Bonus Short Stories
Souma and Maria Watch
We were having a relaxed get-together after the first conference where Maria and I met face-to-face.
“It looks like everyone’s having a good time.”
“Yes. Everyone does seem to be enjoying themselves.”
As the two of us talked, I was watching my companions. They had each found someone they could get along with and were engaged in pleasant conversation.
Maria chuckled. “I had expected talks with another nation to be more tense. During this sort of get-together, you would expect us all to be trying to get a feel for the other side’s intentions, you know? But everyone’s acting as they normally would.”
“Well, our countries have amicable relations, so it would be weird for our subordinates to be fighting when we’re not... It looks like our second-in-commands are getting along, too.”
I smiled wryly as I caught a glimpse of Hakuya and Jeanne out of the corner of my eye. Jeanne seemed to be enjoying herself, and Hakuya gave off a much softer impression than he usually did, too. Maria must have noticed it as well, because she was smiling softly.
“I guess I should have expected your subordinates would be like this. You approach everyone without prejudice. They must have learned from watching you, Sir Souma. That’s how they can be so open with everyone.”
It was a little embarrassing being given such a direct complement.
“I could say the same of the Empire. Because their leader is so soft and fuzzy, her subordinates are kind, too.”
“Oh, my? Me? Soft and fuzzy?”
Maria made a show of puffing up her cheeks in mock anger. Even though I knew she was a year older than Juna, it still made her look like a cute little girl.
I shrugged. “Having met and talked with you, I can say you’re pretty soft and fuzzy.”
“That’s quite a thing to say. I am an empress you know.”
“My apologies, Your Imperial Majesty,” I said jokingly.
“Yes. Very good,” she said in a self-important tone. I knew she hated to wield her power in this way, so she was just messing around, too.
Then both of us broke out laughing.
“Ha ha ha, I don’t know what it is, but even though I know you’re supposed to be important, I can’t help but laugh when you act like that.”
“Hee hee! It’s because I’m not good at being important. When I do it in front of you, it’s just an act.”
“Like you’re playing empress?”
“Yes, that’s a good way of putting it.”
After we’d had a good laugh, Maria smiled. “It’s so peaceful here.”
“Hm? What’s this about, all of a sudden?”
“If we could laugh like this with people we had just met, we wouldn’t need a framework like the Mankind Declaration...”
She said that like we’d be better off without it. That was probably how she really felt, too. Maria’s Mankind Declaration existed to force the signing nations to band together in the face of the Demon Lord’s Domain. She had taken the heavy burden of leading them upon herself. But if there was a way for countries to work together without compulsion, nothing could be better than that. After all, it would relieve the huge weight on her shoulders.
“...Our country may not be a signatory state, but we do support your ideals,” I said.
“When Kuu inherits the Republic, they’ll be reliable allies, too. In a few more years... just a few more years, you won’t need to shoulder everything by yourself.”
If Maria threw in the towel now, I’d be in trouble. The role she played in maintaining the balance between the countries on this continent could not be overstated. If she said she was retracting the Mankind Declaration tomorrow, the world would be thrown into disarray. That sort of chaos could lead to the rise of ambitious people like Fuuga.
But... I couldn’t rely on Maria forever.
There was no way it was healthy to put this much stress on one woman. Someday, we all had to move on from the Mankind Declaration and set her free.
“Just wait a little longer, Madam Maria. Soon enough, my country will be capable of shouldering the burden alongside yours. I’m sure Hakuya would agree. Together with my companions, we’ll change the situation that’s put this heavy burden all on you.”
“...Will you?” Maria smiled slightly. “I suppose I’ll have to keep working just a little longer, until that day arrives, then.”
“Don’t be. I chose this path for myself. But...” Maria looked at me. “Do hurry.”
With that, we two sworn friends nodded to one another.
Aisha and Gunther Face One Another
During the get-together, Aisha stood facing one of the Empire’s commanders, Gunther. In her hands, she held plates stacked with food which she was greedily gobbling up. This man. He seems to have considerable skill. What is he thinking...? Unlike Krahe, because Gunther was a man of few words, Aisha was on her guard around him. Even now, as everyone around them was having a good time, he was alone in his silence, not eating or drinking, just glaring at her with a frown on his face.
“Are you not going to talk to anyone?” she said.
“...There is no need.”
“Then why not eat something? It’s all delicious, you know?”
“...There is no need for that, either”
He was completely unapproachable—not that she wanted to be friends with him. It just made her uneasy to encounter a warrior with unquestionable skill, who was so unreadable. Protecting Souma was of utmost importance, so she kept an eye on him. And because the food looked good, she ate as she watched.
But because just eating and watching him was awkward, she tried striking up a conversation, too.
“Everyone looks like they’re having fun. Why don’t you loosen up yourself?”
“...No. That is not my role as a warrior.”
I really can’t figure out what he’s thinking... Aisha sighed. She came from a martial background. Being strong, but not all that smart, she knew she wasn’t perceptive enough to discern what someone was thinking based on words and gestures. She was better at understanding a person when they crossed swords and traded blows. That was just how warriors communicated. Still, I can’t challenge him to a battle here.
If she were to challenge him to a duel at a party like this, they would doubt her reasoning. It would cause problems for Souma as well. Aisha didn’t want that, so she continued the conversation, even though it wasn’t her strong suit.
“Then what do you think a warrior’s role is?”
“To serve those he has sworn himself to. To risk his life to protect them.”
“Hmm.” Aisha could relate to that answer. “I agree. Because I’ve sworn myself to His Majesty, too.”
“...But I had heard you were King Souma’s wife?”
“When we first met, I was his bodyguard. But though we are now married, my wish to protect him, even at the cost of my own life, remains unchanged.”
“...Is that right?”
Oh? It felt like Gunther had softened a little. Was that because her sympathy for his position had changed the way she viewed him? As Aisha watched him closely, she saw that though Gunther still remained standing still, his eyes were moving. Following his gaze, she found Souma and Maria talking, and then Hakuya and Jeanne. His eyes bounced between both pairs.
“Sir Gunther, is Madam Maria the one you’ve sworn yourself to, or is it Madam Jeanne?”
“...I have sworn myself to both daughters of the Imperial House of Euphoria,” Gunther said in resignation. “Despite their youth and beauty, they carry the weight of an empire on their shoulders. I respect that, and believe they must be protected. I can only serve them as a warrior, but I will do my all to make sure they can feel at ease.”
“You stay on your guard so that they can relax theirs... Is that it?”
Aisha felt like she understood. Maria and Jeanne looked relaxed as they chatted with Souma and Hakuya. Quietly watching over them was a way of showing his loyalty.
“Heheh! It seems you’re a fine warrior!”
“...You’re too kind.”
“Ah! But what about the third daughter of the Imperial Family, Madam Trill? Do you swear loyalty to her?”
Gunther’s frown deepened in response.
Seeing that, Aisha couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “Pfft... Ahahahaha!”
So he can make a face like that, too. He might be an interesting individual.
Aisha wanted to tell this story to Souma.
Naden and Krahe Talk
During the get-together, Souma’s second secondary queen, Naden, was talking with Krahe, a commander from the Empire.
“So then me and Souma took care of the storm that attacked the Star Dragon Mountain Range.”
“I see, I see. That’s just lovely.”
No, it was more like Naden was telling the story of how she met Souma, and Krahe was enthusiastically nodding along and prodding her to keep going.
“Was it a natural storm?” he asked.
“No way. There was this weird thing inside the clouds that was causing it.”
“The Lurker in the Clouds... I like it! It sounds exciting! So, what happened? Did the lurker have a terrifying and dignified form, like some sort of demon lord?”
“Oh... It was a cube. Like a metallic one.”
“A metallic cube... huh?” Krahe looked blatantly disappointed. “The Cube in the Tempest... It’s strange, I’ll give it that, but it lacks impact. Now, if there was a massive, bat-winged devil, or a three-headed dragon, then we’d have something to be excited about.”
What’s the Thousand Year Dragon King got to do with this? was the joke Souma would have made if he were listening.
Naden sighed in exasperation. “I can’t change what we saw, so you’ll have to live with it. But it did make an impact if you were actually there to see it, you know? There were these patterns carved into the thing, glowing faintly, but more than anything, it was just huge.”
“Hmm... When you say it like that, maybe it does work.”
“...Is the way it looks that important?”
“Of course!” Krahe got up close to Naden, a serious look on his face. “Stories of heroes and saints need a terrifying and dignified enemy! No matter how strong the hero, and no matter how revered the saint, their story cannot function with them alone! The people respect Lady Maria as a saint, and King Souma was summoned to be a hero. The story of our times will be sung for ages to come. We’re just waiting for the enemy they’ll stand against to appear.”
Krahe spoke as if enraptured, not even pausing for a breath. It made Naden think of how he’d been described as being a romanticist, and to an unhealthy degree.
“Wouldn’t it be better if there was no enemy? Nothing beats peace.”
“What are you saying? The story needs a powerful enemy for them to strike down! Our lives are short, but if people tell stories of us, they’ll last for a hundred generations. If I could leave but one page in Madam Maria’s story, I would know no greater bliss.”
Wrong somehow, thought Naden. When she was in the Star Dragon Mountain Range, Souma told her that though a tree that remained beautiful forever was wonderful, the flowers that bloomed for a short time before falling were beautiful, too. It felt like, in trying to leave behind his name in a story, Krahe was grasping for eternity.
I don’t think Souma would say something like that. He wouldn’t be interested in leaving his name in history. What instead came to her mind was Cian and Kazuha’s young, innocent faces. Even if his name doesn’t remain, preserving his children’s lives and wishes into the future is enough... That’s what he’d think. I feel like I can understand that, too, now. Naden chuckled.
She adored Cian and Kazuha. But wouldn’t her own child be even more dear to her? Then again, some people said it was easier to dote on kids that weren’t yours, since you had no responsibility for them. But I still want Souma’s child. For the future.
Naden squirmed as she covered her flushing cheeks with her hands.
Krahe cocked his head to the side at the way she was acting. “Hm? Is something the matter?”
She cleared her throat to hide her embarrassment. “...No, it’s nothing.”
Even if she told the man in front of her what she was feeling, he probably wouldn’t be able to understand. We all have our own set of values. That’s something she’d learned since coming to the Kingdom. But a story requires a strong villain... huh? Naden looked at Krahe and felt a little uneasy.
He was pure, in a way. True to his dreams and desires. On its own that might have been a virtue. But wasn’t it dangerous to seek an enemy for the sake of that dream?
Maybe I should report this to Souma later... Naden thought as she looked at Krahe’s friendly smile.
Mio and Owen Get Better Acquainted
“Madam Mio, are you all right? You’re not looking so good.”
During the get-together, Owen, who was both Souma’s personal trainer and sounding board, approached Georg Carmine’s daughter with concern. Owen was a former commander in the Army, and greatly respected him, so he always wanted to look out for her.
Mio gave Owen a weak smile. “I-I’m fine. It’s just because the amount of information I have to take in is dizzying.”
She was constantly wondering, What am I doing here? Here Mio was, in the same place as the empress and her entourage. She couldn’t believe it. The relationship between the Kingdom and the Empire had changed completely in the time she was away. During King Albert’s reign, they hadn’t known what the Empire’s intentions were, and had just been jerked around by everything that the Empire did. Now they were building an amicable relationship as partners in an alliance.
“There was a time not so long ago when all of this would have seemed impossible.”
“Well, our country has gone through a lot,” Owen said, crossing his arms with a smile. “His Majesty and Lady Liscia have both tried their hardest.”
“I can see that.”
“You’ll be even more surprised when we return to the Kingdom. His Majesty will keep his word and launch a new investigation into your father’s actions. Depending on the result, the House of Carmine could even be restored.”
“...Ah ha ha, I guess so.”
Mio’s laugh sounded a little troubled. I don’t really care about that, though... She was no longer fixated on Souma and her father at this point.
“So the House of Carmine will be restored... huh?”
“Hm? Is something the matter?”
“Oh, no... It’s just that I’d be the head of the household, wouldn’t I?”
“You would indeed.”
Mio scratched her cheek awkwardly as Owen looked at her as if she’d just said the most obvious thing in the world.
“Um... I’m a capable warrior, but governing is not my strong suit. My father had more or less given up on me there...”
“Ahh...” Without a word more, Owen looked at her with a small wry smile.
Realizing the situation, Mio continued, “As you’ve likely figured out... I’m not the smartest person around...”
“Mmm... W-Well, I’ve heard that when Duke Carmine was young, he was entirely focused on his skills as a warrior, and was scolded by his father for it, too. You’ve still got room to grow, Madam Mio.”
“Oh? Is that right?”
Mio had the impression that her father was skilled with both the pen and the sword, but apparently that wasn’t true in his youth.
Owen nodded. “I hear that he devoted himself to his administrative duties around the time he brought a wife into the household. Ga ha ha! He must have wanted to show her his good side. Or maybe he didn’t want her to see his weaknesses. That’s how men are, after all.”
Even living with my father, I never knew that aspect of him.
Owen clapped a hand on Mio’s shoulder. “Well, when the house is restored, I expect you’ll bring in a husband. You can choose someone who’s skilled at administrative work.”
“Ahh, Father said that, too... Ah!”
“Is something the matter?”
“You know, I just remembered that there was a bureaucrat who earned my father’s rare praise... Right. I believe, Sir Colbert was his name”
“Colbert? The Minister of Finance?”
“Yes. Though he still served the Principality of Amidonia at the time.”
Father praised him, and if he’s the Minister of Finance now, he can handle administrative work, I don’t think I could ask for better than that, Mio thought to herself.
“Um, Sir Owen, may I ask a question?”
“What is it?”
“Would you say I’m pretty?”
“...Huh?” Owen stood there gaping, not sure what he’d been asked for a moment. “Oh, um, I think you’re more than pretty enough, Madam Mio... Why ask that so suddenly?”
“Oh, I thought I might be able to use my womanly weapons to ensnare a gentleman,” Mio said in a flirtatious tone, a serious look on her face. “I think I’ve inherited Mother’s good looks. I learned from Father that in war, you must use every means and weapon at your disposal. They say that love is war, so I thought I might face my target with all the weapons I can muster.”
Owen was taken aback to hear Mio talk like this so seriously.