Chapter 9: Intermission – King, Former General, and Witch III
Soleil visited the silent outer palace. By the time Roland left, it was well past midnight, but Soleil suddenly wanted to see his son before returning to the inner palace. The boy should be asleep at this time, but he came, hoping just to look at his face.
When he climbed up the stairs and reached the unlit third floor, he noticed a shadow moving.
He prepared to use magic as he questioned the shadow. This was a residential area where only those permitted by the royal family could enter. Though there were times when uninvited guests entered…
“Your Majesty!!! My apologies”
It was the voice of a young man. When Soleil lit the lamp he had on hand, his face was illuminated.
The faint light from the lamp revealed the youngest prince’s personal knight. His working hours were during the day, so to find him moving around here at night was unusual. But, Soleil didn’t touch on that and instead stated his own reason for visiting the outer palace.
“I came to see Hersche. He’s probably asleep now, but I was thinking about just peeking in, even so.”
However, in contrast to the king’s smiling face, the personal knight looked troubled.
“The prince is, um…”
“What’s wrong with Hersche? …Did something happen?”
The king noticed the man’s wandering gaze and shot a sharp look. Oran appeared resigned as he shook his head.
“I give up… Your Majesty, this way please.”
Oran excused himself and led the way. After a moment of walking, another young man appeared ahead, waiting.
“Hey, idiot knight. Are you really that much of an idiot to escort His Majesty here despite how much your master asked you not to?”
The one who spoke those words before either of them could say anything was Schwartz, aka Kuro, the chief butler. The lamp revealed his smiling face, but even the king who had rarely interacted with him knew that it was a fake one.
Soleil assumed that the weird politeness added in must be because he was present.
“‘Idiot knight’… How exactly do you see me?”
“Muscle for brains.”
“You aren’t that different!”
Realizing that he had unconsciously raised his voice, he quickly covered his mouth.
“…But the prince is a child. It would be better if his father is by his side.”
Kuro sighed at Oran’s logic.
“But he doesn’t wish for that.”
The butler retorted, and the knight sighed.
(Damn black dog. Whenever it comes to the prince, he doesn’t budge an inch.)
“I would like you two to explain the situation to me.”
Soleil cut into their conversation. He felt that if left alone, they wouldn’t let him go to his son.
“Black dog, the prince is sleeping and wouldn’t know, so it’s fine, right? I think that hiding after all of this wouldn’t be to the prince’s benefit.”
Kuro pondered Oran’s words for a few beats before shrugging his shoulders. Then, he turned to face the king.
“Your Majesty, I apologize. Currently, my master is resting.”
“Well, it’s late after all. Anything else?”
Soleil pressed. He easily guessed that if the boy was simply sleeping, these two wouldn’t be this hesitant.
“…My master is currently in poor condition with a high fever and in pain.”
“A fever, you say?”
The disease that only affected the royal family and stole his first daughter popped in Soleil’s mind. He felt as though the blood drained from his face at a rate loud enough to be audible. It probably wasn’t visible in the light of the lamp, but his face was pale.
“…How’s his condition?”
The king finally spoke again, and Kuro responded.
“He’s gradually recovering. According to the doctor’s diagnosis, an accumulation of fatigue and the change in temperature from the passing seasons has caused his health to deteriorate.”
“Because the prince told us that he definitely doesn’t want this to reach Your Majesty, I did not report this matter. My sincerest apologies.”
Following Kuro, Oran responded with a lowered head.
Soleil knew right away why Herscherik didn’t want his condition to be reported. He knew that this would weaken Soleil. If his sickness was disclosed, this would cause unnecessary worry and strain on Soleil’s heart.
“…Can I still see Hersche?”
The butler silently opened the way. Soleil walked past him to Herscherik’s side.
After seeing the king off, Kuro let out a deep sigh and glared at Oran. On the receiving end of the glare, Oran shrugged his shoulders.
“I couldn’t help it. I can’t send him away after all.”
“Why are you even here, delinquent knight?”
“To guard the prince. Sending out His Majesty is above my paygrade.”
Oran answered while fidgeting with the sword on his side. Originally, he was off work at night and Herscherik also told him that he could return home for the night, but Oran decided to patrol at night on his own accord.
There were two reasons.
The first reason was while Kuro was busy nursing the bedridden Herscherik, there would be one less guard around the prince. Although this was the royal family’s residence, it was by no means safe.
The second reason was the possibility that the person Herscherik had spotted at the crime scene would attack.
The butler had said that he could infiltrate this residential area without being detected. So, this person who may be a spy of an equal or higher level than him would be able to do so as well.
That was why Oran volunteered to guard. Until Herscherik’s condition fully recovered, he would continue to patrol at night.
“You know you could’ve just said nothing to His Majesty. It’s not like this is the first time the prince has been bedridden.”
Oran recalled what the doctor who came to examine in the afternoon said with a sigh.
Compared to the other children his age, Herscherik was smaller and more delicate. Even when he wasn’t sick, he would give off an impression of fragility.
According to the doctor’s story, Herscherik’s mother wasn’t weak because of disease, but due to an inherently frail body. After giving birth to her son, she no longer had the strength to remain in this world.
It seemed that Herscherik really did resemble his mother. He had a desire to train his body, but none of it took.
“It’s because I wasn’t asked.”
Oran was worried, but Kuro nonchalantly answered.
Just as Oran said, this wasn’t the first time Herscherik had collapsed.
He wasn’t sick but suddenly collapsed one day. Like a taut string had been cut. Like all the stored energy he had had been exhausted. Still, after a few days’ rest, he recovered, and so Kuro assumed that it was simply because of fatigue.
“That reminds me, delinquent knight. I got something to tell you.”
“Huh? What? Rather, ‘delinquent’ or ‘idiot’? Choose one, black dog.”
“How about ‘muscle knight’?”
While saying that, Kuro began his lecture about the future to Oran under the guise of a ‘talk.’
Soleil entered the prince’s room, careful to not make any noise. The only sound was the owner’s faint breathing echoing inside the dark room.
The king softly approached the bedside and peered at the sleeping boy’s pained face. He gently put his hand on Herscherik’s forehead and just as the butler stated, it felt hot. But his own hand must have been cold because Herscherik’s faint breathing seemed to relax a little.
Then, he brushed back the sweat-soaked blond hair.
(This child is always suffering…)
Even though he decided to protect this child no matter what, he ended up being the one protected, and a sense of failure washed over him.
He heard the child’s faint voice.
Herscherik asked for forgiveness. But since it didn’t look like the prince’s eyes were open, he must be sleep talking.
Herscherik continued to speak deliriously as a stream of tears flowed from his closed eyes.
Soleil heard his beloved son’s sleep talk and opened his eyes widely.
Couldn’t protect. Herscherik had clearly said that.
Soleil knew to whom he was referring. There was Baron Armin, the children at the orphanage, and the victims of the drug. He couldn’t resolve this case, which would undoubtedly lead to future incidents.
Herscherik apologized over and over again. He was by no means the bad guy. Rather, the worst guy here would be himself: the king who didn’t even try to fulfill his duties.
“There’s nothing you need to apologize for Hersche. You did well.”
Although the target of his words wasn’t conscious, Soleil couldn’t help but say it. He continued to gently brush the boy’s head, wiping away his small tears.
Soleil remained in the room until Herscherik’s fever dropped and his breathing became softer. In the end, by the time the king left the room, the morning sun had already risen in the sky.