Chapter 180 : Victory For Her Highness
「How about a duel between you and me? 」
Everyone felt that there was something wrong with Hiroaki’s sullen face as he approached, and he proved it when he suddenly challenged Rio to a duel. At that, the atmosphere of the place suddenly changed. Rio, Celia, Christina, Flora, and basically everyone there silently assessed Hiroaki’s real intention.
「My apologies but I cannot allow that.」
When Rio was about to ask whether it was one of Hiroaki「Joke」, Christina flat out rejected that idea.
「…. Ha~h, I’m not challenging you, Christina.」
Hiroaki became even more displeased, seeing Christina’s action as an attempt to protect Rio.
「I acted as the representative of Restoration and judged that this isn’t somebody else’s problem.」
Christina replied clearly, showing her stand.
「Nonono, I think you misunderstood me there, I said this was a “Sideshow”, right? 」
Hiroaki shrugged his shoulder. Though he tried to look calm outside, everyone could sense that he was sulking. Christina even foresaw that his facade was about to crumble.
「Side show, is it?……. This might sound admonishing, but do you realize your status in this party? What exactly are you trying to convey by initiating and participating in this “Sideshow” of yours? Do you really understand what your actions could convey to people?」
Christina asked, staring into Hiroaki’s eyes.
「Hou, admonishing huh… That’s obvious. To celebrate Flora’s return. And while I’m at it, to invite her benefactor.」
Hiroaki replied proudly with a sneer on his face. But――、
「It seems you really are clueless huh.」
Christina sighed as she lamented out loud with a sad tone.
Hiroaki’s expression turned serious when he heard Christina’s words. Seeing that expression, Christina opened her mouth and began to explain to Hiroaki what exactly the implication of his action was.
「First of all, Lord Amakawa is not a citizen of the Bertram Kingdom, much less part of the Restoration faction. He is here as our benefactor and guest of honor. He is definitely not someone I invited as an afterthought or as a『While I am at it』matter. On that note, you, Hero-sama, are the symbol of Restoration. And Restoration is the party organizer here. Yet, you challenged the main guest, the guest of honor to a duel…do you realize how rude it is for you to make a spectacle out of our honored guest?」
「…….. A~h, from the way you’re saying it, why do I get the feeling that you’ve completely misunderstood my intentions? Well, don’t get so worked up over it. Your reaction is over the top you know? 」
Hiroaki turned his gaze away from Christina, perhaps feeling like he was at a disadvantage in a frontal clash with her. So, he only awkwardly scratched the back of his head as he replied.
「The meaning…… Of your remark, is it? 」
Although Christina dearly wanted to tell him that her ‘Over the top’ reaction was normal, she smothered that impulse and smiled at him. After that, she tried to hear Hiroaki’s side.
「Yeah, that’s right. Didn’t I say that it’s a ‘Side Show’? I mean, he is said to be the one who defeated the King’s Sword. So, wouldn’t everyone itch to see his true strength? That’s why I proposed a duel. That way, wouldn’t everyone see the truth for themselves?」
Hiroaki words sounded like an excuse to Christina’s ears more than anything else.
「A duel……isn’t something that could be arbitrarily decided like this. It’s a ceremony where nobles will put their life, honor, and pride on the line. It’s definitely not something one does without a shred of hostility to the other side. It’s definitely not a game. So, Hero-sama, is there something that you aren’t willing to yield to Lord Amakawa to the point that you have to challenge him?」
Christina heaved a deep sigh as she criticized Hiroaki for his poor choice of words. Although she, having seen through his facade, was vaguely aware of Hiroaki’s true motive, she couldn’t prove it. And, even if she had the proof, she couldn’t point it out since he could easily play dumb.
「Aaah, so the problem is with my choice of words. It’s not like I’ve enmity against him. I just feel that I won’t be able to gauge his true strength in a half-hearted match-like game. I mean it’s him, the dashing brave who defeated the kingdom’s strongest knight, against me, the legendary hero you know? I thought that duel was a more appropriate word for this kind of spar.」
He ended up uttering irresponsibly. Either his irresponsible words were because he couldn’t refute Christina’s words or maybe he was trying to make light of the situation, but that wouldn’t be enough to make Christina back down, especially considering the current situation.
「……anyway, it still doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been rude to Lord Amakawa. You know that you’re a hero. The symbol of Restoration. And, this party is one that Restoration has organized, thus I want you to be careful and please hold back from saying anything impolite to the benefactor of Restoration.」
Christina’s criticisms of Hiroaki were valid. To her, as the representative of Restoration, it wasn’t okay to just let Hiroaki, the hero who was also the symbol of their organization, hurt and act impolite towards Rio, the benefactor of their organization and also a foreign noble.
In the first place, Hiroaki challenged Rio purely due to jealousy. Flora’s feelings that leaned towards Rio rather than Hiroaki, Rio being treated as the leading actor rather than Hiroaki, all those thoughts didn’t sit well with him and that was why he acted as he did. However, he was unjustified in having those feelings of Rio.
Normally, the actions Hiroaki took from his apprehension would be excused due to his status as Hero. However, today was an exception. There’s no way that his complete ignorance and impolite behavior towards someone who contributes greatly to their cause could be excused. If it were to be done, then it could cause problems to Restoration’s credibility. Christina, both as an individual and as the representative of Restoration, couldn’t let that happen on her watch.
However, Hiroaki didn’t appreciate that. Whatever reasons she has, he didn’t find it amusing that Christina was favoring Rio rather than himself. Or perhaps, she was doing this to faceslap Hiroaki with the truth.
「I deeply apologize for this, Lord Amakawa. We sincerely had no idea that our Hero-sama had such a competitive spirit. Will you be benevolent enough to forgive our carelessness in this regard?」
Ignoring Hiroaki, Christina bowed to Rio as the representative of Restoration. And since royalty wouldn’t bow their head in public for no reason, the venue was instantly stirred. Meanwhile, Celia, Flora, and Roana were watching over the situation with anxious expressions etched on their faces.
「Please raise your head, I really don’t mind this situation.」
Worried about the people’s reactions, Rio urged Christina to raise her head.
「… My deepest gratitude.」
Christina sighed, as if to expel the tension from her body, and raised her head. Yet, just as she felt relieved that everything had been settled peacefully and that she had avoided the worst situation…
「…then, let me rephrase it again. Will you have a match against me? This is my personal request.」
Now instead of a duel, Hiroaki proposed a match to Rio.
At that, Christina was shocked to the point of unintentionally raising her voice. Even Celia and the others were looking at Hiroaki with a dumbfounded expression. Hiroaki was completely disregarding everything that had been said up until this point.
「Oioi, calm down. This isn’t a duel. I, the hero, am requesting a match. I mean since you told me that applying for a duel, when all I want is a match, was a rash decision…I figure asking directly for a match should be alright…right? There’s really no need to get so worked up about it, really.」
Hiroaki’s tone was light as he tried to gloss over his sullen mood.
Look at him, just who is the one getting so worked up here? Aren’t you the one who is desperately trying to shame Lord Amakawa by defeating him in a match? How childish…
Christina, left speechless by Hiroaki’s action in trying to force his idea through, felt a bitter taste in her mouth. She felt that the current Hiroaki was impossible to convince to think logically.
She had never expected him to be such a fool. There was no way to grant Hiroaki’s wishes in the current situation, but if they didn’t, that would only make his mood worse than it currently was… But――,
「I understand. If you insist, I shall accept this match.」
Perhaps feeling that the situation was growing worse by the second, Rio decided to lend a hand to Christina and accepted Hiroaki’s request for a match. After all, Hiroaki was like the glue that kept together the foundation of Restoration, the place where Celia was staying. So, Rio would play along with Hiroaki as much as he wanted while making sure there was no unpredictable factor in the near future.
Hearing Rio’s agreement, Christina blatantly showed her disbelief. After all, though Rio would gain nothing by accepting this match, regardless of the results, there were many demerits if he chose not to accept it. However, Christina, who has mistaken his acceptance as an act to save her face, bit her lips in frustration.
「I really have no reason to refuse since you wish to see the height of my power with this match. 」
So Rio told Hiroaki his reason for accepting the match. After all, if he refused the request, his relationship with Hiroaki might deteriorate. And, if that happened, it most likely would have an unwanted long lasting effect.
If Lord Amakawa refused the request for the match here, this hero might’ve said “Running away from the match huh”.
Christina massaged her temple, troubled by Hiroaki’s most recent thoughtless action.
「It’s decided then. Well since there’s liquor here and it’s getting dark too. I guess it’s better to hold the match tomorrow.」
Hiroaki concluded the conversation, satisfaction radiating from his expression and face. He might be delighted because the conversation went according to his wishes. He had never had a shred of doubt that he might be defeated in tomorrow’s match. After all, he was the Hero.
「……….. Understood. Well then, I will be the one in charge of your match. Therefore, hero-sama, please refrain from acting on your own convenience for the rest of this evening.」
Perhaps because she had resigned herself, Christina’s mood has switched from her previous one; evident from the way she spoke with an extremely nonchalant voice with Hiroaki.
「Yeah, I know that already. It’s just a petty sideshow. Don’t get so worked up by such trivial matters. Well, since you seem to have been angered by this situation, I shall take my leave for now. I look forward to tomorrow’s match.」
Hiroaki responded with an apathetic voice before leaving the venue at once.
Roana looked between the group and Hiroaki’s retreating figure and had a hard time deciding whether to leave the venue or not.
「Please stay by his side, Roana.」
But, Christina pushed Roana’s back and urged her to follow Hiroaki.
「Ye-Yes I shall excuse myself then.」
After she bowed towards Rio and Christina, she chased after Hiroaki’s back. Once they were gone, Christina looked at Rio again.
「My deepest apologies, Lord Amakawa. Would you, by any chance, be willing to spare a bit of your time after this party? There’s something I wanted to talk with you about…in private.」
Her mental fatigue came crashing to her at once, so Christina couldn’t help but to apologise once again and then ask him to come to see her in private for some confidential matters after the party. It was obvious she wanted to talk about his match against Hiroaki though. Rio was happy with this coincidence since he also wished to talk to Christina.
Rio immediately agreed.
◇ ◇ ◇
In the end, the party continued smoothly and ended without any other incident. Right now, Rio was sitting in front of Christina in her parlor room alone. Celia had returned by herself since she said that she wanted to change her clothes, but she did say that she would return to fetch Rio home.
「I apologize for calling you when you’re already so tired after the party.」
Christina opened the conversation. She had already changed from her party dress to her casual clothes.
「Don’t worry about it.」
Rio replied, shaking his head as he did so.
「Let’s get to the point, the reason I call you this time is regarding tomorrow’s match against Hero-sama. My lack of power in this situation has caused even more trouble to befall upon you, Lord Amakawa. A simple apology wouldn’t be enough for me to be forgiven.」
Christina stopped beating around the bush and went straight to the point, apologizing to Rio for who knows how many times now.
「I really don’t mind. It seems that he really wanted a match against me and I don’t wish for your highness’ relationship with Hero-sama to deteriorate because of me.」
Rio made his position clear as he offered a wry smile to Christina. Right now, with no one present, he was able to give his honest opinion on this matter regardless of his status. Even then, the reply he gave was something that the other party desired the most.
Naturally, his reason for doing such service was Celia. Since Christina was Celia’s number one backer in Restoration, nipping the bud that will cause future trouble in his relationship with Christina, while simultaneously creating a debt of gratitude sounded like a good plan to him.
And most of all, the situation wouldn’t change even if he criticized Christina in the first place. Since Christina also felt sorry about this situation, he wouldn’t pursue this matter further. But, even then, this kind of gap still left her open to all kinds of attacks and criticism.
「… Much obliged for your consideration.」
Christina felt extremely ashamed of her own powerlessness. She thought that the reason why Rio told her what she wanted to hear instead of his honest opinion was because of his consideration. Honestly, it was very unlike Christina to misunderstand matters this badly, but then again, the current Rio―― whose current identity was a foreign noble called Haruto Amakawa ―― wasn’t someone to be trifled with, even by a royalty like Christina.
「Please don’t worry about this matter. It should be okay as long as it’s only a simple match in accordance with Hero-sama’s wish, right? 」
Rio said nonchalantly.
「This match…did you intend to lose on purpose, Lord Amakawa? 」
Christina asked as she stared at Rio.
「…. May I ask, what do you mean by “On purpose”? 」
Rio asked in return as he tried to smooth his expression with a smile.
「Between you and me, to be honest, I can’t imagine you losing a fight against Hero-sama, unless you purposely set up the match.」
「I…am extremely honored to receive such a high praise, but…nothing is absolute in a match」
Rio seems to be troubled by Christina’s revelation over her evaluations about him.
「Really, if I’m not wrong, you won in a match against the hero of the Galwark kingdom right, Lord Amakawa? In addition, you even defeated the hero-like youth while protecting Flora on your way towards Rodania.」
Rio nodded after a slight hestitation. He had no intention to hide the truth that had already been out in the open.
「I…despite the fact that I’ve seen Sakata-sama’s mock battle, which, may I add, was done on a whim, I simply can’t put it on the same level as your battle against Alfred that I saw. By my analysis, while Hiroaki is naturally stronger than any ordinary knight thanks to his Divine Raiment power, he is still a far cry from the truly powerful, who possess demon swords, especially once the match is brought to a close combat one, am I wrong?」
Christina asked with a curious look on her face.
「… It’s as you say. As long as Hero-sama has not received any combat training, he won’t win against me. And, that’s including the hidden ability of the Divine Raiment and the conspicuous effect of his strengthened body and physical abilities.」
Despite the degree of effectiveness, every demon sword was loaded with magic to strengthen one’s body and physical abilities. So, as long as Rio had an equal strengthening magic to that of the Divine Raiment and brought the battle to a close combat one, it was still possible to overturn the tide of battle with his skill alone.
「I also have a similar analysis regarding the power of the Divine Raiment and Hero-sama. Despite having so many matches against the knights from Restoration, those were nothing more than entertainment shows. He might be undefeated, but those were rigged matches where he was guaranteed to win. The person himself doesn’t seem to be aware of his own power’s limitations…」
Rio replied with a troubled face.
「My apologies for saying this out of nowhere. But, this has something to do with the reason I called you here, Lord Amakawa. Though it’s really disheartening for me to cause more trouble for you, can you defeat Hero-sama in tomorrow’s match? 」
Christina asked as she finally got to the point of the conversation.
「….. May I hear your reasons? 」
Rio didn’t immediately reply to her. Instead, he asked for her reason to request that of him.
「While I’m ashamed to say this, the current Hero-sama has become unbearably arrogant. Although it was part of Duke Euguno’s plan to pamper him until I managed to arrive at Rodania, he has become too pampered. And while it isn’t that bad a plan if I think about the organization as a whole, I still…」
Christina replied with a slightly worried voice.
「No matter how high a royal’s or the other nobles’ position in this world is, it’s nothing compared to Hero-sama who is said to be the personification of God’s Authority. And, in a certain meaning, it is true, but still… 」
Rio continued from where Christina paused.
「Yes. But, it’s such a situation. Though I couldn’t make that decision, considering the deteriorating relationship I would have with Hero-sama in the future should I go ahead with this plan, tonight’s incident has cemented my resolution. I’m convinced that I have to smash apart hero-sama’s pride for once.」
Christina said with a resolute tone.
Rio was speechless, even though he had the same opinion as her. Honestly, leaving Hiroaki as he was right now would bring unnecessary trouble sooner or later.
「Even pampering him like what duke Euguno did until just recently will bring nothing but negative results. That’s why, Lord Amakawa, please defeat hero-sama. Please let him know that there’s always someone stronger than him. This isn’t the kind of duty that I can entrust to someone less skilled. That’s why I made this personal request to you, as someone who is already well known for his martial arts prowess after defeating Alfred, our kingdom’s strongest knight.」
Christina said as she bowed her head to Rio. To let Hiroaki know that he wasn’t the strongest. Though frankly, it was something that everyone who grew up in a modern society should already learn and know.
But, for better or worse, Hiroaki had slipped into a medieval society that put him in a position that was equal to God’s Apostle. And, looking at his age of only 19 years old, he had grown impudent with his newfound power and the bootlicking he was given.
「In the first place, hero-sama is the one who forced you to enter a match against him. So I’ll make sure that he won’t do anything stupid nor complained about Lord Amakawa’s victory. I’ll even have him apologize and show his gratitude to you later. That’s why, will you please accept this request of mine? 」
Christina continued on.
「….. May I ask, what kind of victory you want me to attain? 」
Rio asked after pondering for a while.
「Make hero-sama go all out, and teach him the overwhelming difference between your power and him.」
Her wish wasn’t for an instant victory, nor for a hard fought victory. What Christina asked of him was to get an overwhelming victory over Hiroaki even after he had used up all of his trump cards.
「Quite an unreasonable demand huh.」
Rio slipped out a wry smile.
「…. Is it too hard for you? 」
Though Christina was taught some self-defense art in her royal academy era, she wasn’t a professional fighter. So, she kept wondering whether her request was too much for Rio or not. But, Rio shook his head to the side with 「No, it isn’t」――、
「I understand. Let’s make the necessary arrangement then. To present a victory to your highness.」
He accepted Christina’s request.