Chapter 3: Ryouko, Oran, and Castle Town Exploration II
Herscherik pushed his way through the crowd and managed to reach the center of the disturbance.
He ran his eyes across the scene and saw a young woman who had her arms held behind her by a man whose attire hinted that he was a well-off aristocrat. The man held a sword in his hand and swung it around, threatening the crowd around him. The men carried wooden poles and hoes while the mercenaries mixed in had swords. They had been attempting to rescue the woman, but now that she had been taken hostage, they were at a loss.
“Money. HAND OVER YOUR MONEY!”
The man’s roar and the woman’s scream stoked the tension in the air.
No matter how you looked at it, the man did not seem to be in his right mind. His eyes were bloodshot. His cheeks were sunken. Spittle spewed from his mouth. His steps were unsteady.
“Drugs…I need them!!!”
The man screamed, wildly swinging his longsword.
“Hey, why aren’t the folk from the Patrol Bureau here yet?!”
“I’m calling them!”
The impatient voices of two men could be heard.
Herscherik kept his eyes on the two in front of him as he listened carefully to the murmuring of the crowd.
“Drugs? To think that there was someone who would toy with such a thing!”
“He probably thought it was an aphrodisiac when he took it!”
While Herscherik was concentrating on that conversation, his shoulder was grabbed and he was pulled aside.
“Don’t go off by yourself!”
Herscherik grabbed Oran’s hand and pointed towards the center of the commotion. In the direction of his finger was the man swinging his sword while using the woman as a shield.
“I want to save her! Is there anything we can do!?”
Oran quickly surveyed the situation.
There was a man who lost his mind and a woman who was pinned from behind. In his hand was a longsword. A crowd of people gathered around with those two in the center, with muscular men in that crowd who were waiting for an opening.
“At this rate, she’ll be in danger.”
Oran reached a similar conclusion to those men. If they got too close or weren’t skillful enough, the woman would be in danger.
“If the man shows the slightest of openings, then…”
Before Oran could finish with “I can manage something,” Herscherik nodded.
And before Oran could find out what Herscherik ‘got’, he had slipped out of the crowd, appearing before the insane aristocratic man with a sweet smile.
“Good day, mister. The weather’s nice today.”
Both the man and the crowd were dumbfounded at this extremely out-of-place greeting.
Some member of the crowd had recognized Herscherik, as shouts of “Ryouko” sounded out. However, Herscherik continued to smile with his gaze fixed on the man.
“Mister, how old are you? What do you do? I help out at that fruit store nearby.”
Herscherik fired off completely unrelated topics in rapid succession.
Before the man could respond to any of them, Herscherik interrupted him with more unrelated topics: opening greetings, the price of vegetables and meats, and even nonsense about a certain household’s pet dog.
“This brat’s annoying!”
However, the man scoffed and swung his longsword. The sound of the slash reverberated in the air, but since there was plenty of distance between him and Herscherik, it didn’t even come close to touching the prince. That didn’t stop the restrained woman and the crowd from crying out, however.
(I wish he had been a little more startled than that.)
Although his facial expression remained unchanged despite the screams around him, Herscherik knew he couldn’t let this stalemate continue.
When he ran his eyes across the crowd again, he saw that Oran had begun to move towards a position in the man’s blind spot. Herscherik saw how his knight had sensed his intentions and had moved without explicit instructions, reaffirming to the prince that this man was just who he had expected. However, he could tell that Oran hadn’t finished his preparations yet. As such, Herscherik had no choice but to move on to Plan B.
“Mister, as you can see, I’m an aristocrat’s child. I’m richer than that woman. Plus, because I’m a child, I’d be much easier to carry…right?”
Herscherik tilted his head in a cute manner, but the crowd gasped. They would have never imagined that a young child would offer himself up as a replacement in this situation.
The man pondered Herscherik’s offer for a moment. A small child would be much easier to use as a hostage than a full grown woman, and an aristocrat would certainly get him more money than a commoner. He could see that the clothes Herscherik was wearing were first-rate. And the boy gave off a well-bred atmosphere, so that must mean that he was a young master from a well-off family. Although this man had lost most of his sanity, he could apparently still calculate the pros and cons of this offer.
“Get over here!”
Just as the man commanded, Herscherik stepped forward.
The man abandoned the woman he had been holding and reached his hand out to grab Herscherik.
The very next moment, Oran stood between Herscherik and the man, obstructing him.
He drew the sword on his waist and sent the longsword in the man’s hand flying. The man saw his sword wheel straight up into the sky with a shrill sound before Oran roundhouse kicked him, sending him flying as well.
The man landed on his back in front of the crowd and let out a groan.
“Hold him down!”
The crowd began to move at Oran’s command. As the rampaging man was subdued, Oran grabbed the longsword that came falling back down. If he had carelessly knocked the sword aside, there was the horrifying possibility of an unintended casualty. Therefore, he had sent the sword straight upwards.
“Damn-…! DAMN IT!!!”
Even now the man was trying to resist as the men of the castle town bound with him with a rope. After ensuring the man was properly restrained, Oran turned to Herscherik.
“Thanks, Ora- Ow!”
Herscherik was intending to express his gratitude when Oran dropped his fist on the boy’s head. Herscherik groaned at the unexpected surprise attack and crouched right down on that spot, holding his head with both hands.
“What the hell were you doing? That was dangerous!”
Herscherik thought about making an excuse as he looked up at Oran. However, after looking at those blue sapphire eyes filled with genuine worry, he reconsidered.
Oran let out a deep sigh.
“Sheesh, you should be grateful that I was able to make it in time…”
“No worries there.”
Herscherik said with a face brimming with confidence.
“I believe in you, after all.”
Oran was left speechless.
Afterward, the two handed the longsword over as evidence to the men in the crowd and left the area before the Patrol could show up since there was the possibility that the Patrol would recognize Herscherik’s and Oran’s true identities if they met. The two could easily predict how troublesome that would become.
The two said their farewells to the fruit seller couple before heading back.
A sunset similar in color to the personal knight’s hair illuminated the two.
Herscherik looked up at Oran walking next to him. Right at that moment, the fatigued Oran let out a big yawn.
“You hated becoming a knight, right? Rather, you hate the royal family.”
At Herscherik’s words, Oran stopped in his tracks and opened his eyes wide.
“…Why would you think that?”
“I could tell that you didn’t really want to take the interview by the way you answered the questions. It was much too obvious.”
Oran was puzzled by Herscherik’s snickering.
“I mean, no invitation from the Order of Knight would be coming to you with how close your grades were to failing. There was also the way you looked at me, with scornful eyes, and the way you treated me, as though I was a fool.”
It was the same with the question about his family motto during the interview.
That was quite the ironic question to ask a member of the royal family. Royalty….with the exception of the king, were supposed to be like the young, unemployed him: spending the country’s taxes to live an idle life.
“Then, why did you make me your personal knight? Because I’m stronger than your butler?”
(The prince did say before the mock battle that he wanted someone stronger than his butler.)
“Well, beating Kuro was the minimum requirement…”
Finally, Herscherik stopped and turned around. As Oran had remained stationary since, there was now quite a distance between the two.
“I’ll tell you when you decide that you truly want to be my knight.”
Herscherik flashed a smile before beginning to walk again. Oran also resumed walking in order to avoid increasing the distance between them.
Oran considered what to say to the prince walking ahead of him, but in the end, he could only open and close his mouth several times without making a sound.
Oran got home two hours after he and Herscherik returned to the castle.
The prince had opened the door but immediately closed it without entering. Feeling a slight sense of deja vu, Oran said with a distant look.
“If he hears it from both of us, do you think our punishment will be cut in half…”
They opened the door again and went inside. There, the chief butler Kuro was waiting for them in an imposing stance. What a wonderful smile.
(Were smiles always this scary of a thing…)
Oran shuddered at the memory. The two later ended up receiving an endless scolding from the butler.
It was a wonder how he got the information, but Kuro knew of the uproar that occurred in the castle town that day, down to the minutest detail. For starters, he reprimanded them for the prince’s dangerous decision. Then, he continued by scolding Oran for not stopping the prince. Moreover, he added comments about Herscherik’s usual attitude towards his way of life and requiring a check for Oran’s usual attire.
Herscherik and Oran knelt side by side in front of Kuro as they listened to his lecture. In a way, they were bonding with open hearts.
“No, even with the two of us, this scolding won’t be halved. Rather, it doubled. By so much more.”
Because Herscherik had muttered that, it went without saying that Oran’s lecture time got extended.
By the time he was finally freed, he had lost all feeling in his legs. Even so, he dragged his numb body back home.
The one who welcomed him when he entered the house was his father, Roland.
“I have returned.”
“How was His Highness Herscherik?”
Oran took a second to process the question, as it was strange for his father show such concern towards him.
The 7th prince had naturally blended into the castle town, was proactive in learning more about the world, was willing to use his body as a sacrifice to save someone, wasn’t the least bit angry when his retainers hit or lectured him, and was someone who apologized honestly.
Oran no longer felt the hatred he had held towards the royal family, that had been with him up until yesterday. He was only left with a kind of awe at the prince’s blue eyes that saw through everything.
“……I don’t get him.”
That was Oran’s only answer.
He hated the royal family. But, to say that he hated Herscherik…
Looking at his son who was lost in the depths of his thoughts, Roland gave up on waiting for an answer, shook his head once, and opened his mouth.
“I see. That reminds me. I heard that there was a disturbance in the castle town.”
Oran was taken aback but managed to retain his calm demeanor.
“An aristocrat’s blonde son and a knight with sunset-colored hair subdued the man causing the disturbance. You know anything ’bout that?”
“Heh. Ah. There was such a thing happening.”
(‘It was the prince and me.’ There’s no way I could say that!)
Sweat appeared down Oran’s back. His father shrugged his shoulders and muttered.
“He looked just like the prince too….”
Roland’s whisper didn’t reach Oran’s ears.
“Anyways, hurry up and finish your meal. I’ll be in trouble unless everyone cleans up.”
The father said that and turned his back to Oran. It appeared that he had suddenly remembered something and threw this at Oran.
“I heard that the arrested man had a small amount of drugs in his possession. They’re practically the same ones as those from two years ago.”
Oran looked at his father in surprise. However, the father said no more and headed off to his own room.
“Wha….what did you say….?”
Oran leaned his back against the wall, drained of his strength. And just like that, he slid down until he was sitting on the floor. Finally, he held his head.
“He said drugs…..”
30 minutes later, his worried younger sister came up to him, but he couldn’t move from that spot.
In a room lit with the minimum amount of light were Herscherik, and his chief butler, Kuro.
“That’s the end of the report.”
“Understood. Thanks, Kuro.”
After Kuro finished his report, Herscherik nodded. He gripped the silver pocket watch in his hand. He had developed a habit of fiddling with the watch whenever he thought deeply about something.
They would never leave any records of their conversation on paper. They decided amongst themselves that they would communicate important matters only through way of mouth. They had considered the risk of a third party finding these records.
“Also, I heard about the drugs in the castle town today. I know that you’re tired and all, but do you think you can gather information about this drug as soon as possible?”
Kuro nodded and immediately disappeared into the darkness.
(I put too much work on Kuro…)
Herscherik reflected on this, but he only had Kuro at the moment. It was inevitable that he was the only one he could entrust this to as this was his only means.
“The drugs… It appears to be some kind of narcotic.”
He revived the memory from his time as Ryouko. She had learned from a special on TV about how terrible narcotics were.
Although you could easily feel a sense of freedom and bliss, it was only temporary. The drug would turn into a poison you can’t escape from.
“If you had enough money to buy drugs, might as well spend it on a game or manga.”
That was what Ryouko had thought while watching the show.
She had only used games and manga as an example because they were what she enjoyed, but she couldn’t understand why someone would deliberately dump a large sum of money into something that would ruin their life. However, this story happened through a TV screen; it had no connection to her own life.
However, now it was happening nearby.
Narcotics didn’t twist just one person’s life. If left alone, the drugs had the capability of shaking an entire nation. That mustn’t happen, no matter what.
“…Exactly who and for what reason? Maybe the count knew?”
Even though he was a spirit now, he should still be by Herscherik’s side.
Herscherik looked at the pocket watch. He held down the button and what appeared wasn’t the clock, but a family portrait of three people.
“It’ll be alright. I’ll definitely protect everyone.”
Rather than a determined and lofty statement, these whispered words were more than enough.
Herscherik stood up and left his room. He too had to do whatever he could. Even if what he could do was limited.
Herscherik headed towards the royal castle blanketed by darkness.