A certain day a few months later.
Queen Aura had the nth secret meeting with the envoy from the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell in a room of the palace.
Right now was the coolest season of the year in the Carpa Kingdom. The balmy sunlight, not getting hotter than twenty degrees during the day, shone in through the open windows and comfortably lightened up the room.
Aura’s morning sickness was gone, but in exchange her stomach had started to stand out. Clad in an unusual loose and red dress, she was sitting on the couch and calmly called out to the envoy from the Twin Kingdom sitting upright across from her.
“As you can see, I am pregnant. Forgive my sloppy attire.”
“No offense taken. I am extremely grateful to be granted an audience with Her Highness.”
The envoy from the Twin Kingdom replied with formal words to the utterance of the Queen and bowed respectfully.
The emissary was a middle-aged man clad in the formal clothes of the Twin Kingdom composed of the colours white and purple. He was a low-ranking nobility without peerage or land, but he was entrusted with an important task this time, so they must trust in his personality and abilities quite a bit.
And in fact, he retained his unruffled composure so far, even in the face of the Queen of a major power.
This was Aura’s fifth meeting with this man. Considering that he had come to the palace two month ago, five meetings seemed far too little compared to the importance of the discussed matter, but it was inevitable, since its concealment took priority.
When Aura, as the Queen of a country, repeatedly met a mere diplomatic messenger, even if the emissary was from a major power like the Twin Kingdom of Sharrow and Jilbell, in a one-on-one conversation, then others would speculate that “something serious has happened”.
Both countries had contrary interests, but they at least agreed on keeping the matter a secret.
“I am sure you know this already, but I cannot spare much time for you. Let us keep it brief and get started. Your Twin Kingdom sent us their blessing when my husband and I got married. You do not mean to take these words back, I take it?”
Just like she had informed him at the start, Aura immediately confronted him with overwhelming words and an overwhelming attitude.
“Why, of course not. My country has sincerely expressed their congratulations on your marriage. These words were by no means a deception.”
The emissary from the Twin Kingdom respectfully lowered his head, but answered without being daunted.
They had no intention to withdraw their congratulations on the wedding of Aura and Zenjirou. In other words, the Twin Kingdom expressed that they didn’t plan to intervene in regards to the child between them.
In a way, Aura accomplished her minimal goal by just squeezing that statement out of him. At least there was no longer any worry that they would meddle with the legitimate heir of the Carpa Kingdom. That was technically only natural, but Aura made a sigh of relief in her heart when she got a clear assurance. It was her biggest achievement in the last few month.
However, the emissary didn’t give her any time to rejoice and hacked at Aura with polite words.
“Zenjirou-sama has been acknowledged as a member of the Carpa Royal Family. Another country has no reason to meddle with his future plans. We are aware of that. However, we would like you to understand the viewpoint of our country as well.”
“…Certainly. It is not like I cannot relate to it.”
* * *
Around the same time. Zenjirou attended a ceremony in the reception hall of the palace, clad in the formal attire of the Carpa Kingdom with the main colour red that still didn’t seem to suit him all too much.
Another chair was set up next to the empty throne. This seat was reserved to Zenjirou.
Normally, it was common sense that the throne for the ruler differed from the chair for the consort next to it through an easily visible distinction in size or decoration, but the chair Zenjirou was currently sitting on was nearly identical with the throne in size, decoration and quality of the stones used for it.
This again showed the problematic treatment of the first “Prince Consort” in history.
(The Prince Consort can’t outdo the Queen, but as a woman, the Queen can’t outdo her husband. Aura really has been put in a tight spot)
Now that he attended an official event like this, he experienced firsthand how hard his beloved wife struggled in this troublesome position.
To be honest, the evaluating gazes of the nobles were a great burden on his shoulder, but this hardship wasn’t worth mentioning when he thought about how the pregnant Aura had taken this work on her own shoulders.
Zenjirou dazedly let his gaze wander over the present nobles without looking them into the eyes, and waited for the ceremony to end like a well-behaved doll.
In principle, the ceremonies he attended in Aura’s stead were all of the kind, where a person with a “royal” title only had to be present.
Ceremonies that involved complicated procedures or delicate conversations could only be left to Aura.
(I just have to wait silently and well-mannered for it to end)
Zenjirou told himself to do so while he kept a tidy, doll-like seating posture on top of his vice-throne made of red stone.
His only role was to greet the nobles with a wave of his hand when the civil official, leading this ceremony, called his name.
(He’s gonna call on me any moment now)
Listening to the clear words of the civil official, Zenjirou started to mentally prepare himself. At that moment.
“Today, you are in the very presence of His Gracious Majesty Zenjirou-sama, a representative of the Carpa Family. Everyone, please give His Highness a grand applause!”
Zenjirou was so surprised by the unexpected words from the master of ceremonies that he unconsciously let the air get stuck in his throat.
But this wasn’t the time to be surprised. When he looked at the face of the young civil official in charge of the ceremony, he didn’t feel any malice from his words said just now, but even so, he couldn’t leave it alone like this.
Originally, his task was only to silently wave his right hand now. He had no guarantee that acting here at his own discretion would be absolutely correct, but he could only muster his courage and proceed now that the situation called for an action.
Zenjirou lightly took a hold of the decorative bronze sword hanging down on the left side of his waist with his right hand, then reprimanded with a loud voice to suppress his nervousness.
“Correction! I am not here as a ‘representative of the Carpa Family’. I am here to ‘substitute for Her Highness Aura’, the one and only absolute ruler of the Carpa Kingdom!”
It were sharp and forceful words, quite different from the usual Zenjirou. Of course they didn’t come from the heart. It was a well-performed act, going to the utmost limits of his capacity.
However, by “putting his hand onto his sword”, he signalized that “he was prepared to bestow punishment depending on the circumstances”. As the young civil official had no way to read Zenjirou’s thoughts, it was too much for him.
The master of ceremonies turned pale in the face upon the unexpected scolding of the direct royalty and corrected himself.
“M- My deepest apologies! Let me amend it. You are in the very presence of Her Highness Aura’s husband Zenjirou-sama, acting as a ’proxy for Her Highness’!”
When he saw how the civil official was on the verge of collapsing, Zenjirou unconsciously felt like apologizing with the words “Sorry, I went too far”.
In fact, an outsider not in the know might outrage that a social superior was bullying a social inferior for a small mistake when hearing this.
And as a matter of fact, no small number of the assembled nobles here directed a look at Zenjirou that seemed to say exactly that.
However, this mistake was something Zenjirou could never overlook in his position.
“Substituting for Aura” at this place meant that he had Aura’s permission to be here after all.
On the other hand, being here as a “representative for the royal family” would imply that Zenjirou attended by the direct request of the organizer of this ceremony “without consulting with Aura”.
In other words, Zenjirou would be executing his power as a royalty. That, of all things, should never be happening. Even without using the metaphor that a little leak will sink a great ship, it was obvious that the best method to avoid instances like this was not to allow a single precedent to happen.
(Not good. I had anticipated it to some extent, but they already started to recognize me as royalty more than I had thought)
Zenjirou deliberately averted his eyes from the noisy nobles and stifled his inner impatience.
It was common that a banquet hosted by the organizer would follow after the ceremony.
Such an occasion gave many chances for informal conversation with the nobles, so Zenjirou did his best not to attend any, as not to make any mistakes, but today he actively had to make use of this occasion to accomplish a certain goal.
Hence, he had swapped the second formal attire for the slightly more casual third formal attire and walked around the reception hall, where the banquet was held, in midday.
Those of lower rank were not supposed to casually call out to someone of higher rank. Due to that etiquette, Zenjirou himself had no choice but to go around, calling out to people, when he wanted to accomplish his goal.
He vigorously walked around on the red carpet in his unfamiliar cloth shoes in pursue of his goal.
“Oh, who have we got here? Count Bologna, I have heard your name from my dear wife, saying that you are a capable civil official and a cultured person that embodies elegance.”
“Ah, Zenjirou-sama. I am highly delighted for the praising words.”
Zenjirou indiscriminately called out to the nobles in the banquet hall, whose faces he could match with a name.
“I am really fortunate to get to strike a conversation with you here, Zenjirou-sama. Thank you very much for your attending today’s ceremony.”
“Oh, don’t mention it. It was a direct order from my beloved wife, Her Highness Aura after all. As her subject and her husband, doing a service like this is only natural.”
He emphasised that he was here “on Aura’s order” in all respects.
“If you say so. However, you yourself started to leave the inner palace more often lately, did you not? As a retainer, I am truly pleased about that. I guess the desire to spread your wings by yourself prevailed.”
Although the banquet was an informal gathering, his phrasing sailed close to the wind and Zenjirou inwardly clicked his tongue in response to them while he wracked his brain to the limit to come up with the most suitable answer.
“No, it’s nothing like spreading my wings. I feel like a candle without its fire when my dear wife is away from the inner palace due to her duties, so I merely do it to distract me from the loneliness.”
Saying so, Zenjirou grinned broadly.
(Will this do? I hope he understands now that I’m head over heels for Aura)
The noble in front of him laughed loudly with his shoulders trembling, whether he knew of Zenjirou’s inner thoughts or not.
“Hahaha, oh my. You truly have a deep affection for Her Highness.”
“Yes. I never considered myself to be such the devoted type either. Be it asleep or awake, my head is always filled with my dear wife and the child in her stomach.
As shameful as it is, it even affects my work in a bad way. Good grief, it’s really troublesome.”
(I’m a useless guy lost in love now. I’m a useless guy lost in love now…) Repeatedly telling himself that, Zenjirou temporarily abandoned his emotional properties such as shame and pride, which originally should be treasured, and let ring out a desperate laughter.
Thanks to that, the looks directed at him from all directions started to fill with disappointment and contempt one by one.
* * *
Around dusk, Aura finished her meeting with the messenger from the Twin Kingdom and returned to the inner palace, only to see that her beloved husband wasn’t back yet.
It didn’t happen often that Aura returned before Zenjirou.
“Come to think of it, he is attending a ceremony in my stead today.”
Aura mumbled after recalling it, then she took an orange bath towel from the basket in the corner of the room and sat down on the couch.
She covered her stomach with the towel, as she had untied some straps of the dress there.
She was choosing loose-fitting dresses during her pregnancy, but as a Queen, she had to dress appropriately when she appeared in public.
With the straps around her waist loosened like this, she felt relieved. The bath towel was a caution to prevent her recently growing stomach to get cold.
As Aura slovenly sat back in the couch, she suddenly felt thirsty and raised a voice.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
Upon the Queen’s exclamation, a waiting maid immediately appeared from the next room, where she had been on stand-by.
Still leaning against the couch, Aura just directed her eyes at the young maid standing at attention and ordered her.
“I am thirsty. Bring me something to drink. Oh, and something light to snack as well.”
“Yes, very well.”
The young waiting maid bowed curt upon the Queen’s instructions, then she briskly opened the refrigerator in one corner of the room, poured water mixed with sugar and fruit syrup into a glass and put it onto the table.
“I will see about the snacks now. Do you have any requests?”
Aura mused a bit over the maid’s words and answered.
“Hmm… Something sweet, I guess. Oh, nothing fruity. And no need to hurry.”
“Yes, understood. Please wait a moment.”
The waiting maid bowed, then left the room.
Left behind, Aura took the glass from the table and drank its content.
The chilled, sweet and bitter drink refreshed her throat and she sighed satisfied.
“Mhm, recently it seems that my husband has gotten accustomed to the waiting maids, too. A development I really appreciate in terms of living conditions.”
Previously, Aura had refrained from calling the waiting maids into this room or the bedroom too often, in consideration to Zenjirou, who hated it when others intruded onto his private space, but ever since she became pregnant, Zenjirou was the considerate one instead and allowed the waiting maids to usually stay on alert near by.
Zenjirou had cooperated for the sake of the mother and child, but lately it seemed that he, too, became used to the waiting maids staying in the room next door. For Aura that had always been the norm, so she was pleased about it.
Of course she was ready to comply if he were to say “I can’t get used to it after all. Make them leave.”, but it surely was okay to exploit the good-will of her husband while she was pregnant.
Just when she put the glass back onto the table, she heard the clatter of the door opening behind her.
For a moment, she thought the waiting maid had already returned with her snack, but a maid would knock before entering the door without fail. There was only one person, who would open the door to this room without a knock or naming oneself.
Aura turned around on the couch and the face she expected greeted her.
“I’m home, Aura. How’re you?”
As he had attended an event as a substitute for Aura, Zenjirou was dressed in the formal attire for males in the Carpa Kingdom, a red vest over a white shirt embroidered with golden threads and wide trousers, and stood at the entrance of the room.
Since he had began to attend public events in Aura’s stead, this formal attire started to suit him more and more.
When Aura beheld the face of her returning husband— of Zenjirou, her mouth naturally formed a smile and she said with a bright voice.
“Yeah, all well. The morning sickness is gone now, too, so I had no interruptions with my duties today. Thanks to that everything went well.”
“Glad to hear.”
Replying with a smile, Zenjirou closed the door behind him, then swiftly walked over the carpet towards the clothes hook in the corner of the room.
After lightening himself by taking off the red vest and hanging it on the hook, he sat down next to Aura on the couch while fetching his own glass and a silver jar with fruit juice from the refrigerator on the way.
The temperature wasn’t all too hot, but as he was exhausted from the unfamiliar event, his body was sweating all over. He stretched his collar as wide as a finger and fanned air into it.
Looking at her husband, who threw his body, slackened from being relieved of the stress, onto the couch, Aura opened her mouth.
“How did it go on your end? You attended the ceremony, right? Did anything bother you?”
She asked him that every day, since he started to leave the inner palace. Aura herself knew that she was being overprotective, but better that than being too late when she neglected to confirm it with him. Fortunately, her husband agreed with that line of thought and didn’t treat it as a bother. He always answered “No, nothing in particular” with a smile.
However, today Zenjirou suddenly frowned and gave an answer different from usual with a serious expression.
“Yeah, about that, there was something.”
Did some problem occur? Aura tensed up from her husband’s behaviour, corrected her seating position on the couch and waited for his elaboration with a serious look.
“Actually, I was called a ‘representative for the royal family’ during the ceremony today. Instead of ‘your substitute’, you see.”
Zenjirou added that he immediately corrected it of course.
“That… is indeed a bit problematic.”
Aura showed the same grim expression as him upon his remark.
It had been a couple of months, since Zenjirou had started to attend ceremonies or evening parties in her stead.
Zenjirou himself hadn’t changed his stance of being nothing more than a substitute for the pregnant Aura, but when a male member of the royal family appeared at a public event by himself, then the culture of this country made it inevitable that some people would rather attach importance to Zenjirou, a man, than to Aura, a woman, even if she was the Queen.
Needless to say, Aura appeared in public more often than him, even now that she was pregnant. Zenjirou was only substituting for her in a few events that weren’t all that important and didn’t require decisions on the spot.
Nevertheless, rumours about a “power shift” spread when a male royalty acted as a proxy for the Queen. Their uneasiness and dissatisfaction about the Queen must have gained the upper hand after all, seeing as her duties were left undone due to her pregnancy.
Aura and Zenjirou looked at each other and opened their mouth nearly at the same time.
“If that happened intentionally, it will be problematic.”
“If that wasn’t intentionally, it’ll be a problem.”
The couple uttered completely opposite sentences, which seemed to be a bit similar though, at the same time and fell silent for a moment, then they tilted her heads puzzled.
The silence was broken by Zenjirou first.
“Ehm… Why’s it problematic when it was intentionally? Could you explain?”
“Well, think about it. Mistaking it on purpose means that he obviously intends to sow discord between us. How can that not be problematic? Why did you think that it would be problematic the other way round?”
Aura exposed her train of thought with clear words and asked for his opinion next.
On the other hand, Zenjirou, too, properly put his thoughts into words, albeit not as distinct as Aura.
“Yeah, when he didn’t do it on purpose, it means that the people of the palace have unconsciously started to see me as a ‘single member of the royal family’ instead of ‘your substitute’. And going by the values of this country, I thought that some people would complain that I’m your puppet.”
Even if she was the Queen and he her consort, the patriarchic society of the Carpa Kingdom didn’t appreciate it when the man was subjected to the woman. So far, it had only been overlooked, since Aura had achieved actual results and Zenjirou had a dubious origin of a different world.
In the worst case, the palace might split into conflicting parties, the “Queen’s followers” and the “Prince Consort’s followers”.
And even more troublesome was the fact that the people, who tried to dismiss Aura and install Zenjirou, actually had valid reason to do so at the present time.
In this world, royalty equalled being a user of a bloodline magic. The count of the royal family contributed to the strength of the country in equal measure.
However, the current royal family of the Carpa Kingdom only consisted of two people: Aura and Zenjirou. Inevitably, it was desirable that the two of them made as much children as possible. But in that case, the mother aka Aura would repeat pregnancies and deliveries over a long period of time.
Under these circumstances, it was more efficient when Zenjirou assumed the official duties while Aura concentrated on giving birth to healthy children.
That certainly made sense. Although only when Zenjirou’s capacity to govern was on par with Aura’s.
Anyway, Aura understood what Zenjirou was getting at.
She leaned her pregnant body against the backrest of the couch and sighed deeply.
“I see now. You want to say that the change in the perception of everyone, where they unconsciously mistake it, is a greater problem than the scheming of a few people, who mistake it intentionally.”
“Yeah. At least I think so. Well, in my opinion, it was only a matter of time anyway, now that I went outside.”
Answering like that, Zenjirou shrugged his shoulders a bit while he still sat slovenly on the couch.
“Certainly. Then let us carefully exchange information from now on as a countermeasure, so that we do not fall victim to rumours or schemes to alienate us.”
“Yeah. Also, I shouldn’t take a position, where I’ve free access to power and capital. If you were to propose that, it would give you a bad reputation, namely ‘infringing your husband’s rights’, so we ought to extensively highlight the stance that I ‘rejected any bothersome stuff‘ from my end.”
Zenjirou was already taking the blame for the concubine matter and now he casually declared that he would take the blame himself again.
“Hmm… That certainly is the best solution. Still…”
Aura unconsciously made a bitter face, but she found it hard to object, since she realized that doing as he said was the most beneficial for the royal family.
However, by doing so, his current bad reputation of “a fool head over heels for the Queen” due to rejecting concubines, would be extended by “a lazy fellow that hates work”.
Joined together it became “a lazy fellow that didn’t work and was smitten by a woman”. Well, considering that he ran away to a different world to break away from his salaryman life after falling in love with Aura at first sight, that evaluation might be surprisingly fitting.
Zenjirou then added, as to give his wife, who just couldn’t bring herself to honestly agree, a last push.
“On my way back here, I consulted Secretary Fabio about it and he, too, said that it would be ‘acceptable‘.”
Since he himself had brought it up and even her loyal retainer approved it, Aura couldn’t deny it anymore. All the more, since she herself understood its effectiveness as long as she just ignored her feeling of guilt.
In the end, Aura nodded while making a sigh.
“Fine. Then I will presume upon your goodwill again. Still, it seems it is going well with Fabio. I am relieved. He is quite capable, but not so much affable, so I was a bit worried.”
Zenjirou quickly averted his eyes upon the unexpected topic change and answered murmuring while looking the other way.
“Yeah, well, it is ‘going well’. Though we’re not ‘getting along well‘…”
Aura unconsciously smiled in response to her husband’s obvious sullen face.
“Glad to hear. If you were able to ‘get along well’ with that man, then I would be unable to find any peace of mind, since I would have to deal with two men of his calibre, one at work and one at home.”
At first, Aura started with a playful tone, but in the end she practically spit the words out. Apparently she had accumulated more retorts about the blunt way of speaking from her loyal retainer, than she had thought.
Zenjirou discerned from her tone that they both seemed to have the same sentiment towards the man called Fabio, and faced his wife again with a relaxed expression.
“Right. One of him is enough.”
“Yes. But one is necessary. To be honest, he sometimes ticks me off, but he is valuable, since he is not afraid to speak about unpleasant matters with me. Even more so when it is done out of good intent instead of malice. Try to get on with him as well as possible.”
“Okay. I’ll get along with him ‘as well as possible’.”
He didn’t bother to hide the wry smile on his face as he nodded.