|Author: Carrot Sauce
|Original Source: SFACG
|Word Count: 3179 characters
|English Source: Re:Library
|Word Count: 1655 words
Sonosuke hadn’t stayed in Himeji Castle. Upon receiving a message from his mountain temple about an invitation, as the abbot’s son, he promptly led a team to the jubilee bearing a birthday gift. Although he arrived later than the princess, he took his group directly to the castle from the city gates.
As the banquet drew near, a steady stream of guests began to arrive.
“Lord Sasaki! Delighted to see you here!” The Prime Minister greeted with enthusiasm.
The Sasaki clan, once led by a former prime minister, had lost its patriarch. Now, the Sasaki name was but one of many noble clans in the Asuka Kingdom. A middle-aged man with a prominent square face replied with a bow, “Lord Prime Minister, how could I possibly miss His Majesty’s fiftieth jubilee?”
“Ahaha, I must’ve been overwhelmed with all the preparations. I didn’t expect to see you. My apologies!” the Prime Minister jested.
“Wahahaha, today’s a festive day. Let’s not fuss over words! I know you’re jesting, Lord Prime Minister,” Sasaki chuckled heartily.
“Please, make your way in.”
“Announcing Princess Asuka’s arrival!”
The Prime Minister’s eyes flashed a subtle glint as he escorted Sasaki up the stairs. The princess dismounted gracefully at the entrance, passing her reins to a kunoichi. She then proceeded to the courtyard with Reika by her side.
“Your Highness!” The Prime Minister greeted with a slightly bowed posture, looking up to meet her eyes, “Despite Himeji’s precarious situation, you still managed to grace us with your presence. I deeply admire your dedication to your father.”
“Lord Prime Minister, I’m humbled by your personal reception,” Princess Asuka responded graciously.
Cartloads of gifts followed the princess, with Lily, Ayaka, and Shimizu stepping out to join her. The gate guards, noting the trio’s lavish attire, halted them momentarily. “Ladies, if you could kindly identify yourselves…”
“These ladies are with me, guests for my father’s banquet,” the princess promptly clarified.
Understanding the situation, the guards bowed deeply and allowed the group to join the princess.
The Prime Minister cast a surprised glance at them. “When did such beauties come to the vast Iyo mainland? And three of them? Not only are they breathtaking and possess exceptional presence, but they are also unmistakably powerful adepts.”
“Huhuhu,” chuckled the Prime Minister. “You all truly resemble celestials. May I inquire where you three ladies hail from?”
Asuka responded succinctly, “My friends are wandering adepts.”
“Princess Asuka,” a deep voice broke through. A tall, dark vagrant with wild red hair approached. It was Tsukuba Naoya.
“Lord Naoya,” she greeted with a nod.
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For a fleeting moment, Lily and the renowned powerhouse of Iyo locked eyes. A chilling intensity emanated from both their gazes.
Could this be Tsukuba Naoya, the man rumored to be Princess Asuka’s intended?
Naoya’s aura was both commanding and savage. As he faced the princess, his gaze, though ostensibly of a man looking at his betrothed, betrayed a sinister undertone.
“I’ve roamed the world,” he began, his voice low and menacing. “During the princess’ stay in the royal city, we seldom crossed paths. I’ve heard tales of the princess being the radiant jewel of the Asuka Kingdom. Swordplay is my obsession, and I relish a good duel. Would the princess entertain a match with me?”
“Naoya!” The Prime Minister stepped in, pulling him aside. “This isn’t the occasion for such talk! Princess Asuka is to be your future bride. Show her the respect she deserves. His uncouth mannerisms stem from his samurai upbringing; I implore you to overlook it.”
The princess raised an eyebrow, “Lord Prime Minister, when did I become betrothed to Lord Naoya? We are in public. Please watch your words.”
“Ah? Ahahahaha!” The Prime Minister chuckled, somewhat embarrassed. “Forgive my slip of tongue amidst the jubilee preparations and state affairs. Our families have merely agreed upon a potential union. It isn’t set in stone. My admiration for the princess might have gotten the better of me. To make amends, I’ll gladly down three cups of wine later.”
Her gaze unwavering, she replied, “Your dedication to the kingdom is commendable, Lord Prime Minister. I must admit, I’ve mishandled the situation leading to this confusion. Let’s look ahead and collaborate genuinely for the sake of our great nation.”
Grinning, the Prime Minister remarked, “Indeed, Princess Asuka! Welcome!”
Lily intervened, “The three of us accompanied the princess to honor the king on this auspicious day. Our travels seldom acquaint us with the intricacies of courtly manners. We regrettably haven’t procured any grand gifts for this occasion. I hope we’re forgiven.”
“The presence of such beauties has already graced this banquet,” the Prime Minister responded with a smile. “Your heartfelt sentiments suffice. Material gifts hold secondary importance.”
An official by the Prime Minister’s side jestingly added, “Indeed, the company of three enchanting ladies surely excuses any oversight, ahahaha!”
“Even so, while words are just words, there still should be some sincerity behind them,” Lily responded, waving a hand.
A breathtaking golden glow materialized in the center of the courtyard, revealing three exquisite wooden boxes. Each glimmered with a dazzling luminescence that pierced the darkness.
The first box contained Heian-kyo’s most delicate silks and satins. They resembled threads spun from clouds tinted with the hues of a sunset, and were adorned with golden scales.
The second box held a stunning assortment of Nanban goods: lustrous enamel, ornate metal clocks, Nanban’s most esteemed grape wine, and a seventh-grade firearm crafted by the renowned gunmaiden, Marco Polo. Many of these items might not hold nobility, but most of the dignitaries of Iyo Island had never seen the likes of them. For instance, the seventh-grade firearm, though not particularly powerful to those of higher realms, was a rarity; only about ten existed throughout the Heian Dynasty, and none were found on Iyo Island.
The third box was brimming with pearls, layer upon layer of them, sourced from across the globe. They sparkled brilliantly under the night sky. Originating from places like northeastern Ezo, the North, South, West, and East Seas, these pearls also included the rare ones from Lake Biwa, the southern pearls of Tsukushi Island, and the fiery sea pearls from Mount Fuji.
Silence ensued as many officials were spellbound by the radiant display. Though Lily had said they hadn’t prepared significant gifts, a mere gesture unveiled treasures from all corners of Ashihara1.
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The Prime Minister and the attending officials, well-versed in the value of such items, recognized their worth. Some of these might not be formidable artifacts, but they were impossible to obtain on Iyo Island, regardless of wealth or prowess. One would need vast connections spanning Ashihara to possess such items.
“These friends of the princess, they resemble celestials, yet their origins remain a mystery. From where do they hail?” The Prime Minister couldn’t mask his astonishment and a hint of trepidation.
In reality, Lily had chosen a selection of rare, albeit not particularly useful or valuable, treasures from her collection — spoils from her conquests over Shuten and other formidable foes.
These individual items might seem trivial, but collectively, they hinted at an owner with an extraordinary reach, someone who could access treasures from every corner of Ashihara. Even in Asuka Kingdom, the royal treasury couldn’t boast such a diverse collection.
“May I inquire about the lady’s name?” The Prime Minister inquired, viewing Lily with renewed interest.
“Lily. These are my sisters, Ayaka and Shimizu.”
“The presence of three celestial beings accompanying the princess is truly a joyous occasion. Your Highness, esteemed celestials, please proceed.”
As they watched the princess and Lily’s entourage enter Tenshu, Tsukuba Naoya frowned, murmuring, “This woman… That gesture, revealing so many treasures and an unmatched identity, also carried a distinct undertone. A unique energy only the truly powerful might sense. Was she flaunting her strength? Sending a warning?”
Within Tenshu Castle, three floors had been transformed into banquet avenues, each illuminated and teeming with guests from every corner of the realm.
Initially, the Prime Minister had intended to seat Lily and her company on another floor. However, her gesture and status as a friend of the princess now placed them among the honored guests.
In Tenshu Castle’s main hall, the ambiance mellowed as drums echoed. Kabuki dancers graced the floor, performing the Asuka Kingdom’s signature dance, a melancholic representation of longing for one’s homeland.
King Akira, donned in golden hunting robes, occupied the central seat of honor. Arrayed before him were fine foods and drinks. The return of his cherished daughter filled his heart with unparalleled joy. Despite the formal setting, his genuine concern for Princess Asuka was palpable.
“Royal father, may you achieve supremacy and enjoy a life of boundless years,” toasted the princess, seated to King Akira’s right.
Laughing heartily, King Akira replied, “My practice nears its culmination, yet I pale in comparison to dear Shizu, the millennial prodigy of our Asuka clan. As a father, my only wishes are for peace, your success in your practices, your leadership of the kingdom, and most importantly, your happiness. Thus, I can relish my twilight years! Let’s all drink to that!”
“To Your Majesty’s long and prosperous life,” toasted the Prime Minister from the left.
“With the Prime Minister by my side, how can my days not be elongated? Ahaha! Just ensure you also care for your well-being. Don’t overexert yourself! Cheers!”
As King Akira raised his glass, his gaze settled on a group of unfamiliar, unparalleled beauties seated further down the hall. The one in red was particularly striking.
“Who might that young lady be?” he asked, indicating Lily with his wine cup.
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“Royal father, that’s my friend. We’re as close as sisters. She is also one of the mercenaries from my Himeji city, Miss Lily,” Asuka introduced.
“Lily?” King Akira’s gaze settled on the crystalline bottle of clear wine on the table, which seemed out of place amidst the surrounding fine utensils. “So, this exquisite Nanban wine was a gift from you!”