A night banquet arranged by the royal palace.
This event was a periodical social gathering for the upper class, but at the same time the perfect chance to show off the authority of royalty to the kingdom.
On a bit tactless note, it took a tremendous amount of money as it was held at night.
Countless chandeliers in all sizes hung down from the high ceiling to illuminate the large banquet hall, but the candles burning on them were not cheap, even by the noble standards.
“Beeswax” was fabricated in the Carpa Kingdom, too, but they hadn’t succeeded in cultivating honeybees like on Earth, so the harvest of the raw materials was commissioned and importing “plant wax” from countries in the east added transport costs, thus it became fairly expensive at any rate.
Additionally, the chandeliers itself were super luxury items in this world, too. After all, glass manufacture didn’t exist here. The chandeliers were all made out of silver and natural crystals. Even one of the smaller kind was worth a little fortune.
Moreover, the red carpet covering the entire room was an unique item, woven by experts over three generations. And the tall tables, well-stocked with food and drinks, were extravagance pieces, each carved from a single trunk by a skilled carpenter.
All in all, it was a dazzling space that fascinated even lower class nobles, let alone the common people.
In fact, the nobles of the lower class would be excited for the whole next day, just from having “participated in the party in the large banquet hall of the palace last night”.
Zenjirou was setting foot into this kind of banquet hall for the first time ever and he desperately dealt with the greeting flood from the nobles with an affected smile under the light of the chandeliers.
“Let me introduce him to you, Zenjirou. This man is Baron Pantoja. In the previous war, he served as a commander for the knights and now he is providing his services as a feudal lord.”
Aura had her left arm linked with Zenjirou’s right arm and introduced the middle-aged man standing in front of them with these words.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Zenjirou-sama. Her Highness was too good to me in granting me the title of a Baron. My name is Thomas Pantoja.”
“Yes, thank you for your greeting, Baron.”
Zenjirou made a generous nod, whereat the middle-aged man, introduced as Baron Pantoja, raised his lowered head.
Aura, wearing an orange dress without sleeves, corrected the big flower arrangement on the left side of her chest while Baron Pantoja retreated from in front of the Queen and her husband.
Zenjirou watched the Baron leave and made a soft sigh, careful that no one nearby noticed it.
(This is tiring…)
Keeping a correct posture, not forgetting to smile and never adopting the wrong tone. That was all he had to do, yet he felt an unbelievable fatigue because of the unfamiliar clothes and the pressuring glances on him from all sides.
Fortunately, the nobles of this country weren’t so shameless as to greet him continuously without letting him catch his breath, so he somehow managed for now, but if he were to pace himself wrongly, he could end up making a fatal mistake.
His current attire was the formal wardrobe for royalty in the Carpa Kingdom. Wide trousers in white and a type of tunic that was overlapping at the front like Japanese clothes, decorated with a many cords. Over it, he wore a red vest without sleeves.
Appropriate for the Carpa Kingdom, a southern country, the formal wardrobe wasn’t all too stifling hot, but the decorative bronze sword at his waist was heavy and the perfumed oil steadying his hair was not only smelly, but itchy, too.
He had already experienced the sword and oil once during the marriage ceremony, but getting used to them wasn’t all that easy. To Zenjirou, they only were a bother that added to his agony over time.
During the regardful breathing pause, he memorized the appearance and demeanour of the just introduced person in the corner of his brain.
(Man of medium build in his forties with black hair. Name is Baron Pantoja. An obviously flattering look. If anything, he gave a bad impression… Aw, I wished they would at least give me a business card)
His expression was maintaining a smile while he exclaimed that in his thoughts.
Zenjirou knew the ropes of remembering the faces and names of his business partners from his salaryman days, but it had never been more than five people at once.
In comparison, today a dozen of nobles would get introduced to him. Moreover, there was no custom of “exchanging business cards” like in modern Japan.
A small consolation was that the nobles of the Carpa Kingdom often wore characteristic clothes unlike a salaryman in a suit, thus it was a bit easier to keep them apart.
The fashion culture in the Carpa Kingdom could generally be divided into two groups. The “traditional native dress” that was passed down in the Carpa Kingdom from time immemorial and something like “western clothes” that had swept over from the northern continent in the recent years.
Over time, these two kind of clothing influenced each other and mixed together, so even when it was called a “formal wardrobe”, there was a great variety in dresses at relatively slack gatherings like this banquet.
Likewise appropriate for a southern country, the colours were often colourful ones close to the primary colours for both men and women.
Due to that, extremely rude keywords like “fat guy wearing a flower-pattern shirt” or “old lady looking like a purple fir” were floating around in Zenjirou’s head.
Judging by Aura’s behaviour as she stood next to him, Zenjirou seemed to act without any problems so far. To begin with, a banquet like this required no specific techniques like a dance party, nor did he have to follow a great number of rules like during a public event.
In that way, it was not a bad choice for Mr. superficial-royalty to make his debut into higher society here. In exchange, he was closer to the average noble and besieged with interactions, but that was still a permissible demerit.
While such thoughts crossed his minds, Aura quietly left his side, took a silver goblet from the table and returned to him.
“Oh, thanks, Aura.”
Zenjirou took the offered goblet from Aura and realized that he had been rather thirsty.
The goblet was filled with a local wine. It had a low alcohol content, a harsh taste and above all, it was lukewarm, which wasn’t really to Zenjirou’s liking, but it was enough to refresh his throat that was dry from the sweltering atmosphere.
“Allow me to take care of it.”
Aura signalized a nearby waiting maid, who was working as a waitress, with her eyes when she saw how Zenjirou had emptied his goblet. The waitress swiftly approached them, took the empty goblet from Zenjirou and left.
As Aura had waited for this moment, where a bit of his nervousness was washed away by the refreshment, she called out to the nobles, who stood at a fair distance.
It was a pair of a man and a woman.
Zenjirou was already familiar with the woman. There was only one woman besides his wife Aura and the waiting maids of the inner palace, whom he got acquainted with, since he had shut himself into the inner palace the whole time after coming into this world.
It was Octavia, the wife of Count Márguez. She wore a modest traditional attire and stood out all the more, since a lot of the present women wore a dress-like wardrobe from the northern continent like Aura, seemingly in fashion right now.
In that case, the plump middle-aged man next to her must be Count Manuel Márguez.
A prominent nobleman of the Carpa Kingdom and the father of Raffaello Márguez, a former candidate for becoming Aura’s husband.
Zenjirou observed him, as careful as possible that his gaze wasn’t noticed.
(Uwah, I’ve heard about it before, but their age difference really is like father and daughter. It’s a dream of every man to have a beautiful second wife)
Aura suddenly squeezed his right arm stronger when his thoughts wandered into an insolent territory.
Zenjirou flinched for a second, thinking she had read his mind, but recalled right away that it was the sign they had agreed upon beforehand. Namely a signal for “important people, whom she wanted him to remember the face, name and first impression of as best as possible”.
“It is a pleasure to see you again, Your Highness Aura. And I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Zenjirou-sama.”
“Thank you very much for the invitation today, Your Highnesses.”
The couple with the age gap politely lowered their heads, whereat Aura responded with her usual appealing smile and introduced the two of them to Zenjirou.
“Thanks for coming, Count Márguez, Lady Octavia. Let me acquaint you with them, Zenjirou. This is Count Manual Márguez, an important figure in our kingdom. I do not have to introduce Lady Octavia to you, I take it?”
“I’ve heard only good things about you, Count Márguez. Your wife has taken good care of me.”
Zenjirou answered by deliberately throwing out his chest, to which the Márguez couple lowered their heads once more.
“It gladdens me that my wife is serving you so well.”
“You honour me, Zenjirou-sama.”
At some point, the nearby other nobles had become interested, too, and were looking their way.
The closest one was still ten metre away, so their conversation surely couldn’t be overheard, but Zenjirou needed to be prepared to be the center of attention already.
Aura had no intention to embarrass her husband in the public eye as he wasn’t used to such occasions, so she took the lead while still linking arms with him.
“Do not be so modest, Count. Your wife is as intelligent and beautiful as they say. I would very much like for you two to continue to aid our country with your skills.”
“We are hardly worth of your generous words. Thank you very much.”
“Gladly, Your Highness. As long as my meagre abilities can be of use, I will devote myself to it in the future as well.”
Zenjirou generally relinquished the conversation to Aura and only gave agreeable responses like “Oho, I see.” or “Yes, indeed.” when the attention shifted towards him.
Rather avoid leaving a bad impression instead of making a good one was the name of the game. Or even better, he shouldn’t leave an impression at all, considering his difficult standing as the Prince Consort.
Thus Zenjirou’s debut into higher society made a good start.
However, there was no guarantee that everything would end well even if the banquet got off a good start.
To begin with, the main goal today was to show off how well Aura and Zenjirou got along to the public.
For that reason, she couldn’t keep covering for him with a hold on his arm forever.
If she were to continue it, it would start to substantiate the rumour that “Aura was restricting the freedom of her husband”.
Therefore they had agreed upon beforehand that they would go their separate ways for a while after they were done with the greetings.
Separated from Aura, Zenjirou slowly walked around the hall. Many people gave him curious gazes, but no one dared to approach the royal man.
It was basically considered “impolite” for someone of lower standing to call out to someone of higher standing in this country. And although a bit of discourtesy was put up with at relatively slack gatherings like a banquet, only a few people were allowed to call out to a direct royalty like Zenjirou.
Feudal lords, cabinet ministers or generals were about the only ones that could approach him without impinging the etiquette. But as these people shouldered heavy responsibilities, they excelled at common sense and reading the atmosphere, so almost no one risked to approach a royalty “on their own accord”.
For better or worse, it would take a general or feudal lord either bold and despising manners/customs or ambitious to no end and greedily aiming even higher despite his already high standing, to venture it.
(Oh well, guess I’ll have to talk to someone)
As a salaryman for a smaller company, Zenjirou had originally not only done office work, but had also negotiated with other companies at home and abroad. He had no problem with initiating contact with someone unknown.
In search for a person he could safely call out to as a royalty, he let his gaze slowly wander around the hall. At that time.
“Excuse me, Zenjirou-sama. May I have a bit of your time?”
A well-built man in the prime of his life came up to him from the side and called out to him like that while kneeling down on one knee.
(Eh… EHH? No way, someone approached me? Who’s this guy!?)
Zenjirou encountered a situation said to be “technically impossible” in his manner lessons and fell into an inward panic. Even so, he reflexively tensed up his expression and slowly turned to the kneeing man.
Upon turning around, there kneeled a man down on one knee on top of the carpet.
The man had a well-trained build so huge that Zenjirou could tell on a glance that he was “tall” even when he was kneeling. His body was clad in boorish, black clothes decorated with golden threads, which was kind of inappropriate for a banquet. Zenjirou somehow recalled from the depth of his memories that it was the official uniform for a high ranking officer in the military of the Carpa Kingdom.
Judging by the numerous tassels on his left arm, this giant seemed to occupy a top-ranking position in the current military.
He truly looked like a “knight” as he kneeled on the red carpet under the light of the chandeliers.
And not the kind of “knight” that appeared in a fairytale as a fledgling prince, but the kind of “knight” that fiercely protected his country and found his raison d’être in braveries on the battlefield while knowing a bare minimum of manners.
Zenjirou frantically put the information in his head into order while he looked down on the kneeling “knight“.
The only ones, who were barely allowed to call out to him, were important feudal lords, palace authorities like cabinet ministers or military officers with the rank of a general.
And even if someone were to approach him, it would be a bold man that more or less paid no attention to etiquette.
Or otherwise an overly ambitious man, who assertively sought a connection to the Prince Consort even on the risk of falling into disgrace with him.
Military officer, bold, ambitious. These three keywords engaged with each other and formulated the name of a man, whom Aura had warned him about in advance, inside Zenjirou’s head.
“Oh, Sir Puyol. What is it?”
Zenjirou cleared his throat once, then spoke out the name of the man.
General Puyol Guillén.
He had heard this name numerous times before.
There was no way, he wouldn’t be aware of the man, who had been the other candidate for becoming Aura’s husband apart from Sir Raffaello Márguez. Aura, too, had often described him as a “dangerous character”.
“Yes, I have this small gift that I would very much like to offer to you, Zenjirou-sama. For that very reason, I have called out to you, fully aware it was against etiquette. It is but a humble present, but it would be a great honour for me if you were to accept it.”
General Puyol Guillén, the commander of the dragonback archery knights of the Carpa Kingdom, looked straight up to the Prince Consort standing in front of him as he said that while still kneeling on top of the red carpet.
A prominent general of the country kneeled before the Prince Consort and directly talked to him.
Of course this scene would attract the attention of the others. At some point, the nobles had stopped their chit-chatting and sent curious gazes their way. Zenjirou noticed that and inwardly broke out in a cold sweat, thinking “how troublesome”, then cleared his throat once with an affected cough.
(Aw, damn it. I didn’t expect this. I’ve to improvise everything now? Give me a break…)
Zenjirou was the type of man, who dealt with negotiations or presentations during his salaryman days by preparing as best as he could and writing up a sheet with anticipated questions in advance.
People like that were often somewhat weak to “unexpected” situations like this one, where they had to improvise everything.
Even so, he frantically compared his superficial knowledge with his current situation in his head and tried to derive the best course of action.
(Ehm, this a banquet, so it‘s somewhat lax, I think? And I’m royalty while this guy’s a general…)
He unconsciously called General Puyol “this guy” in his thoughts.
Although Zenjirou knew that it wasn’t admirable to think bad of someone he met for the first time, he wasn’t so honourable that he could be neutral to the former husband candidate of his beloved wife.
Hiding his feelings behind a mask, Zenjirou broke the ice with harmless words.
“General, there’s no need to kneel in such a place.”
“Aye-aye. Excuse me.”
General Puyol smoothly stood up on Zenjirou’s words.
Zenjirou quelled his urge to back off as the general stood dignified in front of him.
He was huge. One head taller than Zenjirou, who was 1,72m tall, so his height must actually surpass 1,80m. It was most likely somewhere around 1,85m or at worse, something close to 2m.
His body weight seemed to surpass a hundred kilogram, too. And of course not from fat, but muscles. The giant body was perfectly trained for battle.
“Then go ahead. You said something about a present?”
Zenjirou looked the one-head taller General Puyol straight into the eyes and organized the information inside his head.
He was taught in advance about the possibility that someone comes up with a present to him in this place. It seemed that this world shared the moral concept of gaining someone’s favour through presents.
(As I recall, I can’t turn it down without a good reason. The prickly question is how to accept it)
If he were to look too overjoyed, the other party would expect a compensation concurrent with that “joy” and if he were to look disappointed, he would embarrass the other party in public.
Zenjirou again felt the enormous pressure of his current standing, where his mere words or expression for accepting something could affect the fate of those around him.
General Puyol was ignorant to Zenjirou’s inner turmoil and lowered his head once more with “Yes”, then signalized a young knight, apparently his subordinate, behind him with his eyes.
At the receiving end of that look, the young knight came forward to the side of the general with small steps, carrying a long and narrow object wrapped in a white cloth in both hands, and handed over that wrapped item to General Puyol obediently.
Seeing that, Zenjirou forgot his affected and inexpressive look and widened his eyes a bit.
(Eh!? He brought the actual item with him, not just a certificate?)
Zenjirou had been told that the usual procedure of giving something to someone in such a place was to first hand over a certificate here and then send the actual item to the residence at a later date. After all, it concerned presents from nobility or royalty. It was not all that unusual to give away a well-bred “raptorial dragon” or a summer residence.
Of course it wasn’t out of question to directly hand over items of hand-held size like jewellery or treasured swords, but it was rarely practiced.
Because it saved one the embarrassment if the brought item was rejected on the spot.
“Please take a look, Zenjirou-sama.”
While Zenjirou’s eyes were still widened in surprise, General Puyol unwrapped the cloth in an accustomed manner and revealed the object under it.
(What’s that? A… bow?)
Zenjirou was puzzled upon seeing the object. It was a rustic stick that was curved elaborately. To him, it only looked like a practical “bow” without any ornaments.
As to confirm his impression, General Puyol said proudly.
“This is a ‘dragon bow’, made by a prominent craftsman in our country.”
The nearby nobles, who had been watching the scene so far, let out surprised “Ohh” sounds upon these words.
Apparently this so-called “dragon bow” was something so impressive that even the nobles raised admired voices.
Zenjirou took another close look at the “dragon bow” in Puyol’s hand, but it still didn’t look like anything wonderous.
As it was to be brought into the palace, the holes at each end for the bowstring were filled with something like ochroid clay onto which the royal emblem was engraved and its entirety was only half as large as a Japanese bow for archery. In the eyes of an amateur, it appeared extremely undependable.
General Puyo must have realized that Zenjirou understood nothing about the “dragon bow” from his weak reaction.
He eloquently started to explain with a low voice.
“The ‘dragon bow’ is put together from a thin wood plank as the basis, the unbent tendon and scraped rib from a ‘raptorial dragon’.
As you can see, it has only half the size of the longbow for the archery troops, but it exceeds the longbow in both power and range.
It also is easier to wield due to its smaller size and in the hands of a skilled man, it becomes a rather quick and precise weapon. It would be no exaggeration to say that it is the strongest weapon for a rider.”
A bow made by combining not-run-of-the-mill materials. The kind that was commonly known as a composite bow.
Something similar had existed in the history of Earth, too, and had certainly proved itself in battle.
“However, only a small handful of knight can call a dragon bow their own. The reason is that only the flexible tendons and bones from still growing, young ‘raptorial dragons’ can be used for the bow, so the materials are extremely valuable. Likewise, it takes a lot of time and effort to manufacture a single one.”
Generally, only young raptorial dragons at the age from five to seven were considered to supply the materials for the “dragon bow”, because the bones of a full-grown raptorial dragon became hard and solid, losing their flexibility. The tendons, too, suffered the same harmful influence, albeit not as bad as the bones.
Zenjirou was enlightened about the “dragon bow” through General Puyol’s explanation and his cheeks twitched.
The “dragon bow” had been unknown to him, but he had already received an explanation about how precious the “raptorial dragon” was in this country.
And also about that fact that breeders at the stables were still going to great lengths every day as to replenish the required count of raptorial dragons, which had greatly declined in the previous war, for the military.
These precious “raptorial dragons” were killed at a young age and salvaged for materials for weapons. Even if five “dragon bows” could be gained from the death of a single, young “raptorial dragon”, these five bows had to produce equal results as one mature “raptorial dragon” or it wouldn’t be worth it the costs.
Zenjirou didn’t know the exact number of bows that could be made from a single dragon, but it couldn’t be all that many, considering the nuance in General Puyol’s words.
General Puyol called his name wondering, as he noticed that he behaved strangely, whereat Zenjirou asked with a voice as flat as possible.
“One question, General. Can anyone use this ‘dragon bow’ with ease?”
General Puyol answered honestly without perceiving the intention of his question.
“No. As it has a considerable range and power for its small frame, it is not uncommon that even an average soldier has trouble drawing it satisfactory.”
Zenjirou was about to sigh towards the expected answer, but withheld it.
Its power was authentic, but it was hard to handle and materials for it were rather valuable, so it was a rare weapon. Zenjirou wouldn’t expect that it was alright to have even one of them lying around unused in his room.
However, it seemed to be have an appropriate “status” for offering it to a royalty, judging by the reaction of the others. How could he turn it down while keeping a commotion to a minimum?
Zenjirou mustered all of his wits and answered while carefully wracking his brain.
“I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in offering me something so valuable, General. However, as an experienced general it should strike you that I’m a powerless man, who wouldn’t even add to the fighting strength on the battlefield.”
He spread his arms left and right, then said that as to show off his body as proof.
His body was clad in the unceremonious native attire and an experienced soldier should at least be able to tell that he was no soldier-material from a glance at his small hands or neck that shoot out of the cuffs.
General Puyol tried to say something, but Zenjirou interrupted him as he continued.
“Thus it would be a waste for me to accept this bow.
General Puyol, I presume you’ve some knights under you, who have yet to obtain a ‘dragon bow’. So could you pass that ‘dragon bow’ to your knight, who is the most able with the bow and the most loyal to the royal family amongst them?
That way, the bow will find a satisfying purpose for me.”
For a while, a hushed silence hung over the hall.
“…..Very well. I promise you that the bow will definitely be granted to someone worth of your regard, Zenjirou-sama.”
After a long silence, General Puyol deeply bowed his head while still holding the “dragon bow” with both hands.
Queen Aura had watched the fuss from a distance and made a sigh of relief in response to the neat resolving of the situation.
(Good. He somehow managed to turn it down)
If he had accepted the bow right there, it would have become extremely troublesome.
It wouldn’t have posed a problem when it were a prestigious weapon like a treasure sword or decorative spear, but if he had accepted a practical weapon, it would imply that he was ready to use it, too.
And then it would become extremely difficult to turn down an invitation from General Puyol for practice or a hunting outing next time.
By declaring that “he had no intention of using the bow” himself, Zenjirou’s reputation certainly had been lowered, but he hadn’t rejected it curtly and rather spared the general from an embarrassment, too, as he “lent the bow to a worthy knight after asserting the right of ownership”.
Although it made him a slight disappointment as a man, the situation was resolved without embarrassing or offending anyone.
In Aura’s eyes, it was a nearly perfect result.
In the worst case, she had been prepared to step in by herself and salvage the situation imperious. Doing so would have undoubtedly promoted the rumour that “the Queen was henpecking her husband” instead.
“He handled that quite promising, Your Highness.”
Standing next to her, Count Márguez called out to her smiling.
“Indeed. Forgive me, Count, we were in the middle of a conversation.”
Aura corrected the flower decoration on the left side of her chest with her hand and faced Count Márguez, who wouldn’t leave her side for a while now, again.
The plump Count smiled happily and narrowed his eyes.
“No worries. You are newlywed, so it is only natural that your eyes unintentionally chase Zenjirou-sama. I am glad to see that you are two are happy together.”
He shook his head and said so a bit playful.
“Thank you for your kind words.”
Aura showed a wry smile to the words of the Count, which sounded a bit sarcastic, and wrinkled her nose a bit.
She returned her gaze to Zenjirou and General Puyol right away.
General Puyol entrusted the “dragon bow” to his subordinate and continued to speak with Zenjirou, not the least discouraged after this.
They seemed to have a relatively harmless conversation from then on as Zenjirou, too, talked with a calm expression and without problems.
Nonetheless, General Puyol wouldn’t be called the “Insatiable Wolf” if he could learn a lesson from one or two failures in his ambitions.
Aura pricked up her ears to the General’s words from afar.
“…Indeed, your role is to make sure to leave offspring behind, so there is no need to expose yourself to danger on the battlefield. Please leave that front to us.
And while we are on the subject, in the event of conceiving a child with Her Highness Aura that inherits the royal blood, you would need a ‘concubine’ next to give birth to a heir for your very own name, in my humble opinion.”
After the offensive with the present, General Puyol launched an arranged marriage offensive, whereat Aura, listening in on them from a distance, contorted her face for a moment.
General Puyol couldn’t even see Aura and openly sharpened his offensive towards Zenjirou with a dignified bearing.
“To change the topic a bit, the Guillén Family has inherited the noble blood of the royal family, albeit to a small extent, as you may know.
Today, I have brought my little sister with me and on this occasion, I would very much like to introduce her to you, Zenjirou-sama.”
The topic hadn’t changed at all.
His promotion was so straight to the point that one might say that even the selling of a prostitute had more introductory remarks.
Aura watched the scene from a distance and sensed an impending crisis. She should definitely interfere in this.
This wasn’t good. Her husband was far more familiar with the social intercourse than she had anticipated, but she didn’t think that Zenjirou, who only just made his debut into higher society, could go against General Puyol’s direct attack that bordered on a breach of rules.
(I have to do something…!)
The determined Aura was about to step forward when Count Márguez, who had watched the whole scene with a smile, called out to her with a calm voice from the side.
“Oh, come to think of it, I have yet to exchange greetings with General Puyol today. Your Highness, I know we are in the middle of a conversation, but may I excuse myself?”
Aura stopped from the count’s affected words and turned around.
She didn’t know what the count was after, but his offer was a real lifesaver for her.
If she were to say “Then let me accompany you” now, she could interfere with the marriage offensive from the insatiable wolf without being interpreted as “forcing her way into the conversation of her husband”.
(What are you scheming, Count? Are you trying to gain favour with me?)
As she couldn’t discern the count’s intention, she was a bit worried, but even more so, she couldn’t stand to sit back and watch the conversation between Zenjirou and General Puyol any longer.
She had no time to waste.
“In that case, let me accompany you.”
Making a prompt decision, Aura accepted the helping hand from Count Márguez without argument.
The higher society parties often held in the palace were called a “battlefield without swords”, but that was a slightly exaggerated expression.
For most nobles, these parties were nothing but a relaxing place, where they simply could meet up with other nobles and enjoy some gossip. Eating delicious food, drinking good wine and respectively rejoicing at the sight of dressed-up ladies or gentlemen.
This graceful playground for the nobles was primarily a party and very few of all the nobles perceived it as a “battlefield without swords”.
However, this fact was hardly any comfort for Zenjirou.
At present, General Puyol Guillén, who had boldly called out to him, and his little sister Fatima stood in front of him.
And Count Manual Márgeuz and his wife Octavia had taken up position catty-corner from him and joined the conversation as they had come to greet General Puyol.
Lastly, Queen Aura stood besides Zenjirou with her hand on his arm as she had come over under the pretext of accompanying Count Márguez for the greeting.
The people that had gathered around him were all of the rare kind that treated this social gathering as a “battlefield without swords”.
“Well then, let me introduce her. This is my little sister Fatima.”
“My name is Fatima Guillén. It is a great honour to be granted an audience with you, Zenjirou-sama.”
On General Puyol’s introduction, the young girl with her long, black hair tied in a ponytail lowered her head in perfect line with etiquette.
Like the majority of the people in the Carpa Kingdom, her skin colour had a brown tone and her somewhat almond-shaped eyes and hair shared the same jet black colour.
(Oh, what a beauty)
Zenjirou thought so to himself while he “looked up” to Fatima as she raised her head. Yes, he had to look up to her.
From his position, Fatima’s head was above his. Not by the result of her overbearingly standing on higher grounds, but simply from the fact that she was taller than Zenjirou.
Well, her brother, General Puyol, had a height close to two metre, so it might be natural that his sister Fatima, born from the same parents, had a tall figure as well.
Her height easily surpassed 1,80m with long legs that comprised nearly half of that height. The volume of her breasts and bottom was meagre, but her waist was even tighter. In Zenjirou’s world, her figure and features would pass her as a fashion model.
“Oho, so you’re his sister. You certainly resemble him.”
“Yes, I am often told that.”
Being told “you resemble your brother” by Zenjirou made her nervousness go away and she smiled happily. If that expression of hers wasn’t feigned, then “resembling her brother” was a pleasant evaluation for her.
(Does that mean these siblings get along well? Guess I’ll ask Aura later on)
“Zenjirou-sama, speaking of the young lady of the Guillén Family, Lady Fatima is known throughout the country for her beauty and intelligence. Come to think of it, it feels like it has been a while since I met you face-to-face, Fatima-dono, even though I frequently attend social gatherings. You have become even more beautiful.”
It was Count Márguez, who interjected like that after he had intruded upon Zenjirou and General Puyol earlier.
“Thank you very much, Count Márguez. The reason for that is that I learned good manners by serving at the residence of Marquis Pernia until recently.”
He joined the conversation by the means of a compliment, whereat the young Fatima reacted with a spirited smile head-on.
As Fatima wanted to appeal to Zenjirou now, Count Márguez was nothing but a “hindrance” to her, no matter how much he showered her with praise. Her originally almond-shaped eyes smoothly assumed a stern look.
On the other hand, General Puyol, far older than his little sister, was well aware that it was foolish to make an enemy out of the cunning count here.
“Haha, Fatima, do not make a face like that. The Count is not the type of man, who would make a pass at you. After all, he already has the perfect wife at his side.”
He didn’t ignore the precipitous attitude of his sister and rather dared to make it the topic of a joke, tapping her delicate shoulder with his globular, huge hand.
“D- Dear Brother…!”
Fatima attempted to fight back for a moment, but when he glared at her at close range, she immediately unsaid her previous remark with a stiff expression.
“I- Indeed. Next to Octavia-sama, even I feel like losing confidence.”
“By no means… I am not the youngest anymore. You are much prettier, Fatima-sama.”
Fatima played along with her brother’s joke and said that while showing a forced smile, whereas Octavia blushed her cheeks a little bit.
Octavia was twenty-four years old and married. Going by that, her reaction would normally earn her some criticism in form of “Think of your age!”, but one reason for her popularity with the great majority of the opposite sex was that this gesture still looked becoming even now. Likewise, it must be the reason why she earned the loathing from some few of the same sex.
As one of these few, Fatima kept her impression of her, namely “Geh, this granny is playing the good girl”, to herself
“You are too modest, Octavia-sama.”
and only replied with that and a smile.
Sarcasm didn’t work on the beautiful woman with an eternal innocence. On the other hand, if Fatima were to make a harsher verbal attack, she would appear as the bad guy, so Octavia was an invincible existence in higher society. Even as the polar opposite of sweet temper, Fatima knew better to pick a fight with the invincible lady.
General Puyol had smoothed over his sister’s reckless attitude as a funny story and thus continued to promote her undaunted.
“Well, my sister certainly lacks behind Octavia-sama, but she definitely shows some promise. Her singing and dancing is not all that bad and she has experience in serving, so she can at least fulfil the duties of a waiting maid.”
His words were obviously directed at Zenjirou, but the one replying to them at once wasn’t him, but the brave and reliable woman at his side, ever since she had regrouped with him earlier.
“Oho, it is a rare, but admirable occurrence that someone from a prestigious family like the Guillén Family would serve under another noble to learn good manners. In the future, she might come to serve as my chambermaid.”
“…Yes, please regard her with favour then, Your Highness Aura.”
As Aura intercepted his advance, the general faltered for a moment, then replied with these words.
It wasn’t all that profitable even when his sister served as Aura’s chambermaid. Serving under Zenjirou’s was worth it, since there was a high chance of developing an intimate relationship.
But “serving under the Queen” had more prestige than “serving under the Prince Consort”. Aura took the wind out of the general’s sails by saying that.
Zenjirou listened to the exchange between Aura and General Puyol from the sidelines and sighed inwardly for the nth times.
(Seriously, just gimme a break here…)
He could somehow catch his breath thanks to Aura coming to his aid, but a cold sweat that wasn’t due to the sultry night was spreading extensively under this formal dress.
Although General Puyol didn’t directly say “take my sister for a concubine”, the obvious and non-stop promotion of his sister was terrific.
Zenjirou might have let slip some kind of promise by now to bring this situation to an end if Aura hadn’t come to his help midway.
“Well, to change the topic a bit, what kind of woman is your type, Zenjirou-sama? Needless to say, Her Highness is your number one, but perhaps you have a number two or three?”
Contrary to his words, the topic didn’t change at all again. General Puyol attacked head-on. Only his approach had changed, but the topic itself hadn’t changed a bit.
He had quite the guts to ask about his preference in women when his wife Aura stood right next to him. Of course the royalty in this kingdom wasn’t monogamous, so the common sense from modern Japan didn’t apply here, but even so, jealousy amongst a couple must be common in this world, too?
Zenjirou barely resisted the urge to check for Aura’s reaction. If he were to look at her now, it would spread rumours that “Zenjirou-sama was consulting Her Highness Aura about how to answer”.
Still, what was he supposed to answer here then? On an emotional level, he would say “Nope, there aren’t any. I’m finally getting along with my beautiful wife, so don’t wreck it now.”, but he knew that this wasn’t a place, where he could answer honestly like that.
“Mm, I never spared it a thought so far.”
Zenjirou couldn’t afford to remain silent for too long, so he muttered that for now to smooth it over. It was then Count Márguez, who opened his mouth to his careless slip of tongue even before General Puyol.
“Hahaha. My wife had already told me about the close relationship between Her Highness and Zenjirou-sama, but it seems that the rumours were an understatement, rather than an exaggeration. Zenjirou-sama is quite delighted with Her Highness and does not even pay attention to any other woman.”
Saved by the bell. Zenjirou felt so relieved that he was about to inadvertently sink down on the spot, and responded to Count Márguez kind of reflexive.
“Stop bantering with me, Count. Well, I can’t deny it, though.”
Count Márguez widened his eyes affected upon Zenjirou’s words and laughed.
“Dear me! I guess the Carpa bloodline is secured then. Now that is wonderful.”
He burst out into an affected laughter.
With such an obvious attitude, even General Puyol noticed that Count Márguez was supporting Zenjirou with all his might.
Aura stood reserved next to her husband and remained quiet for now, but she, too, would surely go on the counterattack for her husband if the advances on him got too fierce. In other words, General Puyol was on his own here.
He didn’t know where and when it went wrong, but the results he could expect now wouldn’t correspond with the risk they shouldered, even if he were to push on. In the worst case, he might end up earning the wrath of Aura or Count Márguez if he were to continue his advances recklessly here.
When word got around that “General Puyol was at loggerheads with Queen Aura and Count Márguez”, it was likely that foreign countries would start plotting something.
His ambition was to attain power in the “flourishing” Carpa Kingdom, not to rule a “ruined” Carpa Kingdom.
It was time to pull back now. A quick judgement, namely knowing when to stop, saved one’s life. That held true for both the battlefield and the royal court.
“Indeed, that is wonderful above all else. Her Highness found a great companion.”
General Puyol clapped his sister twice on the back, a sign for “appeal time over”, and adopted the new topic from Count Márguez by agreeing to it.
“Yeah, he is the best husband I could ever ask for. I am blessed with capable retainers like you and found a wonderful husband in Zenjirou. I dare to say that I am the most fortunate ruler in the western region, no, on the whole southern continent.”
Aura sensed from General Puyol’s attitude that he was laying down the arms for now, and laughed like that with a slightly mellow voice.
“Hahaha. The most fortunate on the continent, you say? It makes me a bit uncomfortable when you flatter us this much.”
“No, Count. You better not get too conceited. I am afraid that the ‘fortune’ Her Highness speaks of is mainly referring to Zenjirou-sama. Our strength is insignificant to it.”
“I see! Our loyalty, too, might only pale into insignificance in comparison with the perfect Prince Consort that Zenjirou-sama is.”
Afterwards they fired bitter remarks at each other and spent a relatively peaceful time together without anyone going on the offence or defence.
* * *
Zenjirou returned late at night from the banquet, uttered this words filled with a commingling of emotions and flopped himself in the black leather couch.
The living room was illuminated by the LED floor lamps like always. Matching with his return, the waiting maids had prepared the ice fan and its breeze cooled down his hot body. He really felt “at home” by sitting on the familiar couch.
In other words, he had adapted himself so good in this one month here that he perceived the inner palace as his “home”. His adaptive capacity was surprisingly good.
“Sorry to have put you through all that trouble, Zenjirou. But it was worth it.
You presented yourself in public and surely dulled the rumours about discord between us or me taking away your freedom. Though, we will probably never be able to complete get rid of such rumours.”
Responding like that, Aura, too, sat down on the couch somewhat exhausted while still wearing her orange dress.
As a born royalty, she ought to be far more used to such occasions than Zenjirou, but it naturally tired her as well.
Unlike Zenjirou, who had his hands full with himself, Aura had been vigilant from beginning to end as to support her husband in one situation after another. It was a though role that wouldn’t even compare to Zenjirou’s.
Aura, sitting on the couch, turned her head numerous times, so it dishevelled her red hair that shone glossy from the perfumed oil, and eased the stiffness in her neck.
“I see. That’s good. Then I can leisurely shut myself in again for some time. At any rate… my eyes still feel weird.”
Along with a sigh of relief, Zenjirou revealed this and repeatedly batted his eyelashes a few times while both his arms rested on the back of the couch. For a while now, his eyes had been aching and feeling bad.
Most likely, his eyes had been hurt from the unfamiliar light of the chandeliers.
No matter how much chandeliers they had, the light from it was nothing more than the flame of candles. The brightness from the flames was limited and a little breeze easily rocked them already. Quite a shortcoming.
A lacking amount of light, numerous rocking light sources and furthermore, reflectors out of silver hanging down from the chandeliers to spread out the sparse light even a bit. Of course all this had a bad influence on the eyes.
That said, only Zenjirou seemed to suffer from that. Aura relaxed in front of him and it didn’t look like she had any problems with her eyes. His discomfort must originate from his adaptation to the culture of modern Japan after all.
“Argh, my vision’s still kind of blurry.”
While grumbling like that, Zenjirou took off his shoes without standing up from the couch.
Since the Carpa Kingdom had a climate of high temperatures and humidity that exceeded modern Japan, their culture allowed for being barefooted indoors, but banquets or dance parties were self-evidently a different matter.
Taking off the indoor linen-shoes and long socks, he let his feet get some fresh air for the first time in a few hours and unconsciously made a sigh of relief.
Thinking back on it now, ever since his actual transfer to this world, he had never worn any other shoes besides his slippers until today, apart from the marriage ceremony. After such a long time, he realized the full-scale of his shut-in life.
Although the climate was different, it astonished him that his legs were worn out just from walking around the palace for a few hours in linen-shoes, even though he had worn solid shoes and business socks for more than fifteen hours a day during his salaryman days a mere month ago.
(I guess I’ve to reassess my lifestyle. I’m no princess, so I don’t want to get weak feet, which won’t allow me to walk well, at my age)
While such thoughts crossed his mind, the barefooted Zenjirou next cast off his vest and opened up his overlapping shirt.
The cold breeze from the ice fan blew onto his liberated chest and he closed his eyes pleased.
He had some experience in verbal disputes from negotiations during his salaryman days, but his current fatigue didn’t even come close to the one from back then. The strong pressure from occupying a position of influence like “royalty” couldn’t be compared to that of a low salaryman and must have weighted heavily on him.
“Well, I’ll get in the bath soon anyway…”
Making such an excuse to himself, he unravelled the sash-like strap around his waist and shed the overlapping shirt right here, too. Although he knew it was unbecoming, he couldn’t resist the temptation to free his tired body from the clothes.
“Mm, let me get comfortable as well.”
Following her husband’s example as he had slovenly undressed up to his pants, Aura, too, stood up from the couch, seized behind her head with both hands and undid the knot of her dress. The orange dress slipped down her skin with a small rustling from just that.
As it was royal custom, she had previously been helped by waiting maids to change her clothes, but ever since she shared her bedroom with Zenjirou, she often refrained from having the waiting maids help her take off her clothes in the light of Zenjirou’s dislike about others entering the room.
The couple respectively got half-naked. Their relationship wasn’t so fresh that they would get embarrassed about it now, but it wasn’t so dried up that they would ignore it either.
Zenjirou had thrown himself completely exhausted on the couch earlier, but now he sat up abruptly and gave his half-naked wife a lecherous gaze.
Aura showed a small smile of satisfaction as her self-respect was stimulated by her husband’s look, and confidently walked through the living room to the refrigerator in the corner, still half-naked.
In a perfectly accustomed manner, she took two chilled towel from the refrigerator and threw one at Zenjirou.
Sweat and dirt aside, a steaming hot towel would have been better to wipe the perfumed oil in their hair or around their neck than a chilled towel, but they couldn’t stand for wiping their current hot bodies with a steaming towel.
Aura returned and stood beside the couch. While she wiped the sweat and perfumed oil on her body with the chilled towel, she called out to Zenjirou, who was likewise wiping his face with the chilled towel.
“Well then, I know you are tired, but let me ask you while your memories is still fresh. So, did anyone of the nobles you met at the banquet leave a particular impression on you?”
Zenjirou removed the towel from his face and brooded for a while in response to the somewhat sudden question of his wife.
“Left an impression on me… Hmm, I think there were some, but the Guillén siblings took the spotlight in the end. To be honest, I don’t really remember anyone but them.”
Aura must have anticipated that answer to some extent. She showed a smile and sat down next to Zenjirou.
“I figured as much. These siblings certainly are imposing. Then let me hear about the brother, General Puyol first. What was your first impression of that man?”
“Ah…. Mhm, General Puyol, hmm…”
As his wife looked at him from the side, Zenjirou averted his gaze with an awkward expression.
He had excepted to be asked that question, but at the same time, he had feared to be asked that question.
Nonetheless, it didn’t appear like he could bluff it out, seeing how his wife kept her gaze fixated on him.
After resolutely making a big sigh, he honestly confessed while still avoiding to meet her gaze.
“Ah… Uhm… Well, what can I say, I’m a man, too, so in all honesty, I can’t deny that I hold some prejudice against him and Raffaello Márguez. I haven’t even met Raffaello Márgeuz yet, but I already don’t have a favourable impression of him…”
Aura unconsciously widened her eyes on the words of her husband that were a repentance in a way.
“I see, these two are a special case to you… Fufu.”
She stifled her emerging smile of happiness from his confession.
Puyol Guillén and Raffaello Márguez were the names of the former candidates for Aura’s husband.
Aura felt her husband’s jealousy in his words of “holding a prejudice” against these two and realized that a not so tasteful “emotion of delight” emerged from inside her chest.
In the eyes of the wife, the jealousy of her husband towards “men that had a relation to her” was a sign of affection and to be honest, she was rather pleased about it.
For a moment, Aura was driven by the urge to embrace her husband, but she remembered that he rather dislike the smell of the “perfumed oil” and gave up at the last second.
It was wiser to wait with their usual intimate physical contact until after the bath, as she didn’t want to offend her husband by something so trivial.
Aura kept an appropriate distance, smiled at Zenjirou sitting next to her and pressed for a continuation of the topic.
“It is alright. I am not so thoughtless as to blindly accept your opinion. So just speak your mind.”
Apparently he really couldn’t avoid it. Zenjirou resigned himself to it, turned to Aura sitting next to him and started to speak slightly beside the purpose.
“Aw, geez, fine. Then I’ll be honest. Let’s see, my first impression of General Puyol was that he’s the ‘type to only have either enemies or allies’.”
“Hmm, only enemies or allies, huh.”
She somewhat understood what he wanted to say, but his words were lacking a concreteness, so she coloured her eyes in curiosity and asked again.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, you know, I mean, he was frigging overwhelming and zestful and made not the slightest attempt to hide it. On top of that, he spoke his desires out so openly that it surprised me.
How should I say? He’s not afraid to make enemies as long as it achieves his goals. But he seems quite charismatic, so he should’ve a lot of allies, too.
So I think that all the people related to him are either friendly or hostile towards him. In the end, very few people close to him will remain neutral. He strikes me as that type of person.”
“I see… I understand what you are getting at.”
Aura nodded curt on his explanation.
It was a bit rude to her husband, but his evaluation was more spot-on than she had expected.
And in fact, General Puyol, a man frank about his ambition, had a lot of devotees starting with the military, but in exchange, a lot of people hated him, too.
However, the evaluation of “not afraid to make enemies” was kind of undue. General Puyol was a soldier and at the same time, a noble from a prestigious family. He wasn’t so heedless as to recklessly make enemies at the royal court.
In front of people, whom he shouldn’t make an enemy out of, he was at least able to put on an insincere smile.
Zenjirou’s “prejudice” must have come into play here. He unconsciously perceived the man, who had formerly been a candidate for becoming his wife’s husband, as a rival, searched for a weakness in him and exaggerated his story.
As he had said himself before, it was by no means an admirable attitude. However, he was aware of that himself and his prudence was good enough that he could loathe himself for it, so it wasn’t an issue worth mentioning.
As his wife, Aura would’ve just to warn him if he stretched a point.
To begin with, it was absolutely natural as a human to harbour dark emotions towards a person that was deeply involved with his lover.
“Then what do you think of Fatima Guillén, the little sister? Let me hear your honest opinion. Were my eyes playing a trick on me or were you a bit fascinated by her, mh?”
In Aura’s eyes certainly flashed a bit of a gloomy emotion as she asked that.
“Eh? W- Wait a sec. Aura?”
Zenjirou sensed the jealousy hidden behind his wife’s roguish smile and unconsciously backed off on the couch in a timid manner.