Chapter 15:

The Hero's Misdirection

The Songstress of Avalon

Caramel tinged hair reaching down to the small of the back; full lips and piercing blue eyes which, despite the tenderness of youth, reflected a certain world weariness. If this trick were to have any chance of success, then I would need to evaluate every single facet of the act.

With the exception of eye colour and height, almost everything was on point - the former couldn't be remedied, unfortunately, but the latter could and quite easily too.

"Marissa, give him your three-inch heels."

Lull's face reddened. "Is it too late for me to veto this plan?" he asked, turning away when Marissa thrust a pair of shoes in his face.

"That was never an option," I replied, "now put those shoes on and stand beside Arisa."

Lull flipped his hair (in reality, a wig) and put on the shoes, grumbling all the while. He then wobbled to Arisa's side, his unsteadiness could probably be attributed to his lingering injuries and the fact that he was essentially walking on stilts. I inspected the pair carefully, and although Arisa was still roughly a centimeter taller, I figured this wouldn't be obvious to anyone who wasn't standing directly in front of them.

I inched my face closer to Lull's.

His naturally soft features helped, but I couldn't take anything away from the craftsmanship. With only the most rudimentary of tools at her disposal, Arisa was able to makeup Lull's face in such a way that he wouldn't have looked out of place on the streets of Roppongi, advertising the district's voguish cafes and bars.

"Why can't Marissa be the one to dress up as Arisa?" Lull complained.

"Make your voice a little bit higher, Lull."

"Why can't Marissa be the on-," he raised the pitch of his voice, and then when he realised the absurdity of what he was doing, reverted back to his usual tenor. "The voice doesn't matter, does it?!"

"It's true that Marissa looks a bit more like Arisa than you do," I put my hand on his shoulder. "But if we were to dress Marissa up like Arisa, then we'd have to dress you up like Marissa, and you'd have to do all of Marissa's interim ambassadorial duties too."

"I'm still not happy with this."

But I had to purposely deafen my ears to the flute player's complaints. "Listen, it's highly unlikely that the Prince will order an infiltration of the embassy so soon after the previous one just failed. But he'll up the surveillance, definitely. You don't have to do anything in particular, other than making sure that you can occasionally be seen through the window. That way, the grunts will think Arisa is still here."

"But these same grunts are going to see you leave, right? They'll be more likely to attack if they know you're not here," Lull surmised.

"It's a matter of diplomacy at this point," I told him. "You violate another the sanctity of another country's embassy once, and you can still say it's an accident and get off with a slap on the wrist. They might chalk it up to a misunderstanding. But, if you do it again, then the affected party will lose face if they don't respond forcefully. The Prince doesn't want to provoke the Kingdom of Amalfi more than he already has, so I don't think he'll come again."

"Did they teach you that in ambassador school?" Lull seemed unconvinced.

"It was a two-week conversion course," I quipped in jest, but from Lull's expression, it seemed as though the concept of conversion courses had yet to reach the realm of Avalon. I added, "and besides, even if he did send his grunts in again, you and Marissa could easily handle them."

"Didn't you say Trajan worked for the Prince?" he replied dubiously.

"Trajan wouldn't hurt you, or Marissa. If he does come, and I doubt it, his mission would be strictly to kidnap Arisa, but of course, she'll be with me in Erisso by then. Once he realises she's not here, he'll probably just leave," I picked up Lull's signature wide-brim hat and entered the hallway, where the others were now waiting.

Misane was already in the wagon, finalising the route that we would take to the Kingdom of Aleria with the driver. Marissa and Arisa stood by door, engaged in a conversation that broke off when I walked within earshot. Arisa was dressed in one of Lull's garbs, a faded, dress-like tunic. I placed the hat, perhaps a bit too wide, on her head and murmured something perfunctory to Marissa about the stack of papers on my desk.

"We're leaving now," I opened the door, and Arisa bowed guilelessly in Marissa's direction.

"Have a safe trip," she smiled.


As our horse drawn carriage rolled away I could see, through a third floor window, Lull sitting with his back turned to us. Just as I instructed. They were probably more inconspicuous than they were before, but I had no doubt that the Prince's grunts were still somewhere in the vicinity, probably hiding in the bushes or something.

Anyway, the last thing we needed was for them to get a glimpse of Lull’s face.

Misane sat outside the carriage with our hired driver, while Arisa and I remained inside, occasionally coming in to exchange a couple of words. Arisa had wanted to swap seats, but since we were still within city limits, I vetoed the idea. This was the Prince’s home ground after all.

“You can sit outside once we leave the city,” I told her. “It’ll be mostly plains until we reach Aleria, so there’s no place for the prince’s agents to hide. But you know, I’m a little bit suspicious of the driver…”

“You’re being paranoid,” Arisa frowned. “Not exactly a quality one looks for in a doctor.”

“A paranoid doctor doesn’t misdiagnose his patients,” I countered. “And besides, if they’re brazen enough to break into the embassy, then they’d have no qualms about hijacking a carriage.”

“Except the person they’re looking for isn’t on the carriage,” Arisa lowered the wide-brimmed hat so that it covered both her eyes. “I’m Lullaby Boy, former member of the hero’s party and adventurer extraordinaire, remember?”

“Could’ve fooled me. I thought you were Arisa in drag.”

“Don’t be such a spoilsport. Why do you want to be a doctor anyway?”

The carriage ground to a halt, not because we had reached our destination but because we had entered into what can only be termed ‘medieval traffic’. This was a city of commerce, and as such, merchants were always trying to come in and out. In order to store their goods, they had wagons and carriages, which all needed to be individually inspected at the city gates.

Naturally lines began to form. Arisa, having seen the line from the window and anticipating a long wait before we reached the plains, must have been trying to make small talk.

“The same reason any young kid wants to be a doctor,” I answered noncommittally. “I had a childhood friend who was always sick. I made a pinky promise that I’d cure her, and I guess my taste for helping others grew from there.”

“Helping others, huh…?” Arisa pondered. “Is that why you helped me?”

“We’re both a long way from home, so I thought we should look out for each other,” I replied, and then added with a smirk, “even if you are from Marinos country.”

“Marinos…? Ah, the Matsumoto Marinos, right?” she clapped her hands in recognition of the name.

I sat up in my seat, a little surprised. "You're a baseball fan?" I asked.

“Not particularly,” she shook her head. “But it was always playing on the TV, so I watched a lot of Marinos games.”

“What’s that all about?” I slid back down again. “If you don’t like baseball, why didn’t you just leave the room?”

She shrugged and smiled her forlorn smile. The reflective look on her face could only mean one thing – she couldn’t remember. She always smiled sadly whenever her memory failed her.

I nodded pensively, to show that I understood.

“Your name, the fact that you’re a literature student from Matsumoto, and that you watched a lot of baseball even though you didn’t like it,” I reiterated the things that she had revealed about herself so far. “Did you go to Nagano U?”

Arisa thought about it, and then began to nod, almost profusely as though she had just unlocked a core memory. “Were you a student at the same university? We’re the same age, aren’t we? Maybe we’ve walked past each other in the hallways before!”

“I was summoned to this world when I was in my last year of high school, so I couldn't possibly have gone to Nagano U,” I reminded her. “But if we’re talking about universities, the one I hoped to attend was Harvey Hopkins.”

“Isn’t that in America?” she gasped.

“The scientists at Harvey Hopkins are doing cutting edge research into immunodeficiency disorders, including the one my childhood friend had. If I wanted to cure her, I thought it’d be best to aim high,” I laughed. “I’ve been in this world about five years, so I’m out of the loop. You wouldn’t happen to know if they’ve made any progress since then?”

It was an attempt at light-hearted banter, and I knew it could have gone a lot worse than it did; Arisa hit me softly in the shoulder, also in jest.

“Unfair!” she whined. “I can’t even remember my birthday, you know.”

Then, the wheels of the carriage were in motion again and Misane popped her head into the interior via a small, circular window. “Turns out the driver has some friends in the town guard,” she said. “He managed to get us into the express line.”

A guard inspected our carriage and waved us off. Just like that, we were on our way to the Grand Bazaar.

Steward McOy