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The Forbidden Fruit 13

The Forbidden Fruit 13

The Forbidden Fruit

Translator: Kuromaru

Editor: Evelet

Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!

Chapter 13: The Sage’s Domain

The meeting ended on a more cordial note than I had expected. That night, a banquet was held in the royal castle to celebrate our arrival. It was small in size yet very considerate.

A majestic chandelier hung from the ceiling. The carpet beneath our feet was beautifully woven, the white flowers on the table swayed gracefully, and the dishes served one after another were elaborate. Perhaps because only a few vassals whom King Neuschler trusted were invited to the banquet, mainly from the Mutani tribe, the guards seemed to be taking it easy.

By the time the desserts were on the table, the atmosphere naturally turned pleasant. In the corner of the venue where such a friendly atmosphere prevailed, away from the groups of people drinking and chatting, someone was gazing intently at a certain spot.

“…Hmm.”

Taiga Uru. Known as the Black Panther Commander. The fang of the Kingdom of Lidsalessaloth. His golden eyes were fixed on his beloved King Neuschler and the smiling Princess Shirayuki next to him. And then there was Jolga von Oswein, the Knight Commander of the Palcemith Kingdom, who was conversing intimately with the said King. The brother of an old friend, disguised as a girl, and a handsome man of mature age, whom most young men in Palcemith had admired at one point or another.

Suddenly noticing something, Jolga reached out and gently touched King Neuschler’s hair as he called out to him. A single white petal was plucked from between his locks. It must have fallen from one of the flowers decorating the table.

When a smile appeared on Jolga’s face, the vassals who were standing near King Neuschler involuntarily let out a gasp of admiration. The blind but handsome King Neuschler, flanked by a beautiful girl and a majestic knight. What a picturesque scene.

A sigh of forlorn resignation escaped Taiga’s lips as he silently averted his gaze from the attention-grabbing trio. He slipped through the balcony’s door and stepped outside like a feline1, moving without any presence. 

I picked up a glass of wine and followed as I continued to secretly observe him. I was curious about what he was thinking as he stood there under the twinkling stars of the night sky. When I stepped out onto the balcony, Taiga, who naturally noticed my presence, leisurely turned around.

“…Lord Sage.”

“Fufufu, I told you that moniker is a bit much.”

I stood next to Taiga and peered down at the castle town. The town was relatively quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of the day. The lights gathering in the centre of the town and the sounds of musical instruments on the breeze were probably from a party to lure yazus again tonight.

“It’s such a nice, functional town. It makes so much sense.”

“…It’s all thanks to His Majesty.”

“Indeed. But you know what I mean, don’t you?”

My lips lifted in a grin as I looked at Taiga. His eyes narrowed slightly. He looked down at me in silence as if he was assessing me. I pressed my lips to the wine glass in my hand and took a sip. A sweet, fragrant aroma wafted between us.

“A birdcage. If one is constantly pressured to do something, the mind grows weary. Therefore, what is needed is….real, tangible results. A cage to hold the blind bird.”

“…!”

Taiga’s body stiffened noticeably.

“Commander Taiga. What did your former friend, Prince Susanoi, declare to you?”

“…”

“Prince Susanoi tried to heal King Neuschler’s eyes by obtaining the spirit mirror from the Great Serpent. So, did he tell you why exactly he wanted to do that?”

“…Can no one keep a secret from you?”

“Not really. There are many things I do not understand. However, everything has a cause and effect. As long as they aren’t out of impulse, someone’s actions — even if they are difficult to understand — have meaning. Although Prince Susanoi had the means to defeat the serpent if he had waited another year, albeit at a small cost, he didn’t wait. ‘I want to heal my friend’s eyes,’…Sure, that’s a noble goal. However, if that was all, it would be impossible. It isn’t something he could choose easily. All the more, considering his status.”

So, there must be a reason for it. It was only logical to assume that Prince Susanoi had something to gain that he could not get otherwise.

“…He said that he loved him,” Taiga muttered. As I was an outsider, the Black Panther Commander could easily permit himself to express his feelings.

“He told me that he loved Nora. They were both destined to lead their countries, so he knew they could never be together. That’s why he couldn’t lie about his feelings for him. He just wanted to tell Nora that he had feelings for him…He said that he would try to rekindle the light in Nora’s eyes as proof of his unwavering devotion to him.”

“Hmm…as I had suspected.”

“I could only nod my head… I myself wished to be able to show Nora the white flowers.”

By all accounts, it was obvious that Taiga loved King Neuschler. And perhaps King Neuschler loved him too. If one wished to come between those two, they would certainly need to be prepared and willing to pay a considerable price.

“He was a strong man. I knew that even without the Dragon Slaughtering Sword, Susanoi would surely be able to defeat the giant snake. I was both looking forward to and dreading the day when the report would come… but…”

“…You were informed that Prince Susanoi failed in defeating the serpent.”

“Yes.”

Taiga took the glass I offered him and downed the rest of the wine in one gulp.

“I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t the kind of guy who would let a single-headed serpent get the better of him. Nora was devastated, and I felt a hole inside of me.”

“Then, you proposed to help Hinoe with defeating the snake.”

“We indeed wish to avenge him, but we also want to expand our territory. Lidsalessaloth doesn’t produce many crops. If we can get a portion of Hinoe’s land as a reward for our help, it will contribute greatly to our food supply.”

“…I see.”

I pushed the bridge of my glasses up a little with my fingertips and slowly glanced at Taiga through the lenses.

It was a breath-taking gesture from such a hulking man. I pretended not to notice as I loosened my cravat slightly, revealing the brightly coloured marks on my neck that my cute little dog had playfully left.

“I have a suggestion.”

“…”

“After we go to Hinoe and successfully defeat the Great Serpent, I was thinking of offering one of the Spirit Mirrors to King Neuschler.”

“What…?”

“Princess Shirayuki won’t object if I were to say that it was the late Prince Susanoi’s wish….or what do you think, Commander Taiga?”

These words were like driving a wedge; such was the power of language.

“…What did you see earlier that made you sigh?”

A young king flanked by a beautiful knight and a lovely princess. It resembled the days he used to spend with his old friend.

“I heard that Prince Susanoi was also a dignified and beautiful young man. So, alongside King Neuschler, I’m sure that…”

It looked far more fitting than standing beside Taiga, with his beastly appearance and scarred physique.

“…I’m sure that they made a good match.”

“…!”

Commander Taiga bit his lip.

…This was like a “parting gift” from Prince Susanoi.

A young man from another country appeared between King Neuschler and Taiga, who until then were okay with only having each other. Taiga, who had never cared about his outward appearance before, must have realized this for the first time.

He was a man of no particular beauty, serving beside a beautiful king. But when Susanoi, who became their friend, held the hand of his beloved king… It was like a painting. Like the beginning of a story. Like two lovers who were destined for each other.

I appealed to Taiga, telling him that this was the way it should be. As he hesitated, I spun my words further.

“Once his sight returns, the birdcage will become useless.”

“…”

“The King’s world will expand farther and farther…far beyond your reach.”

“…What should I do?”

Taiga muttered, revealing his true feelings.

If I could get this out of him, then all I had to do now was to give him a light push.

“What should I do…? What do you want me to do, Lord Sage?”

“Hmm? That isn’t for me to decide.”2

I took my leave and left a silent Taiga on the balcony, returning indoors with an empty glass in my hand. As soon as I crossed the doorway into the room, an arm reached out from the shadow of the curtain, but I did not fight it. I was immersed in the intoxicating feeling of his lips on top of mine as we were hidden within the blind spot created by the gap between the wall and the curtain.

“…hmm.”

“fu…”

I wrapped my arms around his thick neck and pulled him in again. When I begged for more, he strongly rubbed the branding mark hidden by my hair with his fingers.

“Ngh…!”

“Good grief, I can’t take my eyes off you for a second…”

A resigned sigh escaped the lips of my dearest lover.

“I told you numerous times to break your habit of flirting with other men. Do you really want my sword to draw blood?”

“Fufufu, well, you seemed to be having such a good time with King Neuschler, didn’t you? It was quite a sight to see you entertaining Princess Shirayuki too.”

“You were the one who told me to do it… Though I don’t know what you’re scheming exactly.”

“I was simply trying to show them where their wavering emotions were leading them. Well, I certainly… allowed myself to get drugged.”

While resting my body on Jolga’s chest, I fiddled with the empty wine glass.

What I had in my mouth was not poisonous. It was more like a kind of herbal medicine.

“How was King Neuschler? Did he have any reaction?”

“Yeah, he had been keeping an eye on both of you since you went out to the balcony. It’s amazing how a blind man can observe so much from just movements.”

“Hmm, I see… If it’s like that, then it might be the opposite.”

“…the opposite?”

I nodded back at the puzzled Jolga. Then, we returned to the banquet hall, looking around us, waiting for a moment when no one was paying attention.

It was already late in the evening, time for children to go to bed. Princess Shirayuki bid farewell to King Neuschler before taking his leave. After receiving a kiss on the cheek from him, he returned to the room that had been provided for him.

The end of the banquet was approaching, and the hall was becoming more and more empty. I walked over to King Neuschler, who was sitting in the guest of honour’s seat pondering something, and softly called out to him.

“Your Majesty.”

“Hmm? Ah, Lord Sage… Is there something you wish to talk about? If it is related to interstate affairs, we can discuss it tomorrow.”

“No, not at all, Your Majesty… I would like to humbly offer a proposal.”

“A proposal…?”

“Indeed. If you’ll excuse me, I need to borrow your ear for a moment…”

I gently bent down beside him. I covered my mouth with my hand and whispered my proposal to him.

King Neuschler opened his blue eyes, which had no light in them.


Author’s Notes:

The herbal drug is a decoction of Muira Puama root.

The Forbidden Fruit 13

The Forbidden Fruit 12

The Forbidden Fruit

Translator: Kuromaru

Editor: Evelet

Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!

Chapter 12: There are No Fish in Clear Water

Nephimen, the capital of Lidsalessaloth, was a heavily fortified city surrounded by a perimeter of black walls.

When the sun set, the jet-black gates of the city were closed and the city itself melted into the darkness. Meanwhile, many bonfires were lit within a sniper’s range from the top of the city walls, avoiding the streets.

In Lidsalessaloth, there were a large number of demonic beasts called “Yazu” which looked like giant centipedes. During the day, they would hide deep underground, but at night, they would crawl out looking for prey. These carnivorous beasts were extremely ferocious, with poisonous fangs and countless legs, and they could move as fast as a horse. A one-on-one encounter with one of these creatures would be life-threatening even for an adult, unless one was a soldier.

“Yazu, the demonic beasts, practically reigned over the night of Lidsalessaloth. It was King Neuschler, of all people, who solved this problem that had been plaguing the Kingdom.”

As we passed through the castle’s gates in a horse-drawn carriage, I pointed out through the window and directed Princess Shirayuki’s and Jolga’s gazes to the top of the castle walls. There, lined up at regular intervals on the wall, were stationary crossbow artillery, the so-called ballista. It was daytime, so there were only a few patrolling soldiers on the walls. However, at night there would probably be more on duty.

“The predatory behaviour of the yazu occurs mostly at night when there is no light. Snakes, for example, are said to search for their prey by sensing their body temperature in the dark. But how do the yazu find their prey in the geothermal environment of Lidsalessaloth? That had been an unanswered question for many years.”

King Neuschler gathered information on the yazu from the frontier guards and his Mutani allies and analyzed their behavioural patterns. He wondered if they smelled their prey, if they picked up on sounds, or if they had incredibly good eyesight. It turned out that yazus, who had been the subject of various hypotheses, were searching for their prey in a way that only the blind King Neuschler could understand.

“It was through vibrations. The slight vibrations produced by a person walking on the ground. The yazus used these vibrations to determine the size and location of their prey. And even used them to guide them to the said prey.”

“Vibrations…? How is that possible?”

I nodded back at Princess Shirayuki, whose eyes widened.

“There are many creatures whose senses are far keener than ours. Humans tend to rely on sight for most of their information gathering, but when you’re blind like King Neuschler, your senses of hearing, smell, and touch are much sharper. In fact, it is said that King Neuschler can grasp the general topography of his surroundings by the vibrations transmitted from his cane that he carries around with him.”

“…That’s amazing.”

“Of course, it has to do with years of practice and good sense. In the past, there was a blind man who rose to become the head of an assassin’s guild… If you’re not careful because your opponent is blind, you’re bound to get hurt.”

The carriage carrying us soon approached the heart of the city. In the centre of the circular plaza sat a conspicuous steel-coloured stage.

“That’s the key to counteracting the yazus.”

“That huge steel plate?”

“The steel stage has a special structure so that when people walk or bounce on it, the vibrations are transmitted through steel wires buried underground to several crystal blocks set up around the outside of Nephimen’s walls. The crystals have a strange property that allows them to amplify the vibrations according to the pressure applied… I won’t go into all the details, but simply put, they can amplify the vibrations that are transmitted.”

“I see.”

Jolga rubbed his chin with his fingers and let out a low rasp.

“So, it’s a decoy, huh?”

“…Fufu~ You’re right, Jolga. As one would expect from you.”

I casually touched Jolga’s thick arms as he sat next to me. As I traced the ridge of muscle, which I could feel even through the fabric of his clothes, with my palm, Jolga glanced down at me and smiled a little. Of course, we could not just openly mess around in front of the young Princess Shirayuki. Though, in a way, I did not mind this sort of playfulness.

“A party is held every night in Nephimen’s central plaza. Citizens who have finished their work for the day and soldiers who are off-duty join together to enjoy a drink. The majority of the costs are provided by the military’s budget. So, not only is it cheap to drink, but the King personally endorsed dancing and jumping on the stage to the music. Interesting, isn’t it?”

“The vibrations of the citizens dancing are transmitted to the crystals placed outside the wall, and the amplified vibrations lure the yazus in, right?”

“Yes. Dancing for too long can damage the legs, so the parties are supposed to be held until the moon reaches its zenith. For the yazus, who move underground during the day and roam the earth at night, searching for prey by vibration, the area around Nephimen is like a feast. Crystals were set up in a way that avoids the road and bonfires are lit beside them. When they are lured in and show themselves, they are shot with the ballista(s) from atop of the city walls.”

Thanks to the establishment of a safe method of exterminating them, the number of people affected by their predation had decreased dramatically during the reign of King Neuschler. In the morning, the carcasses of the yazus exterminated during the night were collected from around the city walls, and their outer shells, fangs, venom, and other materials were sold to the merchant’s guild for processing. It was a pretty good system.

“In terms of his qualifications as a ruler, King Neuschler is certainly a great one. But even so, the reason he is known as the ‘Evil King’ wasn’t only because he murdered his father with his own hands.”

For example, the nobles who attempted to assassinate King Neuschler, the bureaucrats who embezzled the aid money set aside for the citizens, or the husband who turned on his wife for cheating on him and assaulted her. No matter how great or small the offence was, and no matter how high or low the offender’s status was, King Neuschler gave only one verdict.

“…Beheading.”

The corrupt nobles, who had learned to fear the words of the Blind King, fled the country in droves, and Lidsalessaloth overflowed with lordless lands. King Neuschler took possession of the abandoned territories and rented them out to the impoverished peasants at a low price. As a result, the rate of food production in Lidsalessaloth surged, the industry flourished, and the treasury, which had nearly run out due to the previous King’s folly, was enriched as a result.

“…And yet, King Neuschler’s decisions were, and still are, the only ones that matter.”

Was it white or black?

Nothing or something?

King Neuschler’s leadership was terrifying because it was so monotonous. He was not asking for anything difficult, nor was he expecting any compensation.

‘Just live right, and we’ll protect you.’

That was what the Mutani, led by King Neuschler and Commander Taiga, claimed to be doing.

“…Truly, my thoughts are like those of an evil king.”

Jolga nodded his head in agreement with what I said, while Princess Shirayuki looked puzzled. If this had been a year ago, Jolga would have had the same reaction as Princess Shirayuki. It would seem that he has become accustomed to my toxic influence and has become quite flexible in his thinking. I’ll have to praise him later.

“Princess Shirayuki. As you are a member of the royal family, you should remember this. It is said that ‘fish will not live in water that is too clean​.’1 Clarity can be good to a certain extent, but too much of it can be bad.”

And it will always lead to distortion somewhere.

In the meantime, the carriage had passed through the castle’s gates and was parked at the bottom of the stairs leading to the entrance of the royal castle. We were greeted by the man we had just met, Taiga. He gave us all a polite bow welcoming us as honoured guests and then held out his hand to Princess Shirayuki to gently escort him. Rather than the joy of capturing a hostage, his golden eyes showed a quiet gaze that suggested a sense of loneliness.

‘…It is so easy to see through the feelings of young people, it’s no fun.’

Taiga led us to the King’s throne room, which also served as an audience chamber.

As we had discussed earlier, we had only the young attendant known as Asagi standing by Princess Shirayuki’s side. By placing Asagi, who was the most helpless among the attendants, at the side of Princess Shirayuki, we were showing that we had no hostile intentions.

Before opening the door leading to the King’s throne room, the soldiers on either side of the doors quickly stepped back, leaving Taiga and the four of us alone. It seemed that it was true what they said about King Neuschler not needing guards.

The massive doors opened up to reveal an unadorned room with an industrial interior in a black and white colour scheme. Sitting comfortably on the throne in the centre was a young man with a handsome face.

Neuschler Ladav Heine: The First Prince of Lidsalessaloth and usurper to the throne.

“Your Majesty, I have brought the honoured guests from the Kingdom of Palcemith and the Kingdom of Hinoe.”

Taiga’s voice tone was soft as he spoke to King Neuschler. That alone indicated a deep relationship based on trust.

“Thank you, Taiga. Honoured guests, you have travelled a long way to get here.”

King Neuschler stood up from his throne and walked down the steps without hesitation to stand on the same level as us.

From the temples of his well-rounded face, a reddish-black scar cut through the centre of his eyes and the bridge of his nose. A glimpse of deep blue like the depths of the ocean could be seen through the thinly opened eyelids.

“…I am the King of Lidsalessaloth, Neuschler Ladav Heine. I am delighted to meet you.”

“Anderheim Yucht Asbal, former Prime Minister of the Palcemith Kingdom.”

“Jolga Von Oswein, Knight Commander of the Kingdom of Palcemith. It is an honour to have an audience with you, Your Majesty.”

“My name is Shirayuki, the third daughter of Motonari Sasaragi, King of Hinoe.”

“…So you are Princess Shirayuki. And the attendant next to you is…”

“My name is Asagi. I am Princess Shirayuki’s personal attendant.”

During a formal self-introduction in the audience chamber, Princess Shirayuki’s attendant, Asagi, was not considered a guest and thus should not raise his voice. It was only when King Neuschler called out to him that he was allowed to introduce himself. By the way, in terms of status, I was not so different from Asagi. Now that I had retired from both the positions of Prime Minister and Lord. However, for some reason, my attitude somehow got me pardoned here.

“Asagi, huh? That’s a good name.”

Good. King Neuschler’s expression relaxed slightly.

The reason Shirayuki did not shake off King Neuschler’s hand that was slowly extended to his cheek was that Neuschler’s fingertips did not contain even a hint of hatred or calculation, only a slight sense of nostalgia, just like Taiga’s had.

Although his eyes widened, he only moved slightly and allowed King Neuschler’s fingertips to touch his cheek, the bridge of his nose, and under his eyes. The pads of his fingers traced softly.

“…Ah, I knew it. You resemble him.”

Someone he lost.

A small smile upon finding the remnants of a dear friend.

“Princess Shirayuki… Susanoi’s precious sibling.”

King Neuschler looked up and fixed his unseeing gaze on the area where Jolga and I were standing.

“Is it okay to…?”

Technically, Prince Susanoi, King Neuschler, and Taiga were supposed to be strangers.

King Neuschler nodded silently in response to my question, confirming that it was okay not to hide it.

“It does not matter. If the last Sage is here, there is no point in hiding anything. It would be to our detriment.”

“Fufu~ You overestimate me a little too much, Your Majesty.”

“Humble. It is a shame to let such a genius go just because he has retired. If you come to Lidsalessaloth, I can assure you of preferential treatment.”

“…Will you please stop your enthusiastic attempts to woo our country’s most valued advisor?”

Jolga, who intervened between King Neuschler and me, looked a little miffed.

“…You are Commander Jolga, aren’t you? My Commander-in-chief, Taiga, has proclaimed that he could not defeat you, even though he had not even tried to face you. He said that even if he were to use his ‘berserk form,’ he still would not be able to. I would love to experience that level of valour at least once in person.”

“Oh my, are you trying to woo the cornerstone of our military power? I’m sorry, but you can’t have him.”

I made a show of shielding Jolga, but inadvertently, I leaned against his chest and pressed my back against it. As soon as his palm slid down the line of my body, he grabbed my waist and pulled me in lightly. If a kiss had been dropped on the back of my head, Princess Shirayuki and Asagi would not have been able to look me directly in the eye, their cheeks would’ve turned red, and they would have lowered their heads.

“…You two seem to be pretty close, huh?”

Even if the blind King Neuschler had an excellent grasp of the atmosphere, it would be impossible for him to comprehend the entire situation in such a brief time and distance. The only thing he could tell was that Jolga and I had leaned against each other. King Neuschler’s slightly puzzled words sounded somewhat juvenile.

“Well, to a certain extent.”

“We both have overcome some things together, so…”

Jolga and I looked at each other and smiled.

Taiga, who was watching from a distance, was silently “observing” the scene between us. His eyes were full of envy. Something I had been aware of for a while.


Author’s Notes:

If the water is clear, there are no fish. If a person is careful, there is no need for discipline.2

But that’s only for King Neuschler.

The intentions of “someone” who was always by his side had a big impact on him.

The Forbidden Fruit 13

The Forbidden Fruit 11

The Forbidden Fruit

Chapter 11: The Eyes of The Snake

Why did Susanoi, the First Prince of Hinoe, decide to take on the giant serpent with its last head still intact instead of weakening all eight heads?

That was the question that Sigurd had been pondering at the Oswein house before they left.

Susanoi already had a way to win, but he did not choose it… which meant that there must have been a reason for his decision.

“…Are you saying it’s because of King Neuschler?”

“Probably. I expected it from what the attendants had told me but judging by the look on the Black Panther Commander’s face, there can be no mistaking it.”

In the carriage, surrounded on both sides by Lidsalessaloth soldiers, I was explaining to Jolga and Princess Shirayuki the reason for our visit to Lidsalessaloth’s royal castle.

A few hours ago, a hulky man visited the first inn we booked upon entering Lidsalessaloth.

He had jet-black hair and golden eyes reminiscent of a feline beastkin. His bare arms and face were covered with several large scars. The Black Panther Commander-in-chief, Taiga Uru, who greeted us in a polite manner contrary to his rough appearance, told us that he was a direct messenger of the King of Lidsalessaloth. He was a bold man to have come alone with neither escort nor bodyguard to a place where Jolga and his knights were standing guard. From the way the innkeeper was prostrating himself, there was no doubt that it was him. As a representative of the Palcemith Kingdom, I greeted him. In return, he gave me a head-holding pail that he had hung on his horse’s saddle as a souvenir.

After leaving the pale Princess Shirayuki in the hands of his attendants, Jolga and I checked the contents of the pail. The owner of the head was one of the noblemen in Lidsalessaloth who had been identified as a collaborator in the recent coup d’état that had broken out in Palcemith. Taiga explained that he had the rest of the heads ready at the royal castle, to which I smiled and expressed my gratitude.

The man’s golden eyes widened a little when I offered to go and greet His Majesty if it was all right with him.

“Ah, I’m sorry for the late introduction. My name is Anderheim Yucht Asbal. I am the advisor to His Excellency, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Palcemith.”

“Oh! You are Anderheim, the renowned Sage of Palcemith?”

“I cannot say whether I am a Sage or not, but I am presently the only one known as Anderheim.”

“…I heard that you contributed greatly to settling the country’s internal affairs following His Majesty Vikram’s recent accession to the throne. My liege has also taken an exceptional interest in you.”

“Oh my, I’m honoured to hear that.”

I gave a quick glance to Jolga, took the official letter entrusted to me by His Majesty Vikram, and presented it to Taiga.

“I’ve been entrusted with a letter from King Vikrum Atrai Palcemith, explaining the situation across Lidsalessaloth and expressing his desire to befriend His Majesty Neuschler. I would appreciate it if you could convey this to His Majesty, Sir Taiga.”

“…Understood. I’ll pass it on.”

I let out a small “hmm” as Taiga took the official letter in his hand without hesitation. The first thing I did was to smile again when he looked me straight in the eyes, and then I proceeded to do what I did best: shake people up.

“I see. It seems that you have earned the trust of His Majesty to such an extent.”

At my words, Taiga’s eyes narrowed slightly.

“…What are you trying to say?”

“With all due respect, as far as I’ve heard, His Majesty Neuschler is visually impaired. So, normally, that official letter that you have with you would not be credible unless one gave it to him in person or had multiple eyewitnesses. But you just accepted it without hesitation…In other words, if it is from you, His Majesty Neuschler will not doubt it.”

“Hm… It is indeed true that His Majesty Neuschler would not doubt my words. He and I are sworn brothers. I’m proud to say that His Majesty trusts me more than anyone else, and vice versa. I would rather die than betray His Majesty. There is no need to be concerned about the authenticity of the letter.”

Taiga smiled slightly as he gazed at Princess Shirayuki, who was being protected by his attendants at some distance from us.

“Our objective is different. I apologize to you, but our friendship with Palcemith is secondary.”

“…Ho.”

“Princess Shirayuki of Hinoe, I didn’t expect you to venture into Lidsalessaloth voluntarily. How about this, Lord Sage? Why don’t you leave the Princess to us? Of course, in return, we will compensate you handsomely.”

“Well, well. What do you intend to do with Princess Shirayuki once you have her in your custody?”

I already knew the answer to this question, but Taiga gave a small snort in response to it and answered.

“Once it becomes known that Princess Shirayuki is in the custody of Lidsalessaloth, Hinoe will have no choice but to accept our help.”

“I see.”

“It would have been better if Hinoe had quietly joined Lidsalessaloth’s ranks from the beginning. In addition, it is not a bad thing for Princess Shirayuki. My liege is still an unmarried man. Won’t it be better to be treated as a candidate for His Majesty’s official wife than to be married as a concubine to a man who is as old as her father?”

“…Kukuku~”

When I suddenly burst out into laughter, Taiga looked at me suspiciously.

“Oh, pardon me,” I said, unable to stifle the urge to laugh that welled up in the back of my throat.

King Neuschler and Taiga probably wanted to protect Prince Susanoi’s precious brother, Princess Shirayuki, from us under the guise of a hostage and keep him away from the struggle for the succession that was going on in Hinoe.

“What’s so funny, Lord Sage of Palcemith?” 

“Oh, my. What a truly wonderful friendship.”

“…”

“Did you learn of this beforehand? Did you know about the younger sibling‘s frailty from your friend… Prince Susanoi?”

Taiga’s eyes shook in shock for but a moment. It was only a slight flicker that lasted for only the blink of an eye. However, it was enough to confirm my thoughts.

“…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Hmm, is that so? …Well, it doesn’t concern me either way.”

Suddenly, with a playful gesture, I pointed my finger at the profile of the young princess.

“The Knight Commander is a gentleman. Of course, he has no interest in messing with such a young princess, but… if by any chance…”

I cut my words off on purpose.

“If Hinoe’s side had presented us with falsehoods… For example, the Princess, who promised to become the Knight Commander’s concubine upon the defeat of the giant serpent. If that ‘Princess’ turned out not to actually exist or the like, what then?”

“…”

“I’m certain that even the mild-mannered Knight Commander wouldn’t be able to remain silent if he was treated in such a deceptive manner.”

Taiga’s complexion did not change. However, his golden eyes conveyed his hostility to me more eloquently than his words.

“Although we are no match for the Kingdom of Lidsalessaloth, we too have a mining slave system. We all know that the end of the beautiful inmates sent to the mines, both men and women, is nothing short of tragic. Kukuku.”

Taiga’s gaze at me was laced with murderous intent.

“You fiend…”

The words spat out with a cluck of his tongue were, as usual, a compliment to me. Still, Taiga did not draw his sword, as if he understood that there was no chance of winning if he were to fight now. That was what one would expect from the commander-in-chief of a great nation.

“Being a fiend is fine with me. Your beloved King Neuschler accomplished a blood-soaked revolution…and then some.”

That was King Neuschler’s backstory, as regarded by the outside world. He was a blind and evil king, who assassinated his biological mother who had neglected him. He also beheaded his father, who, in fear of the Demonic Eye, had cut off young King Neuschler’s eyes. But those rumours were only meant to deceive the public.

“You have avenged your father’s death splendidly… I, Anderheim, admire you.”

“…?!”

This time, Taiga’s shoulders visibly shook.

“I can’t leave Princess Shirayuki with you, but I was thinking of having her pay His Majesty a visit. If His Majesty Neuschler allows it, I would like to accompany Princess Shirayuki to Nephimen.”

His eyes looked down at me as he bit his lip slightly, trying to hide his agitation.

…What a nice gaze. It reminded me of the old Morino and Jolga.

“What is the purpose…?”

“Shall I tell His Majesty Neuschler, of the ‘flower that blooms in lapis lazuli,’ directly?”

“…You!”

The flower that blooms in lapis lazuli that I mentioned was the term used for eyes with special brilliant colours that appeared only in the men of the Dardenian royal family. These beautiful irises resembled the petals of a reddish flower opening in a deep blue lustre​. In my original world, they were known as “Earth Eyes.”

Who was the real father of King Neuschler?

Even though he had lost his sight, it was commonly believed that King Neuschler’s eyes were the “Demonic Eyes,” Even if King Neuschler had inadvertently opened his eyelids, there would have been no one to directly see them. Therefore, it was a sad truth that only the survivors of the tightly-knit Mutani tribe knew.

…It was easy for me to guess.

At last, the respectful tone of Taiga’s speech for me was gone. I just smirked, the edges of my lips lifting in a smile.

It had been more than a month since we had received our guest from Hinoe. While we waited for Princess Shirayuki to recover, Morino, myself, and the other civil servants were not sitting idly by. I instructed my secret agents who had been hiding in various parts of the continent to gather information on the relationship between Lidsalessaloth and Hinoe. Not just the current situation, but their relationship over the past ten years or so.

What came to light was a peculiar coincidence of a certain “period.”

The Kingdom of Lidsalessaloth and the Eastern Kingdom of Hinoe: despite being neighbours, the two countries had been in constant conflict for many years and were what one might call bitter enemies. The two countries had been skirmishing for a long time, but about ten years ago, they suddenly stopped. The reason for that could be easily guessed. It was because of the appearance of the great serpent in Hinoe. Naturally, this was not the time to be fighting with Lidsalessaloth.

However, about five years later, unexplained developments began to appear in the logistics between the two countries.

The westernmost part of Hinoe — which was the land bordering Lidsalessaloth — had been given to Prince Susanoi, who completed his coming-of-age ceremony at that time. Meanwhile, the easternmost part of Lidsalessaloth was the domain of commander-in-chief Taiga Uru. Because of their proximity to the border, both countries must have entrusted the lands to their most trusted vassals. There were underwater volcanoes in the waters stretching northward from the border, and both territories were said to have several therapeutic hot springs.

Even I could not imagine what kind of encounter they had. But the First Prince of Hinoe, the young King of Lidsalessaloth, and the Black Panther Commander-in-chief who served as his protector had encountered each other in secret and had developed a friendship.

Probably, at some point, they dreamt of a future where the two countries could join forces.

“From then on, there was an irregular relaxation of tariffs between the westernmost territory of Hinoe and the easternmost territory of Lidsalessaloth. On the Lidsalessalothen side, the tariffs were placed on food imported from Hinoe, and on the Hinoen side, the tariffs were placed on fuel, especially iron ore and coal. They only imported from each other when either the crops of Lidsalessaloth suffered from severe cold damage or there was a shortage of materials in Hinoe. There was no direct support, but rather an arrangement to help each other’s countries in the form of better logistics.”

“And my brother did that…?”

I nodded in affirmation in response to Princess Shirayuki.

After that chance meeting, having obtained permission from the Black Panther Commander-in-chief, Taiga, to visit the royal castle, we were flanked by a renewed escort of soldiers from Lidsalessaloth as we drove our carriage to the royal capital, Nephimen.

“No doubt about it. The tariff relaxation enacted at that time was not an interstate treaty, but an ordinance signed between the territories. Only Prince Susanoi and Commander Taiga had the authority to do so.”

“The public sentiment between the two nations of Lidsalessaloth and Hinoe at the time was not serene. Even if the two leaders were on friendly terms, it would not have been an easy feat to establish peace.”

Next to me, Jolga also let out a sigh.

“While gathering information about their history, I also looked into the folklore about the giant serpent. One thing was quite interesting. Apparently, if one were to cut off a head of the serpent that possessed high spiritual power and immediately gouge out its eyeballs from the head, it would turn into a mirror. That mirror becomes a spiritual mirror that can ‘restore’ whatever ‘broken’ thing the owner desires, just once.”

“…! Then, could it be that big brother…?”

“It is a possibility. I’m sure he wanted to use the spiritual mirror to fix King Neuschler’s eyes.”

Prince Susanoi would have regarded Princess Shirayuki’s physical weakness as “inherent,” so he would be excluded from the mirror. If he had poisoned all eight heads, then the spiritually powerful serpent’s head needed would not be as powerful as it should. Thus, even if he were to gouge them out, the eyeballs might not become mirrors. That was why Prince Susanoi challenged the serpent in the eighth year. Without being able to use the “Dragon Slaughtering Sword”… In order to heal his precious friend.

“I heard from Yoimachi, who accompanied Prince Susanoi to defeat the serpent, that the Prince didn’t use the sword-wielding fighting style that had been inherited by the Sasaragi family for generations. It is said that he used to fight with a low posture. Holding a small katana in both hands combined with martial art​s to toss the serpent around. That fighting-style… It’s the same as the one most exclusive to the Mutani tribe led by Commander Taiga.”

Having mastered the techniques taught by his friends, Prince Susanoi was even able to remove the head of a serpent possessing steel scales that no iron blade could penetrate.

But after that, Prince Susanoi’s life was snuffed out by an unknown assailant.

“It was only after that that the Kingdom of Lidsalessaloth, which had maintained a neutral stance toward the slaying of the serpent, suddenly began to approach Hinoe for assistance in defeating the giant serpent. King Neuschler and Commander Taiga probably thought that Prince Susanoi had failed to defeat the serpent. The whole invasion act was more of a cover to avenge their friend’s death… Kukuku, how amusing.”

“Is this really the time to be amused…?”

My shoulders shook as I laughed. Princess Shirayuki held her tongue as if she were having trouble responding, and Jolga’s expression was one of fond exasperation.

“Well, you’ll see. King Neuschler is a smart man. He should be a great backer of Princess Shirayuki if things go well after he learns the hidden truth.”

Just as I said this, the body of the carriage jumped up and down.

I looked out the window and saw that the carriage carrying us was approaching a bridge over a large river near the royal capital, Nephimen. Beyond that, we could see the royal capital surrounded by black walls.

“…well then, let’s go.”

The Blind Evil King, Neuschler Ladav Heine.

I apologize, but I am going to have to take advantage of your good nature.


Author’s Notes:

A snake’s eyelids never close, so they were thought to be mirrors.

Kagami-mochi (mirror rice cake) resembles a coiled snake.1

The Forbidden Fruit 13

The Forbidden Fruit 10

The Forbidden Fruit

Translator: Kuromaru

Editor: Evelet

Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!

Chapter 10: The Blind Evil King

What was the last thing that the young Neuschler saw?

It was the figure of a kind man, with red petals scattered on his chest, collapsing into a bed of blooming white flowers.

Forced to live in a shabby hut in the yard behind the royal castle, Neuschler grew up never knowing what warmth was. Even his father, the King, hated him for being filthy and repulsive​. He was always alone.

Although he never had to worry about where to sleep or what to eat, everyone feared him and did not want to touch him. Everyone but the young man with the deep blue eyes, whom he met for the first time that day at the flowerbed in the backyard.

He picked up young Neuschler as if he were a treasure and kissed him on the cheek and forehead.

‘There’s nothing to worry about.’

‘I’ll protect you from now on.’

‘Let’s go back to my country together.’

That was the first act of unconditional love that Neuschler had ever received. It was the kind of love that parents who cared for their children would naturally offer. It was quite a common thing, but to children, it was like a ray of light.

Fearfully, he reached out his hand and clung to the warmth of the young man’s chest. The arms that embraced him were full of love as if he considered Neuschler as his own child.

But that happiness was snatched from Neuschler in the blink of an eye.

He did not remember what his father, who had looked like a demon as he pierced the young man’s chest with his sword, was shouting.

But the beauty of the young man’s eyes as they were losing their light, still gazing at Neuschler and smiling at him in an attempt not to frighten him, was the only thing that was still etched in his mind, even though he had now lost his eyesight.

————————-

The person who picked up Neuschler, who had both of his eyes torn out and was abandoned in the uninhabited wilderness, was Taiga, a child of the Mutani tribe. That tribe was regarded as barbarians in Lidsalessaloth at the time. The Mutani were a tribe with beastkin ancestry. Even today, though their blood has faded, they still boasted a high level of physical abilities. Taiga, the son of the chief, was only ten years old at the time. To convince the adults who opposed his decision to help the child cursed with the Demonic Eye, much less the child of the hated royal family, he announced that he would give up his position as the next chief if they would accept Neuschler.

In the Mutani tribe, the chief held the utmost respect and power within the clan. Taiga was the leading candidate for the next chief, both in terms of bloodline and ability, so the chief’s concubines, who had children of their own, were excited by his proposal. Taiga’s mother, the chief’s legal wife, Tabiya, a former respected female warrior, supported Taiga’s proposition, saying that it was her son’s own decision.

Thus, Neuschler became a member of the Mutani tribe and was raised by Tabiya as Taiga’s younger brother. Tabiya did not coddle Neuschler because of his blindness but strictly disciplined him so that he would not be dependent on others for everything, rather be able to do what he could on his own. Before long, the wounds from Neuschler’s torn eyes healed, and he was able to open his eyelids, even though sight would not return. When Taiga and Tabiya saw Neuschler’s eyes, they realized the crimes of King Aego.

After remonstrating with the outraged Taiga, Tabiya secretly went to visit Queen Clareth who was said to be “holed up” in a remote palace, but she was not there. Clareth had been imprisoned in a remote dungeon under the orders of King Aego II. She was already on the brink of death when she was rescued from the said dungeon by the Mutani. When Clareth was reunited with Neuschler, she burst into tears of joy and told him about his real father, Prince Luvent.

Clareth, who had been suffocating under the pressure of being forcibly married off to King Aego II, who was as old as her father, met the second prince of the Kingdom of Dardenia, Luvent, during a secret trip to the city. The King, Aego II, did not want his young and beautiful wife to be seen in public, so rarely took Clareth out. Thus, Prince Luvent met as a young man and woman, unaware that Clareth was the Queen, and they fell in love with each other. Eventually, the relationship between Lidsalessaloth and Dardenia began to grow unstable. When Luvent had to return home, he went and asked Clareth to become his wife and to return with him. It was only then that he discovered that she was the Queen.

It was a helpless love.

It was an unattainable desire.

Heartbroken, Prince Luvent left Lidsalessaloth, leaving Clareth behind. And in time, Clareth found herself pregnant. Ten months later, she gave birth to Neuschler, who had the distinctive features of the Dardenia’s royal family in both of his eyes.

When the King saw Neuschler’s eyes, he was furious to learn of his wife’s infidelity. However, the news of the Prince’s birth had already spread throughout the country. The King imprisoned Clareth in the dungeons but did not immediately kill Neuschler. Instead, he kept him as bait to lure Prince Luvent to his country.

And then, that tragedy happened.

Once she had finished recounting everything, Clareth grasped Neuschler’s hands and apologized for not being able to protect him when he was a newborn. Neuschler groped and caressed his birth mother’s face, tracing the outline with his fingers and kissing her forehead and cheek, just as his father had once done for him. Clareth smiled, and a few days later, she had passed peacefully on to heaven.

Even after the secret of Neuschler’s birth was revealed, the Mutanis’ attitude toward him did not change. The younger kids, who were close to his age, laughed and said that it was good that their little brother did not have the blood of that terrible King in his veins. The older adults patted him on the head and told him that even though the light had left his eyes, the light in his heart was still burning.

If I could just live peacefully as a member of the Muthani tribe, that would be enough.

However, Neuschler’s wishes were cruelly crushed by King Aego II, who heard rumours about Neuschler from somewhere.

One day, an army directly managed by the King of Lidsalessaloth raided the Mutani village. They accused the Mutani of murdering Queen Clareth and announced that they would eradicate the tribe without giving any reason or explanation.

The chief at the time was Taiga’s older brother, the son of the previous chief born of a concubine. He struck Neuschler on the neck with his hand when Neuschler begged him to present him to the King’s army, knocking him out and placing him in the arms of a dumbfounded Taiga. He then had the women, children, and young men of the tribe, including Taiga, flee the village.

The adults purposely stayed in the village to give them time to escape. No matter how physically gifted the clan was, they could not compete with the overwhelming difference in quantity between them and the armoured army. The adults who stayed behind were all massacred, and Taiga’s brother, the chief of the tribe, had his head displayed on the castle’s gate.

Neuschler, who had been carried away when he was unconscious by Taiga, wailed.

‘If I hadn’t been picked up by the clan, or better yet, if I had never been born, none of this would have happened.’

For the first time that day, Taiga struck Neuschler, who was weeping and screaming. He said, ‘Do you mean to mock those who loved you as a brother and the adults who cared for you as part of their families?’

Neuschler clung to Taiga and sobbed. He knew that his brother’s cheeks, which he had cupped in his palms, were also wet with tears.

I will not forget this sorrow, this indignation.

Neuschler and Taiga vowed to each other that they would make the Mutani people’s regret known. The two of them joined the survivors of the Mutani tribe, who had fled to various places, and were reunited with Tabiya, who had been leading the women and children. They became nomads but gradually rose to prominence. Originally, the reign of King Aego II was notorious for being oppressive. The Mutani, who had gained many allies both domestically and abroad, gathered under Taiga, the new chieftain, and Neuschler, who supported him, and revolted against the Kingdom of Lidsalessaloth.

At the end of the year-long struggle, King Aego II was finally cornered and captured by the rebels. When his father begged for his life, the silent Neuschler chopped off his head with a single swing of his sword, despite his blindness. Thus, the lineage of demonic eyes flowing directly from the Heine royal family was cut off.

————————–

“…You’ve returned?”

At the heart of the Kingdom of Lidsalessaloth, in the royal castle built in the royal capital Nephimen, there was a royal room with a polished marble floor and high ceiling.

Sitting alone on the cold throne, waiting for the familiar sound of footsteps to approach, was the young King with both eyes scarred shut. The Blind Evil King, Neuschler Ladav Heine.

Ten years ago, Neuschler, who had taken the throne after overthrowing the then-King in a coup d’état, installed his sworn brother Taiga as his commander-in-chief. He then went around purging the country of influential nobles and merchants who had been under the thumb of King Aego II. The tragedy that unfolded with such apparent indifference earned Neuschler the nickname, “The Blind Evil King.”

“Nora, I’m back.”

“Welcome home, Taiga.”

A tall man opened the door to the King’s throne room, which also served as an audience chamber, and walked with large strides to the throne without hesitation. Taiga Uru, the Black Panther General. He was the one who brought Neuschler to the Mutani tribe and was also the current chief of the Mutani tribe. He was Neuschler’s sworn brother, whom Neuschler loved and trusted more than anyone else.

“How’s everything going?”

“I’ve already delivered the souvenirs as planned, but…”

Taiga’s words were unusually inarticulate.

Both Neuschler and Taiga were well aware of the giant serpent that had taken up residence in the neighbouring country of Hinoe. It was also reported that the Princess of Hinoe had bypassed Lidsalessaloth and had gone to the Kingdom of Palcemith to ask for help from the Knight Commander Jolga, which had been approved by the King.

Over the past few years, Lidsalessaloth had repeatedly approached Hinoe about cooperating in defeating the giant snake. Of course, it was for ulterior motives such as food circulation, but that was not the only reason. That was why the action Hinoe took, disregarding the intentions of Lidsalessaloth, could have caused unnecessary tension in the originally bad relationship between the two countries.

As they continued to monitor the situation, the Hinoen Princess who was accompanying the Knight Commander Jolga of Palcemith surprisingly chose to cross Lidsalessaloth on their way back.

It made one wonder if the Knight Commander was too confident in his skills, if there was some kind of plan stirring behind the scenes, or if it was just sheer bravery.

The first thing Neuschler did was deliver a souvenir to the Palcemith Kingdom’s party, accompanying the Princess of Hinoe and her entourage.

The coup d’état that broke out in the Kingdom of Palcemith, just before the current King ascended to the throne, was said to have been successfully prevented thanks to the Knight Commander and his other loyal subjects’ abilities. However, it seemed that many of the coup’s collaborators were hiding in the surrounding nations. Neuschler gathered information, found the collaborators that were hiding in Lidsalessaloth, and had their heads chopped off and stuffed into pails. He then delivered them to the inn where the Palcemith Kingdom’s party was staying.

It was a blatant check and a powerful reconnaissance. The general, Taiga, took on the dangerous role of delivering the pails. Knowing from experience that it was useless to stop him, Neuschler let out a sigh and sent Taiga off to the town near the border, telling him that he would not forgive him if he did not come back.

Two days later… 

According to the report from the scouts, Taiga delivered the pails to the group who had taken lodging in a town about a day’s wagon ride across the border from Cemthoah.

“Was there a problem? What sort of person was the Knight Commander?”

“Speaking of problems, there was one… it’s the Knight Commander. He is far beyond what rumours say. He is a heaven-sent god of war. With one look, I knew I wouldn’t be able to win. Even if I were berserk, if I could manage to draw against him, I’d be happy.”

“…Is he really so strong as to make you boast that much?”

Neuschler’s unseeing eyes opened, and he growled low.

“But, Nora. The real threat isn’t the Knight Commander.”

“…What do you mean by that?”

“The Knight Commander’s party is accompanying the Princess of Hinoe. One who is travelling with them is… that man.”

Taiga could recall it so vividly in his mind.

A beautiful young man peered into the pail that was handed to him, a faint smile on the corner of his lips.

Politely thanking Taiga, he said, ‘That’s very good.’ His boastful lips were red as he lowered his head and smiled sweetly. A chill ran down Taiga’s spine at the light words they exchanged while standing there.

“It was terrifying how he could see right through me. Our relationship, the real truth, which differed from the stories circulating in Lidsalessaloth… Even that we were friends with Susanoi.”

“…What the—”

As expected, even Neuschler was shocked.

That was supposed to be a secret known only to Neuschler and Taiga. Neither their retainers nor even their mother, Tabiya, knew about it. For years, they had nurtured a solid friendship with Susanoi, who was expected to be the next Lord of Hinoe.

“As it happens, he has requested an audience with you… I couldn’t refuse, as the Princess of Hinoe was accompanying him. You’ll be receiving a visit in a few hours. In the meantime, I’m hurrying to prepare for their arrival.”

“Taiga… tell me. Who the hell is that person?”

At Neuschler’s question, Taiga exhaled softly.

“Anderheim Yucht Asbal. He is the former Prime Minister of the Palcemith Kingdom and is regarded as the last Sage. He is the biological father of the Silvermoon Maiden, who is favoured by the ancient dragon.”


Author’s Notes:

The Mutani tribe’s berserk form is a way of fighting by literally turning oneself into a berserk warrior.

During it, one gains overwhelming strength but loses their rationality, making it impossible for them to distinguish between friend and foe.

The Forbidden Fruit 13

The Forbidden Fruit 9

The Forbidden Fruit

Translator: Kuromaru

Editor: Evelet

Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!

Chapter 9: Lidsalessaloth

There were two possible routes we could take if we were to travel from the Kingdom of Palcemith to the Kingdom of Hinoe, which lay at the eastern end of the continent of Yugena.

The first was a southbound route that went through Aron, a trade hub where the borders of the three countries of Cemthoah, Sahana, and Palcemith met. Then, after Cemthoah, it passed through the Grand Duchy of Oakneth and the Kingdom of Dardenia to reach Hinoe. During the rainy season, Cemthoah often suffered from flooded roads, making it difficult to get around. However, if we were to avoid it, there would be no major problems. Plus, the countries we would be passing through were all countries with calm political situations at present. That was the route that Princess Shirayuki and her party had taken on their way to Palcemith, and although it was a relatively safe route, it was a rather lengthy one. The time it took to reach Palcemith from Hinoe was one month, which was quite long.

The other was a northbound route that would take us straight east from the royal capital into Cemthoah and then across the massive nation of Lidsalessaloth, which lay to the east of the Kingdom of Palcemith, to reach Hinoe. Like Palcemith, Lidsalessaloth was located in the northern part of the continent of Yugena, but obviously, its lands were not blessed by a dragon. Although its territory was vast, it was not very fertile. It lacked agricultural production, so it made use of the many mines in the country, leading to a thriving iron and steel industry. The road through there was somewhat rough. However, if all went well, we could make it to Hinoe in about ten days.

There was also the option of going via sea from the Kingdom of Palcemith to Hinoe. But, the Northern Sea of the Yugena continent was famous for its complicated currents and turbulent weather. It was not a very practical transportation route, but it was the best we had at the moment.

As a result of our prior discussions, we chose to cross the nation of Lidsalessaloth along with Princess Shirayuki. The Princess, as well as her attendants from Hinoe, were all surprised by this. But naturally, we had a plan in mind when we made our choice.

“How much do you know about Lidsalessaloth, Princess Shirayuki?”

In response to my question, Princess Shirayuki, who was carefully holding a box full of parting gifts and a bouquet from the twins, tilted her head slightly. She was sitting opposite me in the swaying carriage headed out of the capital.

“All I know is that it’s a country that has been plotting to bring Hinoe under its control for a long time… and that its king, His Majesty is…”

“Oh, he’s famous. The King of Lidsalessaloth, Neuschler Radav Heine…the Blind Evil King.”

The royal capital of Lidsalessaloth, Nephimen, was located in the centre of the country, in a relatively warm area heated by geothermal energy from the magma flowing deep underground. The current King, Neuschler, was a young man who would turn twenty-six this year. However, he had already been king for more than ten years. At the age of fifteen, he overthrew his father, the former King Aego II, and took the throne for himself.

In case we crossed that country, I had read through all the materials that Morino and Vanellope had researched regarding it. This was in addition to the information that I had originally known about the internal situation of the country of Lidsalessaloth.

…It was a nation that had been continuously governed in a rather bloody manner.

“King Neuschler was born with the ‘Demonic Eye’ in both of his eyes. Those who stare into his eyes lose their will, blindly trust him, and want to give up everything for him… Those are some troublesome eyes.”

The first to fall prey to those eyes were King Neuschler’s mother, the Queen, and his father, King Aego. Both parents were instantly captivated by their child, who blinked his still unseeing eyes and reached out to them for warmth. The two were at odds with each other, vying for the favour of their newborn child, grappling and cursing at each other like children. Fortunately, the effect of the Demonic Eye was not permanent, and they came to their senses when their subjects pulled them apart, and the infant Neuschler started to cry and closed his eyes.

Immediately, a renowned doctor and a sage were invited to investigate. After repeated examinations, it was concluded that the eyes were the “Demonic Eye” that had been handed down from generation to generation in the Heine royal family.

“In the past, the Heine family had had rare occasions when someone was born with the Demonic Eye. However, it always manifested itself only in one eye, whereas King Neuschler was born with it in both eyes, a first.”

If it were only one eye, it would have been easily dealt with. He could have gone about his daily life with an eye patch or something to cover his Demonic Eye and only remove it if needed. Though it was temporary, its effect was immense. It could be used as a trump card in dealing with any enemy.

But, if it were in both eyes…

“If it were in both eyes… he’d have to wear a blindfold to cover them completely.”

I nodded at what Jolga, who was sitting next to me, had said.

“Exactly. King Neuschler had both of his eyes covered with a black cloth and spent his childhood in a world blocked from the light. Also, even if a person who had been bewitched by the Demonic Eye came to their senses, their memories of the time they were bewitched don’t disappear. As a result, the King and Queen had a falling out, and the Queen refused to raise King Neuschler, to whom she had given birth, confining herself to a remote palace.”

And then, an incident took place.

“It was when King Neuschler was five years of age. The Kingdom of Dardenia in the south, which had repeatedly engaged in skirmishes with Lidsalessaloth, sent an envoy to the royal city of Nephimen to establish peace. The envoy was the second Prince of Dardenia, Luvent Morris Dardenia. He was twenty-six years old at the time and was said to be a good-natured young man who supported his eldest brother, who was soon to succeed to the throne. He also made efforts to ensure the security of the country. He had visited Lidsalessaloth when he was twenty years old when the two countries were in a brief alliance. Thus, he had been chosen as an emissary of peace because of his experience.”

At that time, King Neuschler lived in a small hut built in one of the corners of the castle’s backyard. He had servants who lived with him, but all of them were afraid of his Demonic Eye and did not want to have any contact with him beyond the bare minimum. Even though he was a young boy, King Neuschler somehow understood his situation. He would secretly take off his blindfold away from the watchful eyes of his servants and continue his life of solitude by admiring the flowers blooming in their flowerbeds.

“One day, while the young King Neuschler was looking at the flowers, an unknown young man walked by. King Neuschler was so surprised that he made eye contact with the young man. By chance, it was Prince Luvent, who was strolling through the backyard. Prince Luvent instantly fell under King Neuschler’s spell, picked him up, and tried to carry him away. A knight of noble birth, who was serving as the king’s bodyguard, saw this and condemned him. He noticed that King Neuschler was being kidnapped and tried to stop Prince Luvent. As a result, the prince, who had lost his will, drew his sword and attacked the knight, who in turn killed Prince Luvent.”

That knight was the fiancé of King Aego’s youngest sister.

Though the other party was misled by the Demonic Eye, he had to bear the responsibility of killing the prince of another country. The young knight was beheaded, and the King’s youngest sister committed suicide by poisoning herself.

“Although it was clear from eyewitness testimonies that Prince Luvent was at fault, there was a great deal of backlash from the Kingdom of Dardenia. When the King sensed that the talks that had managed to reach an amicable settlement were in danger of collapsing, he ripped out both of King Neuschler’s eyes in front of the masses, blindfolded him, and threw him directly into the winter wilderness.”

“That’s awful…”

Princess Shirayuki’s young face contorted, and she bit her lip.

Although it was indeed a terribly cruel story, this decision could not necessarily be said to be wrong for a ruler to make.

By punishing the first prince himself, he was taking responsibility, saving face with foreign nations, and at the same time, eliminating the possibility of domestic unrest. It might seem inhumane, but if it were done for the greater good of maintaining national stability, it could also be considered just.

“…That is if there were any truth to this overblown story.”

———————

It was the second night after leaving the royal capital of Palcemith.

Our party, accompanied by Princess Shirayuki and her attendants, had made a smooth journey and reached the town bordering Cemthoah and Lidsalessaloth. Tomorrow, we would be entering the Kingdom of Lidsalessaloth at last. We had spent the previous night in our carriages, but tonight we were going to stay at an inn in town to be fully rested.

Princess Shirayuki and her entourage were asleep in their assigned rooms. The knights guarding her were probably taking turns keeping watch and resting. Jolga and I were sharing the same room. After wiping each other down with a large tub of hot water, we lay on the bed, Jolga’s body lying underneath me, with his arms around me.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that tomorrow would be the real start of this itinerary.

Jolga, who was recounting what I had told Princess Shirayuki about the inner workings of Lidsalessaloth along with his thoughts, brought up the truth that I had not shared with her.

“Overblown story?”

I stroked Jolga’s chin as he questioned me and, with my other arm, I rested my cheek on his chest.

“For example, Jolga, if your son… Sigurd or Lutora was born with the Demonic Eye in both eyes; what would you do with him, your child who possesses the Demonic Eye that can bewitch others at will?”

“If it were me…I would educate him.”

Jolga’s answer was straightforward and exemplary.

“Yes, that is the norm. You would make him practice so that he could lead his daily life without the use of both eyes. As soon as he was old enough, you would teach him how to use the Demonic Eye properly so that he wouldn’t use its power carelessly, yet he would be able to use it as a weapon to protect himself in case of an emergency. That’s what a parent would do. If you care about your children, whether you are a nobleman or a King, these principles won’t change.”

Furthermore, even though it dwelled in both eyes, it was very valuable and rarely appeared in the Heine family. The fact that he had charmed both of his parents in one go was proof that his Demonic Eye was that powerful. Wouldn’t it seem like a bad idea to treat the first prince, Prince Neuschler, so coldly?

As in any country, scandals at the heart of a nation tended to get covered up with a bunch of post hoc reasons, especially when it involved the first Prince born to the King and Queen.

“Everything was too good to be true. The fact that the parents were fascinated by the infant King Neuschler, the fallout between the King and Queen because of it, that the envoy of peace was the Second Prince of Dardenia… And that the Second Prince happened to stroll into the backyard and ran into the young King Neuschler.”

“!!!”

“The former King of Lidsalessaloth, Aego II, and the former Queen, Clareth, were a married couple with a huge age gap between them. When King Neuschler was born, King Aego II was already forty years old, but Queen Clareth was only eighteen.”

“Don’t tell me…”

“At the age of 20, Prince Luvent was staying at the Royal Castle as an honoured guest. It was about a year later that King Neuschler was born. The direct line of the Dardenian royal family is famous for having distinctive pupils. They are so charming and beautiful that they are described as flowers blooming within one’s eyes.”

One by one, the missing puzzle pieces were probably snapping into place in Jolga’s head.

If what was in the baby’s eyes was not the Demonic Eye, but evidence of the blood of someone other than the King, then…

What if the quarrel between the King and the Queen had not been influenced by the Demonic Eye but had been a validated mutual cursing?

What if the Queen had not confined herself to a remote palace, but had been imprisoned there?

What was the reason behind the Second Prince, who had visited Lidsalessaloth when he was 20 years old, taking the trouble to risk his life to visit the royal capital again as a peace envoy? He was, after all, a young man who held the second most important position after his elder brother and was in line to the throne.

Why did that Prince try to kidnap the young King Neuschler, who had been raised as a prisoner behind the castle?

Even if it was in the name of bearing responsibility, what was the point of King Aego’s ripping out both of his own son’s eyes without hesitation?

If one were to flip over the well-drawn front side of the completed puzzle…the facts displayed on the hidden back were indeed…

“…Repulsive​.”

I slid my palm over Jolga’s cheek as he furrowed his brow and muttered in exasperation. I stretched my back, licking his bitten lips, and smiled.

Jolga’s words were probably directed at his past self as well.

Yurikano, who was destined to be my wife, and the past Jolga, who made a mistake one night and impregnated her.

That was a matter that had already been settled. If anything, it was probably due to the coercive force of the “Otome Game” scenario that was the setting for this world. When you got right down to it, it was also my fault for being the “Evil Prime Minister.” Well, I was not going to tell Jolga about that.

“Jolga. What’s done is done.”

“…”

“Because of your mistake, Sigurd, Lutora, and Julieta were born.”

“But you suffered.”

The hazel eyes that reflected mine were quivering with anguish.

“I don’t care… In exchange, I got you. That’s more than enough to make up for it.”

“…Anri.”

His voice shaking, Jolga put strength into his arms that encircled me and kissed me deeply. After swapping our positions and pushing me down on the bed, he hungrily sought my body.

We had promised to refrain from any physical activities, as we still had to continue our carriage journey tomorrow, but…

Well, I guess it can’t be helped.

No matter how much I tried to fix him, I, too, had a soft spot for my one and only lover.

The knights who were guarding our door were clearly sleep-deprived the next morning, so I did feel bad for them.

“Let us depart, then, to Lidsalessaloth.”

With Jolga’s voice as our cue, the line of people heading for Hinoe began to move again.

A valiant general, known as the Black Panther, a blind evil King, and a blood-drenched country waited ahead.


Author’s Notes:

A world not spun by the whims of gods, but created by human hands.

The Forbidden Fruit 13

The Forbidden Fruit 8

The Forbidden Fruit

Translator: Hasr11

Editor: Evelet

Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!

Chapter 8: The Eye of the Storm 1

A month had passed since Princess Shirayuki had begun his stay in the Oswein mansion.

Thanks to the Head Priest Malacia’s healing magic, the lead poisoning that had laid waste to Princess Shirayuki’s young body was soon treated. And with the nutritious meals prepared by the Oswein family cooks, his body recovered at an astonishingly fast pace.

Princess Shirayuki’s figure as he bustled about the garden with the twins, with his hair in an updo and his sleeves rolled up for easy movement, had now bloomed into that of a smart young boy, albeit a little thin. His two older brothers rejoiced as if it were a matter of personal pride.

Seiji, deeply moved by the main pillar of the treatment, Malacia, grabbed his hand and spouted forth words about how he had ushered peace into Hinoe and how he would, without fail, invite him to Hinoe as a guest of honour when he got the chance. But he was quickly chased away by Lutora, who looked at him with his frigid gaze and quipped, “Do you think the Head Priest of the State Religion has that much time to spare?”

And thus the imperial edict from King Vikram Atrai Palcemith officially dispatching Knight Commander Jolga Von Oswein to Hinoe had finally arrived. Once Jolga and I were done with our preparations, we would set out for the eastern nation of Hinoe with Princess Shirayuki and his vassals. Sigurd and Lutora fought over the question of who would be the vice-Knight Commander who would temporarily take care of the knight order, each pushing the job on the other. In the end, it was Sigurd who buckled to Lutora’s, “…Brother, please.” …Lutora was quite the formidable man.

“And so, young man. How much do you understand?”

It was the night before our departure.

I was visiting the small cabin where one of the envoys sent to Palcemith from Hinoe, Tori’ichi, would be left behind. Deciding that his residence would be the small waterwheel shed beside the brook which drew in water to the forge, they called the carpenters and collaborated to set up a dwelling. In this short time, Tori’ichi quickly gained the craftsmens’ trust. Well, it was a common sight for craftsmen to gravitate towards those with superior skills, so I guessed it was nothing to be concerned about.

I was the only one summoned by Tori’ichi to enter the cabin. Jolga and the Royal Palace Knight Order were waiting for me outside, just in case, although I did not believe my visit was dangerous.

“What do you mean, how much?”

When I laughed, Tori’ichi knitted his brows in displeasure.

As Tori’ichi and I exchanged glasses of wine, the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword] that Princess Shirayuki had brought from Hinoe was lying on the table. Its cord was once again tightly wound around it.

After the audience, Tori’ichi had carefully inspected the body of the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword] that had been finally pulled out of its sheath by Jolga. He closely checked the condition of the pattern on the blade as well as its ridge and the rivets on the sword hilt and raised his voice in admiration about how they had been maintained in prime condition. Normally, a sword that has not been cared for in more than ten years would have a rusty or dull blade, as well as various other forms of warping and slackening. However, the blade in question showed no such signs of neglect. Was this also an effect of the Hihi’irokane?

“…Although I had called for only you, I didn’t place any restrictions on other soldiers entering.”

“Indeed.”

“…However, you purposely let the guards withdraw. So the two of us can have a private chat.”

“Fufu… you’re sharp, old man.”

Certainly, I couldn’t let Jolga overhear the secret I was about to share with Tori’ichi.

“If the matter were to come to light, the problem would not be confined to Hinoe. That is not desirable.”

“I see you understand that much. I wish we had a wise Tokoyo-no-Omoikane, such as you in Hinoe.” {Tokoyo-no-Omoikane: Omoikane is a Shinto god of wisdom and intelligence. His name means “serving one’s thoughts.”}

Even I felt he was taking it too far by comparing me to the god of wisdom.

I chuckled and poured wine into Tori’ichi’s now-empty cup.

“The ones who know the secret are—?”

“As far as I know, there are only two. I have been in the service of the Sasaragi Clan since the time of Lord Motochika, Lord Motonari’s father. In the past, Lord Motochika had given me the unsheathed [Dragon Slaughtering Sword] and had me tend to it.

Tori’ichi sighed as he picked up the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword], which was now still in its scabbard.

“That is how I found them: its faults.”

“That’s right. Whether Lord Motochika was unaware or he knew and hid the truth, we will never know, now that he is long gone. However, Lord Motonari… he realised it. That his eldest son Susanoi, skilled in martial arts, had taken the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword] which was—”

The old man bitterly knitted his eyebrows and choked on his words as I continued for him.

“…unable to be taken out of its sheath? ”

Nodding, Tori’ichi gulped down the wine.

“Lord Susanoi said regretfully, ‘I have not been recognized by the sword because of my lack of training.’ …But Lord Motonari and I, who knew Lord Motochika in his prime, could see that Lord Susanoi’s skill with the sword was already far beyond Lord Motochika’s.”

“…I see.”

“Now, with the Knight Commander being able to handle the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword], my conviction has only deepened. I am very grateful that you have made a place for me in this country. I am attached to the land where I was born and raised, but that secret is too heavy for me to carry while living in my country.

“Hm… I do not mind. I am simply sharing the task of shouldering your burden.”

“I am indebted to you. It may be presumptuous to say so, but I now think of Palcemith as my second home, and I will do my best to develop forging technology. I get along well with the craftsmen, too. The weather is mild and the people are friendly… it truly is a good place to live.”

“I shall pass your words of praise on to His Majesty and the Prime Minister. However, those two are still young. I’m sure you’ll be asked for advice during the absence of the Knight Commander’s myself. Please lend them your strength.”

“As you wish.”

I got up and took the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword] from the bowing Tori’ichi.

The weight of the sword was so solid that my palms sank. It was not just the weight of the steel its body was made of, but also the burden of the secrets hidden deep within its scabbard.

As I felt its weight with both hands, I called out to Tori’ichi, “Then, Sir Tori’ichi. Do you know this saying: ‘A secret between two is a secret with god; a secret between three is the secret of all?’2 

“…Pardon me?”

“When a secret is only between two, there is no one else but God who knows of it. However, when three learn of it, it is the same as everyone knowing about it. That’s what it says. I do wonder if it is a little exaggerated. If Sir Tori’ichi has no memories of letting this secret slip… I fear the source was your sovereign himself.”

I had heard that the current sovereign of the country, Lord Motonari, was a man of gentle temperament who did not like warfare. But being the sovereign was a job of many worries to begin with. After learning a secret that he did not want to know, how could he have managed to keep it to himself? He was blissfully unaware that the words “I shall only tell this to you” and revealing the secret would only lead to tragedy later.

“The mastermind must be ‘someone’ who learned of this secret from Lord Motonari.”

“…No way.”

Tori’ichi face quickly turned pale.

“But… But why does Lady Shirayuki-”

“I do not have concrete evidence, but I do have a guess about the motive.… Women are truly terrifying.”

“…Tsk, tsk, I truly mourn the fact that you weren’t born in Hinoe.”

“Pfft, that again?”

If I did say so myself, I was probably one of the more insightful people in this world.

After I retired from my post as the Prime Minister, I received more invitations than I could count on the fingers of both hands from various countries that had heard rumors about me. But I believed that I only held value if I stayed here, in Palcemith.

“It’s a pity, but I still have things to do in this Kingdom. Originally, I was planning to go to Hinoe in the near future to explore the roots of the Sage Asbal and find out about the secret spell he used. But now that my cute lover is involved, I cannot ignore this matter.”

“Oho. A secret you say… a secret…”

Tori’ichi sat for a while, scratching his chin. Suddenly, he seemed to have hit upon a clue, as his face lit up and he slapped his knee.

“That’s right! The Abe clan! ”

“…The Abe clan? ”

At my puzzlement, Tori’ichi nodded vigorously.

“Yeah. I believe that there is a clan that deals with curses, living in a residence to the north of the capital, called the Abe. If you can talk to them there, it will be easier to get some information. If I am not mistaken, Yoimachi has contact with them and even I can leave a message before departure.

“I see… you have my gratitude. Thank you.”

“It is but a trifle. …I too, shall entrust Hinoe’s fate to your hands.”

I nodded back lightly, and with the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword] still in hand, I opened the door and stepped out.

Jolga immediately approached me and took the [Dragon Slaughtering Sword] from my hands, and with a light gesture of his hands, dispersed the knights waiting upon us. Placing my own hand atop the large hands that wrapped around my waist, I looked up at my lover’s face, overflowing with masculine charm, meeting my gaze with his hazel eyes.

“You know, Jolga.”

“…What is it?”

“I, too, you see — I’m just as possessive as anyone else.”

He blinked his eyes in befuddlement.

He hadn’t caught the meaning of what I had just said.

“…Anri, I’m happy though?”

As my lover slowly drew out his sweet honey-drenched whispers beside my ear, I grabbed his chin with my fingertips, lightly gnawing on his lower lip with a chuckle.

The Knight Commander, Jolga Von Oswein.

The best knight in all of Palcemith and my one and only lover.

“I won’t hand you over… no matter who it is.”

The enemy’s target.

Even if it wasn’t Princess Shirayuki.

…Jolga, even if it was you.


A/N:

Secret de deux, secret de Dieu; secret de trois, secret de tous.

A secret between two is a secret with god; a secret between three is the secret of all.

A French proverb.

Hasr: Sorry for the delay, my internet was crap yesterday

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