The next morning.
The multinational allied forces brought back by the king were deployed near Lazurka’s border. They traveled south to become the first line of defense against the Empire.
The monsters in the land by the castle had mostly been cleared away by the imperial army, allowing the people to return to their homes that night. The total damage amounted to several cardboard houses being flattened. The residents have started to clear away the festival decorations. The maids in the castle are likewise occupied with tending the garden that had been devastated by the monsters.
While this was happening, Pariel was seated at the lowest level of the royal audience in the audience hall.
“The castle is this country’s symbol. It’s not your playground!!”
Contrary to his expectations of praise for defending the castle, Mahiro was badly scolded when he was summoned by the king. Of course that’s because the entrance hall had been transformed into an outrageous imitation of a ninja mansion.
“No, but Father, those are Edelweiss’…!” (Mahiro)
No matter what excuses he gives, the one who initially commissioned the traps is Mahiro, who is simultaneously trying to preach about not laying blame on others or something along those lines. The resulting fits of anger are enough to intimidate nearby aides to step back.
“Now, now, Your Majesty. Isn’t that enough?” (Shrayban)
The one who stepped in to stop the barrage is Shrayban, the elderly, one-eyed general at the king’s side. He’s a great sorcerer said to have gone toe to toe with an imperial officer in his youth. No one but he could stop the king when things had gotten to this stage.
“Whatever the method, didn’t the prince splendidly defend the castle as a result?” (Shrayban)
The prince immediately does a thumbs-up at Shrayban.
“Right! It’s just as you say! As expected of you, old man, good job!” (Mahiro)
“You stay silent!!”
*gloom* (_ _。)
“Shrayban, don’t pamper him too much.”
“Your Majesty, you are too strict on him. Please look at the prince’s swollen face. It’s so bruised and scratched up. Isn’t that proof that the prince resolutely fought the imperial army, even though he hasn’t brought it up?” (Shrayban)
The king closes his eyes and folds his arms.
As a matter of fact, all of those bruises and gashes are because of me…
If I confessed that, as expected, that would be a little… Just what should I do? Crap. Her knees trembled.
Ah, Edelweiss mentioned that I should have spared his face. It wasn’t obvious during the beating itself, but after he woke up the swelling became rather conspicuous.
“…Nevermind. Leaving the matter of the castle aside…Mahiro.”
“Y-Yes…what might it be, Father?” (Mahiro)
“Don’t be so servile towards your own parent.”
The king sighs. Mahiro straightens up again.
“Yes, Father.” (Mahiro)
“You skillfully protected this country to the end, without a single casualty among the foolish soldiers and moreover without triggering the slightest chaos. That was magnificent.”
Probably having not expected such words even in his wildest dreams, Mahiro was flabbergasted.
But, immediately following that, there was sudden applause. No, in fact it was the prime minister and Pariel herself, although she didn’t realize what she was doing.
However, it quickly spreads to the entire audience, eventually turning into a huge ovation.
Mahiro looks around restlessly as if something was wrong.
“For real, Father?” (Mahiro)
“Don’t doubt your father. Also, pay attention to your language.”
“Were you serious just now, Father?” (Mahiro)
The king sighs.
“…I merely stated what crossed my mind. If there’s something you desire, you may choose a reward. Right, your sealed powers…”
“Maid! A maid! Master without something like Your Highness or Prince! Yes! An exclusive maid, who will call me master, just for me!!” (Mahiro)
Along with the king, all the retainers present sigh.
“…You may withdraw now.”
“If you like, I will even compromise if Pariel wears maid clothes instead of her usual Royal Guard uniform!” (Mahiro)
“Haaah!? What are you rambling on about, you stupid prince!!” (Pariel)
… Oops, I said it. (≧ڡ≦)୨☆
Even when she stuck out her tongue cutely, it was already too late.
The looks of everyone, who had frozen in place, are very painful.
“Y-Yes, Your Majesty!! Please! I beg you! Please humbly forgive my rudeness just now!” (Pariel)
*Kowtow**kowtow* However, the words that come out of the king’s mouth are not words of reprimand.
“You did well to protect my child, Mahiro, the whole time. You have my thanks.”
She looks ahead, dumbly blinking in surprise.
The one who started her applause was none other than Mahiro. When she looked around, everyone was warmly applauding her albeit modestly.
“Ah… Umm…prince…” (Pariel)
“Honestly speaking, I miscalculated. I didn’t think that you would follow me with that much resolution. That’s why, sorry. And, thank you. Please take care of me from now on as well.” (Mahiro)
For some reason or another, her eyes became hot.
“Ah…yes, prince! Please take care of me as well from now on, too!” (Pariel)
“For that reason wear maid clothes for me!” (Mahiro)
“Die, stupid prince!” (Pariel)
That last outburst resulted in the biggest fit of anger the king had had yet.
《Kaze 1 here. No whispers.》
《Kaze 2, no whispers. It’s peaceful to the point of falling asleep.》
“Special Number 6, requesting response from Kaze.”
《…That actually exists? A code for a Special Number.》
“I leave the verification to you.”
《How unfriendly. Having cut into this communication, we can only believe you. You want to hear a whisper? You want to circulate one?》
“The former. I’d like to know about Princess Lunas’ movements.”
《In that case it’s just as one should expect. Without losing even a single soldier, she has apparently entered the buffer zone now.》
《Though there’s also the fact that she bribed Lazurka’s Defense Commander. However, now that the allied forces have been deployed to that place, such a forced march won’t be possible ever again.》
《The first retreat of the invincible Princess Lunas apparently caused quite an uproar at the Military Command. After all, I hear they now treat this country with the same wariness as they give the Republic. Thanks to that, we’re unable to go home now too.》
《Say, Special Number. Is it possible that you’re even aware of the real situation? What happened at that night in that castle…》
After a little hesitation.
“…No. It’s not enough of a whisper to circulate through Kaze.”
《…As expected, I guess all of us were dancing on the palms of the king and Edelweiss.》
“There might be a situation where I will ask something again.”
《Gotcha, same for us. It looks like we’ll be bored for a while. If you have an interesting whisper, please share it with us.》
“Same here. Communication end.”
But sure enough that doesn’t really mean that everything went according to the king’s and her plan. It’s not something definite to be spread as a whisper, but…without a doubt Prince Mahiro’s will intervened in that situation.
The young snake refused to back down using deception. In that case it seems to be still too early. Currently no one believes that it was Prince Mahiro who repelled the Sword of Gleaming Light. Very likely even Lunas, who confronted him…thinks that he’s a mere actor, just one possessing outstanding courage and only playing his part in the king’s plan.
Pondering the mystery he hides the communication device, which is the size of a small stick of gum, in black hair tied in a knot at the back of his head.
“I see. That’s quite the nice item there.”
He draws the gun in an instant, pointing it at the side the voice had come from. But, the other party is…
“For you to have been a spy, Kaien. Color me surprised.” (Mahiro)
My own office. Even when I think back, there’s no sign that the door to the corridor, bedroom or wherever else has been opened. He must have already been lurking here, or is there another hidden passage that ends here? At any rate…
“…I should really be a bit more aware of someone that even Edelweiss-dono has praised.” (Kaien)
Kaien put his gun back into the holster at his waist.
If it’s just a maid, castle guard or a ninja, there won’t be much of a problem even if they go missing, but…when it comes to royalty, that doesn’t apply.
“…How long have you known?” (Kaien)
“Nah, it was just a coincidence. When we were preparing for the festival, you wouldn’t allow me to build according to my original blueprints, right? That bothered me quite a bit.” (Mahiro)
“I see. it’s certainly as you say. A person from the Empire will cut corners. And once I had your attention…” (Kaien)
While he was nodding and thinking through the events leading up to this, muttering “I see, I see,” Mahiro sat down on the ebony desk in front of Kaien.
“Yeah. Since I went with the plan to release monsters in the castle and the land near the castle, such traps were pretty much worthless in the end. However, you specifically postponed the deployment of that junk bit by bit. Though Edelweiss changed them into fiendish traps of her own accord.” (Mahiro)
No wonder. No matter how much I studied the blueprints, they shouldn’t have been able to confine imperial knights.
Kaien laughed self-deprecatingly until it turned into a sigh.
“Is that so…? They were definitely enough to make me suspect that the unnaturally unflappable Edelweiss was in the same trade that I am.” (Kaien)
“Well it can’t be helped since she’s an icy woman. But, that applies to you as well. You didn’t reveal your true identity even at the last moment with Princess Lunas right before your eyes. That’s amazing. Hence I couldn’t believe it until I heard your transmission just now.” (Mahiro)
“…I mean, what would have changed if I had revealed my identity at that place? The Special Numbers are secret agents whose faces aren’t even known by the staff of the Intelligence Agency. Had I pathetically begged for my life, it would have been no surprise for me to be slain on the spot.” (Kaien)
“But, surely…I mean, normally one would do that if they had been cornered to that extent. Just like Princess Lunas expected from me.” (Mahiro)
I see. That was a perfectly fitting argument.
“…However, seeing as I was discovered like this, all of it was meaningless.” (Kaien)
Contrary to Kaien, who had pretty much resigned himself to his fate, Mahiro smiled and shook his head slightly.
“No, you don’t need to worry. I don’t have any intention of exposing you.” (Mahiro)
“…What did you say?” (Kaien)
“Let’s make a deal instead. Didn’t I tell you when we left the throne room? That I can conquer this continent with just words.” (Mahiro)
But, his current expression doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to the one back there.
“It’s father’s favorite phrase. If a king can’t earn the trust of his people, he is not qualified to be king.” (Mahiro)
That’s only natural. Even if someone in the city called himself king, nothing would happen as long as no one believes in them. Mahiro continues with his theory that even a child understands.
“Then, Kaien, what do you need… to make them believe, to have them place their trust in you?” (Mahiro)
“…You mean winning their trust and reliance? Then, pedigree. Or, status. Distinguished services. Character. There’s a wide range of things you need to accomplish such a thing…” (Kaien)
Mahiro laughed with a “Fufufu.”
“Actually, it’s far more simple than you think.” (Mahiro)
“That…is something I’d like to hear as prime minister at all costs. For future reference.” (Kaien)
Mahiro shrugged his shoulders and said, as if it was yet another very obvious matter,
“You just have to deceive them.” (Mahiro)
“Making others believe in you and deceiving them, it’s the same thing. In other words, people will accept a king with just that. If I manage to deceive the leaders of every country…I will be able to unify this continent.” (Mahiro)
Is that why he said that he has discerning eyes? He can only rely on his words, as he’s unable to use the sword and has no mana either…
“For this, information is more important than any guard could possibly be. All and any information available.” (Mahiro)
Hey, what’s this?
What the hell is this? This prince really isn’t just a kind fool.
“In short, you are telling me…to become a double agent.” (Kaien)
“No, that’s not it. I’m not telling you to infiltrate the imperial capital. Even procuring information from that Kaze just now was dangerous. But, even without that, your knowledge and discernment is at quite a high level. You are fully capable of grasping even the conditions of the surrounding countries based on their standpoint. That’s what I want to buy.” (Mahiro)
Mahiro prattled on with a suspicious gleam in his eyes.
“I’m aiming for the continent anyway…so I want at least that much of a talent on hand. And it’s better if others don’t realize yet that I’m a snake. Because of that it looks like I was just manipulated by many people this time. If it’s you…a spy who managed to become prime minister, it should be easy to hide my real nature.” (Mahiro)
“No way, you truly…”
No, that’s a foolish question.
It’s absurd, but…
If that foolish story comes true…right, just like that time when he returned to the castle with Pariel. I want to see what this boy is going to do. How far he can go.
And, will he actually exceed my expectations in a way no one will expect?
In that case, I want to watch. I’d like to see a lot more.
Ah, I see. It’s just as Edelweiss said. I might have been infected by this prince. Such a ridiculous thing has piqued my interest. He said that this is a deal. Which means…if I decline I’ll just be forced to become a fugitive once my true identity is revealed. I wonder how much more exciting life will be if I take this offer.
“You are telling me to serve you in absolute secrecy…not this country, but as your personal advisor. Is that what you are saying?” (Kaien)
“That’s how it is. Obviously, I’d like you to forget that I’d ever been here. How about it?” (Mahiro)
In other words, he’s telling me to deceive the king, Edelweiss and even Pariel, to whom he’s so close. And this boy says that he’s going to trick the entire continent, not just this country.
Man, what’s there to hesitate about?
“…Understood, Prince.” (Kaien)
“Ok, so, for that reason…” (Mahiro)
Footsteps echoed down the hallway.
“I leave the rest to you.” (Mahiro)
Mahiro suddenly disappeared behind the curtain by the window.
Indeed, that’s an oft-used trick. What’s amazing about it is unless they are consciously following him, the other definitely won’t realize when his presence disappears.
Before long, members of the chamberlain unit and a large number of maids come knocking. Each carrying mops, brooms, fry pans and even ropes clearly meant for restraining.
“Pardon us, Prime Minister Kaien! Did Prince Mahiro come this way!?”
“…What’s going on for you to be so noisy?” (Kaien)
“Ah, yes, that is! The cake that was in our waiting room! You understand? The cake!! He swiped most of it and ran away! If this is the tradeoff, then it would have been better if he didn’t cut back on the peeping!”
These girls are also quite capable.
“Stealing our pleasure, this is theft! Dine and dash! Sir Prime Minister, you should be well aware, this is a heinous crime with its own section in the criminal laws of this country! At this point, he deserves death!”
A criminal is a criminal, but I feel like there was nothing written about capital punishment.
“Therefore, if you happen to catch sight of him, please do inform us by all means! When it comes to that stray prince…you know what they say…if you see one of them, there are bound to be thirty more…”
No…wait a moment.
By any chance, when he said not to tell anyone that he had been here…don’t tell me that it’s about this? The prince brought something like this up in the middle of a conversation like that?
(…No way, right…?)
Please, you can’t be that much of an idiot. Kaien dabbed at the cold sweat that formed on his temples.
“It’s fine already, I got it. He’s over there, take him away.” (Kaien)
“Kaien!? You’re betraying me!?” (Mahiro)
I have absolutely no memory of doing something like that.
*Many more footsteps*
“You are under arrest, Prince!”
“W-Wait! It’s a misunderstanding! Yes, a misunderstanding! I was just a bit peckish. Consider it helping with your diet! Two birds with one stone, you know!?” (Mahiro)
“””Kiiii~!! That’s not a nice thing to say! How could you call us gluttonous sows!!”””
“No!? That’s not what I meant!?” (Mahiro)
“Now then, Your Highness, I hear that the Lied River is refreshingly cold this time of year!!”
“Please look, Your Highness. As you see we’ve properly prepared your swimsuit!”
“Eh!? This is different from a swimsuit!? That’s just a bamboo mat1 !! A bamboo mat!!” (Mahiro)
“Ohohoho! It suits you very well, Your Highness! Now, let’s put on concrete boots once we get outside!!”
Wrapped up in a bamboo mat, Mahiro is lifted up by the maids and carried away.
“Nooooooooooooooooooooo! Kaien! This is a kidnapping! An organizational crime! Prime Minister! Are you listening to me, Prime Minister~…!?!” (Mahiro)
Once the door was shut, silence returned.
(…Just how much does he want to hasten his death, that prince…?)
Or rather, why was I afraid of such boy before? No, that’s probably what makes him so scary. At least to the majority of this country, he’s no more than a fool.
Somehow I feel a headache coming on.
“Haa… So you were submerged by the chamberlain unit?”
That’s probably what the deathly pale face and traumatized behavior meant.
“Bullying…it’s bullying! This is bullying in the name of educational guidance…!” (Mahiro)
Completely drenched and looking exceptionally pathetic, the boy sat and chipped away at his concrete boots. The only saving grace was that he’d been thrown in the palace fountain rather than the river.
Pariel looked on wearily, saying,
“Why can you only live in such a clumsy way, Prince…?” (Pariel)
“I wonder~, Truthfully, I’m already…atchoo!!” (Mahiro)
“Gyaaah! My foot! It hit my foot!” (Pariel)
The maid unit is pretty ruthless too, actually putting concrete boots on him.
Pariel gazed at the boy hugging his knees. The boy who protected her in her childhood. However, what helped her..
was the two right now being alone.
That’s why Pariel decided to speak.
“What? I’m busy at the moment…” (Mahiro)
“I heard from Lady Edelweiss. That the scar on my back…was caused by you.” (Pariel)
He probably heard me. That’s exactly why he keeps working on the concrete in silence.
“That means you knew about it as well, didn’t you? You have seen the scar on my back. And also the crest imprinted there.” (Pariel)
“You saved me. For that I’m thankful. But…” (Pariel)
She chokes down the shame welling up inside her along with a sigh.
“I have heard…that it’s the reason for the destruction of my country.” (Pariel)
“Right now…it’s imperial territory.” (Mahiro)
“Yes. My country, which was thrust into chaos due to that incident, was immediately suppressed by the Empire and unable to do anything, was swallowed up. In that case…” (Pariel)
Pariel stands up.
And then draws the rapier out of its scabbard.
“No matter how much you regret it and hate violence!! It won’t serve as any kind of atonement for me and my country!!” (Pariel)
She shouted at the top of her lungs and pressed the rapier’s blade against his nape. Even so, he’s not surprised or scared. He doesn’t even lift his face.
“Even if you say you wanted it like that…you almost died…! People who died even though they desperately wanted to live; there were so many around me… You wanting to die is an insult to them…” (Pariel)
Along with her voice, she feebly lowers her rapier. There’s no point in killing him here and now. She just wanted to tell him. To get it off her chest.
“That’s why…that’s why I don’t want you to die. Please live. Live and witness the hell that is going to start from now on with your own eyes. If there’s a hidden power that can destroy an entire country, take it back and defeat the Empire with it…for my country!” (Pariel)
“For that sake…I will guard you. In order to torment you.” (Pariel)
Finally freed from his shackles, Mahiro stands up. With eyes that seem to be gazing into the distance, he says,
“Pariel. I discussed this with Kaien some time ago as well.” (Mahiro)
“…With, Lord Kaien…?” (Pariel)
“I will aim for the unification of this continent.” (Mahiro)
She doesn’t believe her ears but his face doesn’t show even a hint of a lie.
“I will prevent all wars…saying something like that is unreasonable after all, I think. But…if someone has to bring this continent together in order to achieve peace, I feel like I can subjugate this continent more gently and with fewer victims than anyone else. So, how about it?” (Mahiro)
He asks Pariel with a slightly trembling voice.
“…You have the ability? Is that what you’re saying? Not only to protect Mismarca…but this entire continent…?” (Pariel)
“Of course it will be necessary to do fairly unreasonable things. But, if you let me twist fate…I think someday, I will be able to show you even your resurrected country.” (Mahiro)
Pariel sheathed her rapier and nodded, smiling through her tears.
I know the truth.
It’s not like he’s evil. He was just manipulated by the power he was born with. That’s why he’s kind and worthy of being my lord, even if he might lead us to our ultimate ruin.
That was the beginning.
There was still anxiety left behind due to the Empire’s invasion. Even so, calm daily life has returned to this small kingdom, and the small countries that love freedom and peace.
And now, the snake that dwells within that freedom and peace bares its fangs.
That snake’s name is Mismarca.
It’s the name of a small country that will soon shake the entire continent with the deadly poison called strategy.