Chapter 6: Smiling face, Grief, and Black dog I
Herscherik grew with each change of the seasons, from spring to summer, and now autumn.
It had been about half a year since Herscherik had first decided to sneak out to the castle town. On the afternoon when his studies, swordsmanship and horsemanship training, weren’t scheduled, taking the secret path to go outside became his routine for the day.
“Thank you very much!”
Herscherik handed the paper bag containing a pear-like fruit to the customer and put on a sweet smile.
“On the days when little Ryouko is here, the number of customers and sales increases; you’re so helpful.”
The proprietress of the fruit store, Louise, said in a good mood. Today’s sales had already greatly exceeded that of the previous day.
Louise called out to a giant man, who seemed twice as tall and four times as wide as she was. He also had a beard, making him look more like a woodcutter than a fruit seller, and it seemed that everyone agreed.
The man didn’t respond to Louise’s words as he carried a box of fruits. He glanced at Herscherik but immediately averted his gaze and returned to his work.
(Just like Beauty and the Beast…)
“Honey, you’re so antisocial. Little Ryouko being here has been a big help, so say some thanks, will ya!”
At Louise’s words, he once again glanced at the boy, but silently looked away and began to delicately polish the fruit with a cloth. For some reason, his appearance from behind looked cute.
“Really, you’re so shy.”
Herscherik couldn’t figure out where and how he felt embarrassed by this, but convinced himself that it was probably due to the love-filled interactions between this married wife and husband.
“Which reminds me, Little Ryouko, are you alright? You’re helping us out so much, but do your parents not say anything?”
“My mother passed away when I was born, and since my father is always busy, I only see him occasionally, so it’s not a problem.”
He had told them the truth, but the two adults still had on uncomfortable faces. Though to be fair, the husband always had a frown on his face anyway. As a result, Herscherik couldn’t catch the subtleties of this change in expression very well, but he could feel that the mood wasn’t good and quickly added in a panic.
“But my father said that it’s okay for me to do what I want, so it’s alright!”
(Huh, their eyes are looking at me like I’m an even more pitiful child…..)
Even though Herscherik was merely talking about his own circumstances, somewhere along the line, it seemed that he had dug his own grave.
Herscherik was troubled by the current mood, so he held out the pear-like fruit in front of him. As Herscherik looked up, the husband looked down at the boy, timidly accepted the fruit, and returned to his work.
“Sorry for bringing up such an insensitive topic. It’s almost time for you to go back though, right? Will you come and play tomorrow?”
Herscherik looked up at the sky. Before he had realized it, the sunset had spread across the horizon. Although he had been concentrating on helping out, there was also the fact that sunset was much earlier due to it being winter, like in his previous world’s Japan.
(On that subject, it also feels like the climate resembles that of Japan.)
While thinking so, Herscherik looked at his pocket watch. It was much later than he expected. Recently, being here was so much fun that he unintentionally ended up overstaying.
“I will head home. I’ll come here again tomorrow!”
Herscherik rushed to prepare for his trip back. Suddenly, Louise clapped her hands as if she had just remembered something.
“Lately, there’s been people I haven’t seen around here……maybe they’re people from the countryside. Anyways, they’re increasing in numbers. And it looks like there’s some trouble between them and the Patrol. As the public order has gotten bad, be careful on your way back, okay? If you don’t mind, I can let my husband escort you back.”
At her words, her husband sluggishly stood up. He looked like he was ready to escort him, but as much as Herscherik was thankful for their care, it would be too troublesome.
“I’m fine. I’ll be careful on my way back. And thank you for the fruit!”
Herscherik said as he gave a quick bow to the husband who had stood up. He then ran out of the store. Louise watched his figure from behind until she could no longer see it.
“Today was also fun.”
She and her husband still hadn’t had any children yet. Since they couldn’t afford to raise one, she had held off on that. However, since that young boy who called himself Ryouko showed up, the married couple had become a bit brighter and felt like they wanted to have a child.
The country right now wasn’t in a good place. The king was partial to his aristocrats, and those aristocrats and government officials were operating only for their own benefits. Even the lower government officials were ignoring the citizens’ needs.
This was a country that was difficult to live in for a member of the general public. However, the reason why they hadn’t left this country yet was that they preferred remaining in this country whose security and stability persisted, rather than restarting from zero in a foreign country. Besides, the imperial capital was much better than the countryside. One’s livelihood becomes more severe the farther away one was from the imperial capital.
Both Louise and her husband hated those aristocrats and government officials. The taxes that increased day after day cut into their living expenses; they would be unable to sell anything unless they lower the price, yet if they reduce the price to sell, then their living standards would become strained. And even though they pay their taxes, it was not like their lives had become better.
The citizens believed that it was because of the negligence of each and every one of those who hold onto the government’s center. Every now and then, an aristocrat would appear, dressed in gaudy outfits and not a bit concerned about their citizens’ troubles.
(But that child seems somewhat different, hum.)
Ryouko came up in Louise’s mind.
He was a young boy with straight, silky, blonde hair; blue eyes that made you think of a gentle spring season, and features that resemble a healthy-looking girl with white skin. His words were ambitious for his age, and as soon as he realized that he had said something adult-like, he would act delighted at something childish and dive headfirst with curiosity into the things he didn’t know about.
(His attire and manners are excellent, making me wonder who’s son he is…..)
It would be a disappointment if he grew up to be like the other aristocrats in the future, walking around like they owned the place. But, he didn’t look like he would become someone like that. Instead, she held some kind of hope that he would do something that would change the aristocrats for people like her.
“Hey, I’ll be closing up shop.”
It looks like even her unsociable husband was fond of Ryouko.
Louise knew. Her husband had secretly bought a stuffed teddy bear in hopes of giving it to Ryouko having mistaken him for a girl somehow, but finding out later he worried, “To give a stuffed animal to a boy is…..” and ended up not giving it.
She fell in love with the “gap 1” of how his scary face can naturally shift into a cute one, and she ended up marrying him.
(Should I bake some sweets or something tomorrow~)
Ryouko would definitely be very happy about that. His smiling face appeared in her thoughts, and Louise’s own face broke into a smile. Her unsociable husband threw an worried look at Louise, and noticing it, she quickly began to clean up.
The next day, the married couple opened their fruit shore as usual, but when the time when Ryouko…..no, Herscherik usually showed up came around, he didn’t make a single appearance.
“This is really weird, honey.”
Even though this was the usual time, Herscherik didn’t appear. Louise brushed off tending to the store to wait outside and peer in the direction he generally came from.
The baked sweets that would surely make him happy him were in the back of the store, and when her eyes fell upon them, she let out a sigh.
“Even though that child has never broken a promise once…”
Uneasy, Louise unconsciously started muttering to herself.
That boy would mention if he wasn’t going to come, and on days where it could be an issue, he would tell her, “Tomorrow might be a bit difficult…”
The way he declared it yesterday meant that he would definitely come.
Even her husband’s forehead wrinkles were greater in number than usual. It certainly wasn’t because he was angry; he was worried.
“I wonder if it’ll be better if I consulted with the patrolmen….”
(But, what should I say? ‘The aristocratic child who also comes by to help isn’t coming today.’ Something like that?)
Louise went through several situations in her head and it drained her of her strength.
(No good. I’ll definitely be sent away……)
*Bump* She turned and saw that her husband had already begun to walk away, and with a look that said he was ready to kill someone right now.
“Wait, honey! Where are you going!?”
“To the Patrol Bureau.”
“If you went there like that, you’ll be arrested instead!”
(That is the face of a murderer or a kidnapper!)
Louise added but only in her thoughts. If she did say it, it would most certainly hurt him. She clung to the burly arm of her husband as he tried to walk away.
“Hm, what’s wrong?”
Louise, who was desperately holding back her husband, suddenly stopped her struggling and turned to look for the voice. The husband’s eyes were also on the source of the question.
A young man in his 20’s was standing there.
His height was roughly that of her husband’s, but he had a smaller physique and his figure seemed supple.
The youth left quite the impression with his glossy black hair and dark, ruby colored eyes that would make the heart of any woman around his age flutter. He stood in front of the store and tilted his head to the side at the flustered couple.
“Come to think of it, the blonde boy who is sometimes in the store isn’t here, huh. Did somethin’ happen?”
“Yeah, it’s a bit worrying….”
Louise was lured by the man’s concerned look and opened her mouth.
“Even though he said that he would come today, he didn’t arrive during his usual time…..I’m worried since, recently, the public order around this area has gotten bad and all.”
“…..That is indeed…worrying.”
“Yes, it really is. I just hope nothing bad has happened…..”
The young man bought several fruits while giving appropriate responses to Louise’s words, and then he vanished into the street.
When Louise pressed against her husband again, a thought suddenly appeared in her head.
(Hum, guess he knew that Little Ryouko was a boy, huh.)
If that handsome of a youth had previously come to the store, he would have definitely left an impression on Louise. However, this was the very first time she had ever seen him.
But as she returned to desperately holding back her husband from charging at the Patrol, she completely forgot about her query and the young man.
Once he left the fruit store behind and blended into the crowd and disappeared naturally into a back alley without creating a single sound.
If there was a human who was watching him, then they might have questioned that all too-natural, and conversely creepy action, but there was no one who noticed him.
When he entered the back alley, he tossed the fruits he just bought to a street urchin squatting there.
The child was about to give some thanks, but when he saw the man’s face, he let out a small scream and fled.
The man’s expression was the complete opposite of what he had shown Louise; this one was of coldness and anger.
The young man was the hardworking spy for hire, who Herscherik called Kuro. He recalled the events when he infiltrated the castle yesterday. It was unusually busy, especially in the direction of the inner palace.
Knights and soldiers went back and forth in a flurry, so he gave up on completing his job yesterday.
And now, the boy didn’t show up to the store he regularly snuck out to. Based on all of that had happened so far, there was only one answer with the highest possibility.
The man furrowed his brow and began to run.
His destination was a place that all those of the underground know of: ‘the Information Broker’.
The toll to pay at this information broker was higher than other places. Nevertheless, all knew that the information exchanged was equal in value to the large cost.
What came to Kuro’s mind as he ran was the smiling face of the strange, blonde prince.
The prince who, every time they met, had a distinctly un-childlike expression and acted in a manner uncharacteristic of royalty. Kuro was still unaware that, in order to meet the boy, he had been making excuses to infiltrate this dangerous castle.
To Kuro, his jobs were for money, and aristocrats who would squander their money were good prey, although they were also a hateful existence. When one worked in the underground, one would see their darkness, regardless of whether one wanted to or not.
But Kuro didn’t feel a single ounce of darkness from that prince.
Whenever he was near the boy, Kuro felt strangely comfortable, and it would become somewhat difficult for him to leave. He couldn’t even refuse any question or request from the boy. Kuro was swayed by the feeling first created when he encountered him: enjoyment.
If the reason for prince’s current disappearance was because of the secret path Kuro had shown him, then there would be too much regret for him to feel by himself.
Before he became aware of it, Kuro’s pace quickened till he was running like the wind.
All he wanted was to see the prince’s smiling face and feel at ease.