Read at Watashi Wa Sugoi Desu!
19. A Thorny Path
After the attack by the yazus plotted by Fukagawa, Princess Shirayuki suffered from a fever and was forced to recuperate for several days in Lidsalessaloth’s royal castle. It was quite understandable considering the heavy responsibility that was placed on his young body and mind. However, since we had a conservative estimate of how long it would take to cross the country of Lidsalessaloth, a slight delay would not be a problem.
While Princess Shirayuki was recuperating, I discussed the matter with King Neuschler, who had offered himself as guardian. Future normalization of diplomatic relations between Lidsalessaloth and Hinoe would make it more convenient for Palcemith to follow suit. Even though I was already retired, I was still held in high esteem as the Wise Sage so, at the very least, I could add to my reputation as a leading figure in the alliance of these three nations.
“…This feels like another result of karma.”
As I said this, I stood on the balcony of the royal castle of Lidsalessaloth where renovations had been completed. I let the pigeon that brought me news from Palcemith perch on my shoulder. I read the letter tied to its anklet, exhaled, and pushed up the bridge of my glasses. Before we’d left Palcemith, I had asked Morino and Vanellope to investigate something and they sent me the results.
“What’s the matter, Lord Sage?”
King Neuschler, who was standing nearby, probably sensed that I was lost in thought and called out to me.
“I had them check something out for me, on the off chance, but…”
I handed the letter that the pigeon had brought to Taiga and called Jolga over. Taiga’s eyes widened as he read the letter. He then whispered its contents into Neuschler’s ear as he hugged him from behind.
Even King Neuschler could not hide his shock.
“I know. Fortunately, Jolga and I don’t have any appointments. We’ll move right away.”
“You have my gratitude. Taiga, tell mother…”
“Yes, I’ll send a messenger to the royal villa.”
Not a moment later, I was in a carriage with Jolga and Tokiwa riding towards a small frontier town on the border between Lidsalessaloth and the Grand Duchy of Oakneth.
We were in a hurry, so even though the road was paved, the carriage was rocking. While Jolga was sitting next to me, his hand unabashedly wrapped around my waist, Tokiwa, who was seated facing us, looked quite exhausted. All at once he had lost both his attendant who had served him since childhood and his brother. He must have been feeling a considerable amount of stress, even if not as much as Princess Shirayuki, who had given the order that led directly to his brother’s death.
Tokiwa knew that now was the perfect time to inquire freely, since Princess Shirayuki and the other attendants were not here. He called out to me, albeit timidly.
I smiled at Tokiwa and nodded slightly, “You have something you want to ask me, don’t you? Go ahead.”
Of course, the reason I only took Tokiwa was so that I could talk to him like this.
“Lord Anderheim. Why did it have to be me?”
Tokiwa’s question was justified. Even though it was done rashly by an attendant, both parties had committed acts that were aimed at Princess Shirayuki’s life. Yet I had kept the third prince, Tokiwa, instead of the second prince, Seiji. Naturally, I had my own agenda.
“Succession disputes are troublesome in any country. Despite one’s own intentions, their mother’s power has great influence.”
Tomoe, Seiji’s birth mother, was the daughter of a powerful family and the childhood friend of King Motonari, while Amato, Tokiwa’s birth mother, was the daughter of the Minister of the Left.[e/n: No righties need apply!] Incidentally, Fukagawa was the child of Tomoe’s cousin, and Tsurara’s father was the brother of Tokiwa’s nanny. In a way, it could be said that their arrangement was solidified by their familial relations.
If one were to think simply in terms of status and backing, Amato, the daughter of the Minister of the Left, was a threat. Although Seiji was the second prince, his mother came from a family that did not hold any rank. That made him third in the line of succession, behind both Shirayuki and Tokiwa.
“The presence of Lord Tokiwa is indeed a hindrance to the party aiming to support Princess Shirayuki. On the other hand, if we can win you over, we will have gained a significant advantage. Moreover, the fifth Prince Itsugae’s faction is also present in the country. Prince Itsugae’s mother is…”
“…is my father’s cousin. Their mothers were sisters.”
In addition, Princess Shirayuki’s mother, Hirugao, was the daughter of the younger brother of Motochika, the father of the current King Motonari. In other words, she was also a cousin of Motonari.
“Now, in light of all this, I have a question for you, Lord Tokiwa. What do you think it is that I’m planning to eliminate?”
In response to my question, Tokiwa’s gaze wandered a bit as he pondered.
The “reason” why I killed Seiji and not Tokiwa, who could have been the greatest threat to Princess Shirayuki. Why I did not harm Tokiwa, but eliminated only Tsurara, who had become my pawn, leaving room for his mother, Amato, to threaten me. And most of all, why had I let Tokiwa himself contemplate its significance?
Tokiwa’s complexion changed.
Oh. Even though he was naive enough to allow his servant to run amok, he apparently possessed a brain that was capable of some thought.
I lightly applauded as he replied with a tone of incredulity, suspicion and confusion lacing his voice.
“I’m sure you understand, Lord Tokiwa. It was the right decision to keep you.”
“I knew something was off. King Motonari may be a sickly man, but he isn’t a person who lacks foresight.”
It was a fact that the first prince, Susanoi, had died. But there were still four princes left. The brothers who had defied their mothers’ wishes and decided to help and support each other still remained.
Yet, they had sent Princess Shirayuki, the first in the line of succession to the throne, to Palcemith as a reckless envoy. Even if it was under the direction of Lady Amato, Motonari, the sovereign of the country, should have stopped her.
Furthermore, he allowed Seiji and Tokiwa, who were worried about Princess Shirayuki’s safety, to accompany him on his journey. Although each of them had their own attendants serving as guards, he knew very well that depending on the situation, those servants would try to make Princess Shirayuki disappear.
For example, if Motonari wanted Seiji to be his successor and favoured him, it would be understandable. It would make sense if he was trying to oust Prince Tokiwa and Princess Shirayuki in order to get Seiji, who had little backing, to support him. However, if that was the case, it was odd that Seiji had not been prevented from accompanying Princess Shirayuki on her journey.
There was only one explanation for these facts. The Lord of the Land, Motonari himself, had arranged this. He wanted the brothers to get caught in a quagmire.
He sat back and observed after setting them upon a journey that would end in futility at best and havoc at worst.
That was what I was able to discern.
“Lord Tokiwa. I also have two children. They are precious to me. They are the two that I want to protect first and foremost.”
As I continued quietly, Tokiwa’s eyelids drooped slightly.
“The position of a politician is certainly a painful one. A single decision can cost the lives of millions of people. I’m not saying that one should not use one’s own children as tools. There are times when it is necessary to do so. But it isn’t nice to be treated like that… to be used as a pawn simply because the situation demands it.”
Not a shred of their own free will.
What if the conflict grew on its own while the one being used was just perplexed? It would be too pitiful.
“Therefore, this is me harassing him. I’m sure that the King will soon realize that.”
I had yet to confirm the reason, but I was certain that King Motonari did not want Princess Shirayuki to be the next ruler. Not only that, but he probably didn’t want Seiji, Tokiwa, or Itsugae, either. Princess Shirayuki, Prince Seiji, Prince Tokiwa, Prince Itsugae; he wanted all of them to disappear as a result of mutual destruction. What Motonari wanted was some kind of bloody stage tragedy.
That was precisely why I’d thrown a wrench into it.
I set up an opponent who was not supposed to be excluded in the first place as a stepping stone for Princess Shirayuki.
“I’ve arranged it so that the Princess will have the upper hand. I made it so that Princess Shirayuki, whom the King least ‘wanted’, will be the closest to the throne.”
I chuckled throatily as Tokiwa clasped his hands in his lap.
Just like Princess Shirayuki, Tokiwa was inexperienced, but he was educated enough to understand his position, and that is why he was in distress.
“…May I ask you one last question?”
“What is it?”
Looking straight into my eyes, Tokiwa threw a wistful question at me.
“If it were… If it were you, the one who is praised as the Sage, how would you have handled it? How would you have managed us brothers, who had to fight each other?”
“…What a foolish question.”
I let out a little snort.
There was no consolation in answering the question, and the answer provided only slight guidance.
But that was about it. A pawn that does not move was worthless.
“I don’t ‘move’ them. It is only by guiding them to do what I want them to do by themselves that I can boast that I have raised an excellent pawn. One can’t expect to accomplish much by moving pawns that only know how to just follow along.”
“Well then… have you made up your mind?”
At my gentle prompting, Tokiwa quietly nodded his head.
“Before I return to Hinoe, before my mother can interfere, I will abandon my right of succession and become a retainer of Shirayuki. Lord Anderheim, Sir Jolga: May I ask you to stand witness to the ceremony of me pledging my vow of allegiance to Shirayuki?”
“…What an excellent decision. It would be my pleasure, even though I am unworthy.”
“I humbly accept the honour of being your witness.”
I showed my respect for Tokiwa’s decision, and Jolga nodded firmly.
…Now we had another foothold to probe Hinoe.
The carriage carrying us continued to drive down the road.
We eventually arrived at Milcke, a small town on the border between Lidsalessaloth and the Grand Duchy of Oakneth.
“…Now then, let’s get to work.”
I opened the door of the carriage, stepped out onto the ground, and stretched slowly.
There was a very important person in this town who was essential to the peaceful reign of the Kingdom of Lidsalessaloth.
It was said that this person had been in hiding for a long time, evading the pursuit of the royal family.
“Let’s go meet the next King of Lidsalessaloth.”
Three arrows are useless if they are all broken from the start.