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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.