In Another World With Just Monika Chapter 85
King Tristwin Ernes Belfast was often compared to a lion for good reason. He was broad-shouldered, broad-faced, broad-hearted, every bit of him was imposing like what everyone sought from a king. His blond hair was a darker shade, and his full beard was cut to a short triangular point. His gentleness was regal, his ferocity a savage grandeur.
None of that showed now as he slumped on the table, face to wood. "I just had to do that, didn't I?" he groaned. "I just had to all but declare war upon the strongest land power in this continent!"
The Duke began to laugh openly.
"Oh you shut up! This is half your fault!" the King rumbled out at him. "That young man you found was a little too convincing."
"He was convincing? He just helped you prepare the speech, it was you that had to sell it. Look at you! Now even I'm almost convinced it was a Regulus plot all along!"
They were inside one of a private study rooms in the palace and it was almost midnight. It was the closest thing to privacy they could get to speak frankly under double guard. The Duke had brought in wine from his own cellar to be sure there would be no poison this time.
Tristwin and Alfred Ernes had been born only a year apart. Their father had favored and trained them more or less equally. King Albert Ernes Ortlinde had even left it up to the brothers who would be king. It was said the brothers inherited half of the great king's potency Tristwin his valor, Alfred his intelligence.
Tristwin became King simply because he was more gregarious, more well-loved by the people. Duke Alfred had a lot more freedom to work behind the scenes for the good of the kingdom. The two brothers had no conflicts, together they were the king that Belfast needed in the passing of a great man.
The King pushed off the table and furrowed his brows. "Almost too convincing. Am I really such a weak king, that my kingdom should collapse not from without but by evil from within?"
"It's my fault. I shouldn't have missed this," the Duke sighed. "You almost died today because I was careless"
"The people I have trusted to keep safe my own body and my family have betrayed me, it's not your fault. What sort of King am I that they can be tempted this way?!"
"It probably isn't temptation though. These miscreants have tried to abduct Sue. Now they have gone so far to as try to kill you. Interrogating those servants I have a feeling they would admit that they have acted for sake of their own families held hostage. What they have attempted against me, surely can be very easily done against little people."
The King sighed and leaned back on his chair. "Those those people they have taken, they are probably dead by now, aren't they?"
"Unfortunately. Loose ends need to be tied up. Just think if Count Balza had not made his guilt so obvious to everyone, interrogating those servants wouldn't have given us anything. They could have been made to act on little more than whispered words from shadowy figures, there's no need for a noble to directly involve himself."
The King scoffed. "If Count Balza had been any less stupid and tried to involve himself, coming here just for the pleasure of watching me die ah, what a King. What a King. I really have been too kind when a mere Count could be so shameless."
"Well not as shameless as you. I watched everyone's face. Absolutely NO ONE expected you to roar so loud blaming Regulus. That was amazing." He clenched his fist and raised it, softly growling "Reeeeguuluuuuus!"
The King hid his own face again. "Shut uppp!"
If Monika had been around to see this, she might have commented, /"I Didn't Expect The King of This Country I'm a Guest Worker In to Be So Full of Gap Moe, This Is Probably Why His Marriage is Still So Strong."/
Again, Duke Alfred laughed loudly. "It's not like war is something we can immediately fear. You only accused them of perfidy, but fell short of actually declaring war because you can't decisively prove it yet.
"If Regulus does attack without provocation, then it would only prove you right and the people would rise up as one to fight. If they do not, then you still have their support and we can say that you have intimidated Regulus into behaving well again. It's a win/win situation for you."
The King looked up and in a much more even tone, said "Alfred. That young man"
"In little more than two hours, that young man saw this problem and ENDED the precarious situation that had been troubling us so these past few years. What sort of terrifying insight! I would even say those are the heavy thoughts of a King except that I never thought of doing this!"
Duke Ortlinde just shrugged. "Well the difference between you and Sir Zah Playa is that you still possess some measure of /shame/. To boldly and shamelessly lie from a position of disadvantage to turn it into an advantage, no normal person thinks like that."
"Exactly. Which is why I have to ask are you sure he can be trusted? I mean, I do not want to sound ungrateful he saved my life and all. And he rescued Sue. But he JUST HAPPENED to be on the road at the same time as the ambush, and JUST HAPPENED to have a ready solution to our problem, stabilizing the whole nation in one swoop and freeing us to act without restraint? That is masterful.
"And if he could arrange that to happen, surely it would not be outside the realm of possibility to arrange for such a toad like Count Balza to act."
The Duke nodded. A King could not afford to NOT be suspicious. "What did Yumina's Mystic Eyes of Intuition see?"
"Well she said that /'he knows he is not a righteous person, but he is mostly a good person. He is trying to do as much good as he can, but he can't help everyone.'/" His daughter's Mystic Eyes could be trusted to reveal the true character of a person.
Then he coughed into his fist. "But who benefits from Belfast and Regulus being at each other's throats? Could he be an agent of the Rammish Theocracy? The Rodmere Union?"
The Duke looked nonchalant. "Certainly not the Theocracy. Their dogma doesn't encourage any form of talent like that. Now the Union well, they certainly have the wealth and the flexibility to cultivate this sort of statecraft."
"And...? You don't think so?"
"Well consider this. That sort of young man with such ability either we must find some way to more permanently earn his service, or keep him from giving that competence to our enemies. We must either win him over, or failing that; kill him."
King Tristwin grimaced. "How unsightly. I don't know what sort of reward he would expect." He blinked and said hesitantly "Wait. You said before he is very fond of Sue? Isn't she the reason he was even easy to find in the first place?"
The Duke bristled at the implication. "No. First, I would never allow that. Even if you asked. Second, he is FAAR too affected by Miss Charlotte for that."
The King nodded. Understandable. "I mean no offense. It just sounds so strange that a person like that just appears out of nowhere and wants to help for so little in return."
The Duke continued "It is perhaps a good thing that he values his personal freedom so much. The thing that fails the test is that instead of thinking of him as an Agent we should be looking at TWO people. Where does his loyalty lie?"
The King suddenly looked enlightened. "Ah! I see. The Lady Monika."
The Duke looked far more troubled than before. He stared down at his cup, and whispered "It was not his power that healed you, but hers. But like she said: /she/ helped only because /he/ was fond enough of the people in this country. Tristwin my father-in-law's ability, [Recovery] could probably have been able to heal you.
"But what Lady Monika did was to turn back time for your whole body. Everything after sunrise didn't happen to you anymore."
"It is a powerful ability, yes? Where are you leading with this?"
"Done enough times, it could make someone immortal. And I can only think how many times could Lady Monika perhaps done that just to keep from losing her companion? Perhaps even reversing time to childhood, that he could live his life again, becoming new and free from pain a person similar yet different each time."
The King now winced openly. Impossible and insane and exactly the sort of thing you could expect from the walking legends. "I get what you're saying. We can't hold legendary beings by the standards of mortals. In the stories, saving the life of a King is the sort of thing that would get the Princess' hand offered to the Hero. We can't dare to do something like that."
The Duke sighed softly. "It is not so wise to step between a goddess and her love."
Sir Playa and Lady Monika had affection for Sue, and that was enough for them to hold the kingdom of Belfast in the palm of their hands. Any more would be terrifying.
The door opened. It was past midnight. General Blitz and Playa entered. "Your Highness! Your Grace!" the general saluted happily. "It is done!"
Playa bowed to either of them and then sat down and rested his face on the table without any ceremony. Normally it would be hugely disrespectful. "Blargh," he said. "Sorry. I have a monster of a headache."
/"Apparently the energy cost of sizing up the [Boom Tube] is exponential,"/ Monika explained.
"We should not allow you to spend time with Alan so much," the Duke said calmly. "His bad attitude is rubbing off on you."
Playa turned his head aside and said softly "Well, our transport magic make each other redundant anyway. Although I didn't realize he could just /Flash Step/ or /Hiraishin/ all over the place. Man would have been damn annoying to fight. He cleared out the whole mansion in almost a blink."
"Sir Alan is annoying in... so many more ways than that."
Playa made a 'heh-heh-heh' sort of trollish laugh. And the King understood.
There were some people that you just tolerated upon the idea that if they snapped they could kill everybody in the room. But it was also safe to disrespect them all you wanted if they considered themselves your friends, in fact doing so fearlessly was -exactly- why they would enjoy being with you in the first place. Being an annoyance at least meant you saw them as a person first rather than as a weapon to use.
What was that they said, when he tried to praise them about their amazing insight? /'Tactics are influenced by logistics, morale, and generalship - but strategy is determined solely by geography'./
If they had spent months in secret studying the political situation in Belfast to tip it right at most opportune moment, he would have believed that.
If they had looked at the map, heard his problem, and then in under an hour worked out a solution form their own long practice at the game, he would have believed that too.
He felt like that sword hanging over his head for so long had suddenly been removed, but before he could feel relieved he realized there was a dagger pointed at his throat.
And this was probably why Sir Playa and Lady Monika were so attached to Sue. The little girl was still so innocent and energetic that she didn't see them as anything other than her teacher and his spirit girlfriend. She wanted nothing from them except /everything they were willing to give/, and that sort of earnest childish selfishness would be so rare for people that thought in strategic realms.
"So yeah, so we totally stole his house," said Playa. "Sorry. Softly but surely shall the House of Balza disappear before the morn. More like LOUDLY but surely."
The General laughed. "My lords, you should have seen it! A white ring plunged down from the heavens, swallowing the Balza mansion. We were almost blinded by the brightness, and the roar of its opening it was like the fist of god struck down at the ground. And then when it faded there was nothing but dirt left behind."
"Astounding," said the King. He leaned back and tugged on his beard. "Is there a limit? Could you possibly maybe" he gestured all around him. "This palace?"
"No, not at all. It can only work on things that don't have any living occupants inside. It must also be obviously man-made and separate from the terrain around them. So, individual buildings maybe. Ruins that are now considered part of the overall landscape, no. Hills, no. Trees, no. People and animals, differently. They can only walk through on their own."
"Then where did you put it?" asked the Duke.
"Oh it's in the Ortlinde lands somewhere. Now you can more completely search the whole thing for evidence and clues. I could put it back later, or store it in a mountain glacier somewhere if you want it to more mysteriously just disappear."
The General laughed some more. "Hahaha, it's a good thing his fief is deep inland. We can wipe it clean of every trace his family ever existed. In one night! This will be legendary!"
Playa nodded. "Unfortunately it means whoever will be chosen to take over these lands will have to build a mansion anew. Preferably one without **** dungeons this time."
The General sneered. "For too long the nobles have been able to act without restraint to the common folk. Worry not, Sir Zah Playah. In the end, all shall have their accounting, in the eyes of men and the gods."
The Duke nodded. "Perhaps the next one that dares to misbehave, you may keep his house. You could probably collect a range of architectural styles."
The King gave his brother a look that said /'What the shite is happening to my kingdom now, Alfred?'/
The Duke made a small gesture that implied /'Just roll with it for now, Tristwin. This will help your standing.'/
Breakfast in the palace was a very subdued affair. Everyone had to be extra careful after yesterday's poisoning. Playa had been successfully invited to spend the night and then requested to join the Royal Family in their breakfast.
It was somewhat awkward. Unlike breakfast at the Ortlinde household, where Sue was a chatterbox happy to ask about anything and Playa was happy enough to reply about anything, the Royal Family had to think for anything in common they could talk about. Any more thanks for what Playa had done would eventually sound fawning and servile, and he clearly didn't want that.
The King thought of something. "Ah, Sir Zah Playah, there's this game that just been very popular. Chess. They also call it the King's Game. Checkmate I recognized that word. Do you play it, by any chance?"
That broke a little smile onto Sir Zah Playa's face. "More than a little. I actually own a small chessplayer's club in Reflet. We have a little golden championship cup just waiting for someone to claim it from the current grandmaster."
"Really. And who would that be?"
"Me, of course!" Sir Playa said, utterly without shame at self-promotion.
"Oho. Then, if you please, would you play and instruct me later?"
"I would be happy to oblige, your Majesty."
And then the uncomfortable silence returned. He looked to his wife and daughter, who did not feel confident at being part of the conversation.
Yumina just staaaaared at their guest. She would look down to cut the bread and meat off her plate, look up and raise the fork to her mouth while still staaaaaaring with such intense focus.
Playa twitched each time the palpable feeling of her gaze left, and then returned.
The King decided to fill the silence with chitchat, and asked Playa about what he had been doing in Reflet and how Sue's studies were going.
"An adventurer?" The Queen was honestly surprised that he had chosen that as his occupation. "But you you could be so much more. Oh, I mean please my impoliteness but it doesn't sound like a very profitable profession for a man of learning?"
The red-suited youth smiled and nodded. "Yes, that's true. It's not one I do for sake of earning money. I've got plenty of other little enterprises to work behind me in Reflet. You know the little chess club inside the Silver Moon Inn, for one. But there's also THE BEST DANG CHICKEN IN THE WORLD."
/"Seriously, Player? It's good, but it's not that good."/
"Mah Chickenjoy fried chicken is at the perfect intersection between affordability, deliciousness, and class. A commoner and King could enjoy the bucket meal with equal relish! That is what it means to be the best!"
The Royal Family paused to stare at him.
"Excuse me, but... what? Why... fried chicken?" asked the Queen. "Is it a recipe... or a restaurant of some sort?"
Yumina looked down at her breakfast of crepes and sausages and fried eggs, a mix of salty and sweet. Then back up again. The confused nature of her stare - Playa understood her question immediately.
"Life is meant to be enjoyed. People can enjoy the new as much as they enjoy the familiar. That is what is at the heart of the concept of franchising. That where-ever you might roam, you might find a slice of home."
Yumina's stare continued to ask /'But why chicken?'/
Playa shrugged and then began to weave his shoulders from side to side. "Crispylicious, affordalicious, egaliticious, that's the Zahlibee waaaay."
/'But why CHICKEN?'/
"So... it is like a hobby?" the King concluded. Chicken was something everyone understood. It was a strange way to break the ice for conversation, but now the air over the table had lightened. Well done. "It's valid as any, I suppose. A man who can cook is still respectable."
"Yes. Enjoy what you are doing and make it give your life meaning. Never be afraid of looking silly. One can learn from being taught or one can learn from going out and doing." He shrugged. "One does not become the [Absolute Master] of [Wind] magic just from reading books."
Saying that sort of thing how arrogant! In older days magicians would go into duels just for that. But from him, it sounded like the absolute truth that only a fool would challenge. Much like how blaming Regulus for yesterday's regicide plot, come to think of it. Too bad duels were outlawed.
And then Playa explained that was he was teaching Sue was not like being a physician, but a Field Medic. She was too young to be adventuring, but if the worst happens at least she would be able to take care of herself and those she cared about.
"Do do you like teaching Sue?" Yumina spoke for the first time.
"Oh. Of course. She's dedicated and energetic and soaks up all that knowledge like a sponge. She trains by herself instead of being told to do her homework. It's a joy to have that sort of student."
"So you do not dislike younger women?"
The King winced. Yumina, your choice of words have unfortunate implications, please retract them.
"Ahahahaha" By the embarrassed expression on Sir Playa's face, he recognized that as well. "I wouldn't say dislike as such, no."
The King coughed. "Please excuse my daughter. In any case, did you know that she also has the [Wind] affinity? If it would not be too much trouble, perhaps you could share some insights later. That is what she meant, I think."
"Oh. Right. Yes, that's logical. While magic as practiced here doesn't have an emotional component, it still influences visualization and the rate of magic consumption. I'd be very happy to oblige."
The King nodded amiably. "Thank you, Sir Zah. Now, about this... Chickenjoy. Would it be possible to-"
Yumina stood up, slammed her palms on the table and declared hotly "Mother! Father! I have decided. This is the man I will spend the rest of my life with!"
Everybody froze in their seats. Playa laughed helplessly "Ahahaha, well, time to GTF-"
/"Wait, hang on Player. I want to hear this out."/
Playa could only wail "MONIKA WHY."
The King could only go "YUMINA WHY."