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Translated by: @Loremipsumverb
Proofread by: Phantaminum
Looking back at the history between the Kingdom of Lugunica and the Vollachian Empire, one could clearly see the depth of the rift that ran between them.
Both of these countries were part of the four great nations; however, it was plain and clear that they had the remaining two countries ― The Holy Kingdom of Gusteko and The Kararagi City States ― beat if boiled down to how abundant their realms were.
Of course, spreading the notion that further expansion was desirable, or seeking further prosperities, in lands like these was rather easy. Thus, as a result, Lugunica and Vollachia clashed with each other many a time, with the other’s territory as their aim.
For most of these, the Vollachians, with their harsh mantra of life, had been the ones to seize many opportunities to wage battle. But, throughout their long history, the Lugunicans too had gone and waged battle on them.
Nevertheless, these skirmishes had gotten fewer and further between ever since four hundred years ago ― when the Kingdom of Lugunica formed its covenant with the Divine Dragon; and so, peaceful times flourished between the two nations.
???: […I read that stuff in a book! I’m really glad the two countries have quit fighting thanks to the esteemed Divine Dragon giving it its all!]
As soon as they heard Schult’s answer, the three riding along in the same Dragon Carriage reacted in three different ways. Priscilla batted her eyes shut as she listened to him talk, Al nodded as he rested his chin on his hand, and…
???: [So you’re really going to blindly believe such a childish fairytale?]
And lastly, Heinkel, a red-haired man who, immaturely, was acting like a wet blanket.
The four of them were travelling together, all key members of the camp belonging to Priscilla, who was participating in the Royal Selection. They were currently on board the same Dragon Carriage, deep into their journey towards their destination.
During their journey Priscilla had ended up with a lot of time on her hands, thus she’d asked Schult about his studies. And just after he’d answered, Heinkel had given him his crude impression.
In all honesty, Al and such were always in a constant state of anxiety over Heinkel’s attitude.
How could he spew that sort of stuff to Priscilla’s favourite, Schult? Couldn’t he remember that he’d put his life at risk several times before for the very same reason?
This time as well, Heinkel received a cold look from Priscilla, as if it were natural…
Priscilla: […What is it, Al. Are you amusing yourself by stealing glances at my face?]
Al: [Nope, though make no mistake, your face is gorgeous, Princess; the kind where you never get tired of it, no matter how many times you look… Regardless, I was surprised you didn’t say anything. I was terrified you were going to blow a fuse again and set off a blood purge.]
Priscilla fired off a curt rebuke in response to the content of Al’s answer, as the latter shrugged his shoulders. Following that, she gave her beautiful chin a nod towards the front ― pointing out Schult and Heinkel.
Al looked over in that direction, and…
Schult: [Calling it childish is awful, Heinkel-sama! After all, I am still a child, so of course I’m gonna be getting hooked on childish stuff.]
Heinkel: [The fact you can take a good look at yourself at your age is great and all. But is the place you’re living in one with guys who are willing to show due consideration to the fact you’re a child?]
Heinkel: [I’ll go ahead and tell you. No, it’s not. They’ll mercilessly snap at the fact you’re Priscilla-sama’s weak point, if they catch wind of it. Priscilla-sama would be put in a bind, due to you being content with the fact you’re a child. Get it?]
The words Heinkel had for Schult were devoid of any mercy as the latter frantically defended himself.
Though it still appeared to be a manifestation of Heinkel’s immaturity, if one were to attentively prick their ears up to their exchange, it would be noticeable that was not the case at all.
In fact, it seemed like Schult had figured out the meaning of his words in his own way too.
Schult: [I get it… I’ve gotta not be a child, right?]
Heinkel: […No, kids should stick to being kids, being cute is way better. Though they may be a bit more of a handful, it’s way better to have no special powers.]
Schult: [So which one is it…!?]
With the look on his face indicating he’d heard something pleasant, Schult grew red in anger while Heinkel brushed that aside.
But they weren’t actually arguing with each other, as far as Al could see. Plus, it was clear that Heinkel wasn’t trying to harass Schult.
Al: [He’s not going to be showing some part of him where he’s kind to children, right? Even if he does, he ain’t gonna be getting back any of the likability he’s lost.]
Priscilla: [Enough with the nonsense, Al. Though evaluations may be things that others attach to one another, they need not be shackles that fetter one’s way of living. Do you really believe that thing cares about what others think of him? There are far easier ways of living life out there.]
Al agreed with what Priscilla had said, all the while fiddling around with the seam of his helmet.
Heinkel’s way of life certainly looked more like the epitome of horridness, rather than one of clumsiness. He even seemed to willingly walk down the path of being loathed, rebuked, disdained and shunned by others.
That’s why the fact that he displayed a decent human-side every so often would bring them the sort of surprise Al had felt. In other words…
Al: [I guess it’s just like the cliché where a hooligan picks up a stray cat on a rainy day.]
Priscilla: [You are saying incomprehensible stuff again.]
Al: [You don’t ask about these things as much as you used to, huh. It’s pretty sad that I’ve been getting less chances to lecture you about them, you know?]
Priscilla: [We have been acquainted with each other for a long time now, so I can tell which of your words elicit my interest, and which are prattle. What you said now is prattle that I shall not listen to. Besides…]
Priscilla cut her words off there and looked towards the Dragon Carriage’s window. Naturally, Al followed suit and turned his face around. There, he saw how the atmosphere had changed outside the window.
Priscilla: […We shall be arriving at the harbour soon.]
Al could feel the smell of water in the breeze straight after Priscilla had spoken those words. The air too was starting to be tinged with moisture; he could feel it on his skin that they were near a large body of water.
The harbour city they were heading to was nearby. Ironic as it was, the harbour looked out towards the lower reaches of a massive river ― one they’d been close to until very recently.
Al: [The Watergate City of Pristella, or rather, the Great Tigracy River that flows nearby once again huh. We’ve come far downstream from that city, but I can’t shake off the impression that we’ve ended up looping back to it.]
Priscilla: [It is not part of my nature to fritter away time for nothing. We cannot be so naive as to take the road that leads down south through the Barielle Territory though. We have nothing to gain by carelessly provoking the Empire.]
Al: [There’s one way around that, using your splendour, Princess]
Priscilla: [Indeed, my face is always bright and radiant. Nevertheless, the rabble will oftentimes misjudge the value of that which shines. Birds that gather shiny objects are far more honest and adorable in that respect.]
Priscilla directly called the people of the Empire fools without so much as mincing her words. However, given that he was so used to being on the end of her speech and actions, there wasn’t anything in particular in what she’d said that he could find fault with. Besides, the relations they held with the Empire were in line with what Schult had said at the start.
Thus, Al and the others had headed off to the Great Tigracy River, heeding Priscilla’s intentions. Their aim was to ride the river’s current downstream and make it into the Empire.
Al: [The Empire, huh…]
He muttered softly. The Vollachian Empire was a place that had not left any good impressions on Al. Though he had spent eighteen years there, far longer than the time he had spent in the Kingdom of Lugunica, the only impression he had left with him was one of struggling to survive in a world akin to hell.
This place was one he had hoped to never return to, if it were at all possible…
Priscilla: […What is it?]
Al let out a sigh as he looked at Priscilla, the very reason behind why he was going back to the Empire. Priscilla raised her shapely eyebrows in response, making Al bluster out a “Nothing,”
Al: [Just if this is one of the weaknesses of falling in love, then I wonder what there’s to like about it.]
Priscilla: [I see. This feels like a bunch of nonsense that I need not hear.]
Keeping in line with the standard she’d set earlier, Priscilla lost interest in what Al had to say. And in response to her cold attitude, Al softly muttered “What’s there to like about it, huh.”
Cutting down through the world map, the Great Tigracy River had its source in the south of the Holy Kingdom of Gusteko and meandered southward, passing through the places where the four great countries bordered one another, before finally flowing into the Vollachian Empire. There the river also swept down its realm, linking the southernmost land to the Great Waterfall.
Many ships travelled through the river, often being used for trade between the countries. Pristella was one of these trading hubs, though other, more modest, river harbours existed as well.
The ship they had chartered to cross into the Empire was one setting sail to the great river from one such river harbour.
They had started off their cruise by reserving a ship neither too big nor too small, the Empire as their destination.
Some stuff happened during their journey. Like Schult getting sick from the ship rocking about, Priscilla telling them all she knew about travelling by ship and the great river, and Heinkel getting into disputes with the sailors. However, they didn’t encounter any major troubles, and like that, the ship with them aboard crossed into the Empire. And then…
???: [No sudden movements folks. Do anything weird and there’ll be hell to pay.]
???: [‘Oy, you, the asshole with the face covered up, do you get what I’m saying? I’m talking to you!]
Al: [Oh, me? My bad, my bad, couldn’t quite catch your expression. Now I get you loud and clear.]
Al raised his hands and kneeled down on the deck of the medium-sized ship ― which was still in the midst of its journey downstream. Saying “How did it come to this?”, he lamented his ill luck.
(T/N: Yeah, Tappei used: 両手を上げる, which is a slight mistake since Al does not have two hands.)
They had boarded their ship in the harbour city and tried to cross into the Empire from the river, just as they had initially planned.
The Vollachian Empire was in a state of constant tension with the Kingdom of Lugunica, the latter holding its Royal Selection; however, the river-crossing was way less guarded, compared to crossing the border station by land.
Al had imagined they would be able to continue like this and get onto Imperial Lands without any issues, however…
Al: [Never thought we’d come across river bandits…]
Al frowned inside his helmet as he placed his sole arm behind his head, indicating that he was not going to put up a fight.
River bandits: just like one would get mountain bandits up in the mountains and moor bandits in the moors, one would also get bandits dubbed “river bandits” in the rivers. They were simply robbers by trade, forming bands to attack merchant ships and ferries, pillaging their valuables.
By the time they had caught a glimpse of the boats around their chartered ship, it was already too late. They had come aboard in a blink of an eye, and both Al and the sailors ended up being taken captive.
???: [W-Wh-Whoa, Al-sama? W-What should we do?]
Al: [Calm down, Schult-chan. We’ll be okay for now, so long as we don’t go against them. Heinkel, ya geezer, that goes for you as well y’know?]
Heinkel moved his hand away from the sword at his waist as he stood next to the panicking Schult.
His lifeless blue eyes were seemingly saying he would do whatever it took against these river bandits, however, Al had lazily shook his head. His chances of coming out as the winner rested with having Al help him.
For sure, if Al and Heinkel worked together, they might be able to scrape by against these river bandits, which numbered at around twenty. However…
Al: [We wouldn’t come out unscathed either. You wouldn’t want Schult-chan to get hurt, right?]
Al: [Oh, seriously? That worked. Attaboy Schult-chan, how fiendish of you.]
Schult: [H-H-Huh? What’s that all about?]
Heinkel, albeit reluctantly, finally shelved away his readiness to fight.
Al was not sure whether Schult’s presence contributing to that was because Heinkel seriously liked children, or because he was projecting someone else through Schult.
River Bandit: [I’m gonna lower the boats down. You guys move over there, we won’t be killing you.]
The rogue in charge of the river bandits lowered the boat at the side of the ship down as he said that.
However, it was going to be touch and go whether this boat could fit all of the sailors from the ship, even crammed together. Though their ship was by no means a large one, it still held a crew of twenty, same as the river bandits. Add passengers like Al and the others to the mix, and things were going to get tough.
River Bandit: [Boss! We’ve got a real beauty staying in one of the cabins!]
One of the river bandits who had been scouring the ship came back carrying that bombshell. The person he had brought along was Priscilla, who should have been relaxing in her cabin. Naturally, she was not in a great mood, given that she had been interrupted. ――No, it was much worse.
That was obvious enough from witnessing the smouldering look in her eyes. However, the boss stepped over to Priscilla and boldly grabbed her chin, not taking any note of this.
Boss: [Whoa, she’s lush. She’s gorgeous, and well-dressed to boot… I bet we’ll be getting a huge ransom from her parents or husband. No way we’re letting this golden goose out of our sight.]
Priscilla: […How vulgar.]
Priscilla: [Even under the best of times, the thought of going back to where I used to live is one that weighs heavy on me. This first hurdle already is not starting to bode well. Nevertheless, I shall not tolerate having it upon the path I walk. Therefore…]
Priscilla narrowed her eyes, all the while being still made to look up at him.
Both Al and Heinkel snapped to attention, bracing themselves for the carnage that would ensue. However, nothing happened.
With her eyes still narrowed, Priscilla softly moved her lips and began whispering something to the boss.
His expression significantly tensed up after he heard what she had to say, his eyes swinging wide open. His underlings also exchanged glances with one another, witnessing their boss like that.
Boss: [――. Just like I said, get the sailors onto the boat! We’ll be taking the woman and her companions for ransom. And we’ll be having the ship as well!]
The boss loudly declared this again, causing the river bandits to hurriedly comply. And just like that, the original sailors were placed on the boat and set loose on the river, leaving only Priscilla’s group behind.
Al: [Erm… So, what are we going to do? Negotiate the price of the ransom or something?]
Priscilla: [Fool, we needn’t do anything like that. Lo’ and behold.]
Al: [Uh, what do you mean… Whoa!?]
Al had tried to continue with what he was saying once the sailors were out of sight, but he was left amazed by the fact that the river bandits were all kneeling down on the spot, reverentially waiting on Priscilla.
Al, Schult and Heinkel blinked in astonishment, not understanding the meaning of what laid in front of them. But Priscilla drank it in, as if it were the most obvious thing ever,
Priscilla: [Excellent work, you have my thanks for welcoming me. That was quite the smart move.]
Boss: [Yes ma’am. Smart…?]
(T/N: Smart is said in Engrish.)
Priscilla: [It is a word the jester who serves me says. You can take it as a compliment if you do not capture its meaning.]
The river bandit tilted his head in confusion, before nodding deeply at what Priscilla had said. Seeing that, Al finally got up from where he was and said “Princess?”
Al: [I don’t get what this means, or what sort of connection you have with these guys, Princess… Any chance of an explanation?]
Priscilla: [There is nothing to explain. These people belong to the private troops of an Imperial Noble, and are merely disguised as river bandits.]
Schult: [Private troops? But but, aren’t they wicked people?]
Both Al and Schult could not figure out what Priscilla meant, their heads similarly tilted in confusion. Only Heinkel behind them said something, looking as if he had figured it out.
Heinkel: [So that’s what it is. Your identity would stand out no matter how much we tried to avoid it. So the easiest way to get them off your trail is to hide where you are. Therefore…]
Priscilla: […High Countess Selena Dracroy. We are acquainted via my ex-husband.]
Priscilla quietly replied back to Heinkel, not once denying what he had said. Hearing both her answer, and the name that had cropped up there, the facial expression of the river bandits grew tenser.
Likely, this High Countess or whatever was their mistress. And so, in following her orders ― No, in accordance with her and Priscilla’s collaboration, they had put on this spiel.
Al: [Did you really have to go this far just to get these people to tell them off? Aren’t you just going back home?]
Priscilla: [This shall not end up being only a mere visit back home. ――Otherwise, where would the fun be in that.]
Priscilla pulled out her fan from her cleavage, hiding her mouth with it, before then flashing him a somewhat cruel smile. Though Al could not actually see her lips, which had taken the form of that smile, he could feel a shiver running down his spine.
The ship, with them on board, sailed down the river and headed into the Empire. ――The curtain-rise signalling unrest drew ever near.