After Juna finished her singing, it was Pamille’s turn again. Since we still didn’t have enough songstresses, we decided to have each one sing twice for this broadcast. I chose the moment Pamille’s turn ended and Nanna began her second turn to drag Aisha somewhere people couldn’t see and the broadcast couldn’t pick up.
“W, what’s wrong Your Highness. We’re still on air though?”
“I told you I’m uneasy about something this broadcast, right? I’m talking about what comes after Nanna”
I tried to say as calm as possible to the bewildered Aisha.
“When the next stage begins, I’ll be counting on you as my guard”
“Wha!? No way, is Juna plammmmmmmpphhhhh”
I used my hand to cover Aisha’s mouth that was about to yell out loud in the middle of a broadcast. Once she’s properly calmed down I shook my head”
“Not Juna. After Nanna and before Juna’s second performance, there’s a singer coming in between”
“Mmmmpuh … I, I haven’t heard of this!”
“I told you, it’s a sudden thing. It was decided suddenly right before the broadcast. If I told you before it happened you’d have all your attention there and flub your lines”
“Grrrr … I can’t really deny that”
Aisha seems to be aware of it herself. She mumbled. I plopped my hand on her head.
“Well if the worst happens I’ll be counting on you. Since you’re a presenter you can’t carry your greatsword, but should I get you some small weapons?”
“No, in that case I’ll fight barehanded … wait is she really that dangerous!?”
“Well … if it goes like I thought then it won’t be a problem. This is just a precaution after all”
“Precaution, is it … understood. I’ll protect Your Highness with my life”
Aisha thumped her chest with a thud. She looks really reliable in times like this.
Now then, will a demon or a snake come out …
◇ ◇ ◇
When Nanna’s second turn ended, there was a relaxed atmosphere around the audience in Amidonia. They were genuinely enjoying this musical performance. Judging from the sequence it would be Juna Doma’s turn next so they were wild with anticipation to listen to her voice again.
Then the next moment that atmosphere was instantly blown away. There was a woman displayed on the broadcast. She was about forty to fifty years old. She was nearly two meters tall, and was obviously muscular even through her military clothes. She had a stern face and swept-back hair so one could rarely recognize her as a woman at first glance. In fact, only the Amidonians realized that she was a woman, the Elfriedenians tilted their heads in confusion, “Why is there suddenly an old man there?”
Next to her, Soma and Aisha appeared. Soma was wearing a presenter-like wide smile but Aisha had a guarded look on her face, watching the woman. Soma then said:
[Now then, we have a guest performance today. Margarita Wanda 1 from the Principality of Amidonia. While the defense army was leaving Vannes, she stayed behind in order to make sure the civilians were unharmed as promised”
The citizens of Vannes nodded. That’s just like Wanda, they thought. Even in the Principality of Amidonia where a woman could not so easily become prominent, she was a heroic woman who rose to the rank of lieutenant general with her bravery and leadership. The citizens feared her valor and stern looks but she was a trustworthy person with good character. However, that was exactly why it was strange. Why was that Wanda standing on the stage together with Soma.
[Wanda is here as a prisoner of war, but because of the reasons for her capture, she was confined to house arrest. When she heard about our broadcast today, she bid herself, “I want to sing as well”]
Soma said cheerfully but Margarita was quiet. Noticing the stark difference in temperature between the two, the citizens of Vannes felt chills up their spines.
“Hey … what’s going to happen?”
“No way, is Wanda trying to use this chance to kill Soma”
“No, well, Wanda wouldn’t do something underhanded like that …”
“But look at the Dark Elf’s face. She’s obviously on guard”
“Soma looks tense as well, even though he’s smiling”
Even though it happened in the royal castle a distance away, the audience in Vannes were able to notice the restless air. In that kind of atmosphere, Soma continued presenting with a smile.
[Now let’s hear it for Margarita Wanda with … “Beyond Gordoa Valley”]
When the audience heard that name, the air around the audience froze. “Beyond Gordoa Valley” was the national anthem of the Principality of Amidonia. She was going to sing it in Vannes that was under occupation, and she was going to sing in front of the occupying king, Soma. The Amidonians instantly noticed the meaning in that. Margarita was even resolved to die. As Soma and Aisha left the stage, solemn music began playing. Then finally, Margarita began singing.
♪[Beyond Gordoa Valley] (Amidonian National Anthem)
Spreading beyond the mountains
Of Ursula where the sun was born
Is the land of our forefathers
The land whither we will once return
March the war-horses
Over the mountain of corpses of your brethren
March ye brave warriors
And be one with the soil beyond Gordoa
Her husky voice wove into a powerful song, giving the Principality citizens goosebumps along their backs. Margarita’s song forced the citizens of the Principality to realize anew that they were Amidonians. Even the citizens of Vannes. It was like a wave of cold air to the budding flower of Elfriedenian [Freedom] Soma was putting on show, making the bud close back.
◇ ◇ ◇
(What an intense song …)
I was listening to Margarita’s song at the side of the stage. When the song began the soldiers around the venue stirred, but because they were ordered to “stay in their seats no matter what happened and listen to the songs,” nobody made an uproar. It wasn’t hard to say why everyone stirred. After all, she was singing to “attack the Kingdom of Elfrieden”. The land “beyond Ursula where the sun was born” referred to the former Amidonian territory (and current Elfriedenian territory) east of the Ursula mountains.
She was saying to march horses and soldiers there. Which means the anthem urged for the crossing of Gordoa valley and into Elfrieden. … how should I put this, do you even have to go that far, or something. The tenacity of a military nation that even its citizens is impressive. While I was thinking that, Aisha asked me in a hushed voice.
(“Your Highness. Is this alright? Her singing this kind of song“)
(“… Well, this is well within my expectations“)
I answered in a quiet voice with my arms folded.
(“An officer of the enemy nation suddenly said she wanted to take part in a music show. The reasons would probably be to [use the broadcasts to incite patriotism among the viewers], or to [take the chance to get close to me and strike]. I took the liberty of examining her character beforehand, and I predicted her to be a frank person, but in the latter case I would be counting on you, Aisha“)
(“You knew!? Then shouldn’t you not let her sing …?“)
(“Because I knew, I could prepare countermeasures“)
While we were having that conversation, Margarita’s song ended. As the song ended, Margarita sat down hard on the spot. We then walked up to her.
“This is to show the backbone of an Amidonian. Now go ahead and take my head”
She said so and straightened her back. … I knew it, she did this with resolve to die. She had probably even considered that she would be killed on the spot. In truth, if I finished Margarita off here the broadcast would’ve come to nothing. Which was why I said ‘with a smile’.
“Why? You have a good singing voice”
Hearing the unexpected answer, Margarita widened her eyes. … apologies to your resolve, but I’m not going to fall for that.
“You have a good voice, sounds well suited for R&B. I’d really like you to do a cover of [Ano Kane o Narashita Anata] or [Snake Eater] in Japanese”
Hearing me say that so lightly Margarita glared at me.
“… I sang the Amidonian Anthem you know. If you let this reckless act pass you’ll undermine Elfrieden’s authority you know?”
“Don’t call it a reckless act when you’re the one who did it, and then so what? There’s no law in Elfrieden that says you can’t sing another country’s national anthem. We’re not in Amidonia anymore”
I looked away from Margarita and turned towards the Royal Broadcast orb.
“What is a good country. The answer doesn’t come that easy. But at least, I think a country where you can freely sing songs is a good country. Fun songs, sad songs, songs of love, songs of the country, songs of other countries, war songs, anti-war songs. A country where you can sing any song is a good country, that’s what I think”
I then stretched the palm of my hand to the orb and said.
“What do you think, ladies and gentlemen of the audience?”
◇ ◇ ◇
There was a tower in the west of Vannes. The inside of the grotesque moss-covered spire was turned into a prison, where high ranking criminals (nobles, knights, or above) were imprisoned. But even if it’s a prison for high-ranked prisoners, it was far from a suite room, and only had a plain jail room inside. During Amidonian rule, political prisoners were kept here. Those who subvert the state or those who ‘were going to’ go against the will of the nation.
‘Were going to’ did not necessarily have anything to do with actually having ‘done’ it. This kind of crime were usually used to take down one’s political opponents. It had torture dungeons for obtaining confessions underground, there were a lot of cases where nobles charged with crime were made to confess down there and were sent along with their entire families to the executioners. When one approaches this tower at night, one would hear the moans of the prisoners who were tortured during the day, and thus the tower came to be called the [Tower of Moans].
In one of the jails in the Tower of Moans, Liscia and Carla were sitting opposite each other, separated by iron bars. Carla, as a hostage from the Air Force, was currently being locked up in this prison. Liscia brought a small Royal Broadcast receiver in and was watching together with Carla. It was a normal music show up until halfway but with the sudden appearance of the Amidonian general, the two finally noticed Soma’s aim.
“He even included the Amidonian general trying to fan up patriotism in his plans”
“He’s showing the Amidonians that he’s big enough to accept Amidonian patriotism”
“So Soma’s telling the Amidonians that they can sing anything they like in our country. No, not just songs. Music, literature, painting, sculpture … he’s saying they’re free to express themselves in any kind of art”
“Self-expression, huh … that’s the one thing Amidonia hates the most”
For the military nation that Amidonia was, it was easier to deal with the citizens if they were all the same. That way they could just announce their plan to knock Elfrieden down and gain support. If they diversity in things like ideas, there were going to be people coming out saying “isn’t it better to make peace with Elfrieden and coexist in trade?” That was something the Principality feared the most. Therefore if any such people ever appeared they would thoroughly put pressure on them.
But now, with the death of Gaius VIII in battle, the royal family lost their influence. It was during that kind of time that Soma launched his broadcast and taught the citizens that there was such a thing as freedom of expression. That self expression is allowed. If you have something to say then you can say it. Sing what songs you want to sing, draw what pictures you wannt to draw, tell what stories you want to tell. That nobody could bind you from doing that.
“Even if the crown prince Julius were reinstated after this, he wouldn’t be able to rule like before. The people knew the joy of expressing themselves already. He would need to suppress people to take that away”
“And he would lose the hearts of the people even more … huh”
Carla sighed and leaned on the iron bars.
“I think I understand now what Soma said about [A King’s work happens before and after the war]. He … he’s still fighting even now, isn’t he”
“Fighting … yes … that’s why Soma didn’t choose me but Aisha as a partner”
Liscia also sighed and leaned against the iron bars. The two now sat back to back with the bars in between them.
“I’m happy that he didn’t want to see me hurt, but I’m a bit jealous. I’d like it if he relied on me more …”
“… That’s what they call being cherished, isn’t it?”
“I wonder about that”
“It is. He said he didn’t want you guys to hear him say something weak in battle. Grandmother said once that men are creatures who are stubborn when it comes to those important to them”
“R, really … ah, but, he said it to you Carla?”
“I’m nobody important to him. I defied him after all”
“Carla, Soma is …!”
Liscia turned around but lost the words to say when she saw Carla. Her usually determined face was nowhere to be found, and a somewhat lonely, understandingly calm one took its place.
“I know Liscia. During the battle, I saw how heavy what he was carrying on his back was. He’s not a false king. He’s a true, proper King. His highness the previous King and Liscia were right. I was the one who didn’t understand”
“Then, if you understand …”
“I can’t accept your mediation exactly because I understand”
Liscia stood up and hit at the iron bars.
“Do you know how much Lady Walter and I …”
“It’s not about that, Liscia”
To the exasperated Liscia, Carla silently shook her head. She then hugged her knees in both arms and said with a strained voice.
“… I’m scared”
“Yes … I’m scared. I understood Soma’s greatness and was scared. Being let alive to realize my powerlessness …”
Carla actually shivered as she said that. Carla, who would fearlessly rode atop wyverns to high heights under a hail of arrows shivered like a child from thunder.
“Yes, powerlessness. We with the blood of dragons are afraid of being powerless whether we want to or not. Do you know Liscia? Dragons only let the masters they trust ride on their backs. Yet at the same time they were deathly afraid of not being of use to their masters”
“I’ve … heard about it. Illness or accidents aside, if the master dies before the dragon in battle, the dragon will be sure to follow them to death”
In actuality, Liscia knew of it as little more than rumor, but all of Elfrieden’s flying knights rode wyverns, and knights who made contracts with dragons only exist in the Star Dragon Mountains, a country up in the north. That’s why she didn’t know how true the rumor was, but Carla said it was true.
“That’s not all of it. If they lost their wings in battle and could no longer be of use to their masters, powerless, they would soon weaken and die. … we Dragonewts were born between those dragons and the knights. The fear of being powerless is in our blood. Not so deep that we’d weaken and die … but it’s still frightening”
“Carla’s not powerless in any way right? You’re much stronger than me”
“What Soma wanted … is not a fighter, right. His fights are outside the field of battle. I don’t have what it takes to follow him there”
Carla said that as she smiled in ridicule at herself. As she smiled, tears oozed out of the corners of her eyes. Unable to bear it, Liscia said.
“But the fights are still not over! He’ll still need a fighter’s strength!”
“No … I figured it out at the last fight. There were no large battles in King Alberto’s time. In that time, the world had become a world that could no longer be changed by a handful of fighters. Leadership is worth more than strength now, and wars are won by people who can send the right number of soldiers to the right fields”
“Even Father would still have more use. Despite his personality he could move the Air Force like his own arms and legs. The most I could manage are a hundred people”
“Is that bad?”
“You can easily find replacements for someone like that. I … I can’t even find a reason to let myself live. … I never knew I was this useless”
“… If I was let to live, I’d be crushed by the sense of powerlessnes. So at least, let me …”
Carla then faced Soma’s image on the broadcast. She kneeled and bowed.
“Let me humbly accept the King’s judgement”
◇ ◇ ◇
“Now then everyone, let’s welcome the star of our show today. Juna Doma with [Mou Hitotsu no Ashita]!”
Having announced the last song, I went away somewhere the broadcast wouldn’t catch me and there Aisha was waiting with a guarded look with Margarita who was on her knees. Noticing me come close, Margarita said vexedly.
“… King of Elfrieden. Did you know what I was going to do?”
“I had a guess. Somebody in my world did the same thing once”
“I see … if there’s a precedent then my failure was a given”
Well, it was a movie, though. It was an old-ish musical, but my late Grandpa liked it and watched it over and over again. I put my hand on Margarita’s shoulder.
“Your expressiveness and voice that weren’t any use in the Amidonian military are really excellent. What say you? Will you be a songstress in our country? Like, as an R&B singer”
“… Such warm words for a defeated general, I’m greatly sorry. I don’t know what this ar-en-bi is but it might be alright for a failure of a soldier such as me”
“Yeah, we want as many singers as we can get. You’d be welcome”
As I said that, Margarita’s grim smile turned into a stiff smile.
“… Let me think on it for a little while”
◇ ◇ ◇
[Character Sketch: Margarita Wanda]
At this point in time Margarita Wanda hesitated to answer, but she would later unveil her debut as the R&B singer from Amidonia. The husky voice that was the highlight of her singing voice were popular mainly with the middle aged and above crowd. Also, her gutsy and hearty character that rivals men forged in the battlefield were well received by the audience, and she would go on to host several shows, becoming a mainstay of Elfriedenian showbiz.
- TN: Or Wonder? ↩