Chapter 4: Two Princes, Suspicion, and Two Years Ago II
After his training was over, Herscherik listened to Oran’s frantic explanation of his relationship with the 1st prince, finally comprehending it.
However, Herscherik thought that it was a bit suspicious that he was so desperate in his denial. But, considering it would be too pitiful to voice it, he kept it tucked inside his heart.
When Herscherik returned to his own room, Kuro’s handmade jelly dessert was waiting for him. There appeared to be some kind of citrus fruit inside the transparent green jelly. When he took a bite, a refreshing mint aroma blended with the acidity of the citrus fruit, letting him forget the oppressive heat.
“Hmm, delicious! Seriously, Kuro, where did you learn this?”
Kuro said nothing, only returning a smile to Herscherik’s own smiling face and his cheeks stuffed with jelly.
Herscherik continued to eat the jelly as he wondered if this enigmatic side of Kuro was another reason he was popular with the ladies.
Herscherik finished the jelly in the blink of an eye and was now watching the silent Oran. The knight had been sitting in his seat, quietly staring off into space while his jelly and tea remained untouched in front of him.
As of recently, he occasionally became like this. More specifically, it was the day after the uproar in the castle town at the beginning of summer. Seeing his worried-looking subordinate, Herscherik let out a sigh.
(….I wanted to wait until Oran said it himself though.)
However, at this rate, another unforeseen event might happen without him knowing. Above all else, he was worried about Oran’s well-being. Coming to that conclusion, Herscherik threw a look at Kuro. After confirming Kuro’s nod, Herscherik began to speak.
“Oran, I want to apologize first. I’m sorry.”
Oran was suspicious at Herscherik’s sudden apology, but Herscherik continued to speak.
“I had your past two years ago investigated.”
Oran suddenly stood up from his chair. Following that motion, the chair fell over loudly and his hand hit his cup, spilling the tea.
Kuro immediately let out a sigh and began to remove the cup and jelly from the table before wiping the mess.
But Oran didn’t look at Kuro; his eyes remained fixated on Herscherik.
“Oran, first of all, relax. …Sit.”
“Why! Why would you look at something that personal!?”
Herscherik’s tone was unusually commanding. Those words had such force behind them that Oran had no other choice but to obey.
After Oran righted his fallen chair and took a seat, Herscherik let out another deep sigh. This explosive reaction was expected, but either way, Herscherik had already started. He couldn’t just drop the topic now.
“That’s why I apologized first.”
Herscherik continued to sigh at how much Oran was acting according to his prediction. Nevertheless, he continued.
“I looked into your history because your grades were so unnatural. Your grades suddenly plummeted to the bottom one day for no discernible reason. You had barely advanced and graduated. Both your behavior and your instructor’s opinion of you worsened dramatically.”
“This had to be deliberate,” Herscherik recalled that out-of-place feeling. That was why he had Oran’s past investigated.
And according to Kuro’s report, Oran’s past was heavier than imagined. At the same time, Herscherik was convinced that this heavy past was the reason why his knight acted this way. Herscherik had intended on keeping this shut within his heart.
However, now that the past had created a current state of emergency, the possibility of a connection had surfaced.
The day after Oran’s uproar in the castle town, he would occasionally be lost in his thoughts.
“I could tell you right now what I have uncovered, but if possible, I want to hear it from your own lips. There’s no one else around the room, so there won’t be any eavesdroppers.”
“As you can see, I’m just a child, so I know that you may see me as unreliable or untrustworthy. But know this; I believe in you, and I want to continue believing in you going on into the future….I don’t want to go through it again.”
Herscherik remembered the bitter memory from last year, and his chest hurt.
His nanny left him last year. There were various reasons, but his nanny didn’t believe in the king or Herscherik so that incident happened. Even now, Herscherik understood that she felt she had no other choice. But, he didn’t want a repeat.
He wanted this pondering Oran to avoid following the same path as his nanny.
Herscherik continued to speak, but Oran interrupted him.
Rather than believing in Herscherik, it was more like he had given up. Still, he was truly a bit happy that the prince would prioritize his feelings.
“….Two years ago, my fiancée passed away.”
He recalled the road dyed in the red color of the sunset as well as her face, peaceful in death.
The two were arranged to be married by their families. Her family didn’t have any inheritors, so the head of her family asked Oran’s father, who was a friend, for her to be taken into the Ordis family. At the time, Oran, as the 3rd son, was exactly the same age as her, making him the preferred candidate for this engagement.
“In the beginning, I was embarrassed and reluctant……”
They were together since childhood when their marriage was determined, and by the time they reached puberty, they had begun to change their relationship to one of lovers.
“When we turned 16 and had our public debut, everyone around us knew we were engaged.”
At the same time, Oran was attending the Knight Department at the Academy.
“I’ve had numerous bouts with Mark…I mean, His Highness Marcus, and he made a good rival. So when I was debating if I should become a knight of the Imperial Guards, a personal knight, or even go on the route to become a general, I had also thought that it would be nice to be beside this prince, who was like a friend.”
Oran’s life seemed to be smooth sailing when it took a sudden turn one day, and the fiery red color of the sunset forever left an impression on him.
While he was practicing by himself at the Academy, an express message on horseback came to him from his parents’ home. It was then that he was alerted of her death.
“I didn’t know…why she died….”
He immediately rushed out from the Academy and headed towards her home. He felt like Marcus had called out to him, but he wasn’t really sure.
When he charged into her manor, she had already passed away peacefully, looking like she was just asleep.
He had heard that her health had been deteriorating, so she was taking a break from the Academy for the time being. She had reassured him with a smile that it was just fatigue from the summer heat. Because Oran had scheduled an independent practice session that day, he thought about visiting her the next day with some of her favorite sweets.
However, she would never again smile or call his name.
Even now, Oran could vividly recall the despair he felt at that moment. Their families had determined their engagement and they were still young, but he truly did love her.
“In the articles she left behind was her diary which recorded how difficult it was for her to be with me.”
For his future as well as hers, he strove in his studies without neglecting his training. As such, he excelled in the Academy. However, she wrote in her diary how having a husband with such a superb future was a heavy and painful burden for a normal girl like her.
“I didn’t see her as just any other ordinary girl though……”
It was true that she was timid in some areas, but she was a considerate and kind woman. Although she was usually clumsy, she properly underwent training to be a bride, volunteered at an orphanage, and such. Because she was such a woman, Oran worked hard to make sure not to trouble her. However, in the end, that was what burdened her.
Additionally, this timid noble woman had various things said about her position as Oran’s fiancée by other noble women.
(That’s what we call ‘bullying’ back in my world… No matter what world we’re in, women are scary.)
Female bullying is more treacherous than any man can imagine. They do such underhanded things that men can’t understand. That was probably why Oran hadn’t noticed. She probably couldn’t consult with Oran, let alone her own parents, about this bullying.
The bullies probably saw through her nature which was why they chose her as their target. They were cowardly to choose the weak to bully.
“If that was all, I alone should have been to blame, but the diary had more.”
She continued writing by confessing how one spring day, she got involved with drugs sold underground in order to escape this pain.
The drug allowed her to temporarily forget her stress, relieving her mind. But, once it wore off, she would be assaulted by an outrageous sense of guilt, causing her to take the drug again. When she ran out of money, she would secretly pawn off valuable items for money to buy more drugs. And when that money ran out, she would repeat. The next and last entry in the diary talked about how she couldn’t escape and become completely addicted to the drug, with tears that stained the page.
And Oran heard that when her collection of precious items ran dry, a certain aristocrat took hold of this, his fiancée’s weakness, and pressed for a relationship.
“She couldn’t buy any more drugs, had no one to consult, and if she didn’t have a relationship with that aristocrat, he threatened to expose everything to me. And that summer day, she died.”
The servants were worried that she had been holed up in her room since the morning, and when they finally went in to check on her, they discovered she was dead.
“I only thought about myself and was engrossed in my studies at the Academy. That’s why……”
If at any point he had noticed and stayed beside her, she wouldn’t have died. But the reality was that he only ever had his eyes on his own goals.
“She died weak. Isn’t it strange that a noble woman would die so easily?”
When Oran read the diary, he wondered if that was a side effect from the drugs.
“I was the cause of her death. Nevertheless, that drug was dangerous. And I had to do something about it.”
Right after learning all this, he immediately sent a request to the government office to start an investigation, but they moved slowly. Irritated, Oran went to Marcus. For his friend’s sake, Marcus tried, but the drug supply had disappeared without a trace, closing the investigation.
Oran himself tried to pin down the location of the drugs, but it was useless.
“……Since that time, I no longer saw a purpose in becoming a knight.”
He hated everyone and everything: himself for being unable to protect the one he wanted to protect; the country and royalty for not bothering to protect the citizens they should; and the aristocrats who chased his fiancée into the corner.
That was why he no longer felt the need to maintain his spot as the top student at the Academy and disdained the royal family who wouldn’t move when he needed their help.
Her official cause of death was listed as sickness, but as there were those who insulted her at the Academy, Oran ended up causing numerous altercations that would suspend him. Thinking back, there were only eight times that such things happened. He had considered leaving this country after graduation, but his father didn’t seem like he would easily give permission, so Oran had spent his days lazy and unemployed.
“There’s a possibility that the drug that disappeared two years ago will circulate again this time.”
This was the information his father leaked to him. Although Roland had retired, he had played an essential role in this country. His former subordinates were now officers in the Patrol Bureau and he had secretly contacted them.
Until Oran finished his story, Herscherik and Kuro remained silent as they listened.
An awkward stillness dominated the room.
Herscherik took a deep breath. He was so focused on Oran’s story that it almost seemed like he forgot to breathe.
“Oran, thank you.”
The first words out of Herscherik’s mouth were that of thanks. After that, he lowered his head.
“Even though you went out of your way to rely on my brother, on the royal family, we couldn’t do anything for you. I am sorry.”
At that time, he was only three years old and hadn’t even begun his own studies yet. Without a doubt, he couldn’t have done anything, but that would be just another excuse.
Oran continued to hang his head in silence, as Herscherik continued.
“Your story supports the contents of Kuro’s investigation.”
His account had become an important clue.
“Firstly, the drug’s circulation was short.”
It was during the short period from the spring to the summer two years ago. A shorter circulation period would produce more profits than a longer one. There was still a risk, but with every addict created, the number of repeat customers also increase. And if the demand surpasses the supply, the price will be raised.
“Next, a majority of the drug users were aristocrats or the wealthy, making the market narrow.”
As far as Kuro’s investigation went, most of the victims were wealthy. That meant that the distribution channels were already quite narrow at that time.
“There is also the possibility that someone of high position was involved.”
This case was about the suspicious death of an aristocratic woman. It was strange that the investigation would be concluded like that. In other words, there may have been pressure from somewhere applied to squash the investigation itself.
This clear declaration from Herscherik caused Oran to look up at the prince.
(Is he really….just five years old……?)
At that time, Herscherik had found a number of important points by listening to that story that Oran, who was 16 at that time, hadn’t even thought about.
Herscherik didn’t appear to be as immature a prince as his looks implied.
“I’m sure the key to this drug case lies in your fiancée’s field of activity.”
Herscherik said as he stood up.
“Kuro, use Oran’s story as a reference and immediately investigate his fiancée’s field of activity around that time. It may be a different criminal this time, but I’m sure there has to be some kind of connection.”
Herscherik nodded at Kuro’s response.
“I’m going to sneak around and see if there are any documents around that time. If we can figure out what kind of drug it was, it could be a breakthrough.”
He took out the pocket watch and confirmed the time. It was still night time.
“Do you intend to go off by yourself again?”
“The castle is practically my backyard now.”
Even with his eyes closed, he could get to any location he wanted to in this place. However, Kuro frowned at the boastful smile on his young master’s face.
A mutter escaped from Oran’s mouth.
Two years ago, the country didn’t move at all when someone died.
But now, this prince was moving at a brisk pace.
Herscherik let out a long sigh when he heard Oran’s words.
“A citizen had lost her life because of a drug. And now that drug will resurface in the market. Even though another citizen might have their life turned upside down in the same way, you expect me to shut up and watch?”
His tone sounded like he was admonishing a child who knew no better. Herscherik’s words made Oran ask again.
“Even though they’re people who you’ve never met?”
Herscherik reflectively asked in question in response. But this time, his tone was a bit angry.
“I am a prince of this country. I have a duty to protect the citizens.”
Herscherik had said this so matter of fact that Oran had nothing else to say.
When he looked back on those two years, a sense of powerlessness overcame him when he realized that he hadn’t been doing much at all. However, he could still make it in time now. In order to prevent any more victims like her, there were things he needed to do.
“….Is there anything I can do?”
“Of course. You’re my knight so I’m going to have you work.”
Herscherik nodded with a smile.