༺ Oben (1) ༻
Three days passed by without any incident.
If there was… it would be that Renee learned more about Hegrion through their conversations.
Apart from an incident where Renee felt both relieved and uneasy when the wary Hegrion mentioned his obsession with training his muscles, the trip to the Holy City was relatively uneventful.
The carriage came to a stop.
Vera looked out at the scenery of the Holy City and spoke.
“I see nothing but white landscapes, just like Eirene. It might be because everything is covered in snow, but it seems that the buildings themselves are white. There are areas that resemble the Holy Kingdom.”
Renee showed a pleased expression on her face.
“Really? What else?”
“One thing that stands out is that the buildings here are quite low. The tallest structure you can see in the distance is the castle, and even that doesn’t have more than four floors.”
Renee tilted her head.
It was because she knew that modern architectural styles usually prefer taller structures.
“Oben is a country that is often invaded. Tall buildings are prohibited by law as they could cause severe damage to the surroundings if they collapse.”
“Ah, so that’s how it is…”
“You can see the Dragon’s Nest and the Citadel of the Dark Night on both sides, right?”
Hegrion’s gaze sank.
“I find them very despicable. I am quite certain they are not interested in us, but they engage in destructive acts just because we are caught in between them.”
“…Have you considered moving the capital to a different location?”
“It has been an ongoing challenge for Oben. However, it is not something that can be done just because we want to. It requires sacrificing many things, such as people’s livelihoods, established trade networks, and various other problems. Given Oben’s limited finances, it remains a distant goal.”
The tone of his voice grew colder as he spoke.
Renee put aside her personal dissatisfaction with Hegrion and offered a few comforting words.
“…Stay strong. I’m sure you’ll find a solution.”
Hegrion’s gaze briefly turned toward Renee, but he quickly averted it.
“I appreciate your words.”
The serious conversation dampened the mood.
Hegrion realized the change and he smacked his lips awkwardly, then resumed with the lively tone he had used earlier.
“Oh, because of these circumstances, the Holy Kingdom is held in high regard by Oben.”
“I’m talking about His Holiness, Vargo. He has accomplished many deeds in the north, like slaying the Demonic Dragon and driving the vampires to the verge of extinction.”
Renee’s eyes widened.
It was a story she was familiar with.
As it was the story of the time Vargo was traveling around the continent in his prime, there was no way she wouldn’t know about it as the Saint of the Holy Kingdom.
Hegrion smiled a little at the surprised expression on Renee’s face and continued.
“The elders who still remember that period regard the Holy Emperor as the greatest of all the heroes in the continent’s history. Even my grandfather, the former Sovereign Lord, is no exception.”
“That… that’s amazing. His Holiness…”
Renee’s face lit up with interest.
It was a story she knew, but it still made her feel something.
How could she not be surprised when the man she knew as her kind-hearted grandfather held such a position outside?
While their conversation continued, Vera, who had been quietly listening until then, asked a question.
“Is the former Sovereign Lord doing well?”
It was a question related to what he remembered during the last lapse.
The former Sovereign Lord of Oben, who happened to be Hegrion’s grandfather, faced a life-threatening situation as a result of a vampire curse.
He wanted to know whether it already happened, and Hegrion’s answer wiped the expression from Vera’s face.
“Yes, aside from his intense focus on weight lifting, he appears to be in good spirits.”
“Yes, weight lifting. Oh, speaking of which, it is part of a cultural movement that was popularized around fifty years ago in Oben. It was primarily led by young men who revered His Holiness, and focuses on accentuating masculinity through rigorous muscle training.”
A fiery tension filled the atmosphere as Hegrion recounted this in a cool tone.
“I have been curious. Is it true that His Holiness Vargo possesses lats as wide as the ocean? Are his pectoral muscles so big that the buttons of his shirt would burst? Also…”
As he continued, the expressions on both their faces became cloudy.
Do lovers have telepathy?
They found themselves unintentionally pondering the same thought at Hegrion’s enthusiasm.
That perhaps, Hegrion’s obsession with muscles was somehow Vargo’s fault.
In the royal palace of Oben, a huge elderly standing at the castle’s entrance shouted.
“His Majesty, the former Sovereign Lord has come to greet you.”
Vera, who had learned about this person from Hegrion, surveyed him with blank eyes.
“…His height is similar to mine. It’s hard to believe that he is a day over sixty because he is brimming with energy. He is a study-looking old man with a white beard flowing down to his chest, and…”
As Vera continued to describe his appearance to Renee, he hesitated.
Seeing Renee tilt her head, Vera sighed deeply and added in a hushed voice.
Renee’s body stiffened.
Vera wanted to shut his eyes tightly.
The reason being that the former Sovereign Lord of Oben, who was right in front of them, was standing topless, flexing his muscular chest.
“Welcome, people of the Holy Kingdom! I am the former Sovereign Lord of Oben, Kalderan Oben!”
Behind the roaring Kalderan, a middle-aged man with a delicate appearance was at a loss. Judging by how he called him ‘Father,’ he must be the current Sovereign Lord of Oben.
The eyes of the current ruler and Vera met.
He bowed his head repeatedly with a defeated expression, and Vera averted his gaze.
“Aksan! Show the guests in! They must be tired from their long journey!”
Once again, he spoke with a booming voice.
Aksan, the reigning Sovereign Lord of Oben, let out a deep sigh and addressed the group.
“…Nice to meet you. I am Aksan, the Sovereign Lord of Oben. Let’s exchange formal greetings later… for now, please come inside.”
He spoke with a voice that seemed weighed down by weariness, and then he raised his hand to gather the servants and led the group inside.
At that moment, Renee thought.
…It seemed that Oben was quite different from what she had imagined.
They quickly unpacked their belongings.
They didn’t have a lot of luggage in the first place, and what they had could be easily organized by the servants in the castle.
Following the servants’ guidance, they arrived at a dining hall.
The group faced Kalderan once again.
“Such esteemed guests have arrived! We tried our best, so please enjoy to your heart’s content!”
Just as he said, there were numerous exquisite dishes made from various rare ingredients only available in the north on the long table.
Vera was briefly taken aback by the sight but soon looked at the food on Kalderan’s plate.
Meat, more meat, and even more meat.
There was also a shake that looked creamy and thick even at a glance.
Vera immediately recognized what the shake was.
— There is a Vision Shake that has only been passed down to members of the royal family. I will make sure to treat you to it when we arrive in the Holy City.
It must be the Vision Shake that Hegrion had been bragging about on their way to the Holy City. Vera had a somewhat indescribable expression.
Meanwhile, Kalderan mistakenly interpreted Vera’s expression as interest and asked him.
“Hmm? Are you interested in this shake?”
“Hoho! Don’t be shy about it!”
Kalderan looked delighted. Jiggling the shake in his hand, he asked an attendant to give it to Vera.
“I heard it from my grandson. He promised to serve you this shake, right? It’s not comparable with the Vision Shake in the Holy Kingdom, but give it a try!”
There was no such Vision Shake in the Holy Kingdom.
Vera wanted to say so, but he held it in and reluctantly accepted the shake from Kalderan, unable to bring himself to refuse in the atmosphere.
Renee was shocked that Vera did not refuse it, so Vera explained to her in a quiet voice that only she could hear.
After the small incident, Kalderan spoke during their meal.
“Now, I think it’s time for me to ask what your purpose is for coming here. Tell me, and I’ll help you wholeheartedly. Oben deeply cherishes the grace we received from the Holy Kingdom.”
He spoke with a satisfied expression as he glanced over Vera’s chest.
Vera felt slightly embarrassed as he continued to be the subject of attention since entering the Archduchy.
“… We are heading towards the Dragon’s Nest. We came here to request your guidance. If it’s not too much trouble… May we ask the Archduke for this favor?”
The response was an enthusiastic agreement.
He readily agreed without much thought, leaving Renee momentarily surprised at his eagerness. Then, she asked Hegrion.
“Um, is it alright with the Archduke as well?”
“Actually, I wanted to make that request myself. I might be enlightened if I travel along with Sir Vera. Moreover, it is the Dragon’s Nest, so I can make preparations to defend against an invasion. It is like killing two birds with one stone.”
There was that.
Sometimes, when things are resolved too easily, feelings of unease arise.
Renee was now feeling that kind of unease.
Seeing Renee hesitate and unable to find the right words, Kalderan spoke up.
“Don’t worry about it! You are very much qualified to make such a request to Oben.”
Should she ignore years of experience?
Kalderan seemed to understand Renee’s thoughts just by looking at her expression, and he chuckled before adding.
“Fifty years ago was a time of hardship for us. It was a terrible era filled with wars and violence everywhere. During that time, you helped us. You saved a country suffering under violence without asking for anything in return. So, wouldn’t it be right for us to repay that debt, even if it’s this late?”
Renee couldn’t help but feel a bit embarrassed by Kalderan’s words and replied.
“It was His Holiness…”
“Not just His Holiness, but also the people under his command.”
Kalderan thought that Renee, who refused, looked very humble and continued.
“Sometimes, these good intentions lead to creating a better world. That’s what the Holy Emperor said when he left this place fifty years ago.”
Renee raised her head.
She thought that she had heard that somewhere before.
“…It seems like what His Holiness said was right.”
Vargo had definitely said something like that.
Remembering that, Renee couldn’t help but smile.
“Is His Holiness doing well?”
“Yes, when I left the Holy Kingdom, he was tending to a flower bed.”
“That’s quite surprising. His Holiness that I met hated flowers, but now it seems like time has changed him.”
Kalderan burst into laughter, and Renee laughed together with him.
The atmosphere became warm and friendly due to the common topic.
The conversation continued for a long time, and the food was plentiful.
Just then, Vera, who was listening intently to their conversation, was asked by Hegrion.
“What do you think? How is the Royal Family’s Vision Shake?”
At that question, Vera felt his mood plummet.