A riverboat slowly drifted on the water’s surface.
The atmosphere, which hasn’t been illuminated by the sunlight for long, has grown cold steeply. Even the sound of the water crashing against the ship’s bow, carries a somewhat mysterious feeling. The ripples on the perfectly clear water’s surface are quite moderate as well. Its transparent-blue surface only reflects the pure-blue sky.
Towards whom, or what, is the girl who is standing on the deck greeting? While emitting a small white breath with a “hah hah,” she quietly stood still as she gazed ahead of the river’s current. Her face, which is turned towards the west, doesn’t show any joy or grief. Her cheeks are slightly red, and her immaturity shines through. There was her softness, too.
The third princess of the Asuria Kingdom was alive on this autumn morning of her 12th year.
“Paulina-sama, don’t you feel cold?”
The woman, who appeared as if chasing after Paulina, called out to her worriedly. It’s Wilma, Paulina’s maid officer. Her blonde hair is reflecting the morning sun with a glitter. What she is holding in her hands is a warm-looking shawl. Paulina refused that by shaking her head. It’s because she felt that the chilliness touching her skin is something pure.
“What’s wrong?” (Paulina)
“Eh? No, I just want to cover you with this if you seem to be cold…” (Wilma)
“What are you afraid of?” (Wilma)
Wilma was startled. Because of her sudden motion, the thin sword at her waist made a metallic sound. Due to that clattering noise being awfully awkward, Paulina thought that she heard the helplessness of swaying on the water’s surface. Wilma made her mouth flap open and closed several times, and after displaying indecision about what to do, she started to talk once she exhaled a white, long breath.
“As usual you have me surprised, Paulina-sama. It’s just me feeling ashamed of my inexperience…” (Wilma)
Paulina listened to Wilma expressing her mind while bathing in the moist wind.
It appeared that Wilma was afraid of fate starting to move. The tedious days in the royal villa have suddenly changed into something exciting since this year’s spring, and there are no signs that we will return there from now on either. The northern remote area, where we went to under a tranquil sky while being shaken in a carriage… a small incident and a big encounter awaited us there. Wilma voiced out fate’s name.
Marko of Kikomaru.
At the time she pronunciated that name, a slight tremble was mixed into the tone of Wilma’s voice. It is just the usual. It’s a story she talked about countless times in this last half year.
It’s about Marko.
His terrifying appearance, accompanied by demons under the moonlight. A dreadfulness, where slaughter lurks, hidden on the other side of his smile.
For her, that spectacle was apparently etched into her very soul as something that she can’t forget even if she wants to. Her fear might be promoted all the more by her possessing a mind and body which were diligently forged in martial arts, Paulina judges. For someone who knows the methods of cooking it’s something like having one’s heart touched by coming across an exquisite dish.
He and Paulina are tied by a single promise.
“I shall offer the crown to you, Your Highness Princess Paulina.” (Marko)
It was a voice that gave the impression of a great mountain’s serenity.
“There were some who tried to murder you here tonight. You don’t have to consider me having prevented that as an achievement. The reason for that is because of the possibility of me tolerating your death depending on the circumstances. I tested you. I will be frank about that first of all. I’m telling you this as fact and not as an apology. I’m repeating myself, but you were tested by me. Are you angry about that?” (Marko)
That was a confirmation and not a question. Because Paulina comprehended that, she simply shook her head. Because Marko comprehended that as well, he simply nodded his head. It was probably for the sake of making the surroundings hear the exchanged words, Paulina thinks.
“The continent is about to be plunged into war once again. It might become something like historical picture scrolls experienced in reality. It will result in the people looking, with impoverished expressions, towards the northern Heaven’s Boundary Mountain Range, distinguished war services, wearing the flesh and blood of soldiers and officers, coming and going, and battle flags, hovering above the Plain of Wandering Calamity. I dare say that this time, be it the kingdom or the empire, neither will taste the stimulation of a prosperous country or the despair of a ruined country. It will be just the people who are going to die. Such a war is approaching. It’s already upon us… even by tomorrow.” (Marko)
It was a prediction. At the time when they talk about the future, people will blend in their wishes, for better or worse, in their words. If they associate the future with hope, the near future is promising, and if they associate it with despair, the near future is gloomy and stagnating. However, she couldn’t feel any kind of wish within Marko’s words. Paulina was reminded of a noodles dough which was neglected even after kneading it well. It was dried out. As it’s only natural that it will get dry if it was handled like this, there’s no other choice but to simply accept it as fact… such was his way of talking, Paulina recalls.
“I have come to the conclusion that I will destroy that.”
Without protecting against it or preventing it, without resisting it or fighting against it, that black-haired, blue-eyed person declared it’s destruction. What’s “it”? What does he mean by destroying it? Paulina accepted that something to be “history.” It’s about the history of man.
That person, who tries to walk a distant path by himself, while not finishing to explain everything and without any indication that he will talk about the details, didn’t show even a fragment of emotions, but nonetheless he emitted his zeal to his surroundings. Paulina sensed that passion. A large mountain with an air of composure towards the outside, albeit hiding terrific lava inside… it possesses a colossal flame with a heat to the degree of making the world shake.
He is beautiful. Paulina felt that he is lovely. Controlling the divergence between inside and outside by himself, without the slightest fluctuation, his figure, which faces the world while emitting heat, seemed to be brilliant. By obtaining fire, people were able to obtain various meals. He was fire. With him being alive, the world will probably be able to obtain a lot. Paulina was aware that she once again had gotten a prediction.
“I think I will offer you the crown for that reason, Your Highness Princess Paulina.” (Marko)
Due to the great mountain rumbling weakly and faintly releasing its heat, resolutions were urged onto Paulina who saw that. There were two resolutions. The resolution to accept the fire called Marko, and the resolution to release that fire into the world. Paulina and him weren’t unrelated anymore. She understood that. The fact of our meeting is irreversible. I can’t return to the situation before I met him anymore. There’s no other choice but acceptance or rejection.
“Do you like refined noodles?” (Paulina)
That was an act of touching destiny with her fingertips. It’s not like Paulina wanted to confirm something. She just wanted to touch him. She wished for the sensation of that destiny being in front of her at a meeting that had never occurred once in her life until now.
“I came to like it. I haven’t hated them to begin with, but the noodles, kneaded by you, were something splendid.” (Marko)
“What do you like about them?” (Paulina)
“It’s the feeling of the noodles going down the throat. There are various ways of eating them, but the quality of the noodles influences everything with refined noodles after all. If the noodles are great, their flavour will be deep, no matter how they are eaten. If the noodles are bad, you won’t be able to savour them, no matter how you eat them.” (Marko)
“Yea. Man’s history is the same.” (Paulina)
“Yes, just as you say. It’s identical.” (Marko)
Paulina smiled and Marko smiled once again as well. It was a fantastic sensation. Paulina enjoyed it, too. A serene melody resounded in her body and mind. I will predict the colours of the world for those who resolved themselves and infer their destiny. It was great.
“What shall I do?” (Paulina)
“Please stay healthy forever. I exist for that reason.” (Marko)
“Will you eat the refined noodles I make?” (Paulina)
“That’s something I wish for.” (Marko)
“And the continuation of the “beast” story?” (Paulina)
“My continuation will eventually… as for your continuation, I will listen to it anytime.” (Marko)
The refreshing sounds continue. Paulina was happy about her own fate having started to move. Within me a fire had been lit and I knew that it would become my energy. And then I noticed that I was bored. Completely like a person who ate sufficiently for the first time, just like finally realizing the truth I thirsted for.
And Paulina and Marko made an agreement. Marko will offer the crown to Paulina, and Paulina will release Marko into the world. The two, who chose and were chosen, follow their destiny while facing their future as a result of that.
Marko for the sake of breaking his own prediction.
Paulina for the sake of welcoming her own prediction.
History exposed its gigantic shape in front of him and her. However, it also seemed as if it was waiting to be tread down by their feet. Once I look back, there’s already a path hardened by treading. Once I look up, his feet are certainly stepping firmly down and he is preparing the next step. Paulina felt good by that encouragement.
“… The military gains of the Royal Guard Unit are outside common sense.” (Wilma)
Wilma’s talk continues. Being wrapped up by the tranquil atmosphere of the greeting morning while advancing on the river, even the time for breakfast hasn’t arrived yet. Paulina loved this time, too.
“Even though his surroundings admire him, they refer to his good luck. Many coincidences caused that unbelievable military achievement by supporting them. There are also many who regard the White Dragon Banner as a flag of fortune. I hear there are even people possessing white dish cloths as a charm for their first campaign. That’s the way it has been taken.” (Wilma)
“However”, Wilma said while looking somewhat bitter.
“I’m in a position closer to the truth than them. That boy… the man called Marko isn’t a person accomplishing things by relying on coincidences. The Royal Guard Unit’s military results are something obtained as if following the natural course of acquiring them without a chance for doubt. I don’t grasp the method fully, but even so, I can declare that. His existence itself seems to be outside of common sense… that is, for me…” (Wilma)
It was a quiet, inaudible comment with a sigh mixed in. Paulina heard only that. The splashing sound of water leapt up. With that as a start, people started to do their morning activities. The sailors increase their motions, hasten them, and their sounds exceed those of the water and the wind. Life on the water begins.
“Marco is scary, isn’t he?” (Paulina)
Paulina’s words apparently made Wilma surprised once again. She realizes that she’s gripping the shawl to a degree that it becomes creased. I will put my hand on her hand. Both were cold.
“Marko certainly knows that. That’s why he’s always hiding. He is gentle.” (Paulina)
The place where hand touched hand started to produce warmth unbeknownst from which it originated. In order to nurture that, Paulina shook her hand slightly.
“It’s fine even if you are nervous. But being frightened is no good. You can eat a soup no matter how hot it is. And it will certainly be delicious, won’t it? If you remember the anticipation of what kind of dish is on the other side of the steam, blowing on it becomes something pleasant.” (Paulina)
The warmth softens Wilma’s stiffness. Paulina considered that touch as precious.
“A dish placed in front of you is, fate. Once you face it, you can eat it. The things you ate before, and the things you wanted to eat someday are important, aren’t they? The things you can eat now are valuable.” (Paulina)
Once she finished saying that, it’s Paulina whose stomach rumbled as result. The time for breakfast was approaching. The twinkling reflected on the water’s surface increases her cheerfulness. She guesses the taste of the grilled fish by the fragrance that suddenly started to hang in the air.
“Your stomach is as punctual as ever, Paulina-sama.” (Wilma)
“Yea, it functions dependably.” (Paulina)
Wilma recovered her smile. Just like the water’s surface, her bewitching blonde hair also increased its light. Paulina enjoyed its brilliance. It was something she liked about Wilma with all her heart.
“I look forward to breakfast.” (Wilma)
“Yea, it will be fish. My mouth’s already preparing for it.” (Paulina)
“Do you look forward to meeting with… Marko as well?” (Wilma)
“Yea. My feet are aching now.” (Paulina)
Once Paulina displayed herself stepping on the spot, Wilma smiled even more. After bringing along large quantities of first-class, light wheat flour, Paulina intends this time to refine the noodles even more by kneading than last time. She was relieved because she would stay there for quite a bit. She planned to enjoy various flavours and to make others enjoy various tastes.
“It will be enjoyable.” (Paulina)
After Wilma’s hand became very warm, Paulina, who felt great as well, tried to massage her. She intensely massaged the hand, which stays without escaping even though it’s ticklish, resulting in Paulina getting engrossed in it before she notices. Unable to stand it any longer, Wilma burst into laughter. Paulina was happy.
“Hurry up, it seems we have to get the preparation in order soon. Let’s go.”
Before descending towards the cabin while being guided, Paulina once more threw her gaze ahead of the river’s stream, ahead of the ship’s advance. A bright path, which sparkles behind the rising sun, continues into the far, far distance. Regardless of what Paulina desires and wishes for, everything proceeds as it is. Forward. And beyond that. History doesn’t know of coming to a stop.
Those were words which weren’t heard by anyone. Certainly no one has heard them. However Paulina thought that she heard an answer. It’s the answer of the person who is slightly further down the path from here. There was only one person who came to her mind.
Because Wilma opened the door, Paulina was lured by the already concrete aroma. There was something gushing forth inside her mouth. Paulina climbs down with a spirited pace. Going downstream in a boat in the morning will be especially delicious, Paulina thinks.
The boat moves.
The reunion between Paulina and the Royal Guard Unit was actually realized after half a year.