Read at Watashi wa Sugoi Desu!
4. Will A Demon Come Out?1
As soon as Head Priest Malacia, who had been invited from the temple to the Oswein family’s estate, saw young Princess Shirayuki sitting on a sofa in the parlour, his long, slit eyes, which were always in the shape of a smile, scrutinized her slightly. I pretended not to notice Malacia’s expression and introduced him to the somewhat nervous Princess.
“Princess Shirayuki. This is Malacia, the Head Priest of the national religious temple of the Kingdom of Palcemith. He is well versed in medicine and excellent with healing magic. You might want to let him examine you before you head back to Hinoe.”
“…Princess Shirayuki. You have travelled a long way from Hinoe in the East to come to the Kingdom of Palcemith. I’m happy to have you here. My name is Malacia; I’m the Head Priest of the temple dedicated to His Grace Kharis. I was informed that Princess Shirayuki showed signs of some physical discomfort. If it is alright with you, may I, who is but a lowly person, be allowed to assist you?”
The voice of the Head Priest Malacia, who was naturally skilled in the art of manipulating people, had a soothing and calming tone that was easy to accept. Smiling with relief, Princess Shirayuki bowed her head and said, “Please,” and Malacia folded his knees nimbly in front of her, matching their eye level, and said gently, “Excuse me.” He pressed her lower eyelids down a little with his fingertips to check the colour of the whites of her eyes, then lightly placed two fingers on her thin wrist to check her pulse, and after that he carefully palpated her from the bottom of her chin to the back of her neck.
After completing the examination, Malacia muttered in a low voice, as if he had come to a conclusion, and looked up at me as I sat on the sofa facing him.
It seemed that he had come to the same conclusion as I had.
“Lord Anderheim, have you noticed it already?”
“Well, I had a feeling.”
“I see… Should I tell the Princess the exact results of her medical examination?”
“I don’t care. Treatment requires both a cause and understanding.”
I nodded, and Princess Shirayuki as well as Tokiwa and Seiji, who were standing behind the sofa she was sitting on, nodded back. The other attendants were also waiting in the same room; this was but an intentional demonstration to have them hear the results too.
“Princess Shirayuki, I suspect that you have been poisoned. I need to do further examination, but as far as I can tell from your current symptoms, it’s probably lead poisoning.”
At Malacia’s words, Princess Shirayuki gasped, expression suddenly pale. At the same time, there was an uproar in the parlour where the remaining guests from Hinoe had gathered.
“H-How can it be something like that…”
“And?! Is the Princess going to be okay?!”
“Unforgivable…Who would do such a thing?!”
At first, Tokiwa and Seiji shouted in surprise, but they immediately understood what I had intended with my gaze. They seemed to be looking around the room, exchanging words with each other and checking the state of the screaming attendants. After leaving them to fuss for a while, I clapped my hands lightly to catch their attention and get them to shut up.
“Calm down, dear guests. It’s not conclusive yet, but I’ve seen some chronic lead poisoning patients with these symptoms before, so I recognized them.”
Jaundice in the whites of the eyes indicated liver damage, while deformed nails and cold fingertips were evidence of extreme anaemia.
I didn’t know much about chronic lead poisoning myself, but I heard that prostitutes and actors were prone to lead poisoning because of the use of white lead as face powder in the past. Going further back in time, the technology to make beautiful white plates was not yet available, and rulers often ate their meals in beautiful bronze bowls. It seemed that they gradually developed lead poisoning by ingesting the lead dissolved in the food, also causing changes in their personalities. It was even said that this lead poisoning might have been part of the reason why the benevolent king, who was initially called a wise ruler, turned maniacal and cruel over the years.
“…but unfortunately, we do not know who is poisoning Princess Shirayuki. As for the Oswein family, they don’t have a problem with it 2 as long as the Princess regains her health and the Knight Commander marries her as a concubine after the giant snake is vanquished.”
The young man called Tsurara raised his voice in reproach, to which I replied with a slight shake of my head.
“I trust you have not forgotten the terms of our agreement, correct? Princess Shirayuki will be given to the House of Oswein in exchange for Knight Commander Jolga going to Hinoe and defeating the giant serpent. If she is to become a concubine, it is preferable that she be able to bear children. So, we will make arrangements for her treatment but nothing beyond that.…It isn’t our responsibility to get involved in the affairs of the state of Hinoe.”
Besides, it was obviously not a good idea for outsiders to interfere in the affairs of a nation involving family turmoil.
That’s why we had to show that we would stay on the sidelines from the start. By claiming that was the House of Oswein’s position, we could preemptively “keep in check” the hidden enemy. Of course, I intended to do a lot of things behind the scenes, but that was just a stepping stone to ingratiate myself to the Hinoen nation and make it easier for me to gather information to break the curse on the Asbal’s bloodline.
I ignored Tsurara, who was biting his lips in frustration, and called out to Malacia again.
“So, Malacia, is it possible to cure her?”
“I think it would be best to use healing magic to restore only her liver, which is the weakest part of her body, and to heal her anaemia and other symptoms with food and medicine. It will take some time, but it is not an incurable disease.”
Princess Shrayuki herself was the one whose face lit up the most at Malacia’s assessment.
“W-Will I be able to…have a body that can go outside the castle and play in the sun?”
“Yes. Don’t worry. We’ll have to wait until after we’ve done some more tests. Let’s work hard together on your recovery, okay?”
That was exactly what “a smile that would even make a flower bloom” looked like. The two men behind the rejoicing Princess also seemed happy. The problem lay in the reaction of the remaining attendants…which was a little more than I expected.
I had expected a situation where all of them might act “delighted.” However, contrary to my expectations, the four attendants all had a look of “astonishment” on their faces. They looked quite poleaxed as well.
What a troublesome opponent…It seemed that they would not let themselves be caught so easily. Though it would be bad if true, it was also possible that there was more than one enemy.
“So, now that we’ve decided on a course of treatment, let’s start by having you recover from your journey…Rezeph.”
“Yes, Milord. Your rooms are already prepared. Ladies and gentlemen, please come this way.”
Led by Rezeph and the maids carrying their luggage, the guests from Hinoe all headed upstairs to their rooms. At the same time, Sigurd and Lutora had just returned from the royal castle. They exchanged a brief greeting as they passed the guests moving from the parlour to the guest rooms on the second floor, and without looking back, they walked straight into the parlour where Jolga and I were waiting. I invited them into the room, closed the heavy wooden door firmly, and even locked it behind me.
Nodding at my signal, Lutora sat down briskly on the sofa in the centre of the reception room, making the springs creak, and raised his voice, then quietly lowered the toes of his boots on the carpet and moved effortlessly to the wall, quiet as a cat.
“So, Sigurd, how are things at the royal castle?”
“Mostly as expected. When I took Sir Tori’ichi to the forge as instructed, his eyes lit up with excitement. He immediately got to know the head smith and had a lively discussion about forging.”
“That’s good to hear. I’ve heard that no other country can match Hinoe in terms of forging technology.…It’s good to have our arms refining technology develop.”
While Sigurd and I were talking, Jolga, who was sitting next to me, was giving instructions to Lutora with his fingers.
“Then I can safely assume that His Majesty intends to approve the Prime Minister’s proposal, correct?”
“Yes. After all, we’re sending the Knight Commander, so we’re going to have Sir Tori’ichi stay with us to make up for the drop in military strength. I was thinking of adding a few more terms, the main one being the desire to improve our forging skills.”
“I see. Well, Hinoe is a rich country, albeit a small one. It is possible to make a few more demands.”
“How many concessions we can get all depends on Morino’s skills.”
Lutora, who had been sticking to the wall, found a spot where the wallpaper was slightly rolled up and nodded quietly to Jolga.
Unlike Japanese houses, which had many gaps, Western-style buildings like this mansion were less suitable for peeping. That was because the building was not supported by pillars but by walls, and the walls themselves were quite thick, thus making eavesdropping a more reliable means of obtaining information. Vision could not be easily amplified, but sounds could. With a small glass, by placing the rim of the glass in the gap and pressing one’s ear against it, it was possible to collect the sound that leaked out and amplify it.
“So, Jolga. Are you really going to take that Princess as your concubine?”
“…Don’t make me laugh. She might as well be my sons’ concubine. To me, she’s more of a little princess than a child.”
“Fufu. I’m sure she’ll grow into a beauty in five years, don’t you think so?”
As Jolga and I continued our idle conversation, I gave a sidelong glance. Lutora held up his hands in front of the bent wallpaper. He clapped his palms together hard next to the crack on the wall, where “someone” was eavesdropping, making a sound so loud that even we, in the room, had to sit up a little.
It was clear that someone was startled.
Sigurd, who had immediately rushed out of the room, returned with one of the attendants. Apparently, the man was lying down holding his ear at a corner of the corridor leading from the front of the parlour, a perfect blind spot.
“…So it was you, huh.”
His expression, which had given off a slightly sleepy vibe a while ago, had changed and was now very grim. I had thought that this man was the only one among the four attendants who didn’t seem to be elusive, but it would appear that, too, had been fake.
“Sir Yoimachi, correct? To be eavesdropping…Was there something that caught your interest?”
“So shameless…Our precious princess is to be married into this place. It’s only natural to be cautious.”
“Huh, in that case, you could have just grabbed Jolga and talked to him. There was no need to eavesdrop on our meeting…You’re a ‘Kusa,’3 aren’t you?”
“Are you surprised that I know your ‘name?’ I collect information from far and wide.”
Well, for this one, I actually knew the name originally 4. It was an expression that was often heard in period dramas and movies. The word “Kusa” was used to describe ninjas.
“You…Who exactly are you? You’re not just a mere ‘advisor,’ are you.”
“Yoimachi” who hadn’t said much in front of the other attendants, stared fixedly at my face and questioned me. He seemed to sense that I was fishy, just like “Tori’ichi” had.
“Appearance-wise, you look fairly young. I would say you’re the same age as lord Seiji and lord Tokiwa, but…I just can’t explain that cunning mind of yours. Which part of Hell did you crawl out of?”
He sure has a rather vivid imagination…Now, where shall I begin?
Well, let’s start with this.
“I will answer your questions to the best of my ability. But first, let me confirm something…The giant serpent is ‘gone,’ isn’t it?”
“You are a subordinate of the King and are most likely the only real guard of Princess Shirayuki.”
“H-How did you!!!”
Yoimachi was quite surprised, but that was the answer one would get soon after eliminating the unknown factors.
Seiji and Tokiwa were favourable toward the Princess, but it was still unclear what that mother would do, and they were not sufficient as guards. Tori’ichi was a smith, just as I had guessed. That too was not it, since he was likely responsible for tending to the “Dragon Slaughtering Sword.” The young man called Asagi was not very good with the sword, according to Jolga and the others who were watching him. He was also probably not even of the same age as the others.
Thus, there were only three people left. So, the one who would “take action” among them was the greatest ally of the Princess.
Currently, the kingdom of Palcemith was in the midst of raising various demands of Princess Shirayuki and the Hinoen Kingdom.
Yoimachi, who attempted to seize any weakness to gain an advantage in the negotiations, can certainly be said to be on the side of the Princess. On the other hand, not making a move didn’t mean that someone was definitely an enemy.
However, he probably didn’t want the rest of his fellow attendants to notice what he was doing.
“…Now then, will you please explain? The connection between Hinoe and the Sasaragi family is hidden behind this farce.”
Author: In some places, dragons “Ryu” are called “Ja”.