“What? The salt is not being delivered?”
After hearing the complaint at the morning meeting, Aura raised one eyebrow and inquired again in a serious tone while remaining seated on her throne.
She was in a small room at the very heart of the royal palace.
The only window of the room, through which the sunrays shone in, was positioned far higher up than a person’s height and barred, so the interior was wrapped in dimness, It regularly hosted important discussions, which decided the Kingdom’s future.
An imposing and long table stood in the centre of the relative small, square room and various wooden chairs were arranged around it.
As the Queen, Aura naturally sat at the short head of the table. Secretary Fabio stood at attention behind her and was merely allowed to be present, but not to sit down, much less to speak up.
The only people, who were allowed to speak up in this place, were these with the title of either a “minister” or “general”.
“Elaborate, Marquis Guzzle.”
Addressed by Aura, the man sitting little short of the opposite of the table, stood up with the short exclamation “very well”.
Marquis Guzzle was past his middle age. His skin was rather brown, even for a citizen of the Carpa Kingdom, and wrinkled from age here and there, but one could tell from his smooth movement as he stood up from the chair, or from his stout neck that he kept the senility away through harsh training even now.
Vigorous despite his age, the experienced soldier reported with a low voice that complied with his corpulent physique, which had a close resemblance to a rugby player.
“The day before yesterday, a ‘small flying dragon’ reached me from my son, whom I left in charge of the march. It said that the current salt supply still had not arrived seven days after the arranged time. The stock in the region will last for another three months. As my deputy, my son requests to be allowed to send our army to the ‘Salt Road’ and probe the cause of it.
And if I may add, I agree with him.”
After he had finished his concise report with a fluent way of speaking, Marquis Guzzle sat down again with the same smooth movement untypical for his age as when he stood up.
The March of Guzzle was a domain that bordered on another country. As the domain had no coasts, nor underground rock salt deposits, the essential salt had to be imported from elsewhere. The ‘Salt Road’ referred to a “state road”, which a previous King had decreed some generations before, so that the enormous amount of required salt could be transported trouble-free to all the domains within the Kingdom.
Accordingly, Marquis Guzzle’s statement didn’t meet with full approval.
“I object. Of course it’s a serious matter that the salt isn’t delivered to your domain and I have no objections to send soldiers out to ensure the safety on the road. However, that’s not a responsibility for your army, but rather for the royal army.”
The one, who opposed downright aggressively like that, was General Puyol.
Amongst the assembled people here, General Puyol was the youngest member after Queen Aura as he was in his early thirties, but even though the Marquis could be his father age-wise, he wasn’t the least bit daunted and openly stated his own opinion.
And his notion was by no means wrong.
The “Salt Road” was a state road, so sending out troops to maintain its security basically fell within the scope of the royal army.
* * *
While Queen Aura was making important decisions at the morning meeting, Zenjirou, left alone in the inner palace, was typing on his keyboard of his computer in the corner of the living room while the fan blew around a cold breeze.
“Good, that should do.”
Sitting on the chair, he put his hands together and stretched his arms over his head to relax his body.
The screen of the computer displayed the spreadsheet software program from his salaryman days.
A stack of dragon skin parchment he had gotten from Aura laid untidy on the left side of the keyboard. It was the table for the “tax yield of this year“.
For a few days, he had continued to enter the data into the spreadsheet and today he finally finished the task.
All that was left now was to reread the whole thing at least three time in search for any mistakes, but it was a good point to pause for now.
After craning his neck and taking a deep breath, Zenjirou looked at the digitalized tax table again.
“That’s a lot of red though…”
Just like in the previous case, the blue colour on the spreadsheet symbolized “a number with error by surplus”, whereas the red colour symbolized “a number with error by shortfall”. A lot of red numbers indicated that the reported tax yields were often too little compared to the estimated yield.
Of course some cases were simple cases of miscalculations, but the majority was a deliberate adulteration.
“Mm, might as well make it easier to understand.”
Looking at the screen, he implemented an idea that he had suddenly thought of.
It was nothing complicated. Right next to the amount of the tax yields from the dragonskin parchment and the amount of the tax yields recalculated by the program, he simply added a row that displayed the difference between the two values and when that difference was over ten percent, it showed a clearly distinguishable ▲ symbol.
The task was done in no time. He wrote a simple function into one cell and then clicked the right bottom corner of the cell with the mouse and dragged it down to the very bottom of the spreadsheet, whereupon the function was copied to all the cells in the vertical row.
Looking at the newly displayed data, Zenjirou knitted his eyebrows and groaned.
“Uwah, still so many ▲, even though I narrowed it down. Fudging more than ten percent can‘t be shrugged off as a simple miscalculation or careless mistake anymore.“
Or more precisely, the incompetence of the officials would be a far greater problem than a small mistake in the tax yields, when they “unknowingly made mistakes” over ten percent in the amount of the tax.
Last year, Aura had cracked down on it once to some degree, but apparently it hadn’t been enough to decrease the tax evasion, which had already become a routine.
“Aura sure has it tough… Wait, it’s about time I stop treating it like it doesn’t concern me.”
Zenjirou reminded himself.
One year had already passed since he came into this world and he had started to appear at official events as Aura’s proxy. He couldn’t be a “good-for-nothing sponger” forever. Although it wasn’t often, he did appear in public and plunged into higher society, so he was tied down to the obligation called social association.
Even if Aura had gotten back on the stage after safely giving birth, Zenjirou had difficulties to resume his complete shut-in lifestyle at this point.
That said, it might only be his own mentality that didn’t allow that.
To begin with, Zenjirou had spent an average life, normally attending school up to university and not causing any serious problems later in his job, either. He never really had an “aptitude to shut himself away”.
Once he had resolved to move over to this world, the leisure days after he quit his job had certainly been attractive to no end.
However, it had only been appealing to him because he had been mentally worn out at that time from the continued, knee-deep morass called overtime hell.
Although his body and soul had been exhausted by overwork for three years, Zenjirou was still only in his twenties.
The physical exhaustion completely went away after three days of rest and the mental exhaustion also naturally healed after a month away from work.
For a while, there hadn’t been any problems.
There had been various major events such as transferring into a different world, marrying a beautiful woman perfect to his liking and even making a baby with her, so time had passed in the blink of an eye.
On top of that, there was his mountainous stock of DVDs of soccer games and TV series such as dramas, which he had brought with him from the other world.
Without pretending, he had genuinely perceived the “leisure days of just sleeping, eating, watching DVD and playing games” as “fulfilling” at first.
The problem was that his values didn’t let him perceive this situation as “fulfilling” forever.
“Guess it’s about time I ask for more work. My magic studies take up a lot of my time right now, but once that’s over, I’ll have too much spare time.”
Still sitting in front of the computer, Zenjirou spoke out his state of mind.
Matters had settled down around him.
The exhaustion had completely faded from his body and soul.
Even so, things didn‘t change from before. Only a few duties were entrusted to him and his allowed area of activities was still limited.
To be frank, he had started to feel quite out of place.
In the end, Zenjirou’s value were Japanese to the core, seeing as he felt guilty about his unproductive lifestyle all on his own, even though nobody was rebuking him about it.
He wasn’t a workaholic, whose job was his reason d’être and whose calling was to be a working gear of society, but nevertheless, he wasn’t so obtuse, either, that he could unconditionally put up with the current situation, where his necessities of life were provided without having to work.
“Well, I can’t really stand out as her husband, but as long as all the official work is liaised with Aura, there’s no problem. I want to try out various things.”
At present, Zenjirou was making an effort towards the refinement of “hard liquors”.
Knowing that this world only had ale and fruit wine, which had an extremely low alcohol content, Zenjirou had brought along a distillery for household use from his world.
It used a hotplate as the heat source and automatically regulated the temperature, so even a layman could hardly fail at it.
Nevertheless, it was merely for household use after all. The amount from one distillation was little and at the present time, he could only make enough to indulge himself in it, but Aura had shown a deep interest in it.
The Carpa Kingdom had no culture of distilled beverage, but there was a number of people, who liked alcohol. Even the flat distillate made by a layman had a definite worth just due to its overwhelming concentration and intensity.
The theory behind making distilled beverage was rather simple.
The boiling point of water was approximately hundred degree. On the other hand, the boiling point of ethanol was weaker: at around eighty degree.
To sum it up with rough words: an alcoholic drink was a mixture of water and ethanol and when it was boiled for a long period at a temperature above eighty but below hundred degree, the ethanol primarily vaporized from the liquor, thus making an extraction possible.
Afterwards, the vaporized ethanol had to be gathered without letting it escape and liquefied again. The result was a liquid with an extremely high concentration of ethanol— a hard liquor.
Of course it was impossible to completely separate the water and the ethanol when a layman just relied on a thermometer to control the temperature, since the water and ethanol had a troublesome phenomenon called “azeotrope”, but by repeating the progress numerous times, the distillate gradually got a higher alcohol content.
Zenjirou himself had claimed that “the current goal was to enhance it to a burnable level”, but he couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was gradually drifting away from the original objective.
Alcohol on the level, where it could be used as fuel, was not only too intense, but also tasteless and dry, so nobody would normally drink it.
Nevertheless, a highly concentrated alcohol had a great utility value, so a working refinement method would undoubtedly contribute to the Kingdom’s development.
“After that, soap, I guess. Wait, no, that’s still fine for now, but the shampoo and rinse are running low. I somewhat underestimated the amount a woman with long hair needs.”
Deep in thought, Zenjirou was sitting in front of the computer, crossed his arms and groaned.
The majority of articles he had brought over from his world, starting with the electronic appliances, were “reusable”. The quantity of consumable goods he could bring with him was rather insignificant, so it had been a natural decision.
However, despite knowing this, Zenjirou had made an exception for consumable bath utensils, bringing as much as possible of them.
Solid soap for cleaning the body. Facial cleansing. And shampoo plus rinse for washing hair.
The solid soap posed no problem. He had brought a large amount of it to begin with and since he always made sure to take the soap along when he left the bathroom after using it, so that it didn’t dissolve naturally, the stock would still last for quite a while.
The pressing problem were the shampoo and rinse.
Zenjirou kept his hair rather short, even for a man, so his estimation had been rather naive in regards to how much shampoo and rinse his beloved wife would need to cleanly wash her proud, long hair that reached down to her waist.
“At this rate, the shampoo will be gone before the year is over. I technically downloaded instructions to make soap and shampoo from the internet, but…”
He had no experience of making soap, much less shampoo.
Furthermore, the recipes he found principally needed “sodium hydroxide” or “commercial soap without additives”, which both were said to be unattainable in this world.
He also had a recipe for a more primitive method, which used ash and oil, but judging by the overall nuance of it, the production seemed more difficult compared to using “sodium hydroxide”.
In addition to that, the soap made in that way couldn’t be used right away after its completion.
There was also no insignificant amount of confirmed cases of a layman making soap with half-baked knowledge, where the detergence was too strong and dried out the skin or unforeseen components got mixed in and caused pain or itching.
Nonetheless, Zenjirou wasn’t willing to compromise as far as the bath was concerned, even though he usually avoided to be demanding.
“I’ll use the first attempt to clean my hands and see how it turns out. And I’ll test the shampoo on some animals first… wait, that’s no good. The livestock here are all reptiles and don’t have any fur…”
While mumbling troubled to himself, his voice got tinged with a serious tone, which was pretty much never heard from him.
* * *
Aura still had more work to do after the morning meeting.
The meeting concluded and she relocated into her office in the palace, bringing only Secretary Fabio with her.
Sitting down on the chair made out of vines and wood, which could be called a temporary throne, in the office, Aura made a big sigh to relieve herself of the tension.
She held the belief that as a Queen, she was used to negotiations and coordinations with higher nobles, but she still felt a bit drained in body and soul when she was making important decisions, which involved “dispatching an army” like this time.
However, as the Queen, she was in no position to leisurely wait until her exhaustion had softened.
“Fabio, draw up a paper.”
Aura corrected her seating posture, took a dragonskin parchment out of the drawer of the desk and ordered the secretary like that.
“Yes. Please give me a moment.”
Taking that parchment, Secretary Fabio headed to his personal desk in the corner of the room with smooth steps and skilfully ran the dragon bone quill over the paper.
The veteran secretary drew up the document in no time and returned to Aura with the just finished draft in hand.
“There you are, Your Highness. Please sign it after verifying it.”
Saying so, Fabio placed the newly written document onto Aura’s desk.
The contents written on the dragonskin parchment pertained to “the approval of the military operation in the domain for the army of Marquis Guzzle, the order to investigate the incident on the salt road as well as the order to eliminate its cause.”
By handing this document to Marquis Guzzle, he obtained the lawful authority to send his own army onto the “Salt Road”, which was formally stated-owned land, and the right to demand a “reward for settling the incident” from the Kingdom later on.
After Aura had read through the whole paper twice and confirmed that there was nothing wrong, she put her sign at the bottom with her ball pen, versed as always.
The crest of the Carpa Royal Family (an opened door + a hourglass, where the sand was flowing upwards) was branded onto the parchment from the start, so Aura just had to sign there with her own hand-writing to make it an official document.
Needless to say, these pre-branded parchments were strictly safekept and anyone, who took one without Aura’s permission, got the death penalty as a matter of principle.
“Well then, Your Highness, shall I deliver the document to Marquis Guzzle now?”
Secretary Fabio asked verifying, whereat Aura shook her head at once.
“No, that would take too much time. An incident on the Salt Road is a serious matter for our Kingdom. I personally will ‘send off’ the document along with the messenger. Tell Marquis Guzzle that he shall select a messenger from his subordinates.”
She was going to send the messenger with the document directly to the March of Guzzle with her “teleportation” magic.
Being able to do that was one of the fortes of the Carpa Kingdom. A different country would have had to circumvent the blocked Salt Road by transporting the document through a relay of raptorial dragons or in the worst case, break through the blocked road with a sufficient escort (definitely can’t use a “small flying dragon” for an official document).
As a major power with vast lands, the Carpa Kingdom could exceptionally keep the power of the feudal lords in the border domains in check to a certain extent, because of this very “teleportation” magic.
Likewise, if the incident this time had happened in a different country, then the usual pattern was that Marquis Guzzle would have dispatched his army at his own discretion and reported only the results to the central government at a later time after informally taking care of it.
Just as the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell ruled the country under the premise of the “Magic Tools” from the Sharrow Family and the “Healing Magic” from the Jilbell Family, the Carpa Kingdom, too, was constituting itself under the premise of the “Space-Time Magic”.
Going by that, it should be understandable why it was seen as problematic that Queen Aura was currently the only practitioner of the “Space-Time Magic”. In the same way it was only natural that concubine offers were persistently brought up to Zenjirou, who had a latent potential for the said power.
“Very well. I will inform the Marquis accordingly. However, is that really all right?”
Bowing briefly, Secretary Fabio asked somewhat suggestive while he tucked the parchment into a wooden cylinder after ascertaining, if all the ink on the paper had dried.
The usual, huh?
Even while the irritation was plainly visible on her face, Aura didn’t take offence at it and urged her secretary to speak up.
The middle-aged secretary frankly phrased his words without so much as reacting to the sharp glance of the Queen.
“I mean the actual decree. In my opinion, the ‘Salt Road’ justifies the deployment of the royal army more than enough and I deem it unnecessary to have allowed Marquis Guzzle to deploy his army.”
The statement from the secretary was exactly what Aura had expected.
At any given opportunity, the middle-aged secretary with the slender face would deliberate take up a stance contrary to hers. Sometimes he did so after the decision was made, like this time, and sometimes he brought about a quarrel before the decision was made.
Of course he wasn’t stating it because he thought that his opinion was correct from the bottom of his heart.
His aim was rather to stir her thinking and incite her to come up with other alternatives. What was more, the conversation with him before a decision let her simulate how someone could oppose her during the meeting for that decision.
He was a useful man. That was out of the question. He certainly was, but…
(He is irritating after all.)
Aura replied while she harboured this impression from which she no longer knew how often she had it up to this day.
“Otherwise General Puyol Guillén might be going out himself. If we carelessly let him accumulate achievements, his appointment as ‘Marshal’ would become more realistic. I cannot really appreciate that.”
“But when the royal army solves an incident in the outlands, it will add to their track record. If all goes well, would it not present a good opportunity to position our troops in the outlands from then on?”
Replacing the armies of the feudal landowners guarding the borders with the royal army. That had been a major agenda for Aura regarding the national defence for a while now.
In that sense, Secretary Fabio was right. It was no bad call to make the deployment of the royal army for incidents in the outland “self-evident” by sending out the troops for a chances like this.
However, Aura shook her head without hesitation.
“No. The problem is that once we start to reinforce the royal army and position a division at the border, we will have to see it through all at once. The more time it takes, the longer we will expose ourselves to other countries. The time is still not ripe for it yet.”
“You might end up missing your chance altogether, when you wait for a good opportunity too much. In the worst case, there might not appear a better opportunity than this during your reign. Do you stand fast regardless?”
“I do not mind. Being greedy will only lead to the worst. Managing a country is no gamble.”
Her reply was staggeringly resolute.
There was no doubt that Aura boldly wanted to replace the outland lords’ armies with the royal army for the defence of the borders, so that threats from beyond could be dealt with more swiftly.
However, she also understood better than anyone how great of a risk such a reorganisation of the army carried.
If she were to send the royal army high-handed into the outlands before the armies of the feudal landowners were downsized, it could lead to a rebellion.
On the other hand, if the diminishment of outlands’ armies were to come first, they would be vulnerable to other countries.
Pressing the matter would either enrage the lords of the outlands or tempt the ambitions of other countries. In that case, it was far better to maintain the current situation. To begin with, the Carpa Kingdom was a major power. As a major power they couldn’t just sit on their hands, but neither was there any need to assume full risk.
Following, Aura said.
“Besides, the only troops we can deploy to the March of Guzzle right now are stationed right next to the capital. It would waste unnecessary time when we send them off from the capital. Since the salt stocks in the domain do not last forever, we simply have to deal with it through a faster method.”
“If you argument like that, would it not be better to have the royal army ready to deploy for the unlikely event that Marquis’ son fails?”
“Is that really necessary? I cannot imagine that General Puyol Guillén would stand on the sidelines in such a situation. I am sure that he would march the army at once if the army of the Marquis were to fail their mission.”
“Even more reason then. General Guillén’s achievement will only turn out all the better, if the royal army deploys on his demand. I think we have to keep up appearance that you initiated the deployment of the army, Your Highness.”
For the first time today, Aura hesitated to give an immediate answer to the decisively phrased advice of Secretary Fabio.
She placed her hand against her chin and mused for a while.
“…You have a point there. Fine. Issue a ‘long term manoeuvre in the countryside’ before General Puyol can make his move. The general may pick all the personal by himself.”
Then she instructed her secretary like that. Needless to say, the training ground was going to be the nearest one to the March of Guzzle.
“As you command. The provisions must be adequate for a possible ’roundtrip to the Salt Road’ after the manoeuvre. Lastly, shall I inform Marquis Guzzle about the manoeuvre?”
The secretary explained the training schedule as if he had carefully prepared it beforehand, whereat Aura shook her head this time.
“No need. We have no reason to hide it, but neither a reason to tell him in particular. Just leave it be. I am sure it will reach his ears sooner or later. I would not want to him to feel needless pressure through a misunderstand if we were to tell him about it on purpose.”
“Yes, very well.”
As he seemed to have said everything he wanted to say now, the middle-aged secretary bowed in such a perfect manner that he appeared inhuman.
* * *
As the Queen, Aura’s days were busy and hectic.
In the conference room, she attended important meetings about politics or military. In the audience room, she welcomed ambassadors of other countries to hear their appeal. And in the office, she looked through the accumulated dragonskin parchments.
There was so much work that she would have to cut back on her sleeping time and bring a LED floor lamp into her office, if she wanted to finish all of it to perfection. At least, Zenjirou would undoubtedly have done that in her position.
However, Aura wasn’t that heavy-handed. She somewhat knew when to work hard and when to relax.
In the long run, it was much more agreeable to do the daily work imperfectly instead of having the Queen collapse from burdening herself to the limit.
Thus Aura suspended her duties for today’s afternoon and enjoyed some recreation with her beloved husband in the inner palace.
At noontide the sun assailed with aggressive sunrays.
The sound of wood clashing against wood resounded in the courtyard of the inner palace.
“Come on, right!”
It originated from the wooden sticks in Aura and Zenjirou’s hands. Both sticks were about one metre and fifty centimetre long.
Aura, wearing a light military uniform, swung around the stick, which mimicked a short spear, skilfully while Zenjirou, dressed in a T-Shirt and sweat pants, parried it clumsily.
“Once again right!”
Naturally, Aura was holding back quite a bit, but even so, Zenjirou perceived it as a series of attacks to which not even the slightest inattention was permitted.
With a desperate expression, he somehow parried the attack with the “basic defence stance”, which he had learned from Aura.
“Hey, your legs!”
His exposed legs were tripped by her stick and he fell hard.
The soft lawn they practiced on prevented any injuries, but the fall hurt nevertheless. However, Zenjirou hadn’t even the time to squirm with pain right now.
“Come on, you are sitting ducks when you do not move. Stand up again right away! Otherwise roll over at least!”
Saying so, Aura swung her stick down a few times next to his head.
Zenjirou, still looking desperate, rolled to the side and quickly stood up with all his might. A spray of water was cast off his entire body as he rolled over, pretty much like when a dog shook after coming out of the water.
Both, Aura and Zenjirou, were dripping wet as if they had poured water over themselves. The reason wasn’t just the sweat from the exercise, but also because of the water fountain that was right next to lawn, where they practiced with their sticks. The white marble fountain kept spouting water higher into the air than his height without rest.
The two of them were exercising exactly downwind.
On purpose, of course.
The maximum temperature during this time of the day exceeded forty degree, so it was too hot for a normal person to move around dashingly for a long time, unless it was under special circumstances like this.
“Good. Once again your legs!”
This time, Zenjirou managed to parry the sweep at his feet by thrusting his stick into the ground, but Aura’s attack wasn’t over yet.
“No good. Now your flank is exposed.”
She let her own stick glide upwards along Zenjirou’s stick stuck into the lawn, tucked it under his armpit and yanked it up with a jerk.
Lifted up, Zenjirou fell flat onto the lawn once again.
Obviously there was a good reason to why they were wasting their quality time together by doing a slightly violent exercise amidst the heat like this.
Namely, to get rid of Zenjirou’s physical inactivity that he had been worried about for a while now. Another reason was that Aura wanted to say good-bye to the subcutaneous fat that she had built up during her pregnancy.
She had given birth to the first prince without problems, but even after the child had left her stomach, her figure or weight hadn’t changed back to what they had been before the pregnancy.
Well, that goes without saying.
In modern Japan, doctors and nutritionists would have made it possible that Aura was on a “diet that provided the necessary nourishment for her and the chid without making her fat”, but this world had no such thing as nutritional science, so going on a thoughtless diet would result in malnutrition and just endanger the child in her stomach.
A bit of excessive nutritional intake was still better than malnutrition. Doctor Michelle had prescribed that, so obeying him, Aura had taken meals “for two”. As a matter of course, she had gained weight.
Gaining weight after childbirth wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the viewpoint of a mother aside, Aura couldn’t stand for the current situation as a woman.
Whether it was a blessing or not, the “glass mirror” Zenjirou had brought along was a ruthless reality check for Aura.
The “glass mirror” showed her silhouette unadulterated, contrary to the vague reflections in the small silver or water mirrors.
With one look at her sagging chin in the “glass mirror”, it became impossible to make excuses.
Fortunately, there were no signs of a “marital crisis”, where her husband distanced himself from her, for now, but she couldn’t presume on his sympathy, either.
There was a saying that “love withers along with the appearance”, which naturally didn’t apply to all married couples, but it certainly had a germ of truth.
“Okay, last one. Here I go, a downward swing!”
Aura raised her stick over her head in a slightly exaggerated manner on purpose, then swung it straight down at the crown of his head.
She was holding back so much that she could stop the attack at any time, if necessary, but even so, Zenjirou could barely react to it.
BAM! The two wooden sticks clashed and made a shrill sound pretty much like metal.
Zenjirou’s stick, raised horizontally a hairbreadth above his head, had parried Aura’s downward attack.
“……….Good. That shall be enough for today.”
His wife exchanged her serious expression with a smile and announce the end of the session, whereat Zenjirou flopped onto the lawn with a big sigh that released all of the air from his lungs.
“Hah, hah, hah…”
A bit out of breath, Aura sat down on the edge of the fountain and pleased by the spray of water from behind, she narrowed her eyes to slits. Meanwhile, Zenjirou was stretching all his limbs on the lawn and breathing roughly.
“Zenjirou, want some?”
As she had completely recovered before him, she took the PET bottle filled with drinking water out of the fountain and put it next to his head as he was putting his feet up.
“Uhh… Hah, hah… GULP, Mm, GULP…”
Zenjirou somehow sat up and gulped down the substance from the PET bottle in one go without sparing the time to thank Aura for it.
The drink was water mixed with brown sugar and the sap of a citrus fruit. The bottle had simply been plunged into the water fountain, so it wasn’t really cooled down, but he appreciated it how the lukewarm liquid was actually easier to swallow right now.
“Fuh… I’m back to life…!”
After emptying the 500ml PET bottle in one gulp, Zenjirou uttered emotionally.
His whole body started to ooze sweat due to the sudden intake of water. The bruises from being lightly hit by Aura coupled with his body being on fire from the exercise, made him want to jump straight into the water fountain.
“It seems you have settled down a bit. I think I was careful enough, but how is it? Do you feel any pain?”
Hearing Aura ask that, Zenjirou felt up his still powerless body.
During the training, his body was stabbed and hit by her stick again and again, but now that he checked, it didn’t really hurt anywhere.
The tip of their training sticks technically had been amply wrapped with a soft cloth, but the stick was essentially one and a half metre long and made out of hard wood, so it wouldn’t have been strange if he had fractured a bone or two, much less snapped a muscle or vein.
However, Aura must have held back properly. As far as he was aware, his injuries amounted to nothing but bruises.
“I’m all good, it seems. My left side and right thigh sting a bit, but that’s all. See.”
Saying so, Zenjirou stood up right where he was and moved both his arms wriggly up and down.
He was staggering like a newborn fawn, as his legs still hadn’t recovered yet, but no part of his body hurt when he strained it.
Just like Aura had done earlier, he now sat down on the edge of the fountain.
His exhausted body would fall backwards into the water fountain if he wasn’t careful, but it wouldn’t matter if that were to happen. The basin of the fountain wasn’t deep enough, so that anyone could drown in it.
Might as well let my heated body fall back into the water now.
Tempted to do so, he glanced behind him at the water fountain. At that moment.
“So, what do you say about your first spear practice? Let me hear your opinion.”
Aura approached him and asked that, then said down on the rim of the fountain right next to him. Zenjirou was only around two finger lengths taller than Aura when they were standing, but when they sat next to each other like this, the difference almost doubled.
The question was whether Zenjirou’s legs were short or Aura’s legs were long. The conclusion wouldn’t turn all too favourable no matter how long he were to ponder about it, so he deliberately shook off the issue, as the answer was quite obvious, and replied to Aura’s question.
“Well, I knew it would be hard and didn’t even once thought it would be a cakewalk, but it was even worse. I’m dead beat. Reminds me of how my soccer club in high school once had a practice match against a junior youth team.”
Answering like that, Zenjirou showed a wry smile and shook his head in an exaggerated manner.
The later part of his sentence had terms like high school, soccer club and junior youth team, where the “soul of words” didn’t work, but Aura apparently could understand what he wanted to say just from the former part.
“Hmm, martial arts is not so plain that an amateur could prevail over an expert after all, unless you are blessed with incredible talent. If you had started to train from a young age like I did, you might have been even stronger than me by now.”
Not overestimating her own strength, Aura replied with a smile.
As a matter of fact, she was as strong as an ordinary knight at best. Compared to a soldier like General Puyol, who had made a name for himself even across the borders, she was small fry.
As a man, Zenjirou wasn’t gifted with a particular good physique or athletic abilities, but he wasn’t an absolute weakling, either.
Even without flattery, it was extremely conceivable that he would be as strong as Aura by now, if he had practiced since childhood like she did.
Zenjirou understood that Aura was saying the truth, but at the same time, he perceived the hidden meaning that “it was too late to start now”, too, so he couldn’t help but intensify his wry smile.
“Ahaha, thanks. Well, I just want to keep in shape anyway and don’t plan to ever make use of the techniques.”
“A wise decision. Of course I will not stop you, if you seriously want to make an effort for it, but otherwise there is not really a reason to overexert yourself.”
Aura, too, agreed with the opinion of her husband and smiled back at him.
Considering that Zenjirou was one of the very few royalty in the Carpa Kingdom, it certainly was unthinkable that he would get into a situation, where he had to use his superficial martial art skills.
Even if he himself wanted to learn how to handle a spear or sword as a form of sport, he could never picture himself actually using his skills on a battlefield.
“Yeah, I don’t intend to take it that serious. To begin with, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to handle it single-handed with my strength…”
Zenjirou claimed that and raised the pseudo spear with his right hand while remaining seated on the rim of the fountain.
Right now, he was still at the basic of basics, so he had only learned to wield it with both hands, but in reality, one often was supposed to hold the short spear in one hand and a wooden shield in the other at war.
In addition to that, one was only considered a master with the spear, when you were also able to “throw it” in an emergency, so it was inevitable that it was merely considered an exercise to stay healthy while he could only swing it around with both hands.
“Indeed. You kind of lack the strength to wield a spear as a soldier.”
Upon her words, he somewhat exaggeratedly threw his hands up in horror.
“Uwah, now you’ve said it… But you’re right. Your blows were really heavy and it seemed like my stick would get sent flying.”
Heavy. Seeing as he nonchalantly mentioned the number one taboo word for a woman on a diet, the current exhaustion must have dulled his train of thought quite a bit. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn’t make a mistake like this.
“I, I see. That ‘heavy’, huh.”
Even Aura’s expression twitched.
“Yeah, super heavy. Each strike carried such a weight that I thought I would get blown away. I can hardly believe that you’re only on par with an ordinary knight. Well, my weakness plays a part, too.”
Saying so, he smiled innocently.
Heavy, would get blown away, carry such a weight. These words were said without malice, but right now, each of them were like a dagger to Aura.
Not good. At this rate, they would have their first marital strife after getting married.
“O- Oh, by the way, on an unrelated subject, an issue came up at the morning meeting today. It does not really concern you personally, but I will fill you in on it anyway.
You have heard about the ‘Salt Road’ from Lady Octavia in your lessons, right? Now, …”
As she wished for a harmonious married life, Aura forcefully attempted a topic change with an obvious quicker manner of speaking than usual.
* * *
At night of the same day.
Alcohol had been distilled in the living room of the inner palace all morning through, so the smell of alcohol was still faintly hanging in the air at night.
In the afternoon, Zenjirou have had spear practice with Aura in the courtyard, so the windows in the living room had been left open to air the room, but the smell was still lingering persistently.
Maybe the distilled alcohol had even permeated the furniture and carpet?
(I better do it in the courtyard next time?)
While thinking about that, Zenjirou poured his self-distilled beverage from the former whiskey bottle into two glasses. They had the same design with respective detailed patterns in red and blue, and were a type of cut glass called “Satsuma Kiriko”. Amongst all his tableware, these were the most expensive ones.
His self-distilled beverage had a high alcohol level from being distilled over and over again and a slight amber colour, but was mainly colourless and transparent.
“Could you try this? To be honest, when I had the available waiting maids try this around noon, they didn’t rate it all too good.”
Saying so, he showed a bitter smile and held out the red glass to his wife sitting on the couch.
It was inexcusable to let the Prince Consort, aka himself, drink something without sampling or testing it for poison first, even if it was made by himself. And even less when it concerned the Queen, aka Aura.
Therefore he had the waiting maids, who were off duty, drink it in advance and confirmed that there was nothing wrong with them, allowing him to serve it now.
The essential evaluation had been… well, just like he had said earlier.
And unfortunately, Aura, too, shared that opinion.
“Hmm… How shall I put it? It is dry and flat.”
After one sip, Aura declared plainly and frowned a bit.
Even while dropping his shoulders disappointed, Zenjirou had no choice but to acknowledge it, since he had been aware of it already.
The distillery with the electronic hotplate automatically regulated the temperature, too, so the distillation itself wasn’t all that difficult, but Zenjirou was practically an amateur at it. And of course, he didn’t even know any “tricks” to add a flavour or aroma to the distilled beverage.
Aura sampled the liquid once more and comforted the depressed maker in front of her.
“But it certainly is a surprisingly ‘strong’ alcohol, like you have claimed. That alone is already a good selling point. You just need to add fruit juice or spices for flavour when you drink it. Poor fruit wines or ales are drunk like that as well.”
Zenjirou clapped his hands upon hearing her words.
“Oh, I see. I just need to make something like Shouchuu. People often drink that mixed with soda or limeade, too, instead of straight as it is.”
Saying so, he drunk from his blue Kiriko glass, too. Back in Japan, he had only ever drunk low-malt beer or cheap whiskey, but even so, he recognized the value of this alcohol, which was irrevocably “nothing but high-proof without taste“, and cheered up a bit.
“Speaking of, they let whiskey and brandy ripe in wooden barrels for years after distillation, too. I guess it’s only natural that a mere distillate is tasteless?”
Scouring his vague memories, Zenjirou mumbled that. Aura, emptying her glass before him, put the empty glass onto the table and opened her mouth to reply to him.
“Oho, so there is still room for improvement? By the way, is it possible to replicate this so-called ‘distilling’ without the particular equipment you have brought along?”
Zenjirou tilted his head a bit musing and frowned while answering the curious question of his wife.
“Mhm, well, it isn’t impossible per se. The basic idea’s pretty simple. You basically just keep heating an alcohol drink at temperatures of seventy to hundred degree, collect the vaporized alcohol from it and liquefy it again. But controlling the heat is a problem… I think it would require a lot of trail and error to get the hang of it with a normal wood fire.”
“Is that so? Controlling the heat, huh? How hot would these seventy to hundred degree roughly be?”
Upon Aura’s question, Zenjirou, sitting comfortably on the couch, shifted his gaze towards the ceiling and mused.
“Ehm… What would be a good indication? Oh, I know. You should be familiar with these: Water vaporizes at around hundred degree and our usual bath temperature should be forty degree more or less. So it’s ‘exactly the medium between these two’.”
He believed that it had been a rather sketchy explanation, but Aura seemingly grasped the meaning of it.
She leaned a bit forward on the opposite couch and replied after a firm nod.
“I see. So in terms of sensibility, it is quite a high temperature. Or at least too hot to ‘measure it with the hand’.”
“Well, duh, you would burn yourself.”
Zenjirou wrinkled the space between his eyebrows and shivered, as he imagined it.
In reality it might be possible to get in contact with seventy degree for an instant without getting burned, but it didn’t change the fact that measuring the temperature with the “hand” was unfeasible.
“But there are other ways. Although their speciality is a bit different, the craftsmen, who extract sugar, might have a keen sense for measuring the water temperature.”
Aura suggested that, where at Zenjirou approved, too.
“Guess so. Distilled beverage has existed in my world for ages, so I think it all depends on the senses and experience of the craftsman after he remembered the basic method.”
The history of distilled beverages dated back to ancient times. Its production process was principally simple, too. Even without an electronic device to control the temperature, it should be more than feasible to replicate it with the skills and judgement of a craftsman.
In the past, blacksmiths had determined the optimum temperature to strike the iron from the “colour of the flame”. The current Carpa Kingdom must have blacksmiths with such “keen eyes”, too.
Compared to that, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to measure the right temperature for distilling alcohol with the eye or skin, either.
Of course it was necessary to train professionals and provide the generals tools to make it happen. The problem was whether the hard liquor was profitable enough to invest so much into it or not.
Although the Carpa Kingdom was a major power, its treasury was still devoted to repair the war damages and definitely had nothing to spare.
Capable people, funds and time. All of these were limited. They couldn’t readily jump at the chance, even if it might become profitable to the Kingdom in the future.
For now, Aura decided to treat the “distilled beverage” matter as nothing more than a hobby of her husband, and changed the topic to a more interesting subject.
“Okay. It should be worth to try out a few things sooner or later. As for another matter altogether, I have been told that the development of the ‘glass’ manufacture will begin in a few days.
There was not much budget, so the team consists not even of a dozen of people. But they are all either retired blacksmiths or experienced blacksmiths apprentices, so they are used to working with fire.”
Aura reported proudly, whereas Zenjirou inquired, albeit knowing her answer already deep inside.
“Retired ones and apprentices, huh. I guess ‘active’ blacksmiths were out of the question?”
And true to his hunch, Aura showed a wry smile.
“Yeah, the blacksmiths are essential to our country after all. The retired blacksmiths are one thing, but it was quite the ordeal to rope just the apprentices in for it.”
Saying so, she shrugged her shoulders a bit while sitting comfortable on the couch.
The active blacksmiths were irreplaceable professionals. In a way, they were even more important than a skilled knight or excellent civil official.
These valuable people couldn’t be assigned to a new business, where it was unknown when it would show signs of success. No, technically it wasn’t impossible to assign them with Aura’s authority, but as a result, the national iron production would plummet, which in turn troubled Aura the most as the Queen.
Of course it was quite unlikely that the appointment of just one or two blacksmiths would result in such a conspicuous damage, but it would undoubtedly give all the blacksmiths an unfavourable impression of the royal family at least.
Veteran craftsmen not only tended to have high pride, they also banded together.
Therefore it was better to avoid getting on their bad side, if possible.
“Anyway, these are the only people I can assign to the ‘development of glass’ right now. Needless to say, it is a simple matter to add more people for things bearing no relation to the development or manufacture, like transporting materials or building necessary tools.
Also, an own waterwheel at the facility would be of advantage, too. In the DVD you showed me, it looked like they often used a stone mortar for grinding broken bricks into powder or sand into even finer sand.
The project is understaffed, so it would be better to outsource the work a waterwheel can do from the very beginning.”
“Oh right, you actually have waterwheels.”
When Aura mentioned it, Zenjirou recalled how Octavia had told him about it during a lesson.
Waterwheels had existed in his original world even before Christ. It wasn’t really strange that the Carpa Kingdom was commonly using them, too.
Aura raised her eyebrows a bit upon his words, but answered with a nod.
“Yes, we have a lot of rivers throughout the country after all. In the farming areas, they are effectively used for mills. It is just that the craft originally comes from the Northern Continent. Compared to their waterwheels, ours are far more short-lived. For some reason, the cogged wheels soon start to make loud noises and break easily.”
“Mh? Short-lived? Doesn’t it just mean that the numbers of teeth on the meshing cogs aren‘t ‘coprime’?”
It happened when Zenjirou reasoned like that while vaguely recalling the excursion from his math teacher in middle school.
“Huh? ‘Coprime’? What does that mean?”
Aura’s utterance was drown out by a knocking on the door and the familiar voice of a waiting maid asking “excuse me?” from beyond the door.
“Yes, come in.”
Putting their conversation on hold, Zenjirou gave permission to enter the room with a loud voice and in the next moment, the door opened and three familiar waiting maids came into the living room, where the married couple had made themselves comfortable.
The blonde maid, standing in the middle as their representative, bowed to the two royalty sitting on the couch, then proffered their concern.
“Excuse us for disturbing you at night. It seems the temperature will not drop tonight, either, so I would like to acquire some ice for Prince Carlos. Do I have your permission?”
“Oh, right. It still is a bit dangerous. Okay, sure. Take it.”
Zenjirou casually authorized it like that.
Even if he had a five-door refrigerator, the space for making ice in the freezer was limited. If the ice portion for tonight was taken away, Zenjirou and Aura had to settle for just the water tub and the ventilator in front of it to make it through this sultry night. But they could endure that if it was for their cute little child.
The people of the Carpa Kingdom basically were resistant against the heat by birth, but the nights during the hottest season were definitely tough on a one-month old baby. In fact, cases of infants dying due to the heat in the summer were relatively common, even amongst wealthy people like nobility.
The electric cable didn’t reach the room, where Carlos was resting with the wet nurse, so they couldn’t set up the ventilator there, but instead, the room, narrowed with partitions, was replete with cold air from the ice.
And every night, one of the waiting maids was apparently staying awake, too, to change his diaper or feed him with the baby bottle, easing the burden on the wet nurse, but that night watch was an “object of envy” amongst the waiting maids, so the room of the prince must be chilled quite a bit.
The waiting maids lowered their heads respectfully while saying “thank you very much”, and headed for the refrigerator.
“Hmm, I wish we could have Carlos sleep in the same room as us…”
With her back to the waiting maids, who were opening the fridge, Aura mumbled with still lingering feelings.
Of course she wasn’t regretting the absence of ice in the bedroom, but rather the fact that her beloved child Carlos couldn’t sleep in the same room as her.
As the father, Zenjirou completely agreed with his wife at heart, but he pushed away that thought and explained with a wry smile.
“That won’t happen. And you know why, too. A baby of his age frequently cries, soils his pants and gets hungry at night. If you were to get up for it every time, you wouldn’t be able to do your job during the day.”
Even if the waiting maids took care of feeding him and changing the diapers, Aura would still wake up every time when he cried if they were sleeping in the same room.
A repetition of such an interrupted sleep cycle would self-evidently affect her duties during the days.
Aura understood that in the head and never intended to push her own selfishness through.
“…Yes, I know. Being a Queen is not all roses, seeing as I cannot even take care of my own child.”
The reason she couldn’t help but complain about it regardless, surely was the deep affection for her child.
As he sympathised with the grumbling of his wife, Zenjirou also joined in with a slightly bitter expression.
“It’s still all very well for you. I on the other hand will have to stop talking to Zenkichi altogether soon.”
He vented a sigh of regret, as his emotions got the better of him while he spoke.
“Now that is something inevitable. After all, you do not speak in our local language, but in the one of your world. In his current blank slate, it would definitely not be a positive influence on Carlos.”
Saying so, Aura smiled comforting at her husband sitting across of her.
A grumbler and a comforter. At some point, their positions had suddenly switched.
Zenjirou heaved a sigh once more.
In this world, where the “soul of words” automatically translated languages, it was common sense not to speak to an infant in a different language until it learned to speak for itself.
The only time, when the power of the “soul of words” couldn’t be borrowed, was when a baby without any prior knowledge started to learn its first words.
As a consequence, there was a risk that the baby learned a jumble of words, when there where people around it, who used two different languages.
After all, a child couldn’t intentionally repress the magic flow to deactivate the “soul of words” yet.
To serve as an example: Zenjirou teaches him the word “papa” with the meaning of “father”. Father = Papa. Once he memorized it like that, Carlos would automatically hear the translated word “papa” from then on, even if Aura and others tried to teach him the word for “father” in their language.
As a result of continuing to learn words like that, Carlos would end up using a very odd language that was a mixture of Japanese and the local language of the western part on the South Continent.
In short, he would ordinarily speak in dubious terms like “let’s bailar together”.
To avoid that, it was necessary to keep away people, who spoke a different native language, from the baby as much as possible until it learned the regular words.
Zenjirou comprehended these circumstances, but it certainly was a harsh fate to be forbidden to interact with his adorable son.
“Moreover, Zenkichi is a boy. Once he turns five years old, he isn’t allowed to come into the inner palace anymore.”
He sighed yet again.
It was a custom in the Carpa Kingdom to treat children under five years as genderless, so Prince Carlos could be raised in the inner palace for now, but even the crown prince was no exception to the ban of males in the inner palace.
Once he welcomed his fifth birthday, the royal palace would become his new home instead of the inner palace and he would gradually been educated as a royalty together with his foster siblings by teachers for literacy and martial arts.
Unless Zenjirou stopped shutting himself away in the inner palace, he would definitely grow apart from his own son in the future.
“…I guess I should have them prepare a room for me in the royal palace, too, in the future.”
While Zenjirou mumbled away like that, the waiting maids skilfully put the huge basin with ice onto the hand cart, then pushed it over the carpet in the direction of the door.
The hand cart, too, was brought over from modern Japan by Zenjirou. He had especially bought it at the hardware store to transport the hydropower generator, but ever since he came here, it was more often used by the maids to lessen their labour than by himself.
“Excuse us then.”
The waiting maids retreated after a bow, whereat Aura and Zenjirou, still sitting on the couches, called out to them like that in appreciation of their troubles.
The door closed with a quiet CLATTER sound, then the living room at night was once again exclusive to the royal couple.
The six LED floor lamps illuminated the couches while they still sat opposite of each other and passed time without saying anything.
The fact that neither of them tried to push a conversation during this silence showed how “natural” it had become for the two of them to be all alone together.
The comfortable “tranquillity” then was disturbed when Aura spoke as she stood up from the couch.
“Well then, it is about time I go to bed as well. I will have to send the messenger of Marquis Guzzle to the March with my ‘Teleportation’ first thing in the morning. If I were to perform a large magic with lack of sleep, it would hinder me from doing my duties later on.”
Saying so, she looked at the clock on the TV stand.
The digital table clock was obviously displaying the time with Arabian numerals, but Aura had mastered the reading of the Arabian numerals as well as the division of time, twenty-four hours with sixty minutes each with sixty seconds each, during the last year.
Recently, the civil officials in the royal palace were being taught the Arabian numerals, too, but no one was nearly as good as Aura yet.
In fact, the young waiting maids known as the “Three Troublemakers” might be more accustomed to them than the officials, since they habitually borrowed the “portable game console” from Zenjirou and competed for the high score in the “drop-down game” or “cart racing game” behind their superior’s back.
Anyway, Aura slowly raised her body from the couch after she had declared to retire early tonight, and asked her husband.
“What about you?”
Zenjirou mused over the question of his wife for a bit, then shook his head slowly and replied.
“Hmm, I’ll stay up a bit longer. I still have to do my ‘magic practice routine’ before bedtime, so you can go to sleep before me.”
Previously, Zenjirou had immediately chased after her when she left for the bedroom, but the circumstances were a bit different now. Although they had recently started to sleep in the same bed again, at the present time, they would only sleep arm in arm at best. Any direct sexual intercourse was out of the question.
Admittedly, Aura was the heroine that survived the previous war, but it was a bit relentless to expect her to repeat a pregnancy and delivery in the very next year after giving birth to the first prince. It definitely would be a drawback for the government affairs this time.
Due to that, everything related to making a child was “temporarily on hold” right now.
By the way, Zenjirou had cursed himself to death for not bringing any condoms from his world when the decision for abstinence had been made in consultation with Aura.
And it certainly must have been a rather serious matter for him, since he had kind of asked her in earnest if it was possible to apply the “space-time magic, so that it summoned things from Earth without the correct star constellation”.
“Fine. Then I will go ahead.”
“Mhm. I’ll follow you soon enough.”
After Zenjirou had stood up as well, Aura naturally twined her arms around his neck and then their lips overlapped.
An embrace and a kiss. The embrace wasn’t as intimate as before anymore. Was that an indication that Aura had lost confidence in her dieting body?
After they released each other from their embrace at the same time, Aura disappeared into the bedroom.
“…Okay, time to get the magic practice over with and hop into bed.”
Zenjirou shook his head a couple of times in order to shake off the sensation from the embrace with his beloved wife, and instructed himself like that with a slightly stressed tone, then he headed over to the desk with the computer to carry out his magic practice routine.