Chapter 6: Orphanage, Baron, and Revelation I
After leaving the Information Broker’s place, Herscherik and his party left the backroads, returning to the main street. They came out near the orphanage where Oran’s fiancée once volunteered.
“Should we check it out for a bit?”
Herscherik asked. He remembered that while he had been around most of the castle town, he had never actually gone to the orphanage. There was still plenty of light left in the day.
“Now that you mention it, I haven’t been there in a while.”
After assuming the position of a personal knight, Oran had spent his daylight hours working in the castle, and as of recently, his nighttime hours as well. As such, he had forgotten about the orphanage, but now he was being led by his master and co-worker there.
The orphanage was a detached building in the residential area. The old stone building sat behind a rusty iron gate, and from its opened windows the voices of children could be heard.
“It’s big brother!”
A girl roughly Herscherik’s age greeted them. The girl with brown hair and sparkling innocent eyes of the same color, jumped through the door and into Oran’s arms, possibly having heard them through the window.
“It’s been a while!”
The girl used her entire body to express her joy as she spoke cheerfully to Oran.
“I’m glad you’re fine. How’s everyone else? Doing well?”
“Yeah! …Who are these people?”
The girl tilted her head as she looked at Herscherik and Kuro.
Herscherik grinned widely so as to not scare the girl.
“I’m called Ryouko, and he’s Kuro, We’re Oran’s….er, your big brother’s friends. Nice to meet you.”
Herscherik said amicably, but the girl hid behind Oran.
(Hm, looks like I’m being hated…)
Even though he had achieved satisfactory results with his niece and had confidence in his interactions with children… this was depressing.
“Octavian! It’s been a while!”
A man in his 50s appeared through the same door as the girl. His black hair was streaked with white, or rather, it was more like his white hair had some black left, which gave off an emaciated impression. Still, he was dressed in refined clothes fit for an aristocrat.
“Baron Armin, it has been a while.”
“I haven’t seen much of you as of late, so I became worried… Come now, Colette. You’re in the middle of work, no?”
When the baron prompted the girl to return, she looked back at him with a protesting glare, but in the end, she resigned herself and obediently returned. However, before entering the building, she turned back and waved her small hand.
Herscherik smiled and waved his hand in response, but the girl quickly ran back in.
(Guess I really am hated…)
While Herscherik’s depression increased, the baron looked at him quizzically.
“And your companions are?”
In front of the man was Herscherik, who clearly looked like a well-bred child of nobility, as well as Kuro, who was dressed in well-tailored clothes. These two stood out disproportionately to the orphanage.
“This is the son of the house I’m currently serving.”
Unlike Herscherik with Colette, Oran was a bit hesitant to use the phrase ‘friend’ to describe their relationship. There was no real lie though. Merely hiding the fact that the family was the royal family and that he was only serving Herscherik.
The news that Oran had become a personal knight hadn’t really been made known to the public. If it had been about becoming the close aide to the first or second prince, then it would’ve been the talk of the town. However, the presence of the seventh prince was as thin as a shadow, thus his close aides automatically became unknown existences as well. Of course, this only applied to those who didn’t know the truth.
“The young master was interested in the orphanage, so I accompanied him here. I apologize for the sudden visit.”
“Is that so?”
Baron Armin nodded at Oran’s words before facing Herscherik and displaying a courteous bow.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Armin. Although I’m on the lowest rungs of nobility… may I have the pleasure of knowing your name, young master?”
Herscherik returned the baron’s gentle gaze with a smile. For some reason, it felt like the air was softened by his kindness.
“My name is Ryouko. I’m sorry for the sudden visit.”
(I can’t exactly reveal that I’m a prince…)
As Herscherik bowed, he considered his thoughts.
Since he had come this way through his usual back alley route, it would be bad if he gave his real name. And if he gave his name, another problem would probably arise from it too.
“I shall address you as Lord Ryouko then.”
“There’s no need to attach ‘Lord’ to a child like myself. Ah, the one behind me is Kuro. He’s…my escort.”
Kuro frowned at Herscherik’s words but kept silent. However, as it was rare for someone his age to be an exclusive butler, being introduced as a babysitter was best.
“Then, I shall show you around.”
Baron Armin began to walk as the three guests followed behind.
The interior was cleaner than Herscherik had imagined. The version expected was one with dilapidated sections scattered all over the place and rats running around.
“There are 12 boys and 8 girls here, a total of 20 children.”
The baron explained as he led his guests.
“They are all children who had lost their parents, have no one to raise them, or have nowhere to go.”
“Baron Armin, why an orphanage?”
“…I was not the one who started this orphanage; it was my wife. We weren’t blessed with children.”
According to the baron, his wife loved children but had none. As such, she decided instead to open up an orphanage, to save children in troubling circumstances and become their parents.
“Although from the point of view of others, we were just using these orphans as substitutes for our own children…”
Suddenly, two children ran up in front of the group. They appeared to be younger than Herscherik.
“Director~ Are you going to stay tonight~?”
The children danced around the baron.
“Yes, I’ll be here.”
“Can you read us a picture book before bed?”
The older child tilted their head and the younger one mimicked the motion. When the baron nodded, the two happily ran off.
“… But my wife and I truly thought of them as our own children. Unfortunately, my wife had departed to the Garden in Heaven a few years ago, but I wanted to preserve this precious place of hers.”
“Both you and your wife are splendid.”
Herscherik could sense the genuine love the man had felt towards the children as he waved at them. It didn’t appear to Herscherik that these children were being treated as substitutes. And even if they were, it didn’t change the fact that the baron had been raising them well, like they were his own children.
Even if it was hypocritical, being hypocritical was still better than doing no good.
The baron smiled at Herscherik’s words, but his expression soon turned dark.
“…It’s just that managing it all has been quite difficult as of lately.”
“Are you not receiving any aid from the country?”
Herscherik recalled the budgetary plan he found in the royal castle. The column about welfare certainly did have all the money for aid allocated towards the orphanage.
“The aid from the country is a meager amount.”
Herscherik tilted his head. While it certainly wasn’t much, it should still suffice to run a small orphanage of 20 children without much trouble.
(No way. Could the aid money have been embezzled somewhere along the way…?)
Such a thing was in the realm of possibility with this current governmental situation, and Herscherik inwardly hung his head in shame. Seeing how money was allocated but didn’t arrive at its destination, the probability that someone had pocketed it was quite high. And even if the orphanage appealed, it was most likely that it would be crushed before the process went through.
“Right now, we’re receiving free aid from the Church, which I am most grateful for. In the past, young Octavian’s-…”
Before the baron finished his sentence, he stopped himself and looked at Oran.
“Excuse me, Octavian. To bring up something so terrible…”
“No, it’s fine.”
Oran showed a strained smile, but he didn’t look fine in Herscherik’s eyes. The way he smiled showed a lot of hidden pain.
That was when it suddenly hit Herscherik. If someone precious to him was hurt or killed, he probably couldn’t remain sane or bother to care about anyone else.
(If Father or any of my family… or even Kuro or Oran were killed, then…)
It wasn’t limited to just them. If the people he had encountered after coming to this world were killed… Thinking about it, Herscherik felt like something cold had been draped over his body.
“Excuse me. I am expecting some guests. I’ll take my leave.”
The baron encouraged them to freely wander the orphanage as he left them.
The baron’s voice startled Herscherik back to reality. This may have been the first time since his previous life that he had felt emotion so strongly that he was astonished.
(What was I thinking about again…?)
Herscherik asked himself. However, no answer came.
“…Hersche, what’s wrong?”
Kuro noticed his master’s unusual behavior and whispered. But Herscherik shook his head.
Herscherik smiled to alleviate Kuro’s worry. It was also to lighten that unexplainable feeling from before.
“Hey, this is the work room.”
Oran called out to the two who had stopped walking. In the room were older boys and girls, working. It appeared that they were packaging candy and chocolates.
“They create the stuff here to sell in town. In return, a portion of the profits will be allocated to the operating costs of the orphanage.”
Oran explained. All the children were hard at work when one of the girls suddenly looked up.
“It’s big brother!”
The girl who raised her voice was the one named Colette, whom they had met outside.
Colette ran over to Oran happily. That act became a trigger as the rest of the children in the room rushed over as well.
“Big brother really did come!”
“How are you? Which reminds me, how’s big sister? She hasn’t come over recently.”
A child older than Colette asked, but the words caused Oran to grimace. But, he quickly switched over to a smile.
“Big sister had gone out, to a place far away.”
After he said that, the children let out disappointed shouts.
(This ‘big sister’ most likely refers to Oran’s fiancée…)
Herscherik assumed. It was probably because Oran and his fiancée adored children that they helped out in the orphanage.
“Hey! We’re still in the middle of work!”
A rough voice echoed in the room. The voice belonged to the eldest boy in the room.
Herscherik turned to look and saw a boy with short navy hair, intense black eyes, and three scars that looked like they came from some beast’s claws running down his left cheek. He was probably three years older than Herscherik.
The boy named Rick huffed and returned to his work. The other children followed suit.
“Is it okay if I help?”
Herscherik reached his hand out to take a closer look at one of the finished products near him when Rick shot him a sharp glare and growled.
“Don’t touch it! You damn rich kid!”
His tone didn’t seem like a warning and Herscherik stopped. Rather than a warning, his voice held a mixture of hatred and repulsion.
“…I’m sure a young master like yourself is just making fun of us trying so hard to make such ‘pocket change’.”
“Rick, that’s too much!”
Before Herscherik could respond to Rick’s jab, Colette raised her voice.
She hurried over to Herscherik and apologized by bowing her head.
“I’m sorry. Rick has a foul mouth….um, Lord Ryouko, right?”
“You can just call me Ryouko, Colette.”
Herscherik’s smile caused Colette to blush a little, and she turned away in embarrassment.
“Are you selling these?”
Herscherik didn’t notice her change as he pointed at the wrapped package. Colette nodded in response.
“Yeah. By neatly filling these bags with sweets, doing simple needlework, and such… we can earn a little bit of money. And we’ll use that money for the orphanage. A lot of aristocrats buy them.”
Colette flashed a proud grin. However, this was labor that shouldn’t have to be done. This bitter thought filled Herscherik’s mind.
If their country was functioning properly, then these kids wouldn’t need to struggle like this.
“Sorry for keeping you waiting. What is the matter?”
The baron returned and Herscherik shook his head in response.
(I’m powerless once again…)
Although he was being tormented by this feeling of powerlessness, Herscherik refused to let a shadow cover his eyes.