Chapter 135 : Traces and Clues
… … …
Rio-tachi were visiting a city located at the southwest part of Galwark kingdom.
After an inn was prepared the questioning and cross examination of Charles and Alfred was entrusted to Vanessa. During that time, Rio decided to go out to shop for their daily necessities along with Celia. Their job was to secure a means of transportation to Almond.
Seeing that they were already in Galwark kingdom, they had no need to disguise themselves to avoid Bertram kingdom’s army. Thus, they decided to use a coach to continue their journey.
On a side note, Aisia was standing by in the inn to deal with any emergency situations.
「Is it okay to let her stand by in the inn along with Kouta-san and Rei-san? They must be tired from the journey right?」
Rio was talking with Celia who was walking by his side.
「It’s okay. They aren’t that tired in fact, since they’re not close enough to that man……… To Charles. I mean they kept hiding their faces with a hood and secluded themselves their room during our journey, right?」
Celia shook her head while smiling wryly.
「It’s okay but…………. At this rate, won’t they blow Cecilia’s cover in front of that man? 」
「For now. But I don’t know how to deal with that man from now on, his house is a troublesome one.」
「Understood. I think various things might happen during our journey but, I’ll cope with it. Please tell me immediately if you feel that something is amiss.」
「………. Yeah, thank you.」
Celia expressed her gratitude in an awkward manner.
「Well then, shall we have some relaxed time before going to buy a coach. Since we were always so tense all the way during our trip till we arrived here. Is there something that you want? 」
Rio suggested that with a wide smile on his face. Hearing that Celia was slightly perplexed, and then she opened her lips.
「EH? Is that true? ……….. Then, do you want to have a conversation with me for a while?」
「A conversation with you? I’ll keep you accompany for a pleasant talk no matter when and where but, are you really okay with that? 」
It doesn’t have to be now right―― Or so Rio thought as he looked at Celia’s face.
「U-Uhn. I mean, we don’t even have time for just the two of us alone. Or rather, I couldn’t bring that topic due to the people in our surrounding.」
Celia replied in a shrill voice.
「Come to think of it………….. You’re right In that case, shall we have a chat over a cup of tea? Let’s go look for a nice shop nearby.」
After nodding to her wish, Rio looked around for a nice cafe.
Celia nodded with delight as she walked beside Rio with a bounce in her step.
◇ ◇ ◇
They then went to purchase a coach after spending some peaceful time together and returned to the inn where Christina-tachi were staying at.
「We are back.」
Rio entered Christina-tachi’s room after knocking on the door. In there, contrary to Alfred and Christina’s nonchalant expression, for some reason Vanessa was grimacing on her own.
「Welcome back, lord Amakawa. You came just at the right moment. I wanted to ask something from you. May I have a bit of your time? 」
Christina welcomed Rio and asked for his time with a nonchalant face.
「Yeah, I don’t mind………..」
Rio agreed while indirectly groping around the situation in the room.
「In that case, please take a seat. ……….. Vanessa, please change with those two for keeping watch over Charles.」
「………….. But, your highness.」
Vanessa was dumbfounded, and tried to make an objection. But――,
「It’s fine, just leave already. Please cool your head for a while. Those two also need to rest don’t they? 」
Vanessa left the room with an unwilling expression after Christina blatantly ordered her to do so.
Leaving only Rio, Christina and Alfred inside of the room.
「Well then, what kind of talk is this? 」
After facing Christina who sat on the chair in front of him, Rio asked what her business with him was.
「It’s about Alfred. After various investigations, I felt that there are several out of place events in the actual explanation given. As you can see, he became very obedient after being beaten by you and willingly cooperated with our investigation but…….. How should I say, it’s really hard to know which one is true and which one is false.」
Christina sent a sidelong glance at Alfred who was tied up on his chair so as to prevent his freedom of movement.
「So, what could it be that you want to tell me? 」
「Alfred tried to capture me by force. Apprehended Vanessa, his blood related sister who stood in his way, all the way till the fierce combat against you. Even so, that was not his real intention but something that he had to do. Seeing that arresting me might end up with me being disposed. The person himself said so when Charles wasn’t here」
「I see……………… By the way, may I hear his circumstances? 」
Rio asked Christina as he sent a sidelong glance at Alfred. Alfred kept his silence with an expressionless face.
「First reason is because he could exchange the life of the king by abiding Charles’ orders. And another reason is because the position of house of Aimar in the kingdom is in jeopardy which resulted in him being at a loss as to what would happen to it if he didn’t obey Charles’ orders. That’s the gist of the story.」
Alfred’s status was that of a noble of the kingdom. And for the sake of that status, he might need to show his allegiance to Charles even if it was just on the surface. But, Alfred’s standing changed into that of a prisoner he was caught along with that Charles.
That’s why he had no need to consider about Charles, at least not when the person wasn’t in front of him. In fact, Alfred was cooperating with Christina’s investigation.
「In short, it wasn’t his intention to follow along with lord Charles’ order. Nevertheless, changing his mind by this point is, by my humble opinion, a foolish idea which is contrary to his previous stance, but……….. For the time being, it should be his majesty who gave the order to apprehend your highness, right? 」
Rio stated his honest opinion.
「That’s right. The life of the king is of absolute priority to Alfred, the sword of the king. And that should be valid even when he becomes a prisoner like now. Such a formal person isn’t he?」
「……… Lord Alfred should have given up on the life of the king unless he captured you right? 」
「That’s right. But I missed the chance to ask that question before Vanessa’s rage reached boiling point.」
Nodding at him, Christina then shrugged her shoulders.
「I see……………… But then, I don’t think that this kind of talk is something that I have to hear. Should I change place with Vanessa-dono right now? 」
Guessing that the talk was heading towards an unfavorable direction for him, Rio suggested that opinion.
「I don’t mind even if you were to hear it. The current Vanessa has a short fuse. Naturally, I do wish that you do not leak any information regarding the subject of the conversation in this room but, given the delicate content of the information, I give you my promise that I won’t do something that will put you in a disadvantageous position . So, are you willing to do this? 」
Christina shook her head while making a request to him with a slightly flustered face.
「……………………… Understood. If that’s the case.」
After hesitating for a while, Rio nodded at her with a brief smile on his face. Thereupon――、
「Thank you very much. ………. It seems things are going well. Alfred, hear me out. were you given that kind of duty by my father? The order shouldn’t be as simple as arresting me right? 」
Christina asked that question to Alfred.
「………….. I received such an order from his majesty upon my departure. My mission was to accompany Charles…………… And to take care of princess Christina.」
「……………. Only that? 」
When Alfred replied in a steady tone, Christina looked at him with a doubtful expression.
Alfred nodded with a slight hesitant look on his face.
As expected, when Christina was filled with doubt――,
「………………. So, what is the meaning of my father’s order? 」
So she asked.
「The duty given to me by your father was to take care of you.」
In hearing such an irrelevant answer from Alfred――,
「Considering all of that, you were not going easy on us at all were you. I definitely would have been arrested by you if lord Amakawa didn’t appear at that moment. Don’t tell me that you were planning to betray Charles later? 」
Christina asked that question with a slightly irritated tone.
But, Alfred neither confirmed nor denied her query. He remained silent and kept looking down as if enduring something.
Seeing that, a frown appeared on Christina’s beautiful face and――,
「I won’t know the truth if you don’t say anything. At least give me some answers. In fact, your mission was to safely bring me back to the royal castle right? 」
She asked with asharp tone.
「Your highness, princess Christina. Though I feel reluctant to guess the motive behind his majesty’s action, why did you leave the royal castle? 」
Rio who couldn’t stand the situation anymore asked Christana that.
「………….. I know. I know already.」
Christina bit her lips to suppress her vexation. Because the one who ordered her to leave the royal castle was none other than the king himself.
That was why she felt irritated as she couldn’t judge Alfred’s real intentions but, she at least regained her composure on hearing Rio’s question.
「My apologies for my rude action.」
「……….. Don’t worry, thanks to you I managed to regain my composure. I unintentionally let my own feelings get the better of me. Thank you very much.」
「I’m not deserving of such gratitude.」
After Christina said her gratitude with a slightly embarrassed face, Rio slowly shook his head in denial.
「……….. In this matter, will you tell me about your opinion as someone who crossed swords with him, lord Amakawa? How serious was Alfred?」
After heaving a sigh, Christina asked Rio.
「I think he hasn’t lied up till now. It’s just that……….. I don’t know whether you can use this as a reference but, during our fight, I felt that there was some sort of hesitation in Alfred-dono’s movements.」
Rio told her of that fact with a calm voice.
「…………. Really？ I didn’t see him holding back at all during that battle though.」
Christina had puzzled expression.
「He definitely didn’t hold back during our fight. But, it doesn’t mean that he used up all the cards in his hand―― Rather, it doesn’t feel like he was trying to attack me at all.」
「………….. Is that so? 」
「If his goal was simply to capture your highness, he should have captured you right away when you tried to escape. The table would have been overturned if he had used the hostage in his hands. And yet, lord Alfred attacked in a roundabout way till your highness and the others escaped. On the contrary, in some way, it felt like he was buying time for you to escape.」
「……….. Even if your guess is correct, what is the reason that forced Alfred to hesitate? 」
Christina asked that question confused.
「Maybe―― He was hesitating about whether to protect you as it is or to safely bring you back to the royal castle ―― Isn’t it? According to lord Alfred’s testimony, his majesty’s order in itself was quite abstract. And it can be interpreted as both of my conjectures.」
After Rio explained his thinking so far, Christina’s eyes opened wide due to her bewilderment. Alfred’s face also twitched at the same time.
Maybe because she caught that slight reaction from Alfred without missing a beat, she stared intently at Alfred.
Certainly, if the order was just to bring back Christina, he could have easily done so. The part “To take care” was quite vague.
「Lord Alfred was also just by himself. He pledged his loyalty as the sword of the king to the king himself and yet, he had a lot of things he wanted to protect starting from his own family. That might be why he didn’t dare act carelessly and was troubled regarding what to do. This is just a guess but, I think his majesty also gave such a vague order taking account of his situation.」
Rio added more to his explanation.
「…………. I see.」
Christina bowed in gratitude to him while chewing her lips.
「Nevertheless, the current lord Alfred might be feeling guilty in regards to you , princess Christina. He was forced to choose between his own feelings or his duty. Thus he left his own fate in your hands without talking about his own feelings.」
Rio advised Christina to choose her own words wisely.
「……… Alfred wants to be judged by me? 」
「I’m not hundred percent sure about that. SInce in the end, all of my guess is just a guess from a 3d party who happens to be here.」
Rio shook his head while showing a slightly troubled smile.
「What do you think, Alfred? 」
Christina asked that question as she looked at Alfred.
「………….. No, I just…………」
Alfred averted his gaze in an awkward manner as he was lost for words. A silence descended for a brief moment. Then――、
「Well whatever. I’ll keep your punishment on hold for now. So please endure it.」
Christina heaved a sigh and said so to Alfred.
Alfred just nodded quietly.
「Thank you very much, lord Amakawa. Thanks to you I could make many arrangements for later.」
Christina bowed to Rio after saying her gratitude.
「Please don’t mind about such things. I didn’t do something that great after all.」
「That’s not true. I wouldn’t have been able to come this far without your help. And without you I would have been sent back to the royal castle a long time ago. Please let me express my gratitude in a more formal way after this journey is finished.」
「I am to the very end nothing more than an escort of Cecilia. If it’s gratitude, it should be towards her.」
Rio clearly expressed his denial.
「Well, naturally I’ll say my gratitude to her but………..」
Somehow Christina had a gloomy expression with a mix of anxiety.
「Let’s just focus on our journey towards Almond for now. Since I’ve bought a coach, our journey starting from tomorrow will be a bit more comfortable.」
「Well then, please let me excuse myself. Let me escort lord Alfred to the room of lord Charles. Your highness should go back to your own room too since I’m sure that you’re quite tired yourself.」
Thus Rio stood from his chair and ended their conversation immediately.
◇ ◇ ◇
The night of that day, Rio was keeping watch on Alfred and Charles who were placed in one of the separate rooms reserved by him.
Though they were restricted physically with shackles that were imbued with sealing magic , he was being thorough in his attention to detail.
「F^CK! Why in the hell am I lying on this kind of run down bed……..」
Charles grumbled as he lied on the bed. Maybe because he was unable to accept the fact that he had become a prisoner, his body was there but his soul wasn’t.
Alfred on the other hand was lying down in silence――,
（Existence similiar to spirit huh. That man called Reis is…………… Just too bizarre. It seems he could grasp our movements too. Why a man like him became the diplomat for Proxia empire. Truly a bizzare and mysterious person.）
Since Rio was in the middle of information exchange with Aisia via telepathy, Charles’ grumbling was the only sound that resounded inside the room.
Rio who was currently occupied in hearing the story about the man called Reis from Aisia was in his own world.
（Sorry, it seems he could predict our actions as he could sense my existence. I can also in turn sense his existence even if he is in his spirit form since the presence of the spirit becomes even stronger along with their power……….. Nevertheless, he ran away when I was fighting against his minions. I failed to capture him.）
Aisia’s apologetic-like voice resounded in Rio’s head. Maybe due to her regret as she had become even more talkative.
（No, his activities around this area and what he does is certainly a thing to worry but still, fortunately, that man called Reis―― Had some sort of connection to Lucius. Moreover, he seems to be using powerful demons right? I don’t know how he brought all of those demons, it was probably a trap. Your decision to not chase after him was correct. For pressing you to go as far as that…….. Sorry.）
Rio told Aisia about that fact with a worried tone and apologized to her.
Aisia said so frankly.
（Thank you. ……… Eventually, because I couldn’t get any important information from those guys who ambushed us, now I have to rely on your information, Aisia.）
Though Rio had repelled the adventurers along with those three of Arein, Lucci and Ven who had hired them, eventually he couldn’t get any important information from them.
Because he had heard the thunder noise of 《Thunder Rain》 fired by Celia to keep Alfred in check. Though Celia’s intention in using that magic was not to call Rio, fortunately Rio’s battle site against Arein-tachi wasn’t that far from where she was.
Rio had immediately interrupted his investigation and went to aid Celia, thus leaving Arein-tachi behind. After the end of the battle, even though he had asked Aisia to fly towards the place where he had left Arein-tachi behind, the only ones left were those hired adventurer.
（Reis had said before that Lucius was somewhere in the north. What are you going to do?）
（The question is how much of that information can be trusted. I know that Reis is a diplomat of Proxia empire but it doesn’t mean that Lucius is also in Proxia. But then again that’s our only clue for now…………. That’s why, Aisia, uhm……………..）
When Rio hesitated――,
（I know. As for me, I’m not in a hurry to go to the village where the seirei no tam arei. Should we push to a later time?）
Aisia said so with her monotonous voice.
（………. Thank you very much. If that’s the case, I guess I’ll go towards the north after escorting Celia-sensei.）
Aisia curtly replied when Rio proposed that plan. Thus their conversation interrupted as Rio heaved a sigh. And then, a while later――,
「…………… Can I ask one question to you, young man? 」
Alfred who sat on his bed suddenly started a conversation.
「What might it be？ 」
Rio rasked Alfred while looking at him.
「Are you a citizen of Bertram kingdom? Princess Christina called you by the name of lord Amakawa a while ago. But I don’t remember our kingdom having noble house with that name. I don’t think that someone with your level of skill would have remained unknown but, it weighed on my mind.」
After Alfred asked that question――,
「T-That’s right, YOU BASTARD! If not for you, this kind of situation won’t…………..! 」
Charles also spitted those words as if trying to gather his courage. Though Charles had developed some sort of fear towards Rio due to the previous battle, he had taken advantage of Alfred who had asked the previous question to Rio.
「……………. You’re overestimating my own abilities aren’t you?」
Rio denied Alfred’s remark while smiling wryly. But――、
「A-Answer his question! bastard, are you a citizen of Bertram kingdom? 」
Charles pressed him for an answer with a flustered voice.
「If I was one, what are you going to do? 」
「I-It’s nothing, thank you very much.」
When Rio asked back, Charles faltered. Then――、
「That guy. He might be thinking of controlling you by using your weakness. Young man, you don’t need to answer his questions if you don’t want to.」
Alfred heaved a sigh and interrupted their conversation.
「Alfred! Y-You, there should be no such thing! 」
Charles was clearly shaken in hearing Alfred’s words.
Rio just smiled at them and then――,
「Instead of answering, there’s something that I wanted to ask. Answer me if you know the answer to the question I’m about to ask. What do you think? 」
「Depending on the subject of your question. I can’t answer your question if you’re asking for the kingdom’s secrets.」
Alfred replied calmly.
「I just want to know the current whereabouts of a certain man. Perhaps you’ve heard of his name?」
「………….. Who is he? 」
「A man called Lucius L’orgueil. He was once a candidate for the sword of the king.」
Rio said Lucius’ name.
Hearing that, Alfred’s eyes opened wide.
「C-COuld it be, You’re the one at that time! ? The one who attacked us in Creia! He asked about Lucius too! 」
Charles screamed as if trying to confirm his suspicion.
「Yeah, what are you going to do about it? 」
Rio asked back with a calm tone.
「I-It’s because of you bastard that my unit suffered a huge loss! You killed my subordinates! Shaming my reputation dammit! 」
「I just acted in response to your own tactics」
「WHAT! ? 」
Charles was about to fly into a rage in hearing Rio’s nonchalant reply. But――、
「Stop it already Charles. It was a fight where both sides were armed and had their own cause. No one can complain in the case of someone dying on either side in battle.」
Charles’ face frowned in hearing Alfred’s remonstration. Then, Alfred looked at Rio and opened his mouth.
「Young man. The past aside, I don’t know where and what that man is doing right now.」
「I see…………… That’s regrettable. Well, in case you want to know about me, you can ask princess Christina about my identity.」
Though he did not expect anything from the start, Rio couldn’t help but say those words in a slightly dejected tone.
「……….. What is your relationship with that guy? If it’s fine with you, how about I tell you about his past? 」
「An old acquaintance, something that resembles an inseparable relationship but………….. It doesn’t mean that I want to know about the past of that man so allow me to refuse. 」
Smiling wryly, Rio refused Alfred who offered the information while looking as if making a guess.
And then, a while later――、
「You better sleep early. We are going to be moving again from tomorrow.」
Rio bluntly told them that. After that silence descended into the room for the second time.
Rio-tachi left that city the next morning. They arrived at Almond several days later.