Chapter 8: Prince, Butler, and Trap I
One week had passed between the kidnapping incident and when nanny Meria would leave the imperial capital for her hometown.
It was a week packed full of preparations for Herscherik, along with a trip down to the castle town to meet the fruit-selling couple after he heard from Kuro that they were worried about him.
The fruit seller couple felt relieved that Herscherik was safe, as if he was their own child. Of course the husband was as unsociable as usual, but still he used his large hand to roughly ruffle Herscherik’s hair.
When he was questioned as to why he hadn’t come, he answered that he had a headache, fever, and dizziness so he rested just in case. When he said this, he was presented with baked sweets by Louise and for some reason, a teddy bear from the husband.
As he accepted the presented sweets and bear, he noticed the husband’s ears turn slightly red and thought, “Ah, will I be done in by this gap moe!” as he sympathized with Louise.
With the preparations completed, the formation of the prince’s party consisted of a carriage carrying Herscherik in the front and another, carrying Meria and the luggage, in the back.
To their left and right, were 25 members of the country’s elite squadron of Imperial Guards, including the Squadron Commander and the coachman for the carriage, who both served the royal family as bodyguards.
Inside the guarded carriage, the cute, angelic face of the prince was currently warped in pain.
“Kuro, are we there yet?”
He weakly asked his primary butler Schwartz, aka Kuro, riding inside the carriage together with him.
Looking at his master in such a state, Kuro let out a sigh and in spite of being a retainer, answered with an irritated expression.
“Hersche, I’ve heard you ask the same thing 10 minutes ago. You know that we still have a week left, right?”
The journey to reach the nanny Meria’s hometown was approximately two weeks. However, they were only halfway there.
“Uuuu, Kuro is being cold hearted. And I feel sick.”
Saying so, Herscherik stuffed his face into the mountain of cushions.
“Why does it have to sway so much…”
“Because it’s a carriage.”
Kuro’s words were like a sword that sliced through Herscherik’s complaints.
Hersherik was presently the highest ranking person in this whole march, and he was suffering from motion sickness.
(If I remember correctly, I was also weak when I rode in vehicles in my past life…..)
Whenever Ryouko rode in a vehicle she wasn’t driving herself, she would almost certainly feel sick. In both normal trains and the bullet train, she would become queasy. And it was a given that she felt it even more on roller coaster-type machines. Whenever she had to travel far distances, she would set up an alarm on her phone the moment she boarded and head off to dreamland—her only defense against the sickness.
But, this defense mechanism proved to be difficult inside the carriage as it traveled on the unpaved road.
“Hersche, here, some water.”
Kuro held out a canteen. Even though he said such stuff, Herscherik felt appreciative to his caring primary butler and said his thanks as he accepted the canteen.
Kuro becoming his primary butler and taking care of Herscherik’s needs and wants had given the prince numerous surprises.
Kuro had shown, from his table manners to conversational etiquette and office work to self-defense skill, all the necessary skills for a butler in such a natural manner that anyone would judge him to be impeccable.
“Well, being a spy isn’t just about sneaking around.”
This was Kuro’s answer when Herscherik asked why he was such an adept butler. In other words, infiltrating at night was not his only job as a spy.
If in an aristocrat’s mansion, he would be a servant. A cafe, a waiter. And if need be, he would a male prostitute in a brothel. All of this to gather information. It was his job to integrate into the setting, behave naturally, and cleverly manipulate conversations to get the information he needed.
Naturally, fights might break out, so he trained his physical strength to that higher than any thug in the area. Herscherik guessed that Kuro may even be stronger than the Imperial Guards escorting them right now.
He had accomplished his requests up until now by freely using every skill at his disposal, and he became the presence he was now from these accomplishments.
(What high specs…)
Herscherik thought as he buried himself in the mountain of cushions.
Everyone around him was too high-spec. Why was he the only one with nothing? He couldn’t help but feel this sense of defeat over and over again since coming to this world.
Herscherik was tormented by his own worthlessness and the motion sickness for a week before he was finally able to step foot in Meria’s hometown, the land that once belonged to Count Luzeria.
“Welcome, Your Highness Herscherik!”
It was evening when they arrived at their destination.
Greeting them in front of the lord’s mansion in the evening was the one who incriminated the land’s former lord, Count Grimm alongside all his servants. The servants stood in front of the mansion, and it was quite the sight to see them all lined up, with the exception of Count Grimm, with heads all lowered at the same angle.
Still, Count Grimm had his own type of presence.
His clothes were of the highest grade and wrapped in fur. Gold, silver, and jeweled rings were placed on his fingers. His stomach was also jutting out a bit more than the last time Herscherik had seen him. Obviously living the good life, Grimm’s skin had a glossy sheen. Incidentally, the hair on his head had become a bit thinner since the last time Herscherik laid eyes on him.
(Would’ve been better if you’d become a little bit more bald.)
Without throwing up such a thought outside his mind, Herscherik showed the perfect, princely smile.
“Count Grimm, thank you for accommodating this sudden visit.”
To the prince’s adorable smile, both the female and male servants standing in a line in the back let out a sigh.
“Oh no, it must have been difficult during your journey. Did monsters show up?”
Grimm asked with worry in his voice. In response, Herscherik’s smile turned into an uneasy expression as he answered.
“We encountered them many times. This was the first time I’ve seen them.”
Along the two week journey, they were attacked by monsters—animals transformed into rage-filled existences with magical power. Watching these monsters from the carriage window was as frightful as a certain horror game.
One creature they encountered was a wolf-shaped monster; its black fur and blood-colored eyes both had a dangerous shine to them, and its size could easily exceed his body’s size. According to Kuro, the monster’s physique and physical ability evolved levels above those of any wild animal thanks to the magical power absorbed in its body.
In order for the monsters to strengthen their physical and magical power, they preyed on those with higher magical power than them. As they generally targeted humans, the country’s Order of Knights periodically dispatched units to various places to suppress these monsters. The local lords also hired mercenaries for suppression as well.
Though with that being said, the monsters’ intelligence was no different from that of any wild beast, so they didn’t pose that much of a threat even when they swarmed together. Occasionally, strong monsters called hellions appeared, but they were treated like pests to be controlled by humans.
The swarm of monsters that attacked Herscherik’s party was barely a challenge for the Imperial Guards who defeated them in a blink of an eye. But when Herscherik recalled the scene from that time, he felt a bit nauseous.
(Guess they really don’t disappear into light like in games.)
Herscherik grew tired from recollecting that scene.
The Imperial Guards threw the defeated monsters to the edge of the road and into the forest, but it was still as grotesque as in horror games.
In his past life, Ryouko was a heavy gamer, but the only genre she didn’t dive into was horror games.
There was a time when she reluctantly played one because it was recommended, but she had a two-fold scary nightmare of skeleton soldiers chasing her with weapons and invoices.
Incidentally, the numbers on the invoices were too detailed, causing her to check if she forgot any payments at work the next day. This narrow escape from death could only be due to this horror game and the skeletons.
“I was really surprised as I’ve never come across such in the imperial capital.”
“Yes, I see. I’m most grateful that Your Highness is safe. It’s already this late. As you must be tired, please find repose in the villa I’ve prepared for you.”
Grimm pointed to a building that stood up on a hill past the woods.
“Imperial Guards, please, this way as well. I have prepared a modest banquet tonight. The preparations should be completed around 6 o’clock, so please head to the dining hall then.”
“6 o’clock, is it?”
Herscherik pulled the pocket watch from his pocket and checked the time. Looking at it, it appeared to have just turned 4 o’clock.
“In that case, I will escort my nanny to her house then. I’ll probably make it in time, right…..Count?”
When he looked at the responseless count, the man’s face had completely changed into a pale one.
Observing the instantaneous change of facial color, like that of a litmus paper, Herscherik tilted his head to the side.
“Noth-nothing! It was nothing. Please, have a safe trip!”
The man panicked and glossed over the issue. Herscherik held on to his suspicions as he signaled to Kuro with a look.
Kuro only smiled and gave an elegant bow in acknowledgment. Immediately afterwards, he called to the Imperial Guard commander, arranging for half of the soldiers to load the luggage from the carriage and head to the villa.
And with that done, he escorted Hersche and Meria into the carriage and borrowed a horse from one of the soldiers.
He mounted the horse so brilliantly that Count Grimm’s servants all clamored around, although it was different from when they reacted to Herscherik. Of course, this was limited to the women in the case of Kuro.
The carriage began to move and the scenery from the window turned into that of private houses and rolling fields.
However, there were hardly any human movements in them. Moreover, even though this was around the middle of autumn, the fields were barren with just a few fruits.
“Meria, did the harvest already end for this area?”
Although his nanny had become quite awkward around him since the incident, Herscherik asked her in his usual manner.
“….No. Originally, the time to harvest wheat should still be underway, but this year’s climate has been poor, leading to crop failure. Or so I have heard from my parents.”
In other words, what could be harvest had already been harvested.
And when he asked for more details, she continued: the river flooded and washed away the fields due to a storm this summer, and there were continual stretches of days filled with droughts.
If there was at least some kind of flood control, there wouldn’t have been any damage, but the count was negligent.
This land was infertile from the very beginning. Their harvest yielded slightly less compared to other region, and they clearly understood that if they didn’t properly perform, this would be the result.
Herscherik recalled the documents he had searched before coming here.
There certainly were crop failures, so they were supposed to be relieved of their tax payment and granted subsidiary aid from the country. But by looking at their local lord’s frivolous manners, one could imagine that that money wasn’t being used for the right reasons. Going even farther, the lord was supposed to deal with the issue at hand by equally distributing the emergency rations. The original purpose of the subsidiary money was to support areas of the country hit by a great disaster.
Herscherik’s face had become bleaker so Meria called out to him, uneasy. Startled, he showed a smile to reassure her and glossed over the situation.
Meria’s family lineage appeared to be composed of farmers. Her house was inferior when compared to the local lord’s mansion, but it was still a considerably large house.
Her family was probably notified of their arrival beforehand as Meria’s parents were standing in front of the entranceway when the carriage arrived at their home. Their bodies were thin, most likely due to their recent hardships—the complete opposite of the count.
“Your Highness, there is no possible excuse we can give for the terrible trouble our daughter and relatives have caused you.”
The two of them briefly greeted Herscherik as he disembarked the carriage, and they lowered their heads so much that it looked like their body would break.
It seemed that they were aware of the situation and thought the reason why their daughter could return home alive after having done such a thing was thanks to the prince.
Being apologized to all of a sudden caused Herscherik to hurriedly look around, but luckily, Kuro thought ahead and sent the soldiers to patrol the surrounding area. As such, the subject matter of this conversation wasn’t heard by them, allowing Herscherik to feel relieved.
“Umm….I’m a bit cold, so is it alright if we go inside?”
Herscherik faked a shiver.
A family member was usually the one to do the invitation, but Herscherik worried that the two parents would remain prostrated on the ground underneath this cold sky indefinitely.
While they composed themselves by the fireplace, Herscherik listened to their story.
It appeared that after Meria’s cousins escaped the imperial capital, they immediately relayed to the parents the things they did, the things they were trying to do, and about Herscherik, along with their apologies.
“Your Highness, if punishment is truly necessary, then the responsibility should fall onto us, the ones in charge of them. Please, I ask that you pardon the young ones. Do with us as you see fit.”
Meria’s father once again deeply bowed his head, but Herscherik shook his head. It appeared that they misunderstood this as him coming all the way here to punish them.
“The reason why I have come here was not to punish them, or you for that matter. It was because they sought help, so I have come here to fulfill my duty as a member of the royal family…..It must have been hard since Count Luzeria’s death.”
Herscherik said and took out the beautiful, old silver pocket watch for them to see.
When they laid their eyes on it, they were surprised and their eyes became watery with tears. That just went to show how much they adored Count Luzeria.
“I’m sorry for bringing up bitter memories. I will definitely do something about your situation.”
Herscherik said, and they responded with numerous nods without any words.
This was the first time Herscherik had seen a town besides that of the castle town.
Taking into consideration his position as prince and his physical condition, adequate lodging was chosen for him. Herscherik felt uncomfortable with all the treatment he had received wherever he went, but something else was currently on his mind.
It would be accurate to say that the citizens around the country openly displayed warm welcomes to him.
However, there was fear reflected in their eyes as well as cold looks of scorn.
He felt that these looks that were directed at him were most likely the same ones they gave to the other members of the royal family.
(Everything’ll turn to naught at this rate.)
Meria, her parents and family in front of him, as well as the cold looks from the people made him painfully aware of the need for an existence who must protect the country.
Their cries of pain would never reach the royal castle. As there was someone obstructing all of this from happening. By someone, he meant the local lord, government officials, even aristocrats—the Minister’s faction.
They cleverly disguised their crimes as they worked to protect their own gains.
A country exists solely for their people; citizens allow their treasured country to flourish. So, a country that rebuffs its citizens will fall.
To recover the citizens’ trust. Herscherik understood that words such as ‘hardships’ would not be enough to express the trial that lay before him. He leaned forward, his chest heavy.