I walked down the corridor with Hakuya. Looking through the window, I can see it was already completely dark outside. The time is, around eight PM by my guess, and I recalled the situation at the banquet hall. If such a perfect situation happened at this kind of hour … we’d have been going to be up all night tonight. I would’ve had to send the performers back early to rest. Otherwise, if they had to perform all night and collapse during the show … I don’t even want to think about it.
As I walked along with such thoughts in my head, I finally reached my destination. Hakuya smoothly gave way for me before the door to the room, standing with his back by the window across from the door. This was where he intended to wait. Though it’s not as if he was prohibited from entering, but he refrained. He then clasped his hands in front of himself and gave me a respectful bow.
“The Black Cats are already standing guard. Please take your time and have a pleasant discussion”
I nodded as I opened the door and let myself in. It became dark again as soon I shut it back. Inside the candle-lit dark room I could see a king-size bed and beyond that, a terrace, lit by the blue-white light of the moon. Seated at the glass table by that window were the people I was looking for, having tea. As I drew close, they put down their cups and swiftly stood up.
“My, Lord Soma. It has been a while”
“Long time no see, Your Highness”
I then returned the greetings back to the pair.
“Indeed it has, Lord Alberto, Lady Elisha”
The people waiting for me were Liscia’s parents, the former king, Lord Alberto and his queen, Lady Elisha.
◇ ◇ ◇
“Thank you very much”
Once I took the tea I was offered, the former Queen Elisha gave a wide smile. She had Liscia’s calm demeanor, and more ladylike, a coquettish-looking lady. I wonder if Liscia’s going to turn out like this. I’ll be looking forward to the days to come.
We were now sitting around the glass table with me seated across Lord Alberto. Lady Elisha silently stood behind Lord Alberto, having finished offering us tea. Looks like she intended to play the waitress through and through tonight. … now that I think about it, I never really had a talk with her, huh. Even though she’s my mother-in-law, she always spoke sparingly, preferring to stay next to Alberto with a warm smile. According to Liscia, she was always the quiet, taciturn type.
“We welcome you and thank you for coming tonight”
My thoughts were interrupted by Lord Alberto.
“Also, congratulations on the war and merger with the Principality. You’ve done so much after only having the crown for half a year. You sure have lived up to the title of Great King”
“I’m not really too fond of that title … but I suppose I can finally meet with you now”
“We apologize for making you wait”
The former king Alberto said that with a bow of his head. I have asked to meet with Lord Alberto time and time again until now. When it was ‘I don’t know anything,’ I was looking for cooperation in order to get the Three Dukes to cooperate and to persuade Castor who was worried with the sudden abdication. When it was ‘I have made judgement on everything,’ I asked to see him again and again to seek his explanation.
But the answer he gave me back then, was always ‘This country is yours now, It’s not my place to appear and say anything’ for the former, and ‘I will tell you everything one of these days, please wait until then’ for the latter. Since he said he’ll ‘tell me everything soon,’ I could do nothing but wait until then. After all, I’d never know if he’d tell me the truth if I brought him for questioning.
And then tonight, he said he’ll tell me everything, so here I am.
“So you’ll answer everything now?”
“If you want us to”
“… Will you please tell me clearly already. Just what in the world are you thinking”
Since he said he’ll tell me everything, I asked from the beginning.
“There are three things I want to ask you. Firstly, about handing the throne to me. It was the first time meeting for the both of us when you summoned me, and yet you handed me the throne after just hearing my rich country strong army plan. You even made Liscia my fianceé. It’s true that I could act freely because of that, but … it’s unnatural. It was your first meeting with me, someone so young, and I was even bluffing back then so that I didn’t get swallowed by the flow so I thought I acted a bit rude. How could you hand the throne over so easily to such a guy?”
“Secondly, about Georg’s loyalty. He plotted a simultaneous kill with those that look like they would become my enemies by putting everything about the former General Georg Carmine through the mud. Seeing how it turned out, it seemed like he had it all planned, even though there’s also those letters from Liscia. This is also weird. I never even saw Georg face to face until it was all over. He literally put his life on the line for this. He would never have done it if it weren’t for trust and loyalty.”
“But I’ve never met with Georg, and you don’t put faith on someone you never met with before. So Georg acted out of loyalty, but to whom? There’s no other answer but the former King, you. Before I ‘executed’ him, I asked Georg about it, and he said, ‘you will hear it from the person’s own mouth when the time comes'”
I paused there and took a sip from my tea.
“… and lastly. Why didn’t you let me see you until now? If you were waiting for everything to settle you could’ve seen me when the Amidonian war ended or the merger concluded. Why were you waiting until now to let me meet with you? I want to know that too.”
“… and that’s everything, is it?”
“You get the gist of it. I’ll ask about the details as you explain.”
Alberto nodded and began talking.
“Firstly, we would like to say that all those things are linked together by one thing”
“We will answer the third question before we get into that. We were waiting and seeing, whether to tell you the answer, or whether we should keep things as they were and not tell you anything …”
“… however, our heart is not so strong as to keep the sin we had commited bottled inside our chest”
Sin he had commited? What’s he talking about?
“Lord Soma … have you ever thought about wanting to do your life over?”
Lord Alberto asked the question. Albeit suspicious, I still answered.
“… I have. I always have”
Speaking of just the things since I received the throne, I’ve always thought whether I could’ve done things another way, whether I could’ve done it better, and whether I could’ve saved even more lives. It’s always been said that dead souls go to heaven, so I wondered if I could’ve reached an understanding with an enemy I slew dead in battle, even though I knew it was impossible.
“But, what’s that got to do with this?”
“… let me tell you a story, about a certain kingdom in a certain world, about a certain fool of a king”
And with that prologue, Alberto began telling the story.
◇ ◇ ◇
There once was a King of a certain Kingdom. The King wasn’t wise, though neither was he a fool. He did not govern well, though nor did he govern badly … for he was the very model of mediocrity. Were the kingdom running on its tracks, he would’ve been said to be an unblemishedly good King. However, the world was in a state of war between men and demons. The flames of war had yet to reach the kingdom, but food and economic troubles were slowly bringing it to ruin. The mediocre King was unable to put up any effective act to counter those problems.
Then one day came an appeal from a great country in the west, that the kingdom perform a Summoning of a Hero. An appeal though it was, it was not one they were given an option to refuse. The mediocre King performed the ceremony as was asked of him. The ceremony was a success, and a young man was summoned from another world as a Hero. The King was going to deliver the young man to the great country in the west, but then the young man said,
“If you’re going to fight the demons you should first have a rich country and strong army”
◇ ◇ ◇
I think I’ve heard that one before … or rather, that’s obviously about me, right? I thought about it and considered asking, but the plot that followed differed from the one I knew.
◇ ◇ ◇
Having listened to the young man’s story, the King felt a talent in him that he didn’t have, and put him as his country’s prime minister. The young man worked hard with all he had to meet the King’s expectations, conducting various innovations. Because of his efforts, the country began to show the signs of recovering from the food and economic problems. However, there are some who looked unfavorably towards the young man.
They were the nobles of the country, the ones among them with ill repute. They could not stomach a young man from heaven knows where suddenly becoming prime minister, but what angered them most of all was the young man’s reforms. In order to raise funds, the young man exposed their corruptions and even threatened to demote them from the upper rungs of society. Because of that he had earned their ire. They came over again and again to the King to persuade him that the young man brings harm, to try to overthrow him.
However, the young man also had an ally. He was the General of the country’s Army. The honest General recognized the genuineness of the boy’s capabilities and became his backer. However, this was also seen unfavorably by the unjust nobles, slandering him even more strongly. The slander that kept coming day after day gradually made the King feel uneasy.
The young man’s talent was indeed fascinating, but he had too many enemies. This may end up splitting the country. Thinking so, the King naturally made a decision he should never have made. He dismissed the young man from his post as Prime Minister. The young man, released from his responsibilities, fled in disgrace under the roof of the General’s castle. It may be unfortunate for the young man, but this way the country would stay whole. This way the young man’s life would surely be safe, rationalized the King to himself.
But matters did not end there. The unjust nobles were more obstinate than the King thought. Rather, considering their covert connections, it should probably be better said that they could not overlook the young man. That year, the neighboring country that had long nursed their grudge on the country brought their troops to cross the borders. The General sent his men to ambush and square off against them.
It happened at that time. As if they had been waiting for that moment, the nobles staged an uprising, striking at the General’s castle in Randell. … considering the timing, the nobles might have had connections with the neighboring country. Since the General’s land used to belong to the neighboring country, their scheming would have been easy, and to the neighboring country, it was an act so as to cut down the young man that might one day become their enemy. Even though it was the town where the Army General’s castle was at, most of the Army itself had been dispatched to the border, leaving less than five hundred as guards to oppose the nobles’ armies that numbered over ten thousand.
The Army General was also in town and staked his life on the town’s defense … but the enemy was too many and he was defeated in the end. The town his castle was in went up in flames, and the young man turned into scattered ashes amidst the flames. It only took a few days since the nobles’ armies were raised, the King could not do anything.
Having lost the General, the Army could not hold itself facing the neighboring country’s army and was routed. The nobles’ army met up with the neighboring country’s army and used their momentum to march up to the capital. Seeing this development the King rushedly tried to gather the army to face them … but was unable to do so. He did end up leaving the General and the young man to die, so the army officers and men resisted and returned to their own lands. The Air Force and Navy also turned their backs on the King to defend their own territories.
As a last resort, he tried to raise partisans from the citizenry, but it also came to naught. The young man’s reforms gained the ire of the nobles but the people had been saved by those reforms. For the people, the young man was their benefactor, who saw them through hard times. The people had no love for the King who had dismissed the young man. Thus the King ended up just like the young man, isolated and friendless, surrounded by a large army. He would soon surely be killed just like the young man was, the only difference being that the King did not have someone like the General who would risk his life for him.
This … was surely his just desserts. For believing the false charges of his enemies, and for disgracing those who actually had their hearts for the country.
◇ ◇ ◇
I was struck dumb by the story Alberto told. The story describes another reality. Back when I was just summoned into this world, I mentioned the rich country strong army proposal to avoid getting extradited into the Empire (I didn’t know the truth of the matter back then). I thought, if I could be left with the position of Prime Minister or Finance Minister, I could raise funds and deliver the support money the Empire wanted.
But if I had become a Prime Minister instead of a King at that time, I would’ve met with this fate, the future that was different from my here and now. There were lots of points of this story I could recognize, feeling strange real and not at all a pipe dream. I thought it was a rather accurate simulation. … in that case, this may be a little impolite, but Alberto was a mediocre person and not someone who could concoct such an accurate simulation.
“… You sound like you’ve actually seen it happen”
“Indeed we have seen it happen. Ah, we suppose we should say … it was shown to us”
“Yes. Through the power our wife possesses”
His wife’s power? I instinctively looked towards Lady Elisha, who was smiling.
“You know that our wife is a user of dark attribute magic just like you, right?”
“I’ve heard of it, but Liscia didn’t seem like she knew the details.”
“This is highly restricted information, so please don’t mention it to anyone. Her power is to ‘plant memories on a target in the past'”
Then Alberto proceeded to tell the ‘continuation’ of his earlier story.
◇ ◇ ◇
The King, having lost everything and even his days numbered by the nobles, fell into deep regret. Why did he dismiss the young man. Why didn’t he regard him more highly. If he hadn’t believed the nobles’ slanders, if he had joined hands with the young man and the General, continuing the country’s restoration, at the least he wouldn’t have met with such distress.
Someone of worse character would, at this point, have been blinded of their own faults and blamed everything on the acts of the summoned young man, that none of this would’ve happened if he hadn’t come. However, though the King was weak, he was at his core a soft-hearted person, such an idea did not come to him.
What he did think was that he should’ve given the young man more freedom to move. For starters, he should’ve been given the throne instead of just the Prime Minister’s seat. That way he might’ve managed the country way better than himself did. That way … his daughter …
The King sunk in despair. Seeing him in such a state, the Queen said:
[You have made mistakes, my dear, and brought an end to our lives. But with the use of my power, you could ‘convey this failure to your past self’]
The Queen had a mysterious power. One that could tell her past self of her current experience. Her past self that received her memories would experience the sender’s memories, it was like rewinding time itself. By the use of this power, the Queen had survived the quagmire that was the power struggle (strictly speaking, sending back her memories before she died and thusly avoided danger)
Then the Queen apologized to the King.
She had also used this power when she chose her spouse, but for some reason, no matter how brave the man she chose, and no matter how learned, the country was always fated to fall to ruin. There were various causes, such as foreign invasion, the demon war, nobles’ insurrection, citizens’ uprising, the capital would always end up in flames. Only the current, mediocre King, though he could not make the country grow, he could at least make it survive. She even only managed to bear a child to this King alone.
[There is no way to change our fates now, but there is a way to lead our past selves to a future different to our now. My dear … now that our lives are forfeit anyway, won’t you build this future as your final act?]
The King made up his mind. He will convey his failures to his past self, and his past self would turn the throne over to the young man. This might have been just an act of self-satisfaction, but it was to somewhat atone for those who have felt loss due to his actions. Thus the King and the Queen let their past selves inherit their current memories.
The moment they received the memories was the moment the young man was summoned, when they listened to him talk about his rich country strong army plan.
◇ ◇ ◇
“In other words, we were the King who received those memories”
As I listened to the King, I became shocked to the core. Is this a time slip? … no, a time leap? Magic can even do things like that? … ah, but it only takes back memories, not the person’s consciousness themselves. Still, being able to bring back memories to the past is supposed to cause a time paradox. The King who sent back the memories shouldn’t have had received the sent back memories after all. Which means the Queen’s power probably intervenes with something like an alternate dimension.
Which means that from the point of view of the sender’s world, this one is not the past but a ‘what-if’ world. … but even so, I don’t think the King and Queen would understand. The concept of an alternate dimension doesn’t exist to begin with (even I only knew what I knew from SF stories). Aaaah, dammit, this isn’t a simple sword-and-magic world isn’t it?
While I was confused, the King sipped on his tea and took a breath.
“Really, … the senders have it bad but we who received the message are troubled too. As feeling goes, it’s like we spent the life where we made you prime minister, did something foolish, and turned back time. If we hadn’t heard Elisha’s explanation on the other side we would’ve thought it was as simple as turning back time. We haven’t done a thing ourselves but it doesn’t change the fact that a wrongdoing had been done to you. So in place of the ‘other me,’ we apologize. We are very sorry”
The King bowed his head deeply as he said that.
“Uhh, even if you apologize … I don’t really remember anything about it so …”
“We know … it is just for our self-satisfaction. We wanted to apologize, please allow us”
“… if you put it that way, I guess …”
If they wanted to apologize, then I should probably let them. Of course, since things flew way over my head, I can’t really emphatize with him.
“So, in order to keep things from going like how it went in those memories, we turned the throne over to you. I suppose this answers your first and third questions”
The first question was ‘why did you give the throne to someone you just met,’ and the answer is that it wasn’t our first meeting from the King’s point of view (even though it technically was our first, this is complicated). The answer for the third, ‘why won’t you meet with me until now,’ is that he was considering whether to tell me about this power or not. Also, to make sure that the future went a different way.
And the second, about Georg’s loyalty …
“Huh! No way, did you tell Georg about this!?”
“… We are a weak man. We are not strong enough to keep such a thing bottled down by ourself.”
Alberto gazed outside the window. The moon had gone behind a cloud at some point, making the sky gloomy.
“We didn’t think it was possible for us to bring about a different future on our own. We bared everything to the country’s most trustworthy man, Army General Georg Carmine, and asked for his cooperation. Then we came up with a plan to eradicate the unjust nobles who were going to become your enemies. Castor’s being suspicious was an oversight of ours, but the plan had already gone underway, so we could not divulge the plan and caused you anguish. We beg your pardon”
So that’s that about Georg’s rebellion drama, in order to round up all my would-be enemies in one place and eliminate them along with himself. Coupled with Hakuya’s and my plan to hold down the Amidonians, it really became a really big stage, huh. Roroa also played her own script. Really a stage with many scriptwriters (Me, Hakuya, Georg, Roroa, and also Lord Alberto … that’s a lot).
I tried to make people dance but I was dancing on strings all along. I thought I was clearing a path for myself but I was running on safe rails. … this is, well
“Somehow … I feel like losing confidence”
“Not at all. Practically speaking, you managed to reach a different future from then. You merged Amidonia and rebuilt this dying country into the Kingdom of Friedonia. I feel that I did the right thing in handing you the throne”
“I’m happy that you said so … but, where did it the future actually start to change?”
“From the start. This time around, Liscia was by your side from the start”
Well sure, Liscia was supporting me by my side from the start, but why is her name coming up now? Then, Alberto’s face looked a little sad.
In the future where you were Prime Minister, Liscia was also by your side. She was Georg’s secretary, so you knew each other through him. That world’s Liscia also recognized your talent and fell for you. Even after you were discharged, she would come right to me to ask me to recant your dismissal. However … the me of that time did not listen to Liscia’s advice, and she sorrowfully returned to Randell where you were. To Randell that went up in flames because of the nobles. Probably … in the end …”
Liscia … died together with me. He did mention that he ‘lost everything’ earlier. So he meant losing his beloved daughter by that.
“And what about the other allies I promoted?”
“They weren’t there. You didn’t use the Royal Broadcast in that world. We followed the advice of those who wanted to keep with tradition and didn’t let you use it. Therefore the personnel gathering and your broadcast programme thing never happened”
I see … now that I think back to it. Most of our members came from the personnel gathering using the Royal Broadcast. Without it I would’ve never met with Aisha, Hakuya, Tomoe, and Poncho. Also, as a Prime Minister Excel would’ve never sent me Juna, and I wouldn’t have met with Ludwin, Halberd, and Kaede in the military, either. Which means that it was a huge turning point.
And the strongest backing for using the Royal Broadcast was the throne I was given and the engagement with Liscia that provided legitimacy for it. If it weren’t for those, I probably wouldn’t have been able to silence those who oppose the use of the Royal Broadcast. Thinking about it that way …
“… Holy. Liscia’s starting to sound like the goddess of victory here”
“Please do cherish her”
“Of course I would”
The goddess who won’t abandon me even in adversity. If I didn’t cherish her I’d have brought divine wrath upon myself. Lord Alberto then stood up.
“Now then, we’ve told you everything we know. With this, our role is truly over. The rest … is now up to all of you”
As he said so, Lord Alberto stood next to Lady Elisha and wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
“We are thinking of leaving this castle and live a quiet life in our old territory”
“Having the former King around is going to invite unnecessary trouble. This is also something we have decided from the start, to step off the stage after making sure the future had changed”
What I saw there was not the face of an unreliable King, but one of a loving father watching over his children. Is that face … meant for me?
“I suppose you’ve already made your decision”
“We believe we could leave Liscia and the country in your hands. Both Elisha and ourself. We’ll be counting on you, ‘our son'”
I stood up and thumped my fist on my chest.
“… Understood, Lord Father”
We nodded to each other. Lady Elisha watched over everything with a smile. I went to leave the room but stopped and looked back as I was about to approach the door.
“There is one last thing I wanted to ask”
“What is it?”
“Um, in the world where I was Prime Minister, did you ever find Liscia’s and my body?”
“… no, we did say that you became ashes scattered in the wind, did we not? Not a single speck remained”
I see. So they never found my body. In that case …
“Then it could be possible that Liscia and I might have survived”
“I would’ve died if I were on my own, but Liscia was there with me, right? If the me over there cared for Liscia as much as I do here, then I would never have let Liscia die without doing anything about it. Though disgraceful, I would’ve taken Liscia and ran away. It’s possible that we might have been attacked by enemy troops while doing so, but in that case then they’d surely have our bodies. Since they didn’t, that means we might have managed to escape.”
It’s also possible that Georg used himself as bait in order to buy us time to do that … well, that’s like believing in some Yoshitsune survival theory. But isn’t it alright? If it meant easing this father in law of mine’s guilt a little bit.
“… Thank you, son”
Those words reached me as I stepped out of the room.
◇ ◇ ◇
“What do you think you’re doing all the way out here?”
I was on the government office terrace, watching the castle town’s night scene, when Liscia came to me with a blanket.
“You found me out, huh”
“Hakuya told me. Everyone’s busy preparing for the singing contest you know?”
“… sorry. Let me stay here for a little longer please”
“Mou … then at least dress yourself a little warmer”
As she was saying that, Liscia put the blanket she brought over me and slipped herself inside. The warmth of her body coming in contact with me felt really good.
“Phew … Yeah, it’s really cold outside this late”
“Well of course, it’s winter”
“Ah, it’s snowing”
“Woah, it really is”
When I realized, snow had already began falling from the heavy clouds. Powdery at first, then gradually turning into large flittering flakes of snow. The snow falling in the darkness and the lights from the castle town was a wondrous sight to see.
Liscia muttered beside me. I watched her face in profile as she stood there enraptured. Unable to hold myself, I got out from the blanket and drew her into my embrace, blanket and all.
“… actually …”
I should’ve been cold, but my face, my body, for some strange reason, felt warm.
“Actually … there’s something I have to say to you before Aisha, before Juna, before Roroa …”
“Liscia … I love you. Will you marry me?”
“… Really. After all this time”
As she said that, Liscia smiled, embarrased, like she was ticklish. She then gently pushed away from my embrace and put her hands on my chest, slowly bringing her face close.
“Yes. I love you too, Soma”
Our lips met together. It was right at midnight, the 32nd day of the 12th month (New Year’s eve).
We remained that way for a while, listening to the coming of the new year.