Chapter 2: Fiona and Benedict
Nestled in the middle of the desolate Central Mountain Range was a lone country.
The Kingdom of Iks, a member state of Roxche and the East’s only monarchy. Its new official name was ‘Ikstova’.
Iks shared a border with the southwestern edge of the Republic of Raputoa, near the northern end of the Central Mountain Range. The entire kingdom was situated around a long, narrow lake in the mountains.
Lake Ras, measuring at 100 kilometers in length and 40 kilometers in width, was at the center of the little country defined by the lake and the nearby valleys. The people of Iks were a hardy folk who braved temperatures far below freezing during the winter. The nation’s economy was based largely on forestry, agriculture, and fishery, as well as its rising star, tourism.
Iks was home to a very different culture than that of the lowlands, which was why it had been the last to join the Confederation.
Two incidents in this tiny country’s recent history made waves in the world.
One was the revival of the queen 19 years prior.
Princess Francesca, who had been believed dead with her family after a fire tore through the royal palace 29 years ago, suddenly announced her survival to her people.
Borne on an aeroplane flown by Major Carr Benedict of the Royal Army—the Hero of the Mural—the princess had descended upon a political rally in Kunst, Iks’s capital city. There she revealed that the fire at the palace had, in fact, been the work of terrorists.
She uncovered the true culprit behind the incident, Owen Nichto, just as he was running for parliament under the assumption that public interest in the case had died down. She cornered him on the spot.
In the end, Nichto took his own life and the truth behind the case never came to light, but the people of Iks were ecstatic at the revival of their young, beautiful queen.
The other incident was the announcement of the Ikstova Pass only four months ago.
Queen Francesca had announced the existence of the pass to her people and the world during her annual new year’s address.
Knowledge of the secret pass in the Central Mountain Range had been passed down in the royal family in the 400 years since its founding. The Central Mountain Range, long considered impossible to cross, had turned out to be hiding a deep valley that connected the Kingdom of Iks to Sou Be-Il.
The announcement of the Ikstova Pass, as the valley had come to be called, was an earth-shattering event not only in the East but in the West as well. If the pass had been revealed to the world during the war, it would have been used to escalate the conflict further.
Not only that, if the pass had been unveiled during the war, Iks’s royal family would have been criticized for hiding its existence. But now that war had become much less likely, the public lauded the royal family for their decision.
Once the danger of avalanches abated during the summer, the royal family would gather researchers from East and West to man an expedition of the valley.
Perhaps the valley would one day serve as a trade route between Roxche and Sou Be-Il.
In that case, Iks—with its already-booming tourism industry—would only grow more prosperous.
Supported by her husband Sir Benedict and their daughter Princess Meriel, Queen Francesca reigned over the tiny kingdom and grew more beautiful by the year.
Roxche’s only royal family and its unusual kingdom would continue to shine as a jewel in the Central Mountain Range.
“And that is the content of the article. Will you make corrections, Fi?”
“Is the ‘grows more beautiful by the year’ part really necessary?”
A man and a woman sat in a small log cabin in a village nestled in a valley, conversing in Roxchean.
The man was in his forties with a beard covering his face and his long hair tied into a ponytail. He wore a green-and-black checkered shirt and brown cargo pants.
The woman was in her late thirties with short black hair and an attractive countenance. She was in the country’s traditional garb, a mosaic-patterned dress made of layers upon layers of cloth.
The log cabin was humble in construction with a small living room outfitted with a kitchen. The living room was furnished with the bare essentials, like a table and chairs for two and a simple shelf.
High up on the wooden wall stood three intricate wooden plates. They were carved with a bunch of grapes, a bird with its wings spread wide, and a flower pointing to the lower left.
On the wall by the door was a gun rack supporting a hunting rifle and a large handgun equipped with a stock. The rifle was an ordinary model used by the Roxchean military. The handgun, on the other hand, was a powerful model capable of automatic fire.
Though it was nighttime, melting snowbanks glowed with deceptive brightness outside the lace-curtained window. The full moon shone brilliantly over the world outside.
The man and woman sat on a rug before the glowing fireplace. Both were leaning on a large, fluffy cushion.
The man was holding a piece of paper, from which he had read to the woman. It was entitled ‘Introduction to Iks for Capital District Travel Magazine, First Draft’.
“It sure is, Fi, if my eyes aren’t mistaken,” Carr Benedict, the Hero of the Mural, said in Bezelese and kissed his wife on the cheek without hesitation.
“Then I don’t think I need to change anything. It’s succinct and to the point,” replied Queen Francesca—who was actually Francesca’s twin sister Fiona—with a smile.
“Then we will respond tomorrow at the latest. I will call the Capital District,” Benedict replied in Roxchean, folding up the paper and putting it in his breast pocket. “Now, shall we have a husband-and-wife conversation? I have a very important matter to discuss,” he whispered into his wife’s ear.
“Actually…” Benedict began, his crow’s feet growing more prominent as he smiled, “I need an aeroplane. Please, could you somehow give me the budget?”
“Hmm…” Fiona looked up at the ceiling. “But you already have four.”
“Of course our house, I mean, the royal family of Ikstova, has four aeroplanes already. One practice biplane, one small seaplane, and two observation crafts we used to find the pass. Does something not occur to you, Fi?”
Fiona stared into Benedict’s grave eyes for 10 seconds. She shook her head.
“It is shocking, but we do not have even one amphibious craft!”
“Do you know what an amphibious craft is, Fi? It is an aeroplane that can land on the lake if we must, and can also use the frozen lake as a runway. We do not have a single one of these aeroplanes! My word! What will we do in an emergency?”
“Er, we could use a seaplane in the summer and a regular aeroplane in the winter, like we always have?” Fiona said, her dark eyes staring into her husband’s.
“Oh. Er…yes, but…”
Fiona continued to stare.
“B-but, we might end up having to take off on the runway, or on the water. We never know what might happen! For example, when we found the pass early this year! If we had taken the seaplane, we could not have landed in the valley. An amphibious plane will help the expedition in the summer. What could be more convenient?”
“Is that really the only reason? We’ve known about the expedition for a while. Why bring up the amphibious plane now?”
“…Actually, I received a telegram from the aeroplane manufacturer who works with our friend. They had several units of the newest model left over because of budget cuts to the military. But they could not bear to destroy the crafts they had worked so hard to make, so they will offer them to Ikstova for a reduced price.”
“I knew it. Just like with those awkward observation crafts.”
“Well, yes, but those two were introduced by Major Travas—Wilhelm Schultz.”
“I wonder how he is? He said he was going to quit work at the embassy, but does that mean he’s going to leave the military? Will he finally marry Allison and live with his family in Roxche? Is that even possible?”
“I am sure that no matter the challenge, they will emerge victorious. Wil is an amazing man.”
“Yes. He’s just like a magician. A magician who changed the world, and my life…” Fiona trailed off nostalgically. Benedict brought the conversation back on the rails.
“Er, let us continue with the discussion. This time, the contact came to me directly. They are offering me one amphibious craft along with spare parts. They are willing to have it delivered immediately. And as for the price, they are offering a friendship discount…” Benedict began writing a number on the floor.
Fiona pulled away from the cushion and sat facing her husband.
“Yes?” Benedict replied. Fiona was serious.
“You’re a pilot, and I understand that you want to fly. It’s a part of who you are. I enjoy flying with you too. It reminds me of flying for the first time, with you in the pilot’s seat. But we already have four aeroplanes.”
“Oh. Er, yes. We do.”
“And I understand that you want to help a friend in need. That’s something to be proud of. But you can’t just buy a new aeroplane like you’re bringing home a stray kitten. Of course we could afford one, but a large chunk of the funds will have to come from the people’s tax money.”
“Y-yes. You are right.”
“But I don’t want to turn down a rare request from my husband, either.”
“Really? Oh, Fi.”
“So I have a proposal.”
“Yes? Do you need compensation? I will do anything. I will be a better husband and a better father who serves the queen faithfully!” Benedict declared, putting a hand on his chest.
“All right,” Fiona said with a smile, “what do you say to me getting some new cameras? I had about five models in mind.”
“Please wait a moment. Five is too much.”
“It’s cheaper than buying an aeroplane.”
“When you buy one aeroplane, you do not need to replace it for many years. And their sizes are very different.”
“But I want those cameras as much as you want your aeroplane.”
“You already have many cameras.”
“You already have four aeroplanes.”
“They are for different purposes. They are almost different machines.”
“The cameras are for different purposes too. I need a small one so I can carry it around anywhere, and a large one for spectacular landscape photos. They’re almost different machines.”
“What do you say?”
“You are right, but…”
“Think about it this way…”
The pointless argument continued to midnight, at which point the couple was exhausted.
“You’re right. We shouldn’t be arguing like this. We’ll get both the seaplane and the cameras!”
In the end, the queen and her husband agreed to wring out their budget for both their desired gadgets and sealed their truce with a kiss.
“Come to think of it, do you think our son Treize is doing all right in the Capital District?”
“Come to think of it, yes. I think he is.”
Then their thoughts wandered to their son, who had just begun attending secondary school in the Capital District earlier that month.