< Evade the Hero and Flee! Side Stories – A certain imperial princess’s reminiscence (17) >
#22 Their circumstance: A certain villain’s circumstance
The way to work today was just as unpleasant as ever. While trudging past the imperial palace’s corridors, I ran into Dame Reia humming joyously away to herself.
Seeing her cheery, airy steps, I couldn’t help but ask her. “You seem to be having fun lately?”
We spent the majority of a day next to each other, so I figured there was no need for a formal greeting. And that’s why I just chucked that question in her way, but…
“Ah… Well… Somehow, yes.”
During my last few years in the imperial court, I seldom saw her get this bashful before. The way she answered me with a happy-embarrassed face made me think, ‘I see, live long enough, and you’ll eventually see your own Spring arrive…’
Huh. Huhhuhhuh! Dame Reia, dating someone!
It’s been only just over three years and not some unaccountable number of decades since I stepped foot in the imperial court. However, the news of Dame Reia’s romance was still more than enough to give me the feeling that the world has somehow transformed.
“How is your family responding to this situation?”
“I beg your pardon? Why do you ask? Wait, could it be that… Sir Ast, are you regretting your decision now?”
Oh-hoh? Does a person transform into a new being when they have room to breathe? To think that Dame Reia would try to tease me like this. The sun might rise from the west tomorrow morning or something!
In that case, I should kindly go along with her efforts, then!
“Uh? Mm? Ehng?”
She looked kinda adorable, getting flustered like that. If only she constantly displayed that side of her, she wouldn’t have been rejected so badly until now…
“Eiiii~! Sir Ast, you’re so~…”
…The moment I thought that to myself, an opportunity for me to cancel that immediately arose.
While making that bashful but happy face, she took a swipe with her arm, but the wind noise generated sounded… rather concerning.
The sound of a solid object scything through the air suddenly rushed at me. The moment I heard the noise generated by the power capable of destroying everything, I instinctively ducked lower to evade Dame Reia’s incoming ‘push’.
“Uhm, excuse me???”
I stared at the debris tumbling down from the destroyed wall behind me, sensing how close my life was to its abrupt end.
What the hell, even a ‘friendly’ little pat from a swordmaster can deal a critical hit?!
“Ah. Oops, my apologies.”
She spotted the tumbling bits of the wall and hurriedly bowed to apologise.
“N-no, Dame Reia. It’s alright…”
…To the other imperial court employees walking around nearby.
“Excuse me, Dame Reia!”
Dame Reia, it feels like your attitude towards me has taken a turn for the worse lately. Am I imagining things?!
Even though I was still standing in shock, unable to say anything, she simply grinned brightly and brushed aside as if there was nothing wrong here.
Dammit! Dame Reia has changed! She almost killed someone, but to think that she’d sweep it under the carpet with a grin!
“Sir Ast, you were trying to tease me just now, weren’t you?”
Maybe she got tricked by me one too many times? She had seen through my ruse in an instant, which was unlike her.
“Yes, I was. And Dame Reia, you just tried to murder me.”
And the cost of my actions had become way too visceral, which was completely different from how things were back in the beginning. That ‘attack’ just now would’ve broken a few ribs at best, and at worst, I’d have exited from this plane of existence altogether!
“Eiii, it was just a friendly little pat overflowing with my affection, Sir Ast.”
Holy cow. If that’s affection, then no thank you, I don’t want any of your affection for the rest of my life!
Besides all that, that punk from the foreign affairs department… Just how much was he suffering in silence that Dame Reia can brazenly spew out pure cringe like that with a straight face?
“I’m guessing that your boyfriend is already no longer a denizen of this world, then…”
While standing back up, I began offering my prayer to Dame Reia’s boyfriend, Viscount Pere… whatever his name was from foreign affairs. This time, I made sure that my prayer was 90% serious. 10% of it was still made in jest, though.
I have already analysed Mister Viscount Pere-whatshisname’s abilities from how he handled himself during our duel back then. And I was certain that he’d kick the bucket the moment he received Dame Reia’s affection.
“Sir Ast! Even if you’re jealous, you mustn’t say things like that. I mean, he was perfectly fine when he went to another kingdom for a diplomatic mission, you know…”
I was telling her the truth in my own unique way, but it seemed that Dame Reia was ever so slightly displeased by that. Even so, I couldn’t help but think, ‘She’s having the time of her life, isn’t she~?’ while looking at her pouting and complaining.
What a couple like this deserved was…!
“Go jump into a frozen lake and drown or something! That dang gopher from the foreign affairs with a name that I can’t even remember!”
Yup, cursing them out was just the medicine the doctor ordered.
“E-excuse me, Dame Reia!”
But then, right at that moment…
…A maidservant hurriedly rushed towards us from afar while calling Dame Reia’s name.
“Something like that goes against the established etiquette of the imperial court, so how come…?”
Thanks to that maid, I learned something crucial that day.
“An urgent call came from t-the Areis House for you, ma’am!”
I learned that one needed to do things in moderation, especially when it came to fooling around.
…And also the cruel lesson on there always being appropriate time and place for everything, including teasing someone.
I tilted my head at this noticeably different mood than usual.
“What’s up with this atmosphere?”
After waking up in the morning, I got ready for another day’s work with the help of ladies-in-waiting and then headed to the chamber where Reia and Ast were waiting for me. But what greeted me when I got here was a funeral-like atmosphere.
“Ast, what have you done?”
Well, it was possible for the mood to sour as that’s normal between people. But then again, the figure of way-too-quiet Ast kept bugging me. This wasn’t like him at all.
“That is, well…”
“It’s fine, Sir Ast. You are not at fault, after all.”
Reia stopped him in the middle with a grown-up smile that didn’t seem to suit her all that well. And that caused Ast to lower his head even further.
What on earth is going on here?
Ast didn’t seem to be his usual self, and the same went for Reia, too? An adult-like Reia? What kind of a combination was that?!
“Just what have you done, Ast?!”
“Your Highness, well…”
“Your Highness, Sir Ast has don’t anything this time. He simply made a slip of the tongue in jest, that’s all.”
“Just how bad was that slip of the tongue that Ast is hanging his head low like some kind of a convict?”
Ast yapped so much every day that it wouldn’t have been strange to see him get thrown into a dungeon for insulting the imperial family one of these days. So, just how big of a slip-up was it that he had to act like a convict like this?
“That is, well… Dame Reia kept bringing up her boyfriend, so I said, he should just go kill himself.”
“Mm? That sounds awfully like your usual self, though?”
For a moment there, I failed to understand what’s this all about. Ast would usually throw around such curses every day, after all.
I mean, he’s the kind of a guy to tell you the exact year and date as well as the details along the way, wasn’t he?
“…Wait, could it be?”
A thought suddenly popped up in my head, and my lips promptly clamped shut. I was initially skeptical of my guess, but it seemed like a good possibility judging from Ast’s behaviour.
“Yes, your guess is correct, Your Highness.” Reia nodded coolly to say I was right. “The Foreign Affair’s Viscount Pereis del Pyukhes was dispatched as the special envoy to the central region currently embroiled in the war between the Madesen Kingdom and the Helkas Kingdom. And he was killed in action during his mission.”
Reia spoke with an emotionless face, which wasn’t like her. And something about that… kind of scared me.
If she was sobbing like how she’d usually do, then I might have tried to console her somehow. But with how serious she was, I felt lost about what to even say to her.
Ah, so this is why Ast has been keeping his mouth shut.
“I… I see.”
“Yes. That is all.”
Even I had to stop talking at this vague yet strong pressure emanating from her, which was something I had never felt before. And Ast kept staring at the floor while looking totally like a convict, his mind probably filled with utter embarrassment and guilt. Probably.
“This incident has prompted the empire’s military to issue an emergency mobilisation order. That’s because Viscount Pereis wasn’t the only victim, Your Highness. Other diplomats and the soldiers meant to guard them were also killed, you see.”
I still found Reia’s emotionless explanations hard to take, but that wasn’t the biggest issue at the moment.
“…I’m guessing that the empire will now get involved in the war, then?”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
If Viscount Pereis had been the only victim, this incident could’ve been treated as an unfortunate ‘accident’. However, killing off all the other diplomats could only mean that they actually dared to declare war on the empire.
This lacking explanation might make you think that the empire sent diplomats to only one kingdom, but that wasn’t it. No, the empire actually sent separate teams to the instigators of this war, the Madesen and Helkas Kingdoms, and both got wiped out.
“The investigative teams haven’t been dispatched yet, I presume?”
“Yes, Your Highness. An allied kingdom near the conflict zone has promised to retrieve and deliver the remains, but… They’ve most likely already been tampered with.”
The empire’s diplomats and their entourage had been ruthlessly murdered. Sending more people over there in this situation was basically the same as increasing the number of body bags coming back home.
My father, the current emperor, would not want to suffer unnecessary losses. That’s not his character, after all.
“I see. We’ll join the war, then.”
Indeed, he was the type to slam head-first into the wall if that’s the only feasible option. He’d certainly not sit back and do nothing.
“It seems so, Your Highness.”
I sighed softly at Reia nodding once.
To think that she’d try to avoid facing her grief by throwing herself into work… That was so much like Reia, but I wished that her personality of making things worse for herself would change just a bit.
“I see… Do you know when the remains will reach the empire?”
“The exact date hasn’t been set yet, but it could be within this week at the quickest, Your Highness.”
“Is that so?”
In the next five days at the quickest, eh…?
“Do you wish to go and see?”
“No, I’m fine, Your Highness.”
I heard that the talk between Reia’s and her boyfriend’s family went well, and they were about to announce her engagement soon. That’s why I was thinking of giving her a short vacation, but Reia outright rejected it.
“Reia, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it and go. Even if the empire enters the war, my unit will be tasked with the security detail of the imperial court, anyway.”
I couldn’t go outside even if I wanted to.
Indeed, I was supposed to look after myself within the confines of the imperial court like a precious flower in a greenhouse. That’s why the subordinates under me with the task of protecting me would never see the battlefield even if the empire went to war.
With how things were, I thought it’d be fine for Reia to go and retrieve the remains of her boyfriend, but to think that she didn’t even want to do that…
“You know what, let me go!”
“What? You, Ast?”
Ast suddenly raised his hand up high to volunteer. He kind of resembled a new recruit to the army, so full of military discipline and stuff.
Reia interjected. “Sir Ast, I told you that it’s not your fault, so you don’t have to do this.”
“Nope! Please allow me to go and do this, Your Highness! I can’t even breathe properly because of this guilt gnawing at me, you see!”
Both Reia and I opened our eyes super-wide at what he said, and we spoke up at that same time.
“Ast, you can actually feel guilt?!”
“Sir Ast, you actually have a guilty conscience?!”
“Even though I haven’t said anything, but… Aren’t you two being a bit too harsh with me lately?” Ast replied with a wounded expression, which was rare for him.
I cringed at his retort and retorted right back. “Ast, there is this saying in the world.”
“What saying would that be, Your Highness?”
“You. Reap. What. You. Sow!”
To think that he’d complain about how others treat him without reflecting on his past actions!
Let’s be honest here, if Ast became a butler for another imperial family member other than me, then he would’ve been executed twelve times over for insulting the imperial family by now. He got lucky by working for me because I’m the patient one of the family.
“Hmm, I see. It’s a good idea. Besides, it’s the right thing to send someone from our camp, too. Since Reia doesn’t want to go, it won’t be such a bad idea to let Ast handle this. I mean, he was the other competitor for Reia’s hand once upon a time, no? So, how about it? Would you like to accompany him, Reia?”
I sneaked a glance in Reia’s way while saying that, but she still shook her head back at me, a bitter grin etched on her lips. I was probing her with a dangling bait of ‘Going there with Ast will make it easier for you’, but she still rejected my offer.
“Where did they say they’ll deliver the remains?”
“It’s the Peleros Kingdom that shares a border with the empire, Your Highness. As they are an allied nation, the threat level should be low.”
I nodded at Reia’s explanation, then addressed Ast. “I’ll inform the imperial court, so you go ahead and get ready to depart. The foreign affairs will also dispatch someone, so Reia, you take care of selecting the protection detail to match the size of the group.”
“And Reia, I’m asking you for one last time. Are you really not going to regret this?”
“No, I won’t, Your Highness. I’ll be fine.”
“But I won’t be. The current you is so much different than your usual self.”
“Your Highness… Although it saddens me to say the same thing as Sir Ast, aren’t you being a bit too harsh on me lately?”
“Nope. I’ve always treated you this way since forever, so it’s fine.”
Reia smiled ever so slightly. It seemed that my humour managed to get through to her.
“Your Highness, I’m your sword. My utmost priority is your safety. My personal affairs come after that. That’s why I am truly fine, ma’am.”
Reia looked back at me with eyes overflowing with unyielding belief. All I could do at that moment was to nod in silence to say that I understood. Trying to interfere any more than this would only make Reia uncomfortable, so I should stop.
“Ng, got it. I’ll just send Ast and leave it at that.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. As for him… I’ll make sure to let him go without too much pain. Please don’t worry about me too much, ma’am. I mean, someone like me will surely find another romantic partner before long. Wouldn’t you agree, Your Highness?”
Reia’s smile looked self-mocking, but her words were still enough to end our discussion on this matter.
At the time, neither I nor Reia, and not even Ast, could have imagined how things would turn out. We really didn’t know that this… was Reia’s final chance at romance.