Chapter 03: The Boundary Between Goodwill and Ulterior Motives
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 Freya titled her head a bit puzzled and disagreed.
“You really think so? I personally believe that our countries have the least obstacles as trading partners of all.”
Zenjirou and Princess Freya paused eating and gazed at each other wordlessly.
The “obstacle” Zenjirou spoke of was different from the “obstacles” Princess Freya was referring to.
Frankly speaking, his envisioned “obstacle” was the distance between the Carpa Kingdom and Uppsala Kingdom.
The North Continent and South Continent in this world were not directly connected like North America and South America on Earth, nor were they separated by a calm internal sea like the one between Europe and Africa.
A vast ocean that was larger than half of the South Continent itself expanded between the North and South Continent. Moreover, the northern part of the South Continent was a large desert, so the shortest route, meaning from the southernmost part of the North Continent to the northernmost part of the South Continent, was of no use, either.
Due to these circumstances, the rather modest intercontinental commerce was mainly carried on by countries in the south of the North Continent and countries in the north of the South Continent.
The seaway between the south of the North Continent and the north of the South Continent was already dangerous as it is. Its danger would only multiply if they were going to extend that seaway by the range from the Uppsala Kingdom in the north of the North Continent to the Carpa Kingdom in the central area of the South Continent.
It would be crazy to tackle that route unless one had a ship of the calibre of the “Yellow Leaves” from Princess Freya.
“Yes, we certainly will have hardly anything stand in our way as long as we can resolve the simplest, yet most troublesome problems first.”
Zenjirou acceded to Princess Freya, even though he did heave an affected sigh to express that it was not what he had actually meant.
“I am glad you understand.”
The “obstacles” from Princess Freya were referring to trade frictions with neighbouring countries.
For the Carpa Kingdom it would be much shorter to work together with a country in the south of the North Continent instead of going all the way to the Uppsala Kingdom in the north of the North Continent. Likewise, a country in the north of South Continent was a bit shorter to the Uppsala Kingdom than the Carpa Kingdom in the central area of the South Continent.
But needless to say, the countries in the south of the North Continent and North of the South Continent were already carrying on intercontinental trade.
If the Carpa Kingdom or Uppsala Kingdom wanted to participate in that as well now, they would inevitably compete over the pre-existing shares.
And in that case, they would naturally get the short end of the deal, because they were joining in later.
But if they were to pass over these trading countries and establish direct trading relations with each other, they could reduce the troublesome foreign affairs of trade friction to a minimum.
The Carpa Kingdom was a prominent major power on the South Continent and the Uppsala Kingdom was well-known as a technology developed country on the North Continent, too, so they were satisfactory trading partners for each other.
The only problem was, just like Zenjirou had mentioned, whether an actual trade route would be achieved.
“Anyway, we will make sure to repair your ship well. When you make it back home safely, it will more or less prove the fact that a passage between the Carpa Kingdom and Uppsala Kingdom is possible. I hope it goes well.”
“Yes, I cannot thank you enough for your kindness, Your Majesty.”
Upon his assertion, Princess Freya put her spoon on the side and lowered her head a bit.
It had already been decided in the previous negotiations with Raffaelo that the Carpa Kingdom would repair the “Yellow Leaves”.
Of course the shipwrights of the “Yellow Leaves” were going to lead the whole work sequence, but the shipwrights from the Dukedom of Valentia and the County of Márguez would do the manual labour.
It was practically a given already that the Carpa Kingdom would figure out the technology for the huge ship with several masts.
Nevertheless, it would take years of trial and error until they could successfully construct a huge ship by themselves and even then, it would take even more time and money to train a crew that could sail such a huge ship without problems. Still, it did not change the fact that the technology from the North Continent would be leaked to the South Continent.
“It was nothing. In any case, should your cargo really remain stowed on the ship, now that the repair of the ship has been decided?”
After the validation of the repairs for the ship, Zenjirou swallowed the sliced raw fish and then moved on to the next topic.
Incidentally, the “sliced raw fish soaking in citric dressing” was a delicacy in Port Valentia, but not highly regarded by people from out-of-town, so Zenjirou was the only one eating it right now.
Princess Freya kept smiling and straightened her back for a bit upon his question.
“You are right. Leaving the physical transfer of the goods aside for now, it should be alright to go ahead with a transfer on paper.”
“I have heard that you have ‘iron’ and ‘wool fabric’ on board?”
His inquiry was met with a nod from Princess Freya.
“Indeed. But primary ‘wool fabric’. The ‘iron’ is sparse at the rate of the whole cargo.”
Amongst the exports from the North Continent, the wool fabric fetched a rather high price on the South Continent.
Like its name implied, “wool fabric” was a fabric made out of wool from animals. Animals like sheep or goats, which were kept for their wool, were extremely rare on the South Continent, so the wool was a luxury good on the South Continent by necessity.
On the other hand, it was not impossible to obtain iron goods on the South Continent, too, as long as quality did not matter, because the only advantage the North Continent had was its superior technology for it. Considering the permissible maximal weight of the cargo, the wool fabric had the better profit margin.
The memo with the instructions from Aura did say how Zenjirou should handle the cargo and he did discussed it with Raffaelo Márguez beforehand, too.
“We will buy up your whole cargo. If you want to exchange it for sugar or spices, we will give you a better exchange rate than on the market.”
As such, Zenjirou proposed that without hesitation. Raffaelo had already arranged a number in great detail with Princess Freya for the exchange rate and Zenjirou had been informed about the exact number as well.
Just in case, Zenjirou had let Damian, the governor of Valentia, show him the prices for sugar and spices in Port Valentia from the last three years, and the difference had not been all that great.
The rate did seem a bit too favourable, but they wanted Princess Freya to convince her father and brother back home through this deal in order to make the trade route between the Carpa Kingdom and Uppsala Kingdom permanent.
In light of that secondary object, the price was more than warrantable.
Needless to say, Zenjirou considered such a bonus to be one-of-a-kind, since their supply for sugar and spices was limited and they had to compensate the inland demand as well as maintain the intercontinental trade through mediating neighbouring countries.
Completely oblivious to his mindset, the princess from the North Continent showed a soft smile on her snow-white face and bowed briefly so that her short silver-blue hair fluttered.
“Thank you very much, Your Majesty. Then I would like to get silver coins for a tenth part of our cargo. The rest will be exchanged for said rate.
Of course I will take the sugar and spices, but if possible, I hope you can provide some dragon leather and bones as well.”
“Hmm, dragon leather and bones, you say?”
Although he already knew about it, Zenjirou looked slightly bewildered about her statement.
Even Raffaelo had been puzzled when she had brought it up during the previous negotiations.
On the South Continent, the dragon leather and bones were used for a lot of things, starting with armour, but there had been a bizarrely low demand for them on the intercontinental market so far.
Only Princess Freya wanted them as bad as the people from the South Continent.
What was the difference between her and everyone else on the North Continent? Raffaelo had suggested that they should not make an explicit promise as long as they did not know the answer to that question, and Zenjirou had agreed to it.
“They never sold well as goods for export, so I am afraid that we currently do not have the amount and quality you seek at hand.”
“Is that so. That is a real pity.”
Princess Freya did not dwell on it any further either and withdrew her request by only saying that.
For a while, only the faint clinking of the silverware could be heard. Lady Octavia had done her best so that Zenjirou learned the vital necessity about royal etiquette, but he still lacked the composure to fully savour his food in such a situation.
“By the way, Princess Freya, how do you like the food here? I hope it suits your taste.”
Zenjirou decided that it would be bad to stay silent as the host, so he broached an harmless food topic.
Princess Freya answered adequately
“Yes. Everything is a new experience for me and very delicious.”
while she skilfully fillet the spice fried meat with her knife and fork.
Her answer was not a lie.
Still, even the best cooking could not suit the taste of everyone. In fact, Zenjirou was eating the raw fish delicacy from Port Valentia with relish, but Princess Freya and her company had not touched it at all.
Even if the food posed no problem so far, she would start to miss the cooking of her home country when she had to eat the food here for a long time. It belonged to human nature.
“Do you not miss the cooking of your home country? I dare to say that the food here is completely different from the North Continent.”
When Zenjirou asked that, Princess Freya slightly shrugged her white shoulders that peeked out from her light-blue dress.
“I appreciate your consideration, but I am fine. Our ships carries goats and chicken, and we have our own cooks onboard, too. If needed, they can more or less recreate some dishes from our home country. Vegetables are out of the question, though.”
The ship held goats and chicken.
Hearing about that for the first time, Zenjirou reacted surprised.
“You have goats and chicken on board? I mean, living ones?”
Princess Freya was a bit surprised at first when he showed surprise and expectation, but then she seemed to understand and said declaratory with a smile.
“Yes, they are alive, of course. I am afraid, though, that these goats cannot be sheared for wool. The species we take along to the South Continent has poor growth of hair and is unsuited for wool fabrics.”
This was the first time the Uppsala Kingdom had sent a ship directly to the South Continent, so she only knew about it from hearsay, but a lot of people on the South Continent seemingly wanted to get their hands on living goats.
If they managed to breed them in their countries, they could produce wool fabrics by themselves. It was only natural to hit on that idea.
But like Princess Freya had said just now, it was not that easy.
Goats were originally living in cold highlands, but they had the strongest ability to adapt to their environment amongst herbivores and were not even picky about their food.
In principle, the kind of goats that were raised in cold highlands tended to have a luxuriant crop of hair.
The goats they crammed into the ship and took along to the South Continent were from a species, whose fur was practically worthless.
But Zenjirou was not taken aback by that explanation.
“I do not mind. The milk is what I am after.”
He had heard that the milk from goats tasted and smelled different from the milk of cows, but it should be good enough as a replacement. Instead of the milk itself, he had the milk products he could make from it in mind.
In the old days, he had seen a mail order company sell butter made from goat milk on the internet, so it should be possible to make milk products from goat milk.
Having said this, Zenjirou did not actually know how to do it, so he would have to rely on Princess Freya again for that knowledge.
But contrary to his delight, the princess looked somewhat wary for a moment.
“Your Majesty, do you mean to drink the goat milk?”
Confronted with that question, Zenjirou had the creeping horrors, because he thought that his desire had been irresponsibly, but it was too late to take back his words. Fortunately enough, this was only an unofficial meeting for lunch.
He decided to brave it out as his “personal liking” and answered while he tried to look as unaffected as possible.
“Yes. Could it be that it is not common to drink the milk from goats in your country?”
“Not at all. It is an important source for nutrients and all the commoners ingest it. Naturally it will be drunken as it is, but milk products like butter, cheese or filmjölk are essential for the winter as preserved food.”
For the people of the Uppsala Kingdom it was only natural to consume goat milk. Princess Freya had been surprised, because Zenjirou, an inhabitant from the South Continent, had said it.
The South Continent had no mammal livestock, so its people did not have the chance to consume the milk from mammals, much less any milk products made from it. Due to that, they even had developed a strong aversion to consuming the milk from animals.
In addition to it, the majority of people even repudiated the meat of goats with claims like “it stinks” or “not to my liking”.
Because of that, Princess Freya had concluded that the “goats with unusable fur” were worthless on the South Continent, but it seemed that she had been wrong.
(This reminds me of his background…)
She recalled the rumour she had heard about his origin a couple of days before and suddenly thought of one possible explanation.
(I should probe into it a bit more.)
Without so much as batting an eye about her plans, the princess of the north continued with a smile.
“Livestock is a lifeline for seafarers, but if you insist, I am not averse to relinquish a few to Your Majesty.”
“Thank you! I know it is a impudent request, but I would be glad when you could spare enough males and females alike, so that they can be mated here, if at all possible.”
“I believe that can be arranged. We do have enough specimens of both.”
The goats that were chosen as livestock for the long voyage had a relatively small physique, no fastidiously diet and a good adaptive capacity for their environment.
Their weakness on the other hand was a short lifespan. Normally a short lifespan and hence faster growth would be more of an advantage for livestock, but it made it somewhat troublesome for livestock in milk.
In this world, a goat became fertile half a year after its birth at the earliest or one year after its birth at the latest.
It was also the timeframe for ablactation and meant that the dam stopped producing milk after half a year.
Long sea voyages could sometimes even take a year or more. If they were to put only females on board for their milk, the goats would stop producing milk after half a year.
To prevent that from happening, they took along some males for procreation, too, and periodically let them breed. The newborn kid was raised into a next dam or breeding goat if the situation allowed for it, or alas, killed for its meat if the situation did not allow for it.
“I am glad to hear that. Then please allow me to buy them in a private matter. I will compensate you sufficiently for sure.”
Fortunately enough, Zenjirou had priorly received a budget at his own disposal from Aura in order to buy something for himself that might catch his eye.
Modest as always, he had refused it as soon as he had seen it, saying he only needed enough to buy the souvenirs for Aura and the two royalty guests at home, but Aura had more or less forced it onto him.
In retrospect, accepting the budget had been the right thing to do, so Zenjirou heaved a sigh of relief at heart.
“With pleasure, Your Majesty. If you are going to breed them, then relatively young specimen will be the best choice.”
Although they were only talking about animals, their conversation contained graphic words such as “mating” or “breeding”, but despite her petite appearance, Princess Freya was not averse to the topic and showed no signs of disgust or shame. She kept remarking unconcerned with a smile.
(Oh, shit. What the hell am I discussing with a princess during lunch.)
Zenjirou realized that the conversation gradually slipped into a territory unsuited for a lady, so he cleared his throat with an affected cough and tried to come up with a way to change the topic nonchalantly, but before he could think of anything, Princess Freya continued happily.
“Nicolai was the most passionate about reproduction on our ship, but it certainly would be a bad idea to hand him over…”
No longer able to stand by and watch, the female soldier sitting next to her, raised a small voice and interrupted her master, well-aware that she was being rude. By the way, “Nicolai” was not the name of a goat. He was a young crew member of the “Yellow Leaves”.
Now even Princess Freya realized what unladylike things she had uttered. Her cheeks turned red and she ducked her head embarrassed.
“Oh my, how clumsy of me. Please forget what I said.”
Lucky under the circumstances, the problematic of her utterance was not understood, because no one but Princess Freya and her female bodyguard knew about the true identify of “Nicolai”.
Not sure about what was going on, Zenjirou still sensed that it was better not to inquire any further, so he pretended that the earlier statement did not happen and carried on.
“I cannot make any grand promises to you, since this is a personal request, so I would like to pay for the livestock with silver coins. I am aware that it is a bit crude. Please do tell if you are taking issue with it.”
“Not at all. I would agree to sugar or spices as well, though.”
Princess Freya easily picked the new topic up, but Zenjirou had to shake his head with a smile.
“I am afraid that these goods are exceeding my power. Her Majesty Aura has only put silver coins at my disposal, so I can only pay with them.”
After that he noted resolutely like that.
“Oh, you do not say.”
Still smiling, Princess Freya simply left his statement hang in the air with her response, but the female soldier sitting next to her darted an obvious scornful look at him for a second.
Well, that was more than understandable. Right now, Zenjirou had practically admitted that he could do nothing without the permission from his wife and could only spent as much as the allowance she gave him.
Coming from the husband of the Queen and male royalty with a bloodline magic, it truly was a pathetic statement.
But even though the female soldier regarded him as hopeless, her master at her side continued to make conversation with a smile.
“Speaking of Her Majesty Aura, I have heard that you two have a child?”
“Yes. The moppet is a real blessing.”
“Oh my. My congratulations! Did he have his first birthday yet?”
“No, not yet. It has not even been half a year since he was born into the world.”
“In that case, allow me to present you the goats as a belated celebration of his birth. In our country it is a custom to give away livestock when a child is born. Right, Skathi?”
“Yes, you are right.”
Suddenly drawn into the conversation, the female soldier was a bit surprised, but still affirmed the words of her master without a hitch.
And in fact, it was common practice in the Uppsala Kingdom to give away livestock in celebration, just like Princess Freya had said. Having said this, goats were given as presents by wealthy commoners. Royalty more likely gave away a riding horse or destrier.
Anyway, it would be rude now to reject it, since it was a “celebration gift”.
“Thank you. I will make sure to bring your courtesy to Her Majesty Aura’s notice.”
When Zenjirou said this with a smile, Princess Freya brightened her smile a bit and replied.
“It was nothing. If anything, I regret to have nothing better at hand. Normally, I would have given you a precious sword forged by a blacksmith of our country.
Do you happen to have a preferred weapon, Your Majesty?”
Zenjirou answered the somewhat delicate question with a wry smile.
“No. As shameful as it is, I am not really a fighter. I have no experience with any weapon.”
He did not really feel shameful about not being able to fight, since he was still clinging to the moral values of modern Japan, but in this world, the majority of young men from nobility or royalty had received a military training.
The atmosphere was about to turn awkward for a moment, but Princess Freya spoke on before that happened.
“Is that so. Pardon my asking.
Anyway, did you know that surprisingly many soldiers in our country have a partiality for knitting? Many of them are fishers on the side, but there are a lot of days during the winter, where the ships cannot set sail, so they inevitably engage in things they can do at home as a hobby.”
Speaking of, it was the custom in the Uppsala Kingdom to maintain your own armour, so the soldiers were mending leather armours or chain mails by themselves. That experience also made them proficient in dealing with sewing and knitting needles. Surprising for sure, but a fact nevertheless.
“I see. That sounds interesting. I take it that the ships are unable to set sail in winter, because the harbours are frozen over?”
Zenjirou noticed that Princess Freya wanted to gloss over her slip of tongue, so he gladly reacted to the new subject. It certainly was interesting, when he imagined how a tall and bulky svenskar soldier was neatly knitting at home, just like the knitting bear he had seen in a picture book as a child.
“No. Thankfully the harbours do not freeze over. So the trade ships commute as always even during the winter, but it does not change the fact that it is extremely cold. Because of that no one goes out fishing in winter unless the sea is really calm.”
In a situation, where the ambient temperature was twenty degrees below freezing point and even the sea water had a temperature below zero, the sea spray and breeze alone could be lethal already. Not to mention that it would be difficult to work with all the layers of clothing against the cold. And if someone were to fall into the sea by accident, he would probably die from a shock before actually drowning.
“I guess you have such reliable soldiers, because they can withstand these harsh forces of nature.”
“Thank you very much. It has been brought to my attention that the Carpa Kingdom has plenty of brave soldiers as well. And that they have performed splendidly in the previous war.”
“Certainly. I was not here yet during that time, so I only know about it from hearsay, too, but they are truly valiant soldiers.”
“The adversities of that war could even be perceived all the way in the north of our continent. I have heard that many people lost their villages and that death wrenched the parents from many children.
I wish I could do something for them.”
“Thank you for your sentiment. But all these displaced people and orphans are still precious subjects of our country. The Carpa Kingdom aka Her Majesty Aura will assume full responsibility for them, so please rest assured.”
Both Princess Freya and Zenjirou kept smiling and elegantly ate their lunch while they chatted happily.
“I see. Please forgive my impertinent remark.”
“Not at all. I am really touched by your empathy. Still, Her Majesty has decreed that the country will take full care of every subject without exception and nothing will change that decision. Please do understand.”
“Yes, of course. I am awed by the great passion of Her Majesty Aura.”
And then, an harmonious atmosphere filled the room until the end of the lunch.
* * *
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.