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Chapter 2: Princess
Seeing Princess Shirayuki’s pale and unmoving face, Morino sighed.
It had been a year since Morino had become the Prime Minister. He finally seemed to have gotten used to the act of looking down on others.
“If you have no wish to express your intentions, let me suggest something to you…Knight Commander.”
In the current official setting, Morino, as the Prime Minister, had a higher position than the Knight Commander. When called by Morino, Jolga gave a brief response and assumed the stance of a loyal vassal beneath the throne. After waiting for King Vikram’s nod of approval, Prime Minister Morino looked at Princess Shirayuki, and then suddenly his expression softened.
The words that rolled off the angelic figure’s tongue were considerably shocking to the envoys from Hinoe.
“In return for the assistance of the Knight Commander Jolga, I propose that you, the third Princess of Hinoe, Shirayuki, become the Knight Commander’s concubine once your long-cherished wish has been fulfilled.”
The first to move were the two young men who had been waiting behind Princess Shirayuki.
Their hands reached their waists, and each of the blades that they drew at the same time they stepped forward were met by Sigurd and Lutora’s swords each.
Sigurd and Lutora smiled fearlessly in front of the astonished young men, who probably didn’t expect to be stopped by either of them.
“It is certainly—heavy!”
Both of them were quite skilled, but Jolga had seen through their first move and their sword art was weak compared to his. The two young knights, Sigurd and Lutora, who I had briefed beforehand on the possible use of iainuki (the art of drawing one’s sword) by the Hinoe samurai, were able to catch the samurais’ attack splendidly by replicating Jolga’s action of drawing the blade of the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword] out of the mouth of its sheath.
In the blink of an eye before the five who had been waiting behind her could move, Jolga was standing in front of Princess Shirayuki; the tip of his sword, [Quistacis: He who Controls Dragons] was thrust in front of the young Princess. I had to hand it to Princess Shirayuki for not moving one bit and glaring at Jolga despite her twitching cheeks.
Even in this tension-filled audience room, Morino kept his relaxed tone.
“I had heard that the people of Hinoe were mild-mannered and respected the peace…but it seems that I was mistaken.”
“…That’s enough, Morino.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Morino quietly lowered his head when Vikram chided him, but his face held hints of a smirk. As I watched to see what would happen, the youngest, Princess Shirayuki, was the first to snap back to her senses.
“Bro—Seiji, Tokiwa, please stop!”
…Would it be the mature thing to pretend not to have heard the word that she’d inadvertently blurted out at first?
I saw the true identity of “Seiji” and “Tokiwa,” and building upon the state of the Princess, little by little, the origin of their ire dawned upon me.
I lightly signalled with my eyes, and after making sure that standing behind Morino, his aide Vanellope had made her move, I as always, clapped my hands a tad bit dramatically. Feeling the attention of the people gathered in the audience room focus on me, I bowed respectfully and gracefully to King Vikram.
“Your Majesty Vikram, may I speak?”
“…Ah, go ahead.”
“Thank you for your generosity.Then, ladies and gentlemen from Hinoe, is the Prime Minister’s proposal really so difficult to accept?”
“Of course! The Princess is still young…and, as a concubine!”
Although he had sheathed his sword for now, as he showed signs of making a move again as he barked at me, the weight of Sigurd’s longsword fell on the youth’s shoulders.
“Well, why? Princess Shirayuki is ten years old now. If you are a member of a family that is responsible for governing the country, it would not be surprising if you were to marry to deepen the bonds between countries. If she is yet to come of age, we have the patience to wait for the ceremony. Or is it something else?”
I used my fingertips to push up the bridge of the glasses that were resting on the tip of my nose a little.
Is there a special reason why Princess Shirayuki cannot be married?”
This time, the young man’s expression tensed.
Hey, was he alright?
What would happen if a clan of statesmen who lead a nation was discomposed by such a trivial thing?
“Seiji…thank you. I’m…fine.”
“No…If by promising that to become a concubine after my dearest wish is fulfilled, Hinoe can be saved, then…we have neither the reason nor the leisure to refuse.”
Although the curved nails and white fingertips that Princess Shirayuki once again placed on the floor were trembling, her words held no hesitation.
“Please, I beg of you, save Hinoe! If it’s for that purpose, I don’t care if I become a concubine or a slave later on. I beg of you!…”
“…Then it’s decided.”
It seemed like the only real thing about her was her ‘resolution.’ I nodded and looked into Jolga’s face as he waited silently for me to speak.
“Knight Commander, do you have any requests for now?”
“…None in particular. I will follow the will of His Majesty and the Prime Minister.”
“Very well…Then let us follow the Prime Minister’s suggestion. Princess Shirayuki should stay at the Oswein family mansion for the duration of her stay in Palcemith. It is the mansion that will become her home in the near future.”
I ignored Princess Shirayuki, who averted her head and bit her lip, and smiled at the two young men staring at me as if they could shoot me dead with their gaze.
“Sir Seiji…and Sir Tokiwa, right? You two, along with Princess Shirayuki, should come to the Oswein family residence. We need you to explain the story of the Orochi in detail. The rest of the retinue should stay in the castle.”
The two youths I urged weren’t the ones who responded first to my words, but the men waiting at the back.
“No way, you must take us along too!”
“We cannot part from the Princess!”
“I cannot abandon my job once I have taken it up…”
“We are also Princess Shirayuki’s attendants! Please let us accompany her.”
“We can’t let Princess Shirayuki be held hostage like this!”
I clapped my hands again in front of the five men with raised voices and sighed deeply, after which they immediately fell silent.
“The Princess’ attendants, of all people—how impertinent! She is not something like a hostage; to put it bluntly, of course she will be a hostage. You are asking us to dispatch the Knight Commander, who has the greatest strength in our country, all the way to the Hinoe. There is nothing wrong with having a large reimbursement.”
“If you don’t like it, then propose something better. The price of renting out the Knight Commander is not cheap enough to be compensated by that ‘silk.’”
The one-eyed man, who seemed to be the oldest of the five, bowed his head low in response to my unconcerned words.
“The Knight Commander and you…Did you say you were an advisor? What you say is quite reasonable. But please, can you not pity this old senile fool’s age?”
Old Tori’ichi’s words did not pause, despite Princess Shirayuki’s shouts.
“I have few years remaining in this feeble body. If you wished to try your blades on me, it wouldn’t be strange.1 I do not even mind if you use me to scout enemy territory. If it helps Shirayuki…the Princess and Hinoe, then I have no regrets whatsoever.”
“Tori’ichi! Don’t be rash!”
Tori’ichi, was he perhaps named after Tori no Ichi? 2
Either way, he was the only one I was after, so this was a good thing.
“…I accept. All of the followers will be escorted to the Oswein residence…except.”
I locked gazes with Old Tori’ich, who had been staring at me for a while, and grinned. His shoulders flinched and he clenched his fist, seemingly unconsciously. It seemed like he had deemed me to be a ‘suspicious opponent.’
“Sir…Tori’ichi, was it? Only you shall stay behind in the castle. The Prime Minister will tell you about the events later.”
The old man nodded, and I again put one hand to my chest and bowed to King Vikram.
“Then, your Majesty, I shall excuse myself for a while. I shall guide the Princess and her retinue to the Oswein residence.”
“Ahh, I’ll leave it to you.”
“…Your Majesty is free to ‘confer’ along with the Prime Minister.”
The messengers from Hinoe were all puzzled at the brief conversation between Vikram and I, but it would be some time before they understood its implications.
The door to the audience room was opened and the six attendants, not including Old Tori’ichi, left the room along with Princess Shirayuki. “Seiji” and “Tokiwa” gently supported the slightly unsteady Princess Shirayuki from behind.
At the front door of the castle, two carriages belonging to the Oswein family had been prepared, perhaps in anticipation. I got into the same carriage as Jolga and the one he escorted, Princess Shirayuki, as well as her apparently close associates Seiji and Tokiwa got inside. I said one word to the coachman.
I was sure that Vanellope had already taken care of this, but if you took a carriage to the Oswein house, which was not far from the castle, you would arrive there in less than ten minutes. Normally, it would have been better to be quick, but this time, on the contrary, time was short. In the few minutes I had in the carriage, I had to find out many important things from Princess Shirayuki.
Princess Shirayuki was seated in the center of the carriage, with Seiji and Tokiwa flanking her on either side. And Jolga sat on the seat opposite them, near the door, and I sat directly facing the Princess. In total, there were five people.
The remaining four attendants were riding in the second carriage. The attendants were not happy about this either and grumbled, but in the end, they all got in the second carriage together with my persuasion.
That was all well and good, but we didn’t have much time, so we had to make sure everything was in order as soon as possible.
I sat down on the seat, crossed my legs together, and laced my left and right fingers together on my lap.
As she braced herself for the words to come, Princess Shirayuki’s face was pale, probably due to her extremely thin constitution. Above all, the change was evident in her nails and the whites of her eyes.
“We don’t have much time to spare, so let’s just confirm the main things….I wish to know your ladyship’s thoughts. Do you believe the Orochi exists, even today?”
A/N: There are many divine messengers associated with blacksmiths who have one eye and one arm.