Chapter 3: Pocket watch, Earl, and Puppet IV
When the owner of the room returned, one man was waiting to greet them.
The one who greeted them with a perfect 90° bow was the butler. He was a man in his 30s with very dark, green hair 1.
With his eyes of the same color, the man switched his gaze from the king of Greisis Kingdom, Soleil, standing before him to the 7th prince in his arms who passed out from crying, Herscherik.
“I just got back. Sorry to ask this of you, but can you arrange the bedroom? And contact Meria as well? She’s probably in a panic right now.”
“As you wish.”
After he gave his short reply, the butler immediately fixed the bed. Though saying that, he only needed to arrange it as Soleil, who should have been using it, didn’t have a single wink of sleep.
After the butler left the bedroom and Soleil checked it, the king laid his son on the bed and covered him with the futon. Then he wiped away the traces of the tears with his finger and stroked the child’s head. Every little action was filled with love.
He left the room without making a sound and as soon as he closed the door, Soleil let out a deep sigh.
(It might have been too early to tell him that story.)
The day I must tell the truth will come sooner or later. Soleil prepared himself for such. He was prepared. But, he didn’t think that the day to tell him would come this fast.
“…….Soleil, did you explain everything?”
Seeing the king let out such a deep sigh, the butler, who up till now was restrained, called out to him like a worried friend. No, in reality, the butler was worried about the king himself. He was the king’s only trusted friend. As a childhood friend, he was one of the few people Soleil could trust.
“Were you cautious of your surroundings?”
The trusted friend looked at him with discerning eyes. Soleil nodded his head.
“Yeah, I more or less investigated the surroundings and checked if a barrier had been put up just in case before I started to talk, so it was fine….Besides, normally you wouldn’t think that I would be having such an important conversation with a 3 year old.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But still, to think that first one to come to talk to you would be the youngest prince. That was quite unexpected.”
The butler was also expecting the princes and princess to one day notice the kingdom’s situation and come to ask the king. But, neither the king nor the butler even considered that the first one to do so would be the youngest prince.
They had thought that within a few years, the first prince would be the first one to come.
Soleil had made up his mind that if his children ever came to ask, he would tell them the whole truth as it was, because that was his duty as both the king and their father. Whether to remain royalty or relinquish their title and live freely……or even to side with the aristocrats, this decision is up to them
(Speaking of which, Hersche is a little different from the other princes.)
He grew up just like the other children until he was 1 year old. After he passed the age of 1, the first thing to change was that he barely cried anymore.
Instead, his eyes seemed to closely observe the subtleties of people. He started to become independent, changing his clothes and feeding himself.
It could be said that it was an infant’s attempt at selfishness, but the bottom line was that he was an obedient child. He didn’t have any outburst of emotions nor did he get angry. He controlled his emotions just like an adult. Now that Soleil thought about it, Herscherik was an early bloomer to have a sense of selfishness and technique.
Furthermore, when he met Herscherik, he saw some kind of restraint or embarrassment in him. He had thought that the child might have hated him, but after confirming with Meria, that wasn’t the case.
Rather than calling it restraint, it was more like he wasn’t used to be spoiled….However, it was no exaggeration to say that the Herscherik who came to plead for the Earl of Luzeria’s release appeared to reveal his true feelings.
“But the prince is only 3 years old, right? Couldn’t you have cleverly made up something?”
Or rather, you should have made up something. The butler conveyed with his eyes. The youngest prince was just too young for this.
“I couldn’t. Not with him looking at me with those eyes.”
Soleil thought for just a second how he would have deceived him. The youngest prince was really too young. He thought that he could have smoothed things over without telling the truth and delayed the conversation to a later date.
But the king looked at the child’s straightforward eyes filling with tears, and he realized that a poorly-made-up story wouldn’t work. Moreover, if he conveyed the cruel fact that he was a puppet and he couldn’t save the earl, then the boy would give up on his plead.
“What’s today’s schedule?”
“……After breakfast, you have a meeting with Minister Barbasse. It’ll be about the earl’s situation.”
Soleil let out a deep sigh for the second time. That man who has dominance over the inner palace was quick to take measures. He probably intended to end everything without giving the king any time. No, this was already within his plan. He was that kind of man.
(Is there nothing I can do…..)
Ever since he had become king, Soleil was assaulted by the feeling of helplessness so many times. He thought all night long about a plan to successfully set the earl free, but nothing came to mind.
That speaks of how meticulous of a trap Barbasse had laid for the Earl of Luzeria. The minister had utilized the earl’s fatal desire to make the minister pay.
He completely intended to get rid of the Earl of Luzeria. And he was going to make the king his accomplice and force him to shoulder the blame.
“Soleil, if you command me, I can handle the earl and……”
The king interrupted his childhood friend. It was a rare and violent tone for the king.
“If you do that, you’ll be his next target. It’s fine if I am the only one who will carry this burden.”
His childhood friend’s words became stronger, so the king shook his head to stop him.
The childhood friend could definitely set the earl free—letting him escape the prison and sheltering him at his home far away from the royal capital. But if he had done so, then he and his family would be the next targets.
He belonged to a Marquis family, but they had already been exiled from the royal capital because of Barbasse’s influence. But that was better than losing their lives. Those influential families who joined in the animosity towards Barbasse had unnatural deaths, either through an accident or some strange means. There was also the difficulty in preserving one’s status in this line of work. There were no visible traces of Barbasse’s involvement in any of them. No matter how unnatural they looked, no one could raise any objections. That was how much the minister controlled the country.
The most Soleil could do as the king, was hold the minister and his faction’s reins so they don’t get too carried away. But even so, that doesn’t even establish half of what happened.
Soleil looked down at his own powerless hand. His own hand has already been stained without having any direct involvement in these schemes.
He sensed that he lost his daughter when he met with the minister. He was forced to understand that. That the only one who could protect his family from this beast of a man is the king himself.
“…….You can scorn me as much as you like, Luke.”
Soleil called out his childhood friend’s name for the first time after a long while. The two were together since they were children. They had the same nanny and were raised in the same manner.
His childhood friend who was deemed frail let out a bitter laugh.
“I will fall together to the depths of the world with you, Soleil.”
He didn’t say that as the king’s chief butler but as the king’s friend.
A nostalgic scene spread out in front of him.
Herscherik……No, Hayakawa Ryouko knew that this was a dream.
Her body weightlessly floated around and her surroundings were black and white like in an old television. She recalled from a certain article she read that dreams are created originally from the dreamer’s memories, so there’s no color attached to them. It’s just the dreamer’s assumption that there is color.
The nostalgic scene before her was her own home.
She moved when she was an elementary school student to this house, which was constructed 25 years ago. The youngest of the three sisters was about to be born around that time, so her father worked hard in place of the mother, to watch over the middle sister and to prepare for the move.
When they moved, it was a sparkling clean, brand new house. 25 years later, it was still standing, but it appeared quite old, but to Ryouko, it was still her precious home.
Underneath the gloomy sky, there was a sign that said “Hayakawa Family” placed by the entranceway for a wake. People wearing dark mourning clothes were coming in and out in shifts.
Ryouko became intrigued and unsteadily floated inside her house. She passed by several relatives whose faces she vaguely remembered along the way, but it seemed that no one could see nor sense her presence.
As soon as she passed by the entranceway and entered the living room, there was her niece sitting on the sofa. Her eyes were swollen red as she gripped a handkerchief. Next to her, Ryouko’s younger sister’s husband looked over his daughter with an anxious look. Ryouko thought that it was rare for this rebellious niece to stick this close to her father.
Ryouko continued further in, past the living room and into a Japanese-style room which once belonged to her grandmother. It was the room with the best sun exposure as well as the place where her grandmother stayed until her dementia became too much to handle. It seemed like the people wearing the mourning clothes were coming in and out of this room.
Ryouko understood when she peeked inside the Japanese-style room.
(Aah, so that’s what’s happening.)
The room was enveloped in the smell of incense. The people wearing mourning clothes and offering numerous flowers were her family members and her superiors at work. Her own picture was placed in a memorial frame and her unmoving body was laid on top of the futon.
(Is this my wake?)
It was very real for a dream. Or rather, since dreams are created from organized memories, this was one heck of a delusion.
Plus, looking down on her own dead body was a very strange feeling.
In any case, Ryouko was glad that even though she was in a traffic accident, her body didn’t splatter everywhere. She heard that her body had suffered serious injuries from the accident, wrapped in bandages like a mummy and was already placed inside the coffin. These were only rumors, so she had no way of knowing if this was fact or not.
“I extend my sincerest condolences at this time.”
“No, it is us who should be thanking you for taking time out of your day to be here.”
Her direct superior and her mother were exchanging words. Her father was just staring expressionlessly at her picture in the memorial frame. In place of the unmoving father, her younger sisters were greeting the relatives and those who came to visit.
“My daughter had always hated having her picture taken…..so we were in quite a pinch in looking for a recent photo of her. As such, we are very indebted to you for allowing us to use the picture from your company outing.”
(That’s because I don’t like pictures.)
It wasn’t that she hated her own face but she didn’t really like it either. Ever since elementary school, she was bullied and called “ugly hag.” And when she had to line up for school photos, her face looked bigger than other girls. That’s why, when the photo-booth craze started, she would strongly decline any invitations to join in.
(Especially since my jaw got lower and a double chin started to appear…..)
As the company outing photo was a group photo, she was forced to join in. That’s probably why the Ryouko in the memorial frame looked a bit displeased.
“Our company was also very indebted to Ms. Hayakawa. Even during our most difficult times, she helped us with her go-getter smile and lively voice.”
“Yes, we had an agreement at the branch office to contact Ms. Hayakawa of the main office for consultation during troubled times.”
The one speaking was the chief area leader in sales, who stood above everyone else now. He was a very busy man, so Ryouko couldn’t believe that he would come to her wake as she was only a clerk at the main office.
“Ms. Hayakawa was excellent at taking care of people. And despite being strict in places, she never abandoned those in need. There were many of those in the district branches who wanted to participate in this wake, but I have humbly come here as their representative.”
(Is that why you addressed me like that almost every day…..?)
She was made to recall her previous life’s workplace. Outside of the usual work, he would often make phone calls, asking for her.
She wanted to retort with “No matter how you look at it, it has nothing to do with me!” as he asked questions about the branch manager, area-leader-level workers, and even foreign branch workers—employees from unrelated departments.
“Heey, you doing well, little Ryou~? By the way, I got something I wanna ask……”
Of course she couldn’t say, “In the meantime, stop calling me ‘little Ryou’“, to a person in the managerial position. Now that she thought about it, that was probably sexual harassment, but at the same time, she was too busy to even care about such a thing.
Being asked such, she became curious herself. She investigated everything about the other departments, reported, and gave suggestions. Thanks to that, she ended up picking up all aspects of the jobs of departments with which she had no connections. Furthermore, she fell into a chain of phone rings from within the company expecting her help.
(Well, I don’t mind being relied on, so it’s fine.)
There were times when she really didn’t understand what kind of job she had in the main branch. She didn’t have the actual feeling of coming in contact with the customers like a branch officer nor seeing how the sales grew. But when she heard the thanks after being relied on, she thought, “Ah, I was useful,” as she was filled with a sense of accomplishment.
I want to know things I don’t understand. I want to be needed by someone. Her superiors and the area leaders took it as favorable, but now that she thought back to it, her actions were full of self-satisfaction.
(Somehow, I’m getting embarrassed knowing that I was a petty brat and my superiors were thinking too highly of me…..)
No one at the wake could see how Ryouko was troubled, but her mother closed her eyes, delighted at their words.
“Is that so……”
With that response, her mother looked considerably tired and had thinned cheeks. She looked like she had suddenly aged 10 years older and had grown smaller.
“Since Ryouko never talked about her work at home…..I’m relieved that she was a great help to everyone.”
Her mother said this as she gazed at Ryouko’s picture.
“She was the eldest daughter and I also relied on her, one way or another. I thought that was the reason why she delayed on marrying, but according to everyone’s stories, it seems that she spent every day, very fulfilled.”
In her previous life, her work, day after day, was by no means easy. There were unpleasant things, and there were even times when she thought about quitting and writing a letter of resignation. Nevertheless, she continued working and it was all thanks to her family, her superiors and co-workers at work.
The words of her boss and mother were the answer to Ryouko’s life.
She worked with her utmost effort, immersed herself in her favorite hobby, and spent her time together with her precious family. Although she lost all of that in an instant because of the accident, she could reflect on how she persevered and lived her common everyday life.
From another person’s view, her life definitely wasn’t splendid. But to Ryouko, it was the best life she had.
When she woke up, there was an unfamiliar ceiling.
Her memories were in chaos because of the dream, but Herscherik reached the conclusion that he had apparently fallen asleep after the conversation with his father.
As he was probably inside his father’s room, the bed was of the highest quality and the thick curtain blocked the sunlight.
“This is wrong…..”
Herscherik whispered as he got up. He looked at his two hands that had become much smaller compared to his previous life and gripped them tightly.
That might have been a convenient dream. But Ryouko’s life was mediocre but the best; her hard work was rewarded.
But how was this world?
Those who do the right thing weren’t rewarded yet those who excelled at deception one-sidedly scoffed at the weak.
“This world is absolutely wrong.”
Within these two years since he reincarnated into this world, he had done nothing. How many humans have shed tears? How many have lost their lives?
He was very upset at himself and once again cried at his helplessness.