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“Say, Gille. Dilly might be coming to my next evening party, but will you come?”
It was a fine afternoon when I asked Gille this question.
Gille blinked his eyes in surprise at my sudden question, but it seemed that he immediately understood what I was saying.
“It’s almost your birthday, isn’t it Vernoux? Congrats.”
“It’s still too early.”
“But it’s rare for Dilly to go out in public.”
“I heard that Countess Weltoria told mother that she would be bringing Dilly along with her. Earl Pameradia also has to agree, so I can’t say for certain that she’d come. Well, even if Dilly doesn’t come, I thought that 『Prince Sylvester』would come incognito.”
I said that and Gille laughed, “It’s still too early to talk about it, but thanks.”
He was laughing, but he was probably a little nervous. This was his first chance to appear in front of Cordelia as 『Sylvester』. Although I feel sorry for Gille, I don’t think a conversation between 『Sylvester』and her would get lively. Because that was how much she has been avoiding him so far.
It would be better for Dilly to meet 『Gille』before she meets『Sylvester』. She would probably be so dejected from meeting 『Sylvester』 that she wouldn’t be able to talk much to Gille when she meets him, because of that tension. Well, that’s only if she comes.
“But, you’re going to be 13 soon, aren’t you Vernoux. I’m always jealous that your birthday comes so early.”
“Our birthdays aren’t that far apart.”
“I know. But, I’m still a little bit jealous. It’s not fair.”
Even if he says it’s unfair, it’s not like I can do anything about it. Incidentally, he’s never thought this way before. I can’t agree with him. I’ve never known what’s on his mind since a long time ago, then I noticed.
“……. Speaking of, hasn’t it been eight years since we’ve met?”
Both Gille and I never noticed this and we both turned to face each other when we’d realised. And we both began to mutter.
“8 is like half our lives.”
“Somehow, it doesn’t feel like it.”
However, eight years for a 13 year old was a long time.
I was five years old when I met 『Prince Sylvester』.
I’ll be honest, I never thought about wanting to go to the castle.
Of course, it wasn’t like I wasn’t interested in the castle, there was no way I wouldn’t be interested in a building that was built like a large secret base. However, at that time, I’d already known that mannerisms existed inside of the castle. I wanted to explore it freely, but I didn’t want to go if I had to be obedient and listen to what the adults said. The building was amazing and it was hard for me to hold back.
But heartlessly, a letter inviting me to the castle arrived. To summarize, it said this, 『You might be a candidate for the Prince’s schoolmate, so come』.
My mother and father were happy.
“I hope you can make a lot of friends,” was how they acted, so I couldn’t say that I didn’t want to go.
But still, they were only calling for school friend 『candidates』. It felt like it was just for appearances and something similar to an interview was conducted at first. No matter how much they take your parentage into consideration, they would probably be troubled if they let a simpleton stay by the prince’s side.
At this time, I was lost for a moment.
I thought that, if I rubbed the other person the wrong way, then I might be able to get far away from this troublesome situation. Basically, I hated troublesome things. But, I immediately gave up on that plan. Here, I got a strange answer and thought that it would also be troublesome if father and mother got angry at me when I got home. No, rather than be angry, I had a feeling that they would be strangely worried instead.
As a result, I successfully joined His Highness’ group of school friends. Of course, I wasn’t happy at all about this.
The work of being his school friend happened once every few days, and I would study with His Highness and a few other children who were selected.
I somehow knew that this was a great honour. However, I, who was five at the time, didn’t think that it was wonderful that my free time was suddenly restricted. Of course, adults would probably think of this as a chance to make personal connections, but unfortunately, I was still a child. Moreover, I was the son of Marquis Flantheim, who created relationships based on whether he liked or disliked them and not through calculated means. There was no way I could devote myself to such a trivial thing…… Well, but I can’t deny that I was happy to have a friend.
The classroom learning of the study sessions mainly consisted of debut training. The practical skills consisted of taijutsu, sword training, and basic magic practice…… Well, even if I say that, it took a few years for us to actually have those classes. When we were younger, we played games together, commented on each other’s artworks, drew, and did things like exercise.
The first impression I got of His Highness was 『he seems very mature』. He would often look up at the sky during our breaks. He was also meek. He didn’t throw tantrums even if he lost against someone, and he rarely made conversation with others. He was quite absent-minded.
On the other hand, I soon understood that he hated to lose. At first, His Highness would often lose in games and he wasn’t very athletic. However, that was really just at the beginning.
I would observe His Highness in that way, but it didn’t mean that I became friends with him straight away.
I wasn’t the only one, the others were the same. At least for the first year, we kept our distance from him.
It wasn’t like we wanted to keep our distance from him, but His Highness rarely spoke to us and our social positions were that of retainers. Sometimes, after study sessions, unknown adults would call out to us, 『don’t get too use to it』, they would say. If I had to say, rather than following that advice, I just didn’t speak to His Highness because we didn’t have the same wavelengths.
Therefore, even after a year, His Highness to me was just 『the prince who only studies with me』. We were studying buddies who only had minimal contact with each other. That was all.
But even though we had such a questionable relationship, it was naturally conveyed to other people that we were school friends.
“Say, Vernoux-sama. Is it true that you study with Prince-sama? What do you talk about with Prince-sama?”
I would often get asked that when my father took me to the houses of nobles who had a daughter who was the same age as me.
Ah, so is this what 『scouting』is?
I knew such a word well when I was a child. I honestly thought so. But even if I knew it, I wouldn’t say such a big thing out loud. It wasn’t like I didn’t say it because I was mean to do so.
“His Highness is a quiet person, so he doesn’t talk much.”
I’ve never talked to him or anything before, so it couldn’t be helped.
However, the girls were disappointed by my answer. Well, of course they would be.
“N-no, yo-you have nothing to apologise for!”
The girls would shake their heads in a hurry whenever I said that and immediately change their expressions.
Was the title of Prince-sama that charming?
Of course, the Royal Family who built this kingdom were worthy of respect. However, I honestly didn’t know if His Highness was someone who should be respected. He is hard-working and smart. He wasn’t a bad guy either, but the reality is…… normal. I didn’t know what His Highness was thinking.
But still, the girls would ask me about His Highness.
Even if Prince-sama is a Prince-sama, he wasn’t like the Prince-samas who appeared in picture books. I’m always curious about him because I don’t know what he’s thinking.
This didn’t just apply to me.
“Oh, so it’s the same for you as well, Myles?”
“Yeah, but I don’t meet as many girls as you, so it’s not that bad. I might get asked when my sister grows a bit older, but she’s only just turned one, so I don’t want to think about it yet.”
One day, after a year had passed without us talking much with His Highness, I was talking to Myles, the son of an Earl who was the same age as my father.
We were talking about His Highness and the young ladies. Myles generally agreed with my opinions. Well, the thing about his younger sister was probably a joke. Or, he was a potential sis-con.
“But even if we were to talk about him, everyone’s opinions would be different.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Therefore, it might be helpful in situations where you can’t lie.”
“Well, that’s true.”
It wasn’t like anyone was stealing a march, we were really just 『children who studied together』. I don’t know whether spending our days like that was good or bad. However, this was the time when I began to think it was a good thing since I wasn’t inconvenienced by it either.
“Oh, it’s a cat.”
I saw a white cat walking outside with its tail up on the other side of the trees, outside of the corridor.
“…… I’ll go chase it for a bit.”
At that time, I couldn’t remember why I was so curious about the cat. I was probably interested in seeing something for the first time in a place where I always pass through.
“Vernoux, your parents will get angry if you don’t go home soon.”
“Father said that he has a meeting today. So, he won’t get angry, since he’ll be home late anyways.”
“Your mother will get angry. My parents will get angry at me so I’m going home now. Don’t go too far!!”
I got away from the reluctant Myles and rushed out of the corridor into the garden. The cat didn’t change his pace when he saw me, and continued to walk briskly through the garden. I ran and chased after it.
But, I lost sight of the white cat.
“…… I’m sure he was around here.”
I’ve never approached the place with the water fountain. I might have gone further into the castle than I’d thought.
I thought that while still being curious about the cat, so I walked slowly towards that place…… I noticed an unexpected person on the other side of the fountain. He also didn’t expect me to show up here.
“Huh? What a coincidence. Meeting in a place like this.”
“…… Your Highness.”
There stood His Highness hugging the cat in question. The cat yawned.
I thought, I shouldn’t have chased after the cat.
However, it was impossible for me to leave after His Highness had spoken to me. I was cursing the carefree cat.
“…… Is that cat your pet, Your Highness?”
“Nope. This child is probably from town. He probably came here for a walk.”
I, who couldn’t think of any common topics to talk about straight away, talked about the cat who was the culprit for this.
The result was that the conversation ended immediately.
“Do you like cats?”
“Huh? …… I’m more interested in them than liking or disliking them.”
“Then, do you want to hold it?”
“N-no. I don’t have to go that far……”
The conversation, which I thought had been finished, was dragged out by His Highness. But, I couldn’t keep that conversation going either.
To be honest, it was strange. Just like answering a troublesome adult, who was scolding me, I could answer them sensibly, but I couldn’t.
Was that simple because the other person is His Highness and I unintentionally cowered……? No, that shouldn’t be it. It’s probably because I can’t feel any malice nor hostility coming from His Highness.
His Highness smiled wryly at me, who could not answer well.
“I’m sorry, it’s boring isn’t it?”
“No, I’m grateful for your kindness.”
“No, I’m not talking about now. It’s about the study sessions…… Or rather the break times. You guys can’t talk as you like when I’m around, right?”
I couldn’t keep up with what he was talking about for a moment.
“That is not true.”
“Thanks for your concern. But, I know about it. So, I’m sorry.”
I wonder if he saw it somewhere. It wasn’t like I had no idea where he could have seen us. I talk comfortably with Myles while we walk through the corridors. In the first place, His Highness wasn’t to blame, but if he was really feeling apologetic about it, then it was difficult for me to reply.
However, I also thought that I shouldn’t just nod.
“Your Highness. Everyone who is studying together with you, will one day serve as your retainers.”
His Highness was puzzled by my sudden remark. I also thought, what are you saying, me. However, I couldn’t stop what I’ve already started.
Ah, it doesn’t matter anymore, I thought and continued.
“But, we don’t know much about you, Your Highness. So, I have a suggestion. Why don’t you treat everyone to some sweets tomorrow?”
“Treat them to sweets?”
“It’s not like we don’t want to talk with Your Highness. But, we’ve been taught that the Royal Family is different from us. That’s why I thought that it could be a chance for you to get everyone to feel that you are the same as us.”
Honestly, even I thought that this was completely opposite from what I was thinking from a while ago. It wasn’t inconvenient for things to stay as they were, and it wasn’t like I wanted to talk with him.
However, I just didn’t know if we should leave our classmates feeling apologetic for the distance.
His Highness groaned quietly at my words.
“Will things work out with something like that?”
I also thought the same thing. It’s unbelievable that one or two sweets would shorten the distance that no one could approach at all in this past year. But, I just couldn’t think of any other proposals on the spot.
“Everyone’s simple-minded. Even now, we have been able to talk for this long because of a single cat.”
Even if it doesn’t work out, there was a possibility that things would progress rather than if he did nothing.
So it’ll be fine, ――― I tried to convince myself. And at least, it would eliminate the situation where His Highness thought 『it’s my bad』when he’s done nothing wrong.
“Is that so? Then, I’ll talk to mother about it.”
If I had to say, it didn’t look like His Highness was convinced about it. To put it plainly, it looked like I was pressuring him.
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