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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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.
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?”
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 arts 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.
A snake’s eyelids never close, so they were thought to be mirrors.
Kagami-mochi (mirror rice cake) resembles a coiled snake.1