It’s not the scent of something drifting from the hot pot, is it? Nor is it something rising from my own stomach, right?
The proper convection, to the degree of making the inside of the tent warm and moist, is really pleasant. It is at the level of causing Akseli, who is a staunch career soldier, to get drowsy. Outside, separated by a cloth curtain, the ground has finished being dyed with spots of oily blood, the corpses are piled up on a wagon and even though the captured people are spending a night full of despair… the inside of the tent is calm and relaxed.
(Although it is said that the house represents the people living in it, just why…) (Akseli)
Akseli sipped the hot water and looked at the little girl sitting ahead of him through the steam. She is making the expression of someone who has accomplished something. Her smiling appearance is oozing with fulfillment and satisfaction from the bottom of her heart. Akseli believes that to be something wonderful. It is the same sight a craftsman, who did something with their heart and soul beforehand, shows.
However, this is likely intolerable for certain people… Akseli sneered in his mind. She doesn’t adorn herself, doesn’t hide and isn’t arrogant. It’s probably a horror for people who live by affectation, concealment and arrogance. She is preserving her own glory in an independent style. It is probably a threat for those people who live by depending on others’ authority and reputation.
The Third Princess of the Asuria Kingdom, Paulina.
Her life has been in disorder due to the richly coloured ugliness in the fabric of human relationships surrounding her. With the First Princess Eleonora at the lead, many nobles don’t conceal their spite towards her. It looks like they lost any kind of restraints with the king falling into sickness. Far from scornful laughter, anecdotes, making one want to doubt their sanity, could be heard.
Daniel is the source of the information. The young noble, who established the Hakkinen guard corps and accomplished the subjugation of the mounted bandits, has become an existence who’s known to absolutely everyone in the current royal court. It’s because the Marquis Yurihalshira household has appointed him to a responsible post.
The Yurihalshira household is a great noble continuing to act as the wall of the royal family’s clan since the old days of the kingdom’s founding. Not only are they currently the leading household of the six Marquis’ and four Earls, but they are also providing a number of commissioned officers in the upper ranks of the royal army. Their own territory is adjoining to the royal capital. The strength of their feudal army is at a level that they are even praised by the Eberia Empire, albeit being far away from the front-line. The strongest shield protecting the king, that is Yurihalshira.
Daniel is serving as one of many consultants of the legitimate child, invited into that household, but it seems he has the deep trust of the legitimate child as well as the Marquis. Akseli even greatly laughed at the sentence 「As it is, I won’t come back unmarried」 written in a letter. 「If you are going to marry, you might as well do it at once」 were the words of Marko, which he remembered trembling in excitement.
Daniel’s places of activity have reached many divergences in the capital. Due to the fact that the Yurihalshira household belongs to the First Princess faction, he is mingling enthusiastically with the warmongering nobles. He is especially close with the arduously enthusiastic nobles. Also, in relation to his family name, he also has profound friendly relations with the church. Moreover, with his looks and conduct, he is also magnificent as an asset in high society.
The information 「There is a plan to assassinate the Third Princess in the royal court」 was brought in by him. It was something planned much earlier than the announcement of the princesses going on a tour of visitations in the northern territories of the kingdom.
The mastermind isn’t clear. The first Princess or the church… or possibly it’s a conspiracy of both sides working together? The assassination plan is to take Paulina to the Plain of Wandering Calamity, murder her there and announce that it is assumed to have been done by the imperial army of Eberia. Although it it is a crude plan to the degree one doesn’t know from where to investigate it, going by Akseli, it’s impossible to laugh at it, taking into account the plan’s objective of how to simply deal with Paulina.
A declaration of war against the Eberia Empire as well as a large-scale invasion into the Empire’s domain.
The military forces, that were amassed after the “Holy Flame Festival,” the desire to fight, which was drawn to the limit like a bow string, it is a plan to let all that erupt in a grand fire by sacrificing a single, in name only, princess. In front of that goal neither objective facts nor calm judgements are worth to be taken into consideration. The masses might plummet into a craze. They might shed tears by embracing 「The tragedy of the Third Princess」. They might joyfully support a large army. Akseli is able to affirm that. It’s such a kind of country, this one.
Marko dismissed that plan with a laugh and worked out a counter-plan.
Daniel is the executor of the plan in the capital. First he informed Marquis Yurihalshira of the plan for the princesses to visit the Plain of Wandering Calamity. The Marquis isn’t related to the assassination plot, and he is a character who hates eccentricity and erraticness. He immediately announced his knowledge as well as opposition to that plan. It was a fervent speech carefully considering the pain-stricken heart of the king as in “How can you increase the burden on the king’s spirit.”
Next he chose and contacted those, who have deep connections with the royal army among the nobles related to the assassination plot. And he preached the regrets of a general. For those, who are completely soldiers, the are two types of deaths, dying in honour and dying in disgrace. Even among the latter type of deaths, it is the greatest shame to die by execution due to being held responsible. And that is particularly avoided between generals at the front as, in the worst case, it won’t be possible to evade a decline in the entire army’s morale if such a thing happens. To manage the situation in a way that it won’t turn out like that, they boost the moral influence of the lords.
And he whispered into the ears of the radicals among the warmongers: There’s no mistake in first looking how many of those tenacious bandit folks, who are similar to vermin, are lurking in the mountains and forests. Since some of them were also mixed in among the people from the Eberia Empire, they were fighting, it’s likely those people are connected to the west through the mountains. If they tossed money at them or at least pestered them towards the empire’s domain, they might get useful. Of course, it’s the same story for the other side as well, though.
At the end he disseminated rumours: Making Earl Helrevi a miser, who regards the royal army and the royal capital as a high cost, low return project and thus severely hates them since it’s endless. Without having stood on the battlefield even once in the previous war, he is someone who misunderstands money counting and the amassing of wealth as righteousness. The delayed transportation schedule of military goods towards the front lines until recently serves as proof of that being the reason for him belonging to the warmongers.
Adding one thing to the other, it’s something he made Wilma, who is the maid officer of Paulina, understand while feigning it to be a coincidence: He was worried about the health of the young princess as the miasma in the north is powerful. It might become a reasonable trip, if she brought up the princess poor physical health from the start. Also, in case they were to go to the Helrevi Earldom, she should give the lieutenant of the feudal army, Akseli Anel, his best regards. Akseli is excellent.
The coloured-water, which he dribbled here and there, flows into a single place after bouncing from one place to the next. The assassination plot, which was sloppy to begin with, transforms its character into one Marko had imagined, even saving the drunken people dazzled by its results.
The princesses tour of visitations was changed. Suspending the entire Plain of Wandering Calamity inspection, it resulted in Paulina being treated as an outcast due to her poor physical health. It was decided that the First and Second Princess each would encourage the troops at the two front-line territories, inspire their morale and wait for the signal, that being the news of the death… of the third princess, who headed towards the north-eastern Helrevi Earldom by herself.
Akseli is the executioner of the plan in the Helrevi Earldom. Since they identified the commanding officer of the infantry unit being someone, who has taken part in the planning of the assassination plot within the territory, it was a simple task to induce him afterwards. Being able to use Bertrand’s organization was a big plus as well. All of the territory’s underground acted as supporters, as eyes and ears and as hands and feet. And their influence has even reached deep inside the feudal army.
Once they departed towards Kikomaru after forming the ranks of troops in the vicinity of the carriage… it would already be easy. That’s because Marko is at the place, which was arranged as actual assassination site. Seeing through everything, he is waiting while smiling.
A strategy, which began on a grand scale, has born small results.
Marko, who led them to the location where they could spread their tents, aimed at the same time for three 「suitable criteria」. It must be easy for the princess to spend her time comfortably. It must be easy to carry out the assassination. And lastly, it must be easy to prepare an ambush. Once the man, who wore a green hood, blended in amongst the village’s farmers, it was nothing more than waiting for an opportunity.
He goes to pick up some eggs and returns.
It took only this much time for the assassination plot to become a failure.
(Refined noodles with eggs on them, eh…? That’s something nice. It is worthy of being staple food.) (Akseli)
Akseli thought back to the taste of the 2 or 3 bowls of refined noodles he had consumed. He has recalled the good feeling of the noodles sliding down his throat once again. Paulina’s exquisite skill wasn’t only limited to her foot technique. Her appearance of stretching the dough with flour and a wooden pole has the mysteriousness of a sword-smith. It’s at a level that you had to gaze at the accuracy and precision of her thinly cutting the dough with a cooking knife into squares.
And once it was filled into the cauldron and boiled until it’s done, no words were necessary within the tent anymore. Sometimes moaning and sometimes leaking a sigh of admiration, we ate the noodles. The thing called eating time for delicious cooking takes priority over everything… probably, Akseli thought.
Time has been flowing on gently.
Akseli simply surrendered himself to that flow. Marko’s plan is still on-going. There isn’t much time for the next action to lead to the action after that, once dawn breaks. But, in regards to this night, Akseli’s job is to wait. He has to wait for a single decision.
The one deciding is Marko.
About the girl, whom Daniel discovered and Akseli brought along.
There are several things Marko requires on this continent, which has grown tense. One among those is “noble birth.” It’s the same matter as with the name of the former Baron Hakkinen household, which was used a lot. At present Marko is the shadow ruler of the Helrevi Earldom. Without showing the slightest indication of stagnating into being content with his present condition due to that, he is trying to expand his influence even more. If it becomes like that, it’s necessary to prepare the next figurehead. 3 people were nominated as candidates.
One is the legitimate child of the Marquis Yurihalshira household, where Daniel is serving as one of the consultants. His character is refreshing and he has good prospects for the future. He is the child of a powerful family, of which one cannot possibly desire anything else with the exception of the royal family. He is also emotionally attached to Daniel.
Another one is the daughter of the First Princess, Eleonora. She is still very young and also has an elder brother above her. Anyhow, in the current state it’s certain that she is a child of the most influential person of the kingdom. Her advantage is that she still isn’t under the influence of anyone either.
And, the last one is the Third Princess, Paulina. For various reason she has been isolated from noble society. She is even treated coldly by the church’s authorities. Judging from the state of affairs, she is an existence who is glittering with nothing but unsuitableness for the right of succession to the crown.
The last person has been observed by Daniel day and night. The other two are far too young in age on top of being difficult to access. It is conceivable that among the 3 people she is someone difficult to get close to due to secluding herself in the royal villa, but… that’s when we heard about this time’s assassination plot. Marko worked out a plan, however that’s not for the sake of protecting Paulina. It’s for the sake of assessing her. Everything has been done in order to probe whether she is worthy of being chosen. And tonight that time is approaching.
“There was once a certain beast.” (Marko)
The voice is transparent in the tent as if it’s the sound of flute’s note. Marko is observing Paulina. Catching that, Paulina is sitting demurely.
“That beast has a viral swelling on its back. Since that is sending poison through the whole body by sticking to the blood, it will result in its death, if ignored. Because the beast doesn’t want to die, it injures itself and thus lengthened its life by shedding the poisonous blood. However, since it’s necessary to keep bleeding, it becomes thin and weak. It becomes a body, which is even cruel to look at.” (Marko)
Marko speaks. It was a story Akseli never heard before.
“It’s also grave to have an injury. Making a mistake in adjusting the cutting open of the skin once, it nearly died because of that. It stopped the bleeding in a panic, but, having done that, the poison continued to circulate. An ingenious salvation and great effort are necessary. What pitiful, sad situation it is. While becoming bloodstained, it can only be delighted over itself not dying.” (Marko)
His narrative voice is reverberating mysteriously within the tent. Akseli felt as if he himself has wandered into the world of an eerie daydream. It apparently changed the warm and calm mood of the tent’s material into a feeling of distance. All of the surroundings became awfully far. Akseli, questioning whether he didn’t shrink, touched his own body with his hands.
“Moreover, the poison doesn’t drain out completely. Lengthening its life, even if only by a bit… it is only skilfully wounding its own body until the day, when it will die in due course. There was such a beast, I hear. That’s all.” (Marko)
Akseli also didn’t think that he wants to hear what happens beyond that point in the story, which abruptly ended. He considered it to be a story with no salvation. Furthermore, it’s somehow repulsive. Unbecoming of his age, dread travelled along Akseli’s spine.
Once he checks, it was the same for Wilma. Laying bare her fear with a ghastly pale face, she is hugging her own body with both hands. Akseli is unable to laugh at that. He is trembling himself as well.
“And then, what happens? Does the beast die?” (Paulina)
It was Paulina. In a state unchanged in any way from before the story began, she asked Marko while tilting her small head to the side. Akseli sees a strangeness in that. In the world within the tent, which became vast and increased in distance, Paulina is sitting magnificently without being perturbed in any way. It’s not her being mentally slow, having a blank mind or such. Her inner substantiality hasn’t changed either.
“Well… I wonder about that. Even I don’t know what will happen in the future from there.” (Marko)
“But”, Marko smiled.
“You are an interesting one to be still thinking about the continuation of the story. Please tell me, if you thought up a great continuation. I will try to ponder about the continuation as well… and convey it to Your Highness, the princess.” (Marko)
As Marko bowed politely, Paulina nodded with a 「Yeah」.
One choice was done here.
Akseli made sure that he wouldn’t forget this moment’s situation throughout his lifetime. Exactly in this moment it has become the first, minimal mark, which will give birth to huge ripple in history. It starts from here on. He had that conviction.
His body shivered.
The revisit of Akseli Anel in Kikomaru; the first day ended like that.