Noon of a certain day.
Zenjirou was having his second meeting with Princess Freya in one room of the residence of the Duke of Valentia.
A few days had passed since the initial greeting. His temporary assistant Raffaelo Márguez had already inquired about the concerns of the princess.
Officially speaking, they were having lunch together to cement their friendship, but in reality it was more of an unofficial meeting for a final endorsement.
Of course Zenjirou had no intention to make the efforts of Raffaelo and Princess Freya so far go down the drain, but he did have the authority to annul everything, if he felt like it. Because of that, everyone present was quite nervous in their seats, even if they were showing smiles on their faces.
“I see. Intercontinental travel is far more dangerous than we thought. I applaud your courage and determination to sail that sea, Princess Freya.”
Zenjirou nodded commendatory while using his fork and knife to eat his meal, sliced raw fish with a citric dressing.
Since he had already acknowledged her as a “princess from the North Continent”, he was now using a polite manner of speaking. It was a welcome change to him, because he was more used to it than using a condescending tone.
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty. But I merely did what I wanted to, and in all honesty, that is not really all that commendable. In fact, my dear father and brother are always criticising me for it.”
Spooning the spicy soup with dragon meat that was common in the Carpa Kingdom, Princess Freya responded like that and playfully stuck her tongue out for a bit.
From the point of view of her family, she was a problem child without doubt.
The princess of their country took a ship by herself and travelled to another continent. It was easy to imagine how the royalty of her country tore their hair out.
Having said this, she definitely did not convey that impression when she smiled charmingly in her light blue dress.
“Still, your actions will ultimately bring about a gain for your country. No one will be able to deny that fact.”
“Yes, I certainly hope so. When we got into that storm at sea, my heart was in my mouth, but now I do think it was the grace of God that we drifted here.”
The northern princess was delighted at the stroke of good fortune in an exaggerated manner, whereas Zenjirou just nodded with his plastic smile.
“Certainly. Both our countries could not wish for a better outcome than establishing trade relations with each other.”
The report from Raffaelo had revealed that her home country, the Uppsala Kingdom was in the same position as the Carpa Kingdom regarding intercontinental trade.
Situated in the far north of the North Continent, the Uppsala Kingdom had not conducted any intercontinental trade by themselves so far. Their intercontinental trade was only done through an intermediary country in the southern part of the North Continent.
And since the Carpa Kingdom, situated in the central part of the South Continent, was doing intercontinental trade through an intermediary country in the northern part of the South Continent, the two countries were practically in same situation, just mirror-inverted.
It would be of incalculable value if the Carpa Kingdom and Uppsala Kingdom were to establish a direct trading relation with each other.
“But an unavoidable obstacle gets in the way of a direct trade between our countries.”
Despite this, Zenjirou dared to point that out with a serious expression, whereupon Princess Frey
* * *
After the lunch meeting, Princess Freya immediately went into the bath as soon as the returned to the guest house, and took a cold bath.
She still regretted a bit that she had to cut short the silver-blue hair she had been so proud of for the position as the captain, but after a bath like this, she realized how much of a blessing the short hair actually was.
Ever since she had moved into the guest house, she had started to refresh herself in the bath three times a day. If she still had the long hair till her waist, it would have not been so easy to take a bath.
With an absorbing cotton cloth wrapped around her hair, Princess Freya sat down on the couch in her room.
She just wore a plain one-piece dress with no sleeves over her underwear and left her feet shoeless.
Her rough outfit and relaxation were only tolerated, because she was alone in the room with her trusted retainer, the female soldier. Princess Freya spread her legs as much as good manners allowed her to and heaved a deep sigh.
“This country really feels like a sauna. Now I understand why they walk around barefooted or with cloth sandals indoors.”
“Some water, Milady.”
She emptied the silver goblet with water given to her by the female soldier in one gulp. It was not really lady-like how she gulped down the drink by throwing back her head, but she could not resist the appeal of the just scooped cold water from the underground well.
Now that she had taken a cold bath and cooled off her body from the inside as well by drinking some cold water, the Princess from the North Continent breathed a long sigh as though she felt relieved at last.
“For the time being, the repairs of our ship and the basis for trading have been provided.”
“Yes, congratulations, Milady.”
When the princess started to talk about the meeting at dinner, the female soldier sat down on the couch across from her.
The female soldier— Skathi was a bodyguard for Princess Freya, but at the same time her trusted retainer. When no one else was around, they could sit down across each other and talk at eye level like this.
Having said this, their statuses were too different, so even if they sat together like this, it was to inappropriate say that they were on an equal footing.
“I have heard stories about it, but I must admit that I never thought that the intercontinental trade would be so rigorous profitable. Going by that exchange rate, it would still be worthwhile even if only one of three ships returns.”
“Sugar and spices are luxury goods on the North Continent after all, and so are wool fabrics on the South Continent.”
Buying cheap and selling dear were the basics of commerce, but the difference between the buying and selling price in intercontinental trade was exceptional. Of course the prices would drop before long once a trade route had been established and the demand was satisfied in time, but there was plenty of time until that happened.
Princess Freya crossed her legs as she sat on the couch in her short one-piece dress.
“It is practically a given that they will get their hands on the technology of our huge sailing ship now, but there is nothing we can do about it. And I would have liked to get some dragon leather and bones to strengthen our military, but they politely brushed me off after all.”
“Indeed. Who would have thought that the damn influence of the ‘Church’ was reaching this far. It has nothing to do with our country, though.”
The female soldier frowned, whereupon Princess Freya showed a wry smile.
“That makes no difference to the people on the South Continent. I could have cleared up the misunderstanding through explaining it in detail, but it is a topic I would rather not spread around.”
The “Church” was a wide-spread religious organisation on the North Continent and they worshipped the ancient dragons that were said to have lived in this world long ago.
The doctrine of the “Church” said that the current dragons were the descendants of the ancient dragons and thus divine beings. Due to that, very few soldiers in countries under the influence of the Church got permission from them to wield weapons or armours made from dragon leather and bones.
Moreover, the Church identified the people on the South Continent as the “descendants of banished sinners that had evoked the anger of the grand ancient dragons” and forbade that the advanced technology of the North Continent was taught to them.
Either way, it was without any reason, but for some reason, it was a rather popular belief on the North Continent, to the point that the Church had even more authority than the king in some countries.
But the homeland of Princess Freya, the Uppsala Kingdom was an exception. The influence of the “Church” was extremely small there. Accordingly, there was no opposition to importing dragon leather and bones on a large scale, but the people of the South Continent did not know about that fine distinction. Because of that, all the countries under the influence of the “Church” as well as the Uppsala Kingdom were lumped together as “countries of the North Continent”, even though the Uppsala Kingdom worshipped the spirits.
“Yes, it would certainly take a long time and negotiations to make them understand our situation.”
“And then the question is whether the dragon materials are worth all that. The good news is that we have some time until our ship is repaired, so I will try to speak with His Majesty Zenjirou in the meantime.”
The reasoning of the princess took the tall female soldier by surprise and she looked baffled.
“His Majesty Zenjirou? Not Sir Raffaelo?”
She must have expected the question from her trusted retainer. Princess Freya smiled a bit and rectified her error with a meaningful tone.
“Yes, His Majesty Zenjirou. Skathi, do you actually believe that he is ‘only a figurehead’?”
Looking at the suggestive smile of her master, it was already obvious that she was not regarding him as such, but there was no need to mince words now, because they were all alone.
“Yes, I do. I believe he is merely a figurehead with royal blood and the title of husband of the Queen. At the very least, he did not appear clever or ambitious to me.”
The female soldier declared bluntly.
In the back of her mind floated the smile from Zenjirou when he had unashamedly admitted that he could not fight. According to her values, there was no bigger flaw than that.
Receiving the answer she had expected, Princess Freya slowly shook her head.
“You are wrong. His Majesty Zenjirou is definitely no ordinary man. And by that I do not mean that he is a ‘man of great calibre‘, but rather that he literally is not ‘ordinary’, for better or worse.”
“What do you mean?”
The female soldier knew all too well that the princess looked like a quiet girl, but in reality, she really liked to put on airs, so Skathi asked without losing her composure.
“The origin of His Majesty Zenjirou is not a normal one. I am sure you have heard the rumour as well, namely that he does not hail from the Carpa Kingdom.”
“Yes. If I remember correctly, Her Majesty Aura has summoned him from a faraway place with her bloodline magic.”
Looking at the ceiling, the female soldier recalled the rumour to mind and answered.
In general, it was not really known that Zenjirou came from “another world”. They were not hiding that fact deliberately, but it would be difficult to explain the concept of “parallel universes” to the uneducated masses of the Carpa Kingdom.
Due to that, Zenjirou was more or less perceived as a “man that had been summoned with magic from a place so faraway that it could not be reached within a lifetime”.
“Indeed. I also dismissed it as a fraud at first, but it seems to be the plain truth.
He certainly comes from a country with a different culture than the South Continent. The best proof for it is his desire for goats in order to drink their milk.”
“I see. That makes sense.”
The explanation from Princess Freya seemed to have convinced Skathi now, seeing as she agreed.
Once you reached a certain age, your bias for food became permanent and did not change anymore.
The livestock on the South Continent consisted of dragons, meaning large reptiles, without exception. Because of that, the people on the South Continent were not used to ingest the milk of livestock. Needless to say, that applied to dairy products as well.
But Zenjirou had curiously jumped at the information of “living goats”, so it was highly likely that he grew up in a culture, where milk and diary products were consumed favourably.
“And I have more proof. Do you remember the conversation about his child? I asked him whether his child had its first birthday yet, and he cheerfully replied that it was yet to come because it had not even been half a year since his birth.”
When Princess Freya pointed that out, Skathi was completely taken by surprise now and exclaimed flustered.
“That certainly is strange. Everyone on the South Continent is supposed to count the year of birth, too.”
“In addition to it, no one here should know about the number ‘zero’. However, His Majesty was of the opinion that he was not one-year old yet, because not even half a year had passed so far.”
“So he is at least counting the years of age more like on the North Continent than on the South Continent. And maybe even the calendar years.”
On the South Continent, the year of birth was generally added to the age. You were one-year old at birth and with every year that passed, you added one more year to it.
Therefore it was fundamentally impossible that “your first birthday was yet to come”.
Princess Freya placed a hand against her chin and mused.
“We cannot rule that out. He really might have been raised in the North. Do you remember how he spoke about our harbours freezing over as if it goes without saying?”
In the Carpa Kingdom it was practically summer all year long, but there were some really tall mountains inland, so the concept of “snow” and “ice” was not unknown to them. Still, it only applied to mountains high enough to get altitude illness, and the idea of “harbours freezing over” was not something a person from the Carpa Kingdom would ever think of. Even in the southern part of the North Continent, many people did not know that harbours could freeze over.
“I see. I did not pay it any mind, because the conversation with His Majesty went so smoothly, but now that you are mentioning it, his knowledge and education certainly seem strange. At the very least, I do admit now that he is not an average man.”
Even while the female soldier said that, the look in her eyes did not indicate that she was viewing him in an altogether different light now. Apparently not even a little bit of education improved the evaluation of a man that was neither brave, nor ambitious.
The princess cracked a smile, because she knew how her trusted retainer felt, and added a remark.
“Of course there is more. His Majesty Zenjirou is definitely the most important figure during these negotiations. He has the final say in everything after all.”
But the female soldier only tilted her head with a puzzled look on these words.
“That I do know, but that is nothing more than a formality, is it not? In the earlier meeting he merely acknowledged what you have negotiated with Sir Raffaelo priory. The deal with the livestock may be an exception, but not even that did strike me as all that clever.”
Strictly speaking, Skathi made a reasonable claim, but Princess Freya did not agree with her regardless.
“Yes, I do admit that His Majesty does not seem to have a remarkable wit.
Nevertheless, he fully caught on the content of our preceding negotiations. He has a good apprehension and judgement as well as the authority to have the final say, so we have to take account of him the most.”
In reality, neither the evaluation from Skathi, nor the one from Princess Freya were entirely accurate in regards to Zenjirou. But at the same time, they were both scratching the surface of the truth.
Just like Princess Freya had said, Zenjirou did have the authority to make a final decision in regards to this matter. But by the same token, his authority was probably just a formality and unless something went horribly wrong, he would affix his “signature” to the document in the end, just like Skathi had said.
Zenjirou himself had decided to be the “spokesman for Queen Aura”. His words were the words of Aura. His will was the will of Aura.
He would fulfil his role just as his wife expected him to. But he would avoid taking the credit for himself and did his utmost, so that others would not regard him as competent.
That approach of his was abnormal on the South Continent as well as on the North Continent. Of course Princess Freya and Skathi could not understand it, since they had only met with him a couple of times yet.
Still, Princess Freya deduced a few things from their meeting at lunch.
“His Majesty inherently has a fine judgment. I say this, because he accepted my offer when I declined his payment for the livestock and made it a present instead.
He does seem to have gotten the permission from Her Majesty Aura to spend a certain amount of money at his own disposal, but it is a different matter to ‘receive a present’ from guests from another country like us. I assume that they were not expecting something like that to happen.
Nevertheless, he immediately accepted my offer like it was nothing. I believe he did that after estimating the advantages and disadvantages of accepting or declining such a ‘present’.”
“…I would say he simply leapt at it the opportunity, because you said you would give him something he wanted for free.”
Princess Frey did not deny the still doubtful words of her trusted retainer.
“Of course that is a possibility as well. But I think it is safer to overestimate an enemy or negotiation partner instead of underestimating him.”
It would be best to estimate your counterpart accurately without over- or underestimating him, but that was a very difficult thing to do. Thus, Princess Freya generally preferred to overrate her opposite until she was certain of his competence.
“Very well. To be honest, I do think that is overdoing things, but we cannot be careful enough in our position after all.”
The female soldier consented for now with these words.
When you overestimated your opponent, you did not have to worry about being outwitted, but in exchange, you might not have a shot at a good opportunity, because you were not taking risks. Still, Princess Freya and her group were in a situation, where their ship, the only way to get home, could not be repaired without the help of the other party.
If they were too greedy, they might end up in a desperate plight, unable to go anywhere.
Princess Freya then wiped the smile off her face, narrowed her eyes to slits and cleared her throat.
“Besides, he properly delivered a blow to me as well. In light of his repartee, I am certain that His Majesty is anything but a mere figurehead.”
Saying that, she recalled the “chitchat” they had at the end.
During that chitchat, the princess had implied that the Uppsala Kingdom was ready to take in the war orphans or displaced people from the previous great war, but Zenjirou had quickly discerned her motive and declined it as plain as it can be.
“If we could have managed to bring some people of the South Continent with their favourable amount of magical power back home, we would have been able to ease up the declining average amount of magical power in our country to some extent.”
Princess Freya heaved a regretful sigh from the bottom of her heart.
The Uppsala Kingdom faced various problems of importance, but one of them was the declining average amount of magical power of their citizens.
A lot of theories tried to explain the reason for it, but Princess Freya was of the opinion that it was be attributed to the shift of opinion from the people that magic was less important now that their technology had progressed.
The amount of magical power was inherited just like height or looks. That was a common fact on the South Continent as well as on the North Continent.
For that reason, magicians were in great demand on the South Continent and all doors were open to excellent magicians. There marriage was already worthwhile when each partner had an high amount of magical power.
On the other hand, the North Continent had developed technology instead and magicians were in little demand, so people generally did not take the amount of magical power of the partners into consideration when marrying.
Commoners had valued character and reliability, soldiers had valued courage and physique and royalty had valued pedigree and sociality rather than the amount of magical power for marriages over decades. As a result, their average amount of magical power was greatly lagging behind the one on the South Continent, where the amount of magical power was prioritized. Or at least that was the opinion of Princess Freya.
She had no evidence to back it up, but she believed that she was getting close to the truth.
“In view of his reaction, they will surely sever all ties with us already if we were to try to take some of their people back home. What a shame.”
Princess Freya recalled how Zenjirou had professed that Queen Aura would not forgive anyone, who took away a subject of hers, and breathed another sigh.
It was most unfortunate. On the bright side, they had packed enough food for the long journey to cope with the home trip, even without their livestock, as a matter of prudence.
They could leave all the livestock on the ship behind if it meant that they could get their hands on the ultimate resource in the shape of people from the South Continent.
And if they were to return with the cargo area loaded with as much people as possible instead of the livestock, the voyage would have been more than profitable from just that. Then Princess Freya would surely get praised by even her father and brother, who had been reluctant to let her go.
“Truly a shame.”
She grumbled still regretfully precisely because she firmly believed in that.
* * *
Around the same time, Zenjirou was having a meeting with his temporary assistant Raffaelo Márguez in the office of the residence of the Duke of Valentia after lunch.
It was tiring to have another meeting without rest right after the strenuous discussion with Princess Freya, but the earlier lunch had officially been his midday break, so his schedule did not appear all that packed on the paper.
There were three people in the office: Zenjirou, Raffaelo and Ines the maid.
The Carpa Kingdom was admittedly hot, but now that the hottest season of the year had passed, the temperatures no longer surpassed the body temperature. Along with the bright sunlight, the refreshing sea breeze blew in through the opened windows and somewhat cooled the face and neck of Zenjirou dressed in his formal attire.
He sipped the cold tea Ines had poured and slowly began to speak.
“Now the contract with Princess Freya is as good as cut and dried. Are there any problems right now?”
Raffaelo immediately answered his question with a soft smile as always.
“No, none at all. Owing to your efforts, the proceedings will be a lot easier from now on. Thank you very much.”
When Raffaelo bowed politely, Zenjirou heaved a sigh of relief at heart while he replied to him without changing his facial expression.
“I see. That means the ship of the princess can be repaired without problems?”
If they could not do that, all their plans would go down the drain. That applied to their main objective of learning the blueprints for the huge sailing ship as well as the future prospect of joining the intercontinental trade.
So when Zenjirou erred on the side of caution, Raffaelo replied confidently.
“Everything is okay. The shipwrights of the ‘Yellow Leaves’ have already briefly discussed the matter with our shipwrights. They said it will be possible to repair the ship in the docks of Valentia. It will most likely hazard three regular repair docks, though.”
That should be no problem. In the end, neither Zenjirou, nor Raffaelo were knowledgeable about ships. They had no choice but to believe the words of the shipwrights, if they gave their okay, because they were experts on that field.
“Would you like to take a look at the ship before the repairs start?”
Although Zenjirou was aware of his lack of that knowledge, he could not bring himself to decline the suggestion from Raffaelo right away, because he did have quite an interest in the huge sailing ship.
It was a wooden ship that had sailed between continents. Of course it was intriguing.
“Wouldn’t it disturb the workflow if I were to show up there?”
This opinion arose from the awareness of his own position.
When an important figure like the Prince Consort showed up without warning, it surely would be a huge bother for all the persons concerned.
But Raffaelo dismissed his concern with a smile and shake of his head.
“No, that will not be a problem. They only just have finished the preliminary discussion and are still examining the ship before beginning with the repairs. There is no specific work going on around the ship for now.
The shipwrights will be at the dock for sure, but as long as you do not interrupt them, the schedule will not be affected.”
In view of their level of civilization, the Carpa Kingdom attached relatively much importance to rationality. Zenjirou was not aware of it, but the workers in the Carpa Kingdom were allowed to prioritize their work as long as they were not directly called upon, even if Royalty paid them a visit.
Zenjirou could no longer suppress his curiosity when he received that explanation.
“Okay. Then I’ll go take a look. Find me a day, where the least work is going on.”
“Yes, very well.”
It somehow seemed to Zenjirou that Raffaelo was giving him a slightly patronizing look, but that was probably only his delusion.
Either way, there was no point in worrying about such trivia. Zenjirou immediately shook off the thought and moved on to the next topic.
“I guess the ‘furnace’ negotiation was no good?”
The instruction note from Aura had not listed the blueprints for the “furnace” as a must, but as desirable if feasible.
Aura was currently concentrating the efforts on the glass manufacture, so the know-how for a “furnace” that could withstand high temperatures would be of incredible value.
It was a well-known fact that the North Continent had an overall better technology than the South Continent. Moreover, the Uppsala Kingdom was the brand leader for iron production on the North Continent, if the words of Princess Freya could be trusted.
In that case, they should have more advanced furnaces than the Carpa Kingdom, too.
However, Raffaelo Márguez heaved a small sigh with regret and shook his head.
“Sadly, yes. To begin with, the ‘Yellow Leaves’ only has some people onboard that can repair weapons or make arrows at best. They did not bring a genuine blacksmith along.
Besides, even if they had one, he would surely specialize in forging iron goods instead of smelting iron ore or building a smelting furnace.”
In all objectivity, that goes without saying. The more advanced technology got, the more subdivisions emerged.
Amongst the thousands of craftsmen, some eager foremen coordinated the construction of the furnace themselves, smelted the ore under their watch and forged the tools with their own hands, but needless to say, they were so rare that they could be called a national treasure.
At the very least, no one like that would be aboard the “Yellow Leaves”. And even if they did establish a trading route with the Uppsala Kingdom in the future, it probably would still be out of the question that one of them crossed over to the Carpa Kingdom.
“In the future, when the intercontinental trade is initiated, there is a chance that it can be achieved, but for now, please consider it impossible.”
Raffaelo said resolutely in a calm tone.
It was unfortunate, but Zenjirou had not expected much, so he was not really let down, and accepted the point of view from Raffaelo.
“Then put the negotiations for the furnace on hold for now. It’s not a question of a day or two anyway. I’ll personally consult with Her Majesty Aura later and come to a decision.”
“Yes, very well.”
When Raffaelo responded briskly, Zenjirou looked at him and thought to himself.
(Man, he really is competent. So much that it strikes me that I’m the competent one here, even though I’m just using him. That’s a bit scary.)
After all, he easily produced results in a short time when you ordered him with stuff like “negotiate about this and that” or “find out about this and that”.
Having said this, not all the negotiations could go well, nor could every information be obtained.
But in such a case, Raffaelo always provided an accurate forecast, such as “the other party has no intention to cave in any further” or “I am afraid that they will realize what we are up to when I probe into it any further“, and asked for further instructions.
Thanks to that, Zenjirou was provided with a couple of simple choices along with accurate predictions for each choice.
The only thing he had to do was to pick the choice that complied to Aura ‘s wishes the most.
This certainly was not something as extravagant as diplomatic negotiations. It was more like an adventure game with a hint function.
(He doesn’t look like it, but he got the negotiation skills, keen wit and fine judgement. The problem is, he lacks determination. No, not quite. It’s more like he’s desperately trying not to take responsibility?)
Zenjirou evaluated the high-ranking nobility standing before him like that at heart.
An “extremely capable civil officer”, if you will.
He did his given work to perfection, but did not act on his own unless he was told so from his superiors. And he always made sure that someone else would shoulder the ultimate responsibility.
“Anything else? No? Then immediately report to me when something unforeseen happens. I personally will get in touch with Her Majesty in the Capital for further instructions.”
Zenjirou emphasised that, but it was more or less a lie. Unless something really drastic occurred, he actually did not need further instructions from Aura.
They had prepared carefully in the Capital beforehand and Zenjirou was capable of making prompt decisions on his own for anything that was written on his memo.
But it would cause a lot of trouble if people were to “misunderstand” that Zenjirou was a man of sane judgement and had the authority to make such calls, so he pressed the point to the public that he had to consult with Aura in the Capital.
“Yes… As you wish.”
Whether he knew about these secret circumstances between the Queen and the Prince Consort or not, Raffaelo was still smiling softly and politely bowed once.