Continues on from Chapter 4 – The Beginning of a New Life, and an Investigation
Continues on to Chapter 6 – Destination, Imperial Capital Arkham
Chapter 5 – Celes’ Confession
“Ash! Why are you still lazing around, you sleepyhead! Hurry and get up!”
Early in the morning, Ash, who had been sound asleep, was abruptly awoken by unbridled shouting that rang through his ears. He opened his eyes to see Silvia in her Academy dragon-riding uniform standing gallantly by his bedside. Her hair was unkempt, and beads of sweat were dripping from her forehead. Based on her appearance, it looked like she had just finished some training by herself. In addition to feeding Lancelot breakfast, she also performed knight training — that was Silvia’s daily routine. Even though the centre of her life had moved to the Escavaron, her lifestyle habits remained unchanged which was very fitting of Silvia’s character.
“Ungh? Hey…Ash…who is that woman…?”
Eco turned over and uttered several inexplicable words of sleep talk. Although Ash was curious about what kind of dream she was having, there were more pressing matters at the moment. Indeed, for Silvia to charge into Ash’s room with a pale expression, it must’ve meant that something serious had happened.
“What’s happened, Princess-sama?”
“Look at this!”
The thing that Silvia presented him with was the newspaper that was published in the Academy City. Keen to broaden her knowledge, it was no surprise that Silvia kept abreast of all matters that concerned the country. However, Ash’s admiration for her lasted only a short time.
“What…!? What is this!?”
After glazing his eyes over the newspaper, Ash was left stunned and his mouth agape. A sensational headline was prominently plastered on the front page.
Ranked 108th in the royal succession, Lord Oscar Brailsford is actually a girl! Caught in a storm of rumours, Lady Oscar Brailsford has been arrested for breaking the royal succession laws! Is Third Prince Uriel’s succession to the throne all but determined?
“How could this have happened!?”
Ash’s lips trembled and his face gradually turned pale. Due to the sudden and unexpected nature of the incident, Ash was unable to understand the situation right away. At that moment, the bedroom door which had been slightly ajar was gently pushed open.
“Ash-sama, Celes-sama has just regained consciousness.”
Appearing at the door, Cosette gave them an update with a serious expression that she seldom displayed.
Ash made his way through the ship’s passageways at full speed and rushed into the infirmary while Silvia followed him.
Shortly afterwards, Eco also arrived. She was still half-asleep, so Cosette had to lead her by the hand. Rebecca, Lucca, Jessica, Max and Mirabel were already in the infirmary. Lying on the bed, Celes eagerly tried to get up as soon as she caught sight of Ash.
However, she immediately frowned and groaned in pain.
“Are you alright?”
Ash immediately rushed over to Celes’ bedside.
As tears trickled down from Celes’ right eye, she buried her face in Ash’s chest. The blanket that was draped over her body slid off, revealing her bandaged chest.
The way that Celes spontaneously hugged him in such a vulnerable manner…was surprising for everyone, but what surprised Ash even more was her pitiful demeanour. The usual Celes always mocked Ash for being a ‘filthy insect’, but the way she acted now was like a helpless lost child who could do nothing but tremble and sob. All of the girls present also seemed shocked to see Celes in tears, so they exhibited no intent to forcibly separate the two of them.
“…Have you calmed down now?”
Ash softly asked after a while, and Celes responded with a nod. She wiped away her tears with the back of her hand and then looked around at everyone in the room with a sharp glance. After that, she began to tell her story—.
“Zacharias III’s state funeral concluded without any complications. Since Oscar and I both expected Uriel to make a move during that time, we were surprised that nothing happened. After the funeral, Oscar returned home to the Brailsford territory to spend the night…but, armed soldiers suddenly broke in.”
“What did you say!?”
Ash was astonished to hear that, as was everyone else in the room given how they had been rendered speechless.
“Those guys forcefully arrested Oscar on the charge of violating the royal succession laws. Needless to say, they were all puppets sent by Uriel…”
“Uriel already knew about Oscar’s secret? No, wait—”
Indeed, although Celes had currently sworn her allegiance to Oscar, she was originally a spy for Uriel. Therefore, it wouldn’t have been strange if any information on Oscar was leaked to Uriel.
“It’s strange though. If Uriel had revealed Oscar’s secret earlier, he would’ve won without a fight. So why did he wait until now…?”
“That’s the kind of man he is. To Uriel, this is all just part of the game that’s known as the royal succession. His pride wouldn’t allow him to obtain victory over Oscar by revealing her gender, and he also had an ace up his sleeve with <Pluto Children>. It’s just that he never anticipated both me and Kriemhild falling into your hands — cough!”
“Are you okay!?”
Ash asked as he anxiously leaned forward.
“Yes, I’m fine. Compared to Oscar…injuries of this degree are not even worthy of mention.”
Celes began to speak again whilst Cosette comforted her back. Despite her pale complexion, a determined will was ablaze in her right eye.
“The crux of the problem is that Zacharias III’s death at this point in time has officially ignited the battle for the throne. According to the rules of the Chevron Royal Family, there are two key conditions that must be fulfilled by those with royal blood — the first is being male, and the second is having the greatest power. That is all that matters.”
Such rules are truly too antiquated…although Ash found it hard to believe, he continued to listen to Celes in silence.
“In the past, Oscar was always able to endure and maintain patience against Uriel’s secret ploys, but after Zacharias III’s death, she was finally able to retaliate in earnest. The present situation allowed her to proclaim herself as the strongest contestant and attack Uriel openly.”
“In this way, the tide of the situation turned to favour Oscar given her ability as a Dragonar. That was why Uriel tried to defeat Oscar with his own schemes before Zacharias III passed away. He truly is a deplorable bastard…”
“Which means that Uriel realised he could no longer remain calm given the circumstances — is that a fair assumption? After all, he finally resorted to the means that he had originally cast aside as unsportsmanlike.”
Mirabel commented with a solemn expression.
“However, shouldn’t Oscar have known that this was Uriel’s true nature? To be arrested so easily…it doesn’t feel like a mistake that Oscar would make…”
Upon hearing Rebecca’s question, Celes pursed her lips in shame. Her hands trembled as she clutched her blanket.
“Actually…something that’s been hidden from the public is that Oscar was drugged. It’s a narcotic that was formulated by one of the court pharmacists serving Uriel, it’s called <Galatea>.”
“A narcotic? What is that?”
Ash frowned. Though he had never heard the term before, it gave off a rather ominous impression.
“I have…heard of it.”
Lucca, who had been busy grinding herbal medicine for Celes, instantly perked her pointy ears up. After lowering the pestle that she had been holding in both hands, she glanced around at everyone with her amethyst eyes.
“The people who ingest <Galatea> are deprived of their will and become like soulless puppets…a forbidden drug…it was invented by the ancestors of the Ecbald Tribe — the fairies.”
The colour drained from Ash’s face as he remained speechless. Eco, Silvia and the others also appeared to be genuinely horrified. As Celes nodded to affirm Lucca’s words, she continued,
“The current Oscar is no different than a lifeless doll. No matter how I call out to her, her eyes remain hollow…”
“How could Oscar have been so careless? When was she drugged?”
As Ash pressed on aggressively, Celes fell silent whilst enduring his questions before finally lifting her head.
“…Oscar’s assailants were her parents — strictly speaking, her adoptive parents.”
The atmosphere in the infirmary instantly froze. Upon hearing Celes’ confession, everyone fell silent.
“Despite how cautious Oscar was, she completely let her guard down in front of the family that she hadn’t seen in so long. Even though it was my job to protect Oscar, I was completely deceived…”
Ash realised that Celes’ heart was filled with remorse and self-blame.
“The members of the Brailsford family welcomed Oscar’s return with warmth and affection. However…it was all just a façade. Uriel’s men had long been on standby in every corner of the Brailsford territory, prepared to charge in at any time…Uriel’s men barged in right after Oscar had dined.”
Celes’ elaboration made Ash realise how naïve he had been. He had a hunch that Uriel would secretly do something during the mourning period. Even though Raquel had declared that no battle for the throne could be conducted before the end of the mourning period, it wan’t difficult to see that Uriel was hardly the type of person who would obediently follow such an instruction given what he had done over the past year. That was why Ash felt an ominous premonition when he separated from Oscar. He had also reminded Oscar to be wary of Uriel. Alas, Uriel’s plan far exceeded Ash’s imagination…
“The members of royalty and nobles currently allied with Uriel account for seventy percent, while roughly twenty percent remain neutral. Regrettably, the proportion who support the Brailsford family isn’t even ten percent. Oscar’s adoptive father — Lord Arthur Brailsford was also ambitious, which is why he adopted Oscar at first…but he eventually acquiesced to Uriel’s request in order to protect his own life, his family and his territory.”
“What’s going to happen to Oscar? She not going to be executed is she—”
Before Ash could finish his despairing question, Celes shook her head.
“No, from what I’ve been able to find out, Uriel has a much crueller idea. It was during my investigation that I was discovered by Uriel’s men and almost lost my life…”
What kind of fate could be crueller than that of execution? Everyone’s mouths became parched and their lips dry as they anxiously waited for Celes to continue. After a while, Celes solemnly uttered the answer.
“It seems that Uriel intends to make Oscar his queen—”
For a moment, everyone was silenced as if from fear.
—Uriel’s planning to make Oscar his queen?
The unexpected development caused Ash to feel numb and paralysed.
“Hold on! If you think about it…aren’t Prince Uriel and Oscar-senpai siblings related by blood?”
Jessica was the first person to break the silence. Indeed, that’s right — Ash also had the same thought. Although half-siblings, both Uriel and Oscar’s father was Zacharias III. At that moment, Mirabel cleared her throat with a subtle ‘ahem’.
“Cases of marriage between blood relatives has occurred occasionally in the history of the Chevron Kingdom. There are many examples in particular of marriage between half-siblings.”
“…Even if marriage between blood relatives is legal in their country, I still don’t understand why Uriel wants to marry Oscar.”
Following Ash’s confused questioning, Celes revealed a despondent expression.
“It’s clearly because Uriel hopes that his offspring will also be able to inherit Oscar’s talent as a Dragonar. Uriel is a cold-blooded beast. He might even just want to use Oscar as a tool for producing successors. After all, as long as he keeps her on a steady feed of the potion, he won’t have to worry about her ever returning to normal.”
“But if she continues to be drugged for a long time…won’t that have an adverse effect on a mother and child?”
Ash enquired with puzzlement.
“The narcotic <Galatea>…only has an effect on the mental side. It would have no effect…on her as a mother bearing a child.”
Lucca shuddered as she gave a chilling answer.
“Moreover, so long as Oscar is held hostage, Tristan won’t be able to retaliate…”
After Celes said so with a tone of despair, she burst into tears once more. She held onto Ash’s body tightly as she implored,
“Please! Ash! I know that I’ve caused a lot of trouble for you in the past and that I don’t have the right to ask for such a thing…but I’m still begging you! Please save Oscar!”
Ash gently wrapped his arms around Celes’ back. Her skin was as cold as ice. As his fingers touched her bandages, they became moist with fresh blood that oozed from them. Celes’ body was so slender and fragile that it seemed as though she would crumble if embraced with excessive force. Even so, Celes had survived. As a mere girl, she had single-handedly escaped the pursuit of Uriel’s men and made it so that she could convey the news of Oscar’s situation to Ash and the others. And now, it was his turn to respond — such thoughts surged forth in Ash’s mind.
“Don’t worry, Celes. We’ll definitely rescue Oscar!”
After giving a muffled thanks, Celes body suddenly became devoid of strength. Like a puppet with its strings cut, she collapsed onto Ash.
An ominous premonition swept across Ash’s mind. He swiftly directed his gaze at Celes’ face and found her right eye closed shut.
“Hey, Celes! Celes!”
“—Do not fret. She has simply fallen asleep because she’s finally been able to relax.”
Beside Ash, Cosette reached over and explained whilst checking Celes’ pulse.
“I see…that’s good.”
As Ash breathed a sigh of relief, the anger within his heart stirred once more.
“I won’t forgive that bastard Uriel…”
“But, Ash…what are you planning to do?”
Rebecca stepped forth and placed her hand on Ash’s shoulder. It was as if she was trying to soothe his overflowing anger.
“Strictly speaking, this is an internal affair of the Chevron Kingdom. How will you justify your intervention? You aren’t planning to just fly over there in Escavaron, are you? Or are you going to charge over there with Eco transformed as a dragon and yourself as the <Avalon Knight Dragonar>?”
Just as Ash hesitated and found himself unable to give an answer, someone suddenly opened the door to the infirmary.
“Rebecca-dono is absolutely right, Ash-oniichan.”
A tall papal mitre and a sceptre with a winged cross appeared, and the person who stood at the doorway was Raquel IV.
Raquel stood before Ash, along with Cardinal Penelope who followed behind her.
“All of these things have happened on the other side of the border. Moreover, Prince Uriel is the most popular successor to the throne in this battle…Ash-oniichan, if you really do enter the Chevron Kingdom, the situation will evolve into one that can no longer be brushed off as a simple ‘difference of opinion’.”
“Then…will it really…?”
“Yes, it will definitely turn into a war.”
Ash was speechless.
The potency of that single word weighed down heavily on his shoulders.
“Also, if the Kingdom and the Knight Country openly declare war, the Empire that’s remained quiet as of late may make a move again. As the Pope…I cannot allow you to act on a momentary impulse, Ash-oniichan.”
It was no wonder that Raquel was the Pope of the Holy Espada Agency given how she could continue to express calm and reasonable judgement despite the situation. Her thought process was on an entirely different level from an ordinary nine-year-old child.
“Why not…send a small elite group to infiltrate the Kingdom and rescue Oscar?”
Silvia commented, though with barely any confidence in her own words.
“The Arkham Castle is a famed fortress for being easy to defend and difficult to attack, and I’m sure that Uriel is already well aware of that. Moreover, the dragons that we rely on as our principal fighting force and not invincible, making that plan almost the same as a suicide mission.”
Rebecca answered, saving Raquel from the same explanation.
“But as long as we have the dragons’ offensive magic…!”
Although Silvia persisted with her stubbornness, Rebecca also stood her ground.
“Of course, if the only purpose was to capture Arkham Castle, then letting the dragons run wild would be for the best. However, you have to understand that this will only bring suffering to Oscar and the innocent royal servants, Silvia. At the same time, this will inevitably cause immense collateral damage to the city that surrounds Arkham Castle. The power of dragons is so great that if you use them without any regard, what makes it any different from a massacre?”
A breathless and heavy silence shrouded over everyone in the room. But even so, Ash made up his mind.
“…You seem to have come to a conclusion, Ash.”
Rebecca questioned Ash upon noticing the subtle change in his expression. Ash nodded, and then turned to look around at everyone present.
“To be honest — whether or not this leads to war isn’t important to me at all. Compared to what Oscar’s going through, such concerns are simply trivial.”
Ash raised a clenched fist in front of his chest.
“I’m going to confront Prince Uriel directly and save Oscar!”
“Calm down! <Avalon Knight> — Ash Blake!”
The person who raised their voice to curb Ash was Cardinal Penelope, who had remained silent until now. As a member of the clergy and the leader of the knights, her gaze was piercingly sharp. Like a frog paralysed by a snake’s glare, Ash’s entire body stiffened and froze.
“If a famed citizen of the Knight Country such as yourself decides to invade the Chevron Kingdom for a personal matter, the international community will not doubt interpret your behaviour as ‘the Knight Country initiating war against the Kingdom’.”
“When that time comes, public opinion will not be on your side no matter how desperately you try to tell the world about Uriel, you know? After all, Prince Uriel is like an idol in the eye of the public, and he’s also extremely skilful at manipulating public opinion. On the basis of combat strength, the <Avalon Knight> is indeed stronger, but if you compare things overall — you don’t stand a chance.”
“Cardinal Penelope’s analysis is logically grounded, Ash. And once the two nations begin fighting, Her Eminence Raquel will be bound by positional duty to condemn the Knight Country. That is because Rosa Maria’s scipture in the [New Testament Star Book] promote the spirit of love and anti-violence…”
With a furrowed brow, Rebecca supplemented Penelope’s statement.
“Damn it! What are we supposed to do then!?”
Ash racked his brains for anything that could help. To this day, they had constantly been between a rock and a hard place. Since these events had taken place on the other side of the border, it meant that the entire problem was on a scale that surpassed what Ash could handle on his own. Ash desperately wanted to rescue Oscar, but at the same time, he couldn’t allow the Knight Country to commit the taboo of ‘invading the suzerain state of the Chevron Kingdom’. If Eco’s Dragonised form hadn’t been revealed and she was still a giant mysterious dragon in the eyes of the public, the option of charging straight into the Chevron Kingdom might’ve worked. However, the story about the ‘giant mysterious dragon’ belonging to the Knight Country had already been spread far and wide, becoming common knowledge. This news was well-known to all when Uriel appeared in the sky above Fontaine City. The development of events had gone exactly as Uriel wanted. In addition, Ash had been shackled due to his ‘national’ stature and thus lost his ability to act freely.
“—In terms of the method, there is one that I can think of.”
At that moment, Mirabel’s murmured voice raised a glimmer of hope for Ash, and he glanced up at her. As he gazed at Mirabel’s lovely face, his expression conveyed just how hard he was trying to keep everything together. No, it wasn’t just Ash. The others also awaited Mirabel’s next words with bated breath.
“It goes without saying that this method will require preparation. Ash, you should prepare yourself mentally, okay?”
Ash nodded with vigour.
“If there’s a way to save Oscar without affecting the standing of the Knight Country’s government, I’m willing to endure it no matter how difficult it may be. Please tell me!”
And thus — Mirabel put forward an astonishing proposal that was far beyond the realm of Ash’s imagination.
“The Royal Crisis ~A.S.B.1365.12~” is closed.
(All 4 of 4 parts) (2/4/20)
Continues on to Chapter 6 – Destination, Imperial Capital Arkham