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Chapter 04: Neck-and-neck Argument
“Like I said before, I definitely saw Sir Raymundo coming out of the middle pathway without a doubt. How often do I have to repeat myself? If you want to have it pegged as my mistake, please show me proper proof.”
“Please calm down, Princess Freya. Raymundo claims he exited from the outmost passage.
I believe in my subordinate, so it pains me to say this, but there is no other explanation than you having made a mistake.”
“Then, do you have some kind of evidence to your claim of me making a mistake? I would be fine with some proof to the validity of the testimony from Sir Raymundo as well. How do you expect me to calm down, when all you do is one-sidedly insist that I made a mistake without showing me any proof whatsoever?”
“I do know how you feel, Princess, but please calm down for now. We will not get anywhere, when we bicker right from the start.”
Princess Freya argued vehemently with a glint of anger in her ice-blue eyes, whereupon Knight Captain Cris showed a troubled wry smile while replying like that.
The smile seemed to imply that he still had some composure to spare on the matter, but his eyes were obfuscated with a tint of confusion.
Well, that was only understandable. Originally, this incident had been acknowledged as a conflict of opinion between Raymundo, the Knight from the Navarre Kingdom, and Nilda, the second daughter of Marquis Guzzle.
And yet, Princess Freya was openly going on the offensive here despite being more or less just a bystander. Normally that was unthinkable.
Moreover, the common sense of the South Continent dictated that a woman should not lash out at a man on an official occasion like this, even if she happened to be a royal princess.
Needless to say, Aura was an exception, because she was the Monarch, but women usually never cornered a man, even if she was of higher status.
Princess Freya in particular was currently putting the moves on a man, namely Zenjirou, so one was actually expecting that she would refrain from doing anything that a man would generally consider as “unsightly” or “presumptuous“.
With that in mind, Knight Captain Cris shifted his gaze towards Zenjirou sitting next to her for a moment, but it was like barking up the wrong tree.
(Nice going! Keep it up, Princess Freya.)
Zenjirou was supporting Princess Freya with all his might at heart.
To begin with, Princess Freya was launching the all-out attack here, because Zenjirou had asked her to, so he would end up betraying her, if he took offense at her actions now.
Maintaining a fake smile, Zenjirou simply watched the matter unfold.
“I may be a woman, but I do have taken part in night activities during hunts or sea travels. I have even been on watch at sea during the night, albeit not on my own, as you might expect. So I just cannot let it go unchallenged, when you arbitrarily decide on a ‘mistake’ of mine without any proof.”
The Navarre Kingdom was not the only side perplexed by the unexpected aggressive attitude from Princess Freya.
Nilda Guzzle and her brother Xavier Guzzle, the original adversaries in this matter, could not conceal their bewilderment, either, and were speaking panic-stuck.
“P- Princess Freya? I will be just fine. Just having you by my side is already enough for me.”
“She is right, Princess Freya. Please calm down a bit. Master Zenjirou is watching, you know.”
Nilda never had any intentions to make a big deal out of it, so she was stepping on the brakes before she knew it. The same applied to Xavier, even though he had been eager to fight it out with Knight Captain Cris before.
Xavier was obviously signalizing him a SOS with his gaze, but Zenjirou pretended not to see it, even if he felt guilty about it at heart.
He said nothing and just smiled as if to say “I don’t mind at all”, which in turn prompted Xavier to look bewildered and Knight Captain Cris to screw up his nose in contempt.
They did not know his real motive, but everyone realized that he at least had no intentions to box Princess Freya in here and now.
All of them averted their eyes from the silently smiling Zenjirou and resumed the discussion.
Knight Captain Cris cleared his throat with a cough in order to pull himself together again.
“I do see your point, Princess Freya. You certainly seem to have a good eyesight at night for a woman. I was a bit too hasty in my judgement just now. I apologize for that.”
Saying so, he lowered his head a bit while remaining seated on the couch.
Princess Freya did not object the apology with words, but her ice-blue eyes were obviously narrowed to slits in anger.
Zenjirou considered it only natural that Princess Freya was getting angry, but apparently only Princess Freya herself and her bodyguard Skathi standing behind her were sharing that sentiment.
No one perceived the “apology” from Knight Captain Cris as offending. That obviously applied to the people from the Navarre Kingdom, but also to their own allies: Xavier and Nilda. The latter even being a fellow woman. If anything, the majority of people would say that Princess Freya “ought to accept his apology, even if only formally”, now that Knight Captain Cris had gone so far as to apologize to her.
(But for Princess Freya, the “for a woman” part sounded more like picking another fight with her. It’s already plenty rude towards a captain, who succeeded in travelling between the continents, as it is.)
Princess Freya had developed a good eyesight at night through actual experiences during hunts or sea travels, so she prided herself on having an ability “good enough to apply it in the field“, so even when she was complimented with the words “not bad for a woman“, it did not count as a compliment at all.
It was beyond all question for Zenjirou that Princess Freya would not accept the apology from Knight Captain Cris, but unfortunately, his moral values were not the standard on the South Continent. If anything, they were a severe abnormality.
Somewhat displeased as expected, Princess Freya fortunately still had enough reasoning to not express her anger right here and now.
She overlooked the apology from Knight Captain Cris and continued the discussion with even more direct words.
“You have been doing all the talking so far, Sir Cristiano, but I would like to hear the opinion from the man in question himself. Sir Raymundo, we did meet last night, correct? Do you still remember me?”
Suddenly addressed, the young knight gulped surprised for a moment, but then answered with a stiff voice.
“Yes, of course I remember you. You did not speak up last night, so I cannot be certain for sure, but your hair was vividly revealed amidst the dim light.”
As Knight Raymundo had mentioned, the blue-tinged silver hair from Princess Freya was standing out quite a bit, even in the darkness. Of course it would get lost in a pitch-black darkness, but with the slightest bit of light, her silver hair would shine vividly even at night.
Princess Freya seemed content with his answer for now as she nodded with a slightly more relaxed expression.
“I am glad you remember. Then we can proceed under the premise that I was present back then without a doubt. And I can say with certainty that I saw you coming out of the ‘middle hallway’.
I hereby declare now and here that I have no intentions to take back these words.
Do you still refuse to admit it then, Sir Raymundo?”
Princess Freya slowly narrowed her ice-blue eyes to slits challengingly, whereupon the young knight from the Navarre Kingdom kept an inexpressive look and answered her immediately with a firm voice, probably because his truculence had been triggered.
“Yes. I did come out of the outmost passage, not the middle one.”
After things had escalated this far, he probably could not pull back, even if he wanted to. The young knight insisted so, putting up a painful brave front.
Their claims were polar oppositions. And neither side had any proof to invalidate the argument of the other.
So they had no choice but to convince or else weaken the other side in a debate, but as things stood at the moment, it would end up a fruitless debate no matter how much words they exchanged.
“We both have confirmed the standpoint of the other, so how about we call it a day for now?”
Hence Xavier suggested a break, to which no one objected.
Accepting the call for a break from Xavier, the members of the delegation from the Navarre Kingdom left the room together with an obstinate look in their eyes.
Once Knight Raymundo and Knight Captain Cris from the Navarre Kingdom had left, Zenjirou finally spoke up after keeping quiet for so long.
“Sir Xavier, we have stuck our noses in your business here.
Of course we do not have forgotten that this is the March of Guzzle and that all responsibility and authority to accommodate a difference here reside in the Marquis.
The Marquis will have the final say in this matter and we have no intention to go against his judgement. I just wanted you to know this.”
“Yes, thank you for your consideration, Master Zenjirou.”
Zenjirou offered him an apology with a serious expression and an attitude as polite as possible between Royalty and his subject. Xavier accepted it with a relieved look.
This was the troublesome aspect of a feudal system.
The Carpa Kingdom had an extraordinary powerful Royal Family for a feudal state, but even so, it would be extremely risky for them to trample on the authority of the feudal lords.
As a general rule, the feudal lord had the right to handle everything that happened within his domain as he saw fit.
Of course he would not have the authority to judge Zenjirou, if the Prince Consort himself were to be involved in the matter directly, but this case only involved his partner Princess Freya, so the final decision was still up to Marquis Guzzle.
But it posed no problem, when Zenjirou asked the Marquis for some “careful deliberation”, and it would only be natural for Marquis Guzzle to be mindful of the request.
Nevertheless, the actual decision-making power had to lie with Marquis Guzzle whilst he took the request into consideration at most.
So Zenjirou had announced that he was aware of that and had no intention to meddle with the authority of the feudal lord.
Now that the atmosphere had loosened up a bit, Zenjirou frowned a bit troubled on purpose and glanced at the northern princess sitting besides him.
“But I am taking Princess Freya’s side here. Of course her being my partner right now is one reason, but more importantly, I believe in her testimony and acknowledge her opposition as legitimate.
I just wanted to make that clear.”
“Yes, I shall keep it in mind.”
Xavier lowered his head with a meek look in light of Zenjirou’s declaration.
Shortly afterwards, Zenjirou and Princess Freya returned to their allocated annex building.
When waiting maid Ines closed the door with a thud, Zenjirou immediately faced the silver-haired princess.
“Princess Freya, you have my gratitude for giving in to my wish this time. I am well aware that I should not have asked this of a lady, but you went along with me anyway, so I will be sure to reciprocate the favour in some way later on.”
As stated above, her earlier aggressive attitude had entirely been plotted by Zenjirou.
It was highly likely that Nilda Guzzle was not nobility. As a consequence, it also made it possible that things would escalate into major diplomatic issue, if they were to progress with the Nilda Guzzle vs. Knight Raymundo setting.
Even if Nilda were to swallow his lie and apologized to him, the fact remained that she had “rebuked a knight from a different country”. And in case that she was not noble, that fact would turn into “a commoner girl having criticized a knight”.
Accordingly, any later repercussions would be less painful, when Princess Freya, the one with the highest status amongst the involved, just snatched away the spotlight.
The best outcome would be that Princess Freya won the negotiations, proving that Knight Raymundo had lied.
Needless to say, Knight Raymundo had lied and fled the place, so it was a stain on his reputation. One he would like to erase, if possible. The same applied to Knight Captain Cris, who had swallowed his lie and stood up for him.
Under these circumstances, it was quite likely they would accept the proposal of “pretending nothing of this ever happened”.
And since it would have never happened to begin with then, they would not be able to complain, when it turned out later that Nilda was not nobility.
With that in mind, Zenjirou had asked Princess Freya to play the somewhat unfavourable role, but she had accepted more eagerly than he had expected.
“Your wish is my command, Your Majesty Zenjirou. Besides, I do not need to play-act in this case, actually.
If anything, I am grateful you gave me a chance to speak my mind out.”
Saying this, Princess Freya smiled while her eyes glinted with a wild resolve.
“I am glad to hear that. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal the whole truth to you. It really weighs on my mind.”
As he had mentioned, Zenjirou had not explained his assumption of “Nilda likely not being nobility” to Princess Freya.
That goes without saying. She might be set on becoming his concubine and acting as his partner right now, but she was still the royalty from a different country after all.
He could not trust her so much yet as to open his heart and reveal everything to her.
Princess Freya was aware of that, too, of course.
“Please pay it no mind, Your Majesty. I am Royalty myself, so I do understand that we are sometimes forced to put aside our feelings or honesty.”
“Thank you, Princess Freya.”
Zenjirou showed a relieved smile, but that unconscious reaction of his proved that he had grown closer to her.
Between the lines of “we are forced to put aside our feelings or honesty” was the hidden meaning of “wanting to just say everything out aloud if not for their positions” and Zenjirou could not bring himself to deny that.
In other words, he had become at least so attached to Princess Freya that he wanted to treat her with sincerity as much as possible, even without knowing it.
Zenjirou himself did not seem to be aware of his change of heart, but Princess Freya had apparently noticed it.
Behind the right hand she used to cover up her clearing her throat as she looked down, Princess Freya twisted her small lips into a faint smile.
By the time she raised her head, the smile had vanished, but her ice-blue eyes were the epitome of sincerity.
“I would like to confirm our future plans then. Am I right in thinking that I am to push the ’truth’ through obstinately from now on as well?”
The conversation shifted to business, so Zenjirou pulled himself together, too, and pondered.
“Hmm… That should be fine for now. But we cannot have the current deadlock go on forever, of course, so we definitely should settle this as quickly as possible.”
At the present time, both parties stood in stark contrast to each other with their claims, neither of them having evidence or witness to make the other side surrender.
It would probably be bad for the delegation of the Navarre Kingdom as well, when the current deadlock persisted.
In the beginning, it might have only been a small quarrel, but depending on the circumstances, it could escalate into a full-scale war between the two countries. The world was such a scary place.
In the past, an argument betweens hunters over a single Meat Dragon that had entered and collapsed in another country had actually resulted in war between the two countries.
Having said this, it did not mean one should avoid quarrels per se and always submit to the other party. That would chip away at the reputation and authority of the country.
Hence, the representatives of countries were always keeping in mind “not to escalate things” while acting under the presumption that “the other does not want things to escalate either“, starting a game of chicken neither side wanted.
And this case was showing signs of becoming a game of chicken as well.
They needed to resolve it before that happened. In his mind, Zenjirou had already formulated a plan for that.
But that plan was still full of loopholes right now and it was extremely unlikely it would hold out until the “checkmate” point.
Hence he asked Princess Freya for her cooperation once again.
“In any event, it is an undeniable fact that they are lying. Our problem is that we have no evidence to verify it. But even if we cannot do that, what we can do is winkle out an unmistakable statement from them.
I more or less have a plan for that, but I want your help in that. What do you say, Princess Freya?”
In reaction, Princess Freya tilted her head so that her short silver hair waved.
“Of course I do not mind helping out. And I may be a bit late in asking this, but what makes you so sure that their knight is lying, Your Majesty Zenjirou?”
She looked Zenjirou directly into the eyes.
Needless to say, it was only obvious that Zenjirou would completely side with Princess Freya in public, given his position, but his earlier phrasing seemed to say that it was not just for appearances’ sake, but that he was actually profoundly convinced that Princess Freya was saying the whole truth and the knight from the Navarre Kingdom was lying on purpose.
Zenjirou blinked surprised for a moment in light of her question, then answered with a soft smile.
“Oh, it is quite simple. I was pretty much present back then myself.
Please think back on it. The place in question is a crossroad, where three parallel hallways come together.
You three came out of the ‘innermost hallway’, which leads into the main building, ran into Knight Raymundo from the Navarre Kingdom, who came out of the ‘middle hallway’, which leads to the virtually restricted area, and rebuked him.
But Knight Raymundo claims he did not come out of the ‘middle hallway’, but out of the ‘outmost hallway’, which leads to the annex building. Am I right so far?”
“Yes, you are.”
Princess Freya nodded a little bit in agreement, whereupon Zenjirou gave a nod as well and went on with a slightly proud look.
“Have you forgotten already? A bit afterwards, I came to pick you up. Which hallway do you think I used back then?”
His hint prompted Princess Freya to exclaim in surprise all too late.
“Exactly. I passed through the ‘outmost hallway’. So if Knight Raymundo were saying the truth, he would have walked in front of me. But I did not see him at that time.
In other words, he is obviously lying.”
“Now that you mention it…”
Princess Freya replied to his explanation pensively.
On second thought, it truly was self-explanatory.
A little bit delayed, Zenjirou had indeed come out of the hallway Knight Raymundo had claimed to have passed through, so both of them should have met there, unless they were blind-folded.
After all, the outmost hallway was drawing a long and straight line.
There was no way to miss Knight Raymundo, if he had actually passed through there.
“Then if you just were to give a testimony…!”
Princess Freya saw their chance in his testimony, so she blurted it out on the spot, but Zenjirou shook his head with a calm look on his face.
“It would be meaningless at this point of time. The matter has already become too complicated after all. Even if I were to say something, the Navarre Kingdom will not budge from their obstinacy. And in fact, we have nothing to back up my testimony anyway.”
Right after Knight Raymundo had left, Zenjirou had shown up from the outmost passage. It would be nothing but another subjective claim from Princess Freya, though.
Without mechanical clocks, this world had a rather vague sense of time, so even if Princess Freya were to claim that “Zenjirou appeared right after Raymundo left”, they would oppose by saying that “more time must have passed than she initially thought” and they would be back to square one.
“But unlike in my case, would they not actually listen to you, Your Majesty Zenjirou?”
Her expectation was partly wishful thinking and Zenjirou dismissed it with another shake of his head.
“I am afraid it will not be that easy. True, I may be Royalty and a male, but I am still not a ‘soldier’ after all.”
As Royalty, his words definitely could not be taken lightly, but since he was always preaching that “he was no fighter”, it became a huge disadvantage in this case.
Even if he were to claim that “he came out of the passage shortly after, but did not see anyone there on that night”, everyone would just treat it as the “whimsical opinion of a civilian, who was neither trained in seeing in the night, nor in mental power“, but not necessarily say it out aloud.
Knight Captain Cris in particular seemed to look down on Zenjirou.
Needless to say, Zenjirou was Royalty of the major power known as the Carpa Kingdom. If he were to push the issue through by saying “I am in the right. And you actually dare to oppose me? I hope you are prepared for the consequences.”, people would usually cave in unless they were unsophisticated fanatics.
But it goes without saying that it would be the worst method to bring this matter to an end.
At the international level, it would actually be wiser to just completely admit defeat and apologize for the three women seeing wrong, before doing that.
Hence Zenjirou had to seal his greatest asset: the royal title.
(Since I can’t use my royal authority, I’m just one of the many peasants…)
Even while harbouring such a self-assurance that was close to self-torment, Zenjirou contemplated on how to resolve this matter as smoothly as possible.
(At this point, a wholesome conclusion doesn’t seem viable. Well, that Knight Raymundo reaps what he sow. He’ll have to swallow the bitter pill.)
“Anyway, it is obvious that Knight Raymundo is lying. So if we manage to expose his lie, it will be our win.
I have an idea, or rather a little sham in mind for that and I would like to have your cooperation in it, Princess Freya.”
“Oh my, that sounds interesting. Of course I will participate.”
Crossing her arms before her chest, Princess Freya showed a bright smile while her eyes revealed a sadistic glint, the type of pleasure you took from mowing your enemies down.
“Well, excuse me then.”
Leaving these words behind, Princess Freya and her female bodyguard left the room, so Zenjirou was all alone with waiting maid Ines now.
As such, Zenjirou could slovenly slouch on the couch.
“Whoa, this has become such a pain in the ass…”
“Stay strong, Master Zenjirou. You are sweating a bit around your neck.”
“Mm, thanks, Ines.”
The considerate maid handed him a towel, which he used to wipe his neck and face clean. Feeling a bit refreshed, Zenjirou then took a deep breath.
“By the way, Ines, any word from Aura yet?”
“No. There have been no news from the Capital.”
Zenjirou wrinkled his forehead in light of the straightforward answer from Ines.
“Weird… Isn’t it?”
“Yes. The Small Flying Dragon we sent should have arrived some time ago. If Her Majesty Aura had wanted to answer it, her reply would have arrived by now.”
The instantaneous “Teleport” aside, even the returning “Small Flying Dragon” was strangely overdue for some time already.
In other words, Queen Aura had no intention to send a reply.
Zenjirou crossed his arms and pondered about its meaning.
“Does that mean Aura’s not viewing this matter as that important?
…No, that can’t be right. She would reassure me with a letter then.
Then it’s the other way round. I broached a subject so delicate that she can’t ’leap’ a person or send a Small Flying Dragon so easily.”
Before long, Zenjirou reached the same conclusion as Aura in the Capital.
It was the kind of conclusion anyone with a bit of knowledge and minimal intellectual grasp could reach.
Leaping a person with the “Teleport Magic” was practically the same as announcing the “occurrence of an emergency” and messages with a Small Flying Dragon had a high risk of falling into the wrong hands.
Thinking along these lines, it was only natural to reach the conclusion that “the matter was too delicate for a simple reply”.
“…She’s leaving me on my own here, eh. Then I probably shouldn’t rely on the nobility attending the marriage ceremony, either.”
Zenjirou tore his hair out, whereupon the middle-aged waiting maid by his side declared with a soft voice.
“Master Zenjirou, I do believe you are approaching this the right way, but I would advice you to do some behind-the-scenes negotiations as well. In my humble opinion at least, you should consult with General Puyol to some extent.”
Hearing an unexpected name pop up, Zenjirou had a surprised look in the face.
“General Puyol!? Why him of all people? Isn’t he the most troublesome person to get involved with?”
As she had expected his reaction, the capable maid explained without breaking her matter-of-fact tone.
“It is precisely for that reason. If he were to intrude himself into the affairs later on, things would become extremely troublesome. So I would suggest to discuss things with him beforehand.
The matter involves a knight from the Navarre Kingdom and Miss Nilda after all. General Puyol is practically her brother-in-law now that he has taken Lady Lucinda as his wife.
He can always play a part in it as her ‘family’, even if it is pushing it a bit.”
“Yeah… You have a point…”
Zenjirou showed an expression as if enduring toothaches and held his head in his hands in reaction to the advice from Ines.
It certainly was stretching it a bit to involve yourself in it as the husband of the elder sister of the person in question, but it was not impossible with a bit of overbearance. And Puyol Guillén was the kind of able man, who could overcome a few difficulties, if it benefited him in the end.
“Instead of being dragged around by that rascal, it certainly would be better to work together with him from the beginning.”
The reason he used an usual snidely tone for General Puyol was not only because of jealousy towards a former marriage candidate for Aura.
Frankly speaking, Zenjirou and General Puyol handled cases like this one so differently that you might as well call them polar opposites.
General Puyol prioritized profit in everything he did. Of course he was also considering things in the long term, so he was willing to accept a temporary loss for it, but he never spared any mercy for the feelings of the other party.
In this case for example, Zenjirou was viewing it as the best outcome, when everything would be treated like it never happened once it was exposed that the knight from the Navarre Kingdom was lying.
Of course that took into consideration the fact that Nilda was no nobility, a circumstance that ought to be kept secret, but even without that, Zenjirou would not want an apology that drove the other party into a corner.
Because he knew that the resentment he earned from that would outweigh the little profit it brought, in the future for sure.
In a way, it was the limitation of a salaryman from a peaceful country.
On the other hand, General Puyol would show no mercy in this case.
As long as he could find fault with the other party, he would rigorously attack that weakness to squeeze as much profit as possible from it.
For example: Compensation money. For example: Extradition of the knight in question. For example: Defamation of the country through a formal apology. And so on. With no regard for the pride or feelings of the other party, he would make the most of it. If that earned him resentment as a result, so be it.
And when the resentment got the better of them, he would just have to put them in their place through force, demanding compensation again. Truly killing two birds with one stone. That was his way of doing things.
“It definitely wouldn’t end well. I guess I need to talk to him and ask him take a backseat, if possible.
But can I actually convince him on my own?”
The task was obviously too heavy for him.
When Zenjirou heaved a sigh, Ines practically drove him into a corner with a soothing tone.
“It is something only you can accomplish, Master Zenjirou. However, how about asking Sir Raffaelo from the Marquez Family for help, if it simply proves to be too difficult for you? He is very talented, when it comes to negotiations.”
“Hmm… No will do. I can’t do that.”
For a moment, he was swayed by her suggestion, but in the end, he shook his head.
“Since it concerns Nilda, it is better to involve as few people as possible.”
Zenjirou was actually well-disposed towards the sociable Raffaelo Marquez, but Aura had classified him “as dangerous as General Puyol”.
He should not rely on him that easily.
Having resisted the temptation to just offload everything on Raffaelo, Zenjirou declared to Ines with a serious expression.
“I will persuade General Puyol by myself. That guy needs to stay out of this until everything is resolved or I won’t be able to sleep at night.
I want to have a private talk with him. Can you arrange it?”
“Of course. I shall prepare an unofficial meeting without raising suspicion. Incidentally, Master Zenjirou, what do you intend to do about Marquis Guzzle?”
Her question prompted him to pondered with a complicated look on his face again.
“Marquis Guzzle, eh. A tough call. Hmm, he is Nilda’s father and the Lord of this domain, so I shouldn’t be acting behind his back, but… the root of the problem is Nilda’s status after all.
I can’t really talk him into it without mentioning that…”
There was one more problem: When Zenjirou privately talked to him as the Prince Consort and partner for Princess Freya, the undertone of “That is the will of the Prince Consort” would predominate, no matter what.
Which in turn basically amounted to Royalty interfering with the authority of a Feudal Lord.
Considering these circumstances, Zenjirou decided not to inform Marquis Guzzle ahead of things.
“I will not get in touch with Marquis Guzzle. I am scared of acting without consulting the local lord, but the possible consequences of telling him outweigh it.”
The faithful maid of middle age simply lowered her head courteously in light of the words from the Prince Consort.