How a realist hero rebui.., p.20

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom: Volume 10 (Premium), page 20

 part  #10 of  Realist Hero Series

 

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom: Volume 10 (Premium)
 


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  “Oh, no, it’s fine... Wait, Princess Elisha?!” The man quickly got to his feet, and bowed to me as hard as he could. “That was incredibly rude of me, not realizing I was speaking to a princess!”

  “It’s fine,” I said. “I’m the one who crept up on you, after all. But, setting that aside, what is it you’re doing here?”

  The man put a hand on his head as he looked up. “Well, the truth is, gardening is a hobby of mine. When I saw this beautiful garden, I wanted to hear what the person maintaining it would have to say, and I had him teach me some things.”

  “Gardening... is it? Even though you’re a man?”

  “Oh, you see, my domain is out in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, but we have a lot of land and a large yard, so I took up gardening. It seems I’m a little clumsy, and I come up short in both martial and political pursuits, but, let me tell you, when it comes to gardening, I have some confidence... Just kidding.”

  With that, the man let out a weak laugh.

  He felt so unreliable.

  It seemed my first impression, that he wouldn’t be going far in life, wasn’t wrong.

  “Ahaha... I’m weird, aren’t I? I know that.” He may have sensed what I was thinking, because the man said that with a wry smile.

  Seeing the dejection on his face, I kind of felt bad about it. Maybe it was because I’d seen all the people in the castle with glaring ambitions. I’d gotten into the habit of appraising everyone I met.

  “But you’re fine that way, aren’t you?” I said without intending to. “There are plenty of knights and nobles who pride themselves on their martial ability, or their cleverness. Having one laid-back noble like you around isn’t going to make the country any better or worse.”

  “Princess...” The man’s eyes widened.

  I smiled at him. “I think you should just be yourself. With all the schemers in this world, I find it comforting to know there are people out there like you, too.”

  “You are... too kind.” The man placed his hand over his chest and bowed his head.

  Three years passed, and I turned fifteen.

  My father, the King of Elfrieden, passed away.

  In order to build a nation that could oppose the massive Gran Chaos Empire on the western side of the continent, my father had fought wars to expand the country’s territory. He had annexed a number of small and medium-sized nations to the north, carved a large swathe out of the Principality of Amidonia’s territory to the west, and held repeated clashes with the Republic of Turgis in the south and the Nine-Headed Dragon Archipelago in the eastern sea.

  This rapid expansion bred friction, and our country came to contain the conquerors and the conquered, the plunderers and the plundered, the killers and the killed, all at the same time. Those seeds of unrest rapidly grew when my father died without designating an heir.

  Who would become the next king and inherit the country?

  Because the country had grown so large, there were many who raised their hands.

  Internal struggles inside the royal house intertwined with the intrigues of the knights and nobles, and the sparks grew larger.

  Then the seeds of unrest germinated.

  “If that house is siding with them, our house will join their opposition.”

  “We can never forgive that person, so we won’t join the faction they support.”

  Like that, the upper echelons of society divided into camps, and those camps came to oppose one another.

  These sparks very quickly fell my way, too.

  “Choose a fiancé, they say...”

  I looked at the portraits of suitors piled up on my desk and let out a sigh.

  I was the daughter of the third primary queen, and had more than a handful of half-siblings who were above me. I was around tenth in the line to the throne, and with my mother already deceased, and without the backing of any families, I should never have been involved in the succession crisis.

  That was why, initially, I had been left sitting on the sidelines.

  However, as the conflict had intensified, a number of successors had died under suspicious circumstances (most likely assassinated by rival claimants). Now I could no longer remain uninvolved.

  I was an insignificant girl with no backers, but I still bore the blood of my father, so there were those around me who were starting to think they should bring me into their camp for whatever little benefit that would bring. Or maybe thinking that... in order to keep me from being taken by another camp, it would be better if they just did away with me.

  It was around this time that my magic started to activate often.

  I would be about to drink tea, and see an image of myself suffering for it.

  I would be walking on a balcony, and see an image of a chandelier falling.

  I would be traveling in a carriage, and see an image of myself surrounded by armed men.

  Those were surely warnings from a future “me.”

  In order to keep those futures from becoming my reality, I wouldn’t drink the tea, or I’d take a different route, and I’d managed to avoid that future somehow.

  But there were limits to how long that would be enough. In the eyes of those who were watching me dodge crisis after crisis, I must have appeared a rather bizarre person indeed. I would have to gain backers of my own, and quickly.

  That was when talk of an arranged marriage was brought to me.

  In making a choice, it would decide my faction and backers. Being a member of the royal family, I had long since resigned myself to not seeking to marry for love. In my current situation, I knew I had to find a partner who could overcome the succession crisis and survive with me.

  Thinking that, I picked up one of the portraits, and then...

  “Eeeeek!”

  I was hit by an intense image of death.

  Not just one, either: countless visions of my fated death raced around inside my head.

  It overpowered me, and I blacked out.

  When I awoke, I was in bed.

  It seemed one of my maids had heard my scream, rushed to my aid, and cared for me.

  I told the maid by my side, “Thank you, I’ll be fine now,” then left my room, thinking about the visions with my still-muddled head.

  They had come from many futures in which “I” had made the wrong choice.

  One “me” had gotten engaged to a man from an accomplished military family.

  He was an impressive warrior himself, and his followers were strong. I had hoped that a man like that would be able to protect me.

  However, he’d taken advantage of his military prowess, acting in a prideful way that stood out and made more enemies. In the castle, full of both allies and enemies, those actions had cost him his life. In the end, he’d been deceived with surprising ease, and killed before “we” could even be married. The memory ended with “me” and his servants at enemy swordpoint.

  One “me” had gotten engaged to a man who was an excellent schemer.

  He’d hatched plots to eliminate members of opposing factions. However, he’d earned the resentment of many, lost their trust, and eventually suffered betrayal, falling at the hands of his own companions.

  That memory ended with “me” getting caught up in the same incident.

  One “me” had gotten engaged to a man who was in the largest faction at the time.

  That faction currently had many members and was overwhelming the opposition, but when all the other factions were gone, it would fracture due to an internal power struggle, and that would turn into an endless quagmire.

  This might have been the future where the most blood was shed.

  That memory ended the same as the others.

  One “me” had tried to flee the conflict.

  If the outcome would be the same no matter who I married, I’d decided I would choose to marry no one and go into hiding. However, for someone like me without the backing of a family, hiding in town had been the only option.

  In an environment w
ithout the security of the castle, I had been quickly discovered, and because of the atmosphere of suspicion, I’d been assumed to be plotting something and viewed as a threat.

  That memory ended as I was about to be disposed of for being a troublemaker.

  The choices of all the other “me”s didn’t lead to bright futures, either.

  Even in the futures where I would narrowly survive the succession crisis, after all the blood that was shed, the Kingdom of Elfrieden would not be able to unite as one. The invasions that followed, the attacks by monsters, the scheming of nobles, and the uprisings by the people would all work to weaken the kingdom.

  Ultimately, the memories of every “me” seemed to end with the castle burning.

  Ten or so of those sorts of visions raced through my head.

  It was like time had been wound back over and over, but I could still tell that the memories were not my own.

  I was forced to witness the outcomes of the choices that those “me”s who were not me made.

  As I remembered those scenes, I rushed into the washroom and threw up.

  When my stomach was empty, I collapsed powerlessly on the spot, leaning against the wall for support.

  “I... can’t do this anymore.”

  Those were the words that slipped from my mouth.

  Ten times I had failed.

  There might be some disagreement on whether that number was a lot or a little, but it was more than I could bear.

  Even if I received the memories, I was still only myself.

  Even if I made a decision, failed, and passed on my experience to the next “me,” that didn’t mean I could return to the past. It would be the end for the me who had failed.

  The next “me,” or the “me” after the next “me,” might reach a happy future.

  But she wasn’t me.

  I could only become happy here, in this world where I was. If I failed, death awaited, like it had for all of the “me”s so far.

  When I thought of it that way, I was terrified to even choose.

  It was frightening that the memories I’d received all cut out right before death. I was sent to the brink of death again and again, without knowing what death was like.

  To make an analogy, it was like there was an infinite number of ropes hanging in front of my eyes, one of them tied to a sword hanging above my head, and I was watching the ropes be cut one by one. I lived in fear of the sword that would eventually fall and take my life. Even if it didn’t fall this time, I could never relax.

  I felt cornered, and hugged my knees.

  No! I don’t want to make any more choices!

  If nothing I did would work, I would do nothing.

  My heart was completely broken.

  From then on, I spent even more of my time staring off into space.

  I was wandering a maze in which I could see no exit, and I had reached a dead end. I lacked the will to resist fate, and I was simply waiting for the inevitable end to come.

  Thinking and fretting over it only made it more painful, so I did everything I could not to think about it, and would spend my time lying out in the sun.

  I think, by this point, my thought process was already that of an old woman.

  Then, one day, when I chose the garden for my dazed wandering...

  “Please! I’m begging you!” a man’s voice cried.

  “I hear you, but I can’t...”

  Two men were talking.

  I poked my head out from behind the hedge, wondering what it could be about, and saw a man in his early twenties bowing his head to a still-young (his mane was short, so he looked young) lion beastman.

  The beastman man sounded troubled. “Raise your head, Albert. There are things I can’t do, even for you.”

  “Please, do something, Georg!”

  Georg... Oh! I remembered.

  That lion beastman was Georg Carmine, the eldest son of the House of Carmine, one of the three ducal families which controlled this country’s Army, Navy, and Air Force. I remembered him having come to the castle with his father, the current head of the house, back when my own father was still alive and well.

  The other man, Albert, on the other hand... Who was he? I knew him from somewhere, but I couldn’t remember where.

  He was still young, but his exhausted face and beard made him look older than his years.

  “Please, Georg! Let me meet with your father, at least!” Albert begged.

  “I’m telling you, I can’t.”

  They were arguing over something, but their informal tone implied a friendship that had lasted many years.

  Albert had a more bureaucratic look to him, so it was surprising to see him on good terms with someone from the House of Carmine, who were the representatives of the military officers.

  Georg started pulling at his mane. “I owe you, and I do want to be of help. But the Duke of Carmine is my father now. My father and his men are following Duchess Walter’s direction to not get involved in the succession crisis. If the three branches of the military get involved, the crisis will spread throughout the entire country. They’re each clamping down on their own subordinates to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

  It seemed Albert’s request had something to do with the current crisis, and, though it pained him to do it, Georg was refusing whatever-it-was.

  It was true that if the three forces got involved in this conflict, it would only invite more chaos.

  I felt it was a given that Duchess Excel Walter, who had supported this country for many long years, would take steps to keep them under control. And if Duchess Walter strongly opposed getting involved, her son-in-law, Duke Vargas, would obey her. Meanwhile, if the two other houses were opposed, Duke Carmine would have to be, too.

  I felt like reason was on Georg’s side.

  However, Albert was not ready to back down.

  “This isn’t a request for him to support anyone! I just want him to provide protection to keep somebody from being harmed!”

  “And I’m telling you that doing so could be interpreted as intervening!”

  Georg pressed Albert’s shoulder. That was all it took to unbalance him, and the man took a few steps backward before falling to his knees.

  Seeing that, Georg pityingly said, “If anything, I’d like to ask you not to involve yourself in the conflict any further. You’re a good guy. As your friend, I know that.”

  “Georg...”

  “But you’re weak. So weak that you stumbled when I shoved you just a little. You lack the power to overcome this crisis, and you’re too softhearted to bring others down. That’s why I’m telling you, if you shut yourself up in that mountain domain of yours, you can stay out of this.”

  Albert hung his head in silence.

  Georg placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “So back off, Albert.”

  “Georg... I still...” Albert grabbed the arm of the hand Georg had placed on his shoulder. “I still want to save her! I want to save Lady Elisha!”

  Me?! Why?!

  For a moment, I didn’t understand what he’d said. He wanted to save me? I didn’t know who he was, so why was he so desperate?

  Thankfully, Georg asked exactly the same thing I wanted to know. “Why go so far for Lady Elisha?”

  “Because she told me, ‘You’re fine that way,’” Albert said in a tortured voice. “I’m a mediocre man, with less power, wisdom, wealth, or influence than anyone. I’m so boring that, if asked if I have one thing I can be proud of, it’s my skill at gardening. But she told me, ‘You’re fine that way.’ She also said, ‘I think you should just be yourself,’ and ‘With all the schemers in this world, I find it comforting to know there are people out there like you, too.’ I felt like those words saved me!”

  It’s him...

  I finally remembered that day. That man.

  The one I had met in this garden and spoken to a few years ago was Albert. And all because of that short conversation, he was desperate to help me.

  Upon l
earning that, it hit me hard. I had forgotten that we’d even talked, yet this person had remembered an off-hand comment I’d made, and was trying to save me.

  Looking back, I realized this man had been in the memories I’d received from the other “me”s, too. No matter what position “I” was in, no matter who “I” had gotten engaged to...

  “Now is not the time for infighting!”

  “Can’t you put your weapons down and talk this over?!”

  “The royal house will be destroyed at this rate! Please, reconsider!”

  I’d witnessed him visiting many factions, trying to make such appeals to them.

  Of course no one would listen to a man with no power, yet he had been left alone because there was no way he could become a threat. Even “I” had taken no notice of him.

  But he had done it all to protect me.

  How foolishly, meaninglessly, and ridiculously honest he must have been.

  Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my cheeks.

  It felt as though my heart, frozen by the memories I’d witnessed, was beginning to thaw.

  When I was wiping away my tears with my sleeve, Georg told Albert with a pained look, “I really can’t help you in my current position.”

  “I see.” Albert slumped his shoulders. “That’s that, then.”

  Georg helped him up to his feet. “I want you to remember this. I pledge to do my utmost to help you when I inherit the House of Carmine. Even at the cost of my life.”

  “Georg...”

  “So don’t be reckless. Don’t make an ingrate of me.”

  Once he said that, Georg clapped Albert on the shoulder and then left.

  Albert, who was left behind, stood there in silence, watching him until he was gone.

  I waited until I was sure my own tears had dried, then came out from behind the hedge and walked over to Albert.

  “Sir Albert.”

  “Huh?! Princess?! How long have you been there?!”

  “Quite some time.” I smiled at the surprised man. “Um... thank you for doing this for me.”

  “N-No! I’ve been of no help... In the end, I couldn’t even get my friend Georg to aid me.”

  “There was nothing you could have done,” I told him. “But setting that aside, I was surprised to see you speaking with Sir Georg of the House of Carmine in such a friendly manner. You’re not very similar people.”

 
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