Chapter 6: Smiling face, Grief, and Black dog III
Herscherik sat on a sofa in the middle of his dimly-lit room and gazed at the flames in the fireplace.
After spending the whole day in his room by himself, it felt somewhat vast, and he let out a small sigh.
(I’ve lived by myself before, so this should be normal for me, but….unexpectedly, it looks like I can’t stand being alone.)
Herscherik noticed that he had been spoiled by Meria a lot more than expected. Letting out a bitter laugh, he thought back to when he returned to the castle.
After his return, his father asked persistently, yet he didn’t tell him the truth. If he did, then those people, as well as their families, would receive the death penalty for conspiring to kidnap the prince.
“My stubbornness was probably inherited from my mother….”
He had claimed that, before he realized what happened, he was saved by Meria, so he really didn’t know anything. His father hung his head and muttered in resignation.
Herscherik was deep in thought about his past, but in this room where he was supposed to be alone, he was greeted from behind.
However, Herscherik didn’t move, continuing to stare at the flickering flames in the fireplace. He rubbed the pad of his thumb on the pocket watch unconsciously as he answered.
“I’ve caused you some trouble, haven’t I, Mr. Kuro? I’m sorry.”
He sensed the presence behind him tensed their shoulders, but he didn’t turn around.
“……It’s not like you need to apologize or anything. Also, just ‘Kuro’ is fine.”
“Really? Then you can just call me Hersche. ”
Herscherik tilted his head to the side, revealing a smile. The image of his beloved dog Kuro appeared in his head, but he didn’t say anything.
“Kuro, you really are a master spy, aren’t you? I was surprised.”
Thanks to Kuro appearing, this incident was officially resolved.
Fabricating another location as their hideout in lieu of the place he was taken to and allowing the folks from Count Luzeria’s territory to escape the imperial capital were all thanks to him.
Kuro was truly a master as shown by his abilities, from the glimpses of his fighting skills in the place Herscherik was kidnapped, and how he managed to sneak into the inner palace, despite how strict the security had become now.
“Really, thank you. Although I don’t have anything on me right now, I’ll reward you soon.”
“I’ll be waiting without getting my hopes up…But are you really going?”
Herscherik knew that Kuro was probably listening to his request to his father from somewhere, so he looked around the area.
When he held down the button that opened the pocket watch, a portrait of three people who were no longer in this world appeared.
(The people who these three cared about are in trouble. There’s no way I’d let them be abandoned.)
“I’m definitely going.”
Herscherik answered, full of determination.
Previously, Herscherik had made one request to his dejected father.
“Since Meria is very exhausted from this incident, I want to allow her to return to her hometown. And I want to be there to escort her since I’m grateful for what she did.”
However, Meria’s homecoming was only a pretext. His true goal was to go to the territory and obtain evidence of injustice. It might be difficult for him with his childish physique, but if he didn’t do it, there would be victims of poverty this winter.
His father was against allowing him to leave the imperial capital. However, Herscherik’s resolve wouldn’t break.
The parent and child were trapped in a stalemate, so Luke, the butler quietly waiting beside the king, offered a proposition.
“Your Majesty, how about we have a primary butler accompany Master Herscherik? I think it’s about time for one to be necessary, so if he brings one with him, he should be fine, no?”
The king threw his butler a look that said, “Don’t say such unnecessary things!” but the butler pretended that he didn’t notice it.
“A primary butler?”
Herscherik tilted his head to the side. He had studied as much as possible, but with this, he realized that there were still many of this country’s customs that he didn’t know. One reason for this was that those kinds of things didn’t fall into his interests. Furthermore, his mother who was supposed to teach him customs and conventions passed away, and his father was swamped with continuous work. He also had little contact with his prince and princess siblings, so there was no way he could know everything he needed to.
“Simply put, a primary butler is a butler who works not for the country, but for the sake of a single aristocrat….akin to a retainer, I would say.”
Luke explained to Herscherik in an easy-to-understand manner.
Each primary butler was an exclusive butler assigned to only a single prince from the current and former royal families. The primary butlers pledge their allegiance to their lord for the rest of their lives. If done poorly 1, the two of them together become an existence that lasts longer than a married couple.
“While it is usually customary for a primary butler to be chosen after you’ve grown a bit more, I believe the time is ripe, now that Meria will be separated from you.”
Luke mentioned that he had hoped that knights and magicians would accompany him along with the primary butler, but a butler comes first.
“……Even though I would be fine with Kuro being my primary butler….”
Herscherik muttered to himself.
(How do I put it….we get along, and he’s composed, and….)
Herscherik believed that the reason for this was that Kuro understood his true intentions.
Possibly because their encounter was so jarring or the places they met were so peculiar, Kuro interacted with not a child or prince, but Herscherik’s true self. Despite him acting like a child of his age to avoid worrying even his father, he felt at ease whenever he was beside Kuro.
Thinking back to his past life, the only time he acted frank was when he was either alone or in front of his family. When he was in front of coworkers or friends, he made sure to create the appropriate persona. It’s because that way was more comfortable.
“….Is it because I’m an excellent spy?”
Dumbfounded, Herscherik raised his voice at Kuro’s question and finally turned to look at him.
Before him was Kuro, who still appeared the same when he came to rescue him; the latter’s eyes were full of emotion as he looked at the boy.
“Eh? Why say that? Kuro is Kuro, right? Or are you saying that you saved me because I’m a prince?”
Herscherik answered with eyes wide open, but Kuro retreated into the darkness without a word.
(What the heck is wrong with Kuro?….Well, I get it. He can’t become a primary butler.)
People serving the royal family must prove their identity. Especially considering the extent of Luke’s explanation, the butler must have some kind of deep connection to the royal family. Customarily, they would be people who refuse to inherit their aristocratic role or are sons of wealthy merchants, but there have been many instances of people coming with recommendation letters to gain fame or connection to the royal family.
He wondered if those such people could really understand what he wanted to do. Rather, is there going to be anyone who wanted to come to him, the 7th prince without any aristocratic support?
Just by thinking that, Herscherik became depressed.
There was also another reason that pulled his spirit down even lower.
Even though he had resolved himself, he would be separating from Meria who had raised him like a foster parent.
“Meria, I know you understood, therefore you cannot come here anymore.”
“You don’t have any other choice,” Herscherik said. If her serving sleeping medicine to the prince and kidnapping him became public, she would not be able to escape unharmed no matter how much he protected her. That was why it was absolutely necessary to set her free before anything could happen.
“What I have done is most certainly inexcusable….”
Before Herscherik went to discuss Meria’s homecoming with his father, he told her this when the two were alone.
Meria knelt down with her head close to her knees. This caused the carpet to rub against her face, but Herscherik shook his head as he helped her up,
“I understand your feelings. I want to aid you; I want to do something. However, I want you to let me say at least this.”
Probably at that time, he felt sadness and anger mixed together with his loneliness. That was why he couldn’t stop himself from saying this.
“Father placed his trust in you. But, you betrayed his trust….you betrayed my trust.”
If she hadn’t kidnapped him or such and simply opened up to him, surely a different future would be ahead of them. Confiding in a 5 year old who had yet to mature surely seemed like a complicated situation, but she was the only woman his father trusted beside his mother, and the man entrusted his own child to her.
“I understand that you are in a difficult position. But, I don’t believe that it gives you any grounds to think it’s fine to betray those who believed in you.”
Meria broke down at his words. Herscherik couldn’t being himself to stop her from leaving, her head hanging low.
“What the heck is ‘It’s not fine to betray those who believed in you’….”
Herscherik laughed in self-mockery. Half of the words he said to Meria were also directed towards himself.
It was no exaggeration to say that he was lying and betraying his father right now.
He was playing the innocent youngest prince, hiding his past life and current movements.
All of this was to protect his father. All of this was to protect those he wanted to protect.
Herscherik strengthened his grip on the pocket watch.
“I…want to protect….”
Even if this was his self-satisfying indulgence, it was still a desire of his—something entrusted to him by Count Luzeria.
While thinking of such, Herscherik felt his chest tighten oppressively.
Luke was the one to prepare his breakfast the next day.
He was a flawless butler, perfectly setting the table without leaving any openings and taking careful note of Herscherik’s condition after being kidnapped.
“You Highness, your primary butler will arrive this afternoon.”
Luke announced to Herscherik who was sipping his black tea after finishing breakfast.
What fast work in already accomplishing this off the heels of yesterday, such that interviews and himself were not needed for the process?
(I wonder what kind of person will show up…or rather, would we get along well?)
His feelings of 20% hope and 80% insecurity were swallowed down with his tea.
A young man appeared together with Luke in the afternoon. His glossy, black hair was combed back and his eyes were dark red like rubies; if he smiled, women would surely blush.
“Well then, I shall take my leave here.”
Barely giving any explanation, Luke quickly left the room, acting like a matchmaker for a formal marriage interview. Silence dominated the distance placed between the two left behind.
Kuro –the spy who had always wore pure black clothes, his bangs let down, an oversized hood to cover the area around his eyes, and a cloth to cover his mouth.
Even though Herscherik shouldn’t have known how his face looked like, he was confident that this man was Kuro.
“……..You’re surprisingly handsome.”
“What do you mean by ‘surprisingly’?”
Herscherik smiled at Kuro’s objections, the ex-spy appearing as a primary butler. Previously, he had vaguely thought that Kuro might be handsome due to his otaku intuition, but this man was truly stunning.
“What happened? You’re changing jobs to a butler?”
“…..Well, you know.”
Herscherik tilted his head, confused at how ambiguous the answer was even for Kuro.
(Like he’s saying, ‘Even I don’t fully understand how it came to this.’)
Aristocrats were merely a source of revenue when Kuro worked as a spy. So that was why he was fine being used by them for a fixed amount of time.
However, Herscherik was completely different from those people:
Proactive to investigate something by himself at night and even venturing outside when that proved insufficient —
Had a sense of responsibility since he had obligations as a member of the royal family
Stubborn as he would not sway once he had decided on something
Kind, placing precedence on others over himself
He was a prince overflowing with smiles, unlike the expressions Kuro fabricated for himself.
Before he became aware of it, he had become able to naturally express emotion.
When he did realize it, he had begun to look forward to meeting the prince:
Unease when he heard that the prince had disappeared.
The surge of anger he felt when he saw the prince’s fallen form.
Relief when he rescued the prince.
He couldn’t forget the prince’s heart-wrenching expression when he resolved that he must separate from his nanny and deceive his father.
Kuro wanted to do something.
Kuro wanted to aid the prince in his endeavor to protect those he treasured.
Euphoria welled in his chest when the prince told him he was fine.
However, there was also insecurity.
Insecurity that Herscherik wanted his ability, not himself.
He was not originally from this country. Due to circumstances, he became a wanderer here.
There was no one who needed him. What they needed was the abilities of ‘Shadow Fang.’
The prince had said this.
“Kuro is Kuro. Or are you saying that you saved me because I’m a prince?”
Kuro’s answer was “No.”
He probably wouldn’t have acted even if he was the king of this country or even an employer.
Because he was Herscherik did Kuro act.
Herscherik also said that he needed ‘Kuro,’ not the ‘Shadow Fang.’
Herscherik was the first person who genuinely needed him as a person.
“Yesterday, you said that I was fine, remember?”
Voicing his honest thoughts was too embarrassing for him, so Kuro opted to say that with a broad grin.
Herscherik answered Kuro with a smile appropriate for one his age. But he immediately changed into a serious face.
“But Kuro, is your social status okay and everything?”
“Who knows? Well, I got a certificate from the king’s primary butler, so isn’t that fine?”
He had thought that he managed to infiltrate the palace completely unseen last night, but Luke appeared before him without him realizing it. And just like that, he was examined to become a primary butler.
Kuro couldn’t judge whether this was Luke’s own judgment or the king’s suggestion. Nevertheless, as the king’s primary butler deemed him acceptable, he realized that this man wasn’t just an ordinary person.
“I see. Which reminds me, Kuro, do you actually not have a real name? It feels kind of weird to keep calling you ‘Kuro.'”
“I dunno my real name. Well, I do have a name I get called, but it’s probably bad if you used it.”
He probably had one in the past, but a lot had happened, leading to him working underground and being addressed as ‘Shadow Fang’; as such, he decided that he no longer needed a name. Plus, there was no one close enough to him to call his name.
Being called ‘Kuro’ by Herscherik now fit him nicely. However, calling himself that in public might be bad.
“Give me one you like.”
Herscherik furrowed his eyebrows, deep in thought. Then, he clapped his hands.
“How does ‘Schwartz’ sound?”
“What does it mean?”
Kuro inquired about this word he had never heard before.
“Um, I think it means ‘black.’ Do you think it’s too uninspired?”
Kuro laughed at Herscherik who tilted his head, unconfident. It was a very natural laugh.
“Great. My name is Kuro anyways, right?”
In this country, having a name bestowed upon oneself from someone of royalty had a special meaning attached to it.
That was unconditional faith from the one who bestowed the name and innocent loyalty of the receiver.
Being unaware of this meaning, the strained laughter they let out from embarrassment when they found out was something that would happen a little bit further down the line.