TN: Apologies for going incommunicado for the last month, real life has been … unrelenting. I’m still feeling a bit unwell right now, but here’s a chapter.
The place we led Jeanne to was the government office. I thought this place was perfect for us to sit down and negotiate. It’s quite spacious and there were lots of pen and paper, and we can also get any necessary materials easily. However, it seems that what drew Jeanne’s attention the most when we entered the room was the bed in the corner …
“King Soma, that bed is?”
“Mine. This place is also my private room after all”
“Do you sleep in the government office!?”
“To our utmost embarassment …”
Jeanne’s astonishment was answered in embarassment, not by me, but Hakuya. However, it looks like what astonished Jeanne wasn’t the fact that I was sleeping in the office itself.
“I never though there would ever be a royal who does the same thing as Elder Sister …”
Elder Sister … Lady Maria she means? Eh, the Imperial Holy Maiden sleeps in her office!? When I asked her, Jeanne replied awkwardly.
“Well, she’s a woman after all so she does have her own room, but when she’s busy with government work she sleeps in a bed in the office”
… somehow, right now, I feel like I really really get this Holy Maiden.
“Since Elder Sister is the Holy Maiden ruling over a vast territory, I told her to stop because she would make a bad example to her subordinates, but all she said was [It’s okay, right?], she never listens, at all”, said Jeanne with a sigh. For some reason Hakuya nodded enthusiastically.
“I know. I also repeatedly told His Highness to provision a room for himself to sleep in, but each and every time, all he said was [It’s more efficient, right]”
“I know. I get that Elder Sister gets tired when she’s working, but I wanted her to behave herself in front of her subordinates. Especially that she has the image of the Holy Maiden to keep up. I wish she doesn’t show her miserable side too much”
“I know, but, I’ve already given up on that point. His Highness still bears the name of the [Hero King] but what he does is unheard-of …”
Oi oi Hakuya. Don’t you think you went too far? Well, I didn’t really want to carry the Hero name, you see, and my unprecedented act got you guys hired, right?
… or so I wanted to say but it looks like I was going to get scolded even more so I gave up.
“I thought it’s good that King Soma does it out of being calculated. Elder Sister was only being slovenly. She’s a bit of an airhead, you know”
“Isn’t that great? It makes her a bit more cute. In His Highness’ case, it’s unseemly exactly because it was calculated. Why is it that he listens to counsel when it comes to work but not when it comes to private life”
“It seems Lord Minister has quite his share of troubles”
“As do you Lady Jeanne” 1
Jeanne and Hakuya were hitting it off. They look like they were going to break into a vigorous handshake 2 at any moment. Right then and there, the “Victims of Lazy Lieges Alliance” was born. … this is no laughing matter. I faked a cough and prompted Jeanne to get herself seated at the long table in the center of the office.
“Anyway let’s put that aside and get the negotiations started”
Jeanne got herself back in order and sat down. We were seated facing one another with the long table between us.
“Now then,” said Jeanne while looking my way, opening the negotiations.
“First, regarding the current occupation of Vannes. I regret to say that I promised Julius this. The Empire must do what it must”
“Well, let’s not go to straight to the end already. Here we have the Kingdom’s Head and the Empire’s Number Two having direct negotiations after all. There should be lots of things to talk about and information to share here. We can leave the unpleasant stuff for later, no?”
“… I suppose so. Also, I would like to summon our bureaucrats waiting in the other room, will that be okay?”
“Very well. If they would submit to a body check, that is. … Is anyone there?”
I shouted at the door and then Serina came in saying, “Excuse me”.
“Huh? Weren’t you handling Julius’ reception …?”
“‘Reception’ is over,” said Serina coolly. … It’s still three in the afternoon now, but it’s already over? … Like I thought, Serina is a frightening girl.
“What will it be Your Highness?”
“Ah, bring our bureaucrats and the bureaucrats Jeanne brought along. And check that they’re not carrying weapons first”
As I watched Serina gracefully leave, I resolved myself to “never make an enemy of her”.
◇ ◇ ◇
A council is a dance. A bustling whirl of activity.
“So how is the situation with the Empire’s crops this year?”
“Thankfully we are generally getting a good harvest. Wheat is particularly bountiful. How about Elfrieden? You just came out of a food crisis”
“We’re getting a good harvest too. We managed to change crops in time, so there’s no need to worry about food anymore. Rather, it’s the emergency stores that’s worrying me. Even if we have it good this year, we might relapse next year or the year after”
“Well that goes for the both of us, doesn’t it. Harvest goes by the will of the heavens after all”
While Jeanne and I were talking, the Royal and Imperial bureaucrats were quietly trotting around. Some were frantically making notes of our discussion, because even a verbal promise can be an official commitment if written down on paper. Yet others were confirming what the things in those notes meant in order to not misinterpret what those commitments are. There were also those on both sides presenting prepared materials for each other, comparing what either country had in abundance and what they lacked. Since we shared no borders it would be hard to give each other direct aid but it should be possible with a third party intermediary.
It was a battlescene. Hakuya was eyeing each and every document in detail, and Liscia was helping me. Only the guard, Aisha, was standing at attention, but she wouldn’t want to look at numbers. She looked bored. … It feels really nostalgic, reminds me of the initial days of me having been handed over the throne.
In real diplomacy, even if the respective heads only met for a few minutes, both countries’ bureaucrats would negotiate for weeks or months behind the scenes. The Kingdom and Empire hadn’t been able to do that since the Demon King Territory appeared, which was what led to the current hecticness. For that reason, the first thing on the list for Jeanne and I to discuss was the Reopening of the Shuttle Diplomacy between the Grand Chaos Empire and the Kingdom of Elfrieden.
“Speaking of food, those Susanna root dumplings are really delicious, aren’t they. They’re made from the rhizomes of the bewitching susanna, right? We would like to know how they are gathered”
“I don’t mind. Well, according to Poncho, he learnt the bewitching susanna harvesting methods from a mountain tribe within the Empire. It should be easy to get their cooperation to introduce them”
“Oh my, there are people like that in the Empire. It embarasses me to not know what our own country has”
“That’s how it always goes, right. You can’t always see what’s under your own feet”
I took a sip of the coffee Serina prepared and looked towards Jeanne. “Agreed,” she said as she also took a sip from her tea. I tried putting a little bit of sting in my words to see how she would react but her expression never faltered. It was unthinkable that she was the same age as Liscia.
“Since we’re telling you about the susanna dumplings, we’d like to have some information as well”
“Alright. What kind of information do you want?”
“Food in exchange for food, that should be fine, right? I wonder if there’s some uncommon food the Empire knows of?”
“… then let’s give you that right away,” said Jeanne with an ominous smile.
“It’s demon meat”
“You can eat demon meat”
Demon … meat? Eh, what, really? Is she serious?
“Have you … eaten demon meat?”
“Yes. It tastes surprisingly ordinary”
I felt my legs becoming unsteady. Since I’ve heard about the Kobolds helping the Mystic Wolf Tribe from Tomoe, I was thinking of negotiating with the Demon King Army if circumstances allow, but … did she say they taste ordinary? To be in a literal the-strong-eating-the-weak relationship with someone you’re going to negotiate with. It didn’t seem like it will end with just one side eating the other …. I asked with a strained voice.
“Did you possibly eat … a goblin or something?”
Jeanne looked at me blankly for a moment then shook her head in a fluster.
“Perish the thought! What we ate were ‘demonic beasts’, not ‘demon race’. … ah, I see, Elfrieden doesn’t know much about the Demon King Territory, right”
Jeanne seemed to understand something and nodded.
“Alright. Then I shall tell you as much about the Demon King Territory and Demon King Army as our country knows”
She then slowly began her recount.
◇ ◇ ◇
“Firstly, the Empire doesn’t know the reason the Demon King Territory appeared in this Randia continent, either. Really, all we could say is that it just suddenly appeared there one day. Then, through the stories told by the people chassed off the Territory and through actual combat with the existence known as the Demon King Army, we were able to come to a conclusion?”
“Among the thing called the Demon King Army, there are grotesque beasts that don’t have much intelligence even though they could form packs, that simply devour living things, and there are those like Kobolds and Ogres with control like an army, that are little different from the human side. To distinguish between them, we call the former Demonic Beasts, while the latter are Demon Races”
“Ah, now that you mention it, I’ve heard something like this from previous King Alberto”
The area popularly known as the “Demon Realm” suddenly appeared at the northern end of the great continent of Randia. From there, all kinds of demons great and small came gushing forth, causing chaos among the nations. Humanity’s side united and patched together a punitive force and sent them to the afflicted area, but it ended in failure. In the Demon Realm, there existed “Demonic Beasts” with low (or no) sentience, and sapient “Demon Races” with great war strength. Those Demon Races annihilated the punitive force the nations gathered up. The Demon Races then proceeded with a counteroffense toward human territories, expanding their influence into the land that was now called the “Demon King Territory”, or so I heard. When I told Jeanne what I heard from Alberto, she made a grave nod.
“Yes, so I’ve heard. I was seven when the punitive force was sent so I didn’t really see it for myself. Except that after taking time analyzing what the people at the site said, a new fact had come to light”
“The initial onslaught of monsters that destroyed many nations, killed countless people, and turned still more into refugees were all done by Demonic Beasts”
“Demonic Beasts? Not the Demon Races?”
“Yes. That was then”
Jeanne took a sip of her tea.
“The first sighting of the Demon Races was when the punitive force was ambushed. Naturally, they were there when the counteroffensive destroyed countries and killed and made refugees of people”
“Which means, there were two waves to the Demon King Army Invasion”
The first wave was a Demonic Beast onslaught. The second wave was the Demon Race counteroffensive. The Kobolds that led Tomoe’s Mystic Wolf Tribe to become refugees were probably part of the second wave.
“The damage caused by the first and second waves were also starkly different. The Demonic Beast attack of the first wave was a brutal scene. The fires the Beasts breathed turned towns into scorched earth, devouring soldiers and civilians without regard for age nor gender. I heard that all that was left of the towns they attacked were ‘food scraps'”
Literally ‘beasts’, it was a ‘Demonic Beast’ attack. An attack by beasts, like locusts, that only view humans as food.
“But the second wave was a total war. Sentient beings with purpose capturing towns and villages. There were still killings and plunder, but there were lots of cases where if one were able to flee them they didn’t give chase. The cases of people being killed for food dropped sharply but on the other hand, cases of rape by Demonic Beasts increased”
“… so just like any other war. Like between humans”
“Yes, although I’m reluctant to call rape a sign of intelligence,” Jeanne spat. It was unforgivable for her as a fellow woman, it seems.
“But how did that change happen? Did the Demonic Beasts gain intelligence as they fought humans and become Demon Races?”
“For a time, there were church officials who said that they ate human brains and gained intelligence, but that of course wasn’t what happened. It was a fact that Demonic Beasts still exist. Ever since the human and demon sides came to a deadlock, the only attacks came from packs of demonic beasts. Though, that was what allowed us to maintain the status quo”
H~m … I don’t get it. So what are these demonic races and beasts?
“That reminds me, we found heaps of demonic beast fossils when we were digging out settlement tanks near Parnam. Those were definitely at least several thousands of years old”
“Fossils … are what, exactly?”
“Ah, it’s not common knowledge in this world, I see. Simply put, they were the remains of bones of dead beasts left buried in the ground. There are certain conditions, but after many years the bones in the ground turn into stone, though even bones that were only left for several thousand years also get called fossils”
“I see … so you’re saying that demonic beasts exist from several thousands of years back”
Hm? She’s surprisingly composed. Liscia almost fell over in shock when she heard it.
“… I thought you’d be more surprised”
“When you think about it, there were monsters inside dungeons even before the Demon King Territory appeared. I wonder if it used to be the site of a former dungeon?”
“There were no records of it in the Royal histories. No folklore, either. Well, it was several thousands of years ago, so I can’t deny the possibility that it came from way further back than any history”
“Humm … I suppose we should investigate our own country as well,” Jeanne pensively nodded. Well, that would be more than what I’d ask for.
“By all means please do so. The Kingdom will also investigate various places”
“Please tell us if you found anything. Of course, we’ll also notify you if we do”
Imperial territory was much much bigger than the Kingdom. One could expect more out of investigating it. But of course, the Kingdom also wanted to make progress with our own investigations. And thus it was decided that the “Sharing of Information on Domestic Excavations” would begin between the Kingdom and the Empire.
Jeanne took a breath and said, “now, we seem to have digressed quite a ways from the discussion of whether demonic beasts can be eaten or not,” as she emptied her cup of tea.
I also drained my cup of coffee and ordered Serina for refills for the both of us. We each received our refills of coffee and tea and continued the talk.
“Now that you mention it, we were talking about that, didn’t we”
“What I ate was some winged great serpent meat”
“Winged serpent? Like a dragon?”
I recall there being a deity called the Plumed Serpent (Quetzalcoatl) in Central or South America, but we’re not on Earth and since we were talking demonic beasts, what came to mind was a draconic monster. That was what I was thinking, but Jeanne shook her head.
“No, it wasn’t something that glamorous. It was literally just a snake with four bird wings growing out of its body”
The hell is that? That’s definitely a chimera, right?
“Well, you’re something, being able to eat something like that …”
“Tastes just like a regular snake. Closer to fish than chicken, it’s quite delicious”
… well, I suppose they eat snakes normally in some countries. In my mind, snake meat brings up the image of the fake fish in Akutagawa Ryuunosuke’s “Rashomon” … did she say delicious?
“Say now … Jeanne, aren’t you a princess?”
“I’m also a general. Local bounties make for good army provisions”
“That makes sense”
“And what got me thinking to eat demonic beasts was when one of the scouting parties sent to the Demon King Territory saw the remains of demonic beasts having been cooked by the demon race”
“Cooked? Not just eaten on the spot?”
“Yes. Judging from the bones that looked like they were cut apart with edged tools and the heads that have charred bits, they were probably roasted whole before being cut apart and eaten. So when we caught the same kind of demonic beast, I just had to find out whether we can eat them as well”
Jeanne bit into the baked sweets served alongside the tea.
“We of course checked whether or not it was poisonous. Before giving them to humans to eat, we made animals eat them. After making sure they’re safe like that, we took turns eating them starting from the NCOs 3”
“Poison-testers have it rough …”
“Then when we tried eating them, it was light but refreshing, it was normal delicious”
“Um, rather than their taste, isn’t there something more important to think about?”
The fact that demon races eat demonic beasts was more profound than the fact that demonic beasts are edible. It means that the demon races don’t view demonic beasts as their equals. I love beef and pork, but no matter how similar their faces looked I never considered eating orcs or minotaurs. I’d rather eat snakes than that. Would the demons have the same kind of mentality? As I was thinking such things, I arrived at a hypothesis.
“I wonder the demon race and demonic beasts are like ‘people’ and ‘animals’ on our side?”