Chapter 7: Evening Party, Rose Prince, and Trap III
They were led to a very beautiful room, with gold-embroidered furniture, taxidermied animal ornaments, and large, pompous abstract art pieces hanging over the fireplace.
Herscherik entered the room with Marcus and became annoyed at the interior. While he had been constantly surrounded by first-class items in the royal castle, this room looked needlessly expensive and a complete waste of money.
Still, the furniture in his personal room was made with the finest material so it was probably levels above this one.
He didn’t know the exact prices of the furniture in his room back in the outer palace of the royal castle. Herscherik had requested that the furniture in his current room be ‘simple and practical,’ and they were prepared as such by the person in charge of maintaining the outer palace.
The first time Herscherik entered the room, he was satisfied by the calming blend of chic colors, but Kuro was taken aback as he performed a check of the room, in case anything had been planted.
Herscherik didn’t fail to notice his reaction and asked his chief butler, who had hesitated for a moment before opening his mouth.
“This furniture is quite pricey,” he had said.
Herscherik had looked around his room. No matter how hard he looked at it, the furniture only resembled the simple pieces from mass retail stores.
“Take this table as an example. Its construction is simple, but high-quality wood was used and the craftsmanship of the country’s best artisan could be seen. It’s been said that you need to wait 5 years just to reserve a request for his work. I wonder how many gold coins were spent here. And this sofa…”
“Kuro, I’m sorry. But if I hear any more, I won’t be able to use this furniture anymore.”
Herscherik became depressed at how excessively the people’s taxes had been used. At the same time, it felt wasteful to not use the items that had already been prepared for him. In the beginning, he was very careful whenever handling anything, but now he used it normally.
Back to the present, Herscherik looked at his older brother sitting next to him on the excessively gaudy sofa.
Marcus appeared to be in high spirits as he was humming. Herscherik had been worried about his brother previously, but seeing how he was acting, it was probably fine. Herscherik suddenly realized that this was the first time he had spent this much time with his brother.
From his reincarnation to now, he had met with his father often, but he only ever greeted his siblings in passing. On top of that, all of his concentration was generally focused on his own things.
He looked at his brother again and their eyes met. Realizing that he had been exposed, he felt a little awkward and tried to cover it up with an awkward laugh when he realized that he still hadn’t said his thanks.
“Brother Marcus, thank you very much.”
Marcus smiled back at Herscherik. Unlike the one he had shown the ladies before, this one seemed more genuine.
“No need for formalities. Just Mark is fine. Besides, it’s no problem; I wanted to help out in some way.”
He looked a little lonely, so Herscherik tilted his head. He assumed that this must be related to Oran, who wasn’t in the room with them at the moment.
“Two years ago… I wasn’t able to do anything.”
That was why Herscherik’s request to him was like a lifeboat.
Let’s go back one week, before the group went to the evening party to set this trap.
In the seventh prince’s personal room in the outer palace, Oran stared wide-eyed at the documents Kuro had copied. This was because there was a name he recognized in the list of officials, that of an aristocrat who had died of sickness in the same time frame two years ago, when the drug suddenly stopped circulating.
The man had greeted Oran’s fiancée several times at different social gatherings, leaving an impression on Oran.
Herscherik immediately instructed Kuro to investigate those around the aristocrat.
The investigation found that the aristocrat had carried a large debt that was paid back in a short amount of time.
“There’s no doubt. He leaked the information and sold the drug at a considerable price. The other members of the Finance Bureau who seemed to have taken part in the deal had similar circumstances and are also deceased. The business of the one receiving the information in the deal was already defunct.”
The incident and drug were linked.
However, all the traces of this had to have been intentionally erased; a suspicion that caused Herscherik to furrow his brows.
“But, Prince, they’re all dead and no longer in this world. So, who’s selling the drug now?”
Herscherik nodded at Oran. His question was justified, but Herscherik already had a guess.
“Kuro, the register I asked for?”
He was presented with another document. It was a list of names of participants of the social gatherings held in the imperial capital ranging from summer to spring two years ago…from evening parties to tea parties.
“How did you assemble this?”
Kuro merely snickered at the dumbfounded Oran. Herscherik was also about to ask when he remembered that this man was a former spy and someone who had made their name in the underground world. Information gathering like this should be trivial for him.
Herscherik began to write with several different colored fountain pens on the register.
He first marked the names of the aristocratic officials who brought the drug out. Next, he used a different color to circle some other names on the list.
“Those who died mysterious deaths two years ago and those related to the info leak about the drug…all attended certain social gatherings… Oran’s fiancée’s name also appears.”
In other words, there was the possibility that Oran’s fiancée and the people connected to the info leak went to the same place. Hearing Herscherik’s words, Oran grimaced.
“I went with her to those places… I didn’t see anything like her buying something from them.”
“But, it wasn’t like you were constantly watching her. There’s also the possibility of accomplices being present during that time.”
The woman most likely made sure that she didn’t buy the drugs right in front of her fiancé. There was also the possibility that there were multiple sellers.
Herscherik’s point silenced Oran. It was true that he wasn’t observing her 24/7.
“Next are the register of the participants of the recent social gatherings roughly around the time of the drug’s resurface and the register of deaths around that time, specifically from disease or accidents.”
With these documents, even Oran understood what was going on.
“Meaning that the social gatherings are the trading spots just like two years ago?”
“I believe the likelihood is high.”
In the first place, the drug was only circulating amongst the affluent and aristocratic, but this also confused Herscherik.The group could have also sold these drugs to the average citizenry using the underground, yet their target remained locked on the high-class.
While the common folk knew the rumors, practically none of them actually used the drug. When Kuro went to verify this, he had also confirmed that the drug was much too expensive for the common folk to obtain.
“The drug was targeting the affluent and aristocrats…”
Furthermore, they were aristocrats who were concerned with their reputation. They wouldn’t want the news of their death from drug use to be leaked to the public. It would also be bad if the Patrol Bureau continued its investigation and discovered the drug use. There may have been pressure from higher up, but Herscherik surmised it might also be because of the wishes of the victims and their families that caused it to become such a slapdash investigation. Even Oran’s fiancee’s family had publicly written that their only daughter had died of sickness despite her emaciated state, and had the case handed down to the local authorities.
“If the price is high enough, even a tiny amount sold would produce enough money. That way, he could easily pay back his debt.”
The drug no longer circulated because the seller, the government official, had died, supposedly of sickness. However, it was still unclear whether it really was from sickness. And from the beginning, those involved with the drug circulation had all disappeared… as if their removal was planned.
It was hard to think that the person restarting the drug circulation this time was working without a motive.
(…But to leave a 2-year gap?)
The worst possibility passed through Herscherik’s mind, but he shook his head and the thought away. He had to solve the problem that was right in front of him.
He compared the names of the victims that appeared in the register. Then, he searched through all the names of the participants in the social gatherings the victims attended.
Oran bitterly spat out those words. Seeing his knight’s barefaced anger, Herscherik asked.
“Oran, you know him?”
“…He was a friend who kept approaching her.”
The name he referred to belonged to an aristocrat he had once considered a friend. He was from the Liberal Arts Department composed entirely of aristocrats, and meshed well with Oran, who was from the Knight Department in the Academy. …Or so Oran had believed.
His name was Ignatz Envie. He was a lower-ranking aristocrat, excelled in his studies, and was fun to talk to. Oran had trusted him, introduced his fiancée to him, and hung out with him as a friend.
However, the trust Oran had towards this man was crushed and scattered the moment he read the truth his fiancée had written in her diary.
Despite learning that this man had driven her to a corner, Oran couldn’t do anything to Ignatz as he had only approached her; he had not committed any crime. It seemed more like he wanted to cause a ruckus and soil her name, but then again, that was just an assumption.
(He… to her…)
Oran reflexively gripped the handle on his sword. He wanted to immediately tear that man into shreds.
Herscherik sensed his knight’s emotions and shook his head side to side.
“Oran, no. We only have some assumptions; there’s still no proof.”
“I know, but without any proof, it can’t be declared a crime.”
“Then what should I do!”
Herscherik sighed in response to the shouting Oran.
(Oran is surprisingly short-tempered. …No, that’s not right.)
Herscherik looked deep in himself and immediately retracted his statement.
(Anyone who had their precious loved one unfairly taken from them might act like this.)
Oran was competent to cut off his emotions and handle them calmly in any other situation. If he couldn’t, there was no way he would have been able to become Herscherik’s personal knight while still holding a grudge against the royal family.
But, whenever it concerned his deceased fiancée, his decision-making ability drastically lowered.
Losing the one you love just leaves that much of a wound on you.
Just as Oran said, they couldn’t let this continue. They had to do something.
Herscherik also had no intention of letting these people do whatever they wanted.
“If there’s no proof, then we just have to make it.”
Herscherik snickered. His smile was very devilish.
“What do you mean… We’re going to fabricate it?”
“We don’t have to do that.”
Herscherik waved away Kuro’s question and rested his chin on his hand.
He had a plan. If he could get these two to do the preliminary work, it could be helpful.
“But, I think we’re still lacking actors…”
He felt that if he used himself as a decoy in this plan, it wouldn’t work too well. Rather, there was the possibility that the target wouldn’t even bother.
“What to do… Ah!”
A suitable person suddenly popped in Herscherik’s mind. But, asking would be a huge gamble.
It was possible that it would allow his carefully constructed 5-year-old image to be seen through… or destroyed.
Herscherik understood how much of an anomaly he was. Inside, he was a woman in her late 30s, but outside, he was a 5-year-old child. If this 5-year-old were to say and do things unlike his age, what would happen? If he saw someone like that himself, he would send them to an asylum.
That was why Herscherik played the innocent 5-year-old child character whenever he interacted with his family and others, ensuring that they would underestimate him. As such, there was hardly anyone who knew of his true nature.
Herscherik looked at Oran. In order to solve this case and help his sunset haired knight, he had no choice but to go through with this plan.
“Time to accept my fate…huh.”
Herscherik muttered and stood up.
Late at night, a guest rushed to a room in the Greisis Kingdom outer palace to see Marcus. As Marcus was now working with the army, the only personal time he got was between his late dinner and before bed. As he was reading a book on the sofa, a servant came to his room and announced that a visitor had suddenly arrived.
He looked up from his book and tilted his head. Looking at the clock, he saw that it was already close to the dead of night. He was honestly surprised that the youngest of the princes would be up around this time. Beyond that, this was the first time the boy had ever come to his personal room.
When the servant brought Herscherik, Marcus noticed that the boy lacked the child-like air that had always surrounded him. Confirming that the servant had left the room after preparing some tea, Marcus looked at Herscherik.
(I wonder what happened.)
The boy was looking up at him, seemingly trying to find the right words to say. The tranquil aura that always surrounded him had changed completely.
(Wait. Could it about that time!?)
Marcus remembered that his youngest brother was under a grave misunderstanding about him. Could this meeting be about that? Uncomfortable sweat began pouring out of him.
Herscherik steeled his nerves and stared at Marcus, seemingly not noticing his strange state.
“Brother Marcus, I have a favor to ask. Please help me.”
“…Help you to do what?”
Marcus asked Herscherik, who seemed different from normal. Marcus had noticed this change in the boy’s behavior, but he decided to ignore it for the moment and listen to what he had to say.
Herscherik disclosed everything he uncovered about the drug case and why he needed his brother’s help to resolve it.
It seemed to be a conspiracy so simple that only this 5-year-old could uncover it, but Marcus could tell this wasn’t a joke.
That was just how well-thought-out and logical it sounded. It would be more ridiculous to doubt this water-tight explanation.
“In truth, I wanted to do something about it myself, but…”
Herscherik bit his lip.
“It would be impossible for me alone.”
Marcus understood what he meant. An enticing meal would be necessary to bait the trap. The youngest and lowest prince wouldn’t hold much appeal. That was why Herscherik had come to him, the 1st prince.
Marcus nodded. By becoming bait, he would be able to atone for his mistakes two years ago. And as the first prince, he was in a position where he had more responsibility than Herscherik.
And as the youngest, he knew there was no way his older brother wouldn’t lend a helping hand when his younger brother was working hard.
Herscherik showed a broad grin at Marcus’s response. This was the first time Marcus had ever seen such a genuine expression on Herscherik’s face.
(…Besides, if this case can be resolved, I can also settle that.)
He might finally be able to settle the anguish that he had been pushing to the back of his mind since that day two years ago.
“Then, Brother Mark, you can call me Hersche.”
Hersche giggled and looked over at the door. Marcus followed his younger brother and also looked at the door.
“Hersche, it’s showtime… We will not let him escape.”
Marcus said with a very bewitching smile on his face.