Chapter 3: Pocket watch, Count, and Puppet V
Although it was early spring, the sun had set and the temperature inside the prison had dropped. When Count Luzeria exhaled, a white puff of smoke entered the air.
Luzeria sat on top of his simple bed, experiencing his second night inside the prison. He absentmindedly stared up at the tiny window, his only connection to the outside world.
(I wonder if His Highness Herscherik is alright.)
The sight of the youngest prince, with his blonde hair and blue eyes as he presented the pocket watch by himself this morning, lingered in Luzeria’s mind.
He first met the prince during the banquet, and his first impression of the boy was a prince who had the same weak feeling as the king. Those blue eyes he inherited from his father anxiously wavered as they looked around the banquet. To Luzeria, his presence gave off an even more fleeting impression: from the faint glint in his eyes, like the pale light that falls through the dark clouds, to the pale color of his blonde hair that was by no means magnificent.
But the Prince Herscherik who appeared before him yesterday was a different person. Although some anxiety was still there, his eyes had a much stronger light compared to the time at the banquet. In addition, the prince’s eyes were a gentle shade of jade as he asked about his injuries, causing Count Luzeria to be unable to avert his gaze.
It was by no means because of fear.
The moment he looked at the prince, feelings of awe and respect dominated him and he was no longer able to turn away from those eyes.
Luzeria instinctively acted as a retainer, kneeling down in respect and telling the prince everything after being pressed. After the prince had listened to everything till the end, he said that he would stop Luzeria’s death penalty and ran off.
(I hope he is safe……)
Despite being on the brink of his life, Luzeria’s heart was filled with only the youngest prince.
Maybe it was because the youngest prince was the same age as his deceased son, resembling him somewhere. Though, his son had neither blonde hair nor blue eyes and definitely was not as beautiful as Herscherik.
He heard footsteps from the exit all of a sudden. Judging from the footsteps, it appeared to be one person. Luzeria easily guessed who it could be, but since he wasn’t interested, he continued to look up at the window.
The footsteps stopped in front of his room.
“Nice situation you have here, Count Luzeria.”
As he had expected this, Luzeria let out a sigh deep in his mind and faced the voice. There, the source of it was a man.
“What do you want, Viscount Grimm?”
“Humph, I’m an count now.”
The man of medium build raised the corners of his mouth in a smile, and made a triumphant face.
He was Viscount Grimm, an aristocrat who was part of Minister Barbasse’s faction. One of the corruptions Count Luzeria uncovered was this viscount’s embezzlement of the national treasures. He had filed a false report and illegally received large amounts of money.
“So, did the new count come here to see the face of a criminal? I’m envious of how much free time you have.”
Count Luzeria gave a melancholic answer, so Viscount Grimm’s triumphant face completely changed into a sour one.
“Hand over that. If you do, I’ll spare your life.”
“That? Well, well. What could that possibly be, O Honorable Count?”
“Don’t piss me off!”
Viscount Grimm kicked the iron door of the prison. The sound that echoed was considerably loud, but the guard didn’t come over. Luzeria guessed that Grimm had probably bribed the guard earlier with money.
“That letter in your possession!”
“Aah….. that. Hmm.”
(That being said, I wonder which one….)
Count Luzeria was puzzled but didn’t show it on his outer expression.
It took some time, but he had gathered as many pieces of evidence and testimony as possible, resulting in a fairly large amount. He should have had a significant piece of real evidence inside that huge pile, but he couldn’t help but regret that his work was a trap.
This affair no longer concerned Count Luzeria now that he’d been locked in prison, but it appeared that there was a particularly nasty piece of evidence judging by Viscount Grimm’s panicked expression.
“Even without asking me, you can just search for it.”
(Rather, now that I think about it, the fact that he appeared before me after I’ve been locked up for some time means that my belongings have already been searched and ravaged through.)
Luzeria continued to casually answer while trying to guess the man’s intentions.
“I came here to ask because I can’t find it!”
Viscount Grimm kicked the iron door once again.
Deep down, he was fed up with these obvious answers. Meanwhile, Count Luzeria furrowed his brow at the unpleasant and noisy sound of the iron door.
“If you tell me its location right now, I’ll talk with the higher-ups to get your death penalty cancelled. Hand over the letter!”
“Do you think I can get away from the death penalty with just negotiations?”
Count Luzeria thought his own voice was terribly cold. He opened the pocket watch in his hand and looked at the clock. It was already 11 o’clock at night.
“For someone like you, who only thinks of his own self-preservation, it’s unthinkable that such a person who had sent assassins after me would give up such a perfect opportunity to get rid of me.”
That person who had sent assassins—Minister Barbasse. He had let Luzeria know that his time was limited as well as that within the pieces of evidence he gathered, there were some that the Minister couldn’t overlook. That’s why Luzeria had bravely come to the royal capital.
(I guess I chose the wrong piece of evidence that the Minister couldn’t overlook…..)
Luzeria mocked himself, closed the pocket watch, and tightly gripped it. By the time he had arrived at the royal palace, he had prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“Go away, Viscount Grimm. Or rather, Count Grimm. I’m grateful to you.”
Count Luzeria let out a scornful laugh. When Grimm saw his face, a cold chill ran through his body from the tip of his toes to the top of his head. It was as if he had been drenched in cold water.
“Thanks to you, I can sacrifice myself for the country. I’ll be heading first, waiting with the Watchmen of the Depths of this Earth for all of you to fall.”
After the living die, the Watchmen are the ones who deliver the souls to the Netherworld. There are two destinations one can go.
Virtuous souls are recognized by the gods and invited to the Garden in Heaven. They will experience the greatest of happiness in the Garden while they wait to be reborn into the next world.
On the other side, sinful souls are punished by the gods and sent to live in the depths of hell. Hell judges the sins of the souls. The souls must carry their appropriate penance until they are purified, and then they will be reborn to the next world.
The Watchmen are the ones linked to the Gates in the Depths of the Earth. The Watchmen will never overlook a sinner’s soul trying to escape. The children of this country grow up being told by their parents, “The Watchmen from the Depths of the Earth will come to get you!”
Count Luzeria’s words were that of a sore loser. But, for some reason, Viscount Grimm had the delusion that he himself had lost. That was why he kicked the iron door again, trying to escape that delusion.
“Stop being a sore loser……! In this world, only the strong and the clever survive. The other foolish people are either used and die, or they rebel and die; those are the only options! That’s why I will survive, and you will die!”
Viscount Grimm turned on his heels, and Count Luzeria silently saw him off.
(I can just take my time to search for that. Since his land will be mine.)
Grimm persuaded himself, but the sense of defeat wouldn’t go away.
Count Luzeria that was left behind shrugged his shoulders and stroked the pocket watch. And then he firmly pushed the button so it opened, looking at the portrait. It was the only memory of him with his wife and his child.
At that time, his son had just been born. He would often neglect his work to go see the child, causing his wife to often get angry. Days passed and he had been pleased about his son’s growth. With his wife beside him, he enjoyed happiness and felt that this world was wonderful.
But now he had lost everything, and might even lose his life tomorrow.
Just like that guy said, this world was for the strong and the clever, but did that mean that he couldn’t enjoy any happiness? Do the weak have no choice but to accept tyranny?
Just like this morning, peering in from between the iron bars was the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, youngest prince.
His face was illuminated by the moonlight, and it appeared to be a bit red and swollen. He looked like he would cry at any moment as he looked downwards at Luzeria.
“Your Highness, I was thinking about it this morning as well, but do you not have an attendant accompanying you? It’s much too dangerous to be moving around by yourself.”
Although he was the youngest, as a prince and especially as a 3 year old child, he was still walking around at night by himself without any attendant. Normally, that would be inconceivable. Herscherik shook his head at the worried Luzeria and was hesitant on what he should do or say.
“Your Highness, what is the matter? Even though it is springtime, the night is cold. Please, return to your room…..”
“I’m sorry, Count Luzeria. I spoke with Father, but it was no good.”
The instant Herscherik interrupted Count Luzeria, large tears spilled out from the boy’s jade eyes.
Herscherik tried to stop the tears by wiping several times with his sleeves and biting down on his lip, but the tears continued to stream down his cheeks.
(Father also tried to do something, but that was impossible.)
But as that seemed like an excuse, it was too hard to say.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry……I’m…..”
Herscherik resolved to not cry when he arrived here. But when he came face-to-face with Count Luzeria and reported the result of his powerlessness, the tears spilled over and in the end, he was no longer able to speak through his sobbing. He could no longer meet Luzeria’s gaze, cowering and covering his face while not caring about how dirty the ground was.
He despised his powerless self. He didn’t know if it was fine to face Luzeria with this kind of expression.
“……Your Highness Herscherik, please raise your head.”
Luzeria’s kind voice reached the ears of the cowering Herscherik.
When he slowly and timidly raised his face, Luzeria’s face was right across from him behind the iron bars. He was then presented with the pocket watch.
“Please accept this.”
Without waiting for Herscherik’s reply, Count Luzeria pushed the pocket watch to him.
“Count, isn’t this something precious to you? I cannot accept it!”
“It is unneeded for this man who will become a corpse tomorrow.”
Luzeria stopped Herscherik who was panicking and trying to return it. He then wiped away the dirt on the prince’s face with his hand, although he thought that it was a bit disrespectful of him.
As it had been quite a while since he had touched a child’s skin, he closed his eyes while remembering his past. He was reminded of how his own son would often play in the sand and get it all over his face. When he wiped the sand off his son’s face just like he was doing with the prince, the son would happily laugh.
But, the prince didn’t laugh like his son. Luzeria thought that it was a bit disappointing.
“Your Highness, thank you very much. Just knowing that this country has someone like you is enough to let me pass on without despair.”
When his indictment of the minister ended in failure during the banquet, he had taken a gamble by rolling his pocket watch to someone.
He hoped that someone would notice it.
And he had won that bet.
He had planted the seeds to save this country.
“Your Highness, please grow up healthily. And then, please save this country.”
He was aware of the very irresponsible thing he had said. At just 3 years old in addition to being the 7th prince, what could the child possibly do?
But he couldn’t help but have expectations. Among all the members of the royal family in that place, Herscherik was the only one to find the source of the watch, exchange words with Luzeria, and act on his own judgment.
“…..If anyone found you, it would be dangerous for Your Highness. So please return to your room.”
There was no way Luzeria was going to let this hope disappear after all the trouble of finding it in the abyss of death.
Count Luzeria removed his hand from the soft cheek, took a step back, and knelt on one knee. He placed his right hand on his chest and lowered his head. The bow was a sign of respect as a retainer.
“My body is the sword that tears your enemies to pieces, the shield that protects you from assassins’ daggers, and the cane that supports you.”
He lowered his head even further.
“Even without being by your side, my spirit shall protect you forever, never separating from you…..so please, forgive me.”
Even though he would die tomorrow, Count Luzeria couldn’t help but declare and add to the end.
He didn’t really care about waiting in the Depths of the Earth for Grimm and the others.
He only thought about wanting to be by the prince’s side.
He wished to have crossed paths with the prince as soon as he could.
If that had been possible, his final moments might have been different.
Herscherik wiped his tears with the sleeve of his coat and stood up. He still knew little of this country’s customs. He didn’t know what he should say to Count Luzeria’s pledge. That’s why he decided to go with the words that popped into his head.
“Count Luzeria, I will permit you this. Your spirit shall be by my side forever, even when your body decays. I will not waste your words, thoughts, nor life.”
Herscherik didn’t shed a tear until the end. He then tightly gripped the beautiful, old, silver pocket watch that had been passed on to him.