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 < Running Away from the Hero! Side Stories – A certain imperial princess’s reminiscence (16) >

 

 

“Ahahahaha, what is this? No, really. What is this?”

Making Ast my exclusive butler was worth all the trouble.

Before he became my underling, I probably laughed once or twice in a year. Maybe.

But after he came under my wing, I now enjoyed opportunities to laugh out loud like this.

“This is the best morning ever! There has never been a more entertaining day in my life than today!”

That’s right, today had to be one of the most entertaining days in my entire life.

“First thing first, it seems that congratulations are in order, Reia. You’re finally getting married.”

“Y-your Highness…”

A peal of laughter burst out of my mouth as I stared at the crumpled expressions of Reia and Ast. I didn’t even bother to hide my amusement.

“This is so entertaining regardless of how many times I read it! It says, ‘We wish to press on ahead with the engagement of Your Highness’s exclusive knight, Reia lil Areis, to Your Highness’s exclusive butler, Ast du Lilac’. I have to say, Marquess Areis sure is something else, alright.”

To think that a mere letter could amuse me to this degree!

What an unexpected entertainment this was.

“Your Highness, we beg of you to reject this proposal.”

“I should? But why? Isn’t this the ‘problem’ of the House Areis and the individual named Ast?”

“As long as you reject it, this matter will be dealt with in one fell swoop, Your Highness.”

“Sir Ast is correct, Your Highness!”

Both of them were staring at me with such desperation on their faces.

This is fun. So, so much fun! I simply cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity!

“Oh, ooooh! As expected of the couple of the century! Trying to pressure me in perfect sync!”

I began applauding them while laughing my head off, causing their expressions to become truly wretched and pitiful.

“So, when is the engagement ceremony? Oh, wait. You will hold the marriage ceremony as well, won’t you? You two must invite me to the occasion, you hear me? Because I wish to offer my blessing and congratulations on your shared future.”

“Your Highness…”

Reia would usually start tearing up by now, but at least for today, she was making a deadly serious face.

“Congratulations, Reia. It seems that your worries are about to be taken care of for good.”

“No, I do not want this, Your Highness. Instead of marrying Sir Ast, I’ll rather stay single for the rest of my life.”

“Not sure what I did to deserve such an evaluation in the first place, and I don’t know why Dame Reia is the one making it, but regardless of what, I share her sentiment as well, Your Highness. Me, getting married to Dame Reia? Unless I’m still single by the age of 78, such a thing will not pass. No. Utterly impossible!”

“What do you even mean by that?! And besides all that, what is up with the strange restriction of remaining single until 78?! Doesn’t that mean you will have no choice but to marry me when you turn 78?”

“Correct, Dame Reia. That’s why you should patiently wait until I’m 78.”

“I will not be patient about anything!”

“Heeeek?! Does that mean you are going to jump on me before that?!”

“Are you really trying to fool around even in our current situation, Sir Ast?!”

“But, uh, I was being dead serious?”

“That makes it even worse, you know!!!”

“Ahahaha~!!!”

Were these idiots trying to kill me by making me laugh too hard? I was having trouble breathing from my laughter spilling over.

“Ahahaha, this is the best! I’m actually tearing up from laughing so hard, too! This has to be the first time that happened to me!”

Just when was the last time I shed tears of laughter like this!

“Yes, sending Reia’s report to the House Areis was the best decision I could’ve made.”

“And trusting Sir Ast with compiling my report was the worst decision in my life, Your Highness!”

“It’s all my fault, Your Highness. I had no idea that Dame Reia’s family was this desperate to get her out of their hair by marrying her off…!”

Ast and Reia started bickering again, and I quietly observed their heated arguments.

On one side, we had Reia, who was proudly a klutz. On the other side was Ast, who was proud to be an evil bastard.

If the two of them got together and had a child… who would that child resemble the most?

Reia? Ast? Could that child be blessed with Reia’s talent in swordsmanship but cursed with Ast’s personality?

A genuine powerhouse on the level of a swordmaster with Ast’s personality, was it?

…Wasn’t that, like, on the level of a calamity?

“I’ll think about it just a little bit more, alright?”

“Your Highness, please! You must reject this proposal!”

The continent’s state of affairs was already unstable due to the war between the Madesen Kingdom and its neighbour, Helkas.

Since I’ve managed to enjoy myself thoroughly by now, I should at least try to prevent the birth of yet another calamity.

“Well, I’ll just reject it with an appropriate-sounding excuse. However, you mustn’t come to regret this decision later, Reia. Understand?”

“Not! In! A million years! Your Highness, that will never happen!”

I felt deeply rueful at how firm Reia’s resolve seemed to be, then began writing the letter of refusal to Marquess Areis containing my disappointment.

“But Reia, isn’t it fine to wait another week or so before coming to a hasty decision?”

“No, Your Highness!”

Her visceral response meant that I had to let go of my disappointment and finish the letter. “Tch. Fine.”

Reia emitting this unexplainable pressure made sure I finished the letter for real. A maidservant was called to deliver the finished letter.

By tomorrow, Marquess Areis should receive my letter that details how disappointed I was in refusing this marriage proposal.

That’s what should have happened, but then…

I had to ask Ast just to make sure. “What did you say you received, again?!”

“A request for a duel, Your Highness.”

“L-lies! Are you telling us the truth, Sir Ast?! Did you really receive such a thing?!”

Ast had to pop in the imperial court for official business post-lunch and returned with a request for a duel in tow.

“Sooo… a duel for Reia’s hand in marriage, is it?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Your opponent is?”

“Unexpectedly, he’s not a knight, Your Highness. It’s Viscount Pereis from the Foreign Affairs.”

“Be more specific, Ast. Surely you must’ve finished investigating him by now?”

“Of course. I proceeded to question not just maids and ladies-in-waiting, but also several scions of esteemed noble families who were participating in social gatherings in the palace to acquire all the pertinent information, Your Highness.

“Viscount Pereis del Pyukhes. Age, twenty-three. Acknowledged by the Foreign Affairs for his excellent abilities. Even the evaluation of his peers is good. His only minus point, as far as I can tell, is his poor eyesight that made him pine for Dame Reia.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me, you know?!”

Reia’s voice became several decibels louder, but I decided to ignore her altogether. That’s not important right now, after all!

“Ast, hurry! Go and retrieve the letter I gave to the maid, right away!”

“No need for that, Your Highness!” Ast confidently replied.

Something incredibly entertaining was about to happen here, so I could not afford to let it end with my ill-advised letter like this.

“I’ve already retrieved it, you see.”

“S-Sir Ast?!”

“Nice work, Ast!”

As expected of a man with quick wits and an even quicker response time!

“Very good. When will the duel take place?”

“Later in the afternoon today, Your Majesty. We promised to meet after we are finished with our respective duties.”

“The location?”

“Although I couldn’t ask for your permission, we’ve chosen to borrow the very same spot as when we encountered the Heavenly Sword gramps.”

“Excellent decision, Ast. And now, we will get to spectate on this wonderful spectacle by ourselves only.”

“It seems so, Your Highness. Fufufu.”

“Isn’t this perfect, Ast?”

“Y-Your Highness? Sir Ast?!”

Ast and I were leisurely enjoying Reia’s flustered expression.

I spoke up first. “Well, we don’t have anything urgent to do, so why don’t we quickly finish up and head to the promised duel location?”

“Agreed, Your Highness. As Dame Reia’s fiancé, I certainly cannot keep a potential challenger waiting!”

Ast’s bold declaration caused Reia to yell in despair. “Just who is whose fiancé?!”

 

#21 Their circumstances: A certain villain’s circumstance.

 

“Hmhmhm, hmmhmm~~.”

While we were headed to the duel location, Dame Reia continued to shoot me a deeply dissatisfied glare. However, I paid no mind to her sharp glare. That’s because I was too preoccupied with recalling this morning’s events.

What a fresh experience that was.

The action of taking off one’s glove and tossing it at the face of your opponent! The knights’ way of demanding a duel! Kyah~! Isn’t that so cool?

Of course, if that glove was meant for me, I’d have never let that glove hit me. Indeed, I’d have used everything in my arsenal to dodge it.

Every single knight affiliated with the imperial court were among the very best within the whole empire.

If I make one mistake and get hit by their sword strike, I’d lose my life for sure. What insane reasons did I have to fight against such geniuses, I ask you!

On top of this, the majority of the knights in this place were geniuses who received a crap ton of magical energy correction and addition since their birth.

None of them had reached the realm of the ‘swordmaster’ yet, but you didn’t need to resort to sword aura to defeat someone like me.

Whether it was sword aura or sword ki, dying from getting hit was a certainty, after all.

But the moment I saw who the opponent was… no, more specifically, the moment I recognised the badge symbolising the Foreign Affairs attached to his clothing…!

I boldly allowed myself to get hit by the flying glove.

“I request you for a duel, Baron Ast du Lilac. Sir!”

My heart began racing away. What could possibly be the reason for this man throwing a challenge in my face?

Well, when thinking about it, there should be quite a lot of justifications. However, the most recent news that could have caused it…!

“If I emerge victorious from this duel, sir, I shall have you annul your engagement to Dame Reia!”

Oh, oooooh! I had my fingers crossed, and my wish came true!

This man was really challenging me for the right to Dame Reia’s hand!

“Understood, sir.”

“You’re different from the rumours I’ve heard, Baron Ast…” The man’s expression shifted a little at my respectful attitude.

Of course I had no choice but to be respectful.

Here was a man who could very well be the last ray of hope for my dear colleague, after all!

“I am Viscount Pereis del Pyukhes from the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Forgive me for my rudeness as I heard from the rumours that you were a disrespectful and dishonourable man, sir.”

He bowed his head slightly in an elegant manner to apologise, but huh, his gesture made me feel like I was the one in the wrong for some reason.

So, this is an agent from the Foreign Affairs, eh? No, wait a minute. Before all that, where did he hear all those baseless rumours from?

Could it be the fault of the Imperial Princess? Just as I thought, was that little kid responsible for spreading all sorts of unsavoury rumours about me everywhere?!

Without that explanation, it made no sense that someone like me, an upstanding law-abiding citizen, would suffer from such weird rumours!

“It’s quite alright. I accept your apology, Sir Pereis.”

With the sharp-as-lightning movement taught by the organisation, I bowed politely to accept the viscount’s apology.

After this exchange, we discussed things like the time and the location of the duel. Once he left, though, I quickly walked around here and there to gather information, then confiscated the Imperial Princess’s letter entrusted to a maid for the delivery. That way, I should be able to prevent any unexpected accidents.

If the pretext of the engagement were to evaporate into thin air, that viscount or rather might just apologise to me and cancel the duel altogether, after all!

“Oh…”

“Hmm, Reia, he looks normal, outwardly at least.”

“H-he should also be normal inside as well, Your Highness…” Dame Reia complained in a hushed tone of voice.

The sunset dyed in the crimson glow slowly bathed us.

And the one making his entrance with such a gorgeous sunset as his background was Viscount Pereis. The man I’ve been waiting for.

He had handsome facial features that gave off a favourable impression, while his brown hair gave off a crimson glow from the setting sun behind him.

If we excluded the minus point of his yearning for Dame Reia, then he certainly came across as a charismatic individual.

“This one has requested for a duel with a direct subordinate serving you without prior notice, Your Highness. For this, I offer my sincerest apologies, ma’am.”

“Nah, it’s all good.”

The viscount went down on one knee to express courtesy to the best of his abilities but the Imperial Princess simply made an expression that more or less said, ‘I get it already, so shut up and present me with something bloody exciting!’

“This servant is sincerely grateful for your leniency, Your Highness. And also… Dame Reia?”

“Y-yes?!”

Even if she had the excuse of the crimson sunset casting its glow on her face, Dame Reia’s complexion was still noticeably flushed. She squirmed just a little while looking back at Viscount Pereis.

“I can only… apologise to you for revealing my intentions in this way, Dame Reia.”

“N-no, it’s alright…”

Sure, this was a pretty romantic sight, but hmm. Looking at Dame Reia’s current expression, I couldn’t help but get the urge to bully her some more.

I had to pinch my thigh really hard to prevent my laughter from jumping out of my mouth, but it was impossible to tell just how long I could hold on for.

And seeing how the Imperial Princess’s lips were quivering so faintly like that, she seemed to be holding back her laughter, too.

Once the duel’s over, I better bully Dame Reia real good.

“And you, Sir Ast. My apologies, but Dame Reia… I shall have her back from you!”

The Imperial Princess gasped out. “Oh, ohhhh!”

Truly commendable. To think that you could make that little princess react like this!

Something like this is almost unheard of, you know!

Weeeell, she did make a similar sound after hearing about the news of the House Areis forcibly engaging Dame Reia to me, but still!

“It’s alright, sir.” If we left this man alone, he’d keep apologising nonstop until the night came down on us. So, I slowly unsheathed my sword and addressed him. “I’ve already accepted your challenge, so it’s time for us to converse through our blades.”

“Indeed, sir.”

My opponent copied me and quietly drew his sword as well.

Alright, so. From now on, my job was to fight back at a moderate level and act like a hot-blooded idiot that keeps telling the opponent to give up on Reia. And once the dear viscount counters with a deeply embarrassing remark or two, I’d use that corny line to bully Dame Reia for the next month or so.

I mean, really. Let’s be serious here. This was the Foreign Affairs Ministry we’re talking about. Unless he was a protagonist, there was no way our dear viscount was a powerful existence. Right?

There shouldn’t be unexpected events like a hidden swordmaster finally announcing himself or something crazy like that, right?

“Huh…”

…That’s what I had been thinking, but after exchanging a few moves with him, I had to chuck my plans outside the window. Not because he suddenly unleashed the sword aura and pounced on me, though.

Actually, just one swing of the sword from the viscount was all I needed to realise that… he was a novice who had never wielded a sword before in his life.

Didn’t the instructor from my previous life tell me this? Never mind people who take out and swing their swords only occasionally, there were some folks who’d got ‘swung’ around by their own weapons.

The instructor told me never to accept people like that even if they wished to learn swordsmanship.

If a person was getting thrown around by the weight of a regular-sized sword and not some massive greatsword, then that was a sure sign of that person’s total lack of talents, you see!

Bloody heck, with things like this, the prospects of coaxing a cool-looking scene or two were as good as non-existent now!

In that case…

“Did you really think you’d emerge victorious against me with only this level of skill, sir viscount?”

“Keu-heuk!”

“To throw yourself to a hopeless fight! How foolish of you!”

“Keu-euhk… But… but…!”

While keeping my power in check so that the viscount wouldn’t lose his grip on the sword, I began activating my trusty Talk-no-Jutsu once more. “But this and but that, so what?”

“I… I cannot give up on Dame Reia!”

“Keu-euk?!”

When our blades collided ever so slightly, I acted as if the force managed to push me back.

“Really? You can’t give up?”

“I… I respect Dame Reia too much!”

I sneaked a glance in the direction of the Imperial Princess and Dame Reia.

The little princess seemed to have cottoned onto what I was trying to pull here, while Dame Reia looked like she was praying from the way she held her hands so nervously like that.

She probably was praying for me to lose.

“Respect? You dare to challenge me with something so pathetic?!”

I proceeded to get on his nerves bit by bit. Not yet. Just ‘respect’ alone would not give us the result good enough to satisfy everyone involved!

“Respect… no, I, I am in love with Dame Reia!”

The viscount roared that line out, then attacked me with his sword but, uh, that strike was sloppy and all over the place.

However, his declaration sounded cool, so I should give him a passing mark, at least.

“Keu-heuk!”

The moment our blades collided again, I ever so slightly twisted my wrist and deliberately allowed my sword to go flying through the air.

“…It’s my defeat, sir viscount.”

“Pant, huff… huff… wheeeeze…”

Even though we hadn’t been fighting for that long, Viscount Pereis was still sweating bullets while wheezing heavily away. Even so, I admitted my defeat to him.

He was staring in pure disbelief at his own sword.

No matter what, this seemed like an insurmountable challenge, after all. He didn’t have any talent, to begin with.

Still, you should stop staring so dazedly at your sword, you know? Especially while making a face that said, “Since when did I have this level of talent in me?”

I mean, I was going easy on you this whole time, so for you to not realise that? Now that takes some special talent, alright.

“My… victory… keu-euk…”

The dear viscount tried to raise his sword and assume a gallant-looking pose, but he seemed to have exhausted all of his stamina to pull something like that off.

He couldn’t even deal with the sword’s weight and began staggering before toppling over.

“V-Viscount Pereis!”

Seeing the panicking Reia rushing up to Pereis, I was cruelly reminded once more of the simple fact that being work colleagues meant nothing in this day and age.

“Ast, that acting you put your heart and soul into? That was magnificent.”

“Although it was tougher than it looked… with this, our Dame Reia now has hope for her future, Your Highness.”

“Indeed. You also think so?”

It was faint, but I could definitely see some pinkish aura emanating from the couple over yonder. The Imperial Princess and I watched this scene play out with deeply proud expressions on our faces.

Pereis del Pyukhes.

Dame Reia’s first lover and also her last, at least to my memories…

And he was also the culprit responsible for dragging the empire into the theatre of the continent-wide war.

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