With the post-battle review conference regarding the defense of Nyegert over, Rion and Ariel planned to spend some time together. Ultimately though, they had to shelve those plans due to Charlotte’s presence and all three of them ended up having lunch together. Because they had researched the reputable restaurants prior to the battle they did not have to pick one at random like any other person in the town for the first time would.
It had been a simple trick by Rion in order to make the soldiers believe that they would certainly win thereby doubling their performance.
However, even though they were presently in that pre-selected establishment, Rion was still brooding over some thoughts in silence. He had hardly touched the food he had been served and didn’t have the tiniest bit of festive mood in his bearing despite their victory.
「…Now there, just what may you be thinking about?」
Ariel might have been used to those moods of his, but Charlotte definitely wasn’t. There was a hint of displeasure in her voice. She had expected there would be time for more personal conversations now that the battle was over, yet here he was being like this. She couldn’t really hold back any longer.
「I hope that Charlotte is aware that Rion hates selfish women?」
This question by Ariel made Charlotte think “You’re the one to talk” but she held her tongue.
「What could you possibly mean? I was just hoping to talk with him for a bit.」
「I see. Unfortunately Bandeaux is pretty poor at present.」
「…What does that have to do with anything?」
Charlotte was clearly bewildered by Ariel’s arbitrary remark.
「The barony cannot afford to maintain an official concubine.」
The reply was straightforward, astonishing and delivered with a smile on Ariel’s face.
「…I-I w-wish for nothing of the sort. This is not a subject I wished to discuss with Rion.」
「Oh? Did I ever say all this was about Charlotte?」
Charlotte was being poked fun at by Ariel who was even younger than her.
Rion spoke up without minding the girls’ conversation. Well, to be exact it was less “not minding” and more “not paying any attention”, he had been too lost in his own thoughts.
「Ah, what is the matter?」
Charlotte answered sounding upset. She completely ignored Ariel’s stern stare and focused entirely at Rion.
「That woman said that the devils and demons have gotten stronger, right?」
「…True. She certainly did.」
Learning that Rion’s chosen subject was Maria made Charlotte visibly displeased.
「Did she say anything about the demons we faced just now?」
「She was clearly surprised. It seems that the demons were stronger than she expected.」
「Is that so… The subjugation war is far from over, right?」
「Heavens, this topic bores me to death. I am not here to discuss those matters and if you are so insistent on asking questions anyway, do ask about me instead.」
Rion was bewildered from witnessing Charlotte’s selfish behavior directly for the first time. Ariel, on the other hand, was radiating mirth while holding a hand up to her face. She was poking fun at the older girl again by trying to suggest she was struggling to hold back laughter after what she had just heard.
Charlotte’s mind turned blank. She had absolutely no idea how could she have done what she just had and what on earth could prompt her to do it.
「Ahem, so what questions should I ask about Miss Charlotte?」
「A-ah. N-No, n-nevermind that. R-right, about that woman. She did say such things before.」
「Is that so…」
「Listen, could you at least tell me why are you so worked up about this subject?」
「Ah, I guess I should. I was just thinking that the demons were rather high in number and of strong varieties even though this conflict is just starting.」
「Is that so?」
In Charlotte’s eyes the last battle was pretty much a perfect victory, even if Rion seemed to be displeased with the outcome. She did not expect him to have those kind of thoughts with this kind of result.
「It was on my mind before, but recent events exceeded even my expectations. If the number and quality of demons keep increasing at the current rate, just what are we going to face in the latter stages? It would be really hard to face hordes of several hundred thousand.」
The strength of enemies would increase in line with Maria’s war potential. This was Rion’s initial hypothesis. However, he was now certain that the numbers just now had been too high.
「That is a given. Sadly I know little of those matters.」
「So you agree with me? I wonder if that woman knows something? Because it seems to me she does not share this view.」
Rion knew that the devil subjugations were in-game events and that was exactly why he was having doubts This being a game, the enemies were certain to grow stronger, something Maria herself had confirmed in the past. But it wasn’t immediately obvious that she and her group were growing their skill proportionally to the threat. Rion knew that there were no levels in this world and the only way to improve was honest dedication to training.
「…Why do you think so?」」
Charlotte didn’t even imagine the things Rion was thinking about. To no surprise whatsoever Maria wouldn’t tell anyone this was a game world.
「I’m just guessing here, but that woman has never looked like she has thought even a slightest chance of defeat possible, has she?」
「Now that I think about it, that is correct. I also feel the same thing from her.」
「Is it something she knows about the prospects of victory or is she just not giving the alternatives any thought?」
Maria was in possession of the game knowledge and Rion thought she might be keeping a secret trump card up her sleeve. But there was a necessity for a contingency plan in case she had nothing. While he did wish her a bad ending, he did not want himself or Ariel to be dragged into that mess.
「Pardon for the intrusion, may I have a moment of your time.」
Charlotte was surprised by the sudden appearance of Arnold. She did tell him the restaurant’s location but she didn’t expect that he would really come.
「…Is there something wrong?」
Rion did not actually ignore him this time. He had noticed Arnold’s arrival from the start but, for a while, pretended to not to know that the Crown Prince was here. He wished for the royal to hesitate on calling upon them and just go back on his own way but, predictably, such a thing did not happen.
「I would like to talk to Arie- no, with your wife, if possible.」
Rion frowned. He couldn’t figure out the intention behind Arnold’s sudden desire to talk to his former fiance at this point of time.
「In private, if you would be so kind.」
This was even more unexpected and Rion looked stunned without even trying to conceal that fact.
「Ah, do not misunderstand, please. It is not a serious matter, just a question I would ask her」
Arnold knew what Rion was likely suspecting right now, so he tried to brush away any potential misunderstanding.
「…It is not serious, yet you still have to talk to her alone?」
「For now, at least. In the future I would like to broach the subject with you as well, when the time is right.」
「Is that so… If Ariel doesn’t mind, I won’t complain either. But I would appreciate if you talked somewhere I will be able to see what is going on.」
Rion agreed after a pause for thought. He knew that Arnold was not the type to set up traps with straightforward and earnest requests.
「Shall we, my lady?」
Hearing Rion’s words, Arnold turned to Ariel with his next question..
「It is fine. I do not mind.」
Ariel replied without hesitation. She was curious about what Arnold wanted to talk about after all this preamble.
「…In that case, may I suggest the table there?」
Arnold pointed to a table considerably distant from where the Freys were seating. It was far enough to prevent the conversation from being overheard but still in plain sight of everybody – a perfect place in light of Rion’s request.
Ariel rose from her seat and followed the Prince to the location indicated where both of them sat down face-to-face.
「And thus the positions have reversed, have they not?」
Watching all this unfold Charlotte couldn’t stop herself volunteering an observation with a teasing look in her eyes.
「Compared to the Academy days, it is now your turn to be the jealous one, is it not?」
She brought this up because the whole situation reminded her of when the two of them had been talking about Arnold’s feelings.
「Ah. That’s right, we did have that kind of conversation before, didn’t we?」
Rion also recalled that incident from the past. That event had been something that had prompted him to consider separating from Ariel for a while and he did not look back at that time fondly.
「How about it? Do you now understand his feelings from back then?」
「No, I do not feel jealousy. I’m just worried that he might try something.」
「…Is that so.」
Charlotte understood that, even though they had finally managed to talk to each other, Rion’s feelings regarding the Crown Prince didn’t really change. This made her slightly disappointed.
「Shouldn’t Miss Charlotte be feeling jealous, though?」
「Oh, I am fine. I do not hold the same feelings anymore.」
「Is that the case?」
It was his first time hearing that. Rion had thought all this time that Charlotte was with them for the Crown Prince’s sake.
「It is. I find it regrettable considering the things I have done in the past, but I cannot deny the truth.」
「Oh, I get it!」
The surprise made Charlotte’s heart throb
「There is someone else in your heart, right?」
Rion asked with delight. Hearing this from him, Charlotte could only smile bitterly.
「…Yes, although that person happens to be terribly dense.」
This conversation helped her make sense of her own feelings. And of the growing irritation at Rion who was blissfully oblivious to them.
「Hmm, that’s quite rough.」
「…And you are still the same.」
Finally having a firm grasp on her heart, she despaired at Rion’s denseness.
「Eh? In what way?」
「Heavens, I don’t know how to talk to you anymore!」
「E-Eh? What is it? Did I, perhaps, say something bad?」」
「You did, and it was something really terrible.」
「…I have not the slightest idea what could that be.」
「And that is an aggravating factor. Honestly, you are a hopeless case, are you not?」
「But I guess if that is true, then so am I.」
Charlotte was, by now, perfectly aware that all this time she had been searching for a man like Rion. However, she had never expected that she would actually fall in love with the actual person.
Hence, she faced unwelcome thoughts about why did she again end up chasing after a love that would never end up fulfilled. She could not imagine Rion having feelings for women other than Ariel and that exact aspect of him was what she fancied most.
「I guess that makes both of us idiots.」
「…So very true. I guess we really are the same.」
But even so, she desired to enjoy this moment to the fullest. This alone brought happiness to Charlotte. Admittedly, she would never be his number one. However, she was certain that no woman in the world but Ariel could talk to Rion like she had been.
And it was not her own private delusion – in the eyes of the outsiders, their discussion looked just like a couple’s banter, something that raised smiles on the faces of people watching.
But there was an exception, someone who felt only displeasure by seeing those two like this. Ariel.
「D-do not fret, we shall be done soon enough.」
Arnold was well aware what was the source of Ariel’s displeasure, after all, it was obvious enough. She had been glaring in Rion and Charlotte’s direction this whole time.
「…Fine, what does Your Highness wish to talk about?」
To Ariel, who wanted to return to her seat as fast as possible, the faster the conversation ended, the better. Which was why she was proactive and cooperating.
「…Now that I think about it, it has been quite a while since we last sat face-to-face like this.」
「This is Your Highness’ business?」
Ariel’s stare became icy in an instant. She had no wish for an idle chat.
「No, by no means, I just tried to relax the mood before moving to the crux of the matter.」
「Does Your Highness really think that I can be placated by small-talk?」
「Ah…. It is just that my topic and our past are not entirely unrelated.」
「…I guess I cannot argue that.」
The only thing the two could talk about like this was their past. So, for the time being, Ariel suppressed her displeasure.
「Does my lady perhaps harbor a grudge against me?」
「…I wonder how am I even supposed to answer that, Highness?」
Although she did resent him, he was still the Crown Prince. Being in the position she found herself in, there was absolutely no way she would admit to her true feelings regarding a member of the royal family.
「I am not asking this as the Crown Prince. Then again, I guess I am posing this question exactly because I am the heir.」
Arnold came here to ascertain Ariel’s true motives but he could not put his intentions into words very well. Predictably, once they sat down to it, it proved a pretty difficult topic to discuss.
「This conversation would go much easier if Your Highness presented his intentions clearly.」
But Ariel had no time for subtleties or sensibilities of the Prince, she wanted the conversation concluded fast.
「…You are right, of course. What you shall hear from now on will come from this Kingdom’s Crown Prince. It is not something Arnold as an individual can discuss.」
「I am listening, Highness」
「Alright. It is obvious and expected that you would resent me, I shall not waste our time in pointlessly asking for forgiveness. Getting your husband entangled in that feud, though, is something I would like you to reconsider.」
「…Getting Rion entangled?」
This was not a question Ariel had ever thought to ponder and she couldn’t quite figure out where Arnold was going with this.
「Do you not think it would be unfortunate to have his talent unfulfilled because of a grudge he might hold against me?」
She did not expect this. She now saw the deeper meaning behind Arnold’s words, even if she still required more time to fully process all the implications. So even if she disagreed with him, she now knew where the Crown Prince was going with this.
「I believe Rion has already displayed his talent.」
「That he did. I’d say he is also employing it for the wrong purpose, would you not agree?」
「Wrong purpose… How exactly is his purpose wrong, I wonder?」
Ariel herself couldn’t make out the final goal of her husband’s schemes. She decided to use the chance to find out more and test how much thought had Arnold put into the subject.
「Take the last battle. He did not simply aim for personal glory, he aimed at denying it to anyone else. If he continues like this, he is likely to earn much merit and corresponding status, ultimately a very high position with both power and influence. And yet he would probably not have the kingdom’s best interests at heart. How could he when the future monarch will be me.」
That was spot on and, in truth, she did expect that by working closely with Rion the Prince would be able to figure out her husband’s motives. Arnold’s observation was not surprising, still, she found herself unable to reply.
「Is he planning to employ that position in his revenge against me, perhaps? That would cost him everything he gained. And everything he would stand to gain in the future.」
「…That possibility is hard to deny.」
Even if Rion was able to kill the Crown Prince, he would still end up as the enemy of the whole kingdom. Both of them had resolved themselves for that future. But now that she found herself discussing this subject again, and not just in the context of her own fate, Ariel couldn’t prevent her determination be shaken a bit.
And the Prince’s next words made her feelings lurch in a completely different direction.
「I hope you shall not take a slight at me asking this, but was that really what Vincent wished for?」
「…There’s no way someone like you would be able to understand my brother’s feelings!」
Ariel stood up in anger, scowling at Arnold. Just being told to rein one’s anger wasn’t enough for her to make that possible, especially when such a question was asked by the person chiefly responsible for her brother’s death.
「The fault is mine, but do listen for a while longer. I have been thinking about that incident all this time and not just about my role in it, but about Vincent too.」
「Vincent, in the end, did not try to escape his fate. I would not doubt his loyalty towards the Crown was an important factor, but I do not believe it was the sole reason.」
「…Do carry on, Highness.」
Although her anger had not really subsided, Ariel sat down. She never had the chance to learn much about her brother’s final moments and now, faced with one, she decided to take it.
「Pondering this, I arrived at one hypothesis – what if Vincent behaved like this in order to set Rion free?」
「Keeping in mind Rion’s skill, a successful escape was very likely. But that would condemn him to a whole life on the run, one with no future. Would it be strange for Vincent not to wish that on his… friend?」
Even though the idea came from the lips of the hateful Arnold, it was so very much like her brother that Ariel couldn’t reject it. This kind of attitude was exactly why Ariel loved her brother so much and why Rion served him from the bottom of his heart.
The words of the Crown Prince rang true and the moment Ariel admitted that fact, tears began flowing down her cheeks.They were prompted by an odd mixture of happiness, sadness, and nostalgia.
「And so we yet again arrive at the question – would Vincent wish that Rion throw away his whole life for the sake of revenge?」
This time there was no rage in her, still, she was unwilling to offer affirmation to his question. Were she to honestly speak her mind, she would admit that her desire for revenge against Arnold was considerably weaker than in the past anyhow. Not because she had let go of the grudge, but because she thought it was highly likely that Rion was a child of the Queen. And if that was true, she wouldn’t ever want him to end up killing his own brother.
However, Arnold wasn’t the sole target of revenge, there were also Maria, Erwin, and Lancelot. She saw no reason to let them off, yet moving against them would bring about the enmity of the kingdom too.
「I do not expect an immediate answer, but my lady, please, do think about this.」
「…I shall, Highness.」
「I see… Thank goodness for that.」
For the time being, Arnold felt relieved that Ariel agreed to give the matter a thought. He was really tense during this conversation and fully aware that this topic was not something he should have broached if not for his position.
His face finally relaxed. If just for a moment.
「So tell me, please, how does talking about nothing really serious end up making someone else’s wife cry? I can see now why you didn’t want me present at the table.」
Rion’s whole body was oozing bloodlust and he was barely able to keep a respectful manner of speech.
「A-Ah no, no, you misunderstand. I am not the one at fault for this.」
「Who else other than you? I would really like an explanation now, why did you make my wife shed tears?」
「All this is a great misunderstanding. Ariel may be crying as a result of our conversation, but it was all done with you in mind.」
「There is no need for you to think of me. I will think about myself on my own.」
「…Oh, absolutely, please do that. Instead of acting for the sake of the people at all times, do sometimes think of yourself.」
Those words of Arnold had completely taken Rion by surprise, the bloodlust forgotten in the sudden confusion.
「While a life dedicated to others is not necessarily bad per se, I am of the belief that one should never forget one’s own life comes first. Please, do think about this, even for once. This, incidentally, is what I have talked about with your wife.」
「…Have you now.」
「And, with this, my business here is concluded. Let us meet tomorro- ah, next time would be likely in the capital, huh? In that case, until then.」
Saying this, Arnold left the restaurant. From Rion’s point of view, he had just escaped without really explaining anything.
「Ari? What was all that about?」
「I wonder? It seems like Rion was lectured. Maybe His Highness wishes for a younger brother?」
Ariel replied casually hinting at the truth.
「Ah? Even if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be weird for that guy to choose me?」
Still, the thick-headed Rion would not be able to notice subtle hints like this. It was his talent to be dense in all matters regarding himself and those who knew him very well wanted to do something for him exactly because they were worried about that side of his. Rion was sharp, yet clueless. Charming, yet frightening. That kind of duality was one of his greatest charms.