< Running Away from the Hero! Side Stories – A certain imperial princess’s reminiscence (15) >
#19 Their circumstances: A certain villain’s circumstance.
While staring at a piece of white paper, I couldn’t help but groan at length.
It might seem like an ordinary piece of paper to you but, in reality, it’s a secret letter written in code sent by the organisation.
While the first half was filled with praises for my actions, the second half was full of passionate writing about the consequences of my potential betrayal.
If I was to summarise it, it’d be something like, ‘Don’t even think that you can live in peace in this continent if you betray us’.
“I’m not a fan of this type of aggroing, though…”
Some among the still active spies of the organisation definitely possessed noble titles. However, most of them had been a part of the organisation from the very beginning or had received its help to become nobles later on.
A case like mine, where someone was suddenly granted a peerage, was practically unheard of in the organisation’s history.
Obviously, receiving peerage indicated that you have performed meritorious service for the empire’s cause.
However, what was the ultimate goal of the villainous organisation, Howling? Wasn’t it to topple the empire and regain the lost former glory?
Even if it was for the purpose of infiltrating the imperial court, the organisation would never do something that directly aided the empire.
But here’s the little old me, doing something that massively helped the empire out!
Even those oh-so-wonderful geniuses praised me for the incredible discovery that’d go on to change the established paradigm of warfare, didn’t they!
Thankfully, my overzealous persuasion managed to keep the organisation’s threats to only this much. I argued that my flabbergast-inducing theory could only be brought to reality through the Imperial Princess’s genius-level intellect.
If I had failed to convince them, then I might have ended up assassinated by the organisation even though I was one of their assassins, to begin with!
“Gee whiz, I wanna quit this crap as soon as possible.”
Some parts of the secret letter contained the evaluation of my first batch of disciples. And the results were quite eye-catching, alright.
They said that my disciples were destined to become the greatest talents in the history of Howling! To think these kids trained for only one year were evaluated even better than the agents who had been active since the beginning!
Good going, my disciples!
Keep it up, and help to raise the evaluation of your teacher, me, to much greater heights!
Only then will I be able to return and get my old job back as the instructor!
You see, your dear teacher is currently being tortured in a den of evil even more treacherous than the villainous organisation, also known as the imperial court!
-This is your comeuppance, sir.
-Even for the sake of your juniors, maybe you should spend the rest of your life in that place…?
It kinda felt like I heard the voices of my disciples just now. However, there was simply no way they’d be here with me in this place.
I probably imagined hearing things since my condition lately hadn’t been so good.
There was no way that my kind disciples would utter such cruel and evil-sounding things to me.
“Today was yet another fruitless waste of time, huh.”
After setting the letter alight to destroy all evidence, I climbed into my bed to get some shut-eye.
Being a direct subordinate of the Imperial Princess meant that every day was a pain in the neck. But my life here was made just a bit more comfortable than regular butlers as I was given a private suite and a really comfy bed. That was about it, though.
If the first bed I used right after entering the imperial court was like coffee from a vending machine, then my current bed was like Star*ucks!
Although, you shouldn’t worry about the taste and just compare their pricing, which will make it easier for you to understand the comparison.
“How would I have survived without this healing time for myself~.”
This bed was slightly too large for one person, but two people could’ve squeezed in just fine. And rolling around on such a bed at the end of the day was my brief but important break time.
That’s why I will not forgive anyone who dares to interrupt my well-deserved rest!
“Didn’t I say I won’t forgive you?!”
The moment I finished saying that to myself, someone knocked on my damn door. To think that someone would knock on the door of a single man in the middle of the night!
This is making me really nervous, you know?
Isn’t it like, they are looking for me because of some unsavoury incident or something has happened?
“Sir Ast… Are you in?”
That slightly shaky voice sounded way too familiar for my liking.
“No, I’m not in, Dame Reia.”
“Ah, I see. Apologies for bothering you… W-wait a minute, that’s not it! You’re in your room, aren’t you?!”
I figured that it’d be easy enough to fool Dame Reia since, well, it’s her and all. Unfortunately for me, though, she seemed to have realised it was me after walking away for about three steps or so.
“S-sir Ast? Is it possible for you to spare me a few moments of your time?”
“N-no hesitation whatsoever?! A-all I need is just a few moments, sir!”
“Pretending to be asleep won’t work, sir!”
“I told you, it won’t work! N-no, wait! Before that, if you’re trying to pretend, at least do it more convincingly, will you!”
“Kyaaa~aahk! Help, an esteemed daughter of a noble house is trying to invade the room of an unmarried man!”
“Something about that sounds all wrong, but anyway, it’s useless, sir! I knew Sir Ast might try something like this, so I already cast a soundproof barrier to ensure that no noise will leak outside!”
“What do you even mean by that?!”
“You even cut off all sounds from leaking out?!
What are you planning to do to this weak and vulnerable me, Dame Reia?!”
“E-even if I missed the right timing for my marriage, I, I still have opportunities left, I’ll have you know! Besides, students educated in academies or currently serving knights do get married even past the age of 25, too! N-no, before all that! I’d rather stay single for the rest of my life instead of preying on you, Sir Ast!”
Dame Reia shouted back at me with a voice filled with such conviction.
Excuse me?! If you say the last part with such conviction, that’s gonna leave a scar in my heart, you know!
To declare so confidently that you’d never prey on me and all?!
“…Fine. What brings you here?”
Since she managed to inflict a bit of a wound on me, I wanted to bully her back some more, so I opened the door a little and peeked my head outside.
Bullying someone while staring at their face was the best, after all.
With a slightly awkward face, she pushed forward a piece of document-like paper. If you thought about it as this world’s A4 paper, then it’d be easy enough for you to understand its size and intended purpose.
“Is this supposed to be your report, ma’am?”
Seeing how Dame Reia was ever so sneakily avoiding my direct stare, I could more or less figure out what compelled her to show up in front of my room.
She must’ve failed to solve the ‘homework’ our dear First Imperial Princess gave her earlier today and sought me out for my expertise.
“However, why does it have to be me, Dame Reia?!”
“H-Her Highness decreed that I must not receive the assistance of other people, and that’s why…”
“In that case, why me?”
“Sir Ast is an exception.”
What’s this? Why was I an exception? Wait, could this be that sneaky Imperial Princess’s trap?!
A trap of that princess to make me work even more?
Even if that’s true, I gotta teach Dame Reia of all people?!
“Why am I an exception, ma’am?”
“Well, Her Highness doesn’t treat you like a human being, that’s why.”
I almost fainted right there and then from Dame Reia’s unexpected precision strike.
What made it even more painful was that she wasn’t even aiming to hurt me in the first place. She was simply being honest!
What’s this? What’s up with her pure, innocent eyes looking at me with such concern?!
That’s hurting me even more, so stop looking at me like that!
“… Do your best, Dame Reia.”
“N-no, wait a minute!”
I bade her farewell and quickly tried to close the door. As expected of a swordmaster, however – with a blindly-quick movement, she shoved her hand past the door’s open gap and stopped me from closing the door.
“You might have cast a soundproof barrier to stop noises from leaking out, but people can still see you, can’t they?! A grown-up lady acting this way will not leave a good impression, ma’am!”
“Well, in that case, there might soon be a huge rumour circulating, then! Sir Ast and I, as a couple! When that happens, surely my older brother will become significantly interested in you, too. Sir Ast!”
I did feel this back when she was fighting the heavenly sword, but seriously now, why am I still getting the feeling that she’s growing leaps and bounds in the wrong direction?!
“As an aside, my family? Our house is a marquess household! I repeat, a marquess household!”
A marquess? Below the emperor was grand duke, then duke and right below that was marquess!
Not only that, wasn’t her family one of the Ten Absolute Families, an entity as mighty as the sky itself to people like me calling the imperial court their home?!
“If you obediently open this door and agree to consult me, then Sir Ast, I believe no large scale calamity will befall you.”
“N-no large scale calamity, you say…”
“My house might be a family of soldiers, but my father walks a different path from the previous heads of the family. Yes, it’s as you have guessed it, he’s the chancellor of this nation! One of the closest confidante of His Majesty, no less!”
“I-it can’t be?!”
“The reason why I serve Her Highness is all because of my father’s influence! Yes, that’s right. Just one letter from my father, then never mind baron, Sir Ast, you might even become a viscount right away!”
I was left with no choice but to admit my defeat.
Just by being a measly little baron, I was already under the intense scrutiny of the imperial court and the organisation. So, how awful would the trials and tribulations besieging me be once I become a viscount?
The threat of the organisation trying to assassinate me would surely go up, while the nobles of the imperial court would surely start whispering behind my back whenever they see my figure. Not only that, people who consider me their political opponent or a means to climb their career ladder would start buzzing around me even more than ever!
As for that rumour circulating within the maids and butlers, the one about ‘Viscount Ast is actually an illegitimate child of a high-ranking noble’? At this rate, it’d gain a few new unsavoury aspects without a doubt.
I dearly, truly did not want to deal with the aftermaths of such an event.
“…Please, come inside.”
“But, I’m already inside, Sir Ast?” Dame Reia quickly closed the door shut before anyone could witness her, then scanned the interior of my room with a surprised face. “Unexpectedly, it’s a lot cleaner than I thought.”
“What do you mean, unexpectedly? Ma’am, butlers have to be clean and neat at all times.”
My job was to clean up the messes left behind Her Highness as well as this woman, Dame Reia.
Other members of the imperial family had specific maids assigned to take care of their mess. However, the Imperial Princess terrified the palace’s maids so much that they had to work in monthly rotational shifts.
“Alright, now… Which part has gotten you stuck, ma’am?” I sighed softly after my only rest period had gone down the drain.
The one responsible, Dame Reia, smiled sheepishly with an expression that said she was sorry. “My apologies, Sir Ast. But this was so difficult and all…”
“Well, it’s you we’re talking about, after all.”
“What… what is the meaning of your attitude, sir!”
“Dame Reia, I’d wager that your initial suspicion of my attitude was right on the money all along.”
She tutted unhappily at my retort, but the person in a tight spot right now was Reia, not me. She seemed to be well aware of this fact because she quickly got down to the main topic at hand. “From the beginning, Sir Ast.”
Regardless of what, she was acknowledged as the continent’s youngest swordmaster, so wasn’t that revelation just too irresponsible of her?!
“What do you mean, from the beginning?! Are you trying to tell me you can’t think of anything? Not even one thing?”
“Why are you nodding your head as if it’s only par for the course?!” A powerful migraine began assaulting my head just then. “…I’ve already told Her Highness my opinion on the matter.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that. I was there, too.”
“And I don’t have any other opinion to offer besides that one, you see?”
My opinion was based more or less on my impression of how the First World War began.
Well, sure. The event in question was different from the Sarajevo incident where the culprit was apprehended right after the brazen assassinations of the royals. However, it did bless me with something to talk about, didn’t it?
“D-don’t you have any other opinion on the matter, Sir Ast?”
“Yes, I do not.”
I might be a liberal arts graduate, but my former school didn’t teach us world history. All I knew was some general knowledge-level stuff since I never dived in too deeply into this subject.
“If this matter reaches the ears of my father, I… I will be too ashamed to even speak to him, Sir Ast.”
Oh, and you aren’t too ashamed to speak to him now? Obviously, I couldn’t say that out aloud.
This was my room. Even I couldn’t tell how low the imperial court’s evaluation of me would fall if my bullying caused her to run out of my room in tears.
No, hang on a second. Never mind falling evaluation, every lady knight of the imperial court might gang up and beat me half to death first.
As such, the best course of action right now would be to just say whatever was necessary and make her get out of here, pronto!
“In that case, how about writing this and that?”
“This and that? Such as?” Dame Reia suddenly started staring at me with her eyes visibly sparkling away.
Yup, as expected. She’s a… good kid.
There was a certain pleasure in stepping on the fresh pure-white snow falling in the middle of Winter that no one else had the chance to walk on just yet.
All things pure and white in existence were meant to be dyed in darkness eventually, after all.
“Alright, so. Like this, this, this, and this. Aaand in here, this, this…”
While feeling like a certain ten-year-old girl who was called a genius in Korean Chess, I repeated the word ‘this’ multiple times during my diligent guidance of Dame Reia.
“It’s finished! But, uhm… wait, isn’t this basically the same thing as what you already said, Sir Ast?!”
“It’s fine. Fine, I say. Look, the wording is all different.”
“No, it’s not fine at all! There’s no way Her Highness wouldn’t notice this!”
“Of course she will notice it.”
I’d have believed you if you told me that that little kid of an Imperial Princess possessed the memories of her past life like me.
The wording might have been changed a bit, but the contents were exactly the same, so that kid would obviously see through the report in a heartbeat.
“But Dame Reia, what’s important to you right now is that this report will reach your family, isn’t it? As long as it’s good enough not to embarrass the prestige of your family, then it will be fine.”
“T-that is true, but still…”
If I was being honest, I couldn’t care any less even if I tried.
Come tomorrow, I’d have to re-navigate the life in the imperial court filled with more annoying matters. So, I simply couldn’t afford to give up on my precious and rare healing time like this.
As such, I relied on the time-worn technique of Talk-no-Jutsu to convince the unhappy-looking Dame Reia and made her retreat from my room.
And I’d come to bitterly regret my decision a few months later.
#20 Their circumstances: A certain noble family’s circumstance.
“This… my Reia wrote this?”
“Actually, she said that the exclusive butler working alongside her for Her Highness lent his aid in compiling this report, father.”
Currently, two men were staring at a five-page report while racking their brains.
“You fool, that’s not important right now! Reia… That child, Reia, she… Even if she received outside help, she actually went and wrote up a five-page report! Five pages!”
“Sniff… Yes, you’re correct, father. Not just any report, but one written with commendable effort and content, too!”
“If something like this was possible, we wouldn’t have been put through such a wringer in the first place, correct?”
“Yes, father. You’re correct.”
Here were the head of the Areis family and his successor, tearing up emotionally while staring at Reia’s report. Not just any family, but one of the Ten Absolute Families that served the current emperor and his most beloved First Imperial Princess, no less!
“My Reia… Reia who is basically an idiot in everything else besides swordsmanship, she…”
The head of the Areis Family, who was sometimes referred to as the Iron-blooded Chancellor, started shedding thick drops of tears right there and then.
“Father, this is an opportunity.”
“What do you mean, son?”
“Let’s use this opportunity to… get her hitched, father.”
The one saying these words was Reia’s older brother, the successor of the Areis family.
Regel lil Areis stared at his father with a very serious expression.
“Son, do you believe he will be a good match to Reia’s status?”
“He started off as a commoner. But in less than three years, his ability allowed him to reach the peerage of baron, father. And he’s also the closest confidante of Her Highness the First Imperial Princess.”
“Even if that’s the case…”
“He even made Reia use her head, father. May I remind you, no one in our household has managed to achieve that impossible feat, father!”
“And also… father, are you saying that you still hold hope for Reia’s prospects?”
“This is a heaven-sent opportunity, father. Since they have spent so much time together, he must be well aware of what Reia’s nature is really like. As such, he probably is under no grand delusion, meaning his… ‘shock’ would not be as drastic.” Regel continued to state his case.
As the patriarch of the Areis Family and the caring father of Reia lil Areis, the family head had to carefully weigh his options over and over again. Eventually, he…
“Yes, let’s get her engaged to that man.”
…He decided to trust the opinion of his successor.