Chapter 9: Deception, Deal, and Vessel II
While the chilly wind signaling the beginning of winter brushed up against his cheek, Herscherik smiled at the citizens who came to see him off.
“Well then, Meria, I’ll be waiting for your letters. Same with everyone else. Please inform me at any time if anything else happens.”
The citizens nodded at the prince’s each word, he who had achieved the miraculous feat of returning alive from that fire.
The incident was as follows: a group of thugs raided the villa the prince was staying at, attacking the Imperial Guards, and finally lighting the place on fire.
The corpses of the group of thugs were later discovered in the forest. While it was still unknown how the group was defeated or who defeated them, the incident was thus considered settled.
“Your Highness, take care….Thank you very much.”
Tears formed in the corner of Meria’s big, drooping, brown eyes, and Herscherik gave her a smile.
Next to her were her cousins, the co-conspirators of the kidnapping incident, who bowed so many times that it looked like their body might snap in half.
There was a reason for them to feel this grateful.
The following day after the fire, Count Grimm had notified all the citizens: I was mistaken and will return the collected taxes. Likewise, I shall offer individual supplementary loans to whoever may find overcoming this winter to be difficult. Even though they were called ‘loans,’ in actuality, it was the same as giving the money away without asking for any compensation.
Herscherik never spoke to the majority of the crowd awaiting him outside the local lord’s mansion, and he was fine with it. But, he did tell them to notify him if anything were to happen.
“Master Herscherik, I was blessed to have served your Highness.”
“I was also glad to have you, Meria, as my nanny. I’m sure Father, and my Mother in the Garden in Heaven, feel the same.”
After exchanging their last embrace, Herscherik boarded the carriage. He continued to wave his hand from the carriage’s small window until he was no longer able to see them.
Then, he settled his body back in his seat, breathing in as deeply as he could, and let it all out.
He had finally realized that he had been more nervous than he had imagined.
“Master Hersche, you’ve done a wonderful job.”
“Yeah. But Schwartz, I thought I told you that when it’s just the two of us, it’s fine to drop the formalities.”
The two laughed at this exchange. Yesterday was a long night.
“Was leaving Count Grimm like that alright?”
Kuro recalled last night’s events and asked Herscherik.
“……I think that might be as good as it gets.”
It would be easy to publicize Count Grimm’s sins and take the territory away from him.
But, he was unsure if the next local lord would be the right person for the citizens. That was why he thought it was best to strike a deal with the Count and keep him there where Herscherik could monitor him, until he outlived his usefulness.
Herscherik had three conditions in exchange for which he would spare Count Grimm’s life and overlook this incident:
One, be fair to the citizens on your land.
Two, immediately stop selling out our country and cut off your relationship with the enemy.
And finally, three, leak information about the Minister’s faction to him.
Leaving aside the last one, the first and second conditions had to be soundlessly fulfilled. Those two conditions determined whether or not the count could live.
If anything were to happen, the citizens would contact the prince.
If there was no regular contact coming from the people of that territory, it would be assumed that something had happened.
Additionally, Herscherik had threatened Count Grimm with something else on top of the attempted assassination and the evidence in his hand.
“You took advantage of the citizens’ planned kidnapping.”
“Well, it was his citizens, who did it, so it won’t be far off to say that he was involved, right?”
Herscherik threatened Grimm, blaming him for the kidnapping incident Meria and the others had devised and executed.
“If I were to say that they were threatened and silenced, wouldn’t Father believe it? Look, with this evidence, if I bring it up it’ll be perfect.”
Herscherik laughed innocently. But his words were stained with malice.
But what Kuro wanted to hear wasn’t that.
“Is it fine to leave the matter of Count Luzeria like that?”
Kuro asked bluntly so the prince would understand the intention of his question.
Count Grimm was, so to speak, Count Luzeria’s foe. As this method didn’t wipe away the dishonor smeared on Count Luzeria’s name, Kuro wondered what Herscherik was feeling about this conclusion, seeing how the prince had admired that man so much.
Herscherik was silent, as if scrutinizing Kuro’s words. Then, he slowly opened his mouth.
“I think the Count would surely say that it’s fine like this. More than his own name or land, he cherished his country…and his people.”
Otherwise, what had happened two years ago wouldn’t have occurred.
As an aristocrat above all aristocrats, the proud him would have been satisfied with such a result. Herscherik believed so.
“…..I really wanted to bring the matter of Count Grimm to the public and judge him. I wanted to declare that Count Luzeria was right….But, that would just be self-satisfaction.”
It would have been easy and short-sighted to just gain vengeance with the result being his own gratification.
But, Count Grimm was nothing more than an underling. His existence could be discarded, like cutting off a lizard’s tail. As such, they could not fundamentally arrive at a resolution.
“I will definitely clear the Count’s sullied name. But now’s not the time for that.”
Determined, Herscherik continued, tightly gripping the pocket watch.
(Nevertheless, it went pretty well for the first time.)
Even with the unexpected assassination attempt, you could say that it was a success from start to finish.
No matter how much you plan for every eventuality, it may not work out; this wasn’t some kind of manga or game. But the multitude of books read and games played in his past life turned out to provide some good experience to him.
In his past life, Ryouko had a habit of reading ahead.
At work, she would predict and prepare for unexpected situations, so that, if any problem were to occur, she could immediately fulfill her duty.
With her hobbies, she would almost always hit bull’s eye when it comes to mystery games and detective dramas. For war games, she would read several steps ahead, calculate, and obtain an absolute victory with her team. She also had a taste for chess, shogi, and even Go.
In this world, his past life’s acquired skills and experience as an office worker were useful, but depending on the way they were used, his otaku knowledge also certainly played a big part.
Besides, Ryouko was a printed-text addict, reading mountains of manga and light novels, her favorite, but also delving into hardcovers and paperbacks.
Books exposed the author’s way of thinking like a mirror. It was no exaggeration to say that to read a book was to know a person. The knowledge he had obtained from the many books in his past life prepared Herscherik with a wider outlook and way of thinking than most people.
Clear and focused eyes, and an ability to judge—the knowledge from his previous life wasn’t strictly intended for royalty, but it did leave an effect on Herscherik.
“…..Well then, how many years will it take?”
Kuro was suspicious of Herscherik’s mutterings as he watched the scenery pass by.
“There’s no way that guy, after doing such horrible things, would easily reform his ways.”
‘It’s the same for any world.’ If this left his throat, what would happen?
“Besides, if Count Grimm could no longer act, it would alert his higher-ups in the faction of some abnormality. If Count Grimm really can’t walk this tightrope, it’ll be that side that’ll make him disappear.”
There was only one path left for Count Grimm. Whether it was long or short, it would be a test of his abilities.
(The enemy isn’t as nice as me. That’s why we have to take measures until then.)
The true fight had yet to come.
Herscherik stared outside in a daze. Now, on the return trip, the inside of the moving carriage felt vastly different. Possibly because his mind was packed full of thoughts, Herscherik also forgot about his motion-sickness.
Kuro shivered, looking at the prince. It wasn’t because he was cold; nor was it because he was afraid.
(How far is he reading ahead….Was this what they call ‘unable to see even the lowest limit?’)
Kuro re-acknowledged the merits he had assigned to his master and trembled with delight:
Absolute conviction that he wouldn’t be swept away by his emotions.
Resolution to fulfill his objective even if he cannot choose the means or method.
Foresight to choose the best option, calmly reading ahead.
Yet intense emotions, never to ignore those around him.
Were these not the talents belonging to one who stands above all, the one said to be the vessel of a king or hero?
There was one more thing he saw through Herscherik’s habits—
There were two times that Herscherik addresses himself as a female.
The first was when Herscherik is alone with Kuro.
The other was when Herscherik becomes cool-headed.
Cool-headed referred to his cold-hearted way of speaking, but it also referred to his moments of calmness in tense situations.
When he was kidnapped and when he was threatening Count Grimm, an aspect of this calmness had the prince unconsciously changing the pronoun he referred to himself with.
He may not look different if you glanced at him, but, his mind was racing with calculations, trying to read ahead of the situation.
Incidentally, the times he used the masculine form was when he was ‘the prince’. He would always use this form when he pretended to be the harmless prince or in front of his father and the royal family.
Deep in thought, Kuro was brought back to his senses by his master calling his name.
In front of him was Herscherik, looking at him with a serious face.
“I want to protect Father. I want to protect my family. I want to protect this country. I want to protect its citizens. I will do anything to accomplish this wish of mine.”
Kuro smiled at the prince’s words, the vessel whose limit was still unknown.However, at the root of this was a tenderness that makes others sympathize, ‘I just can’t leave him alone.’
If you want to save just yourself, then just throw away everything, even your status as a prince. However, that thought never once crossed Herscherik’s mind. It wasn’t just about being kind. He was aware that kindness alone can’t protect anyone or anything.
Taking a breath, Herscherik continued. He held the old, beautiful silver pocket watch and tightened his grip.
“Schwartz, being with me will be more difficult than any job you’ve ever taken up till this point.”
This wasn’t a vague prediction or his imagination.
To change a country was something unthinkable for someone like Herscherik who used to be an officer worker. If he failed, extinction was certain.
By becoming his primary butler, Kuro would be sharing the same fate as him.
Presently, Kuro could still turn back.
“I don’t have anything to give you in return. On the contrary, there would be the possibility of exposing your life to danger….despite that, would you still fight beside me?”
His master stared straight at him, unease visible on the prince’s face.
Herscherik hid his anxiety and allowed Kuro to make his choice.
Kuro asked himself again.
But no argument that would make him leave the prince existed in his mind.
Kuro suddenly realized then.
Perhaps Herscherik also allowed Count Grimm to make a decision.
Despite Herscherik saying the count wouldn’t reform, if in the unlikely event that he did change for the better , the count would become one of the citizens the prince swore to protect.
If that happened, Herscherik would protect him at any cost. Even if he was, from Count Luzeria’s perspective, an enemy.
And so, Kuro decided.
He could declare with certainty that the reason why he hadn’t had a master up till now was because he was waiting for the prince. Just as the prince ‘couldn’t leave anyone alone,’ Kuro also ‘couldn’t leave’ the prince alone.
Kuro knelt on knee and bowed his head.
Since they were inside the carriage, the distance between the two was very small.
“My body is the sword that tears your enemies to pieces, the shield that protects you from the assassins’ daggers, and the cane that supports you.”
Those were the same words Count Luzeria had pledged to Herscherik.
When Kuro became a primary butler, he had learned the royal family’s customs and etiquette from Luke.
At that time, he thought they were simply words.
But, Kuro revised that thought.
These words were a oath straight from the heart, a covenant where deviations were unforgivable.
“My lord, if you wish so, I shall accompany you to enemy lands housing hundreds of thousands of enemy soldiers, to the ends of the sky, and even to the Depths of the Earth.”
When Kuro raised his face, his master before him had his eyes wide open in surprise.
“Please, I ask that you permit me this.”
Herscherik closed his eyes, and when he reopened them, he fixed his gaze on Kuro.
The fresh green eyes met the dark ruby ones.
“Schwartz, I will allow it. However, I want you to promise me just one thing.”
Saying that, Herscherik placed the old, beautiful silver pocket watch on the seat and with his empty hands, he held Kuro’s face like how he had done to his niece in his dream.
It was the manifestation of his feeling to not let this promise change, to not want it to change.
“I won’t allow you to die before I do. Know that when you die is when I will die.”
He didn’t want to say farewell like with Count Luzeria.
He didn’t want to lose anyone dear to him again. He knew that this promise was just for his own satisfaction. Still, Herscherik couldn’t help but say it.
He sensed the light residing in Kuro’s dark red eyes.
“As you command, my lord.”