times .
Sitting down on a simple couch prioritising functionality, he turned his head with small cracking sounds to relieve the tension .
“Ehm, where’s the towel again? …Ah, there . The nights here sure are irksome . ”
Zenjirou shined on the table in front of the couch with the LED flashlight in his right hand and somehow managed to find the towel .
Technically speaking, there was an oil pan on the table for a light source, but the small flame was of no use for him, seeing as his night vision was poorly developed to begin with .
Slouching on the couch, Zenjirou wiped the sweat off his face and neck with the towel in his left hand, then looked down on the LED flashlight in his other hand .
“This thing sure saved the day…”
In order to avoid trouble, he kept the various tools he had brought along from Japan a secret as much as possible, but he was unable to do so this time .
Without revealing it, he would not have been able to expose the lie from the delegation of the Navarre Kingdom .
And a defeat absolutely had to be avoided in the latest trial .
If it had ended with their defeat, the result would have been that “a woman had complained to a knight, but had actually been wrong and apologized for it” .
And then it was quite likely that word got around that the woman in question, Nilda Guzzle, was actually not nobility .
That in turn would bring about the worst case scenario, namely that “a commoner woman started a fight with a knight and had actually be wrong about it” .
“At least we avoided the worst case… Yeah, I did well, if I may say so . ”
Zenjirou praised himself on a rare occasion .
Not only had he avoided the worst case scenario, he also worked out the promise that “the case was closed for good now and would not be spoken about ever again” .
Due to that, it was impossible that this case gained any more ground . Zenjirou certainly had “done well” .
“The problem is Princess Freya, though . I made her play a really unrewarding role… Argh, I get the feeling I’m digging my own grave deeper and deeper . ”
The heavy sigh from Zenjirou slowly dispersed in the semi-darkness of the wide room .
* * *
As the winner, Zenjirou was fatigued from his accomplishment, but as the losers, the delegation from the Navarre Kingdom was wearied from their defeat .
“General Martín, I apologize for the troubles I have caused this time . ”
Just where had his usual confidence gone to? Cristiano Pinto had fallen into a deep depression and lowered his head to the respected hero of his country with these words .
This latest case had been quite arduously, especially at the end, when General Puyol had practically tried to abduct him .
“Well, you went through a lot, too . At least, you know now that the world is full of scary people . Keep that lesson in mind . ”
“Yes, Sir . ”
General Martín generously comforted his favoured young subordinate, but he was actually even more shaken than Knight Captain Cris at heart .
(Oh god, the playground the Marquis and I prepared in secret was perfectly blown to pieces . )
The situation had escalated beyond his control to the point that he wanted to smack himself for ever thinking that it was the perfect opportunity for letting Knight Captain Cris and Xavier Guzzle experience a real negotiation, a few days ago .
Needless to say, it was all due to Princess Freya, who had butted in right from the beginning, Zenjirou, who had given the decisive blow in the middle of the trial, and General Puyol, who had tried to squeeze profit from it at the very end .
Thanks to them, Xavier was pushed onto a backseat and Knight Captain Cris was one-sidedly beaten up .
(Well, even geniuses need to taste defeat and realize that there are people they absolutely cannot beat right now . )
In retrospect, General Martín was not all that dissatisfied with the result .
“It is not wrong per se to stand up for your subordinate, even when he is in the wrong, but if you deal arbitrarily with it, it will only earn you the resentment from friend and foe alike, so act with care . ”
“Yes, I will take it to heart . ”
Assessed by his respected superior like this, Knight Captain Cris finally looked a bit more calm .
The words from General Martín were not just meant as consolation .
Generally speaking, it was hardly commendable to cover for a subordinate, who had committed a mistake, but in the army, it was not a bad choice for when the superior wanted to gain the trust of his subordinates .
Especially in a supposedly low profile case like this one, the superior could give his subordinate the favourable impression “I’m on your side!” by actively standing up for him .
Having said all this, it was necessary to draw a clear line at it, because if not, some subordinates would think that their superior would protect them no matter what they did .
Because of that, General Martín did not consider the behaviour from Knight Captain Cris as fundamentally wrong this time .
It also had been a good choice to not bring the main culprit, Knight Raymundo, here .
Knight Captain Cris must have expected to get severely scolded by General Martín .
Not bringing Knight Raymundo along showed his resolve to shoulder the reprimand from the general all by himself .
A man, who could protect you not only from enemies, but sometimes even from superiors, was well-liked in the army .
Nevertheless, Knight Captain Cris certainly had not been without flaw in his approach .
General Martín changed the expression on his bear-like face into a strict one and rebuked the young knight captain with a low voice .
“Your biggest mistake was to reflexively take up a fighting stance in front of His Majesty Zenjirou . I was sweating bullets back then . Learn to control yourself a bit better . ”
“Y- You noticed that!?”
When Knight Captain Cris exclaimed in surprise, General Martín knitted his brow .
“Of course . General Puyol surely did as well . If you had actually touched your sword, he would have jumped in .
In that sense, it was a close call . The little self-restrain you had left truly saved your life . ”
(That female warrior seemed to have noticed it, too, but I better not tell him that . )
He calmly concluded that right now, Knight Captain Cris was in no state to accept the fact that a woman was stronger than him .
The young knight captain widened his eyes dumbfounded in reaction to the words from his respected general .
He had only taken up the stance for a second and to be honest, he did not thought anyone had noticed amidst the semi-darkness .
Knight Captain Cris admitted that his character and leadership qualities were still falling behind, but even the quality he had the most confidence in, namely fighting strength, was apparently nowhere near a match for the heroes of the previous war .
“Actually… I only managed to restrain myself by chance . When I took a step backwards, I stepped into a small puddle . Its coldness somehow made me come back to my senses . ”
“Now that’s what I call a stroke of luck . ”
General Martín cocked his head a bit, when he heard about the puddle on the stony floor of the room, but brushed it off as a mishap from an earlier cleaning session .
“Anyway, I will be frank with you: Our Navarre Kingdom is by no means a big country on the western part of the South Continent . We are more often the inferior party in diplomatic negotiations .
Unless you learn some discretion, we cannot let you leave the country again . Not everyone will necessarily be as generous as His Majesty Zenjirou . If anything, consider people like General Puyol the norm . ”
Zenjirou and General Puyol were obviously extreme on both ends of the spectrum and thus extremely rare exceptions, but he deliberately chose to scold his subordinate with an exaggerated opinion .
“Yes, Sir . I understand . Such an idiocy will never happen again . ”
Knight Captain Cris promised solemnly, full of vim and vigor, so General Martín nodded a “Good” in response .
* * *
Around the same time, Marquis Guzzle and his children were sharing their feeling of happiness of having passed the storm en famille .
“It sure was an ordeal, Nilda, Xavier . ”
The son and daughter replied with a smile to their father Marquis Guzzle .
“No, my incompetence brought this all about . Fortunately enough, Master Zenjirou lent us his power and protected Nilda’s reputation, but I could not protect my important little sister by myself .
And just when Big Sister Lucinda had entrusted everything to me after getting married . How am I supposed to face her now?”
“Please do not feel so down, Brother . You really did your best to protect me . I was really happy . ”
“Yet there’s no point, if I achieve nothing . ”
Looking troubled, the little sister from a different mother comforted her depressed older brother sitting next to her with all her might .
Watching over them, Marquis Guzzle inadvertently cracked a smile, because of the heart-warming relationship between the siblings .
But considering the future, this was no time to be all smiles .
The eldest daughter Lucinda was the reason why the Guzzle Family had such a pleasant interaction .
She had helped her father with his work, raised her little brother into the next head of the family and gave her country bumpkin of a little sister from a different mother a strict training in high society etiquette, all the while giving them enough love to make everyone feel like “family“ .
Even now, Lucinda had kindly held General Puyol back at the very end, warding off any further trouble .
But she was no longer with them .
“Anyway, I am glad it went off without a hitch . Xavier, I am sure you have to reflect on a lot of things, but do not let it drag you down . Learning from your past mistakes means you will do better in the future . ”
“Yes, Father . ”
His son nodded obediently with a most sincere look, whereupon the father shifted uncomfortable in his seat .
He had said these words more to himself than anything .
(Man, I really should stick to what I’m used to . Because I let General Martín sweet-talk me into doing this, things almost got out of hand . I’m a simple-minded idiot, so I shouldn’t be greedy and solve problems one after another . )
One of his strong points was to quickly get back on track once he had reflected on things .
When the marquis had pulled himself together, he shifted his gaze from his son to his daughter .
“You did not have it easy, either, Nilda . But remember that you are partly to blame for this . You are already fifteen years old, so you need to act in an appropriate manner for a noble woman . ”
Looking a bit younger than her actual age, the fifteen-year-old girl looked down dejected, so that her short ponytail swayed a bit .
Seeing his daughter clearly being in low spirits, Marquis Guzzle did not soften his strict expression, but was shaken at heart .
(Aw, is she going to cry? Damn . Lucinda usually helped me comfort her at times like these . I ended up scolding her like always . )
The old feudal lord cleared his throat with a cough .
“So I say, but with Lucinda gone now, there is no one left to teach you properly here . ”
Needless to say, Lucinda had not been the only noble woman in the March of Guzzle .
As the lord of the March, the Guzzle Family had a lot of vassals serving them and there obviously were women amongst these families .
However, they were just vassals in the end . Although technically nobility as well, their etiquette and common sense somewhat changed according to the status .
A court nobility would take a family specialized on teaching etiquette as a vassal, but unfortunately, the Guzzle Family was a military family and had no such educated human resources .
“Then what am I supposed to do, Father?”
When the daughter cocked her head worriedly, her aged father revealed his plan .
“I had planned this for a long time already, but when I am returning to the capital, you will accompany me . I know a person or two there, who can teach you . ”
In light of these words, her face suddenly lit up with elation .
“I’m going to the capital? Really!?”
Like any other girl her age, she obviously longed for the glamorous capital .
“Yeah, you official came of age this year . I have to introduce you to higher society in the capital at least once . ”
“Okay! Oh, speaking of, Master Zenjirou offered to show me around, when I ever come to the Capital . Will it actually be alright to take him at his word?”
Her father raised an eyebrow for a second in reaction to her unexpected announcement .
“Hmm? Master Zenjirou actually said that? How intriguing . It does sound to be more than just mere pleasantry . Once we are in the capital, you can try sending him a letter . If it was indeed no pleasantry, he will surely reply favourably . ”
“Yes . But about that letter…”
“Of course you will have to write it yourself . ”
“…Okay . ”
Nilda made heavy weather of writing of all things, so she frowned a bit troubled .
Happily observing each and any adorable demeanour of his daughter, the father mumbled under his breath .
“Still, a teacher for Nilda, eh . The most suited would be Amanda, but… I doubt it will work out . Well, it cannot hurt to ask at least . ”
And like this, Marquis Guzzle considered contacting his far younger cousin, who was working as the Supervisory Maid of the Inner Palace .
* * *
Inside a different room of the annex building than Zenjirou, Princess Freya stripped off her light blue formal dress and swapped it for a one-piece casual wear .
Her bodyguard and attendant, Skathi, helped her with it .
During their trip between the continent, they had been the only women aboard anyway . Although it was not her main job, Skathi had adequate skills as a waiting maid .
“Thanks, Skathi . Are you not going to change?”
When her master asked her after having changed clothes, the female warrior brandished her favourite spear .
“I am your bodyguard after all . ”
“I see . Thank you as always, Skathi . But at least sit down, please . ”
“Okay, if you insist . ”
According to the plea from Princess Freya, the tall warrior sat down on the couch across from her master . Needless to say, her spear with the tusk of a sea monster was resting against the rest of the couch and in order to be ready to jump into action at any moment, she was not stretching out and relaxing as much as Princess Freya .
The oil pan burning on top of the table coloured the short silver hair from Princess Freya and the long blonde hair from Skathi in a mystic red .
Amidst this semi-darkness, the northern princess hugged herself and showed a gleeful smile .
“Aw, did you see that, Skathi? That expression on the knight, when His Majesty Zenjirou cornered him! He was literally scared to death! I wish you would praise me for not rejoicing over it right then and there!”
The veteran female warrior gave a wry smile to her strangely excited master .
“Milady, please calm down a bit . Well, I cannot deny that it was a fantastic comeback, either . ”
“I know, right! Moreover, His Majesty Zenjirou did not only pry a confession out of the knight in question, but also out of that conceited Knight Captain Cris . I fell for His Majesty all over again!”
When her master was very outspoken about it, the subservient female warrior put on a worried expression .
“When you say all over again, you mean you had fallen for him before already?”
The serious question from Skathi was affirmed by Princess Freya without any hesitation whatsoever .
“Why, yes . But saying I had ’fallen for him’ before already, might a bit of an overstatement . I definitely harboured an ’affection’ toward him, though .
I mean, I had such a nice time during our trip from the Capital to the March of Guzzle and I can basically count these occasions in my life on one hand . ”
“Well, you do have a point . ”
Having spent most of her life alongside Princess Freya, Skathi knew she was speaking from the bottom of her heart .
On the North Continent, Princess Freya also had participated in hunts and the like, but the group of soldiers still had treated her as a “princess” in the end .
And she was only allowed to hunt foxes or rabbits by herself to begin with . Even when she was taking down a deer or reindeer, numerous soldiers secured the area while she send an arrow at best .
Whereas here she was allowed to finish off a dragon with a spear in her own hands .
It was undoubtedly the memory of a lifetime to her .
She was keeping the forehead horn of the slain Meat Dragon in safe custody and apparently intended to have a craftsman make an ornament out of it once she was back in the Capital .
Then Princess Freya replied with a smile .
“Of course the dragon hunt left the deepest impression with me, but there is more to it than just that . I greatly enjoyed the time inside the carriage with His Majesty Zenjirou as well .
He was being considerate to me, not because I am a ‘woman‘, but because I am a fellow human… I cannot express it well, but I did not get a headache with him, like I do, when I converse with other men . It was a really pleasant atmosphere . ”
For better or worse, Zenjirou was still clinging to his moral values as a Japanese . Of course he was being educated in etiquette and manner of speaking, so he changed his mannerism depending on the status and gender of whom he dealt with, but the fundamental value that everyone was equal could not be taken from him .
The longer you dealt with him, the more obvious it got that he was “not looking down on you” .
“And not to forget the latest incident . It really makes my heart jump for joy that he is so different from other men . ”
Princess Freya had been put in the line of fire for this incident and Zenjirou was feeling guilty about having “brought her into disrepute”, but she herself was not regarding it as something bad .
From the very beginning, she could not stomach the attitude from Knight Raymundo, putting the blame on them, anyway .
Nevertheless, she kept herself in check, because she could not afford to cause trouble for Zenjirou as his partner . But then he had told her: “It’s okay . Break loose . I’ll take responsibility . ”
Princess Freya could not have been happier about this .
Although Zenjirou seemed to regret to have dragged her reputation on the South Continent through the mire, it was no big deal for her .
The only one she wanted to marry on the South Continent was Zenjirou anyway, so as long as he himself harboured no ill feelings towards her, there was no need to worry about the opinion of others .
And if her marriage with him were to not work out for some reason, she would just be called home to the North Continent for a political marriage .
She would never set foot on the South Continent again then, so a somewhat bad reputation there would have no effect on her life .
Well, the reason Princess Freya could honestly not bother with a bad reputation was surely because her spirit was more resilient than the average .
“His Majesty Zenjirou had put his faith into me . Not the kind of blind faith people throw around, but actual faith in my ‘capabilities’, such as seeing in the dark or memorizing circumstances calmly .
And he even demanded that Knight Captain Cris, who had doubted my competence from the very start, corrects himself . ”
“He sure did . ”
While agreeing with her, Skathi calmly observed her respected master .
She truly seemed to have “fallen for him” . Or more precisely, her previous “favourable impression” had developed into a “genuine love” .
Nevertheless, it was the kind of love she would get over in no time, if her father were to put a stop to it by telling her to give up . In this sense, Princess Freya had a profound understanding of natural-born Royalty . Even so, it did not change the fact that she was in love .
Serving Princess Freya for as long as she could remember, Skathi was having mixed feelings .
(My little tomboy princess fell in love with a man, who never held a sword in his hands . She only seemed to be scheming something, when she proposed to His Majesty Zenjirou, though . Love works in mysterious ways . )
The female warrior was waxing sentimental . In the meantime, the northern princess flushed her snow-white cheeks a bit and continued .
“So Skathi, I want to hear your opinion . His Majesty Zenjirou mentioned he never received any military training and I believe him, but what do you say?”
“Yes, there is no doubt . Pardon me for saying this, but his military prowess truly is that of a woman or child . ”
So the atypical woman said .
She was practically badmouthing her future husband candidate, but Princess Freya actually smiled brighter in response .
“I knew it . Then I would like to discuss something with you . I came up with a plan to get closer to His Majesty on the trip back . ”
“…I am all ears . ”
Skathi got a bad feeling about where the conversation was going, but she could not stop her master based on a hunch alone .
Without noticing that her retainer narrowed her auburn eyes to slits, Princess Freya explained her idea with a beaming smile .
“On the way back, we are going to spend a few nights in the carriage, right? That is when I will make my move . I have the strength of a soldier, so I should be able to push down His Majesty . No worries! He might resist at first, but once we get to the steamy part…”
Skathi scolded her master with a low voice, when she proposed a gender reversal of the “night adventurer” she had learned from the crude sailors .