(“How about our guards?”)
(“The other side has their guards too so they’re unable to move”)
(“Right, no way she’d come alone. … I’ll leave Tomoe to you”)
Tomoe was still sleepy from being woken up so suddenly. I left her with Juna and faced Jeanne Euphoria. I have seen the reports of her. Supposedly the Grand Chaos Holy Maiden and Empress Maria Euphoria had a younger sister ruling over the military, and because Maria was unmarried, was the first in line of the Imperial succession. This must be her.
“And what business might the Empire’s number two have in our country?”
I deliberately pomped up my tone. We were not signatory to the Humanity Declaration, and as such had no need to recognize Maria as leader. Which means we are peers as rulers, Maria and I stand equal to one another. This girl was the younger sister of the Empress but formally, her position is that of a retainer, so I have the higher seat here. I didn’t particularly want to put on airs toward my retainers, but I have to make things clear when facing someone from a foreign country. Jeanne also replied as if my attitude was natural.
“No, I only sneaked in wanting to see how your higness Soma rules, but our man reported to me that your highness will be travelling to town incognito today, so I thought I should give my greetings”
In other words, she wasn’t inteding to meet with me. Just that she was making contact because my vacation happen to coincide with her reconnaisance.
“But aren’t you quite bold, sneaking into Vannes while it’s under our occupation”
“There were things I can’t believe until I see them for myself anyhow. Rumors of your highness Soma had reached the Empire, but there were lots of ones with dubious truth. I wanted to see with my own eyes”
Rumors? I wonder what they talk about me there.
“Well, there’s [The benevolent ruler who restores the royal economy from the brink of bankruptcy], or [Solving the food crisis by introducing the cooking of never-before eaten foodstuffs], or [Mowing down the enemy hordes with peerless strengths in battle], and the like”
“… well, most of it’s an exaggeration”
Not even one of those were my accomplishments alone. The work restoring the economy I did together with the bureaucrats, and the gathering of foodstuffs was Poncho’s deed. As for the war, I only moved the army while the direct fighting was left entirely to other people. So what I did in the end was “leaving things tho the people who can.”
“Ah, and there’s also a rumor that you were [a matchless lecher]”
“Whoa, hold on there!”
Who are you calling a lecher!?
“How did that rumor come to be!?”
“Well, they say that [despite being engaged to the beautiful daughter of the previous King, you gathered beauties from all over the country to select your concubines]. Miss Juna over there, wasn’t she the concubine you chose?”
“That is a misunderstanding!”
She was probably talking abouth the Elfrieden Bishoujo Grand Prix I did when gathering personnell. It was just that when I said I didn’t mind whatever talent they had, the fields of Warfare, Beauty, and Public Entertainment had a particularly large rush of applicants so I made them into tournament-style competitions. Project Lorelei hadn’t even been concieved back in those days. Which reminds me, there were rumors that [The beauty competition is for selecting a mistress for the King], and so nobles would come and had their relatives enter. I guess that’s how it would look from outside, huh.
“A c-concubine … I did know there were rumors of that but …” said Juna with a red face. S, seriously? Dammit, I can’t take this lying down. Even though I’ve been working myself to death since the crown was handed over to me that I didn’t even have time to adequately socialize with Liscia … Or rather, this may be late but Liecia’s and my relationship is flying on the rumor mills, huh.
“Humm … if those rumors are untrue, then I guess I can’t play that card,” mumbled Jeanne with a worried look.
“Nothing, just that if you were really a lecher King, then I thought to have you capitulate by having Elder Sister say please 1”
“What are you making the Imperial Holy Maiden do!”
“But doesn’t an appelation, like Holy Maiden, make your gentlemanly senses tingle?”
“Well that’s … understandable I suppose”
[Imperial Holy Maiden Maria] sounds like it won’t be out of place as the title of a porn game. Though in that case, they’d swap the word for ‘holy’ with ‘sex’ 2, and if you ask me, I think there are a lot more of those bearing the name Jeanne rather than Maria but … hey, never mind that!
“An appelation, huh …? Does Lorelei make your senses tingle too?”
“Why are you also joining in, Juna!?”
“Ah, no … didn’t mean to …”
“Ha ha ha, You’re a much more interesting man than I expected, your highness”
That exchange was being laughed at by Jeanne.
“… I didn’t mean to be funny though”
“Nonsense, it’s good for the nation’s stability if the King and his retainers get along, right? We couldn’t have done that, you see”
“… The Empire isn’t like this?”
“We have a ridiculously large territory, and the Empress’ authority is great, too. Elder sister is revered as the Holy Maiden, almost worshipped, so family is all she has that she could have a relaxing chat with. To top it off, she tries to seriously play her part as the Empress, so she tries to treat everyone equally”
Jeanne shrugged her shoulders and looked toward the plaza.
“Our matter this time is related to that, too. We have to lend a hand to Amidonia who ignored the Humanity Declaration, even though we have nothing to gain from it”
“… As the idealistic Maria’s younger sister, you’re quite the realist, aren’t you”
“The elder sister is a dreamer, so the younger sister has to have her feet firmly on the ground”
Jeanne smiled as she said that. I was convinced, Jeanne’s way of thinking was closer to mine compared to Maria’s. A person who doesn’t hold lofty ideals, but a person who dealt with reality. I’m glad Jeanne’s not the Empress, I thought. She wouldn’t have stubbornly held on to territory, but split them up, keeping the good ones for herself. I know I‘d do something like that.
“By the way,” said Jeanne pointing up at Chris’ image reflected in the sky.
“It’s amazing how you use the Royal Broadcast. Reducing the people’s anxiety by gathering and disseminating information. You don’t mind if we try it in our country, do you?”
“… be my guest”
It’s a simple thing to do if one wanted to do it. It’s useless to say no.
“Thank you very much. How do you come up with such an advanced idea?”
“Advanced, huh? It’s just that common in the world where I came from”
“The world you came from … is it”
The smile disappeared from Jeanne’s face as she said that. She straightened herself up again and bowed. She bowed until her hips formed a right angle. She bowed so deep that I thought she would do a kowtow if they had the custom to. The sudden abasement threw me off”
“W, what’s this all of a sudden”
“We did something unpardonable to you. Please allow me to apologize here in place of my sister”
Jeanne made a bitter smile as she raised her face.
“The hero summoning. The reason the Kingdom of Elfrieden summoned you to this world was because of our pressuring. My sister sincerely regrets having uprooted you from your home and called you to this world even though you have done us no wrong”
Jeanne lowered her head again. Aah … that’s what it’s about.
“Raise your head, Jeanne Euphoria. What’s past is past”
“Well, I was angry at first, I worked really hard so I didn’t get handed over to the Empire”
But when I calmly think it over, there was no reason for the Empire to summon a hero. I thought they wanted me to join the anti-Demon war at the beginning, but the current war front was deadlocked but stable. Unlike the nearly bankrupt Kingdom, the Empire had no need of a hero. To begin with, even the Kingdom didn’t believe it could summon a hero, so the Empire wouldn’t be counting on it, either.
Also, the summoned hero was me. Summoning a hero with magic power comparable to a weapon of mass destruction, or capable of wielding a sword and armor like none other is one thing, but I only had powers that would be slightly useful when managing things. Not even the Empire would need that. So the reason the Empire purposely sought such a hero would be …
“It was the Empire being considerate in its own way, right?”
“The kingdom was on the brink of bankruptcy that time because of the food problems and economic slump. They can’t exactly send out money for the war support. But since the Humanity Declaration includes the clause ‘for the countries far from the Demon King Territory to support the bulwarks that are the countries near the Territory’, the Empire had to collect, or else the supporting countries will be dissatisfied. That’s why you allowed the Kingdom to make a show of support by handing the hero over”
“Wait a minute, the Kingdom didn’t sign the Humanity Declaration, right? There’s no obligation for us to pay the support money, right?”
Juna asked me, but I shook my head.
“Truth is, we have reaped the benefits of the Declaration the Empire established. If we say we have no obligation just because we’re a non signatory party, we’ll end up suffering the signatory countries’ backlash. Countries like Amidonia would use it as a reason to build up an army and invade the Kingdom. They may even get the Empire to assume command”
Since the current war was fought against Amidonia alone, we were able to weather it through. Well, every nation would have their troubles, but if the Amidonians allied with Zem and Torgis and some of the eastern countries, and had the Imperial army add to their numbers, the Kingdom would be over in the blink of an eye.
“The Empire, who wanted all of humanity to stand united against the demons would want to prevent that at all costs. That’s why they even collected support money from non-signatory countries and allowed scapegoats to the countries that could not pay. To calm the signatory countries down, right? For the Kingdom, that scapegoat is the hero”
“… I really have no more words to offer you”
“Frankly speaking, you were going to ask for some valuable historic treasure if the hero summoning failed, weren’t you?”
“You are correct. To top it off, you even contrived to raise the war support money for us. We’re very thankful and at the same time ashamed of ourselves”
Jeanne looked heartached as she said that. I sighed.
“Like I said, what’s past is past. I no longer have any grudge against you now. It’s not like I had no attachments to the other world, but … there are people here I’ve come to want to protect”
There’s no one in the other world waiting for me to come home anymore, but there are people who do in this one. Whenever I came to the castle and said “I’m home,” Liscia and Aisha would come greet me saying “welcome back”. Just like family. For someone who knew the pain of loneliness, that is something I don’t want to lose again.
“Well I found family to protect here. So you don’t have to worry about it. If you’re still worrying about it then how about recognizing Vannes as ours?”
After I said that, Jeanne silently shook her head.
“… unfortunately, I also have family I must protect”
“I see … then there’s no other choice but to negotiate, is there?”
“Yes. Please be gentle with me when the time comes”
Having finished, Jeanne sharply turned around and disappeared into the crowd. Juna said the presence of the opposing guards also disappeared. She really did come to say hi. She came and went all so suddenly.
“Jeanne Euphoria … the realist younger sister supporting the idealist Holy Maiden”
If it’s just the Crown Prince Julius of Amidonia, I’d be confident I can lead him by the nose, but with Jeanne as an agent, I don’t think I could find a weak point. I fear that if I used a half-baked plan and she saw through it, she might instead use it against me. Goodness … it’s like I’m fighting myself here, she’s a worse enemy than Ecksel in some ways.
◇ ◇ ◇
Back in the castle, I took out the gifts for Liscia and Aisha. Liscia went and put on the blue leather choker encrusted with silver foil. She put her hand on the golden phoenix-shaped clasp and let out a satisfied smile.
“Thank you very much Soma. I’ll treasure this”
Seeing Liscia smile with a slight sign of bashfulness, I was entranced. Yes, I’m glad she liked it. I’m glad I bought it for her. But on the other hand, Aisha …
“AAAAAAAH Your highness! I’m very delighted you even brought me a souvenir! I was sad when you went and left me behind but now I feel like I can fly to the sky!”
“G, good for you … Aisha”
“Yes, miss Juna! I’ll refine my womanliness with this lipstick! Then I can always always stay by His Highness’ side … huhuhuhuhu”
“D, do your best …”
… that, was what she said. A little too happy, if you ask me. She exuded so much happy aura that even Juna (who added a hairpin by the way) who she was talking to reeled back. If Aisha weren’t a Dark Elf and was a Mystic Wolf like Tomoe, her tail would be wagging by now. Seeing Aisha, Liscia who still had her hand on her choker said in astonishment:
“Don’t you think a collar suits her better?”
“… no comment”