Herscherik didn’t head to the main gate of the castle that continued to the castle town. Instead, he chose one of the several back gates. These gates were meant for traveling merchants, soldiers and knights working in the castle, and officials to come and go. Incidentally, the main gate was meant for aristocrats and invited guests to use. The back gate Herscherik and his group were heading to was connected to an isolated area, so it was perfect for them.
A gatekeeper greeted them with a knowing smile and said, “Prince Herscherik, thank you for giving us the request in advance this time.”
Herscherik played off the gatekeeper’s jab with a playful smile. Normally, a request was needed to be placed in advance if a member of the royal family were to go somewhere outside designated areas like the Academy. However, Herscherik had grumbled, “Why do I have to do that? It’s pointless, no, a waste of time,” and completely ignored the standard procedure. Back in the day, he snuck out whenever he went down to the castle town, but he had to be back within the day. However, going and returning within the day was difficult if he was to pull off the Venture Strategy. After all, there were times he needed to stay overnight in remote areas.
Therefore, he decided to properly use the gates instead of his secret path when going outside for the Venture Strategy. His father, the king, had told him he could do as he liked, after all. At first, he waved his hand, said “Thanks for your work” like the soldiers and officials after they finished their work for the day, and casually left. But this led to the gatekeeper almost stopping him. Herscherik audibly clicked his tongue, but Oran, the loyal retainer he was, pretended not to hear. The gatekeeper desperately tried to stop him, insisting that procedures were necessary and that it was dangerous, but Herscherik refused to back down.
“Everyone is telling me that outside is dangerous, so does that mean the country’s public order is that bad?” Herscherik had asked with a distressed expression. He knew that he was avoiding the main subject, but he continued to speak to the speechless gatekeeper. “Besides, what’s the point of having people who can’t win against a single knight even after ganging up on him…” He then looked apologetically at Oran.
Oran was acknowledged by his peers as strong after an overwhelming and unscathed victory at the fighting tournament, but that wasn’t all. On a later day, the Military Bureau and Patrol Bureau hosted a one-vs.-many combat practice under the pretense of welcoming talented rookies…but in actuality, it was a kind of hazing. However, Oran’s complete shutout against the soldiers was carved deeply into their memories.
According to Oran, “My brothers were ecstatic and also participated. It made me wonder if we are truly blood-related.” He looked far into the distance as he added this useless tidbit.
“I let Oran go because you requested it, but you’re telling me that you had ulterior motives?!” Herscherik showed a rare display of indignation. He couldn’t help spitting out such hateful words to the gatekeeper who belonged to the Patrol Bureau. The gatekeeper’s mouth was sealed tight like a closed clam.
Herscherik shrugged his shoulders. “…Well, I do feel sorry for making you take responsibility for me leaving here. I understand.” Herscherik withdrew for now.
The next day, he presented his permit to go outside to the same gatekeeper by the same back gate. Naturally, it was signed by his father, the king. Oran also signed to indicate that he would take responsibility if anything were to happen to Herscherik. According to the gatekeeper’s testimony, Oran looked far into the distance in resignation at that time too. By the way, the fight between Herscherik and Soleil continued until Soleil relented. A clause was written that Herscherik must report beforehand to his father if he was going to stay overnight. And Oran’s family would provide support for foreign matters.
“I don’t want to worry Father if I can avoid it…” Hersherik had commented.
That was why he had initially planned to coax the gatekeeper, but he would naturally feel bad if the gatekeeper lost his job because of his actions. Moreover, when he thought more about it, he would worry his father if he left without a word, so he was glad things turned out this way in the end.
“Well, we also have girls with us. Then, let’s go…” Herscherik said.
“Enjoy your trip, Prince Herscherik. And take care, ladies,” the gatekeeper said cordially. Even more amicably to the three women.
One of them is a man, but let’s keep quiet about that. Herscherik thought and pretended not to see how upset Shiro was.
Right after passing the gate and before entering the town, Herscherik told his three guests, “Oh, just so you know, everyone in town addresses me with a different name. Please don’t mind it. And it’s a secret that I’m royalty so don’t use formal language.”
Then he pulled his hood to cover his face. Unlike in the past when he rarely interacted with those inside the castle, he was now acquainted with them. If he passed by any of them in town and they addressed him as the prince, the townsfolk would be greatly confused, and he didn’t want that since he still wanted to be called “Ryouko” in the castle town. Even if the folks did recognize him, some would sense his intentions once they saw how he was covering his face.
“Then, shall we go?”
At Herscherik’s prompt, the group casually walked out from the castle area. It was probably Violetta’s first time looking at this scenery she had only seen from inside a carriage. She excitedly wandered about so Gene held her hand to make sure she wouldn’t get lost. Herscherik watched over the two as various people called out to him.
“Ryouko, you’ve brought some beautiful flowers with ya, huh!”
The owner of a confectionery shop called out to him. The sweets here were inferior to the ones Kuro made, but they were cheap enough for children to buy. In his past life’s terms, the shop was like a dagashi-ya. Naturally, there were also other confections like cake that children couldn’t buy.
“Try some of the new snack we developed this year together with your lady friends, Ryouko.”
The owner’s wife held out a bag. Herscherik looked over at Oran to prompt him to pay, but before Oran could take out his wallet, the couple shook their heads and refused. Seeing that paying them after this would be seen as rude, Herscherik thanked them and left the shop.
“Prince Herscherik, what did they give you?”
Violetta asked in a quiet voice and Herscherik opened the bag for her to see. Inside was fried pastry that looked like donuts without the hole in the middle. Herscherik thought they resembled the sata andagi of his previous life’s world.
“Wow, they look delicious!” Flowers seemed to bloom from Violetta’s sweet smile and Herscherik smiled back.
“Let’s eat it later. Together.”
Hearing the word “together” made Violetta blush. Together, the two of us… It’s like a date! she thought. Embarrassed, she covered her cheeks with both hands, but Herscherik’s next words made her blush for another reason.
“Yeah, together with everyone.”
Herscherik wasn’t being mean-spirited, but Violetta wanted to crawl into a hole upon hearing those words. But then, the conversation between a fishmonger and a buying customer entered her ears.
“Hey, have the taxes gone up again?”
“Yeah, all ‘cause of the suspicious movements to the west. They claim it’s for the defense funds.”
The fishmonger let out a deep sigh, and the customer frowned and clicked his tongue.
“Even though the royal family is hosting banquets every day… I bet they think that if they start running out of money, they can just squeeze it out from the citizens.”
Also hearing this conversation, Herscherik awkwardly turned away. Naturally, their claim of daily banquets was false. But the matter of increased taxes was true. After Count Grimm warned him during the new year banquet, it was reported that the empire located west of the kingdom had been recently building up their army stationed at their shared border, so it was decided for the kingdom to build up their defenses as well as a precaution. By the way, Herscherik learned of this through his internal audits. The finalized policy came with temporarily increased taxes to compensate for the additional costs that weren’t previously accounted for in the budget. Herscherik would have chosen other places to squeeze money from, but he had no say in the matter, being a child and all. His father was only a puppet, and the first prince Marcus also couldn’t stop this policy.
But just because he couldn’t stop it, that didn’t mean Herscherik gave up.
He felt that it was worth it doing all those calculations. He had used past instances of necessary funds including soldiers’ salaries, supply costs to strengthen the border, and expenses to move and equip an army in his calculations. Then he took the current market prices he had Kuro investigate and calculated the expected budget required for everything and how much of the government’s budget could temporarily be siphoned away for this matter.
Herscherik presented his proposed numbers to his father via his older brother, and his father pushed back against the complaining officials and managed to have the taxes raised only to the minimum amount. He left the actual matter to the officials, but he made sure that the numbers were within the estimate. If they were off, then that meant that some aristocrat must have pocketed it.
They’re keeping themselves in check since they don’t want to be caught. Herscherik predicted such. It was possible for aristocrats to pocket money under the pretext of defense funds. And as he had expected, the aristocrats and officials didn’t want their own money used for the fund, so they did their job properly.
…But the citizens still didn’t like it. No matter what world he was in, people hated it when taxes were raised and ate more of their money. And if the increased taxes didn’t produce any positive benefits in their lives, the pushback was severe.
“Hey, you’re too loud. The patrol’ll hear you,” the fishmonger advised the customer to lower his voice.
But the customer’s anger couldn’t be quelled. “I ain’t scared of the patrol! Pass ‘em some money and they’ll pretend like they never saw anything. Rather, I’m sure they’ll insult the royal family and aristocrats with us.”
Herscherik was in disbelief. Just as the customer said, the Patrol Bureau, which was in charge of maintaining public order, in the kingdom had underlings like that. Granted, they were still some who properly did their job. But it was the bad ones who stood out. Even if nine out of ten of them were diligent, only the single bad one got all the attention.
At any rate, Herscherik sensed that they should leave the area. He was about to suggest they move when he noticed that Violetta, who should have been right next to him, was gone. When he looked around, he saw her stomping over to the two men conversing. She stopped right in front of them and pointed her finger at them.
“Do you even understand what you’re saying?! You’re being disrespectful to the royal family!”
Violetta loudly proclaimed. Everyone, Herscherik included, was dumbfounded.
“…A little rich girl like you shouldn’t be eavesdropping on the lower class. That’s bad manners, y’know?”
The man, towering over Violetta, threatened her in a low voice. A normal girl would have burst into tears from fear, but Violetta was different.
“Who cares about that? What matters is that you’re being very disrespectful! You must immediately take that back!”
I won’t allow anyone who doesn’t know a single thing to speak badly of Prince Herscherik! Violetta felt that these men were insulting Herscherik and she couldn’t stand that. The prince smiled sweetly and thought of his people. And seeing the passersby care about him today made it even clearer that such insults shouldn’t be allowed.
“Disrespectful? I’m just telling the truth though? If you don’t back off…”
“I apologize for my younger sister!”
The first to move among the group was Gene. She hugged her sister, covered the girl’s mouth to prevent her from saying anything unnecessary, and lowered her head to the men. Violetta’s mouth continued to move underneath her older sister’s hand, but Gene firmly held on and kept her head down.
The men were about to say something when two shadows stood between the men and the sisters.
“Hey now, guys. These ladies are the daughters of an aristocrat. The cute girl just wanted to say something, okay?” Oran spoke with a friendly smile.
The two men knew about Oran. They had spotted him when he walked around town as the guardian of someone else they knew. The other shadow—that person—was Herscherik, and he too lowered his head.
“I’m sorry, misters.”
The fishmonger and customer exchanged awkward looks. As people who lived in town, they knew that this young master was no simple aristocrat. He was a strange aristocrat who didn’t overly dress himself, didn’t flaunt his status, and made the townsfolk like him for who he was. That was why they felt extremely ashamed that their previous conversation was heard by him.
The customer muttered in response, “You don’t gotta bow, Ryouko… I’m sorry. I know there’s someone like you among the aristocrats. But…” With a clear mind, he knew that he had overstepped his boundaries before. But, everyone had been saying such.
“It’s fine. I don’t mind. If that is how everyone views the royal family and aristocrats, then this is the result of the way we handle ourselves.” Herscherik said.
Then he, the two sisters who apologized again, and the bystander Shiro left. Only Oran stayed behind.
“…Ryouko said all that so I’ll overlook this matter this time.” Oran put his hand on his sword’s hilt and glared at the two men with his dropping blue eyes. Before them stood not the usual friendly guardian. A chill different from the frigid winter enveloped them. “The next time you decide to insult the royal family, you better be prepared to accept the consequences. Moreso if you’re spewing false information.”
Oran finally left after that. The two just stood there on the spot as if frozen in place.
 Dagashi-ya is a place that sells dagashi, or cheap candy and snacks. In Japan, these places came about specifically to have cheap snacks that children could spend their allowance on to buy.
 These are small balls of dough that have been deep fried. They are common in Okinawa.
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