“Wow. I was really teleported…”
After Zenjirou had briefly greeted the nobility, starting with the prostrating governor of Valentia, he was taken to his private chamber and said this admiring while looking out of the window.
This was the residence for the Duke of Valentia, sort of the centre of the seaport city.
As a matter of common knowledge, the title Duke of Valentia was inherited by royalty from generation to generation, so the residence was actually almost never used and the administration was in the neighbouring residence of the governor, but right now the residence had been whipped into perfect shape to accommodate Zenjirou. One would not believe that it had been desolate a short while ago.
The opened window let in the dazzling sunlight and the salty breeze typical for a seaport city.
Aside from that, his vision was filled with the stony harbour that reminded him of an old city in Europe he had seen on TV before, and the marvellous vast blue sea.
Most of the stones used in the harbour were white, so it beautifully contrasted with the blue of the sea.
“You just have to add the royal red to it, and you get a tricolour. Man, I feel like singing now.”
The colours blue, white and red reminded him of the soccer team he had been a fan of in Japan, so he unconsciously mumbled to himself while narrowing his eyes to slits to the reflection of the sun on the water surface.
At this point, the door was knocked and the familiar voice of a woman resounded.
“Master Zenjirou, may I have a bit of your time?”
When he permitted it reflexively, an acquainted woman entered as expected.
“Excuse me, Master Zenjirou.”
The woman was middle-aged and wore carmine red maid clothes.
Her name was Ines and she was the Head of the Cleaning Department in the Inner Palace.
Amongst the older waiting maids in the Inner Palace, she was exceptional slender and graceful.
Like her position suggested, she was in charge of the cleaning in the Inner Palace, but needless to say, that was not the only expertise she was capable of.
She was qualified enough to lead all the waiting maids in the Inner Palace in place of Supervisory Maid Amanda without any problems, if she ever felt like it.
Zenjirou stood with his back to the window as Ines approached him. She dropped an elegant curtsy in front of him and reported the matter.
“Sir Raffaelo Márguez requests an audience with you. What may I tell him?”
“Oh, he does?”
He was about to ask her what he should do, but quickly swallowed down these words.
(Oops. I’m still too used to leave all the decisions to Aura.)
Self-reflecting, Zenjirou quickly mused on his own.
He had arrived here in Valentia literally a moment ago, but had done so through Aura’s “Teleport” magic, so he was not the least bit exhausted from the trip, to the point that it did not even feel like he had gone to the faraway coast in the west until he had looked out of the window.
As far as he was concerned, he would have liked to have some time to get accustomed to the climate and customs here, but this was not a vacation.
It was a business trip, so it was only natural to bring forward work.
(The question is if I’m risking to be ‘looked down on’ when I accept his request right away.)
Zenjirou recalled his lessons with Lady Octavia, but unfortunately could not remember something that was a good match for his current situation.
In that case, he had to make a decision for himsel
Approximately one hour later.
In one room of the residence, Zenjirou met the man, who called himself Raffaelo Márguez.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Master Zenjirou. I am Raffaelo, the eldest son of Manuel, the current head of the Márguez Family.
I cannot thank you enough for agreeing to meet me so suddenly today.”
Smoothly delivering his greeting, the man bowed elegantly. Zenjirou remained seated in his chair as he watched him.
(So that’s Raffaelo Márguez. One of Aura’s former husband candidates…)
He was probably in his early thirties and had an average height and build. His looks were personable, but not distinct enough to call him beautiful.
If anything, his features were too average to leave a bigger impression. At least he was not as rememberable as General Puyol Guillén, whom you would never forget again after meeting once.
“It’s okay. I wanted to talk to you, too. For now, sit down.”
Even after more than one year, Zenjirou was still not used to speak in an haughty tone, but this time he used it with pleasure.
His dislike for the former husband candidate of his wife made his sharp tongue and condescending manner appear more natural.
“Yes, thank you.”
Raffaelo sat down in a chair across from Zenjirou with a large rectangle table in-between them.
The motion for setting the chair in place for himself was bizarrely unobtrusive as well. It must have been some kind of “elegant movement”. He had internalised to move smoothly without upsetting those, who watched him.
“Speak up, Sir Raffaelo. Did you already meet with the girl, who claims to be a ‘princess from the North Continent’?”
Zenjirou folded his hands on the table and asked, whereupon Raffaelo Márguez nodded a bit.
“Yes. We only exchanged pleasantries for a bit, though, because I was only ‘sent’ here by Her Majesty three days ago as well.”
The rumour that a self-proclaimed princess from the Uppsala Kingdom had arrived on a ship with four masts, was spreading so fast that probably everyone in Valentia already knew about it.
And it goes without saying, since there was no way to hide the giant four-master anchoring in the harbour.
“Give me a brief synopsis. What was the princess like?”
“Hmm, her name is Freya Uppsala and she is a girl of seventeen or eighteen years. According to herself, she is the crown princess of the Uppsala Kingdom, which lies on the North Continent.”
Raffaelo answered the short question from Zenjirou without missing a beat, as if he had prepared his reply beforehand.
“If my personal opinion is all right with you: I would like to think that she is saying the truth. Her manners were slightly different, probably because of the difference in customs of our countries, but her way of behaving and speaking seemed sophisticated and habitual to me.”
In this case, her youth actually gave her more credibility.
Admittedly, this world also had clever con artists, who could act aristocratic to the point that even real nobility and royalty were fooled, but these people had inevitably gone through decades of training. The age of Princess Freya made that impossible.
Keeping his expression in check, Zenjirou nodded once.
Aura had said that they could assume that she was indeed the real deal, because she had a large ship with four masts, and she seemed to be right. Needless to say being a real princess did not rule out the possibility that she was trickster.
After all, royalty was more or less resorting to deception when negotiating for their country.
If you underestimated her for being a young girl, you were at risk of losing everything.
“Since you only greeted her, you don’t know their motive yet?”
“No. I have not inquired about that so far. But she mentioned it was more or less a coincidence that they ended up here. They were indeed heading for the South Continent, but apparently got into a storm on the open sea and veered off course.”
Zenjirou could not hide his surprise towards the report from Raffaelo, and widened his eyes a bit.
When they arrived here by chance through a storm, then there ship was definitely damaged. That in turn meant that they could get their hands on some of the know-how of the large four-master by lending a helping hand for their repairs out of “good-will” instead of providing something in exchange for it during negotiations.
Anyway, as long as it was within Aura’s expectations, he had already been instructed on how to act, so Zenjirou did not have to pause for a decision.
“Then we have to provide the manpower to repair their ship. If the ship’s damaged, we are to do our best to fix it. That’s the will of her Majesty Aura, too.”
“Yes, very well. I will act upon it immediately.”
Zenjirou emphasized the fact that it was an intention of Aura as well, and whether he understood the implication or not, Raffaelo simply affirmed it without changing his composed facial expression.
(Immediately, eh. Guess he’s exactly the guy Aura said he would be.)
When Zenjirou heard his answer, he assessed the man sitting across from him with that in mind.
Aura had described the man known as Raffaelo Márguez as a “civil servant, who was extremely capable, but also passive beyond help”.
In other words, he would bring about the best results as long as he had received orders, but would never be proactive himself.
If anything, that type of man was rare in the Carpa Kingdom, where ambitious men were in the majority.
Aura might have readily accepted him as her husband, if his loyalty were to be directed at the country itself instead of his family.
“Nevertheless, the craftsmen in Valentia do have their own jobs during the day. Of course I will try to make them cooperate as much as possible, but it remains questionable if they alone can repair such a big ship.
With your consent, I would like to call in some craftsmen from ‘outside’.”
Raffaelo Márguez kept a straight face without so much as batting an eye as he proposed that with a calm voice.
Zenjirou kept cool, too, when responded contrived to the suggestion.
“Aha. And by ‘outside’, you mean craftsmen from the County of Márguez?”
On a rare occasion, his words had an obvious tinge of sarcasm, but the successor to Count Márguez answered in the affirmative without wiping the smile from his face.
“Yes. I regret to say that I, despite my advanced age, have hardly ever left my home domain so far, so I am afraid that have rather few connections to others. Fortunately enough, the County of Márguez is not that far away from Valentia.”
“I would be delighted to get your approval.”
“But you need the permission of the Queen to bring people from other domains into Valentia.”
“Please rest assured. My Father and Her Majesty have already come to an understanding in the Capital. Here is the relevant document.”
With these words, Raffaelo pulled out a four-fold dragonskin parchment from his pocket and put it onto the table.
Zenjirou glanced at Ines, who stood at attention next to him. The middle-aged maid recognized the cue, smoothly moved over to the table, picked up the parchment and handed it to Zenjirou.
Zenjirou skimmed over the opened parchment, but much to his sorrow, he could not even read half of it. He did studied a bit every night, but so far he could only understand the language used in the Carpa Kingdom as good as a Japanese middle school student understood English.
For now, he recognized the signs of Aura and Count Márguez under the document, then returned the parchment to the waiting maid.
She took it and set it down on the table in such a way that Zenjirou could see it as well. Then she read it out aloud with a clear voice.
“I will read it now.
During his appointment as the assistant of Zenjirou Carpa, Raffaelo Márguez is given free rein in regards to…”
The content of the dragonskin parchment read aloud by the waiting maid Ines, was more or less exactly what Raffaelo had said before.
In short, it registered the right for Raffaelo Márguez to call in more personnel from outside during the current affair, when there was a shortage of manpower to resolve any circumstances.
In that case, the Márguez Family had to shoulder all the expenses for the personnel from outside, though.
(I see. In other words, the Márguez get a piece of the cake, too. In exchange, Raffaelo will play the faithful subordinator here and the Márguez cover a part of the expenses, too.)
It should go without saying, but Queen Aura and Count Márguez had already reached an agreement on this matter for the most part.
The reason that Aura had not told Zenjirou about it directly was that it was part of the advertisement to the Márguez Family that “Zenjirou was merely a figurehead and Raffaelo in charge”.
Personally speaking, Zenjirou naturally had wanted to be filled in beforehand, but also realized that Aura was way better than him in making such decisions.
“Fine. You seem to be saying the truth. When Her Majesty has given you permission, I can’t object. Do what’s necessary.”
Zenjirou spoke with a callous tone, as if he had stopped caring.
* * *
“Damn, I hardly slept at all.”
On the next day, that honest proclamation was the first thing Zenjirou said when he woke up after spending the night in the residence of the Duke of Valentia.
Amidst the faint sunlight that crept in through the gaps of the tightly closed wooden shutters, he stretched himself abundantly on the bed to vitalize his sleepy body.
Technically, his night had lasted longer than usual, but he still felt sleep-deprived.
Although he had expected to face some inconveniences outside the Inner Palace, he clearly had been naïve in his thinking.
The hottest season was already over, but the nights in the Carpa Kingdom were still sultry. And now his body could not adopt to the sultriness, because he had set up the air conditioning in his bedroom at home.
The only proper light he had was the crank-powered LED flashlight he had brought with him from the Capital, so it was not easy to stay up doing something, either.
His cell phone could be charged through that crank-powered flashlight, so he had brought it with him as a clock, but his game consoles were all left at home. Zenjirou was regretting his choice a bit now.
Because he was playing less and less with the game consoles these days, he had not felt the need to bring them along, but now that he had spent a night in Valentia, he noticed that he had a lot more spare time than expected.
Thinking back, the reason why he recently no longer played games at night was that he spent his time either discussing things with Aura or training his magic.
But needless to say, neither Aura, nor his computer, which replayed the spells with the correct intonation, were here right now.
Admittedly, he could practice his control over the magical output, even without such a playback device, but Zenjirou was not blessed with enough patience to just keep staring at his own hands for hours while increasing and decreasing the emission of magical power, respectively.
As a result, he had not known what to do with his free time, so he had turned off the lights and gone to bed early, even though he had not been sleepy.
“Man, I was a bit too naïve. I’ve got to try harder to acclimatize here.”
Dressed in his blue pyjama, he said this and quickly got out of the bed.
For his pyjama as well as his leisure wear and underwear he had brought along the clothes from Earth.
Aura had reminded him that he would have to wear the official attire non-stop for his duties during the day, and advised him to wear something comfortable in private at least or he would come to regret it later. Taking her piece of advice to heart, he had packed a considerable amount of clothes and it seemed to pay off.
Even in his familiar pyjama he had slept badly. If he had worn the traditional nightwear, he might have not gotten a wink of sleep.
“Back then during business trips, I could sleep just fine in the provided bathrobe of the hotels, though. Guess I can’t compare a hotel in Japan with a residence in a different world.”
While saying that, he fumbled around to open the wooden shutters.
“! Gah, the sun sure is bright here.”
When the morning sun flooded the room, Zenjirou narrowed his eyes to slits.
At that moment, the door was knocked.
Like always, he wanted to respond with “Yes, come in” at once, but swallowed down these words in the nick of time.
This was not the Inner Palace. The casual tone he always used there never got him into trouble, because he could trust the waiting maids of the Inner Palace to keep their mouth shut up about it.
Normally it would not be well-received when he interacted casually with the waiting maids as royalty. Not only would it damage his own reputation, it could possibly have a bad influence on Aura as well for taking such a man as her husband.
“What’s the matter?”
Zenjirou varnished his way of speaking and expression for public appearance, then spoke to beyond the door.
“Y- Yes, excuse me for disturbing your rest. I brought your change of clothes.”
As expected, an unfamiliar voice of a nervous young waiting maid resounded from the other side of the door.
Although Zenjirou was a bit fed up with having to use a stage phrasing in his own room as well, he bluntly gave his permission.
“Yes, excuse me.”
The door opened with these words and three young waiting maids entered the room.
The first maid opened the door, the following maid carried the third formal attire for male royalty in her hands and the last maid closed the door behind her.
Their demeanour indicated sophistication as servants beyond their years, but the tanned faces of the girls were pitifully ravaged by nervousness.
Well, no surprise. Zenjirou was the third most, if not second most important person in this country. The waiting maids in the Inner Palace had gotten to know him, but the people of Valentia had only heard rumours about him, so to them he simply was a “man with enough power to easily execute them if he felt like it”.
Foolish nobility that punished their servants for fun was a minority in the Carpa Kingdom, no doubt, but at this point, the girls did not even know enough about Zenjirou to judge whether he belonged to that minority or not.
“Good morning, Master Zenjirou. We have come to help you get changed.”
The three young maids bowed towards him, whereupon Zenjirou tried his best not to sound friendly in his reply.
“Good. Go ahead.”
He put forth an effort to appear calm and understanding in order to ease the unfounded nervousness of the girls while maintaining a dignity, so he would not be called a failure as royalty.
That act was rather tiring, but he told himself that it was also part of his job. Still in his pyjamas, he spread his arms a bit and waited for the maids to approach him.
From his point of view, it was rather embarrassing to have young girls help him get changed, but he still could not put on the “third formal attire” by himself, because of its complicated dressing method and tieing strings.
Of course he could take off the pyjama by himself, but there was no meaning in doing only that by himself when he could not continue afterwards.
So he had spread his arms resigned and expressionless. Thereupon the three waiting maids skilfully took off his pyjama and dressed him in the third formal attire.
Feeling bashful about posing as a dress-up doll without saying anything, Zenjirou broached an harmless subject.
“Actually, where’s Ines?”
The maids flinched for a moment when their temporary master suddenly called out to them, but one of them answered him right away.
“Mrs. Ines has gone to the kitchen to issue instructions. Afterwards, she wanted to arrange today’s schedule with Sir Raffaelo and Sir Damian.”
In the Inner Palace, Ines had only been in charge of cleaning, but here in Valentia, she was the Supervisory Maid in effect and kind of acted as a secretary for Zenjirou at the same time. In a way, she was busier than Zenjirou, the nominal delegate, and Raffaelo Márguez, the actual delegate.
After the waiting maids finished dressing him, Zenjirou briefly looked at himself in the big glass mirror from the Inner Palace and then checked with the maids.
“I’m supposed to meet Princess Freya after breakfast, but when do I head to the dining room?”
“The cooking staff is preparing breakfast right now. As soon as it is done, someone will come for you, so please wait here until then.”
His calm tone and facial expression seemed to have eased a bit of their nervousness, since the young waiting maids now answered smoothly and clearly.
“I see. Fine. You’re dismissed until then.”
But the maids looked a bit troubled at each other when he said that. A person of noble rank with servants usually did not mind the presence of maids in the room.
If anything, it was the custom to have at least one servant around for the purpose of issuing demands at any time.
Going by that common sense, it was not commendable to dictate their retreat now. Zenjirou was aware of that, but it would suffocate him to be attended by maids all day long.
Even if it seemed dubious, he had to insist on this selfishness.
“Please call for us if you need anything.”
When he gave them the order again, the waiting maids obediently complied, albeit perplexed.
Too unsettled to savour the breakfast he took together with the Governor of Valentia and Raffaelo Márguez, Zenjirou was then going to meet with the “self-proclaimed princess” at last.
The meeting took place in the hall of the residence of the Duke of Valentia. In terms of the Royal Palace, this room equalled the audience chamber.
It did not have an elevated throne like the audience chamber in the Royal Palace, but they had prepared a chair in the back of the room that visualized the authority of the Duke of Valentia.
Needless to say, only the Duke of Valentia was allowed to sit down in that chair.
The governor was always staying in his own residence next door for government affairs in Valentia, and it surely would not be tolerated that Zenjirou sat down in that chair, either, even if he was vested with a special authority.
Having said that, it would be too disrespectful to make a royalty stand, so they quickly had set up an equally imposing chair next to the Duke’s chair, on which Zenjirou was sitting now.
Acting as dignified as possible, Zenjirou prevented his legs from shaking from nervousness with all his might while he sat on the chair in question. On his right stood Raffaelo Márguez and on his left Ines, the maid.
Raffaelo was the eldest son of a very influential noble family in the country, whereas Ines was nothing but a mere maid, yet they stood practically on the same level. That was necessary, though, since Raffaelo was officially assigned as “Zenjirou’s personal assistant” right now.
As they stood there, the door was pushed open before long and the awaited person entered.
Beyond the large door that had been opened by the two guards serving in the residence of the Duke of Valentia, appeared the figure of a single girl.
(So that’s the ‘self-proclaimed princess’? She definitely got the aura of a royalty, just like Raffaelo said. But she doesn’t have a lot of magical power. And is that a female bodyguard behind her? Looks like she almost got the same amount of magical power as the princess. Maybe the princess is limiting her magical power deliberately?)
Still sitting on the accurately carved wooden chair, Zenjirou carefully observed the two women approaching him.
In accordance with the report from Raffaelo, the one walking in front must be the “self-proclaimed crown princess of the Uppsala Kingdom”: Freya Uppsala.
Just like he had mentioned, she looked like she was in her late teens.
The first thing that caught his eye when he saw Princess Freya was her hairstyle.
With its blue-tinged silver shade, the hair had a mysterious colour and was cleanly cut at a length around her nape.
Whatever the case may be on the North Continent, but a woman with short hair was extremely rare on the South Continent. There was one girl with short hair in the Inner Palace, but she had no other choice but to keep it short, because its strong tendency to frizz when letting it grow made it impossible to comb into place.
However, Princess Freya had obviously glamorous straight hair. To the point that it was a waste to cut it short like this.
(Maybe a short haircut is nothing special on the North Continent?)
Zenjirou considered that for a moment, but her attire was far from normal as well.
Simply put, Princess Freya was wearing “clothes for a captain”. The bottom half consisted of white trousers and overknee boots, whereas the upper half was made up of something like a white shirt and a blazer-like jacket above it, which was held together by a leather belt.
It was a strange outfit that looked like a combination of a navy officer uniform from modern times and a senior sailor uniform from the Age of Discovery. Either way, it obviously looked like it was made for men.
(She cut her hair short and wears men’s clothing. Is she ‘cross-dressing’? But she definitely called herself a ‘princess’, so she’s not really thorough in her disguise.)
Pretty much as his inner monologue said, Princess Freya was wearing clothes for men without a doubt, but it was honestly unthinkable that she was trying to hide her true gender through that.
Her chest, covered by a blue scarf around her neck, was by no means bountiful, but still showcased soft bulges that made it impossible to personate a man. And the tightly strapped belt around her waist actually highlighted the womanly curves from her hips to her bottom.
As the cross-dressing girl advanced, she was stopped from the side by an utterance from Valentia’s Governor Damian.
“Please stop right there. Excuse us, but we are going to venture to subject you to a body search now.”
His words made the tall female soldier behind the princess argue forcefully.
“What insolence! Who do you think you are dealing here with!”
The atmosphere suddenly turned grim.
But that was not the fault of either side. If anything, both side were in the right.
Princess Freya was the crown princess of a country, so it was only natural that her bodyguard snapped when they wanted to subject her to a “body search”.
From the point of view of the governor on the other hand, it had only been his duty to clear up any doubts before letting an unverified “self-proclaimed princess” near one of only three royalty of his own country.
“I am well aware of my act of discourtesy. Nonetheless, I cannot allow even the slightest possibility of Master Zenjirou coming to harm, to be unregarded. You have my assurance that we will definitely make amends for it in some kind of way later on. As such, please obey us.”
“Then you should have done so while we waited in the other room! Why do you need to put the princess to shame here!”
“That would have hardly ruled out all the doubts.”
Even if she had been subjected to a body search in the next room and nothing had been found, it could not be ruled out that she somehow obtained some kind of weapon on her way here. That was what the governor must have wanted to say, but to Zenjirou it sounded a bit like hair-splitting.
(Maybe he wants to straighten out the ‘hierarchy’ right from the beginning by doing a body search here?)
Inferring like that, Zenjirou glanced at Raffaelo Márguez standing next to him, but his temporary assistant kept a composed expression and made no signs to intervene.
In that case, it was hardly his place to say anything, since they expected him to be just a “figurehead” unless it called for a final decision. With that train of thought, he relaxed his shoulders and decided to wait and see what happened for now.
The Princess Freya in question remained silent while her bodyguard continued her critique.
“Two can play at that game! I am the bodyguard of the princess, so I have the duty to keep her out of harm’s way as well!”
Saying that, the tall female soldier clenched her fist, which was exceptional large for a woman. At that moment,
“Pardon me. It falls on me to conduct the inspection of Her Highness.”
Ines stepped forward from her position next to Zenjirou before the female soldier was at daggers drawn, and lowered her head deeply.
In spite of the exaggerated outburst of the bodyguard, Ines kept her head lowered as she explained.
“Needless to say, I will do my utmost so as not to harm Her Highness. Everything will be undertaken behind this and you are included as well, so please watch over Her Highness.”
Ines looked to the side, where four waiting maids were waiting with a piece of cloth in their hands that looked like a large blackout curtain.
It meant that they were going to conduct the body search within that curtain, well out of sight of others.
Although it was a body search, she would not have to get completely naked. They would strip her to her underwear at best and then frisk her for hidden weapons, but even if it was done by a woman and away from the eyes of others, it was still quite humiliating.
As the female soldier still did not give in, she now was reprimanded by Princess Freya, who had been silent so far.
“Leave it be, Skathi.”
The snow-white skin, which was out of the ordinary after travelling by boat for so long, in her face flushed a bit when Princess Freya looked at her faithful bodyguard and spoke with a composed tone.
“I am standing here without any actual credentials to who I am. Their wariness is by no means mistaken.”
Instead of saying she had no credentials, it would more accurate to say that there was no one around, who could attest the authenticity of her credentials.
On their ship, the “Yellow Leaves”, they had things like a treasured sword with the family crest of the Uppsala Kingdom, or a tiara with a blue sapphire that was only bestowed to female royalty. But the people of the Carpa Kingdom neither knew the family crest of the Uppsala Kingdom, nor their customs, so they would only tilt their heads puzzled, even if they were shown these things.
Of course they would understand that she was no ordinary girl when they saw the brilliance of the large jewel or the marvellous ornaments on the sword, but it still would not prove her “noble birth”.
“Much obliged, Your Highness. Excuse us then. Girls.”
Upon the order from Ines, the four waiting maids took the large blackout curtain and concealed Ines, Princess Freya and the female soldier.
Unexpectedly, everyone outside the curtain kept quiet.
Due to that, it was possible to not only hear the rustling sound of clothes as Princess Freya and the female soldier took off their clothes, but also the faint clapping sound as they were frisked.
Before long, Ines said “okay, we are done. Thank you every much for your cooperation” and the waiting maids quickly withdrew the curtain.
Coming back into the picture, Ines took one step forward and bowed respectfully.
“Please forgive my discourtesy. Nothing did state a problem.”
Following these words, the governor of Valentia likewise offered an apology.
“I beg your pardon, Princess Freya. Please come forward now.”
“Not at all. You merely did your duty.”
Keeping a dignified facial expression, Princess Freya told him that without breaking eye contact, then gracefully stepped forward.
When she did so, Zenjirou mused for a second, then “stood up” from his chair to welcome the approaching princess of the other country.
He was a Prince Consort, whereas Princess Freya was a crown princess. In normal circumstances, his status did not require him to stand up from his chair, even if her claim to be a crown princess was legit. Likewise, it did not really cause a problem when he stood up, because they were nearly on the same level, but by doing so without having the need to, he wanted to express an apology he was not allowed to put into words.
The cross-dressing princess and her female bodyguard stopped at the assigned position. Still standing, Zenjirou looked at them and began to speak, extra carefully that his voice did not quaver.
“I am Zenjirou Carpa, the husband of Her Majesty Aura, the Queen of the Capra Kingdom. By rights, Her Majesty would be here as the Duchess of Valentia, but she cannot leave the capital at the moment. Thus, I am here as her representative. A pleasure meeting you.”
He reeled the speech he had prepared last night off word by word, whereupon the cross-dressing princess took a step back with her right feet and bowed.
“I am Captain Freya of the ‘Yellow Leaves’, the eight ship in the fleet of the Uppsala Kingdom.
It is a great honour to make your acquaintance, Your Majesty Zenjirou.
Also, as the crown princess and second child of Gustav V, the current king of the Uppsala Kingdom, I do wish that this meeting will be a good opportunity for our two countries to grow closer to each other.”
“Yes, I hope so, too.”
While giving an appropriate response, Zenjirou went through the greeting of Princess Freya in his head once more.
(She introduced herself as a captain first, instead of a princess. Does that mean she wants to be treated as a captain here rather than royalty?)
As he was bad at improvising, he certainly did not approve of this unexpected turn of events.
(Ehm, I was actually supposed to change my way of speaking as soon as her title was on the table, but I guess I’ll carry on as before.)
Coming to that conclusion, Zenjirou shifted his gaze to the female soldier standing behind Princess Freya.
“Well then, why don’t you introduce her as well? She seems quite capable.”
Of course that was nothing but a bluff. Zenjirou was definitely not able to judge the skills of a soldier from just a glance.
During breakfast this morning, Sir Damian had told him that she had killed a Sea Dragon with her throwing spear in one hit.
Furthermore, he was told that a Sea Dragon had really thick skin and a high vitality, so it was technically impossible to kill it with one hit, even if you hit a vital spot by chance, unless you threw the spear with quite the force.
Seeing as the female soldier had accomplished exactly that, it proved that she was a first-rate soldier without doubt.
Princess Freya smiled proudly and looked at her retainer standing behind her at an angle, then spoke.
“Yes. Let me introduce her:
Victoria Kronkvist. A proud warrior of our country and my bodyguard.”
Being introduced, the female soldier bowed her head stiffly without saying a word.
“I see. Quite the reliable bodyguard you have there.”
While saying that, he looked at the female soldier— at Victoria Kronkvist again.
She looked like she was in her late twenties. Her long blonde hair was tied in a ponytail, her eyes were auburn and her skin seemed to have originally been white, as it was usual for people on the North Continent, but right now it was completely tanned from the sun at sea.
However, none of these colours caught the eye of any beholder first.
Zenjirou unwittingly looked up to the face of the female soldier.
Even though he stood at a distance, he could not see her face unless he wittingly put his head back. That was how tall she was.
(She’s even taller than Fatima, not just Aura. And she isn’t as delicate as Fatima, at that.)
If his senses could be trusted, Princess Freya in front of him would be around one hundred and sixty centimetre tall. The female soldier stood even further afar, behind the princess, but she still looked half a head taller than her, so her height must be at least one hundred and eighty-five centimetre.
Moreover, her body was so well-trained that you could tell even through the leather armour she was wearing. Because she had more or less sloping shoulders, which were also relative small for her height, she did not have such an imposing physique as Aura, but her arms, tights and bottom were definitely those of a versed soldier.
If he had wanted to see a woman of her calibre on modern Earth, he would have had to go to a world tournament of women’s volleyball or basketball.
(Still, she doesn’t stand out despite this. When she’s just standing there, Princess Freya is actually attracting more attention.)
Instead of the female soldier being plain, it rather meant that Princess Freya had so much more of something that made herself conspicuous.
Anyway, Zenjirou addressed a point that had bothered him in the introduction just now.
“Victoria Kronkvist, I see. But, did you not call her by a different name earlier, Princess Freya?”
When faced with his question, Princess Freya showed a proud expression as if to say “I am glad you ask”, while she answered.
“That is a title given to her. Our country has the custom to bestow the name of a past Hero onto a proud warrior.
‘Skathi’ was the name of a female soldier, who has made a name for herself as a valiant and excellent sorceress in the olden days.”
The practice of bestowing a special name as a title to outstanding warriors was not a rare event on Earth, either.
He did not know how important the name “Skathi” was, but considering that she was appointed as the bodyguard of the princess, she definitely was one of the top soldiers in her country.
Nevertheless, she was only here as a “bodyguard for Princess Freya”. Unless the princess was in danger, she was going to remain silent, so it was not really necessary to pay any attention to her for now.
Determining that, Zenjirou shifted his gaze again, this time from the female soldier back to the cross-dressing princess.
“Okay. Princess Freya, I welcome you and your companions as guests in the Carpa Kingdom, here in the residence of the Duke of Valentia.
We prepared a guest house for you, so you can move in there today. And of course your ship is allowed to stay in the harbour.
I, Zenjirou Carpa, guarantee your safety in the name of Her Majesty Queen Aura.
Consult my assistant for the details. Raffaelo.”
He turned to the side with these words, whereupon the oldest son of Count Márguez standing next to him bowed respectfully.
“Yes, very well. Princess Freya, from now on I will be at your disposal for anything, so please feel free to call upon me anytime.”
Raffaelo bowed his head deeply, whereas Princess Freya spoke in a polite tone without lowering her head. If anything, she was jutting her chin forward a bit when she responded.
* * *
Zenjirou heaved a sigh of relief only after he had went back to his own room and was all alone with Ines.
“Are you alright, Master Zenjirou? If you are feeling uncomfortable, you may take off some clothes. I can help you put them on again by myself.”
Unable to resist the temptation, he ruthlessly loosened the sash and strings of his trousers and slumped into the couch.
The only times he was allowed to drop the dignified act of royalty was either when he was all by himself or when only Ines was with him.
Except for the period before retiring to bed, Zenjirou was hardly ever alone during the day. Ines was quite busy as the temporary Supervisory Maid, but she tried to stay with him as much as possible, so he was really grateful to her.
“Princess Freya and her group have moved into the guest house without problems.”
“Mh. I gotta thank Sir Raffaelo later. Are we doing everything to make the princess feel comfortable?”
“We are not.”
Zenjirou exclaimed surprised when the middle-aged maid admitted it so bluntly.
And he had all reason to be surprised. He had acknowledged Princess Freya as “royalty from the North Continent” and she and her group were honoured guests now. It would be bad if they were not doing everything for their well-being. At least they should be obliged to do as much as possible.
“What’s the problem?”
Leaning forward on the couch, Zenjirou asked her, and Ines replied with a little wry smile.
“Well, I did phrase that a bit infelicitous, but to be honest, she ’cannot stand the heat’.”
“O- Oh… That’s nothing we can fix, though.”
Upon the answer of the maid, Zenjirou slumped back into the couch convinced.
“Espaldion said they’re coming from the far north of the North Continent after all. In terms of Earth that would mean they’re coming from somewhere around Northern Europe or Greenland. Hm, and we’re something like Africa near the equator or South India?”
He roughly classified the different climates of the Uppsala and Carpa Kingdoms and sympathized with Princess Freya from the bottom of his heart.
Actually, his knowledge about it was only half-baked. In reality, some cities in Northern Europe did experience a summer with temperatures over thirty degree Celsius, but luckily for him, the “Uppsala Kingdom” of this world was really a cold region that rarely ever saw days with temperatures over twenty degrees even during summer.
Thus his concern had been valid.
Although the hottest season had already passed, the maximum temperature around here still often went beyond thirty-five degree at noon.
It was understandable that Princess Freya and her group complained about that heat.
“At least see to it that they have enough water. And listen to their requests for food as much as possible, too.”
That was all he could think of, though. Separated from his electrical appliances in the Inner Palace, he was way below his best.
“Very well. I will instruct them to refill the water drums as often as possible. If feasible, I would like to get more personnel for that, so I will consult with Sir Damian later on.”
Ines bowed curtly, then said in reply.
There were a couple of wells around the guest house as well, but still too few, considering the size of the residence, so water drums were placed at places too far away from the wells, where they then could scoop water.
Compared to the well water directly taken from underground, the water would inevitably turn lukewarm in no time after it had been scooped into the drums. Therefore it was necessary to exchange the water regularly, but needless to say, that was no easy job, not even for a grown man. So it was no surprise that Ines requested an increase in personnel.
“Mh, good. I’m sure it’ll be a stiff piece of work, but do your best, so that they have it as comfortable as possible. Or at least, I want them to see we’re in earnest.”
“Yes, very well.”
It was still unknown how the negotiations with Princess Freya would turn out from now on, but Zenjirou wanted to put her into a good mood first, since they already had put her to shame through that “body check” earlier on.
He realized that it probably had all been part of the plan and as a quasi outsider, he had no intention to interfere, but personally speaking, he rather wanted the negotiations to be in all earnestness.
“Thanks. By the way, what does my schedule say for later?”
Changing the topic, he asked this, whereupon the capable maid responded right away.
“As scheduled, they will be talking of actual business for a while now, discussing demands and compensations, so you will not meet with Princess Freya directly anymore.
Sir Raffaelo will lead the negotiations and report the progress to you in the evening. Except for that, you will be off duty for the rest of the day.”
Although he did have the final say in matters, they were not expecting him to probe the partner and strike a deal profitable for both sides.
As long as the business meeting lasted, he had a relatively large surplus of free time.
“Damn. I should’ve bought a game console to kill time after all.”
He was well aware of the fact that, no matter how bored he may be, he would impose on everyone if he were to take a walk to kill time.
“Boredom” was a troublesome condition that became more painful the longer it lasted, so he should quickly think of a way to kill time without bothering others.
For now, Zenjirou suggested the idea he had come up with during breakfast this morning to Ines.
“Say, there are lot of ‘mussel dishes’ here, right? Do you know what they do with the shells?”
Bewildered about the sudden and vague question of her master, the middle-aged maid gently tilted her head, but answered honestly nevertheless.
“I would say they are tossing them away, because there is no real use for them.”
Getting the reply he had expected, he smiled a bit.
“Good. Can you get the shells for me? I also want an hammer, a stone mortar and some people that know how to use them. Oh, I want some coast sand, too. If possible, the sparkling white one.”
And requested these things. It goes without saying that he was trying to make “slaked lime” and “silica sand”, which were the basic components for making glass.
The slaked lime and silica sand that had been used for the glass production experiments so far, had been made from freshwater lake shells and inland sand. They never tried any shells or sand from Valentia.
Ines did not understand what he wanted to do with all that, but assessed that it would be no problem to obtain it, so she consented to it.
“Understood. I will prepare it at once.
However, it might be better to send a Small Flying Dragon and let Her Majesty Aura send a few waiting maids of the Inner Palace over here, if your undertaking is going to take longer.”
Zenjirou completely agreed with her idea.
“Yeah, that would be great, even if it’s going to trouble Aura and the maids. I just can’t relax around the maids here.”
For Ines, it was a welcome development as well. There were enough waiting maids here to manage any manual labour, but Zenjirou could not interact as honest with any of them as he did with the waiting maids of the Inner Palace.
Having said this, it would hardly take any pressure off Ines, even if the waiting maids of the Inner Palace were to come here, since Aura had instructed her to stay close to Zenjirou as much as possible.
“Well then, I will write up a letter for the Small Flying Dragon. Please sign it later.”
“Mh, sure. Thanks.”
Still slumping into the couch, Zenjirou gave a short nod to Ines when she uttered that.
* * *
Around the same time in the guest house of the residence of the Duke of Valentia, Princess Freya was talking with her trusted retainer, the female soldier, in a large room after things had settled down a bit.
“It is a nice room. These ‘slippers’ are quite intriguing as well.”
Saying that, Princess Freya ungraciously dangled her feet while sitting on the couch. She was no longer “cross-dressing” and wore a light-blue long dress now.
Although she did not wear many accessories, the beautifully glittering dress and applied make-up made her look exactly like a “secluded beauty”, to the point that her short hair no longer mattered.
The tall female soldier on the other hand frowned in light of the assertion of her master.
“I cannot bring myself to like them. This sorry excuse for a show will prevent me from getting a good foothold in crucial times and a shield bearer can easily immobilize me in one hit by stomping my toes.
Milady, may I switch to my leather shoes? I will even wipe the soles properly.”
Apparently the Uppsala Kingdom had no house shoe culture. Princess Freya shook her head with a smile to the troubled female soldier.
“You must not, Skathi. When on land, do as the landsmen do. When on the sea, do as the seamen do. Do not cause ripples here.”
The saying “when on the land, do as the landsmen do. When on the sea, do as the seamen do” was the equivalent to the Earth saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
The female Soldier— Skathi replied affirming with “yes”, albeit reluctantly.
Then she took a stance in the slippers in order to test how good she could fight in the current condition.
“How is it? Think you can fight?”
When Princess Freya asked her, Skathi tried out a few more moves.
“Yes. It is not as disturbing as I thought it would be. Presumable because it has a leathern sole. I think this will work somehow.”
Then she said this and clapped the steel sword hanging on the left side of her waist with a confident expression.
The scabbard was made of leather and was reinforced by iron at the top and bottom. The corresponding sword was plain without any decorations, but it was definitely sharper and more durable than any sword forged in the Carpa Kingdom.
The Uppsala Kingdom was a prominent technology developed country on the North Continent. The average amount of magical power of its citizens was low and its royalty did not have a bloodline magic, either. The reason that they could preserve their independence despite that was their technology level.
“Really? Glad to hear. I doubt that they will do anything rash, considering their earlier behaviour, but better safe than sorry. I am counting on you if needed, Skathi.”
“Yes, leave it to me. I will not let anyone lay a finger on you, Milady.”
The tall female soldier kept her left hand attached to the sword on her waist and proudly threw out her chest.
“Good. Anyway, I did expected it already, but I guess we really cannot prevent the technology of our ship to be figured out.”
After she showed her trusted retained a wry smile, Princess Freya broached a serious subject with a stern expression.
The tension of her master seemed to have affected the female soldier as her expression turned demure as well.
“Yes. I am not well-versed about ships, either, but the damage we suffered during that storm seems to be grave. Our own shipwrights say that repairs are possible, but it is going to take quite a lot of time and manpower.”
She cited the current state of affairs.
The “Yellow Leaves” had overcome a long journey from the northern part of the North Continent to the central part of the South Continent. The accumulated wear and tear of such a long trip plus the latest damage of the storm might not be recognizable by an amateur, but the practiced eye of an expert could tell at a glance that the ship was badly affected.
At any rate, a long voyage like between continents was not be taken lightly.
Princess Freya could unwind around her retainer, so she heaved a deep sigh.
“Indeed… We are not even in a position to negotiate about that. Sir Raffaelo did offer to help us repair the ship in every department for free, but we probably can consider ourselves lucky for that.”
“A truly transparent offer.”
“Yes, that it is.”
Needless to say, the transparency applied to the intention of Raffaelo Márguez or rather the Carpa Kingdom.
By lending a hand in the repairs of a ship that they could not build themselves, they were trying to steal the know-how for the huge sailing ship.
But, just like Princess Freya had said, she and her group did not even have the option to turn down the helping hand from the Carpa Kingdom, even though they knew about their ulterior motive.
Unless their ship got repaired, they would never get back home. Well, not really, but in the worst case, they would have to travel north on the South Continent by land to a country that had trade relations with the North Continent and board a trading ship there. In this case, they would get indebted to at least two countries: One country on the South Continent with a harbour and one country on the North Continent with a trading ship.
Instead of doing that, it was wiser to just cooperate with the Carpa Kingdom, even if a bit of their technology was stolen in the progress.
“It is pretty likely that our ship technology will be taken one-sidedly, so we might as well cooperate with them and oversee a shipyard for huge sailing ships right here.”
When her master put a hand on her chin and muttered bold plans for the future, the female soldier turned pale.
“Milady, that is going to far.”
“Of course I have no intention of proposing something like that of my own accord. I am merely saying that such an outcome would still be tolerable depending on the circumstances.
Skathi, I find it hard to picture that our country will be able sustain the scale of our current fleet in the coming years if nothing changes.”
Princess Freya lightly bit her lip and said this cautionary with a stern expression.
Known for their excellent iron manufacture, the Uppsala Kingdom was an exporting country for iron goods. The country was so cold that it was covered by snow half of the year and yet, they were a maritime nation, whose harbours never froze over because of the sea current.
The charcoal used for iron manufacture came from trees, the firewood used to drive away the cold came from trees and the main building materials for ships were trees as well.
One did not need to cut down a full-grown tree to get firewood or charcoal, but without any consequences in place, the common people rather banded together, cut down nearby big trees and chopped them into pieces in order to get their firewood and charcoal, instead of going all the way up the mountain to gather firewood.
By the time the royalty noticed the decrease in forest area and issued a verdict, it was almost too late.
Of course the remaining big trees were forbidden to be cut down at once and a reforestation in the whole country was making progress.
However, it was obviously questionable whether these protected trees were enough resources until the reforestation got positive results.
Amongst their various goals for sea travel, the acquirement of wood was especially important.
“I guess it really is impossible to transport the timber for the ships itself?”
The words of the female soldier sound more like a confirmation than a question. Princess Freya answered her straightforward.
“Yes, impossible. There were more Sea Dragons on the way than we thought. Transporting such large wooden beams will greatly impair the balance and speed of the ship, regardless of whether you drag them along behind the ship or stack them on the deck.
We would never make it home, that is for sure.”
The Uppsala Kingdom was in dire need of long and thick timber that they could use as the backbone aka. keel of the huge sailing ships. Accordingly, the beams were nearly as long as the ship itself. It would be absolutely crazy to travel the rough open sea for more than hundred days while pulling these or stacking them onto the deck.
True, they had known from the beginning that the probability was low, but their actual voyage had made them realize that it was in fact impossible, so they were a bit dejected.
But Princess Freya did not let the frustration show on her face and declared to her trusted retainer with a composed pronunciation.
“Well, we can still purchase the necessary wood from the neighbouring countries on the North Continent for a while, if needed. For that reason as well, we need to establish our own trading relations with this continent and make a profit.”
“Trading relations with the South Continent, you mean? The safest way would be ‘sugar’ and ‘spices’, I guess?”
Both sugar and spices were ordinary goods on the South Continent that even commoners consumed daily, but on the North Continent even a pinch of it was paid for with silver coins.
“You are right. Also, dragon leather and bones. I am glad that our freight did not get damaged.”
“Certainly. The partial damage to the furs, wool fabrics and iron goods from the storm is insignificant. We should be able to make quite a profit if we get to exchange them for the usual intercontinental trade rate.”
The North Continent almost had no large dragons, whereas the South Continent on the other hand had almost no large mammals. Due to that, the bones and leather from dragons fetched a high price on the North Continent, whereas wool fabrics and furs were in great demand on the South Continent.
Having said this, a lot of countries on the North Continent had an exceedingly small demand for dragon bones and leather due to certain circumstances, but fortunately enough, the Uppsala Kingdom was an exception to that.
“Maybe there will be something unique from this country that is otherwise hard to obtain through normal intercontinental trade, but for now, that is all.
Anyway, I put my dear father and brother through a lot, so that they allow me to take this ship. I cannot afford to come back without results. Skathi, I know it will not be an easy path, but please lend me your strength.”
“Of course, my life is yours to command.”
The utterance from the princess prompted the female soldier to attach her left hand to the sword at her waist again as she stood at attention and swore solemnly.