――― Radka looked down silently at the girl who was lying in front of him.
Her long black hair had lost its lustre and was scattered across the white sheets. Her red pupils which were like the setting sun and as cold as ice were now hidden by her eyelids. Her smooth white skin, which he hadn’t seen in a long time, had lost colour and looked pale. Just like the soldier had said, it really seemed like she was lost in an abyss and wouldn’t return, even though a month had passed since she had returned from Jugfena.
Floating in a daze, Radka entered Eliza’s room after he returned from the barracks.
(Are you really still asleep…?)
Both her eyelids and cheeks were sunk in, and his body shivered in fear at the lifeless body. Her physical wounds weren’t that noticeable, and it didn’t seem serious enough to not cause her to wake up.
She had lost her personal servant, Kamil, at Jugfena, and the wounds in her heart might be worse. She should be alive, but she looked as if she was dead. Or perhaps, she had lost her heart and would remain asleep forever. ――― Just like Radka’s mother, shortly before her death.
Radka moved closer to the bed and looked down on Eliza. The last time he had seen her face this close was before he entered the barracks.
The vase full of flowers by her side even looked like those that were used when mourning for the dead. Radka squeezed his right hand tightly, and finally realised that he was clutching onto something. He looked down and saw the dull light reflect off the cold knife.
His head still felt numb. That combined with the head heat gave him a strange feeling of euphoria. There was no one by Eliza’s side right now, and Eliza, herself, wasn’t able to resist.
I’ll kill you, his own barking voice echoed in his mind.
She made him live in the barracks, then forced him back into the mansion, and made him learn a lot of things.
He learnt that not everything about a noble is evil, and that the young girl named Eliza accepted both her father’s sins and her own.
――― He learnt the fact that Eliza was trying to keep him alive.
There was a reason why there was a knife in Radka’s hand even after he learnt about her life, her resolve, and her thoughts.
(… She’s the reason why Igor-san and the other guys are dead. It’s because she took them all with her.)
The troops had to go to Jugfena because she accepted the refugees from the neighbouring kingdom. Didn’t Calvin-san say that it was Eliza-sama who was actively accepting refugees?
Even if she wasn’t arrogant like the nobles who he heard about in the past, and even if she didn’t treat the citizens badly, she had led her people to death. If he didn’t allow himself to think this way, then what the heck was he supposed to do with this heavy feeling that was boiling inside him because of the people who died?
Radka sucked his breath. He slowly let his hatred rise and raised the hand that was clutching the knife as he did so.
If he killed her, then he would probably die too this time. There would be no one left to protect him. Now Radka was fully aware that this girl, someone younger than him, was the only person who was trying to keep him alive.
Death was scary to him. But the words that he had spat out at Eliza about killing her before weren’t a bluff.
His breath trembled. The pulsing sounds of his heart gradually began to hammer.
Various emotions and memories were flying around in his head at a tremendous rate. Even the hand that was holding the knife was trembling. He came here while puzzled, and raised a dangerous weapon, yet he was still puzzled.
When he thought about his mother’s face, what happened in Cyril Village, and about Igor and the others, the dark feeling immediately swelled up within him, but in the next second, the things that he had learnt here, and the faces of the fief soldiers suppressed that feeling.
He held his trembling right hand with his equally trembling left hand.
It didn’t matter if he was puzzled. All he had to do was swing down with all his might a few times. Just by doing so, this kid will be dead by morning.
(I can’t forgive her… I mustn’t forgive her…!)
――― But no matter how much time passed, Radka couldn’t swing down the blade.
Both of his hands could only quiver.
He even forgot how to breathe, yet he was unable to lower the knife, so he continued to stare at the sleeping Eliza with his teary eyes. Radka even thought that this would continue forever.
Then he finally choked and remembered how to breathe. He managed to remind his throat, which had stopped moving on its own, how to breathe, and finally took fresh air into his lungs.
At that moment, he remembered Elize’s gentle smile. The image suddenly flashed into his mind and he was dazzled by the light.
(The smell of those flowers…)
Instantly, Radka’s entire body feebly collapsed to the floor like a doll that had lost its strings.
The knife rolled onto the floor with a light clang. His heart thud so loud that it hurt his ears. He wasn’t sad or hurting, but for some reason, tears gushed out from his eyes.
It was already too late for him to maintain the killing intent that was connected to his hatred.
Unable to swing the fist that he had clutched in frustration at the floor, Radka reached out for Eliza. He clenched onto the collar of the smooth, high-quality pyjamas, which weren’t too high or too low, and pulled it up.
“Get up you… brute! You haven’t made any amends to the villagers yet…! You…!”
Radka’s tears dripped down to Eliza’s cheeks, wetting them.
She didn’t make any expression, and her eyelids, which were tightly shut, looked artificial, and the tears repelled off her cheeks like she was inorganic.
“Wake up, wake up! I can’t even beat you up if you’re asleep…!”
Radka couldn’t scream or shake her as hard as he could. He couldn’t do anything to his satisfaction and could only cry at her like he was throwing a tantrum.
He couldn’t even shake her because of his helplessness and emptiness. Radka powerlessly plopped down on the edge of the bed and stopped himself from crying desperately.
His anxiety about the future, his feelings that kept growing without being sorted, the loneliness he felt that made him unable to relax his guard. Everything reached its breaking point and erupted at once as an outlet for his anger and resentment towards Eliza.
Radka was still a young child who hadn’t even lived for ten years. He was an emotionally undeveloped child who had been sheltered at home by his mentally ill mother and grew up with a distorted viewpoint.
He was much more of a child than Eliza.
He had a lot of depression pent up but didn’t know how to get rid of it; he didn’t even know how to let it out on something.
Therefore, he couldn’t do anything but cry like a baby until he was tired and fell asleep.
I gently reached out to that painful sob which was becoming weaker and weaker in my dim and hazy consciousness ―――
――― “How long are you going to sleep for?” I felt as if someone was trying to wake me up and forced my heavy eyelids open.
My sleepy, lethargic brain could only recognise a muffled cry of the young child from right beside me. Who’s crying? The children of the citizens, or the children of the Sill Tribe who got caught up in the war?
It was dark with only unreliable moonlight shining in.
My fingertips had half-unconsciously stretched out to pat soft hair in comfort. That soft, black hair suddenly woke her consciousness.
The child, who was clinging to the edge of the bed, and had fallen asleep from tears and exhaustion, was Radka; someone who felt resentment and murderous intent towards me. I was dumbfounded for a while, wondering why he was here, then I suddenly shifted my gaze and noticed a silver knife on the floor beside Radka.
(… Ah, I see. He… came here to kill me?)
Convinced that was the reason, I let out a sigh of relief. Relief that a child who wanted to kill her had come there to kill her. Was it ironic or am I a masochist? The edges of my mouth twisted up. It was a mystery why he seemed to have given up in the end, and I have no idea why he was crying here.
(At any rate, I can’t just let him sleep here. I’ll have Rashiok carry him out.)
Thinking that, I got up. ――― Or, I tried to. But I couldn’t put any strength into my body, and, on the contrary, a dull pain ran through my body as if it was choking me. It was a short while after that.
Memories flooded into my mind as if it was breaking down.
The Sill Tribe who ran away. The silence at Jugfena Fortress. The Densel soldiers who came rushing in. The dead soldiers. Blazing fires. Gunpowder. Rashiok came to rescue her from up high ――― and Kamil.
She didn’t even know where she was or what she was doing. My lips trembled and my teeth clattered together, and an intense sensation overcame me as if all the organs in my stomach were being turned over.
“Uh, guu… gee…”
I vomited a few times, but nothing came out from the back of my throat. I just felt as if my stomach was bouncing around, and I couldn’t pay any attention to the pain in my body, just like a dying caterpillar.
“… Em, hmm? … Ah? Hey!”
The commotion had woken up Radka, and he quickly flipped me over so that I was lying on my side. I could finally breathe easier.
“… Ha, ha… uhh… urg…”
“W-wait! I’ll go call someone…!”
Grabbing Radka’s arm as he stood up was something I did almost unconsciously. But there was a knife on the floor. I’m sure his presence in this room in this dark house isn’t good for anyone to see.
“It’s… fine… so don’t go.”
I yelled weakly, and his face scowled in puzzlement. Then, he reached out timidly and began to slowly stroke my back. His touch reminded me of Kamil’s hand from some time ago, and my sobs mingled with my vomiting.
(Kamil… Kamil! I let him die! Why, where am I now… what happened since then?! What happened to Kamil? The other soldiers who were cut down… What the hell have I been doing all this time?!”
“Hey! Come on, breathe! Hey, I said breathe!”
A strange sound came out from the back of my throat. The area between the pit of my stomach convulsed and I forgot how to breathe. I was squirming while drowning in agony.
“Breathe, come on, breathe out slowly… and then inhale slowly… breathe properly.”
Radka continued to stroke my back and his voice sounded gentle and hesitant. I exhaled and inhaled gently while listening to his voice.
I recalled that Kamil had told me to breathe properly like this a while back. I didn’t vomit this time, but my throat felt heavy as if I had just swallowed lead.
Outside the window, it looked as if winter had just come and the landscape was colourless, and desolated. Leaning against the window post, I stared down and bit off the pain that seemed to reverberate throughout my body at the slightest movement.