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Chapter III: Great Expectations 

“Why didn’t you ask him for his name?” 

“Ugh... W-Well, I just didn’t think of it... I wanted to, it just... It never ended up happening.” 

Princess Reliel sat down opposite me. She was clutching a handkerchief in her hand, which was given to her by her black-masked savior. Yumina, Linze, and I were the only ones in the room other than her. The emperor had summoned me here for a private chat, but I hadn’t expected this. 

Everyone in the ballroom wore masks, so even if you hit it off with someone, you wouldn’t know who they were. That was why there was a system in place where you could secretly tell the other person your real name in order to get in contact later. 

Of course, that was a bit of an issue. If it was one-sided, then you’d be outing yourself, so the guys were expected to take the lead in that regard. Plus, if you just gave your name out like hotcakes, you’d look pretty desperate. 

“Can you do something about this, Touya?” 

“Maybe, but I dunno...” 

Even though Linze was just about pleading for help, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. 

If a black mask’s the only clue, that doesn’t give me much to go off. We distributed the masks across all the countries, so each nation had at least one black-masked person... Even discounting women from that list, that still leaves no shortage of people. 

“Oh, we could maybe rule out Xenoahs or Mismede... The person didn’t have any beastman traits, right? No tail or horns?” 

“Actually, Yumina... some of the black masks I gave out erased beastman features, since that helped keep anonymity.” 

Upon hearing my response, Yumina’s smile vanished. 

Look, it’s better this way... I don’t want people to judge others by appearance alone. Mismedean beastmen, Xenoahs demonkin, or Lassei dragonewts get discriminated against fairly regularly. I want people to pick their partners for their personalities, not their pedigree... Not everyone can retract their horns like Sakura and her half-brothers. 

“There’s a record of everyone who got the black masks, so I should be able to narrow it down. I’ll just have to go over them carefully...” I grumbled quietly as I thumbed over the participant list on my phone. If I questioned them, I wondered if they’d be honest with me... They could have their own agendas, after all. 

“...You definitely want me to find the guy?” 

“I do. I wish to talk to him again, so please...” Princess Reliel mumbled as she squeezed the handkerchief tightly. She seemed surprisingly desperate. 

“If I don’t see him again, I won’t be able to finish my latest book! I can’t make any progress at all because I keep thinking about him! It’s interfering with my writing, so please help me get out of this funk!” 

...What? This girl’s something else, man... 

I beckoned Yumina over toward me, whispering to her in a hushed tone of voice. 

“What’s going on with her, exactly?” 

“I’m not sure. I’ve never seen Reli like this in my life... I don’t know if she’s realized her own feelings yet.” 

This delusional princess... Why can’t things be simple with her for once? Still, I guess love can bloom in the strangest of places... Even if this is an especially strange place. 

“That person saved her, so I suppose it’s natural she’d get hung up over him. I’ve never heard of Reli being interested in matters of love, so we’ll just have to see how things go with her.” 

“I see... Well, you’ve known her since you were little, so I’ll trust you on this.” 

“Thank you... I’ll have you know I wasn’t too different myself.” 

My wife cast a sly grin in my direction as she spoke. She wasn’t technically the one I saved during our first meeting, though... Still, the situation was close enough. Reliel was a princess, much like Yumina, and now it seemed she was facing love for the first time. 

I went through the list and narrowed it down to people with black masks, then cut the women out. That still brought the number to thirty-eight, however. 

What a pain in the ass. 

“We should start with the people we know.” 

“Mhm. Brunhild’s up first, then.” 

“Let’s see... Three Brunhild citizens had black masks. Our knights Lushade, Charon, and... oh, Vice Commander Nikola.” 

Lushade was a vampire from Xenoahs. The funniest thing about him was that he had an aversion to blood! He was one of the earliest members of our knight order. 

He was a bit of a pushover, but also a kind young man for the most part. Well... young man in looks, at least. He was actually over sixty. 

Charon was from Belfast, and his parents were pharmacists. He had a great deal of knowledge about medicinal plants and was contributing to our farmland development. Uncle Kousuke, the god of agriculture, had taken quite a shine to him. As a result, he’d received a small amount of agricultural divinity, even if he didn’t know it. Though that didn’t mean he’d manifest an ability like Yumina’s foresight or anything, it just meant that his abilities would be slightly beyond that of his peers. 

Nikola needed no introduction, he was the vice commander of the entire knight order. Originally from Mismede, he was a fox beastman. 

Wait... Did I give him a race-concealing mask? I can’t remember. Well, whatever. Let’s go get their alibis... Wait, is alibi the right word? It’s not like I’m investigating a crime or anything. 

“Lushade and Charon are in the clear...” 

“...In the what?” Yumina asked as she tilted her head, apparently curious about my choice of words. I couldn’t help but feel like a detective like this. 

I didn’t want to directly mention princess Reliel, so I simply told Lushade and Charon that a woman had been rescued by a black-masked man, and she wanted to thank him. If either of them had said yes, I’d planned to bring up the handkerchief to test if they were lying or not. I didn’t think any of my knights would do that, though. 

Lushade apparently spent the evening dancing with a woman, while Charon was too busy eating Refreesian cuisine to care about romance. Obviously I had to take them at their word, but there was no reason not to trust them. They weren’t the ones who’d saved the princess. That said, I could’ve probably stood to put some more rigorous methods in place. 

The keither polygraph or the Ramissh pope’s mystic eye would probably do the trick, but I didn’t feel like invoking those against someone who hadn’t done anything wrong. 

Honestly, this whole situation was plain annoying. Just as I was pondering using [Recall] to delve into the potential peoples’ memories, I felt a gaze burning into me. 

“You can’t do that, Touya. No using [Recall].” 

“I-I’d n-never even think of doing that!” 

Linze had somehow figured out exactly what I was thinking... She was too damn sharp. In all fairness, [Recall] couldn’t show me memories that a person wanted to hide, so I couldn’t go that route anyway. Though... if I used my divinity to amplify the spell... 

N-No, bad Touya. Stop. 

I headed out to the training grounds to speak to Nikola. All the knights were hard at work, which was good to know. They were all suffering under the intense training regimen that Moroha had put together, but the hard work was beginning to pay off. 

In the early days of this training, I saw plenty of beaten men without any stamina left, but nowadays I barely saw any collapsed guys at all. It was a testament to how well they were doing. 

Strength-wise, they were probably all equivalent to red-rank adventurers... But the skill set between knights and adventurers was still pretty different, so it wasn’t a fair comparison. None of my knights were trained in things like disarming traps on treasure chests, for example. 

“Oh, heya Touya. What’s up?” Elze asked as she waved over to me from nearby. She was sitting on a bench, dabbing sweat from her brow with a towel. Even becoming a duchess wasn’t enough to stop her, it seemed. 

“I’m looking for Nikola. You seen him?” 

“The vice commander? He’s over there,” Elze replied, pointed right to the middle of the training ground. There, two individuals were clashing. One jabbed forward with a wooden spear, while the other slashed with a wooden sword. 

Nikola’s spear was just a little bit slow, however, and the wooden sword swished upward to knock it away. The sudden disarming stunned Nikola and allowed his enemy, Yae, to close the distance in seconds. She swung forward with her training weapon. 


Just like that, the vice commander was brought to his knees. 

...I-Is he okay? 

“Game set. Can you stand?” 

“Y-Yes... I-I’m fine, thank you,” Nikola replied while wearily nodding toward Hilde, who seemed to be acting as the judge for the bout. 

It wasn’t that he was by any means weak, Yae was just... no longer in the realm of reasonable human standards. But even she was no match for Moroha. Nobody in our knight order could hold a candle to her. That didn’t seem to bother most people, though. As Uncle Takeru often said, he who spends all his time comparing himself to others may never grow. 

“I am ready for the next one, I am!” 

“Let’s go!” 

Nikola stepped aside, allowing the next in a long line of would-be challengers to face Yae. 

The vice commander came over to the bench near me, sitting down on it before wiping his brow and sipping some water. I felt a little bad about pulling him aside when he was so worn out, but I didn’t want to waste much more time. 

“Could I have a moment?” 

“Your Highness? Of course.” 

He tried to stand up, but I told him to stay seated. Then I asked him about the situation without letting on that the girl was Princess Reliel. 

“O-Oh, no... I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about...” 


Hrmm... Well, this sucks. It would’ve been real convenient if it was someone from Brunhild. Guess I gotta go through the list, then. What a pain in the ass... 

Apparently, the black-masked man wasn’t from Refreese, either. The two men with black masks from that nation were both a bit chubby, so it didn’t match up with the description she’d given. The masks couldn’t very well mask body type, after all. 

Left with no other choice, I had to go to the different world leaders and meet all the black-masked people one by one. 

“Hm... This is kinda sus... isn’t it?” 

“Sus? Like suspicious? What is?” Elze had noticed me muttering, so she shuffled along the bench and spoke up. 

“I mean... this is love, right? Where’s Karen...? Usually, she’d pop up outta nowhere and start yelling about how she’s gonna take charge, but nothing...” 

“Maybe she’s just busy with something?” Yumina responded with a sickeningly sweet smile. Perhaps a little too sweet... 

I was very confused. She was the one who was all for the ball to begin with, so why wouldn’t she involve herself in a big scoop like this? But then I thought of something that worried me a little... The only reason why Karen might not have been all over it was because their love was doomed from the start. The masquerade had been open to single, unmarried folks. I was sure most of the guests were there by their own will, but some might’ve been there reluctantly. Perhaps some of the nobles even had boyfriends or girlfriends, but still had to go for appearance’s sake. That’d be pretty rough... Hopefully it wasn’t the case with the black-masked guy. I didn’t want to have to tell Princess Reliel that, at least. The more I thought about it, the messier the potential of the situation got. 

I sighed a little bit and decided there was no point moping. I then called up King Belfast to see about questioning the black-masks from his entourage. 

“Nobody? You’re telling me nobody was involved in the princess’ situation?” 

“Yep. I asked everyone, and nobody knew what I was talking about. Ugh...” I muttered as I slumped down onto the couch with Leen sitting opposite me. I’d just got done explaining the situation to her. I’d gone around the whole world and asked every black-masked individual about Reliel, but nobody had come forward. In other words, the person responsible had to be lying for some reason. 

The situation felt more hopeless to me by the minute. I didn’t really think forcing the guy to admit it was fair. He surely had his reasons for keeping himself concealed. 

“First the damn Gollem, now this... I’ve got way too much going on because of that damn party.” 

“Come now, darling. Where’s your spirit? Are you not the man who rushes headlong into danger? You should accept your lot and run with it.” 

Well, I guess that’s fair... It’s not like the black-masked guy did anything wrong, anyway. 

Still, I had no idea what to do. I could easily just report in with a simple apology for not being able to resolve things, but then Princess Reliel’s situation would be left completely open-ended. I’d also feel bad about messing with her feelings that way, too. It was clear she was at an important precipice where she didn’t quite know if she was in love or not. Still, at the end of the day, I couldn’t force the situation one way or another. It hinged on Reliel’s feelings. 

I wanna help her, but... 

As I let out a little yawn, my smartphone started ringing. 

Who’s calling me now? I don’t want any more trouble, dammit... 

I grumbled quietly as I looked at the display. The incoming caller said Ariattie Tis Allent. 

Uhhh, is she the holy king of Allent’s granddaughter? Something like that, right? Pretty sure she’s rumored to be engaged to Zadonia’s new leader, Frost. 

I’m pretty sure she got a smartphone after the Holy King and King Frost bugged me about it, right? Never had a call from her before, though. 

“Uh... ’Sup? Is this Ariattie?” 

“Oh, yes. Is this the grand duke of Brunhild? I’m terribly sorry to call you out of the blue... but I need your help with an urgent matter...” 

“Pfffffft...” Leen, who was sitting opposite me, started laughing so hard she spat out some of her tea. Apparently, my expression gave away the fact that I was about to become an errand boy again. 


Aw, c’mon, what is it now? Can’t a guy rest for five minutes? And... dammit, Leen! Don’t laugh at me! This isn’t fair... 

“Oh, uh... sorry about that. What did you want to talk about?” 

“Well, I’m calling on behalf of someone who wishes to meet with you in private... They’re from Gandhilis...” 


 ? ? 

“I’m really, truly sorry!” 

“Er, I don’t really think you need to be sorry?” 

The woman across the table from me just wouldn’t stop bowing her head. She was about the same age as me. She wore a lovely light green dress and had a glittering tiara atop her head. 

We were in Allent’s royal palace. Or more specifically, a gazebo in the rose garden. Princess Ariattie had called on me to help with an urgent matter, so I’d brought Yumina and Sue along to meet her. Once there, I found the second princess of Gandhilis waiting for me. Her name was Cordelia Terra Gandhilis. 

Much like the Great Gau River on the eastern continent, the Sebra River separated a few nations on the western continent. Allent bordered the Sebra to the south, while Gandhilis bordered it to the north. 

Unlike Gardio, who had a historically antagonistic relationship with Gandhilis, it would seem that Allent and the steel nation were rather cordial. 

It wasn’t unusual for neighboring countries to have communication between royals, but I never expected to see a princess from Gandhilis in the Allent palace. The biggest thing confusing me, however, was why the princess was apologizing so profusely. 

“Really! I didn’t mean for any of this to happen! The situation at the party was all my fault!” 

In other words... she meant the situation with the fake Imelda. Princess Cordelia was effectively confessing to being the person behind that situation. But she definitely wasn’t the mastermind, that much was clear. The real one was the person standing behind her. 

“H-Hey, Parullel! You need to apologize as well!” 

“I am sorry,” the maid, Parullel, said as she bowed her head in apology. Her expression was timid and tinged with guilt. She was an intelligent-looking young woman, perhaps in her twenties or so. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail and she wore round glasses. 

According to Princess Cordelia, her maid was the one who’d incapacitated Imelda and had the fake Gollem attend the party in her place. 

“What was your aim here?” 

“To protect the emperor of Gardio, sir.” 

Huh? Protecting Emperor Gardio? But he had like... soldiers with him? What was one weak Gollem based on a noble girl going to do, exactly? And why would Gandhilis be protecting the emperor, anyway? Gardio’s hardly an ally. 

“Wh-What she means is... to protect him from... any women who might have approached him at the party, hahaha...” 


As I pondered the peculiarities of the situation, Princess Ariattie flashed a weak smile and spoke up. Upon hearing her words, Princess Cordelia went beet red and glanced to the side. 

Wait, don’t tell me... 

“Well, you see... a few years ago, Sir Lancelet was invited to a series of parties in Gandhilis... He wasn’t in line to be emperor at the time, he only had his noble station... a-and we talked quite intimately a few times, and, well... I...” she trailed off, but I wasn’t stupid. I could be a blockhead sometimes, but I knew what the second princess of Gandhilis was getting at. 

The current emperor of Gardio was once named Lancelet Olcott. He was the son of the prime minister, Lancelo Olcott. Lancelet’s mother was the sister of the former emperor, so after Lucrecion renounced his claim to the throne, Lancelet was next in line. 

The previous emperor was trying to mend relations with Gandhilis, so Lancelet must have visited the steel nation several times in the past before becoming emperor. And that was how he’d met the second princess. 

Sue, who was standing nearby, let out a little giggle as she realized the situation. 

“I see... But how did that turn into... this?” 

“Well, I heard that there was to be a matchmaking party in Refreese, with royals and nobles in attendance. And I heard that Sir Lancelet would be in attendance as well...” 

“You must have misunderstood. While it’s true that Emperor Gardio attended, he was only there as a monarch. He wasn’t actually involved in the matchmaking itself,” Yumina spoke up, correcting Cordelia’s account. Reliel was forced to participate, but everyone else was free to opt-in or out. The same went for royals as well, and Emperor Gardio elected not to join. After all, he was already a head of state. He couldn’t join in something like that so casually. 

“That’s right... Lady Ariattie told me about that recently. In my panic, I made a hasty mistake. I was so worried about Sir Lancelet potentially meeting someone there that I accidentally complained about it in front of Parullel...” 

Now it makes sense. She thought Emperor Gardio was trying to find a partner there. I guess it’s not too unreasonable. Princess Reliel participated, as well as the princes from Xenoahs. So I guess the maid, Parullel, just took matters into her own hands after hearing about her mistress’ love woes, huh? That’s pretty extreme... 

“The thing is, Parullel’s parents own a Gollem engineering guild known as the Seekers... so I believe they had a hand in this.” 

A familiar term stood out among Princess Cordelia’s apologetic words. 

The Seekers... I’ve heard that before. They’re part of the whole five great gollemancers thing, right? That’s what Elluka mentioned, at least. If they’re a husband and wife, I guess they’re a package deal. 

“The Seekers are a group of engineers that travel the world seeking out ancient ruins, excavating the ancient world, and repairing any Gollems they come across. They’re not just engineers, however. They also sell and trade the Gollems they refurbish, operating as a fairly proficient mercantile group,” Parullel explained it fairly concisely, but the idea of a roving group of archaeological merchants was a little weird to me. 

But hey, if a group like that could be self-sufficient, that was pretty cool as well. It was only logical to live in that way if you could. 

“So how did the daughter of the two Seeker leaders end up working as a maid in Gandhilis?” 

“The Seekers have been roving around Gandhilis’ ruins for several years now. At her family’s behest, my father took Parullel in, and she’s been working as my personal attendant ever since. I’m sure her parents asked that she not be left among the common rabble.” 

Cordelia’s explanation made sense. The Seekers clearly had a strong relationship with Gandhilis, and it was easy to see why. If the steel nation produced a ton of metal and ore, it was obvious they’d be the main pitstop of a roving group of excavators who worked with metal. They were the most natural pair-up possible, really. 

“I asked my father to repair, rebuild, and restore the Gollem used to infiltrate the party... It’s a cattleya model. I also had the Seekers craft its current appearance, but I didn’t explain what I was going to use it for. My parents are completely innocent in this. It goes without saying that the princess is also free of culpability. This was all my doing, and I’m ready to accept whatever punishment is deemed appropriate,” Parullel said as she looked right at me. It was clear she was remorseful for going over the princess’ head. 

Hrmm... Why’s she asking me to punish her, anyway? I don’t have the authority to do that. Plus, I’m hardly the victim here. 

The biggest victims in this situation were the real Imelda, who was incapacitated and missed the party, the Gardio Empire, which was thrown into a crisis, and Refreese, which lost honor for allowing a foreign agent into their formal event. 

“Nay, it is I who should be apologizing! This wouldn’t have happened if not for my shortcomings. Please, Grand Duke... Please give me a chance to apologize to everyone!” 

Princess Cordelia was bowing on her knees at that point, while Parullel kept up her bowing display right behind her. Frankly... I felt relieved. I thought this was some kind of heinous plot, but it was just a simple misunderstanding. 

Those words Lucrecion had heard about the emperor eliminating anything in his way was probably meant to be something like: 

“If any women get in the way of Emperor Gardio, then they must be eliminated.” 

To be honest, that was kind of scary in its own way, but who was I to judge. 

“What should we do, Touya?” 

“Well, it’s not really up to me. I need to inform the people involved.” 

“That means you’re gonna have to tell them about Princess Cordelia’s feelings, right? I wonder what he’ll think when he finds out...” I paused for a moment. Sue raised a very good point. 

Personally, I thought that a princess pairing up with a neighboring emperor was fine, but I wasn’t the one who got to decide that. 

Hm, what to do...? 

As I glanced upward, Yumina suddenly started speaking to Princess Cordelia. 

“You and the Emperor were close, no?” 

“Hm? Oh, well... I think so? Sir Lancelet was always kind enough to speak to me, and would even buy me presents on my birthday...” 

“If he’s been buying you birthday gifts, then he must’ve at least been thinking a little about you.” 

“I-I-If that’s really true, I would be most happy...” 

Yumina was relentless in her questioning. Sue came up from behind her and joined in as well. 

“How come you never told him your feelings? Didn’t you have the chance?” 

“Well, I... It was difficult for me at the time on account of my position... A-And then Lancelet became the emperor, of all things, and I didn’t want to give off the impression I only wanted to be empress...” 

“I think you worried too much. It’s not like you were strangers. And if he was still getting you stuff for your birthday, isn’t that a good sign? Yumina’d say so too.” 

“I-Is that so...?” 

This entire royal situation was just about to make my head spin. Why couldn’t people just talk to each other? 

It was pretty rare for a romance to start with two-sided affection right off the bat. Most of the time it was something one-sided that blossomed into something more. In that sense, Princess Cordelia’s feelings already had a little bit of a head start due to her history with the emperor. 

“I guess now we have to see how the emperor reacts to finding out about the mess you caused, huh?” 

“Agh!” Prince Cordelia’s groaned, her expression twisted into one of misery in response to my words. Yumina shot a menacing glare my way. 

Oh, crap... I didn’t mean it! 

“The real Imelda’s a problem, too. Surely she won’t stay silent forever.” 

“...Actually, Ms. Imelda won’t be an issue. She consented to this. I doubt her family will kick up much of a fuss, either.” 

“...Wait, huh? What?” 

Parullel’s words confused me. What was that about consent? Was Imelda actually in league with them?! 

“Ms. Imelda has a spouse in mind already, but her parents insisted she attend the party. Thus, she petitioned me for help. She wished to stage it so that her arrival at the party was halted by a mysterious interloper, allowing us to take her place in the process.” 

“Wh-What?! I never heard about this!” Princess Cordelia suddenly spoke up, apparently astonished by this piece of information. 

How’d she even get in touch with a foreign noble like Imelda? 

“The Seekers have members and former members all over the world, so getting into contact with her was a trifling matter. As was drugging her into a comatose state the night of the party. Things ended up working out well for Ms. Imelda, as well.” 

The situation was slowly revealed to have been orchestrated by this maid. But it all added up so far, at least. If Imelda had rejected some high-ranking noble she’d met at the party, it could’ve turned ugly for her family. 

These Seekers, though... They were really something else. I had a feeling that if they teamed up with Olba Strand’s company, they could spread Gollem tech across the eastern continent in no time at all. 

Maybe I could take advantage of the situation and have Parullel introduce me...? No, no... That won’t do... 

“When you say things went well for Imelda, what do you mean?” 

“Oh, well... The man she loves is her family’s doctor, and he took care of her when she was in her comatose state. It was apparently the push the two of them needed to confirm their feelings for each other and tell her parents. They seem to be set in a relationship now.” 

Everyone in the room seemed charmed by the story, but I felt like we were getting a little off-track. 

“As I said earlier, every single part of this plan is on me. The princess had no part in this whatsoever. I shall shoulder any punishment deemed necessary.” 

“W-Wait! I must share at least some of the blame. It was through my negligence that—” 

“Nay. It was wrong of me to grow tired of our inability to make a move, Princess. It’s not your fault for being timid or inexperienced...” 

“H-Hey, do you have to put it like that?!” 

“...Yes, sort of.” 

What a mess of a situation. But I guess it’s always like this when love gets involved. Okay, but seriously... Where’s Karen? This is her thing, isn’t it? I haven’t heard from her in a few days, either. I guess if Moroha’s not worried, I’m not worried, but still... 

“Well, we’re not the only parties involved here. I need to speak to the emperors of Gardio and Refreese about this. If you still feel the need to apologize, then it’s them you need to say sorry to... Okay?” 

“...Very well.” 

“I understand.” 

Cordelia and Parullel both nodded slowly. 

If Imelda really was complicit in this, then the situation wasn’t all that bad, but the two men could still take it poorly. I was especially curious as to what Emperor Gardio would think. 

I wasn’t entirely sure how to convey Princess Cordelia’s feelings... nor did I understand how or why I’d become some kind of love messenger. 

I heaved a small sigh, burdened by another new responsibility. There was nothing else to do, so I decided to just be honest. 

 ? ? 

“Well... Refreese didn’t come to any harm. If Gandhilis feels it owes us a debt, we’d be happy to accept the princess’ apology. If the Gollems are to spread over to our continent, then forging ties with Gollem-rich nations seems like a wise idea to me. We may well make contact with the Seekers through this, as well.” 

The emperor of Refreese didn’t really seem all that bothered. Frankly, I was impressed. If I ever became half the pragmatist he was, I’d be doing well. 

“Well, that seems fine for Refreese, then. What about Gardio?” 

“...” Emperor Gardio remained silent, staring blankly. I didn’t know what was up with him. 

Count Lowe waved a hand in front of the emperor’s face. 

“...Your Majesty? Emperor?” 

“H-Huh? O-Oh, wh-what?!” 

“Are you okay? We were talking about the Gandhilis issue...” 

“O-Oh, yes... Well, it’s as Emperor Refreese said. We’ll let them handle the princess. I’ll speak with Imelda, as well. I doubt there’ll be any major issues. We’ve been working toward a friendlier relationship with Gandhilis, so I’d prefer not to rock the boat.” 

Well, at least the guy was listening. Hm... I guess that’s the end of that...? I’m not so sure, though. 

I told Emperor Gardio about Princess Cordelia’s feelings, but he seemed completely stunned. I wonder how he felt. 

“...Emperor Gardio, what are your thoughts on Princess Cordelia?” Emperor Refreese suddenly spoke up, asking exactly what was on my mind. 


How bold! Guess that’s the power of age for you. 

We were in a room in Brunhild Castle. There was only me, Emperor Gardio, Emperor Refreese, Count Lowe, and a couple of guards present. Yumina, Sue, and the others wanted to find out more about the romantic aspect of the situation, but I didn’t think it was fair to have them sit in. There were some things you could only talk about with fellow men. 

“Oh, well... I’ll confess that I’m flattered by her feelings... However, her actions did cause some measure of inconvenience. I can’t let that slide, and therefore it makes answering her feelings more difficult to...” 

“Stop considering things like that. I’m asking how you feel about her, regardless of the political landscape.” 

“...H-How I feel?” Emperor Gardio’s cheeks burned bright red as he mumbled those words. It was pretty clear that he felt something. The way she talked about their old interactions made it seem that way, at least. 

I was grinning as I watched Emperor Gardio squirm. The emperor of Refreese was grinning as well. 

“W-Well! I... Th-This is rather sudden, no?! I-I’m obviously as flustered as I am flattered, but I need to consider my status as well! I-I’m not just a nobleman’s son anymore, I’m the head of a state! I can’t simply respond to her so casually, can I? O-Oh, Grand Duke! You’ve proposed nine times, haven’t you?! G-Give me some guidance here, please!” 

“Just go with the flow.” 

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” 

The young emperor was panicking, but I didn’t know what advice to give him... With all my wives, we simply came to care for each other and it just kind of worked out. 

“Gandhilis used to be on bad terms with Gardio, did it not? Would it not then be smart to nurture more close relations as a gesture of your willingness to commit to a brighter future?” 

Emperor Refreese had a point. If the princess of Gandhilis married the emperor of Gardio, it’d be a strong symbol of their national union. That was often how royal marriages worked, anyway. 

My marriages to Yumina, Lu, and Hilde were symbols of my strong relations with their home countries. Though in Yumina’s case, I wasn’t actually a world leader when we got together. 

“B-But this is still an international incident, isn’t it? Should I just wave it off like that...?” 

“That’s not relevant right now. Think about what’s really important here. If you can’t shoulder the feelings of one woman, princess or not, how can you hope to shoulder the burdens of an entire nation? Look at the grand duke. He’s shouldering nine wives,” Emperor Refreese stated, bursting out laughing a second later. 

Ghhh... Don’t bully me, you old fart! 

“Well, I suppose I could offer you my daughter’s hand if all else fails.” 

“Uh, no... I’m good, thank you...” 

“Hahahaha, I’m just joking,” Emperor Refreese was laughing, but I couldn’t bring myself to join him. 

Your daughter’s in a bit of an odd love story of her own, you know?! 

Either way, I agreed with Emperor Refreese in this situation. 

“It might be an opportunity for you, you know? The goddess of love would say something about timing being important here.” 

“Hoh... The goddess of love, you say?” Emperor Gardio asked, raising his brow at my words. He didn’t know it, but that goddess happened to be my sister. 

Either way, while Parullel’s actions were rather rash, it opened up a chance for him to voice his feelings for a woman who clearly cared for him. This was probably the kind of ideal situation Karen always talked about. Though Emperor Gardio was still a little concerned, it was clear that the Gollem issue had been resolved. Now I just had to chase things up with Princess Reliel. 

Who could this black-masked guy be? I’ve questioned every last guy I can think of, and I just... can’t... 

Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. I’d only questioned all the men in black masks. 

Wait, don’t tell me... 

 ? ? 

Both Yumina and Linze were completely taken aback by what I said to them. I wasn’t surprised, since the idea had shocked even myself. 

“Uh... Touya... What do you mean, exactly? The person who rescued Reli is...” 

“A woman?” 

For now, I wanted to keep the information quiet, so I’d only shared it with these two. I hadn’t told Reliel yet, and frankly, I wasn’t sure how to. Hence coming to the two wives most involved in the situation. 

“But Reli said the other party was a man, no?” 

“Are you saying it’s possible it was a woman using a concealing spell like [Mirage]?” 

“No, that’s not it. They were simply dressed in a man’s outfit.” 

It had never even occurred to me that someone would register as a female attendee and then wear a man’s formal outfit. The changing room was within the venue itself, so it wasn’t like anyone was keeping an eye on who was dressing into what. Plus, the masks were designed to obscure faces from the start. The woman I asked about it confessed to doing as such, anyway... It was just a matter of telling Reliel. 

“Anyway, yeah. I’ve already followed it up, and the person I asked admitted to it.” 

“But why?” 

“Well... apparently, she was uncomfortable wearing a fluffy dress. She said she felt quite shy in that kind of attire.” 

I wasn’t exactly sure what was so embarrassing about a formal dress when everyone was anonymous, though. But hey, everyone had different hangups. 

“S-So, who was the one dressed as the black-masked man?” 

“Princess Listis Le Triharan, from Triharan. She was posing as a prince way back when, if you guys remember...” 

“Oh, that’s right. Back when Ende got mind-controlled... That adds up.” 

Princess Listis Le Triharan was raised as a prince in order to trick the senate, who’d robbed all power from the royal family and was ruling the nation as they saw fit. Since she was raised that way, her personality wasn’t stereotypically girlish. She looked and acted like the kind of prince you’d see in a shoujo manga, frankly. 

Even without the mask, it’d be easy to mistake her for a handsome man. Her mannerisms weren’t in the least bit girlish. That didn’t mean she was brash or anything, she was just an example of the perfect gentleman. 

Oh... I guess from that perspective, it’d be really embarrassing to wear a dress, huh? That must have been why. 

“She was a frontline fighter in the war against Primula, wasn’t she?” 

“That’s right. She’s no stranger to the battlefield, either.” 

Incidentally, her brother, Prince Lupheus, was a total bookworm who was more interested in studying magical engineering. They were polar opposites in terms of presentation and interests. 

Lupheus was engaged to be married to Princess Berlietta of Strain thanks to the race we hosted a while back. Perhaps Listis had some kind of pressure on her to get married as a result of that pairing... 

“Are you sure it was her?” 

“She knew about the handkerchief, so why wouldn’t it be?” 

Part of me wanted to be wrong, but the story was already convoluted enough. 

“Well, hmm...” 

“What now...?” 

Yumina and Linze exchanged furtive glances. I understood how they felt. 

“Well, we have two choices here. You can either tell Princess Reliel the truth or keep it from her. You could say that you simply couldn’t find the one responsible and leave it at that, but...” 

“But I don’t think you should take away her agency like that. Reli deserves to know the truth. She can do with it what she wishes.” 

I thought so too. No matter how it ended, honesty was the best policy. Linze made a funny, almost pensive, face. I wondered what that meant. 

“Well... it’s just... she writes that kind of thing too, you know...?” 


“Her Order of the Rose books, which feature romantic stories between a male-only cast, are obviously her most popular works, but... she has an all-female spin-off story as well. It’s called Defenders of the Lily...” 

Wow, the more you know. She even writes stuff like that? I guess she’s a pretty varied writer, so it makes sense to dabble a bit. 

“It’s a love story about a senior knight commander and her feelings for a young girl from the countryside... It has some pretty intense scenes in it, if you know what I mean... B-But now I’m wondering, do you think she might be open to that kind of thing?” 

The second half of what Linze had said was a little muffled, but Yumina heard enough for her cheeks to turn bright pink. Frankly, I was a little curious about what she might have imagined at that moment, but I let it be. 

Linze sort of had a point, but one could easily write about something without it being a reflection of their real-life preferences... Then again, I couldn’t really bear the thought of writing something that didn’t interest me. 

Anyway, I wasn’t sure how to tell the princess that her mystery man was actually a mystery woman. I just didn’t have the heart. 

“Well, maybe we can bring Princess Listis with us to meet Reliel? She might not believe us otherwise.” 

“Y-Yes, that might work... If the two of them talk, it’ll be easier to know for sure, too...” 

I’m pretty certain Listis was the black-masked person, so I dunno about needing to confirm things... but whatever. 

While quietly wondering just what kind of situation was about to unfold, I took out my smartphone and called up Princess Reliel. 

 ? ? 

“S-So... Did you find him?! Wh-Who is he?!” 

“Hey, hey. Calm down. Just take it easy and have a seat, okay? Deep breaths.” 

“Don’t treat me like a child!” 

I tried to calm down Princess Reliel, who was so frantic she’d already knocked her chair over. I wondered if this would really be okay... I glanced to my side, at Yumina and Linze. They were both wearing forced smiles, suggesting that it was far too late to back out. 

This was Refreese Castle’s private courtyard, where even members of the extended royal family couldn’t enter without permission. Thus, we could speak freely without any risk of being overheard. 

“Well... I could bring your black-masked suitor here now, if you like.” 

“Ah?! R-R-Right here?! B-But I’m not ready!” 

I’d never seen Princess Reliel act so flustered before... It made me concerned about how she’d react, and with good reason. 

I whispered over to Yumina and Linze. 

“Shouldn’t we tell her before dropping the bombshell? I feel like we might break her brain...” 

“Mmm... Maybe? But I’m not sure...” 

“It should be fine to just introduce them, no?” 

I groaned quietly. They were supposed to be the experts here, not me... 

“I’m sure she’ll handle it better than you’re expecting her to. Let’s just do it...” 

“Well, I’ll call her over then. I don’t wanna keep her waiting.” 


I ignored Reliel’s confusion and cast [Gate], connecting it to the other side. Most castles had wards in place to prevent this kind of magic, but Reliel had the nearest one temporarily disabled. 

“Oh, finally. I certainly waited long enough.” 

The girl entered through the portal, giving a little bow and a curtsy as she clutched the hem of her dress. She was evidently not used to wearing something so frilly. Her golden hair was a little longer than it’d been the first time I’d met her, and she was even wearing a little makeup. We’d had maids assigned to her in order to bring out a little more of her feminine side, and the result was surprisingly sweet. 

The outfit she wore wasn’t an overly gaudy dress, so it actually suited her pretty well. Though, the two maids that came with her couldn’t help but giggle. They’d had to work a miracle on her. 

She’d said that she wasn’t used to wearing girlish clothing, but it was clear to me that they suited her nicely. 

“Uh... who is this?” Reliel seemed puzzled, probably because a woman had come through the portal rather than the man she’d expected to meet. 

“Well, this is Listis Le Triharan, Princess of Triharan. And Listis, this is Reliel Rehm Refreese, Imperial Princess of Refreese.” 

Princess Listis gave another curtsy upon being introduced. 

“Thank you kindly for your cordial invitation, Princess Reliel. It’s a pleasure to meet you, on behalf of Triharan. Thank you once more.” 

“Oh... Uh... Invitation? Uhm... I-I’m Reliel Rehm Refreese... Welcome to my country...?” 

Reliel gave a little curtsy back, but she was clearly confused. Her eyes gave away her lack of understanding, the little orbs dancing around with curious glances here and there. 

Yumina suddenly turned to Reliel, raising her voice a little, and said, “Reli, listen... And be calm, okay? This person is your black-masked savior.” 

“...What?” Reliel looked flabbergasted. I could almost hear her internally screaming in confusion. 

Princess Reliel suddenly tiptoed over toward the three of us and spoke in a low voice, saying, “The black-masked person who saved me was a man...” 

“She was just dressed as a man at the party. It was actually a girl all along.” 

“Linze... I’m not going to fall for your tricks. Can’t you get your kicks from my books instead?” 

We’re getting nowhere... 

I sighed and reached into my pocket, turning away from the princess-in-denial, then called over to Listis. 

“Princess Listis. You were the one who helped Princess Reliel at the party the other day, right? This handkerchief... Do you recognize it?” 

“Hm? Ohhh! You mean she’s the girl from back then?! I didn’t realize! She looked quite different from behind the mask... Though I imagine I must have looked different as well. But yes, that’s my handkerchief!” 


Another few moments of stunned silence passed before an eruption of confusion resounded. Reliel’s expression was half-frozen. She looked completely blindsided. 

“G-Grand Duke... Is the imperial princess okay? She seems to be seizing up...” Princess Listis was somewhat startled by Reliel’s outburst, so she turned to ask me out of concern. I wasn’t too surprised that Reliel felt this way, even if she was reacting a bit strongly. Clearly, she wasn’t taking it well. 

“Apologies for Reli. She’s a little stunned because she thought you were a man at the party.” 

“Oh... I see... I’m not really one for dresses. That’s why I had the men’s formal outfit prepared in secret. Though the old man certainly gave me an earful about it!” 

The old man? Oh, she probably means Zerorick. I think he looks after her affairs. 

“You prepared this dress for me, didn’t you? I don’t really understand why women want to wear such fluffy, unwieldy things... It’s more practical to wear something you can actually move around in, no?” 

I’d called up her father beforehand to ensure she’d be wearing something girly for this meeting. I wanted her to be recognizable as a girl even at a glance, to prevent any misunderstandings. Now that that goal had been achieved, I was fine if she wanted to change. 

“It looks good on you, though. It’s rather pretty.” 

“Really? I wasn’t so sure about it,” Listis mumbled as she played with the hem of her dress, replying to Yumina. 

It didn’t exactly look easy to move in. We seated Listis upon one of the garden chairs, then waited for Princess Reliel to snap back out of the shock she was suffering from. 

“I suppose I’ll have to get used to dresses... My brother recently got engaged, so Father’s been insisting I find a partner before long.” 

That explains it... Her dad was certainly eager about the masquerade, come to think of it. But she was dressed as a man! How was she supposed to find a partner like that? Wait, no... technically, she did? 

“Uh... Princess Listis, are there any men you’re affectionate toward?” Linze asked her a question that was phrased just vaguely enough to not be intrusive. 

“Mmm... I’ve lived as a man for most of my life, so I’m not entirely familiar with those sorts of pursuits. Men are kind of a pain to deal with, too. They’re prideful, stubborn, often arrogant... More trouble than they’re worth in many cases.” 

The princess cast a brief glance toward me. It was unavoidable... I was the only man at the table! 

“That’s why I couldn’t stand by when I saw Princess Reliel in trouble at the party. The man she was with was your typical brute.” 

“You’re not wrong, Princess Listis. I’m sure many men walked by the scene thinking nothing was wrong. I think your conduct was incredibly noble that night. That’s why you were invited here, to show our appreciation,” Yumina responded as she smiled gently. Reliel, on the other hand, was pale as a ghost. It looked as though her soul had crawled out of her body. Was the situation really that shocking? 

“I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised... Even now, I’m still mistaken for a man fairly often. I’m a bit like Shannon from Lilydef in that regard.” 

Listis’ words prompted Reliel to twitch slightly. Yumina and Linze also seemed surprised. 

Lilydef? Shannon? What’s that mean? 

“Wait, Princess Listis... you know about Lilydef?!” 

“Of course! It was one of the books gifted to us by Brunhild. I read it in one sitting because of how enthralling I found it. There aren’t many books like that in Triharan,” Princess Listis said that, then chuckled gently in response to Yumina’s question. 

Oh, right... We did do a book exchange with Triharan and Primula at one point, didn’t we? Pretty sure I didn’t oversee what titles we sent out, though. I think I just put Fam from the library in charge of that... Her and... 

I mouthed “Oh,” as my eyes met with Linze’s. 

“...So, what’s Lilydef? The book title or something?” 

“Hm? You don’t know, Grand Duke? It’s a nickname for a book series, the full title is Defenders of the Lily.” 

“...Oh!” I suddenly glared daggers at Linze, prompting her to stare down at the floor. She was sweating. 

I know I left it to you, but why’d you include Reliel’s books in our cultural exchange?! I know you’re a fan, but show some restraint! 

“Shannon’s the main character. She comes from the countryside and ends up in a spot of trouble at first, but she’s rescued by a handsome knight. Then she goes to train as a knight herself, only to find out that her savior is her senior instructor at the academy, and a girl to boot! Hoho, I suppose the situation mirrors Princess Reliel’s a little, doesn’t it?” 

“Uh, kinda... I... I guess...” 

Oh man, she wrote that story. To have it turn out like this... 

Yumina and Linze were barely able to contain their laughter. 

“You must’ve really enjoyed it... It’s a genre that isn’t super common even over here.” 

“I care little about genres. Interesting is interesting. As for romance, gender’s pretty trivial. So long as the love’s pure and simple, I think I can appreciate it no matter who’s pining for whom.” 

“That’s exactly it!” 

Out of nowhere, Reliel suddenly scrambled up and yelled. She knocked her chair over in the process, even. 

Calm down, lady! You scared the crap outta me! 

“That’s precisely what I wanted to portray in the book! Gender, age, race, social status... Love knows no bounds if it’s true love! You actually get it!” 

Yumina and I sort of stared quietly, while Linze nodded along with Reliel’s rant. 

“Oh my, Princess Reliel. You’re a fan of Lilydef as well? Isn’t it a nice series?” 

“Of course it is! I wrote it.” 

“...What?” Listis looked flabbergasted. And I felt a strange sense of déjà vu. 

“Oh, yes... Princess Reliel here is actually the author of Defenders of the Lily... Though she uses an alias...” 

For some reason, Linze almost sounded apologetic when introducing Reliel’s secret... I briefly wondered if it was okay for her to say that, though Reliel herself had just confessed, so it was probably fine. 

“Hm? Really?” 


“But... why would the princess of a great nation do such a thing?” 

“Because to write is to scratch the itch of creativity!” 

In a flash, Reliel had righted her fallen chair... only to stand on it and strike a flashy pose. She was getting way too amped up. It was hard to believe she was the same dead-eyed person as before. I was glad she felt better, but she needed to sit like a normal person. 

Princess Listis looked a little confused, so Linze tried to veer the subject back to something more normal. 

“Who’s your favorite character, princess?” 

“Hm? Oh, well... I think Crystelle is a fascinating character, but Freesia really has a cool, mysterious charm.” 

“That’s true! I should add more scenes with her! In truth, she’s—Oh wait, spoilers!” 

“Wait, I want to know! Is it related to the hooded figure in volume four?” 

“Oh, right! That person was obviously up to something.” 

“Hehehehe... It’s a secret!” 

The three girls were passionately chattering about the series, its lore, and its characters. Yumina and I were completely lost. Though Yumina knew bits and pieces, she was more interested in it casually and wasn’t a hardcore fan. 

“Uhhh... all’s well that ends well, I guess?” 

“I suppose so... Seems our worries weren’t necessary.” 

The three girls were gossiping with each other like old friends. They just seemed happy to have another person to share their interests with. That was probably good? 

I shrugged my shoulders casually, glad to be done with the whole situation. At that exact moment, my phone began to ring. I pulled it out of my pocket and saw the caller... It was Karen. 

Tsk... Showing up when things are finally good and done? Some use you are... Wait, did she not show up this whole time because it had nothing to do with love? Gimme a break! 

“Hey Karen, ’sup?” 

“Your big sis is in a teeeeeeny spot of trouble, Touya... Please help me...” 

Wait, what?! 

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