“Wow. This is quite impressive…”
On this day, Zenjirou went to the harbour for the first time, since his arrival in Valentia, and exclaimed in awe when he looked at the large sailing ship with four masts.
The name of the harbouring large ship was “Yellow Leaves”. Although it was called a large sailing ship, it merely conformed to the standards of this world. In reality, it was only half as large as the ferry Zenjirou had boarded during his field trip in elementary school. Still, it definitely had an overwhelming appearance with its four imposing long masts.
From the hold to the deck, everything was made out of wood. You would think they had prioritized utility when they built it, but it actually combined utility with beauty and fascinated anyone, who looked at it.
His enunciation must have let on his admiration for it.
“Yes. Please take a good look, Your Majesty. This is the pride of our country, the state-of-the-art ship ‘Yellow Leaves’.”
Princess Freya, standing next to him, threw out her chest and bragged about her ship without concealing the proud smile on her face.
The sea breeze carried over a sense of chill, but it was still pretty warm, because the immediate sunlight and the reflection from the white stones were quite strong. Despite that, Princess Freya showed no signs of being affected by that heat right now.
“It is quite striking. Does it have fore-and-aft sails and square sails by twos?
“In normal circumstances, yes. But the advantage of the ‘Yellow Leaves’ is that the sails can be exchanged in a relatively short time, even on sea, if necessary.”
Keeping their eyes on the “Yellow Leaves”, Zenjirou and Princess Freya conversed with each other.
“Then it is possible to have four fore-and-aft sails for when there is a headwind and four square sails for a tailwind?”
“Exactly. Although it is possible to change the sails on sea, it does require time and manpower. And above all, the work carries a great risk, so two sails of each kind usually stay in place, unless you are absolutely sure that the wind direction will not change any time soon.”
At this point, Zenjirou finally took his eyes off the ship and looked at Princess Freya standing next to him.
“By the way, I see that you are dressed like this again today. I guess it is because you are near the ship?”
Right now, she was dressed as a “man” like she had when they met for the first time.
Her outfit consisted of trousers for men, a fancy white shirt with a wide collar, a long jacket worn over it and a thick leather belt. The only difference to before was that there was a small curved sword hanging down from that belt now.
Although she did was dressed like a man, it merely applied to her choice of clothes. The clothes in question did by no means conceal her womanly curves and on a closer look, you could see that she was wearing make-up, too. The “cross-dressing” was as half-baked as before.
Previously, Zenjirou had missed the chance to ask why she was wearing such clothes and now, Princess Freya seemed to read that question in his eyes, because she answered with a smile.
“Truth be told, my country has the custom to consider a ship as female. Because the ’captain’ is practically the partner for the ship, only males are allowed into that position.
Due to that, a married male captain has to divorce his wife only for the sake of form before setting sail, and a female captain always
* * *
At evening of the same day.
In one room in the residence of the Duke of Valentia, Zenjirou finally heard a report about the incident from Raffaelo Márguez.
“Please pardon my delay, Master Zenjirou.”
“It’s okay. I did tell you that the report can wait. The situation seems more or less to be under control, so brief me on the matter.”
Even though he straightened his back on his chair to assume an air of importance as much as possible, Zenjirou had long reached the end of his patience inwardly.
He had withdrawn into the room at the farthest end of the residence, like his guards had recommended, but he still had been able to hear the outside ruckus.
Voices had shouted “Say what!?” or “That can’t be!?” and scraps of conversations had sounded like “We are moving the injured!” or “How many died?”. Only an idiot would have failed to realize that something dangerous had attacked the city of Valentia.
To reinforce that impression: The guards had exchanged their usual handy “self-defence weapons” such as curved swords or short spears for full-fledged “battle weapons” such as bows and long spears while they stood sentinel in the garden.
To be honest, Zenjirou already considered it a great achievement that he did not press the panic button and screamed like a little girl.
Anyway, Zenjirou swallowed once and listened to the long-awaited report from Raffaelo.
The fact alone that the always smiling Raffaelo had put on a solemn face now, displayed how grave the situation must be.
“To make a long story short: The reason for this ruckus are ‘Pack Dragons’ that appeared in the farming land of Valentia.”
As expected, the report from Raffaelo really did not bode well.
Valentia was a supplier of salt, an important fishing port and the biggest trade port in the Carpa Kingdom. Needless to say, an enormous number of people was thus living there. And it needed enough food to feed all these mouths.
Consequently, there were numerous farms in the vicinity of Valentia.
One of these farms had now been attached by “Pack Dragons”.
“The collateral damage?”
“Devastating. So far we have already confirmed twenty-one dead people. Almost the entire livestock, mainly the small Meat Dragons, was wipe out and nearly half of all the working animals, namely the Hulking Dragons, were killed as well. The farm in question can no longer sustain itself.”
The human causalities were grievous, of course, but in a way, it was more shocking that the entire livestock had been wiped out. A farm could not function without livestock. At this rate, even the surviving farmers would die from hunger and poverty.
This world had no laws that secured citizens a remuneration for when they suffered losses through natural disasters. It depended on the decision of the Lord of the Domain, if there would be any help in such cases. In this particular case, it applied to either Aura, the Duchess of Valentia, or Sir Damian, the governor.
(Hmm? Could it be that I have that power right now?)
Zenjirou remembered his position as the fully authorized representative for the Duchess of Valentia and considered his idea for a moment, but discarded it shortly afterwards.
The current situation had not calmed down enough yet to already speak of compensations for the victims.
“What about our counter-attack? You had the time to report to me, so I guess the matter has quieten down a bit, but from what I heard, I doubt the situation has been resolved already.”
Raffaelo agreed with him.
“Yes. Frankly speaking, our counter-attack has not made it in time. The soldiers rushed to the scene by command of Sir Damian, but they could only get a glimpse of the already retreating Pack Dragons in the distant. They pursued them until the edge of the forest, but it was not enough to engage them.”
In other words, the Pack Dragons had hidden in the forest after their attack on the farm. Meaning that nothing had been resolved yet.
The room fell silent for a while as Zenjirou mused.
Before long, he asked in a verifying tone.
“Have you heard about the trouble on the ‘Salt Road’?”
“Yes. Marquis Guzzle had brought it up. I have heard that his son Sir Xavier was in charge at first, but General Puyol was dispatched with his army later on.
And then General Puyol had deemed that he had not enough soldiers for the task and requested further reinforcements from Her Majesty Aura.”
Apparently Raffaelo Márguez knew as much as Zenjirou about the matter. Zenjirou questioned him further.
“It seems a pack of Pack Dragons lead by an unprecedented huge Pack Dragon was responsible for the interruption on the Salt Road.
Do you think it’s related to our incident?”
“I believe that there are too many parallelisms to dismiss it as a coincidence. Pack Dragons blocked the Salt Road. And Pack Dragons appeared here, too. Furthermore, I was told that packs with over twenty-four or thirty-four dragons are extremely rare. The norm seems to be around fourteen dragons. Despite this, we have a witness that says the attack this time was staged by almost a hundred Pack Dragons at once.”
“A whole hundred?”
“Yes. Well, it was the testimony from a farmer fleeing for his life and with no military education, so it is not all that credible. But considering that all of the survivors mentioned an ‘extreme large number of dragons’ or ‘overwhelming pack”, I think it is safe to assume that there were at least more than twenty-four of them.”
Counting the exact numbers on a glance could be considered a proper special skill and was not something a common farmer was able to do while he was running for his life.
And although the testimony of one or two people might not be all that meaningful, it was self-evident to proceed on the assumption that it had been a considerable number of dragons, when the majority of the surviving farmers attested so.
“The pack from the Salt Road apparently had a considerable size as well. Instead of assuming that two different packs of such a size appeared in two different places at the same time, I believe it is more likely that the pack from the Salt Road came over here.
Still, the ‘Salt Road’ connects the Capital with the March of Guzzle and Valentia is pretty far away from it.
Even on a straight course, they would need to cross over two or three mountains. If you ask me, I really doubt that they would undertake such a far journey.”
Raffaelo honestly answered the question from Zenjirou like that.
On the “Salt Road”, General Puyol and Xavier had already taken measures to report that “the Pack Dragons had retreated deeper into the forest as a result of their hunt and that all dragons in the forest might now be fighting a large strife over territories”, but that information had not reached the Capital yet.
Needless to say, Zenjirou and the others in Valentia had no clue about it, either. This world obviously had no internet or telephone lines, but it did not even have a proper post system.
Before the great war, the Carpa Kingdom did have an information network effectively superior to the ones of modern science, namely an emergency network consisting of numerous practitioners of the “Teleport” magic, but unfortunately, Queen Aura was currently the only one left that could use the “Teleport” magic.
“Okay. For now, I’ll send Her Majesty a ‘Small Flying Dragon’. The Capital might know more than we do, and even if not, we absolutely have to report the situation anyway.”
“Yes, certainly. Still, the situation calls for a quick decision. I am afraid it would be dangerous to wait for an answer from Her Majesty Aura.”
Raffaelo made a valid point, when he spoke outright on a rare occasion. With every passing minute, the situation continued to change. Even if Aura was intelligent, there was a time lag until the information reached the Capital, so she could not give out accurate orders.
Zenjirou understood what Raffaelo was getting at and agreed with him while he hid his nervousness behind an inexpressive mask.
“Right. It’s probably better when we act on our own decisions and only exchange information with Her Majesty in the Capital. At the present time, I am the person ultimately in charge of both civil and military matters here in Valentia. Am I right in assuming that?”
“Yes, that is correct. Normally, Sir Damian would have the authority to command the troops of Valentia as its governor, but right now, you temporarily have taken over the full authority as the representative of the Duchess of Valentia.”
To be honest, Zenjirou had asked that question in the hope that it would be denied, but Raffaelo affirmed it readily.
Sir Damian occupied the position of a “governor”, whereas Zenjirou currently was appointed as a “fully authorized representative”. These two posts were worlds apart.
The “governor” only took over a portion of the authority from the Duchess of Valentia, the original lord, and acted at the behest of her. On the other hand, the “fully authorized representative” temporarily assumed all the authority, like the name implied.
Put simply: As the legitimate Duchess of Valentia, Queen Aura could immediately overrule an order issued by the “governor”, if she was against it, but that was impossible when it was issued by the “fully authorized representative”.
The reason being that Aura temporarily lost her authority as the Duchess of Valentia, when she appointed a “fully authorized representative”. So if she wanted to stop an action from the “fully authorized representative”, she first needed to strip Zenjirou of that title.
It was a bit complicated, but the current jurisdiction was like this: Aura, the Duchess of Valentia, had temporarily conferred all the authority of the Duchess upon Zenjirou, who in turn was appointing Sir Damian as the governor of Valentia.
In other words, Governor Damian was a direct subordinate of Zenjirou.
Zenjirou pondered while fighting the stomach caused by the responsibilities.
(Normally, I would just call Sir Damian, let him handle everything and be done with it. But the problem is that Princess Freya is here right now.)
Princess Freya and her group would soon get to know that Pack Dragons were causing a ruckus near by. And then she would obviously request that her people were allowed to wear weapons.
Although the people from the North Continent did not know much about dragons, they would naturally get wary, when they heard that Pack Dragons were on the rampage.
It was pretty unlikely that she would obediently put up with it, when they told her that they would take care of it and she should sit back and do nothing.
Nevertheless, Zenjirou could not allow a foreign delegation to arm itself in Valentia so easily.
Since Princess Freya was acknowledged as royalty, her guards had been allowed to carry weapons for “self-defence”, but permitting full-fledged equipment for “battle” was a different matter altogether.
(The easiest solution for their armament would be to have them cooperate in the ’Pack Dragon Subjugation’. It would give them a legitimate reason to carry weapons. But from her point of view, it would be putting the cart before the horse, if all her guards are send to the frontlines…)
Having thought of a compromise for now, Zenjirou checked with his temporary assistant, who stood at attention before him.
“I’m pretty sure that Princess Freya has already heard about this incident, too. So it’s quite likely that her guards will request to be allowed to arm themselves in order to protect their master.”
“Yes, I believe so as well.”
Once he had gotten the consent from Raffaelo, Zenjirou continued.
“But from our point of view, we cannot allow a foreign group to arm itself within a royal domain, even if they are from a friendly nation. It would require a valid reason to allow that.”
“Let me be frank, Raffaelo: Would it cause trouble to allow the guards of Princess Freya to participate in the Pack Dragon Subjugation?”
The sharp-witted Raffaelo easily figured out what Zenjirou was getting at.
“To be perfectly honest, yes, it would cause immense troubles. The warriors of the North Continent are admittedly sturdy, but they do not have any experience fighting dragons.
Besides, even if they had that experience, their fighting style is far to different from ours. They use different weapons, different formations and different codewords. I am afraid that the soldiers on the battlefield would rather have them on the opposing side than having them fight alongside us.”
Even if he turned him down like this, Raffaelo then proposed the compromise Zenjirou wanted to hear.
“Still, we can keep the inconveniences to a minimum, when we let them take care of a whole area by themselves, instead of incorporating them into our troops by hook or by crook. Of course we will have to assign some ‘guides’, because they do not know their way around here.”
Needless to say, these “guides” would also “keep an eye” on them.
These conditions were more or less presentational to them. Zenjirou had been quite worried that their soldiers would get constricted for political reasons, so he spoke with an obvious relief.
“I see. That sounds practicable. Raffaelo, I know you’re busy, but report the current situation to Princess Freya, too.
Afterwards I’ll go and officially ask her for her ‘cooperation’ in the matter.”
“Understood. I will arrange everything accordingly.”
Raffaelo politely bowed in response to the order from Zenjirou.
* * *
Late at night of the same day. In the same room, where he had listened to Raffaelo at evening, Zenjirou was now meeting with Princess Freya.
In order to invite a lady over at night, the room was bristling with silver candle sticks on which numerous candles flickered.
Ever since he arrived in Valentia more than one month ago, Zenjirou had been separated from his life with electronic appliances in the Inner Palace, so it was his first “bright night” after a long time. He had bought the crank-powered LED flashlight with him to Valentia just in case, but it had poor coverage, even if its light was bright. The white light was perfect to illuminate a spot around your hands or feet, but was unsuited to brighten up a whole room.
Compared to it, the light from a candle flickering on a candle stick was a rather weak source of light, but there were numerous of them set up around the place, where Zenjirou sat, so the whole room was bathed in a faint glow.
Amidst that glow, Zenjirou looked at the girl in a blue dress sitting mannerly across him on the couch, and opened his mouth.
“I am sure Raffaelo already told you about it, but we are currently facing an unforeseen event.”
“Yes. He explained that a pack of medium-sized dragons called ‘Pack Dragons’ has attacked.”
Princess Freya was not shaken at the unexpected happening and answered with a calm facial expression. For a girl, who was forced to take shelter without knowing what was going on after she had heard an alarm bell in a foreign land, she was a bit too calm, actually.
Well, she did sail off on a voyage of unknown length and no guarantee for survival. It would be foolish to compare her courage to the one of a normal girl.
“Are there no Pack Dragons on the North Continent?”
In order to stimulate the conversation, Zenjirou inserted some small talk, whereupon the girl with short silver-blue hair adopted at once.
“None at all. There are very few dragon species on the North Continent to begin with. And the few we have are all large species and live deep in the mountains, where humans hardly ever set foot in, so the majority of our people has not seen a dragon, besides the Sea Dragon.”
Speaking of, the Church, which was worshipping the Ancient Dragons as gods, claimed the land, where these dragons were living, as “Sacred Ground”, so it was difficult for people to go there.
Having said this, Princess Freya had no intention to explain these complicated circumstances, so she omitted the troublesome part in her story.
“Is that so. Anyway, Valentia will be under emergency rule for a while, because of these circumstances.
I know this will cause some inconveniences to you, but I ask for your understanding.”
Princess Freya had already heard the details from Raffaelo and understood the reason for adjustments. She was not so stupid to be selfish now.
“I certainly understand. If there is anything I can help you with, please do tell me. I may not be able to do much, but you can be assured of my support.”
Considering how smoothly she offered her help, she obviously must have prepared that answer in advance.
Zenjirou, too, answered somewhat contrived.
“I am glad to hear that. There is nothing more reassuring than having your courageous seafaring men as support.
Then I would like to take you up on your offer and borrow about half of your soldiers. I am ashamed to admit this, but under the current circumstances, we are in need of every talented soldiers we can get, on the frontlines.”
“Yes, that will be quite alright. Nevertheless, they are not legendary warriors immune to fatigue, so I would like to replace the group with the other half of my soldiers in due time. Will that be alright with you?”
“Why, of course. Your foresightedness deeply impresses me.”
The Prince Consort and Princess smiled at each other, happily sealing the deal.
These conditions had been proposed by Zenjirou through Raffaelo and Princess Freya had accepted them.
Half of her guards would be sent to the frontlines. The remaining half of her soldiers would continue to guard the princess, but they were supposed to “relieve the other half” on the frontlines, so they would already wear their full-fledged “battle equipment” during the guard duty.
Needless to say, the benefit for Princess Freya was that the guards on “stand-by duty” were allowed to wear their full equipment.
On the other hand, Zenjirou did not need to be in fear of his life, because his remaining guards in the residence of the Duke of Valentia could easily oppress even the heavily armed guards of the princess, if necessary, since their numbers had been halved. Likewise, they had an excuse to allow soldiers of a non-allied nation to fully arm themselves in the royal domain, when they assigned them as reserves for the Pack Dragon Subjugation.
Not to mention that it really did help them that Princess Freya dispatched her soldiers.
The destroyed farm was not the only farm outside the walls of Valentia.
In order to protect all the farms that were widespread around the walls, they needed as many soldiers as possible. That desire was by no means insincere.
Having reached a conclusion, Princess Freya looked at the female warrior standing at attention behind her and gave her simple instructions.
“You heard it, Skathi. Divide our soldiers into two groups at once. You will lead one group and choose the leader for the other group.”
The order seemed to take the female warrior by surprise for a bit.
The tall woman widened her eyes
and wanted to say something, but Princess Freya cut in without letting her finish.
“No worries. I will be a good girl here, so you go and show them what you are made of.”
From the tone of her master, she discerned that the order would not be retracted.
The female soldier pulled herself together and obediently accepted the mission.
* * *
In spite of what Princess Freya had said to her, the guards were going to be sent to the frontlines in two groups, so for today, Skathi still kept her duty as the bodyguard of Princess Freya and stayed in the same room in the residence of the Duke of Valentia as her master in order to protect her at night, together with her beloved spear.
Princess Freya sat on the bed, dressed in a relatively comfortable one-piece dress that did not impede her movements, whereas Skathi was on the couch with one knee up, still dressed in her leather armour and holding the short spear with a tusk of a Sea Elephant in her arms.
Both of them were dressed in a way that they could leave at any moment in an emergency. Apparently they intended to sleep in that outfit until the situation was resolved.
Normally, they would already be asleep at this time, but the flame of the oil pan on the table still flickered reddish.
The faint glow of the flame revealed the princess relaxing on her bed and gave her silver-blue hair a slightly reddish tinge.
Her appearance as she breathed regularly on the bed with only a soft one-piece dress covering her body, showcased a fairytale-like beauty.
But the words leaving the mouth of that fairytale beauty were down-to-earth to the core.
“Skathi, what kind of wild card do you think I can expect, when you perform well in the upcoming dragon hunt?”
Of course she was counting her chickens before they hatched, but that kind of anticipation was actually a given in her position.
It could happen that you missed the right chance to play the joker, when you only started to think about it once it fell into your hands.
Asked by her master like that, the female warrior squeezed her spear
“Hmm, I can only speculate, but I would say that you can ask for ‘advanced’ negotiations, when we defeat the boss of the Pack Dragons, for example.”
and replied in a calm tone.
“Advanced negotiations, you say? You mean I might be able to take my objective to the ‘Capital’?”
When Princess Freya checked with her, the female warrior affirmed it curtly with a flat voice.
In the negotiations so far, Freya had more or less figured out that Zenjirou or rather Aura, the mastermind behind him, wanted to close the negotiations in Valentia and monopolize the external relations to the royal family.
As a fellow royalty, Princess Freya understood where Aura was coming from, of course, and she would have done the same in her position. However, from her point of view, she preferred to strike a deal with the lords from all over the Carpa Kingdom, instead of just the royal family.
She would be able to beat down the price, when there was a competition between numerous suppliers, and some feudal lords of the Carpa Kingdom might be able to get their hands on products that the royal family had trouble obtaining.
In order to negotiate such goods directly with the feudal lords without mediation from the royal family, she really wanted to get into the Royal Palace in the Capital.
“Well, establishing the trade route is my first priority for now. If I am too greedy, I might lose out on everything in the end.”
“Yes. His Majesty Zenjirou struck me as a sensible person, who will repay good will with good will. I believe it would be wise not to get onto his bad side.”
The northern princess widened her eyes, when her trusted retainer evaluated Zenjirou different than before, and asked surprised.
“Oh my? He seems to have really risen in your esteem? What changed your mind?”
The question from her master had a somewhat teasing undertone, but the female soldier nodded affirmative without being bothered by it.
“Yes. Judging by his conversations with you and his actions so far, he really seems to be making the decisions on his own after all.
So I thought it would be bad to still speak ill of him.”
Skathi had become certain of that during the recent ruckus with the Pack Dragons.
It had been inevitable that he left all the precise details to others, when the alarm bell rang in the harbour or when he met the princess later at night, but he had definitely been the first one to give out orders to everyone during that emergency.
A genuine figurehead without any decisional power would have waited until some told him to return to the residence, because it was dangerous, and obediently obeyed it then.
But Zenjirou had taken charge of the situation, commanded Governor Damian to take care of the matter and declared his return to the residence by himself.
Otherwise put, it was the best proof that he was aware of his own position and had the “intention” of being a cooperative figurehead as much as possible.
Princess Freya nodded satisfied, since she had never thought poorly of him to begin with.
“Indeed. It is very fortunate for us that such a sincere and straightforward person is ultimately responsible for the negotiations with us. I say we keep a conservative mindset until the end this time.“
Zenjirou was only thinking of finishing his given role acceptable. He neither wanted to betray the expectation from Aura, nor did he want to make a name for himself and damage his relationship with Aura.
The acceptable accomplishment of his work would also be acceptable to Princess Freya, his negotiation partner, since she considered herself to be in a “weak position”.
If they felt like it, the Carpa Kingdom could take the damaged “Yellow Leaves” by force and constrict her freedom.
Compared to that worst case scenario, it would be a huge success already, when she could just establish an “acceptable” trading route and return to her homeland.
“Certainly. Anyway, please go to bed now, Milady. Rest assured. I will definitely protect you, whether it be from a southern dragon, a foreign soldier or whatsoever.”
Squeezing her beloved spear, the trusted retainer vowed low-voiced, whereupon the princess gave her a soft smile and lay down on the bed without an argument.
“Thanks, Skathi. I trust you.”
And before long, Princess Freya peacefully entered the land of dreams, like she had asserted.