Mimizuku to Yoru no Ou: Chapter 5
 Chapter 5 - Gentle Lapse
The sound of cheers traveled loudly through the room.
All the cabinet ministers and soldiers bent over for a toast.
Overseeing the room on his throne was the gray-haired king.
People congratulated the Magician Brigade on their success, and the Holy Knight for his gallantry. Quick-spirited troubadours began to sing odes in the corners of the hall.
Ann Duke leaned his back against a corner of the hall and looked at the scene from afar.
"Lord Holy Knight! They're having a drinking contest over there! I'm sure you'd drink them all under the table!" a friendly soldier said, coming over to Ann Duke.
"Nah, if I drink too much again, my wife'll get mad," Ann Duke answered with a pitiable smile.
"Can you say hello to her for me?"
"Yeah, sure. There are plenty of people from the temple here today after all. She didn't want to come because she was nervous and said she hated these kinds of things."
"Haha! That's too bad!" the soldier said, disappearing back into the crowd.
They succeeded in the subjugation of the demon king, and the captured girl was saved.
The news traveled through the peasantry in an instant. Even at this very moment, citizens were raising a glass to the success of their kingdom.
Ann Duke didn't shy away from a drink either.
However, the subjugation of the king was yesterday. He wanted to go back to his mansion and rest. His wife was surely waiting for him to return, and she didn't like to come to celebrations like these where everyone was passing around greetings here and there.
He had thought of being absent under the pretense of rest, however from the standpoint of the kingdom, he was the face of their honor, and there was something he was interested in anyway. He was waiting after the toast for that report.
Eventually, a servant ran up to Ann Duke. He whispered something into his ear. Hearing that, Ann Duke nodded and gave his thanks to the servant.
He then quietly left the hall behind.
If the king knew why he was leaving, there was no way he would have stopped him anyway.
Ann Duke had been waiting for the report that the girl captured by the demon king had regained consciousness.
Passing through a long hallway, knocking on a door with a golden handle, he slowly entered into the room.
There was a single bed underneath a bright chandelier. There, a small girl was laying down on her side.
Ann Duke walked up to the girl. In the bed stuffed with waterfowl feathers, the girl slept as if sinking into it. Her cheeks were miserably thin, and Ann Duke remembered how surprised he had been at her lightness when he had picked her up. The magic flames had been made so that they didn't burn the girl, but she was still a sooty mess.
He ran his fingers through her thin hair, which gave the impression of straw. He pushed her bangs aside and her forehead was revealed. There was a strange pattern on it, and none of the magicians had any idea of what it represented. However, it was definitely the work of the demon king, and there seemed to be no doubt that she was affected by some kind of spell.
"Are you alright? How are you feeling?"
She then peered through her slightly open eyes, staring fixedly at Ann Duke.
"Ah... a...." she groaned incomprehensibly.
"Yes? What is it?" Ann Duke asked gently.
However, the girl couldn't muster any more words, and she tried to somehow raise her body out of the bed. Struggling from her lack of strength, she took Ann Duke's hand.
"Are you alright? Are you hurting anywhere?"
The girl's voice was slight, like the flapping of insect wings. The wrists that Ann Duke was holding had changed to brown. They had been able to melt the chains off with magic, but they couldn't remove the marks, as she had apparently been wearing them for a very long time. It pained his heart to see that. However, Ann Duke was thankful that she was in good health.
He heaved a sigh of relief.
The girl hadn't used her brain much, and all she could manage was,
"Where... am I?"
"This is Red Ark Castle. You don't need to worry anymore. There's nothing to be afraid of."
"Nothing... to be... afraid of," she repeated like a parrot.
"Yeah, that's right. I'm Ann Duke. Ann Duke MacValen. What's your name?"
The girl gently closed her eyes.
Her eyelashes shook as if she were shivering.
She then opened her eyes.
"I forgot my name," she whispered.
To these words, Ann Duke gazed in wonderment. The girl looked at Ann Duke's face with pure, innocent eyes.
Ann Duke nipped at his lip, cast his eyes downward, and shook his head several times.
He then gently embraced the girl's head.
"You poor thing..." he said quietly, in a deep voice.
The girl seemed to tilt her head slightly as she was engulfed in Ann Duke's chest.
She couldn't understand why any of this was being said to her.
The rumors that the King of Night had been suppressed and that the captured girl had been rescued traveled through the region in the blink of an eye.
The people talked of praises for the Magician Brigade and the Holy Knight, and they expressed their sympathy and pity for the girl.
The poets sang their praises along with a note from their harps. They sang of the girl with the strange pattern on her forehead, of her misfortune, and of her cruel destiny. They sang out in a beautiful, melancholy rhythm. They also sang great praises of the heroic deeds of the Holy Knight.
However, there was one thing they never sang of.
They never spoke of the demonic King of Night, and no one knew of his whereabouts.
"Your name is Mimizuku."
One day, a beautiful woman with black hair entered her room of the castle and said this to her in a kind voice. Her hair had been woven into two or three braids, and her eyes, which were the same color as her hair, gave off a brilliant, gentle light.
"Your name is Mimizuku. I heard it from the hunter who had been saved by you earlier when he got lost in the forest."
Mimizuku, sitting on her large bed in a carefree manner, repeated the name. She was wearing a light, thin dress, and a bit of color had returned to her gaunt cheeks.
"Yes. Do you remember?"
"I... I don't understand. But, when you say it... I feel like you might be right. Yeah, my name is Mimizuku," Mimizuku said in a low voice, lowering her eyelids. As if sealing away something important into her heart, she held her hands against her chest.
"I am Orietta. Orietta MacValen. I'm the wife of that lazy Holy Knight. You know of Ann Duke, yes?"
"Yeah, I know Andy."
Ever since Mimizuku had woken up several days earlier, Ann Duke came to visit her every day. Mimizuku slept often, and he would talk with the attendants overseeing Mimizuku's affairs as he stroked her head.
"Yes, I'm the wife of that housekeeping knight. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Mimizuku."
Mimizuku shook her outstretched hand. She smiled. Her hand was like a vibrant whitefish as opposed to Mimizuku's, which was like a withered leaf.
Orietta frowned a little after shaking her hand.
"It's nice to meet you, uh..."
"Yeah, it's nice to meet you, Orietta, Andy's... wife?"
"Yes, unfortunately, that's me."
Unlike her words, Orietta's face was joyful.
"Mimizuku... is it okay if I call you Mimizuku?"
Mimizuku's eyes sparkled at Orietta's question. Even though they said it was her own name, she felt it to be incredibly precious to be called by it.
"Mimizuku, how do you like living here?"
Being asked "how," Mimizuku tilted her neck. However, she just said what she thought.
"Well, um... There's lots of delicious food. I get lots of pretty things to wear, and everyone's really nice!"
"Is there anything missing?"
"Andy would always ask that! No, there's nothing missing."
Mimizuku shook her head in response. Truly, her lifestyle was more than enough. She would always wonder why they did so much for her.
Probably because they were able to do so much for her, they did just that.
Orietta was smiling at her.
"Have you remembered anything?" she asked in a small voice.
She meant of the days that she had spent before she woke up, in the forest.
Mimizuku didn't have an answer. She shook her head again, but slowly, and with very a different feeling.
Orietta kneeled down on the carpet next to the bed and met eyes with Mimizuku.
"You know, Mimizuku. Up until now, you were in the forest. You were imprisoned by monsters, and your eyes were fearful... That must be why you lost your memory... to protect yourself. Don't push yourself to try to remember. Mimizuku, it might be best to forget. From here on, you have a new life ahead of you!"
The Forest of Night.
The words spun around in the back of Mimizuku's head.
It might be best to forget.
"I have... a new life ahead of me?"
"That's right," came the affirmation.
That's right, it's just like that.
Deep in her heart, someone was asking.
She heard a jangling noise somewhere far off.
Along an aged stone path, the smell of mold hung in the air. The ceiling was high, but with no window. With the power of magic, it burned brightly, changing from red to blue. The king moved forward, his footsteps echoing through the room. The magicians flanking him didn't say a single word. The only things that could be heard were shoes hitting the ground and something that sounded like a deep groan.
At the farthest end of the hall, a black shadow was crucified on the wall. When the king stopped, his last step was the most conspicuous of all.
"King of monsters."
The hoarse, but dignified voice arose from the king.
Held in place by a transparent thread, Fukurou was crucified to the wall with his body suspended. His eyes were closed shut, and his wings didn't make the slightest movement.
"Is he conscious?" a magician at the king's side asked.
"Let's see if he can hear us," Riveil answered from underneath his gloomy robe.
The king spoke strongly. Responding to his voice, or perhaps for another reason, Fukurou lifted open his heavy eyelids.
Silver, faint light flowed from them. They were dimmed due to the influence of the magic power, but the strength of the light made it clear that he was the ruler of the monsters.
The king took a deep breath, and turned to meet him, unflinching.
"Demon king. How do you feel about being captured by humans?"
He spoke with provocation. However, the demon king ignored his question.
"... The king of humans...?"
His voice was deep enough to be felt in the ground.
"Indeed. I am the king of this country, Red Ark."
For a moment, a flicker of emotion seemed to appear in Fukurou's eyes. It was something close to disdain or disgust.
The king thought that he seemed quite humanlike.
He didn't think that something belligerent, with purely evil intent, could feel things such as scorn or hatred.
"... Do you hate humans? You look like a human, king of monsters. It seems like you enslaved a human girl, is that right? Without killing or using your abilities... were you planning revenge?"
Fukurou responded to the question with a silent rejection, not making the slightest twitch. The king bit down on his molars. Even if he was captured, he didn't think he could keep his dignity as long as Fukurou did.
It couldn't be helped. His enemy was a monster, after all.
"... Whatever. The girl is receiving diligent care in the castle. That girl lost her memories, but that's convenient for her, considering that her lifestyle will be fortunate and renewed from now on. Demon king. Your expectations were completely off the mark."
Fukurou didn't answer. He simply closed his eyes again, as if he had lost interest. The king exchanged glances with the magicians, and the reverentially held out a large crystal orb.
The crystal was bright with magic power, and a red flame swayed inside of it. With its beautiful handiwork and the magic power, those who looked at it were taken in by its mystique.
"This flame represents your magic power. When the flame changes from red to blue, your magic power will be depleted, your body will dry up, and you will become a mummy representing the power of this country's magic."
The king explained all of this casually, and even though he was giving Fukurou a death sentence, Fukurou did not make a response and remained silent.
Running out of things to say, the king turned on his heel, and went back the way he came. To the sound of his footsteps disappearing in the distance, a voice suddenly arose.
The king stopped. Retaining his majesty as best he could, he slowly turned around. He met with Fukurou's silver eyes once again.
"Human king. Which do you value more: you, or your country?"
It was the first question asked by the king of monsters to the king of humans. The king of humans scowled and gave a response with no hesitation.
"That question is meaningless, demon king. Those two things are incomparable. I will, at any time, choose my country. So long as I am myself, I will choose my country."
So long as he had the will, he wouldn't even put them in the same league.
Fukurou closed his eyes to the king's response, and became silent, as if sleeping.
The blue sky, marked with only a few thin clouds, wrapped over the bustling castle town market.
Standing at the entrance to the market, Mimizuku's sanpaku eyes were wide open.
"There are so many people!"
"It's the first time you've seen just this many people in one place?" Ann Duke asked, smiling. He was standing beside her.
"It's definitely the first time!" Mimizuku answered.
"Well then, grab onto my hand so that you won't get lost, okay?" Orietta said. She was standing opposite to Ann Duke. She took Mimizuku's small hand. Mimizuku blinked several times, but then smiled joyfully.
Today was the first time that Mimizuku had left the castle.
She wore clothes that were not flashy, but decidedly well made, along with a hat to match. Ann Duke and Orietta escorted her.
"Hey, Orietta! Everyone's carrying lots of stuff!"
"Yes, this is a shopping area after all," Orietta said, wondering if Mimizuku understood.
Mimizuku, finding it difficult to comprehend, tilted her neck.
"You buy things you want in exchange for money. Here, Mimizuku, open up your hand."
Orietta placed three coins in Mimizuku's empty hand.
They had engravings of pigeons on them, and they seemed to Mimizuku like treasures.
"Pay? With money? For something I want?"
"That's right, something that you want."
"Something I want..."
Mimizuku thought for a bit.
Ann Duke laughed.
"Go look around, first!" he said, pushing Mimizuku's back. In the market stalls were fresh fruits and vegetables, beautiful fabrics, and fine objects that Mimizuku had never seen before.
Mimizuku looked around; most of what she saw was completely new to her.
"Oh my, hello, Lady Orietta!"
Suddenly, a voice arose from a stall to the side. A woman who had come to sell wheat flour appeared before Orietta.
"You're with Lord Holy Knight as well? I'm so jealous of how well you two get along..."
Saying this, the lady gave a hearty laugh.
"Whether or not we get along, he's coming with me today. Whatever I buy, I don't have to worry about bringing them back home, so long as he's here!" Orietta said, putting forth her best smile.
"Ahaha, no mistaking that! Say, Orietta, who's this child?"
The woman looked down to Mimizuku. Mimizuku looked up at Orietta, wondering what she should do.
"Lady Orietta, you've already had a child this big?"
"Isn't she cute?" Orietta answered with a smile, ignoring the woman's second comment.
Before she knew it, Orietta had let go of her hand, and was lightly touching her back. Mimizuku felt as though she meant that she should go, so with her heart beating loudly, she mixed into the crowd between the street stalls. Greeting people here and there, Ann Duke watched her small figure to make sure that he wouldn't lose sight of her.
After bumping into several people, Mimizuku found herself standing in front of a single stall. She stopped for a rest, and found herself smelling the sweet scents emanating from the stall.
"Hey, little miss! Want something to eat?" the proprietor said to Mimizuku courteously. Mimizuku panicked a little.
"Will it taste good?"
"Have a bit and see! Here, eat."
Wrapped in dark colored paper was a cooked fruit dipped in sugar. When she took a bite, warm sweetness and fruit juice mixed in her mouth.
Mimizuku's eyes sparkled.
"Is that so, is that so!"
To Mimizuku's response, the man grew even more spirited.
Without taking a breath, Mimizuku bit into the fruit. After wildly proclaiming its deliciousness, a crowd of adults had soon gathered around her.
"It's even better than the food in the castle!" Mimizuku said truthfully. The crowd was suddenly thrown into a state of excitement.
"That kind of praise is beyond anything I could ask for!"
"Little girl, aren't you going a bit far in your laudation?"
"But it's true! It's amazingly delicious!"
Mimizuku responded honestly even though she didn't know the person who had talked to her.
"Man, now I have to try too!"
Mimizuku's brazenness brought in plenty of customers. When Mimizuku saw their fingers handing over the coins, she suddenly panicked.
"Oh, that's right! Don't I have to give you money?"
The stall owner's hands were already full, and he gave a laugh.
"I don't need any, miss! I'm fine with just you saying that my food is delicious!"
The crowd extolled his generosity, and they showed it through their willingness to purchase more.
"No, that's no good. Orietta said I have to exchange money...!"
The crowd was shocked by Mimizuku's utterance of the name.
"What? Are you an acquaintance of Lady Orietta? The candidate for Maiden of the Temple, is it...?"
An old woman then walked up to Mimizuku.
"Look, your mouth is a mess. Hold on a moment, I'll wipe it off for you."
Extending her gentle, wrinkly hand, she wiped the area around Mimizuku's mouth. She had eaten so quickly that bits of food were all over her face. Everyone gave her kind smiles.
"There, now you're all clean. Oh my, what's this? On your forehead..."
The old woman moved Mimizuku's bangs to the side. What appeared was the strange pattern.
"You... it can't be..."
The old lady swallowed her breath, and the crowd turned silent for a moment. Mimizuku stood there, looking at all of them with a puzzled face.
"Young lady... are you a princess...?" the old lady asked, her finger trembling.
"Hm? I do live in the castle, but I'm not a princess."
The crowd stirred.
"No, that's not what I meant. You, who was saved in the demon king's subjugation, are the princess of the Forest of Night...?"
"Huh? Um, maybe? I..."
To those words, the crowd murmured excessively.
Even though she didn't really understand, and even though she wasn't a princess, she had a feeling as though it was just as she was told. Mimizuku remembered what Orietta had explained to her before.
The old woman suddenly yelled, and then embraced Mimizuku tightly.
"You've come back alive. I was so afraid, this is wonderful...!"
Hugging Mimizuku, tears began to fall from the old woman's eyes. Mimizuku felt confused as the drops began to fall onto her shoulders.
"It's the princess! The princess saved from the Forest of Night is here...!"
Joyous voices could be heard. Mimizuku was jostled about, being touched and hugged by various people. In a nervous flutter, she shook hands with several people.
What's going on?
Mimizuku's heart began to beat louder and faster.
It was warm.
What was going on here?
After a while, Ann Duke emerged from the crowd and took Mimizuku with him.
The hands she felt were warm.
"Hey, Ann Duke."
"Hm? What is it?"
"That old woman was all worried. Because of me."
"Yeah, she was crying."
"Her tears were flowing for your sake," Ann Duke said with a kind smile.
What were tears?
But they were warm. They were affectionate. When she thought of this, her sinuses cleared and her nose felt fresh.
Generally, Mimizuku was obedient as someone who was living in the castle for nothing in return. She never had more free time or boredom than she knew what to do with. She liked to sleep in her bed, and she enjoyed looking at the scenery from her window, and she loved talking to the attendants who occasionally stopped by. Everyone was kind to her, and Ann Duke and Orietta were like family.
There was even one time where she had talked to the king.
"It is the first time that we meet like this, Mimizuku."
The gray-haired king arrived in Mimizuku's room with several attendants. Ann Duke was beside her, and he whispered to her that he was "the highest man in the country."
"Ah, uh, nice to meet you!"
"Hmph... I see you've become quite energetic."
"I, uh, you've done so much to help me!"
"I don't really care about that. I will give you all the care that you need."
Their exchange ended there, and finishing up with her, the king took on a severe expression. Mimizuku asked Ann Duke if the king was angry, and Ann Duke laughed.
"With that face, he's just troubled by something is all."
"Yeah, it looks like that kind of face," Mimizuku agreed.
And then, several days later, a single servant visited Mimizuku.
"Lady Mimizuku, I have brought you this."
The servant held out a collection of keys.
"... They are the keys to the tower in the west."
"Hm? The tower in the west?"
"The person living in that tower would like to meet Lady Mimizuku, I am to report."
The old servant simply smiled.
"Please, take this and go."
He handed her a ring of keys that shone dully. Mimizuku took them without much feeling.
"Understood! I'll go!" she responded, grinning widely.
She listened as the servant told her the road to take. He then disappeared back into the hallway. As she watched his back grow farther and farther away, Mimizuku sighed.
The entrance to the west tower required several keys. Testing out the keys on the different locks one after the other, she eventually opened the door. There was a soldier standing right next to her when she entered, but with a single glance and Mimizuku's keys, he simply greeted her with no other comment and without turning to look at her, allowing her to go further in on her own.
When she opened the door, there was a long, winding staircase.
Mimizuku ran up the staircase without any hesitation. She remembered to roll up the hem of her plain dress as she went up the steps.
As she caught her breath at the top of the stairs, she came to a well-crafted oak door.
Mimizuku knocked on the door three times, copying what the castle dwellers did whenever they entered her own room.
"Who is it?"
She was startled by the voice she heard from inside.
There was no other way of saying it.
"... Come in."
Receiving permission, Mimizuku entered inside. When she opened the door, a wide room spread out before her. It was easily twice the size of Mimizuku's room.
There was a latticed window, a bookshelf, a large bed, and plush toys and figures of soldiers.
In the center of the room, sitting in a strangely shaped chair, was a shadow.
"What's wrong? Why won't you enter?"
She heard a voice from the chair. It was high, like a girl's voice. Sitting in the chair with a large wheel attached to it was a small shadow.
It had thin, discolored arms and legs.
It had light hair and eyes, and a small body. His hair color seemed to remind Mimizuku of someone.
"I'm glad to meet you, Mimizuku."
Sitting with his back straight in the chair was a boy who seemed to be more or less ten years old. He was faintly smiling.
"I am Claudius. Claudius Vain Yordelta Red Ark."
"I am... the prince of this country."
With his light hair gleaming from the elegant chandelier, Mimizuku thought he looked quite similar to the king.
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