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Chapter 4: The Ladies’ Secret
Glancing at Gowen as he returned to his room in the barracks, Ran asked,
“The Princess has arrived?”
She had, of course, been informed that Gowen had received the task of escorting Vileena. Her question was only by way of confirmation.
“Yeah,” Gowen answered with a somewhat bleak expression. Ran tilted her head to one side,
“You don’t look good. Shall I brew you some medicinal tea?”
“No,” with a thump, Gowen let himself drop into a wooden chair. Back when he was the overseer to the slaves, no one would have seen him look this tired. Ran however seemed to find it familiar.
“Your expression is the same as that time.”
You might be right, thought Gowen, but he did not say it out loud.
“Master Gowen, welcome back,” the boy who acted as their chamberlain appeared at that point.
He briskly tidied the pieces of armour that Gowen had removed and had already prepared a change of clothes for him.
“Reeno, could you run me some hot water?”
“Certainly,” the boy bowed, his adorable features set in an overly-serious expression.
Gowen felt even more exhausted and sighed. In truth, his body and mind were worn out from a threat unlike any he had experienced in either the battlefield or the gladiatorial arena.
During the journey, when he had been acting as the Princess’ escort, he had repeatedly felt a gaze on him. Princess Vileena had been watching him from the window of her carriage.
This might mean trouble, Gowen had braced himself every time. He had felt the same unease when he had initially heard that the Princess had informed the Emperor that she wished to go to Nedain.The Princess’ personality was not one to wallow in grief. Since the Prince’s death had been so sudden, he had wondered whether she might be going to verify the truth of it.
Gowen of course knew the ‘truth’. It was only natural, since Prince Gil Mephius – or rather, Orba, posing as the Prince – had told him his plan in person.
When Orba had been explaining it to him, Gowen had not interrupted to say a single word.
“Is that alright?” Was the only thing that he had asked, checking the impulse to say far more.
He had known that they did not have much time. They had been on their way back from providing reinforcement to Garbera, and Apta Fortress was already so close it was almost in sight. Orba had given a small nod.
Gowen had responded with a nod of his own.
“Got it. I’ll help you.”
“I’ll be giving you trouble until the end, Overseer.”
Sure, Gowen had answered then had said no more. Orba was not the only one who had felt dizzy from the constant changes in environment. There had been a lot that Gowen had been unable to get his head around in these past few months.
“Have you told Ran?”
“I’m planning to later.”
When he heard that, something must have shown in Gowen’s expression despite his intention to control it, since Orba immediately frowned in displeasure.
“Is something strange?”
Considering how he had been up until then, it was unusual for Orba to confide in someone who was not directly involved in a plan. Gowen could understand Orba’s feeling of wanting to put off that conversation. And Orba, who was quick to catch on and who of course knew it too, had gotten irritated by it.
Afterwards, they had returned to Apta. Once he had finished various preparations, Gowen had headed to a room in the barracks. He had gone to call on Shique, who had apparently likewise completed his arrangements. It had been evening, but because it was cloudy, the room had already been plunged into darkness.
Thinking about it, theirs was a strange relationship. They were among the very few in all of Mephius who knew the terrifying secret that the Crown Prince had been replaced by a body-double.
“He hasn’t said anything yet, but...” Shique had said while watching the River Yunos flowing far beneath them, “I plan to go with him. Although since at the moment he’ll object when I tell him that, I intend to do so against his will.”
“I thought as much”
“What about you, Gowen?”
“Me… Yeah. At my age, I’m too old to start anew again. I’ll stay in Mephius. Along with Ran – well, that’s if she wants to.”
“Take care,” Shique said as he turned to him, then laughed cheerfully.
Gowen had understood the reason for that laugh. A sword-slave and an overseer. It was impossible that they would exchange 'take cares' at parting. Gowen could only smile wryly at how just that alone seemed to demonstrate how wondrous and abnormal their fates had been in those past few months.
At the very last, Shique had said, 'You know, about Orba... That evening when he first came to the Tarkas Group, you cracked down on him like an iron hammer. You kept on raging that you'd kill him. Yeah, this kid, he'll do it. He'll do it, but sooner or later, he's bound to run into someone who'll beat him at that game and he’ll end up dead. With his personality, I'm sure he won't live long, is what I thought.'
With that talk, which could not really be called happy reminiscing, they had left the room.
The plan was put into action at once. That evening, Orba had fallen headlong into the River Yunos to the accompaniment of gunshots. Gowen and Shique had been the first to leave the fortress, leading the Imperial Guards to search for him. Shique had gotten a small boat to pull Orba out and, without lighting even a single torch, they had headed for the opposite shore. So as to draw attention away from that, Gowen conversely had ever more torches be held high and had pretended to continue searching along the river.
From thereafter, it had been just as in Pashir's recollections.
Gowen had heaved a sigh of relief at that moment, as the plan had gone as expected; but since then, he had found himself in a bind that left him cursing Orba bitterly.
So much so that whatever happened from now on, he did not think he would ever resent someone else this strongly again.
Of all things, Orba had not told Hou Ran about the plan.
'You knew, didn't you? Gowen?' He had cringed when she had pressed him about it. Even though her expression had been the same as usual… no, because of that, the pale light flashing from her eyes had been all the more terrifying.
'Why wasn't I informed? Did he think I'd reveal the secret? Did he have that little faith in me?'
'I-It was probably tough,' as he answered Gowen looked so terrified that anyone who knew him would think he was a different person. 'Since you had a close relationship, bringing up having to say goodbye must have been tough. You can understand, right?'
It was lucky for Gowen that right after that, it had been the season for her to take care of the dragons while they laid their eggs. For awhile, Ran had devoted her entire energy to the them. Before long, she had calmed down.
'Gowen. I'm more or less able to 'judge',' she had said. That she raised her chin a little and smiled, showing that she was feeling boastful. Living together, Gowen had come to understand his adopted daughter's minute changes in expression.
'The link between those children and Orba, which also means the link between myself and Orba, is unbroken.'
Oh? He had never heard of Ran having a mysterious power, or that being exceptionally good at taming dragons led to precognition or being able to divine the future. But anyway, Gowen felt that she would be satisfied if he let himself be convinced.
With that, Gowen had thought that this unfamiliar threat had passed, but...
“Your expression is the same as that time.”
Just as Ran had pointed out, when he had been escorting Vileena, the former overseer of slaves had experienced the second coming of those days with his adopted daughter.
The Princess’ gaze has seemed to want to ask something. In point of fact, Gowen had been preparing himself for a barrage of questions. Don’t turn tail no matter what you get asked; he had prepared all sorts of answers beforehand.
But Vileena said little. When her eyes met Gowen’s, she gave him a slight nod in greeting. For some reason, he felt ominous chills.
Just as he was thinking that he might be worrying for nothing, only once and suddenly, as though on a whim, the Princess had approached him when they had stopped to eat.
“It must be hard for you too, Gowen,” she had smiled.
It had been so abrupt and he was so unsure of her meaning that Gowen had been left nothing but bewildered and unable to come out with a single one of the answers that he had prepared. By ‘hard’, did she mean his escort duty or something else?
That Princess, did she come to Nedain for something?
He had again and again been left astonished by Vileena’s ability to take action. She had guts too. Even Orba had been astounded when he heard that during the battle at Apta, when the soldiers within the ship that had been attacked were stricken by fear, she had issued an appeal and induced them to stay.
Gowen turned to look at his adopted daughter.
‘The Princess might come to talk to you. Be careful.”
“I’m not good at telling lies,” said Ran. “But I shouldn’t talk about the truth. I know.”
Gowen and Ran lived together in those apartments within the barracks. That was another strange relationship. After all, they had hardly ever spoken back in their days with the gladiator group. Because Ran hated the strict discipline within the barracks for the Imperial Guards, once Gowen was appointed as their commander and had received a detached house to live in, he had adopted her. At that time, they had been provided with slaves to take care of their everyday necessities, but currently, they only had the boy called Reeno to do so. This Reeno was not a page appointed by General Saian. Gowen had known the boy since some time earlier and had employed him at his own expense.
Ran spent all day taking care of the dragons. In Solon and in Apta, she had carefully looked after those that were attached to the Imperial Guards, among which were a species of dragon called Yunion, which had been presented as gifts when peace was concluded with Taúlia.
She only used the living apartments when she ate or when she slept, although Ran might also occasionally cook. She was a girl who was originally from a tribe of western nomads, so there were many things that left Gowen astounded, but her dish of fried Jijis insects – which was originally a kind of meal that she made for the dragons – went well with strong spices and he enjoyed eating it as a snack.
Although when he had once invited Rogue Saian over, they did not seem to suit him and he had just continuously gulped down alcohol.
The next day.
That day too, Ran had gone early to the dragon pen, but there was someone who had turned up even earlier than her.
“It has been a long time.”
For some reason, she was wearing a long peasant skirt and a thick blouse.
So slightly that you would not notice it unless you looked carefully, Ran drew her eyebrows together.
“Let me help you,” Vileena said, full of enthusiasm. She was wearing high boots and looked like an energetic child whose eyes were sparkling at the thought of trying something new.
“You should stop,” Ran however, and in spite of this being their first meeting in a long time, was unfriendly from the start. “You’ll only get hurt. If you do things poorly, as soon as I take my eyes off you, you’ll only end in a dragon’s stomach, Vileena.”
Vileena was momentarily left speechless at her blunt words. The Princess’ personality, however, was not one to run away from threats. Nor did Hou Ran do anything else to stop her.Work began.
First, Ran started by cleaning the dragon pens. Inside it were cages in which a fixed number of dragons were kept, separated by species. When Ran unhesitatingly entered the cages, she took in buckets of water that the slaves had drawn and poured them out while shovelling away the dragon dung and stale hay.
Although the dragons, guided by Ran, moved out of the way, they did not leave their cages. They lumbered around with their massive bodies and Vileena, who was learning by observation as she worked, inadvertently lost her sense of caution.
Since the pens were, of course, large enough to accommodate several dragons, it was labour-intensive work. In all honesty, even Vileena, who was fairly confident in her physical stamina, could tell that her mind and body would be worn down if she had to do the work while also remaining vigilant of the dragons. Additionally, the stench was ferocious. Even the dragon handlers who put the dragons through their military drills usually left this kind of work to slaves or subordinates.
Hou Ran moved around with light and practiced movements. She was taller than Vileena, but it was still a wonder how that slender body could hold so much strength.
Vileena was drenched in sweat in no time at all. The smell was getting worse and was making her feel like throwing up. But she grit her teeth and bore with it, wondering if she would eventually get used to it.
At that moment, she felt something behind her. She felt instinctively that it was not human. Suddenly, faster than the startled Vileena could turn around, something shoved her back hard and she fell, sprawling forward.
Ran had flown over before she fully realised what had happened. She stood in the way between Vileena’s back and the medium-sized dragon, a Baian, that was starting to bend over her. At first, the Baian looked like it was going to resist and bite, but Ran stared fixedly at it with eyes like glass beads, and it soon started to back away, giving off feeble cries as it did so.
The blood had drained from Vileena’s face as she looked back. Ran glanced at the Princess’ expression and said,
“This child really doesn’t like you. That’s because you were thinking of something else. Dragons can read the emotions of nearby humans. However, because they don’t understand human thoughts at all, when a human isn’t thinking about them, they end up wondering if it isn’t perhaps an enemy, and then they can’t help feeling frightened. On top of that, this child has been irritated for a long time and its mood is worse than ever. Even I might be bitten if I’m not careful. Now then, you should leave the rest to me and go back. You should be somewhere more appropriate for you, Vileena.”
Vileena remained silent. With hay stuck to her knees, she firmly sat down and did not move. Ran went back to her work. After a while,
“Is there something you want to talk to me about?”
“Can you read my emotions?”
“Even without being a dragon, that much isn’t hard.”
Following Ran’s movements with listless eyes, Vileena gave a single nod.
After having stood up and left the cage, Vileena kept Ran, who continued to work on the other side of the iron bars, at the edge of her vision and started to talk haltingly about her feelings.
Ran did not interrupt. She continued working without so much as glancing at the Princess, to the point where it was doubtful whether she was even listening, but Vileena continued talking.
After returning to Solon, she had spent her time in inactivity. She did not have the energy to do anything and even though she had been aware that the people around her, starting with Theresia, had been worried about her, even that felt unpleasant and she had retreated into her shell. However, when envoys came from Garbera, the moment she heard them urge her to return home, the thought flared up in her heart that I can’t go back like this.
At that time, the doubts which had long been swirling around inside her took on a tangible form and rose to the surface of her mind.
“You know it too, Ran... that Prince Gil clashed with General Oubary’s Black Armour Division in a village near Apta.”
According to what the Prince had explained at the time, in the past, General Oubary had laid waste to several villages in Apta’s surroundings. He had snatched their crops, money and goods, and assaulted the women; in order to seal their mouths, he had slaughtered any villager, whether they submitted or tried to resist, before finally setting fire to the villages.
Gil, having become the lord of Apta Castle, had discovered this past, however while he was collecting information from the various villages, Oubary had deployed his troops to silence him. Gil had been quick to sense this and had laid a trap for him in one of the villages.
Vileena and Ran, who had gone searching for Gil, had been at the actual scene.
“I heard that the ones who shot Prince Gil afterwards were soldiers of the Black Armour Division. Out of revenge against him. But…”
Oubary, who was considered to have commanded the shooting, had fought with the Imperial Guards near the border. Although he had been injured, he had fled back to Solon where he had been captured.
“When the Prince ambushed the Black Armour Division, the General was with them. I saw him there with my own eyes. The Prince should have dealt with him one way or the other at the time, wouldn’t he? When he left the village, the Prince was neither irritated nor impatient. So I cannot imagine that he had let the General escape. And he would never have simply sent away a person who had turned their sword against him. Whether the General was captured alive or killed in the struggle, it contradicts both the later shooting incident and his arrest.”
Colour was returning to Vileena’s pale skin.
“From the various rumours that I’ve heard in Solon and in Nedain, it seems that somehow or another, the Prince’s fight with the Black Armour Division has been concealed. No, I do not even know whether it was concealed or whether it was never reported, but because of that, I cannot help but find things unconvincing. There might be something behind that contradiction. Since it’s the Prince, after all. Even though there isn’t the slightest doubt about the truth of his ‘death’, what if it wasn’t a truth but some kind of stratagem? …Of course, it may just be what I foolishly wish to believe. However, since there is some room for doubt, I cannot simply accept his death. If all my doubts can be dispelled, and if Prince Gil’s ‘death’ cannot be discredited, then I will accept it.”
She suddenly became aware that Ran had stopped moving. She was staring at the Princess with an unusually dazed expression.
“W-What is it?” Vileena wondered if she had said something so very strange while she was confiding her thoughts.
“You’ve thought it out that far even though there was nothing to offer you an answer.”
Under Ran’s fixed gaze, Vileena felt embarrassed to talk. Both of them felt equal admiration for the other Ran gently stroked the horn of a Yunion dragon that happened to walk by her.
“So, did you come here to check up on that?”
“Yes,” Vileena nodded,” I would have liked to meet with General Oubary in person; however, as was to be expected, I was unable to do so. I thought that perhaps you or Gowen might know something about it so I came here, but…”
“If I plough through things, I will just stir up trouble. In the same way that I’ve caused for you, Ran, by trying to butter you up. So at the moment, rather than asking other people, what I really want is to go to Apta.”
I see, she thought after saying it herself. Talking to another person had allowed her to realise what she truly wanted for the first time.
“At the time, I was honestly anything but calm. So I want to have a second look at it. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a clue.”
She wanted to go to Apta.
Although it was a desire that had suddenly surged up, she wondered if she had not actually wanted to do so ever since she had been in Solon.
Maybe now, I will find some trace of the Prince. I might be able to notice it if he left something behind.
Viewed differently, if there was something important, she might perhaps never have noticed it if she had never left Apta. The more she thought about it, the more eager she was to go. She wanted to leave Nedain right this second, before the traces of the Prince faded with the passage of time and disappeared.
However, this one-week stay in Nedain had been given to her to grant her last-minute whim. Once it was over, envoys from Garbera would immediately come to see her, she would also be pressured by those from Mephius, and she would be forced to return to her country whether she liked it or not.
Biting her lower lip and frantically trying to hold back the impatience and wishes that were welling up inside her, Vileena asked,
“How about you?” Her question was much softer than might have been expected from her words up until then. “Do you think that the Prince really died?”
“I…” Ran’s mouth remained open for several seconds. “I did not see his corpse with my own eyes.”
A section of the landing area for air carriers was lined with warehouses. A slave woman named Krau had stretched her large body out on one of their roofs and was having a nap.
She had served the wealthy Birac merchant, Zaj Haman, piloting air carriers for him, but, on her master’s orders, she had gone to work for Prince Gil. Now, after the Prince’s death, she had received a recommendation from Gowen and was employed by General Rogue Saian along with the Prince’s Imperial Guards. Since Rogue’s Dawnlight Wings Division was mainly an air force, it was the ideal position for Krau. However, all she was given to do were chores like servicing the ships, or cleaning them or the warehouses. Unlike when she was working for merchants or the Imperial Guards, here, they would not leave the handling of a ship to a woman, and to one who was a slave at that.
Being driven into these various tasks made Krau’s head spin. Even for her, continuing with that same work for a year or even half a year, the excess fat would surely fall entirely away, but she was an obstinate woman who was very good at gambling, and who called in the debts of the labourers and slaves that she played against by having them do her work in her place, opening up free time for her to be idle.
Basking in the warm sunlight with her large arms for pillows, she wore a truly contented expression.
“So she’s here after all,” having climbed up to the roof, Ran laughed unintentionally at the sight of Krau. She turned back to look at Vileena, who was climbing up behind her, and put a finger to her lips, telling her to shh.
Softly and quietly, Ran crept up to Krau then let out the most incredible cry. It was a sound like the roar of a dragon and it made the surrounding air vibrate.
“Hyeee!” Krau sprang up and nearly fell from the roof. “T-That’s terrible! I thought I was going to jump out of my skin!”
“Then that would be perfect. Aren’t you the one who’s always saying 'I want to lose weight, I want to lose weight'?”
“Who wants to lose weight by dying? Honestly, you and…. Oh?” Krau noticed that there was a girl behind Ran. “Well that’s rare. Who’re you with? A new friend?”
“It’s been awhile, Krau,” Vileena bit back her laughter and curtsied, and for a second, Krau drew her thick eyebrows together, then suddenly and with astonishing speed, she prostrated herself.
“I-I even showed such an unsightly scene to the Princess!”
“It doesn’t matter. Please raise your head.” This time, Vileena smiled then lowered herself onto one knee so that her gaze was level with Krau’s, “the truth is Krau, I have a favour to beg of you.”Krau did not say anything, but her expression turned stiff as she got a truly awful feeling about it.
Vileena was planning to stay a week in Nedain. During that time, she went to see Rogue Saian to express her gratitude for his help towards Garbera.
“I…” Rogue was a little embarrassed. He had originally intended to go with the Prince to Zaim Fortress, but he had been stopped from doing so by that same Prince. “He said that he alone should receive His Majesty’s reprimands. Such kind words… To think that something like that could happen... I never would have imagined it…”
Rogue was moved to tears as he spoke. To help cheer up the Princess who had just lost her fiancé, Rogue had prepared airships for her to use as she pleased during her stay in Nedain, but he was the one who ended up being consoled by her instead.
“There was no connection between the events in Apta and the sending of reinforcements to Garbera. General, there is nothing for you to feel bad about.”And so, five days passed since the Princess had arrived in Nedain.
The local lord, Jairus Abigoal had invited her for a meal.
Jairus had returned to Nedain immediately after having taken part in the commemorative ceremony for the erection of the temple in Solon. He had, of course, been informed of Vileena’s arrival, but as his honest thoughts on the matter were that she was an annoying guest, he had claimed to be busy and had not yet seen her.
He took pride in being in a position which was somewhat closer to the Emperor in comparison to the other retainers. And he guessed that the Emperor had no intention of prolonging the alliance with Garbera.
At this point, why should I have to keep company with this Garberan princess while she decides to go sightseeing?
And thus, the Princess was nothing but an annoying guest. Still, he obviously could not ignore her to the point of not seeing her even once, and so he had arranged to have her for dinner one time only. Even so, Jairus would not openly display that attitude in front of the Princess. He would do his utmost to create a welcoming atmosphere.
“Princess, this is repetitive of me, but...” Theresia confronted the Princess right before heading for the meal, “you won’t forget your promise to me, will you?”
“Theresia, really,” Vileena smiled, looking as though she wanted to add, definitely repetitive.
The ‘promise’ concerned Raymond’s affair. The young aristocrat who, had directly appealed to the Emperor about the current conditions in Nedain, had thus incurred Jairus’ displeasure, and had been thrown into a dungeon. Perhaps it was so that he could serve as an example, but he had still yet to be released. Theresia firmly reminded her that she was not to hound Jairus about the matter or to criticise him for it.
“Would a princess from the honourable and knightly Garbera break her word? Well then, let’s go. Is there anything wrong with my hair and clothes?”
The young girl gave a quick twirl. Theresia looked deeply suspicious, but she did not believe that after having brought up the name of her home country, the patriotic Princess would sully its pride by lying.
“It is fine,” Theresia nodded decisively. “It is not too showy, nor is it either fawning over Mephius or too steeped in the style of Garbera. I, Theresia, have impeccable taste.”
Before long, Jairus and Vileena, both harbouring their own thoughts, sat down as scheduled at either end of the long table. Both of them minded their positions and their manners well enough, so there was no particular problem, although neither did they spend an especially enjoyable time together.
When the dessert had been brought out and placed before them,
“By the way, Lord Abigoal,” Vileena tilted her head slightly to one side, “when do you intend to settle that matter with Lord Raymond?”
She brought up the name perfectly offhandedly. Jairus nearly spat out the fruit that he had just put into his mouth.
“W-When? What is it that you mean by that?” Jairus drank a mouthful of wine and tried to look composed.
“Oh my, feigning ignorance?” Vileena giggled girlishly.
Unable to see through her real intentions, Jairus started to change the subject.
“T-This is such a provincial town that I am sure you must be bored, Princess. If you go north a little, there are some places with some very nice views. If you would like, my son could accompany you on a ride there tomorrow and…”
“Lord Raymond is popular among the villagers, is he not?” Vileena ignored him and nodded as though in understanding of something. “Certainly, he can only be blamed for interfering as he did. You dealt with him with admirable firmness, Lord Abigoal. Still, once you forgive him in the near future, the people will see and be touched by your generosity; Lord Raymond will also reflect on his faults from the bottom of his heart.'
“Additionally, your ability to curb a slave rebellion before it happens will be extolled by all; Lord Abigoal and the people will have yet another reason to praise you.”
Vileena smiled and turned her sparkling gaze towards the lord of the manor. Jairus gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbing. Saying that he had curbed a slave rebellion sounded good, but in reality, Jairus had set fire to a village for sheltering a single slave.
“I believe His Majesty was saying something similar just before I left for Nedain.”
“H-His Majesty?” Jairus Abigoal squeaked. As though to help calm himself, he smoothed down his moustache which had been oiled into tapering points. “What was it that His Majesty said?”
“I did not hear it directly either. But I can imagine the gist of it. That if Lord Raymond were to be executed, it would fan the people’s anxiety and fear, and might cause a repeat of the tragedy of Kilro. It was probably something like that,” Vileena said vaguely, smiling all the more. After which, she continued to heap praise on Jairus for his ability.
Two days later, the lord of Nedain officially announced that he was granting a pardon to Raymond for his crimes.
When Theresia, who knew the circumstances, heard about it, she looked up at the ceiling and uttered a shriek.
Vileena was nearing the end of her intended stay in Nedain, however the day before she was scheduled to return, the Princess discovered a problem with the ship that was supposed to take her back to Solon.“That ship would not even make it to the relay station,” she announced to the assembled maintenance crew.
That being the case, it was suggested that another ship be prepared, but for some reason, Vileena was unusually stubborn about it. She claimed that she particularly liked the white exterior of the ship she had been scheduled to use and insisted on returning in that ship.
In the end, it was determined that they would work night and day if necessary to repair the ship. When Krau and others went to inspect the ship, she exclaimed in exaggerated surprise,
“The ether injection nozzles are broken. The propulsion propellers are also in a bad state. I’d better take my time to check over things.”
Naturally, this rotund woman had in her clutches all of the personal assets that had once belonged to the men in charge of maintaining and repairing the ships, but none of those around her were aware of that.
Gowen was suspicious of the Princess’ behaviour. In the end, since coming to Nedain, she had not once gone to visit him nor had him summoned before her.
I thought she was definitely going to ask about the Prince or about Orba. Has she changed her mind?
Just like Simon, who had also put himself on guard over the Princess’ visit just like Simon had, he had felt that this was a bit anti-climactic.
It had been ten days since the Garberan princess had come to Nedain.
Right after the sun had set, Gowen was summoned by Rogue Saian. A little while earlier, Gowen had received the news that an air carrier messenger had arrived from Solon. He was wondering whether it had come to convince the Princess to return there, but –
“What?” When he heard the details from Rogue, the former overseer of sword slaves unabashedly opened his eyes wide.
Bewilderment also clung to the General’s deeply wrinkled face like a thin layer of skin; however, he had spent many years on battlefields and immediately ordered the various commanders, Gowen among them, to begin their preparations.
After briefly stopping by the barracks that housed his troops – although, it was no more than a platoon of a few dozen men headed by Pashir and Miguel – to give them his orders, Gowen hastily returned to his own chambers.
Ran, however, was not there. He asked Reeno, the chamberlain, about it.
“She returned for a while in the evening, but…” the boy answered, looking no less confused than Rogue had earlier.
Gowen soon found out the reason for that. A dish of the usual fried Jijis was set imposingly on the dining table. There was enough of it for at least ten people.
“The hell’s this?” Gowen wore the same expression has he had when he had received his orders from Rogue.
At around about the same time that Rogue had called for Gowen, Vileena, who had been having her meal with a large number of servants waiting on her, suddenly stood up.
Glancing at the freckled young woman beside her who had just spoken in a surprised voice, Vileena felt a little depressed. Lined up on the dining table were nothing but dishes that she had previously called “delicious.” She would soon be returning to Solon, and this was probably all that those working at the fortress could do to show her kindness.
Setting aside Lord Jairus’ personality, the people of Nedain were simple and warm-hearted. Because of that, her chest tightened at the thought of what she was about to do.
“I’ve had enough,” Vileena cut short her own thoughts. More than half of the meal was left.
“A-Are you not feeling well, Princess?”
“I will go call a doctor at once…”
“I said I have had enough.”
Vileena shook off the flustered serving girls and left the dining hall that was reserved for the use of aristocrats. No sooner had she done so that she strode towards the port, looking angry and in a huff.“I wish to return to Solon immediately. I cannot bear to spend another night in this rural backwater. What is with this town? Nothing to eat but dry meat and potatoes, nowhere to go and have fun, and not even any entertainers to amuse guests. When I was in Garbera, I would never have believed it!”
She was utterly different from how she usually was. If anyone who knew the Garberan princess had been there to see her, it would have been clear to them what was going on. Ah, she really is a terrible actress, they would have thought. The people of Nedain however, did not know Vileena’s personality.
She easily gave up on the white ship, which she had previously been obsessed about, and wilfully had a different one prepared for her return to Solon. It was a medium-sized ship with the capacity to seat about ten people, but taking into account cruising range , rather than speed, it could travel a long way for its size.
Krau was at the helm. Those manning the other stations were the maintenance crew who had been working with her on repairing the other ship. They had all been thoroughly drilled in how to handle a ship by Krau herself.
The harbourmasters had come flying while Krau was checking the engines.
“Unless it’s for something urgent, you can’t take out a ship that hasn’t been scheduled for departure. Even you can understand that much, right?”
“Well now. Does the Princess wanting to return to Solon as soon as possible count as something urgent for you? Me, I’m just a slave who received her direct orders. Wouldn’t those also be difficult to overturn unless it’s for something urgent?”
The harbourmasters looked at each other. Krau figured that the odds were about fifty-fifty that things would go smoothly, but at that moment, their surroundings were suddenly thrown into upheaval. Armed soldiers were running around, and mechanics that Krau recognised started working on some of the other ships, apparently making urgent flight preparations.
Raised voices were also calling out for the harbourmasters from all around. Krau seized that opportunity to make her way to the bridge.
“Something seems to have happened,” she reported. The Princess was of course already on the bridge, as was Hou Ran.
Vileena looked dubious for a moment, “Are they practicing night flights?”
“No. It looks like whatever it is wasn’t scheduled either, so that can’t be it. And secondly, General Saian himself is…”
Theresia came into sight. Apparently, she had come running as soon as she had heard. Her face was bright red because of it. With her eyes flaring, she demanded, “What is it that you are planning to do this time?”
“Something scandalous. Isn’t acting outrageously normal for me?”
“That is certain,” Theresia acknowledged, “However, equally, you do not do things without thinking, Princess.”
“I have known you longer than anyone.”
Theresia was of course bitter about the fact that, despite her warning, her mistress had raised the issue of Raymond with Jairus, the lord of Nedain.
What worried her more than anything was that — she is using more intricate methods than before.
Vileena neither interrogated Jairus nor rebuked him. In that sense, she had kept her promise to Theresia. She wondered if that meant that the ever-reckless Princess had become a bit wiser.
“It is futile to try and run away. Kindly confess everything. What on earth are you – hic.”
The end of Theresia’s sentence got lost in a hiccup. It was not only because she had been running that her face was red. That evening, Vileena had presented her with a liquor that was a local specialty in Nedain.
Krau said loudly, “The bridge tends to jolt a lot. It’s dangerous if you’re drunk. The cabin on the second deck is the safest. We’ll take you!”
Calling for one of the mechanics, she had him start to lead Theresia away. She would resist if they were to try and eject her from the ship itself, so Krau’s plan was to lock her in the cabin. Unlike her mistress, Theresia had common-sense. In times like these, she would follow the advice of those who knew what they were talking about.
“There will be punishment waiting for you later… hic.”
The port was getting noisier and noisier. One after another, voices called for the harbourmasters until they were run off their feet.
“What should we do?”
Krau could not conceal her anxiousness as she spoke. Vileena made up her mind. She too felt uneasy about this unexpected situation, but after having come this far, they could do nothing but seize it as a favourable opportunity.
“Before it’s too late – Come on Krau, please hurry.”
She had acted unlike herself and had only just managed to grasp this chance. The young girl’s heart had already long since flown to Apta. Now it only remained for her body to catch up.
Receiving Vileena’s order, Krau reluctantly seized hold of the ship’s wheel. The ether engines roared, startling the men that were near them and making them back away.
Dragging its heavy body, the hull started to rise.
“Who is it that’s getting ahead of themselves!”
A voice could be heard in the distance. General Rogue’s voice. While feeling remorseful towards the general, Vileena was no longer at a point where she could still turn back. The ship soared into the night sky over Nedain.
As expected, both Rogue and Jairus must have received reports that the Princess and her followers were riding on board that ship and that she was returning to Solon. As proof of that, no airships were sent to chase after them.
Jairus’ thoughts were probably along the lines of — doing whatever she pleases. Still, it spares me the trouble of seeing her off.
Vileena’s destination, however, was not Solon. They planned to leave towards the north to make it look as though they were headed towards the capital, then turn southwest for Apta.
Normally, when flying at night, two or more ships would always sail together; that would allow them to mutually check positions by each other’s lights. However, Krau had been thoroughly drilled in solo night flights from her long years with Zaj Haman. That was because she was mainly involved in trading with the west, something which had been prohibited in Mephius at the time.
She had a mechanic stand near the steerage system and plot a navigation course with a compass and map. Her knowledge and skill matched those of any non-commissioned officer.
Having for now left for the skies, Vileena heaved a sigh of relief.
Still, there would be no avoiding the uproar once they had arrived in Apta. Her wilful behaviour had gone a little too far. If rumour of it reached her home country of Garbera, she fully expected to be harshly criticised.
Even so, she could not step foot on Garbera’s soil without understanding to her own satisfaction what had happened. Prince Gil would have done the same. He who, no matter how far into a corner was driven, nor how much his allies might scorn him, would wait until he saw his chance to bring about the desired results, then act without fail.
“Hyee!” Krau suddenly made a sound like a shriek.
It had been less than an hour since they had set a course for the southwest. Krau suddenly cut down on their altitude. Abruptly flung forward, Vileena nearly fell from her seat.
Krau had good eyesight. The mechanic who had been peering through binoculars also noticed, albeit belatedly.
“Ships in sight,” he reported in a tense voice. “Their number… two… three. The central one is, there’s no mistake, General Saian’s own flagship?”
“Are they chasing after us?” Vileena’s expression also stiffened.
They must have noticed their intention to head for Apta and had come to block the way. Although their ship was only medium-sized, it was not built for speed. If their opponent sent out airships, and had them take up battle formation, shaking them off would be difficult.
If the General himself is on board — Vileena fleetingly considered. The General had been fond of the Prince... If she explained the situation, she might be able to persuade him.
However, Rogue was already under intense scrutiny from the Emperor. It was naturally not Vileena’s intention to involve him any further, or to cause him any disgrace. There had to be some way out of this – she was straining her wits to think of one when...
“No,” Krau muttered as she narrowed her eyes. “There’s no sign that they’ve noticed us and it doesn’t look like the airships have been sent out to search. Somehow, they don’t seem to be chasing after us. Princess, those must the ships that were being readied at the port. It looks like they’re going in the same direction as us.”
According to Krau’s explanation, the fleet under Rogue Saian’s command, was flying in the same direction as they were. Which meant...
“General Saian is also going to Apta?” Vileena voiced the question.
Krau had said that there were no ships cleared for departure that evening. And yet, Rogue had hurriedly launched three ships. Additionally, their destination was Apta. The situation was clearly serious.Krau turned to look over her shoulder at Vileena, her plump face covered in sweat.
“What should we do?”
“There is no helping it.”
“Are we turning back?” Krau looked relieved.
“No. Stay far enough away that they will not be able to notice us, and follow after them.”
At her mistress’ order, for one second only, Krau looked looked upwards as though seeking help.
It was a two-day journey from Nedain.
Vileena’s ship had just enough ether loading capacity to cover the distance. Finally, when Apta was coming into sight, the ship had no choice but to lessen the distance with Rogue Saian’s fleet.
“I-If we get any closer than this, we’ll be spotted,” Krau screeched.
“Don’t worry. We won’t be found, we will be letting ourselves be found,” Vileena answered with a decided expression.
She was worried that if they remained behind the fleet that was moving at a fixed speed, their ether might run out before they reached the port. Besides, Apta was right in front of their eyes. Even if they were detected at this point, she was not worried that they would be ordered to turn back. Such was Vileena’s calculation.
Krau increased their speed in a frantic state of mind and steadily drew level with Rogue Saian’s ships. Naturally, their ship also bore the crest of Mephius, but Rogue, suspicious of their affiliation, sent an airship out to them.
At Vileena’s instructions, they received it on board without offering any resistance. The young pilot climbed up to the bridge.
“P-Princess!” At one glimpse of Princess Vileena, his voice broke into a falsetto.
The Princess also remembered his face. His name was Neil Tonson and he had been one of Prince Gil’s Imperial Guards. He had served as the leader of the airship unit that, while stationed in Apta, Vileena had given some piloting instruction to.
He was currently affiliated to Gowen’s platoon. Unlike the startled and flustered Neil, Vileena’s expression was as cool as could be.
“We will land first. I would like to ask you to guide us,” she said shrewdly.
Neil’s naturally ruddy face flushed even redder. “A-Aye, aye.”He had no choice but to obey.
With Neil’s airship serving as guide, Vileena’s ship, followed by General Saian’s fleet, touched down one after another at Apta’s landing area. After arriving at port, Rogue Saian practically pushed the other soldiers aside while energetically rushing towards the Princess, who had just appeared from her ship.
Even so, there was someone who was even faster to greet her.
“This is a delightfully unexpected visit.” He had, of course, also heard the sudden news of her arrival, and was unable to wipe the expression of displeasure from his face.
Rogue felt that compared to usual, there was something unexpectedly different in the man’s manner.
“I didn’t expect to see you in Apta either. Weren’t you in Kilro?”
“Indeed, General,” Nabarl spun around and smiled at the veteran general. “And General Lorgo and his troops are expected tomorrow. Now that you have been appointed here, General Saian, I hope to learn from your wisdom.”
“What? Odyne Lorgo as well?”
Rogue appeared to be hearing about it for the first time. With two of the twelve generals being gathered in addition of Nabarl’s soldiers who had originally been stationed there, a considerable military force was being amassed at Apta.
Just like Rogue, Vileena was finding it strongly suspicious. She looked up at Nabarl.
“What is this about? Why would so many troops be needed in Apta?”
“I will have a room prepared for you, Princess. Please do consider heading back tomorrow.”
Ignoring Vileena’s question, Nabarl gave a snap of his fingers. Soldiers, who appeared to be his subordinates, emerged from behind him. They were armed with swords and guns. It looked like the reason why he had been waiting at the port had not been to welcome Rogue or the Princess.
“Wait,” Rogue instinctively started to shout. He thought that Nabarl was intending to use brute force to restrain the Princess and send her back. However...
“Among your troops, General Saian, there should be those who used to be the Crown Prince’s Imperial Guards. I will be taking them into temporary custody.”
Nabarl's unexpected words shocked him.
“W-What’s the meaning of this?”
“An order from His Majesty.”
When the Emperor was brought up, Rogue understood the reason for Nabarl’s change in attitude. But even so, he could not comprehend the reason for the order.
The soldiers led by Gowen, in other words, the former sword slaves like Pashir and Miguel, and even Neil Tonson and Hou Ran, were hauled away.
“Wait...” but no matter what he tried, Nabarl would insistently bring out the fact that it was the Emperor’s orders.
Gowen’s expression was grim, but he did not put up any resistance. Perhaps because he had anticipated it beforehand, he did not seem particularly surprised that Ran, his adopted daughter, was there as well. Making large amounts of his favourite food had probably been the only way for Ran, who did not know how to write, to express her solicitude.
“These are soldiers I was entrusted with. Since you are treating them in this way, I expect a convincing explanation from you. Which will of course include what comes next for them.” Glaring at Nabarl, Rogue started to utter words that were close to being a threat.
“Naturally,” Nabarl nodded composedly.
Unable to comprehend the situation, the Princess could only stand there, unmoving, just as she had when Gowen and the others were being led away. Glancing at her, contempt flashed through Nabarl’s eyes.
The sun had completely set.
Vileena and Rogue were in the fortress’ dining room. Rogue had just come out of a conference with Nabarl. He had been hesitant, as the hour was already advanced, but thinking that the Princess would want to hear an explanation as soon as possible, he had gone to see her despite how late it was. Even so, it would not do for him to meet an unmarried woman alone in the dead of night, so he insisted on having the dining room for the use of officers be opened up.
For the same reason, a chamberlain and Theresia were also present. Having laid out alcohol and tea, they had then retreated to a distance at which they could not hear the two’s conversation.
“What is going on?” asked Vileena, who had been waiting impatiently.
Rogue scratched through his grey hair. “I would like to ask that myself… Well, at this point, I don’t understand it either.” He wore a bemused expression.
Just before Vileena had flown out of Nedain, a messenger had come from Solon carrying these orders from the Emperor: “outfit three ships with weapons then hurry with them to Apta.”
Without knowing anything more, he had rushed over, and Nabarl had been waiting. When he had subsequently heard the details from him, even Rogue, a long-serving general, had been taken aback.
The same, of course, held true for Vileena. “It can’t be,” she repeatedly murmured while listening to him talk.
Watching from a distance as Vileena’s complexion turned red, then white as though from shock, Theresia worried that her mistress might be on the verge of collapse.
First of all, Nabarl had hurriedly been appointed as one of the twelve generals in Solon. He was filling the position left vacant by the rebel Zaat Quark, but because the Blue Bow Division that Zaat had led was considered to have an inauspicious name, it was changed to the ‘Blue Zenith Division’.
And the first mission that he received as one of the twelve generals was,
Albaugh Plush Task Chair
While Vileena was still reeling from that first shock, Rogue Saian followed up with a second one.
“And along with that… it seems that Oubary Bilan has been released from prison.”
References and Translation Notes
Gowen Task Chair Replacement Parts
- ↑The distance an aircraft can fly before it needs to refuel.
- ↑‘Blue Bow’ (蒼弓) and ‘Blue Zenith’ (蒼穹) not only look very similar, they are also pronounced the same in Japanese (soukyuu)
Gowen Task Chair Accessories
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