Upon finding that Kaiser had been imprisoned, Fedom Aulin jumped up. Kaiser Islan was a noble who once served as a member of the Imperial council.
One week earlier. In a morning council, Mephius' emperor, Guhl Mephius, proposed the relocation of the Dragon God shrine accompanied by a large-scale reconstruction. The shrine, built 200 years ago to worship the Dragon God, would be placed in the basement under the imperial capital Solon's renowned Black Tower. It would be moved towards to the vicinity of the palace, and made into a marvellous structure.
Of the sudden comments, some of the nobles graciously offered flattery, but Kaiser alone had directly expressed his feelings of opposition. The amount of gold and people required made it far from precedent. Now was the time to fix the relations between Mephius, Garbera, and Ende, though of course, the circumstances weren't ones that provided for the highest of prospects. To start with, in the festivals dedicated to the Dragon God that were already held several times a year, practically none of the people even showed up; in other words it had become a thing of the past.
"There should be more critical issues at hand. Forgive my insolence, but please reconsider."
"Is that so," was all the emperor said. And then the talk was over.
Kaiser was well into his mid-fifties, and held a long standing relation with the current emperor. Like that, no one paid the squabble another thought.
But, five days later, Kaiser, through an open evening party held at his residence, newly reproached the king's political measures. "Recently, his majesty passes over whatever he says without warning," he drunkenly grieved to the close friends he had invited over.
Normally, this would not have warranted any special course of action, but this time the emperor entered into a fit of rage for some unknown reason and declared, "Those are the thoughts of a rebel!" All of a sudden, troops surrounded Kaiser's residence, and they arrested him. "I'm acting without notice"—and, Kaiser's own actions had unexpectedly become evidence against him.
Unease soon spread within Solon as doubts were raised, questioning whether his majesty planned to execute Kaiser. Three days and nights passed. Kaiser was placed underground, in a prison unfit for a noble, and forbidden even a single meeting with his family.
Fedom had jumped, in response to being struck by a seeming mixture of shock and dread—because he had also personally voiced his opinion to the king having seen an opportunity to hasten peace negotiations with Garbera—and there was something else; something completely different. His chest filled with a feeling of delight bordering excitement.
It might be my turn at last.
Emperor Guhl Mephius would once more put his plan of strengthening his own authority into action, and in the process earn the hostility of his surroundings. That was when Fedom would put his own plan into practice, and the testimony of that day drew near. The foundation of a new political power, one in support of Prince Gil, would be formed within the empire.
It was a large ambition. Were the feelings within him the same that Kaiser held? No, it was a fact that he held stern eyes from this point on that made it impossible to detect even a glimmer of his emotions. And it was only this that prompted him to call out.
Down the Main Palace's hallway, as Zaat Quark greeted him, Fedom thought to himself, I met a troublesome fellow.
"Have you heard of Lord Kaiser's circumstances?"
"Just what is his majesty planning? This has gone too far for a joke! You must tell me your thoughts. I will take it with me to my grave."
Zaat was relentless, and Fedom evasively answered befittingly. Zaat Quark was head of the so-called anti-imperial faction. Of course, it wasn’t as if he walked around with a sign hanging on him stating who he was. Like Fedom, he followed a similar train of thought, and in remonstration before the emperor who was so insistent on fighting to the bitter end, helped in convincing him to promote peace negotiations. He also held a position as a member of the Founding Imperial Council, and it was clearly evident that he in no way harboured positive sentiments towards the emperor who had reduced the Imperial Council to one in name only.
In this sense, Zaat considered Fedom as a comrade. Or at least, he should have.
"There has not been too many aggravated situations, but there is bound to be a backlash. For this reason, we are to spread idle chatter of his intentions with this 'joke', which will instead become truth. This is a secretive matter. You know fully well of the king's temperament."
"How are you so calm? This is treason against the emperor! And did you know? Just the other day, the king met with a messenger from Ende and—"
"Pardon me. I have some matters to attend to."
"Lord Fedom," Zaat knitted his deep black eyebrows, "This isn't like you. Worrying over the country's future in earnest to this extent, you're even prepared to face his majesty's judgment! Surely, the affair regarding Lord Kaiser hasn't left you losing your wits."
"Mind your words, milord." Fedom fixed a sharp glare at Zaat. Age-wise, Fedom was 10 years older.
"How rude of me. But lately, you've been acting strange." Strange, probably referred to how he was recently sticking to Prince Gil Mephius all the time. Leaving the still insistent Zaat, Fedom hurried along. For Fedom who should have been on the very same anti-imperial faction, there was no other way but for him to seemingly change his allegiance."
That damned Zaat, curses! Making a face as if he knows everything. He plans to test me, eh?
To start with, Fedom never held any good will towards Zaat. There were plenty of competent intellectuals around, but for Fedom's knowledge alone, many a powerful men had clearly come to him for favours. In the case of the peace talks, after unfastening a historical document, "That country's precedent was so and so", "According to former traditions, this and that should be done," he one by one brought out old information that left the others rather dumbfounded.
To be treated as a coward of all things!
Far from it, Fedom had crossed a far more dangerous line in voicing his concerns to the emperor than Zaat ever had. In terms of risks alone, his plan was immeasurably more dangerous. And this plan was finally about to enter the stage where it could be implemented. He was dazzled by the thought.
"What's wrong?" Orba asked, staring at Fedom as he gave off a creepy expression.
"You suddenly went quiet, and your complexion turned blue, then red. You seem very sick."
"Shut your mouth!" Fedom cursed in embarrassment. They were in the prince's room within the Main Palace. Just in case, he had pretended to bring along a get-well present, though Fedom continued to behaved rudely regardless.
"That aside, what's with you? I drop by this once to find you haven't made a speck of progress! You don't have all the time in the world. Dinn, how do you explain this sorry state?!"
Precisely because the final time drew nearer, he could not be impatient with Prince Gil's education to guarantee success. He aimed the brunt of his frustrations towards Dinn, the page in charge of this education.
"I can't believe this," Gil Mephius grumbled.
Fedom left immediately after he had finished speaking his mind. Gil gave a big yawn, having read through all of the Mephian history books spread out on the table without rest until a short while ago.
"It's as if I was a new sword-slave about to enter the fray in the arena for the first time all over again. Though those guys generally don't get a chance to appear a second time."
"In any case, Fedom-sama was right to scold you," Dinn said as he removed the tea leaves from the newly brewed tea. "If you would only try harder. Then you could take on the prince's appearance in public without putting him to shame, and yet, at this rate two, three, even ten years wouldn't be enough."
"Table manners, the study of Mephian culture, memorizing the names of successive generations of emperors and their accomplishments by heart, and spending one hour a day standing in front of a mirror correcting my posture and smile; these are things I might not use my whole life. What's the point in continuing this?"
"All of it is necessary."
"I'm fed up with learning the faces and names of those old geezers. Anyway, bring the military documents over. You can place them next to those records of recent battles."
He laid down on the couch, whilst pretending not to hear Dinn's reproaches. Just now, Fedom seemed to be irritated for some reason, but for Gil—the gladiator Orba, also formerly known as the Iron Tiger—his pent up emotions were no smaller in size than Fedom's.
He had been picked up by Fedom to act as a body double, but Orba never had any intention of doing only as he was told since the beginning. Even if he had to make use of this position, he would accomplish his goal:
To get revenge on the people that took everything from him. And to search for all the things he had lost.
He had finally reached the point where, with his own hands, he could bring himself closer to the many goals he held that couldn't be granted with the status of sword-slave. But the situation had reached a stand-still.
"Today, another twenty meeting requests had to be turned down. It is Rodloom-sama's fifth time by request of Ineli-sama and for Baton-sama—if you remember his name, he is one of the prince's best friends—he has come twice. One month of valuable time has already passed since your first campaign, and it will only seem more and more unusual."
For this one month, Fedom had confined Orba within the prince's room. Under the pretext that the mental strain from his first campaign and sudden change in environment over the several days had caused his physical condition to crumble, he was not allowed to participate in official business and was prohibited from personally meeting with the large number of people who sought to get closer to him. During this time, he devoted himself to Orba's education in making him more prince-like, no matter how little, as part of his plan.
Naturally, within that month, Orba built up his knowledge, and mastered manners. He was forced to endlessly repeat these activities. Unable to search for his mother, brother, and Alice's whereabouts, he spent his time on meaningless extravagance that only served to test his patience to its limits.
"Because Fedom-sama is not aware of the current situation here, he's convinced that he settled everything with the words "Refuse the meetings," but he really needs to put himself in the shoes of the one refusing. Everyone had finally started to see the prince in a new light after his first campaign, and now this happens," Dinn grumbled his complaints, but suddenly faltered.
"Are you a fool?" Orba interrupted. "If I'm still struck with horror from my first campaign. they’ll wonder what that heroic prince was doing when the battle took place, and then they’ll find he didn’t abide by the decree to go into battle, only to be shaking in his boots."
"W-Would you like to go for a stroll?"
"That was something I just thought up. Isn't it fine? The former prince was this kind of person. This would clear us of suspicions instead."
The problem is,
While joking around, Orba thought of another matter. When Fedom had come just moments ago, there was something he couldn’t bring himself to ask.
of the two, which is the real 'fool'
A body double would normally only act the role during essential times. There should be no need to set up a double, especially when the palace situation was normal. Fedom had subsequently claimed it was because there was a risk of assassination even in the capital city of Solon, which should have been a sufficient explanation, but Orba obviously didn't buy it.
When the battle at Zaim Fortress had ended, Fedom accidentally let slip that no one else knew of the fact the prince had been substituted for a body double. On that account, Fedom might be the only one involved in this plan he set up. If that were to be true, even Orba—who was beside death's door during his two years as a sword-slave—couldn't possibly have shaken off that overwhelmingly chilling sensation..
No one else knowing would imply that Fedom was deceiving all of the Mephians, himself excluded. Orba also, under no condition, could allow himself to rest. This was a matter his life hanged on.
"Mephius' founding festival is approaching. It is a festival that gathers the whole country together. If you do not make an appearance here, things will take a bad turn. Just how long will Fedom-sama..."
At that moment, the bell was rung. Dinn responded by leaving. Beyond the door, a voice could be heard from a small room facing the corridor. It sounded like Ineli. Immediately after Emperor Guhl had lost his wife, he married a second wife and her daughter, Ineli, had become Gil's younger stepsister.
Once the heated discussion ended, Dinn returned. He gave off a face of total exhaustion.
"That person ranks as the most difficult."
"The usual 'Let's go hang out' invitation from your close friends and 'Instead of being holed up in that room with that of weak body his, he needs some recreational activity' remark."
"I see," Orba said, somewhat occupied with other thoughts. "Back then, what did Gowen say to you?"
"Eh? Oh, he asked whether we could go together to General Saian's residence after receiving his invitation."
"Then let's head over to where Ineli and the group is. I’ll take care of these two engagements in one go. Pass the message to her for me."
"But Fedom-sama said..."
"It's better if I learn some faces up close . Lets go with this ruse: the prince is left with a nasty temper due to his bad shape. No one will think much of it if he acts a little differently, especially if it's within his own home. If it's just for a bit, it'll work."
Orba by no means had any intentions of becoming the same as the flustered Dinn. He refused to take no action. No matter how big, essentially, this one room was no different from a prison, and felt himself crushed with impatience and insecurities as he passed days on end.
This also counts as a battle. Completely becoming the prince will bring me one step closer in searching for Alice and my family, he murmured to persuade himself.
And within Solon was one other person unable to dispel her growing irritation.
"How about this dress? How does it compare to the previous white and vivid one? Aah, but I wonder if the second dress might be better since it is a Mephian one. But then the tiara I brought from my own country won't match. I'll have to ask the maids here, and show my appreciation later."
In a room lying deep within the women's chamber, compared to the briskly bustling Theresia, Vileena offered not even the slightest of movements. As a guest from Garbera, the fourteen year-old princess played around with the dresses and tried on multiple ornaments. Upon witnessing this sight, even the enemies of her parents would scowl at their own reflected appearance.
"Honestly, if it were the Garberan royal court, it wouldn't matter how famous the designer was. On sending out an official notice that a princess was in need of new provisions, a pile of dresses would appear in her room without waiting a week. To go out and playfully trample over them was what it meant to be a princess.”
"Solon, being far from any sea trading base, has very little high quality cloth. Even though it's my first set of tailored clothes, if I had known three months ago that an advance order was necessary, I would have taken measures before the wedding."
"Is that so."
"If you were to become any more skilful at being dependent on others, you might not have a chance to get any closer to the empress, that is, your stepmother. You are fussing over a dress and tiara. To become a bride is to enter your partner's family. To become a harmonious couple, such endeavours are needed. ....Aah, but if I remember correctly, the current empress is the second wife. Because the prince is not her own son, she may not care much for his wife."
Yes, and Vileena's form once more stood across the mirror. Theresia glared at her, and before long decided to take a deep breath.
With a startled jump, Vileena instantly came to a halt. "Shouting in a person's ear like that..."
"If I hadn't used this volume of voice, then the current princess would not have heard me," Theresia puffed up her chest. "The princess is choosing clothes to wear at the founding festival as if it is someone else's problem. Generally, when women pick their dress and any earrrings or bracelets that might match it even a little, they fidget around restlessly, unable to calm themselves down. Anticipating for their fated partner, or possibly realizing their insecurities, they indulge in their own worries while also having fun."
"On that matter, I have complete faith in you. If it is of your opinion."
"Oh my, I am humbly delighted to receive such a generous praise...and? What are you really thinking? Will you share with me? Are you thinking about how you haven't rode in an air carrier recently, or how you want to fly in the sky? Or if it's not riding that you want to do, then how you could maybe pass time doing maintenance, or how you miss the smell of oil. Ah! It must be about why the prince hasn't come to visit you."
"That last one was completely uncalled for!"
Vileena scowled, but could not conceal the smile on her mouth. Theresia had always been a formidable foe. In a straight battle of wits, she would immediately get caught in her pace. And then with a shrug,
"Well, since his return from his first campaign, he's shut himself in his room the whole time. The frail prince is somewhat like a princess."
"It has already been a month since, and he hasn't allowed anyone to see his face. For a maiden in love, it is a rather long time..."
"Anyhow!" Vileena forcefully interrupted, "I'm not hiding anything. I'm annoyed. How much longer will these awkward times continue? The scheduled day of the wedding has not been the least bit decided, and my range of activities has been restricted the entire time. I'll be frank. This is not the least bit fun!"
On that assertion, Theresia had no clue on what to do. But she also planned to grasp the princess' words. Whether or not Garbera still held any influence on it, the marriage ceremony had been postponed indefinitely. There were considerably few places Vileena could freely roam, and day after day her growing irritation only worsened.
Originally, even within her Garberan homelands, she was an energetically active princess who would not be found in the same place within the same hour. Spending whole days living her life doing everything within a small portion of the women's chambers was something she completely could not agree with. She would occasionally show up for tea and dinner parties after receiving an invitation from the noblewomen, but would experience nothing but agony as she put on the guise of a smiling face.
"The prince too, appears to have entirely forgotten that his fiancée is here. But during times like these, isn't there also that? He could exchange letters and then pass the message on to the chamberlain, right?"
"It is often used in stories. Secretly accompanying the letter would be a love poem."
"Of course I would be mad if he doesn’t even tell me his intentions. And to add to the problems, there is unrest within Mephius no matter how you look at it. The emperor refuses to offer an explanation for his judgment of Islan, who appears to have been imprisoned. There would be nothing to gain from doing this in Garbera. His retainers, however, neither challenge nor protest against him, only taking sneak peeks at his countenance and taking care not to face his wrath."
It is exactly as she says, Theresia thought in her head. She usually did not make such an understanding statement based on rumours alone, but Theresia had known her for a long time, and kept silent.
"If the retainers cannot give counsel due to fear, then the prince himself should act as an intermediary for the retainers. The emperor may find admonition disagreeable, but if it were Gil, his own son and successor, he should be willing to lend an ear."
"And yet, he has not outstripped his poor physical condition nor been cured of the illness he received from the front. If he cares about his country's future, he should even be crawling on his knees if need be. If it were my grandfather, he would hurl scoldings at him for not having enough guts.”
"Speaking of which, you want to have a meeting with the prince, right? If that's the case," Theresia said with a clap, "how should we go about the get-well present?"
As a matter of fact, Theresia had been waiting for the right timing to broach the topic. There was no way Vileena hadn’t considered the thought, but it was hard for her to say upfront that she would personally go to see her fiancé, who had neglected her for so long.
"Come now, the princess was going to ensnare the prince right? To get him to fall madly in love with you, a certain degree of preparation will be needed. For this to happen, this Theresia whom you've fully placed your trust on will to the best of her abilities, make you Mephius' most beautiful woman!"
Theresia immediately began selecting clothes that would charm the impotent soon-to-be husband.
"What do you think of His Highness Gil?"
"What do you mean?" Ineli tilted her head.
"You already know what I'm talking about," the one speaking said with a pout. He was Baton Cadmus.
"Even now I still can't believe it. For that crown prince Gil to achieve merits on his first campaign."
Saddled on their horses on the top of a hill, the youths waiting for Prince Gil neared their twenties and were all sons coming from families of distinguished nobles. Even though this was true, none of them held the right of the eldest son to succeed their family. Baton too, was the third son of the Cadmus House and had already turned 19, but spent everyday roaming about doing nothing.
The boys nodded in unison.
"That's true. Looks like there's quite a few rumours too."
"He was sent on his first campaign for the time being to be adorned with merits to appear more suitable as a successor, for one. After he won the battle, Oubary’s been complaining how he’s had it rough on his side "
"Isn't it a bit late? His Majesty the Emperor has already publicly denounced His Highness as useless, you know."
"It's because it's now. The Mephius imperial family has no other appropriate male heir. If you were to be married and get a husband, then that would be a different story."
"Sorry about that," Ineli stuck out her tongue. "Well, the brother I know can't be connected to the one actively participating in the battlefield as I've heard."
"That's why, let's test it out," Baton said with a grin.
"Baton, whenever you get these thoughts nothing good comes out of it."
"It'll be fine. No one's going to get hurt. I just want to see how things play out. Will that prince who bravely took part in the battlefield maintain his composure or not when entangled with your neighbourhood thug."
"I guess," Ineli purposely opened her mouth in the shape of a zero. "Really, you have such a great personality, Cadmus-sama!"
"Shh! Here they come."
The guards accompanying Prince Gil Mephius came into view along the hill's ridgeline. Everyone courteously gave their salutations. "Ah," Gil slovenly nodded back. He looked partially pale. It was more than justified for one bedridden and bearing the mental fatigue from the battlefield.
"It has been a while, your Highness. Now then everyone, salute Mephius' new hero" Baton said jokingly, causing everyone laugh. Gil kept a stern expression void of any smiles. The guards were sent back, and Gil got on his horse.
Orba joined with everyone else and they slowly rode off. Not even thirty minutes ago back at the palace, the one who proposed they should go on horseback seemed to have been Ineli. "The weather finally turned nice too. Let's take a slight detour," she suggested. There were five other people accompanying her. According to the information Dinn had investigated beforehand, they were all sons of distinguished nobles, and had been acquainted with the prince since young.
For Orba, his first exposure to sunlight in a month felt great. The wind gently brushed across his face, and the fragrance that drifted from the palace flower gardens wasn't too bad either. But he never lowered his guard. While donning a scowl filled with displeasure, Orba carefully paid attention to their conversation. He needed to grasp their personalities and confirm what kind of power relation he held with them.
This is also a battle.
"Could you cheer up a bit?" Ineli popped up from behind and said with a smile. He was riding together with her. Her surprisingly slender arms wrapped around his waist.
"I really shouldn't have come." Orba averted her eyes. "I wanted to sleep for one more day."
"That won't do. If the prince had not received an invitation, then even we wouldn't be forced to meet with that boorish Rogue," The one who elatedly stuck out his tongue was Troa Hergei. The young boy stuck his head out from under the mounted horse, leaving it as something to be pitied.
In a bored tone, Baton Cadmus began, "What? Rogue's place again?
"That's right. Have you always had such a close relationship with him?"
"He supported me during my first campaign. He wouldn’t stop going on about how he wanted to tell me war stories, and how I should keep him company at least once."
"Oh? Support in battle, you say. No less expected of the future successor to the Mephius Empire, it seems that you cannot stay as the children that we are. Support and the like, with all due respect, those are unthinkable words you just spoke. Could it be that you've slowly outgrown those playful times with us?"
Only a year older than the prince—and consequently two years older than Orba---Baton talking while assuming an air of superiority was, frankly, a mood dampener. He held a prominent physique, but his speech and mannerisms clearly showed he was nothing more than a child at heart.
That fuckin' scumbag of a noble.
It wasn't only Baton, but all of the other boys looked down on Prince Gil as well. To be hanging out with such a company of friends would mean Gil was either brain-dead or had a very capable personality.
Before long, they commanded a view of the Black Sword that stood in the centre of Solon to their left, as thunder rang across the hillside, and they finally arrived at Rogue Saian's mansion.
Rogue opened the gates, and greeted everyone with a smile across his face.
"Oh, if it isn't the prince. I'm sorry for troubling you to come here. You're in good health, I hope. After all, the prince is still young. You eat to your heart's content to replenish your vigour, drink until your blood turns hot, and fend off all sorts of illnesses in a moment's notice."
The aged but hearty Rogue was already in the yard grilling meat, and laying out several types of wine. Before his arrival, Gowen exchanged grins with Orba in anticipation. Once the head supervisor, he now served as a commanding officer of the crown prince's Imperial Guards. They had hit it off in the previous campaign, as veterans of battle, and since then, had been on good terms.
The neighbouring Hou Ran had caught Baton's attention. Her skin shone a brilliant ebony under the bask of the sun.
"If this race of people isn't a rare sight in Solon. Whose guest is she?"
"She's my foster daughter. Hou Ran is also an acting officer in the Imperial Guards."
Gowen replied to the impolite Baton's question with a slight change in expression. After the battle at Zaim Fortress, she was not permitted to enter the Imperial Guards' living quarters. So Orba had given her another house, and made her live under Gowen's adoption.
Baton never stopped his curious stares. During this predicament, Hou Ran completely disregarded the boys' conversation. It really was Ran-like of her, and Orba could barely contain himself.
Rogue's wife came out, leading a small child by the hand and offered her greetings.
"This is Mephius' prince. Romus, aren't you also going to greet him?" Rogue urged the child.
He was a boy about twelve, thirteen years old, and possessed an atmosphere similar to Dinn's that differed him from an outspoken boy, and a mouth that only let out slight mumbles. He quickly sank back behind Rogue.
"That's a cute grandson you have there."
"Not at all! He's a good-for-nothing son."
And with just that outburst, Ineli refrained herself from voicing any further impressions. Rogue's wife certainly seemed far younger than he was.
"The only trait he has inherited is that cowardice of mine. Even now, he is afraid to go out in the company of others. It makes me wonder if he’ll be able to get through his adult ceremony in one piece like this.”
The founding festival would be held next week. Of course, various events and ceremonies were arranged, and amongst them would be a coming-of-age ceremony for the sons of nobles and distinguished families. And there would also be an event unimaginable to any other country: public riding on a dragon's back. The ceremony used baby dragons barely several months old, but whose fangs were more than enough to bite through an adult in his prime and kill him. In the past, victims would pop up in this same way every year.
Unlike the past, it was rarely held at present. Once every few years, the houses like the Saian family, bearing a lineage of military commanders, would hold an event to show off their prided sons. This time, Rogue surely intended to have his son participate.
"I implore your highness to stop my husband. That sort of ceremony is entirely impossible for Romus. All he will remember is the atrocious scene that will unfold—"
"Stop it. Do not trouble his highness with our family circumstances. Don't worry, he'll train hard for this day. Won’t you, Romus?"
Romus offered neither assent nor dissent, only gazing up at his father in faintheartedness, unable to decide whether he was more afraid of the dragon or of angering his father.
Rogue said he had borrowed a young dragon from the army's military training camp for Romus to practice and get accustomed to.
"One day, I feel he will want to enter a training school to become a Winged Dragon Officer. But first, Romus must be able to exude a noble spirit before large crowds.”
A winged dragon—literally a dragon with wings, was however, an existence found only in the southern volcanic islands of the planet.
Referred to as winged dragon officers in Mephius, qualified commanders were charged with authority over an upwards of a hundred men and tasked with the operation of flying vessels, namely dragonstone ships. Rogue Saian himself was a winged dragon officer and held the authority to take command of entire fleets.
"Now, if you're done with your meal then go take care of the dragons, Romus. You need all the practice you can."
Romus once again gave a conventional farewell in response to his father's words and took his leave.
Orba and the others remained seated as the servants of the Saian household cut the meat and vegetables into pieces, and prepared the wine. Orba refused the wine with a hand gesture. He never had a strong tolerance for alcohol, and who knew what he might let out in a drunken stupor. During the course of their meal, Rogue told stories of the battlefield. Orba did nothing more than attest to them.
"We aren't exactly interested in your story," Baton and the others bluntly pointed out boredly. The only one who showed interest was surprisingly, the female Ineli. She listened intently to the circumstances revolving around the battle in excitement.
"Princess, I can see you hold the spirit of a warrior." Rogue said brimming with delight. "I only wish my own son could be like that."
The story eventually reached the point where, thanks to the prince's quick wittedness, they were able to march into the fortress where several strong warriors lay in wait. And then Ineli suddenly clapped her hands as she remembered something.
"That's right. I've always been meaning to hear about it if I ever met with brother. Wasn’t the one who defeated Ryucown was a gladiator? I was really surprised when I heard his name. Brother, do you remember him? You know, that Iron Tiger Orba!
Orba, who was just drinking tea at the moment, entered into a choking fit.
"You saw it at Ba Roux, right? The one who saved me from that Sozos dragon!"
"Did you know he became a member of your Imperial Guards? If that's the case, can't you let me meet him one time?"
"What's going to happen when you meet the supposed gladiator?"
Not paying any mind to Baton's grimace of a response,
"I never thanked him for that time he saved me from the dragon. And I wanted to talk with the one who personally exchanged blows with General Ryucown. Just what kind of gentleman was General Ryucown, and how skilled was he was with a sword? Doesn't thinking about it leave you trembling in excitement? I'm so close to the person who practically experienced the scene that would leave its mark in history!"
Ineli continued to be engrossed in her talk. Without realizing she had made Orba's expression darken,
"Ahh, it would’ve been so great if Ryucown had been captured and made to fight Orba in a one-on-one within the arena . The battle at the fortress could redone, and if Orba managed to take the head of Ryucown then, the festival would bustle at its peak—"
Boom! Orba had slammed his cup onto the table, causing Ineli's voice to taper off. Orba was trembling, and everyone's attention quickly turned towards him.
The one who leaned his body forward was Gowen. He poured tea into Orba's now empty cup. His eyes stared into Orba’s, urging him not to be so emotional. Orba drew back his chin and gave a nod.
Turning to face Ineli, "You will soon," he said hoping to smooth things out.
"But assuming you do meet him, he's really not an interesting person. He also has no proper etiquette. All he'll do is leave you with an unpleasant experience."
"Well, that's acceptable; I'm rather lenient with that. I don't expect the different people of this world to adopt a similar behaviour. You can't chat in the same language with your dragon after years of tending to its needs, can you?”
Orba made an effort to prevent his feelings of discomfort from showing on his face. The incident with Hou Ran suddenly weighed on his mind. He thought it was about time the girl who told him of the dragon’s ‘voice’ suddenly intruded into their conversation, but she was no where to be found.
While everyone was having a pleasant chat, Baton took the opportunity to leave his seat. Orba noticed that his eyes darted around restlessly as he was walked, as if he was searching for someone.
In between the mansion and on the other end of the garden was an established cell. Within it was a child Baian. Its length was roughly two metres. Since some time back, the dragon had been lowering its head and incessantly sticking its forked tongue in and out, hissing menacingly at Romus who stood before the cage.
He kept his distance for a while, eyeing the Baian in horror, but braced himself and, holding a bundle of meat from the garden in his hand, approached the dragon. With legs nearing full development and claws as sharp as a sword, it could hardly be called a baby dragon.
Romus quickly tossed the meat. However, it landed directly in front of the cage. Romus approached no further, trying his best in an attempt to kick it in.
Gawrr, the dragon roared, as it violently rammed its head against the cage. Baton fell backwards and frantically tried to scurry away. The Baian stuck its long tongue through the gap and slipped the food into its mouth.
The young Romus lost his temper. "You, you, you, you, you!" He took a three-pronged spear leaning beside the cage into his hand. It was a tool for use against dragons. The ends were blunted, so that it could be shoved in between the cage bars without wounding the dragon, but Romus brandished the weapon as if he were about to slay his foe and gave a thrust to the dragon's head.
The dragon shook its head as it gave out loud wails. He thrust a second time, and on the third, he struck near the eye. He pursued the overwrought, retreating dragon with deep thrusts. As he was doing so, his hand was suddenly grabbed from the side, startling Romus.
It was Hou Ran. The hand flung him to the side. Romus once again lay on his bottom, as the roars of the dragon reverberated with the force of a cannon in his ear. Using its rearfoot to stand, the dragon proceeded to bare its fangs as it clung to the cage. Romus' face lost colour. He was thrown off his guard, and the dragon continued to draw closer, surely planning to attack him in one fell swoop.
"Be careful," Ran spoke.
For a moment, Romus wasn't sure if she was speaking to him or the dragon. Then the girl stretched her hand through the cage and gently stroked the Baian's throat.
He watched in amazement as the Baian, who didn't listen to anything until just recently, emitted a gentle groan, stopped standing on its rear feet, and lowered its head. Hou Ran bent down and caressed its forehead.
Ran extended her other hand and called Romus over. Partially pale hair could be seen on her dark skin. Committing this mysterious figure to heart, he nervously brought himself closer.
"Are you scared of the dragon?"
"I-I'm not scared. I mean, he could attack you even like this."
"Because you're afraid of the dragon, the dragon is also afraid of you."
Romus winced, not because of the unexpected remark, but because she grasped his hand and brought it in the direction of the cage.
"Baby dragons especially, have hearts like a mirror. It reflects your own heart. Look into its eyes and feel it."
He took a breath, and gazed into the dragon's glassy eyes. Of course, he couldn't perceive any of its emotions. But for some reason, he never let go of Hou Ran's hand, and he slowly, steadily brought himself closer to the dragon's scales—and touched it.
He shrank back his shoulders and back, two, and then three times. It wasn't that he was scared. In those parts, he could feel a hot sensation transmitted there, and most prominent was an impact as if he received several blows to the forehead.
When he realized what it was, he broke into tears, as Ran hugged his back.
"You’re a strong child," Ran whispered into his ear. "And there is potential in you. You heard its 'voice', right? You don't have to be afraid of the dragon anymore. But you also shouldn't show your back too often. Dragons and humans are different; the way they tie a trusting relationship, the way they talk, the way they spend their time, and the way they get happy. You should spend some time understanding it."
"Well isn't this a sight for sore eyes."
The joke came as Baton Cadmus revealed himself. Romus, ashamed of his crying, quickly stood up and wiped his eyes. Baton approached in long strides and stopped in front of Hou Ran.
"You say you were in an all-male slave detention camp? Just what were you doing there? Did you help the men relieve them of their boredom?"
Hou Ran stared back at him, unimpressed. Baton licked his lips, like a prey stalking a predator.
"You aren't too bad."
"A woman like you that stinks of dragon dung once in a while isn't bad at all. Even if you're a part of the Imperial Guards, you must be bored, right? You should work in my mansion. I'll make it a 'good' experience. Way better than those crude sword slaves or uselessly large dragons could ever give you."
Hou Ran was about to say something, when she suddenly glanced over. Leaning against the wall over Baton's shoulders was Orba, staring straight at her. In response, Ran faced the young noble, her lips creviced to reveal a stunning smile.
"I like strong men."
"That's right. And I have power," Baton grinned widely. "Enough to keep you."
"That's not good enough. You'll have to at least show me your strength, like this child did."
Ran pointed her hand towards Romus, and then to the Baian within the cage. "Ha," Baton sneered.
"Are dragons all the standard for you people of the Ryuujin Faith? If that kid can do it, there's no way I can't. I even brought down a Baian in last year's dragon hunting. A baby dragon like this is nothing."
With a crank of his shoulders, Baton stepped up to the Baian and touched its lowered head. Baton gave a triumphant smile and turned back around, not noticing how Hou Ran's gaze went through him, and focused on the dragon.
A string of saliva hung from the Baian's mouth, when it opened and gave a roar before it stood up.
The startled Baton jumped back. The dragon fervently swung its claws out between the bars of the cage. Baton scrambled away, severely banging his hip in the process, not stopping until he was sure to have reached a safe place. His face was completely pale.
"That's too bad."
With a thin smile, Hou Ran flung back her hair and turned around, to give a despising glare at the figure. She came up to Orba. Before he could call out to her, she beat him to it.
"You were testing me."
She stomped on his feet. Orba jumped up from the unexpected assault.
"You were watching what I was doing. You knew it wasn't your place. And still you thought to bring our friendship closer. So you tested me."
"W-wait up. Hey, Hou Ran..."
It was exactly as she said, but Orba never imagined it would make her this mad. In a way, he understood less about a girl's feelings than of the dragons' 'voice'.
Dinn used the time while the prince had gone out to thoroughly clean up the room. Doing so alone would have been too heavy a labour, so he spoke with the grand chamberlain and acquired help from several others. It wasn't unusual for several people to be tasked to look after a member of the imperial family. The one who arranged for Dinn alone to be entrusted with the duty was none other than Fedom, for fear that Orba's true colours would be brought to light. The official reason was because the hot-tempered prince could trust no other chamberlain except Dinn.
In any case, he was finished shortly after noon. The other chamberlains took their leave, and as he let out a sigh of relief, the bell announcing visitors rang. The soldiers acting as the room bodyguards had rung it.
Somehow, Dinn had a bad feeling about this.
"Did something bad happen?"
Ineli stealthily whispered in his ear, pointing to Baton, who was clearly in a bad mood. Her playful expression annoyed Orba.
"He failed to make a pass on a girl. Leave him be."
He answered, more or less now used to it. Ineli giggled, and taking Orba's hand, joined it around her surprisingly slender arms. It was a rather skillful play, and then Orba felt her call out to the side,
"What are you going to do now, Baton? If you want to go back and weep, I won't be stopping you."
"Don't kid around. There's a place I want to check out. It's a well-known store that even the prince would happily approve of."
It was a given that Orba had no way of knowing, but for Baton, this would be the day's main event.
The horses were left in the Saian residence, and Baton was the first to take the lead and begin walking.
The southwestern district was divided by the Sazan River from the area of the palace and nobles' residence. Once they treaded on the Town District, they made a few turns here and there, and separated from the main road. There was a smell of garbage waste, prompting Ineli to hold her nose. The other boys also exchanged worried looks.
"Are you sure this is the right place, Baton?"
Even Troa, who should have been aware of the plan, worriedly asked this. Baton snorted.
They were raised as the sons of well-off families after all.
It was unlikely that nobles would set foot into this sort of place in the absence of bodyguards. But to Baton, it was a familiar sight. Sick of his usual days of boredom, he would often frequent such places. It was a part of his own ventures to seek out thrills.
"Hey, hold up."
Several poorly dressed men came from the direction of the voice and approached them. One of them whistled.
"Well aren't you a group of rather well-dressed young masters."
"It's dangerous here ya know, because there's a whole bunch of bad people around. They'll quickly strip you of your belongings."
"Because we're nice people, we'll help you guys out of here, so if you'd offer us something of value, that'll make us really happy."
They were dressed in dregs, giving off the appearance of thugs, but all of them were acquaintances of Baton.
They conferred the financially well off Baton the position of leader, and often hung out in 'groups' around these parts. At times, they would go as far as to simulate blackmailings and stealings.
"Don't screw with me," Baton got fired up, according to plan. "As if we would even give the least bit of money to get past guys like you. You guys that don't know your place, scram!"
"What was that?!"
The person in front spat out saliva and then drew a dagger from his back.
Ineli shrank back as she instinctively let out a scream. Baton casually pat her on the back, "It's an act," he told in a small voice. He continued,
"How shall we go about this..."
He stared at the seemingly dumbfounded prince. The prince had been silent the whole time. Baton held the contemptuous thought that he was left shaking in his boots at a lost for words.
He succeeded with his first campaign, they say? And just what can this spoiled prince do in such a kill-on-sight situation?
For a while now, the two may have held a relationship where they would gallivant about together, but within Baton's heart, he had looked down on the prince this whole time. He felt himself a far more capable man. But now that prince was hailed as a hero. For this reason, he wanted to make a fool out of him in public. He wanted to make them see the prince's abilities in a new light.
There was no way for Baton to know, of course, the feelings that Gil—Orba was harbouring at the time. Because he would never imagine that Gil had switched places with a former gladiator, it also wasn't too much of a stretch that Orba held a strange feeling of nostalgia.
The fixed smell, alleyways, threatened extortion by pointing blades, and the stealing—
These were all the only things he experienced as a child. In the few years after the time Oubary had burned down his village until he was made to become a gladiator, he had lived sipping the muddy waters from the worst parts of town.
Before his eyes, he saw a great many men brandishing their daggers.
"Now, what's the matter? If your mouths aren't working, then how about I force it open for you."
The boy pointed his dagger at Orba's mouth. Orba didn't turn away, carefully looking past the blade and observing his opponents. They numbered four. All of them most likely carried weapons. He wore a pistol and dagger on his back. If he could seize a chance, he was fully confident he could beat them, but he couldn't afford to do it too skilfully in the presence of Ineli and the others.
As Orba thought of a prince-like behaviour that might get them out of this situation, Baton suddenly reached out his hand and knocked away the dagger in front of the prince's mouth.
"You shouldn't go too far with your pranks, or you'll be in for a world of pain," Baton said with a triumphant air.
He was already satisfied, having been able to make a show of the prince's worthlessness in front of his best friends.
"We are Mephian nobility. If you so much as inflict a wound on us, you lot would be hung in the blink of an eye. We'll overlook this. Now scram!"
That was the arranged key phrase, but the opposing men showed not even the smallest indication of being daunted; they were smirking. And to make matters worse,
"Oh? Nobility you say."
Startled, Baton turned around to face the voice that called out. There were another three men drawing closer, dressed in rags just like the others. But he had no recollection assigning them as cast in this play.
"Now that I look more closely, I'd say you're the real thing. We heard your little chat and couldn't help to think what awfully mighty things you said."
"Well isn't this a bigger catch than I imagined."
"You bastards!" Baton let out in a low voice. He was well aware of the colour draining from his face. They had went along with Baton's proposed plan and laid a trap on their end.
"W-what are you going to do? If it's money you really want, I'll be sure to later..."
"We don't need your loose change, Cadmus boy. With this many hostages, they wouldn't mind if we demanded even more money, right?"
Ineli once again gave another shrill scream; one of the thugs had laid his hands on her dress.
"Those're some nice garbs yer wearin'. I wanna bring 'em home to my daughter."
"L-let go! You low-life, get your filthy hands off me!"
Ineli slapped his cheek. It was a reflexive action that tensed the situation.
"Who's the real filthy one, you damn Mephian nobles. Do it."
"W-wait! Wait I tell you!"
Baton shouted, as Ineli's legs gave way. With a frantic expression,
"T-The one over here is Mephius' crown prince. You should get that there's no way you'll get away with it..."
"The prince, you say?"
A joyous countenance flashed across their faces contrary to Baton's expectations, but one of them directed eyes full of hatred on their 'guest'. He was the oldest man in the group.
"Prince Mephius! Who would have thought I would be able to meet him here. He is the bane of Layla, and the one person I mustn't let escape."
Again, the same man acted alone and drew his sword. The drawn sword left the young nobles speechless and frozen stiff, as one of them thought,
Upon hearing the name for the first time, he committed her connection with these men to memory.
"First, let's have you hand over that gun. Actually, stay right there. I'll take it."
As per the instructions of the man who first drew his sword, Orba reached his hands towards his back.
The time that seemingly stood still continued to flow. Orba quickly reached towards the other half of his body and drew the gun from his back. "Wait," as his fellow thugs called out, Orba swiftly pulled the trigger quickly.
Having been shot on the midfoot, the man fainted in agony. Orba didn't hesitate. In a situation where the enemies numbered many, missing a chance to strike the first blow was fatal.
"Long as he's alive, I don't give a damn! The gun, slice his whole arm off!"
He nimbly dodged the man that slashed at him from behind.
"Run!" Orba shouted. He practically kicked Baton from behind, pushing him towards the side. They didn't need any more prompting, and as the other thugs gave chase to the boys, they were met with another round of bullets. They toppled sideways as blood gushed out of their bodies.
"Now you've done it!"
The remaining men all rushed towards Orba. They were at point-blank range, and Orba, deeming that the pistol couldn't properly be handled at point-blank, kicked the knee of the man in front, snatching the short sword from his hands. Twice, thrice he repelled the pouring onslaught of daggers.
A colour of surprise and impatience hung on the dirt-covered mens' faces. They had agreed to kidnap the younger nobles, and had more or less resolved themselves, but having let everyone escape, the nobles would surely come back and rain retribution down on them.
With unexpected skill, he slashed downwards, diagonally across the shoulders of a stumbling man. "Surround him!" and the instant Orba heard the bellow, jumped back to the rear. He blocked the pursuing blade using the katana grasped in his right hand to perform an upwards sweeping motion, and with the dagger strapped to his back, stabbed the man in the chest with his left.
If he were to diminish their numbers, then their chances of success would drastically decrease. He whirled the sword on his right in arcs, and the foes continued to fall amidst the clattering, until only a single man was left. He was the man who had cried out 'bane of Layla'.
He gripped his blade, ready to strike. The man's stubble-covered face trembled in its entirety, as he glared at Orba. But it wasn't Orba he hated. It was a person possessing the same appearance as he, whom the man detested.
Just as he was about to attack, Orba fired a shot near his feet. "Hiiii," the man jumped, and collapsed on his bottom.
"Who is Layla?" Orba asked, as he established his aim.
"D-Don't play dumb! I won't let you say you forgot you did to Layla."
"Say it." He thrust the muzzle up his chin, "Who is Layla? And what do you mean by getting revenge?"
Quite some time passed, as Orba caught up with Ineli and the others along the bank of Sazan River.
Ineli gazed at Orba as if she was seeing a dead one come back to life. Orba collapsed onto the floor on the spot, pretending to have barely escaped from a near-death situation."
"Are you ok?"
"B-Barely. You guys, wasn't it a bit too much to run away and leave me behind like that?"
"That's....Your Highness himself was the one who said to run," one of the boys said, but Orba made a face as if he didn't remember it at all.
In the end, after it was clear that everyone had made it out safely, Ineli's expression turned into one that completely relished in the thrill, and returned to her usual self.
"I would have never thought you would suddenly just shoot."
"It was really sudden for me too, and I don't really remember it all that well."
"Hey, Your Highness? Don't get too mad after hearing about it, okay? All of this was...."
"Ine-Princess Ineli." Baton coughed violently to interrupt Ineli. "Please keep the information regarding that matter c-c-confidential."
Even though Ineli was short of breath, she floated a smile across her face. Orba could somewhat guess what it was about, but kept his mouth shut. Ineli planned to, under the leverage of the 'secret', toy with Baton to the utmost.
At any rate.
The matter regarding the aforementioned 'Layla' weighed on Orba's mind. According to what he heard from the man he threatened, Gil Mephius had exercised the privilege exclusive to the imperial family, 'right to the first night', on a local bride. That was Layla. Her father was an officer of the Imperial Guards directly under the control of the emperor, but following the incident, he explained to the relatives and close friends invited to the wedding.
"It is the prince's usual dalliance. Nothing will happen," he explained.
No one was convinced. But this staked on his daughter’s honour, and the imperial officer made them swear to never reveal this matter to others. After that, they never saw the father and daughter again. Their mansion in the city of Solon had also, at one point, been sold off. Rumours spread of how they had been killed to silence them, and before long, talk of this matter ceased.
The man Orba questioned was also a distant relative of Layla.
In constant fear of when an assassin might come, he had lost all will to work, and went as far as to perform the activities of a night thief that he held himself in contempt for. He loathed the Mephian nobles and most of all, Gil Mephius.
"I understand now."
Once he had finished hearing everything, Orba set down his gun. He departed, leaving the fallen men lying in the pools of blood.
An officer of the Imperial Guards. This was worth investigating. The disturbance of the 'right of first night' occurred just before Orba was made into Gil's body double. Moreover, Gil shared a bed with Layla in a barroom, when the man witnessed none other than Fedom running into the room.
What happened there…?
On the way back, under the swaying of the horse, Orba was lost in thought.
"Your Highness," Ineli reached over from behind and gently prodded Orba, signalling the sun was already setting.
"Lord Zaat is here."
"Ah," Orba unintentionally let out. Emerging from the store along with several men armed with swords acting as bodyguards was a man clad in what could easily be identified as clothing for a noble, and Oubary Bilan. These two stopped moving, seeming to have noticed the prince.
"If this isn't the prince. What an unusual place to have met you. I take it you are in good health."
Oubary's thin, spread, purple lips broke to form a smile. Just seeing his face was enough for Orba to feel his body heat up, and he was only able to respond with a light nod. And the other person was:
With the portraits Dinn had laid out, he was able to roughly remember the faces of the leading nobles. He was a member of the Founding Imperial Council. The House of Quark had been around since the founding of Mephius, and remained a distinguished family in the successive generations. While gazing at Orba with a grand demeanour and eyes filled with vigour, he opened his mouth.
"Congratulations on your first successful campaign.....A month has already passed since then, as I now remember at this late hour, but I regret to inform you that I have not had a chance to visit you since then. His Imperial Majesty has also been left worried. How about you show him your face tomorrow, if not earlier?"
"If the other nobles were to see that the prince, who is supposed to be laying in bed ill, is playing around in such a place, there will be no stopping them from speaking ill of you. Mephius is more or less on the verge of rebellion. As you are an important prince, do take care."
He indeed spoke with a refined demeanour and yet gentle tone, notwithstanding the piercing glint in his eyes. Zaat was not one of the twelve generals, but carried the vestiges of the House of Quark that once held dominion over the position. Compared to genuine military commanders like Rogue or Oubary, he held few soldiers and should not have personally stood in a battlefield before. But those eyes just now were exactly the kind that intently fixed themselves on the enemy.
So...he's the head of the anti-imperial faction?
He hadn't received this information from Dinn, but remembered Fedom mentioning it at one point. Zaat appeared to be the most opposed to Kaiser Islan's imprisonment. Would the prince have faltered from this? As Orba held this thought, it was suddenly cut short.
"Well then, please excuse me."
After courteously leaving his message, he departed with Oubary. Orba stared at the form of the two men boarding the coach that had been waiting in front of the store, or more exactly, at Oubary alone.
One day, Orba swore in his mind.
One day I'll burn you to death. That's right, 'one day'. Not now. I'm not so nice as to just kill you now.
"It's better to not worry about it, brother."
Ineli took Gil's lapse of silence to mean he had fallen depressed over the indirect reprehension of their idling. She smiled while patting him on the back.
"Still, what a strange combination," one of the boys cocked his head. "I've never seen the two of them get along so well together until now."
"Whatever. Let's just hurry and go back. We'll be sorry to receive the fussings of another important person.
Or so Baton said, but even now, his face paled. It was obvious to everyone he was terrified of what other troubles he might find himself caught up in.
What a weird day.
Orba thought as he walked through the palace passage.
A lot of things happened, but at present, the prince's closest of friends had yet to suspect his true colours. It could be considered his first of steps. It was absolutely necessary to obtain all the rights and privileges the prince held, and to do so, he needed to be able to put up with the various worthless happenings.
Be that as it may, the unaccustomed battles had left him exhausted, body and mind.
"Dinn," he called out to the page once he had opened the door. "I won't be needing a bath or a meal today."
"And you also won't be—"
Orba noticed Dinn wore an expression of discomfort. The prince's room was a continuation of three rooms, and the first door that was opened led to a small room where chairs and a counter were arranged to let a waiting visitor settle in.
In there, the shadow of a figure could be seen sitting in moody silence. With a single glance, Orba's fatigue had somewhat left him. It was Garbera's third princess, Vileena. With her rich, silver hair hanging on her back, the dignified beauty looked up directly at Orba.
"I welcome you back, Your Highness the Crown Prince, Gil." "
"Pray tell me, where did you head off to?"
"Well, that is—oh, I was invited to the general's house."
"You certainly seem to be in good health."
Each and every one of them says the exact same thing.
Such a thought crossed his head. He planned to restrain the feeling, but it must have showed on his face.
"Did I perhaps say something odd? I am an unaccustomed guest in Mephius after all. I am not privy to the culture and humour of this country. That is to say, I’d like for us to come to an immediate understanding, or at the very least, for you to firmly answer me."
"What are you trying to say?" Orba angrily glared at the girl two years younger than him. "This isn't very princess-like. If there's something you want to say, then say it frankly."
"Is that so. Then, let's be frank. Prince, are you aware of the matter regarding Kaiser Islan?"
"Is yes all you have to say?" her starry-eyed pupils widened.
"Like I said, what are you trying to say? Just state your business."
"That's already enough."
With a red face, Vileena got up from her seat. Orba wanted to lie down and rest, if even a second earlier, but this attitude only served to stoke his ire.
"What do you mean that's enough? I haven't heard anything yet."
"I wondered if you had collapsed due to the illness, to find you roaming about until this late. If you were agonizing over this country's future, you must have at least given it some thought; from the looks of it, the issue hasn't weighed on your mind the least bit. No matter what I tell you, it would be pointless."
"You have some nerve, discreetly criticizing others you hardly know on nothing but speculation."
He had just managed to keep up a mask of appearances in front of the group of close friends, and somehow, before this fourteen year old princess, it had crumbled away to dust. Most likely, the princess said the one thing that shouldn't be said.
"There are things a child cannot understand. Before you go meddling in people's business, how about you first go and grow up, princess?"
"I most certainly will!"
In an instant, Vileena stood up with great force, and faster than Dinn could let out an 'Ah', pressed towards Orba. Thinking the force would be transmitted through an open palm, Orba reflexively pressed his back against the wall.
Leaving those sharp words, Vileena stomped her way out of the room in a manner unbefitting a princess.
Orba loosened his back, as he slumped down against the wall.
First Ran, and now this princess.
"I'm also to blame," Dinn said with a bit too sad of a look.
"When the princess came in the afternoon, I explained to her that you had gone out with your friends."
"Then what time will he be returning?" the princess had asked. Thinking it would be bad if the prince took too long to play around, Dinn gave the insubstantial response of, "He'll be back immediately."
"I had repeatedly told her, 'Once he comes back, I would immediately contact them', but she continued to wait in this manner...."
It was afternoon, and then it was already four, and now had passed 5 o'clock. Orba let out a long sigh.
There's no time to rest, for as long as I deceive this whole country. Damnit, I let my guard down."
There was no doubt Vileena would once again become a threat in Orba's continued battle to fake his current position. Of course, because this was Orba, he had failed to notice even the slightest that Vileena Owell's dress was more daring than usual.