There was a small plaza surrounded by buildings in the castle town. At the center of this space was a large tree with several benches encircling it. Children and wives usually hung out here as it was a common spot for the townsfolk to take a break, but now that it was nearing evening, there wasn’t a single person here.
“Are you feeling tired?” Herscherik asked. The group was gloomier than when they first stepped inside the castle town, so Herscherik put on a bright tone but it was for naught.
“I’m sorry, Prince Herscherik…” Violetta said, her eyes still cast downward and on the verge of tears.
“Don’t worry about that. It’s exactly like they said. The royal family is forcing the burden onto them,” Herscherik said in a calming voice.
Violetta was embarrassed by her immaturity. She knew that raising her voice at that time would cause a commotion, but she couldn’t stand seeing someone insult the royal family, insult Herscherik. Yet her actions had resulted in Herscherik lowering his head.
“I know that you got angry on our behalf, Miss Violetta. Thanks.”
Herscherik gently smiled, but this action also refuted what Violetta wanted to say next. The ones responsible for the country were the king and the royal family. An outsider like Violetta should not get involved. Even if the source of the issue did not lie with the royal family, the royal family was not allowed to shirk their duty.
Violetta was rather sharp for her age. She was a member of high society as someone born into the aristocracy. And this understanding allowed her to sense Herscherik’s feelings. That was why she couldn’t say anything more on the topic.
“The sun is setting, so after this break, let’s return to the castle. I’m a bit tired and want to eat those snacks.”
“Prince Herscherik, I will go buy some juice from that stand we passed by before!” Violetta enthusiastically offered.
Normally, Herscherik would be the one going as the man of the relationship, but he saw how she was practically ready to run off, so he let her do it. Besides, this juice trip would be an easy way to let her get her mind off of things.
“Thanks. Oranju, do you mind going with her?”
Oran nodded and left together with the girl. Herscherik watched them go and sat down on a bench. Shiro also sat down but on a different bench which left Gene the only one standing.
“Miss Gene, why don’t you also take a seat?”
“…Your Highness seems to be very close with the townsfolk,” Gene said, choosing to remain standing.
Having his invitation casually ignored, Herscherik gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Rather than us being close, it’s more like they’re playing along with me. They’re good people.” His self-deprecation turned into loneliness when he added, “And they don’t know I’m part of the royal family.”
The people of the castle town didn’t know his true identity. They were under the impression they were interacting with a young master named Ryouko. What would they feel once they learned that he was royalty? An optimistic and positive outcome like them accepting him could never happen.
“If they knew I’m a prince, I’m sure they’d distance themselves from me.”
“…Then why do you bother to come to the castle town?” Shiro, who had been silent this whole time, interjected. “From what I could see, you regularly come here. And this isn’t the first time you’ve encountered that exchange like today.”
As Shiro pointed out, this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Herscherik had heard such conversations enough to make his ears bleed, and he had interactions with them before.
The discontent and dissatisfaction towards the country, the contempt towards the upper echelons, and the violence from the knights, soldiers, and the patrol—all connected to criticism towards the royal family.
“You don’t need to put yourself out there to get hurt.” Shiro spat out the words, “You can just shut your eyes to all that disgust. Close your ears so you can’t hear them.”
Humans were capable of making decisions. Shiro always believed he could discard what was unnecessary. He commented to himself, That way, I don’t have to get hurt… Everything can just disappear.
However, Herscherik heard that advice as something Shiro was telling himself. Indeed, it was enticing advice to the both of them, but Herscherik shook his head. He bluntly answered, “Yeah. But, you know, I’m royalty.”
This was his raison d’être after being born into this world. That was why Herscherik couldn’t take the easy way Shiro proposed. Herscherik stood up and began walking.
“Your Highness Herscherik?” Gene called out to him, surprised that he suddenly started walking.
“The food I eat every day and the clothes I wear all come from the work the citizens do every day, but there’s nothing I can do for them at the moment,” Herscherik said and continued to walk. The tax money taken from them provided Herscherik with his living necessities. But he had no way of repaying them. He stopped in place and turned around. From where he stood, he could see both Shiro and Gene. “Even if I don’t want to see or hear any of this, I cannot avert my eyes or ears. I have a duty to them.”
The voices of the citizens were the voice of the country. Their cries were the country’s cries. And their happiness was the country’s happiness. He must not let a single world, not even a slight mutter, go unnoticed. He believed that he must not let their efforts go unnoticed, no matter how difficult it may be.
“…But you don’t have to be the one to do it. No one asked you to,” Shiro pushed those words out of his mouth. He seemed to be fighting with himself.
“Even if no one asked, I want to do it,” Herscherik countered Shiro. No one ordered him and he wasn’t doing it to be thanked. He wanted to do it. He wanted to protect everyone. “That was why,” Herscherik continued, “I won’t hold back against anyone who gets in my way or hurts my family.”
Herscherik’s voice was unbelievably cold compared to his usual one. The air surrounding the youngest prince was normally as warm as a clear spring day, but now it felt like the frigid air from the lowest parts of the world, piercing the skin of the two present. Gene and Shiro looked at Herscherik, speechless and frozen in place.
Suddenly, a bright voice broke the tension, “Prince Herscherik!”
Herscherik dispersed the air around him and turned to Violetta. “Ah, Miss Violetta—” His usual warm smile when facing her suddenly tensed. He immediately warned his knight, “Oranju!”
At that moment, Oran tossed the cups of juice in his hands into the air, drew his sword, and blocked the weapon coming from behind. The sound of metal clashing with metal echoed. Violetta turned around and froze. Oran, protecting Violetta at his back, glared at the assaulter.
“If you’re looking for money, then leave. I’ll let you off this time… But if you attacked knowing who she is, I will show no mercy.”
That was Oran’s final warning to the assailant, but the assailant ignored Oran’s words and temporarily sheathed his weapon before promptly drawing it to cut Oran. But Oran parried the violent attack in its entirety. Unfortunately, he couldn’t counterattack immediately after because of the person behind him. Sensing this, Herscherik shouted, “Miss Violetta, quickly, this way!”
Violetta returned to her senses from Herscherik’s voice, also tossed the cup away, and attempted to get away from there. When she needed ten more steps to reach Herscherik, another assailant appeared. They were probably hiding behind the shadow of a building in the nearby four-way intersection.
The moment he confirmed the appearance of this new assailant, he shouted, “Violetta!” and rushed out. He reached out to grab Violetta, and the moment he caught ahold of her, he vigorously pulled her in and held her.
“Prince Herscherik!” Violetta’s scream echoed through the plaza. Herscherik completely covered her, scream and all, before putting his back between her and the assailant. The assailant closed the distance to stab the prince, the knife glistening in their hand.
Herscherik tensed, ready for the pain, but then a gust of wind blew followed by a loud crash and the assailant’s muffled cry. Herscherik timidly looked over and saw that the charging assailant was now buried in the wall of a distant building, unconscious. When Herscherik checked on Oran, he saw the first assailant unconscious at Oran’s feet.
Herscherik turned to the direction of the voice. Hair that was normally pure white was now glowing with a faint green light. He knew right away that he was saved by the man’s magic.
“Thanks, Mr. Shiro.”
Herscherik thanked the man as he caressed the terrified Violetta’s head as she clung to him.
When the stars began twinkling in the sky, the group decided to head back. They handed over the assailants as ruffians to the patrol and safely made the trip all the way back to the castle. Shiro had already returned to the church, so Herscherik only had these two to see off at the main gate.
“I’m sorry for exposing you to danger today.” Herscherik apologized to Gene.
Violetta was already asleep in the carriage, exhausted from the terrifying experience. By the way, before she fell asleep, she asked Herscherik, “Can you address me as just Violetta from now on?” and Herscherik agreed as he felt like he owed her for being the one who put her in danger. Hearing this, Violetta felt at ease and fell asleep.
“No, Your Highness didn’t…” Gene said in consideration to Herscherik. Her complexion didn’t look very good, but she maintained her composure. “Um… May I ask how can you be so strong?”
“Strong?” Herscherik was confused by Gene’s question. In what aspects?
Herscherik looked down at his own body. No matter how many times he looked, he only saw a weak body that lacked any muscle. He tilted his head and thought again, but he truly couldn’t find any aspect of where he was strong.
“Yes, you’re very strong,” Gene added as if reading his thoughts.
After another fruitless thinking session, Herscherik was still dumbfounded and bluntly stated, “Miss Gene, I’m not strong. My body is weak.”
“No, I’m not talking about physical… I think your heart and mind are strong.”
Herscherik was slightly saddened that she didn’t deny that he was physically weak.
“But I’m also not strong there either.” Herscherik bitterly smiled and continued, “I’m always making mistakes, and I’ve thought about quitting all the time.”
Not as an excuse, but from the occasional fatigue. But he had his recalled past, the thoughts entrusted to him by that deceased man, the only path that man could take, and the people who believed and supported the prince.
Herscherik had only one wish: to change this country, to change this world. He was done regretting. To avoid regret, he chose to fulfill his wish.
“I don’t want to regret anything anymore,” Herscherik answered without a single drop of hesitation. He could only believe in himself, believe in his comrades, and move forward.
Gene thought, He doesn’t think he’s strong… But he has the strength to make strides towards his goals. That is His Highness’ strength. The strength he had is the complete opposite of mine. He would never bend to our side. He would rather die than deceive.
Gene deeply bowed, boarded the carriage, and left the castle.
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