10 – The Opening Ceremony (Part Three of Three)
I’d always thought that I knew what it was like, that I knew what awaited me when I stood on a stage and looked down.
Anyone who ruled over some extension of territory would, naturally, run into many situations wherein they found themselves talking about some subject or another to a whole group of people.
Those people were, however, generally nothing more than soldiers and villagers. In others words, those beneath the ruling class.
Put anyone of higher note in their place, and suddenly the situation felt much heavier. I briefly wondered if the crown prince, Eric, and even Grays had to go through this all the time, and Emilia… well, she would probably have to suffer through this for the rest of her days.
These were the children of noble families. There was a clear distinction to be made between them and the common masses, both in their positions and the awareness they held. With their refinement and level of scholarship, it wasn’t a stretch to say that they were the children with the most ‘awareness’ out of any social strata. These children would, in the near future, be polished and refined into the cogs that made the wheels of this enormous kingdom turn.
The wavering and flexing of the emotions and willpower they expressed was nothing to sniff at.
It wasn’t my intent to belittle or write off any of my subjects. It was simply that I could grasp the clear differences splayed out in front of me.
It struck me then that the only ones able to watch them being shaken by waves of bewilderment without so much as a twitch to their expressions were the same people that stood atop all of them. And I… I was meant to be of those who would raise Emilia up to that very position.
When the title she held finally left the crown prince’s lips, the crowded halls began to ripple and stir in a loud ruckus. The expressions I could see from the stage were, to put in one way, harsh. I could see that people weren’t even willing to accept the simple truth that she existed, and let out a small sigh in lamentation.
The atmosphere hadn’t been quite so thick with impending danger back in the game. I noted that I still had to keep Emilia away from any instance or manner of battle, and that I had no idea just how much different it would be doing so in the game and doing so for real.
As far as her perspective was concerned, the only thing that she knew for certain had changed was the state of war itself; two countries had become friendlier with each other and had come to make an arrangement for peace as equal as could be managed. That said, it was peace born from the complete defeat of one side and an imposition made upon the other.
The reasons behind the distaste were, more likely then not, due to the abhorrent and inhumane tactics Lindharl had employed towards the end of the war. They had intervened in the disputes of other lands, solely to hunt and gather slaves, and had even mobilised them as soldiers. It was the manner in which they operated that had the most profound impact on what would come next.
If only they’d abstained from doing as such, then Arxis-Lindharl relations would have been somewhat more mellow. They wouldn’t have festered into the seething distaste it was now.
“Her Ladyship Emilia is a symbol of peace. Our kingdom has bonded with Lindharl, and to prove that our new alliance is just and true, Her Highness will join us in the spread of knowledge. In other words… you may consider this a diplomatic event.”
The crown prince paid no mind to the state of the hall, indifferently and matter-of-factly sharing with them what needed to be explained. The unsure air from before made shifted into a tense one, especially for the older students and those that had come from the more affluent houses upon their realisation that there had been a change in the diplomatic relations of Arxia itself.
The kingdom of Arxia, which until now had been a single whole, wasn’t alien to the idea of forming allegiances with large neighbouring countries. And of course, if people were able to do the same as Emilia, namely to leave and enter other countries, then even more instances would present themselves wherein Arxians could enter another countries, either for observation or with the prospect of invasion.
Diplomatic matters would no longer be relegated to those under the archduke family, surely. It was clear that those capable of being guided in such issues of political intrigue would be the nobility of our generation.
“The tragedies that have torn our two lands apart have been tied back together, all through peace. Now, as two lands that stand equal, we will act as virtuously and without shame, just as our nobles should. I must ask that you all remember to act in a way befitting the gravity that comes with diplomacy.”
The crown prince’s words held a strong, rigid ring to them. It was at odds with his usual, gentle demeanour.
The silence was incomplete and peppered with distant whispers, and the chilling atmosphere around us that reached to the depths of the hall itself was a good fit for a spring night. Even when the crown prince closed his mouth and ceased his speech, no one seemed willing to move just yet. It was almost as if they had been frozen in time.
“…Sir Dean. I believe that I’ve said what I must.”
“Ah… certainly, yes. Oh… tell the orchestra to begin playing.”
Finally, at the invitation of the slightly awkward crown prince, the dean allowed the opening ceremony to begin. Music swept from stringed instruments, as if meaning to untangle the forcibly congealed air we found ourselves in, and the crown prince guided Emilia to the centre of the hall, where room had almost frantically been made by the students.
The first melody and dance, considered the highpoint of these nightly gatherings, was often reserved for the highest sponsoring authority to dance. As this party had been sponsored by the academy itself and therefore eschewed any such status, it wasn’t at all off-putting that the crown prince and Emilia would bear the burden.
Realising that my true role would only now come into play, I steeled my nerves. An exchange of looks between Sieghart and myself was the signal. We split of into two groups, careful to draw as little attention as possible, then moved close to the walls to follow after the crown prince.
Emilia moved in tandem with the thrum of the music, the hem of her dress matching the large steps she took and gracefully sliding and fluttering across the floor. The pale yellow of her dress could almost be mistaken for white, and only the lower fringes of what she wore was in the purple-and-blue colours that made up the flag of her homeland, like the sky at daybreak.
Just as I’d thought, it grabbed people’s attention. There was some cheer, though it was reserved and fleeting, but the overall impression remained softened.
…The reason I’d imposed the image of the Emilia I’d found in the game onto reality as I had, I thought, was to make her story progress as closely as it had to its plot. It was a selfish wish on my part, and I could already feel the first hints of guilt pooling in my chest.
It was guilt at being one of the reasons that had driven Lindharl so far into a corner that they had been forced to resort to the inhuman tactics that now made them so despised… or perhaps it was guilt at being the largest reason for it. I felt guilt at the selfish desire that all the responsibility and burden would shift to that one, powerless girl.