Zero no Tsukaima:Volume4 Prologue
The Ragdorian Lake in between the Kingdoms of Tristain and Gallia was one of Halkeginia’s most beautiful places. It spanned across six hundred square kilometers and its width could be compared to that of the distance between Tristania, the capital of Tristain, and the Academy of Magic. The lake was located on relatively high ground, and was as beautiful as any painting. The lush green of the forests woven with the clear water of the lake was a masterpiece which couldn’t have possibly been made by a god carelessly waving his axe around.
However, that lake was not something humans owned. It was a place inhabited by the water spirits, who were the original inhabitants of Halkeginia. It was the paradise of the water spirits who had a much longer history than the humans. The water spirits had made a castle and town at the bottom of the lake and developed their own culture and kingdom. It was said that those who saw it, no matter how evil they were, would turn over a new leaf.
These water spirits were called the spirits of oath and it was said that oaths made by them would never be broken. That being said… the water spirits, who were said to surpass the beauty of the woven colors of the forest, the sky and the lake, rarely appeared in front of humans. Tens of years ago, they had appeared once to renew their oath with the royal family of Tristain, but since then, they had not come up from the depths of the lake. Which is why, even though it was said that “oaths made by them would never be broken”, it was an extremely difficult task to prove it.
The first time Henrietta and Wales met was at that Ragdorian Lake. It was three years ago… Celebrating the Queen Marianne’s birthday, the Kingdom of Tristain invited guests from each nation and held a large garden party at the Ragdorian Lake. The nobles and royals invited from all over Halkeginia - the Kingdom of Albion, the Kingdom of Gallia, and the empire of Germania, gathered at the lake all dressed up and socialized to their hearts content. Fireworks of magic were set off, and under a large tent, a ball was held throughout the night with the world’s finest food and wine prepared.
On the night at the end of the first week, as the celebrations were half over, the fourteen year old Henrietta left her tent and made her way to the shore of the lake without any attendants or guards. She was tired of the celebrations, which seemed to stretch on forever. The days had been packed with events, such as feasts, dance balls, poetry recitals… She was already fed up with all the greetings and flattery. She wanted to be alone and take in some fresh air.
She had passed through the area where the tents and buildings stood with her face hidden under a large hood and had made her way to the quiet bank side. The moon shone brightly, creating an illusionary atmosphere. Captivated by the sight, Henrietta simply stared at the river, which reflected the dazzlingly bright moon. It seemed that just being captivated by the sight did not satisfy her. Henrietta looked around herself. After making sure that no one was around, she boldly slipped off her dress. With a mischievous smile arising on her beautiful face, she slowly made her way into the water.
The cool water enveloped her body. It was just the beginning of summer, so the coolness felt pleasant in the warm night. She would be scolded if she were to be found in such a place by the chamberlain La Porte, but she had endured the constrained garden party for so long. I’ll be forgiven for something like this, Henrietta whispered as she began to swim out. After swimming for a while, she suddenly sensed someone on the bank side. Henrietta’s face became red and she hid her body with her hands.
“Who is it?”
The figure did not reply. Who could it be? The annoying chamberlain La Porte? Her friend who was one year younger than her, Louise Françoise? However she had snuck out of the tent without any of them noticing. Becoming uneasy, she demanded for the person’s identity.
“Insolence. Name yourself.” Her panicking voice reached the bank side.
“I’m no one suspicious. I was only out for a stroll. Why are you out here swimming at a time like this?”
Henrietta was offended by his composed manner, even though he had been watching her swim all this time.
“I asked for your name didn’t I? Even though it may not look like it, I am the princess of a certain country. Before things turn ugly, state your name and leave.”
Hearing this, the figure was taken aback.
“A princess? Could it be, Henrietta?”
Henrietta was surprised at the absence of the address of ‘princess’. There were only five people gathered at the lake who could address her in such a manner. It would be unbelievable insolence if he weren’t one of those five people.
“Who are you?”
Henrietta had taken off the mask of a princess and questioned the figure in the voice of a frightened girl.
The figure laughed. Being laughed at, Henrietta blushed.
“It’s me Henrietta, Wales. Wales from Albion. Your cousin!”
“Wales..? You mean, Prince Wales?”
Prince Wales. The crown prince of Albion. They had never met before, but she of course knew of his name. The eldest son of the brother of her late father. She blushed even more deeply.
“I arrived here tonight with my father. I thought I’d just have a glimpse at the Ragdorian Lake because it’s so famous. Sorry for scaring you.”
“Geez, I can't believe you.”
With her clothes on, Henrietta turned towards Wales.
“You can turn around now”
Wales had turned away while Henrietta was changing. At the instant he turned around, something ran across Henrietta’s spine for the first time in her life. Her body, cold from the lake became hot as though a fire had scorched her. She shyly smiled at his gallant looks. It seemed as though Wales had felt the same sensation as Henrietta.
“I’m surprised. You’ve grown beautiful, Henrietta…”
The astonished prince drew out moving words from his mouth.
“I-I haven’t at all…” Looking downwards, Henrietta couldn’t lift her face.
“I didn’t mean to surprise you. I was just taking a stroll and I heard some splashing… When I came here, I realized someone was swimming. Sorry. I couldn’t help but gaze.”
“Why were you gazing?”
“Aren’t the water spirits that live in this lake drawn to the moonlight? I wished to see them just once. The beauty of the water spirits are said to put the two moons into shame.”
“Sorry that it was me then”
Scratching his cheek in an embarrassed fashion, he earnestly said: “Not at all. I haven’t seen a water spirit before but…”
“You are more beautiful. More beautiful than a water spirit.”
Embarrassed, Henrietta hid her face.
“People from Albion are so good at jokes.”
“I-It’s not a joke! I’m a prince you know. I haven’t told a lie, not even once! I really think you are more beautiful” Replied Wales, panicking.
Henrietta’s pulse hastened as though a spell had been cast on her. The cousin in front of her… A prince from another country, whom she only knew the name of. The boring garden party, had suddenly become beautifully colorful whilst they stood before the sparkling Ragdorian Lake.
Their relationship grew quite intimate although it didn’t take that much time. They understood each other’s feelings just by looking at each other’s eyes and they also understood well that their time together was limited. At every night of the garden party, Wales and Henrietta would meet by the lake. Henrietta would hide her face with a large hood, and Wales would use a phantom mask which was used in the masked ball. The signal of their rendezvous was the sound of a small stone thrown into the lake. The person who had arrived first would reveal themselves from the thicket from which they were hiding, and after checking no one was around, they would use a password.
After Wales said “On the night the wind blows”, Henrietta would reply with “an oath of the water I pledge.”
On a particular day, the two were walking by the lake holding hands.
“You were pretty late Henrietta, I almost became tired of waiting”
“Sorry. The feast just stretched on. I’m so sick of drunk ramblings already.”
“But… Is it really alright for you to sneak away like that every night?”
Henrietta giggled at Wales worried look.
“It’s alright. I’m using a decoy”
“A decoy! That’s something pretty serious.”
“It’s not that big of a deal. That friend of mine you saw with me at lunch the other day…”
“You mean that skinny girl with long hair?”
Wales tilted his head. The girl that would follow Henrietta around and play with her. He was so captivated by Henrietta that he couldn’t really recall her look. However, he did vaguely remember her hair color.
“Yes. She dresses up like me, and then goes into my bed for me. The blanket covers her right to the tip of her head so even if anyone stands beside the bed, they can’t see her face.”
“But, isn’t her hair color different to yours? If I remember correctly, hers is pink while yours is…”
Wales brushed Henrietta’s hair with his hand.
“A beautiful chestnut color. That would be a fairly bad decoy.”
“I’ve concocted a special magic hair dye. But, I feel a bit guilty. I didn’t actually say that I was meeting you. She thinks that I am just out for a stroll.”
“You’re so cunning!” Wales said while laughing.
“Shh! Don’t laugh so loud. We don’t know if anyone is listening.”
“No one is going to be here listening at this hour of the night except for the water spirits. Ah, I want to see them at least once. I wonder what kind of beauty makes the moon jealous.”
Pouting her lips, she replied to her lover with a troubling tone
“Oh, I see now. So you didn’t actually want to meet with me. You just wanted to see the water spirit, and have me tag along.”
Wales suddenly stopped and grasped Henrietta’s cheeks gently in both his hands and approached her lips. Henrietta was surprised, but soon closed her eyes. Their lips pressed together. After a while, Wales moved his face away.
“I love you, Henrietta.”
“I also love you.” Henrietta whispered, blushing furiously.
A tinge of loneliness was reflected in Wales’ eyes. While he was entranced by the idea of their love, a composed part of his mind also imagined its conclusion. Their status did not allow them to be with each other. If anyone knew about their relationship… they probably wouldn’t even be allowed to see each other in formal events. It was a part of being a princess and a prince.
Wales began to speak, trying to brighten the atmosphere.
“Hahaha… We’ve both been born with troubling destinies haven’t we. Most of the time we’ve spent together has been at night, with a disguise! It would be good, at least just once, if I could walk by this lake with just you and the sun.”
Henrietta closed her eyes and slowly nestled against his chest.
“Then make an oath.”
“Yes. The water spirits living here are also known as the ‘spirits of oath’. Oaths made before them are said to be unbreakable.” whispered the fourteen year old Henrietta while she hid her face.
“It’s a superstition. Just an old folk’s tale”
“Even if it’s a superstition, I believe it. If by believing, it will grant me my oath, then I will believe forever. Forever…”
A tear dropped from her eyelashes and rolled down on her cheek. Wales gently stroked Henrietta’s cheek.
“I love you, Henrietta, because you love me so much. So don’t cry like that. The river will overflow with your tears. The people gathered here will drown you know.”
“You probably don’t know how much I love you. The more serious I get the more you tease me.”
“Don’t be like that Henrietta”
Lifting the hem of her skirt, Henrietta made her way into the water.
“The princess of Tristain Henrietta vows before the spirits of water that she will love Prince Wales for eternity.”
“You're next Wales. Make an oath like I just did.”
Wales entered the water and embraced Henrietta. Henrietta clung to his shoulder.
“Your feet will get cold.”
“I don’t mind. Rather than that, I made an oath that I will love you forever. Make an oath as well.”
“Unbreakable oaths are just a superstition.”
“Are you saying that you will have a change of heart?”
Wales went silent for a while, deep in thought.
With a gentle expression, he cast his oath into the lake.
“The prince of Albion, Wales, vows before the water spirits that he will one day walk on this Ragdorian Lake with princess Henrietta and the sun, hand in hand.”
“I made the oath.”
Henrietta buried her face into Wales’ chest and whispered quietly to herself.
“…So you won’t vow to love me?”
The surface of the lake twinkled with light. Then after a while the lake was once again engulfed in silence.
The two looked at each other.
Was it the moon light, or was it the spirits of the water accepting their oaths, they didn’t know… but nestling against each other they continued to gaze at the beautiful lake of Ragdorian.
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