Chapter 3 – Every Speculation
The Great Grantz Empire ― Imperial Palace Venetian.
The Prime Minister’s room was located near the throne room. The interior of the room was simple compared to the emperor’s room, and there were no objects placed in the room to the point of being unappealing.
This was not because the previous prime minister, Gils, did not like to be flashy, but because the current prime minister, Rosa, had disposed of all of his personal belongings and remaining furnishings.
Therefore, the room only had a simple bed in addition to a newly furnished desk and chair.
Hiro, who was inspecting the room, looked again at Rosa, who was sitting in the center of the room.
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary for a Prime Minister’s room.”
“If I put things in here to make it more comfortable, I would have to live in this room, wouldn’t I?”
It was a statement that seemed to indicate that she was making a distinction between her work and private life, or perhaps that Rosa herself was not too concerned about her position as prime minister.
“I don’t want to stay here too long. I try to rest at the Kelheit family mansion as much as possible.”
Although the security was tighter than when Hiro visited before, there were still people who had attacked the palace many times. There were many elements of concern when it came to safety. However, renovating the prime minister’s room arbitrarily was impossible. Nor could she set up traps like in the Kelheit family’s mansion. Even though it had been breached once, it was probably safer than if nothing had been done to prevent it.
“Why don’t you sit down instead of just standing there?”
Rosa offered him a chair, and Hiro followed suit.
“I see that you have successfully become prime minister. Congratulations.”
“I don’t know if I should say thank you. I lost a lot of my personal fortune.”
Rosa smiled bitterly, and Hiro just smiled. The two of them were somewhat distant from each other, and there was a slight tension between them.
No ― perhaps because she hadn’t seen Hiro in a while, Rosa had stiffened up.
“Hmph… that doesn’t sound like you. What are you nervous about?”
It’s no wonder. Certainly, Rosa would want to question Hiro about many things.
Anger, sadness, joy, and various other mixed emotions were probably raging in her chest. It would not be surprising to hear her yell out a few abusive words.
“First of all, I am glad you are safe.”
It seems that she forgave him ― but chose to compromise. Her expression showed her resolute attitude as a politician. She was not the kind of woman who would originally rant like a child, always thinking ahead. In other words, she prefers to use wriggling means to hunt down her prey in order to gain an advantage. It was eerie, and a chill ran down Hiro’s spine because he had no idea what she was up to.
“A lot has happened while you were gone, but there is one thing I must report to you. The child I had with you is supposed to be hidden and raised in secret.”
In reality, the child was not even born, but it was probably a necessary lie in order to obtain the prime minister’s position. At the same time as thinking that it was very typical of her, a sense of uneasiness suddenly passed through Hiro’s mind.
“I see… there are many people who aim for the life of your kind, so it’s perfectly reasonable…”
Just before Hiro was about to voice his doubts, Rosa lifted the corner of her mouth in a grin.
“We will know sooner or later, but now that I am prime minister, I see little impact even if it comes to light. I’ve got the real power in the Central and Western regions, and I’m almost in control of the center of the country.”
“Oh, I am very glad. That is a factor of concern that can be eliminated.”
Rosa interrupted Hiro’s words without a pause. She doesn’t give Hiro a moment to speak.
“If you’re alive, that means you have to take responsibility, but you’re prepared for that, aren’t you?”
The furious verbal attack that hunts down its prey in one fell swoop, the piercing, sharp gaze that made a single bead of sweat drip down Hiro’s cheek under the mask. If he wanted to reject it, he could, but there was no doubt that it would cause a definite rift between the two of them. He would like to avoid that for the future, but if he admitted his guilt, he would be stuck in Rosa’s arms for the rest of his life.
“Fuh, it doesn’t matter. I’ll make sure you take responsibility.”
Rosa’s expression softened gently as Hiro remained silent. The most frightening thing about this was that Hiro was not in a position to say anything. It was certain that he had already betrayed her once.
“And since I “lent” you something, I hope you’ll return it to me properly.”
Rosa had been a thorough facilitator in facilitating the discussions at the quadrilateral talks. Skadi said Rosa was unaware, but she was just playing the clown even though she was aware of it. All of this was to create a debt to Hiro, which is why she called him to this place to collect it.
“Ah… that’s right. I just received a letter from the supreme chairman of the Steichen Republic, Skadi-dono.”
“The letter says that whatever has been decided in these talks will be carried out as soon as she returns to her home country. It’s very courteous of Skadi-dono to go to the trouble of informing me of this… But what have you done?”
“We just discussed it a little. She seemed to be worried about a lot of things.”
And if misleading, it was the human mind that was concerned.
Rosa was no exception to this rule, but she would not be able to use her “debt” or “responsibility” as a shield for such a trivial event. She would not use her trump card for something trivial. Hiro smiled bitterly and then put on a serious expression.
“…So, what’s this talk about?”
The conversation so far was only an entry point to the main topic. Rosa herself was a ploy to gain an advantage.
Skadi’s story was just a bonus. This was a way to get people to drop their guard, to make them less cautious. She may have been hoping to get the upper hand, but she couldn’t make that much of a concession just because of her “duty.”
“But first, please take off your mask.”
Hearing Rosa’s wish, Hiro removed his mask.
His soft face was revealed. Rosa, perhaps noticing the right eye shining as majestically as it did two years ago ― or perhaps not ― sadly lowered her eyes and then shook her head slightly, though she was about to say something.
“…That’s better. It makes me feel much closer to you than if you spoke to me through a mask.”
Rosa laughed cheerfully, trying to lighten the mood, and crossed her arms to emphasize her ample breasts.
Even if that sex appeal didn’t work, she used her own weapons to the fullest. It was such a natural movement that even the most skilled would think it was a skillful technique.
“Now, let me get straight to the point: I need your help with something.”
“I need your help in getting Felzen back this time.”
“…Is that something that would benefit me?”
If it were a matter of personal interest, he might participate in the recapture of Felzen.
But, even if it does, it will not bring any benefit to the small country of Baum.
The recapture of Felzen was a battle to regain the self-respect of the Great Grantz Empire.
Furthermore, Baum did not want to expand its territory. Even if they received a part of Felzen, which was far away from them, they would not be able to hold it.
(Ah, but “personally” there is a use for Felzen…)
But there was no way Rosa would know about Hiro’s “personal” business. Then, Hiro was prepared to ask for a “loan” or “responsibility” at this point, but she said,
“I will send someone I trust to help you. I heard that you are building something in a place far away from Natua, and when I heard that you are accepting “dwarves” as part of the discussions, I had an idea.”
Hiro silently urged her on. Rosa’s eyes sharpened like a bird having an eye on its prey.
“It seems that you also borrowed a mine from the Principality of Lichtine. In fact, the current civil war in the Steichen Republic seems to have gone exactly the way you wanted it to go. Although I thought I was playing the most detrimental role by being called in as an intermediary for no gain, in the end, the small country of Baum is enjoying the best part.”
“I see… You’re as perceptive as ever.”
It’s easy to shrug it off. All it took was a little ugliness. But that meant failure in negotiations. Hiro’s smile deepened as he spread his hands out and proudly stretched out his chest.
“If you know so much, I don’t have to hide it. I certainly need ‘craftsmen’ and ‘manpower.’ But that has been resolved at the latest quadrilateral talks. I don’t need any help from the Grantz Empire.”
As Hiro said this, Rosa cleared her throat happily.
“If it were true, you should have made the proposal, but we are making the proposal from our side. There is no need for any kind of bargaining. Why don’t you be honest?”
The question was how much information she had, but it was highly likely that Rosa had an accurate grasp of Baum’s internal situation. In the past two years, the traffic in the small country of Baum has increased.
He thought he had carefully selected his informants, but it seemed he had to reconsider his decision. So, he was not angry about it. If there was any anger, it was against himself for his misjudgment of the other party’s ability.
“…Alright. Then, I’ll be honest with you.”
It was his fault that the information leaked out ― then he had to fix it. In order to get back on the original path, he had to get her involved. It would send her down a path from which she was no longer a foe to escape. That determination ― he could see it in her eyes. Then, without hesitation, Hiro decided to turn Rosa into an accomplice.
“We don’t have enough supplies. We need help from the Great Grantz Empire. And manpower, too. If you can promise that, Baum will fully support the Empire and participate in the plan to recapture Felzen. Baum ― no, I personally ― promise to cooperate with you.”
Then, after a pause, Hiro lifted the edge of his mouth.
“I don’t mind if you use the name “Black Dragon King” as a check against the North.”
Rosa’s eyes widened, but she soon understood what he meant, and a wicked smile appeared in her mouth.
“Fuh… negotiations have concluded. Then, one more thing, I will let you go through the inspection of the supplies from the Levering Kingdom under my “personal” authority. I’d like to save you the trouble of inspecting the large quantity of ‘tea leaves.'”
“I appreciate it. I’ll write it later and send you a civil official again.”
Hiro stood up and was about to leave the room. Rosa called out to his back.
“My Lord, I have been appointed as prime minister. It is the prime minister of the Great Grantz Empire. My personal power is weak, but I am proud to say that my title is strong. Two years ago, I might have been unreliable, but not anymore. You can count on me.”
“…I’ll consider it.”
Hiro gave a small nod as he put on his mask.
“Liz would hope so, too. In the past two years, she’s grown beautiful and strong――”
Rosa took in a breath, paused as if to pronounce something, and then released the words.
“――Liz has grown stronger than you, my Lord.”
A definitive statement. He did not know what Rosa, who met Hiro here today, saw and felt that way. But Rosa determined that Liz was stronger than Hiro.
Hiro looked up at the ceiling, about to open his mouth, and immediately dropped his gaze to the floor.
“That’s good… a delight for me.”
“When you go to Felzen, take one look at her. She will surprise you.”
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”
Perhaps bored by the curt response, Rosa bent her mouth into a smile and sat deeper in her chair. She then looked at Hiro’s back, but as soon as he moved, she made a face as if she had a devious idea.
“So you’re staying the night?”
Surprised at being caught off guard, Hiro involuntarily turned his head.
There was Rosa with an innocent smile on her face like a child who had successfully pulled off a prank.
“It hasn’t expired yet.”
“Not today. There are eyes watching me.”
When Hiro pointed to his own eyes, Rosa sighed ruefully.
“I see… the princess shrine maiden, huh? As expected, I don’t have a taste for being peeked at. I’ll save the fun for another time.”
“I’d appreciate it if you would. Then I’ll leave before anyone gets suspicious.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you again.”
With Rosa’s kind words at his back, Hiro left the room.
Closing the door to the room behind him, the corridor was illuminated by the candle from an inadequate candlestick.
The flame burned incessantly, brightening the corridor even if it could not dispel the darkness completely.
Still, there were places where the light did not reach. Hiro turned his eyes to the corner of the corridor where deep darkness coiled.
“You haven’t left yet?”
The darkness shimmered in response to Hiro’s voice.
Soon, a woman with a familiar face slowly emerged from the place.
It was the princess shrine maiden.
She bowed her head and opened her mouth with a serious look on her face.
“I would like to talk to Your Majesty the Black Dragon King for a while, so I have decided to leave tomorrow.”
“Would you like to talk about it in my room?”
Her mysterious attitude made Hiro search for signs of her surroundings. Although there was no sign of anything suspicious, the princess shrine maiden was better at that kind of skill.
“No, there is no one listening to us right now, so we are fine. Above all, I won’t take up too much of your time.”
If she said so, Hiro had no choice but to trust her. It would be unbearable to spend extra time moving around. Above all, her “eye” would never make a mistake, regardless of whether Hiro was worried or not.
“…I see, then let’s talk about it.”
Hiro rested his back against the wall and shifted his gaze to the princess shrine maiden.
Straightening her back and correcting her posture, the princess shrine maiden spoke slowly, as if choosing her words.
“Liz-sama is showing signs. Perhaps her eyes will open soon.”
“….I see, but it’s nothing to be discouraged about. It’s a welcome development.”
“I saw earlier that Your Majesty, the Black Dragon King, is going to Felzen. If that is the case, wouldn’t it be better to see Liz-sama once to make sure?”
As he had expected, he had been spied on while he was meeting with Rosa. Since she confessed with such openness, he wouldn’t be able to say anything. And since she spoke as if it was a matter of course, without any sign of apology, it was a refreshing feeling. With a wry smile on his face, Hiro shook his head.
“…No, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with it.”
Although he was curious as to which of her eyes would be opened, it was something he didn’t bother to find out for sure. This was the only thing that could dispel his concerns.
“Now I have a clear idea.”
“What is it?”
“Proof of the Grantz’s legitimacy ― she is undoubtedly a descendant of Altius.”
Hiro moved away from the wall and flipped his cloak, his smile deepening.
“Princess Shrine Maiden, I’m going to Felzen. I’ll leave the rest to you.”
The princess shrine maiden bowed deeply at Hiro’s back as he stepped on the floor and began to walk.
“I understand. Please wield your power to your heart’s content.”
Anxiety, apprehension, heartache, and various emotions could be sensed in the sound of the princess shrine maiden’s voice, but nevertheless, she did not try to stop him. She knew that Hiro would not be stopped by the decorated words. Her concern was understandable. Felzen had many people in his life who had taken care of him, for better or worse.
“Yeah ― I’m going to pay back a little debt.”