Chiara and Ryuu intercepted me at the door as I arrived at my suite. Their guest rooms were in the same building and floor, and I more-or-less expected they would come, so it wasn’t a surprise.
As we entered, my footman Khaulmar bowed deeply and stated, “Welcome home, Your Highness, and welcome to your guests.”
“It’s good to be back,” I said, choosing to not comment on the ‘home’ part of that greeting.
As Austrydhur showed Ryuu and Chiara to the couch, Khaulmar asked, “Shall I serve a refreshment, Your Highness?”
I thought, then wondered, “Is there cold beer?”
Was it okay for a princess to want a beer?
The catkin footman bowed again while shaking his head. “I can call over to the dining hall, Your Highness. We lack refrigeration in this building. We do have Atian altbier, and some excellent barleywine from Brosia.”
With all the modern amenities I had seen in this valley, I had hoped the suite had a refrigerator. I had been kicking myself ever since my first visit here for not realizing that I could probably get a proper cold beer in Tëan Tír.
I comforted myself with the news that it was indeed available in the area, then told him, “Sake, then.”
“Of course,” he bowed, and then nodded to Pirkitta, who opened a cabinet and began withdrawing items. He turned back to me and asked, “Shall I take your sword, Your Highness?”
“Of course,” I smiled as I untied the sword obi. Once he took it, I sat in the highback chair opposite my visitors.
The suite’s decor was Atian (Western) style, but between us sat a wide coffee table that was practically a Dorian low dining table. Pirkitta knelt to pour the beverage into large sake cups. She bowed and withdrew after she finished distributing them, leaving the remainder behind in a gorgeous white jade flask.
As I leaned back with my cup in hand, I asked. “Are you two here to ask about this side trip we’ve been ordered on?”
Lady Chiara looked at Ryuu, who had a scowl on his face. But, unusual for him, it was a pensive scowl. Ryuu rarely thinks before talking.
“Are we really going?” he finally asked. “This guy ordering us to go isn’t the king we work for. Owen sent us to the Tabad.”
His response relieved me. I had posed my question as a sort of test. I honestly didn’t want to return to the subject of who I was, and whether I was properly Tiana at all. During dinner, I had answered several questions about that, explaining that I possessed Tiana’s memories as if having lived her life, and Mother had stressed that she considered me to be legitimately her daughter, and I was done with that subject.
But his reponse also bothered me, because Ryuu’s dedication to his job as a hero is a bit of a mystery.
I’ve always been a little suspicious of the mysterious Hero Summoning rite that brought him to us. It gave him a growth cheat and a language cheat, but I wondered if it didn’t also do something to his mind to make him loyal to Uncle Owen or perhaps simply fanatical about the mission Owen gave him.
It wasn’t Tiana questioning it. It was Robert who, like other readers, objected to how easily Ryuu accepted becoming the hero for foreigners in a foreign world.
He did not seem to have had a hero complex when he arrived. He had been just an unambitious homebody living off the inheritance from his deceased parents. Despite that, he had only given token complaints about being abducted from his comfy life, or about being conscripted to fight for a kingdom that wasn’t his own, and he had cooperated with training from the start, despite his complaints.
Worse, it only took one incident to move him from reluctance to dedication.
For training purposes, the captain of the temple guard had brought him along to escort the priestess (the one whom every reader considered suspicious as f&#k, and who became his first conquest before the end of volume one). She needed to perform a purification at the ruins of her hometown, which demons had destroyed.
They stumbled across an active demon nest and Ryuu had barely survived the experience, saving the priestess in the process. He dedicated himself to his job after that, and no matter how you sliced it, it was too fast a change of heart. Such an experience would have convinced most rational people to run as hard as they could in the opposite direction.
The author had suggested Ryuu was actually playing it like a game. He had been a dedicated gamer, but that didn’t really add up.
This life was nothing like a video game. It lacked too many game elements. He had no item box or status window. He had no leveling system, and while he did rapidly improve, he wasn’t grinding ‘exp’ to do so. He improved equally well from training or from real combat.
Really, Huade was just a harsh life forced upon him, along with crushingly heavy expectations from the crown.
Despite it, he served that crown loyally, so I had to phrase my answer in a way that appealed to that loyalty.
“My mother is Owen’s concubine, and her duchy Pendor is a major component of Owen’s kingdom.”
“But it’s still your mother’s mission, not King Owen’s mission,” he countered.
I would have been glad of the fight he was showing now, if it didn’t feel forced. Was he trying to somehow get his mojo back through defiance? Show that he wasn’t beaten down like we thought? He’d been criticized repeatedly lately, including at dinner, so it wouldn’t be surprising.
“It’s the defense of King Owen’s subjects,” I insisted. “So it’s a mission in the King’s service.”
“Can Ryuu and I even contribute anything?” Chiara wondered. “I mean, if your mother needs a fairy knight, it means the enemy has sent one, doesn’t it?”
“The problem isn’t a fairy knight,” I answered while shaking my head. “Each side already has one in place. Parna’s remaining fairies are both tied up facing loyalist forces on his northern front, so only the Count of East Pendor’s fairy is facing Mother’s troops. There will be no additional fairies showing up against Pendor’s army.”
“So why are you needed?”
“We are needed to deal with a problem in the Oserine Highlands. That’s the wilderness full of forest, mountains and erratic mana springs on the Duchy’s northern border. Mother had to move part of the force guarding its perimeter to the front line with East Pendor, and now, something has happened to rile up the monsters living there. We need to investigate so that Pendor’s people can do something about it.”
Ryuu frowned. “That sounds very open-ended, and it sounds like it will take more than just days to deal with.”
“We only have to start the job,” I answered. “When Mother finishes, she’ll come to relieve us. Our real job is to demonstrate the power of the Duchy for her, before her people lose morale. By the time she can go herself, it might be too late.”
I took a sip of sake while the other two thought it over. To my delight, I discovered it was a magic type, brewed from spirit rice and rich with mana.
“Can we really be of help?” he wondered. “You could just fly there now and deal with all of this without us. We’re a handicap, right?”
I smiled. “Dilorè and I could also pick you two up and fly you there.”
Chiara’s eyes grew. She’d already experienced a short flight in my arms, from the lake to the demon camp, but Anto to Osery is nearly two hundred miles.
I nodded. “Yeah, that would be a little tough, at that distance. And actually, I don’t even know if Dilorè is up to it. Or if either Dilorè or I are able to carry someone as big as Mr. Kowa long distances. So we’ll go to Anto and see about this ‘swift transport’ that the king mentioned.”
Chiara collected Ryuu’s empty cup so she could pour refills. I drained mine and added it to theirs, so she refilled it as well.
As I watched her pour, I commented, “But you asked if you can be of any help. Monsters are threatening mortal settlements, and there’s a shortage of Pendorian guardsmen to protect those settlements. My plan is to fly ahead and meet with the commanders on the ground while you two are on your way, so I can steer you to the place where you can be of the greatest help.”
“We’re not going to stay with you?” Ryuu asked. “That Fairy King fellow told you to bring us along.”
I smiled. “I’m interpreting that order as ‘bring you to Pendor and have you help’. I can only be in one place at a time, so a fighting swordsman and mage team can obviously be of help to the Pendorians in a second location. You and Chiara can protect Mother’s citizens while Dilorè and I are searching for the source of the problem.”
Chiara smiled as she returned my cup. “So you are interpreting your orders liberally.”
“I’m exercising my authority as Owen’s royal knight in the way that best protects his subjects,” I stated as I sat back in my chair.
I took a sip of the sake and considered Ryuu. “Mr. Kowa, that language enchantment that you received with the summons, does it only work with Ostish?”
Ryuu shook his head. “I can learn any language as long as humans speak it.”
Chiara grew astonished. “What’s this?”
I told her, “The summoning spell that brought him to our world had some exotic effects. You heard me mention the growth charm. He also has a language charm.”
“When I first arrived, I couldn’t speak Ostish,” Ryuu told her. “When her mother spoke, and a couple elves spoke, I didn’t understand a word. It wasn’t until the King and the Princess spoke to me that I began understanding. And it took hours before I could speak in full sentences.”
“Mm,” I thought about it. “So you can’t understand Fairy, because you would have only heard Dilorè and I speak it to each other. And as for Dorian…”
“I don’t understand it yet,” he stated, shaking his head. “I’ve heard the maids around here speak it to each other, but even though some of them look human, I haven’t started learning yet.”
“That makes sense,” I mused. “Any human-looking maids you see will be either half-fairies, half-elves or half-dwarves.”
Ryuu scowled. “Do fairies have something against humans?”
“Humans would not make good servants for fairies,” I explained. “They become fairy-touched too easily.”
Actually, many of them do dislike humans, but I chose to not confirm that.
Instead, I added pointedly, “That’s why you should avoid becoming intimate with any full-blooded fairies. The king has ordered them to keep their hands off while you’re here, but fairies aren’t good at following orders.”
His scowl deepened. I wondered if he understood how serious that threat was.
Getting back to the subject, I said, “If you don’t know Dorian yet, how come you know it works with other languages?”
There weren’t a lot of other languages in Orestania. A few places he had not visited yet still spoke their original languages in rural areas, but it was all Ostish and Dorian in most parts, including everywhere he had gone so far.
“Before I met you, a couple knights spent a week talking to me in Regaritan. I guess they thought I would head straight to the empire, so they wanted to make sure I became fluent.”
I told Chiara, “You learned Dorian in knight training, right?”
“Actually, I learned it from my father’s tutors when I was young,” she answered with a tight smile..
“Then start speaking to Mr. Kowa only in Dorian,” I told her. “Most Pendorians don’t speak Ostish fluently.”
With that, I had covered my main concern and I guess Ryuu had covered his. With little else to discuss, I soon bid them good night.
In my fairy sense, I felt them heading down the hall the same direction. I raised an eyebrow when they both entered Ryuu’s room, then decided to stop paying attention after that.