Chapter 10: Friends Forever
“So, in short, what you’re saying is that you broke the sealed door of another country and closed an unfair deal without consulting anyone to obtain the treasure inside? Is that correct? I raised you as a prince. I didn’t intend for you to commit robbery.”
“I have nothing to say.”
“‘I have nothing to say’ is not what I want to hear. You fool.”
Inside the most beautiful and secure room of the whole continent located in the innermost section of the Herifalt royal palace, the Lion King, Schwann Herifalt listened to his son’s report from on top of his throne and put his hand on his forehead.
He could be described as being in the prime of his life based on his age, but his boulder of a body showed absolutely no signs of weakening. His chestnut-colored eyes still overflowed with the majesty befitting of the king of the continent.
“In the first place, why did you even go to such a remote place like Aquila? I told you to go out to learn, but aren’t all the countries you’ve chosen smaller nations far away from Herifalt? I’ve been pestered with ‘Why hasn’t the prince come yet?’ from the neighboring country.”
“I only travel to the countries I chose myself, so it’s not like I have to visit those places, right?”
“You’ve already gone to so many and such small ones to boot. Yet, don’t you think not visiting our neighbor, the 2nd largest country in the continent to be unreasonable?”
“I’ll go greet them one day.”
“‘One day,’ huh. I think I have a good grasp of your reason for going to such distant places. You probably think you’re buying yourself some time. Because that is in the neighboring country.”
“…It’s exactly as you’ve said.”
“Oh, we went off-topic. Let’s return to your foolish act towards the Aquila princess. I had you go out on a journey because I already viewed you as an adult. Despite that, your reckless actions…”
“Oh dear, isn’t this fine? It’s romantic.”
The one who interrupted Schwann’s lecture was a gentle, platinum blonde woman sitting on the other throne beside him. Unlike Schwann’s sullen face, she clasped her hands together in genuine delight and had a friendly smile.
“‘Fine’ you say…Ibis, you always indulge Milano. That’s why he acted in such a thoughtless manner.”
“Oh? But I believe that you acted quite reckless in the past for my sake.”
Schwann winced at this painful jab. The woman with the soft air around her called Ibis was currently the queen, but her former position was that of a servant of Herifalt.
To fulfill this love across social status, the young Schwann overcame trial and tribulation to achieve his goal. He developed Herifalt further and raised Milano to the point where his son’s achievements earned him the title of Holy Prince. Presently, no one could defy this king and queen.
“What is the matter, Mother?”
“I also went through my own hardships when I was younger. But, I made sure to properly overcome them. That Princess Selene must be a child who faced a much harder time than me, so please take responsibility and make her happy.”
“I will take it to heart.”
When Ibis said that, Schwann sitting beside her shrugged his shoulders. This was his sign of defeat.
“I’m called the Lion King, but I’m no match for my wife. The matter is treated as an international trade, and we cannot back out at this point.”
“Are you giving me your permission?”
“I said this before, but I treat you as a man. This problem brought about by your judgment shall be handled by you. That is all I will say.”
“Thank you very much!”
Milano said and knelt before his father and mother, the king and the queen—the two most powerful people in the country.
“Now then, shall we end this exaggerated conversation at this point? So, Milano, what do you intend to do with that maiden, Selene?”
The oppressive attitude Schwann had up to now quickly disappeared as he looked down at Milano with hungry eyes from on top of the throne. His eyes sparkled, and his expression resembled a child excited to see a new kitten coming home.
“Father, please calm down. Didn’t you just say that I have to solve my own problems myself…”
“We mustn’t mix business with personal matters, but our business discussion has ended, yes? This is my personal inquiry. I honestly want to see.”
“Yes. I also want to see Selene if she’s that cute. Hey, can you bring her to us?”
Milano looked at their true colors and smiled. They were the king, queen, and prince, but more importantly, they were a family.
“Unfortunately, Selene is currently resting.”
Just as he was about to add that they could meet after tomorrow, the door behind them suddenly and loudly slammed open. The three members of the royal family looked and saw Mari staying there alone. She probably ran, seeing how heavily she was breathing.
“Mari? Why are you in such a rush?”
In a frantic state, Mari jumped into Milano’s chest and clung to him.
Selene was fast asleep, carried in Milano’s arms in the famous “bridal carry.” Milano silently walked through the hallways, and Mari followed behind him, hanging her head.
“Why didn’t you call for the maids nearby?”
“…Because I panicked.”
Mari said while her eyes were still glued to the floor. Her head was a mess after seeing Selene suddenly collapse, so instead of calling for the nearby maids or servants, the first person she sought help from was her reliable brother.
“I thought I told you that Selene was tired and to let her sleep, right?”
“I properly came up with ways to play without tiring her!”
They wouldn’t play outside, so appreciating music inside the room should be fine. This was considerate for Mari as she took Selene with her. However, this was an extremely bad choice for Selene.
The dignified melodies played by the court musicians were the finest entertainment available only to commoners after paying a hefty price. But, to Selene, who only really listened to anime songs, they were nothing more than a sleep-inducing drug. The two sat beside each other in Mari’s room, but Selene couldn’t stave off her drowsiness and fell off her seat.
Selene would have expectedly awakened once she slammed into the hard floor, but the soft carpet, more comfortable than a shallow bed, gently and tenderly wrapped around her body. Because of the journey, she only slept ten hours, leading to a lack of sleep. Therefore, she didn’t wake up and fell into a deep slumber.
Nearby, Mari was horrified. The girl quietly sitting next to her fell face-down on the floor without any warning. Furthermore, no matter how much Mari called out or shock the girl, she showed no signs of waking. Mari judged that this wasn’t something normal and rushed out, half in tears, to the royal space where her brother was.
“In short, you had her accompany you in your selfishness and she collapsed. Why did you do such a thing?”
“It’s because everyone doesn’t want to be with me. Father and Mother are both busy. And even you go out traveling. Besides, since you brought such a cute girl, I thought that you didn’t need me anymore…”
Mari muttered as she slowly following behind Milano. She brought Selene along with her because she did want to play with a cute child around her age, but there was also some spite towards her brother and family in her motivation.
“Do you remember Mia?”
These unexpected words thrown at her after a short pause caused Mari to be speechless.
It was because it was a name Mari would never forget even in her short life so far.
“I remember. She was ver~y cute. A pure white kitten, the same color as Selene.”
“You took that newly-born kitten and played around with it ‘because she was cute.’ Do you remember what happened in the end?”
Mari answered, her voice fading out. This happened several years ago, but Mari had found the kitten abandoned in a corner of the castle and taken it back with her. She was allowed to adopt it, but as Mari didn’t look after it, she entrusted the kitten to Milano.
The kitten was quite lively despite having been abandoned, but one day when Milano went to check on it, it was limp and listless. Because Mari had continued to play with it in the gap when her brother wasn’t present, the kitten had exhausted its energy. Fortunately, it recovered soon after being nursed under Milano’s care again, but Milano confiscated the kitten from the half-crying, half-protesting Mari and gave it to a cat-loving servant. But, Mari couldn’t understand why Milano had brought up this topic.
“This child was abandoned by her mother.”
Milano bluntly spoke of one of Selene’s secrets. That statement astonished Mari. A mother abandoned her child? Such a thing was unthinkable to a girl like her who grew up in a warm family.
“E-eh? That’s wrong. I mean, a mother…is like Mother, right? You’re saying that Mother would abandon me? Impossible. If something like that happened to me, I would lose my mind.”
Mari must have been perplexed as she said what was on her mind without organizing her thoughts properly. Selene’s mind had been greatly strange even before she was abandoned, but that was something hidden from the public.
“This child is the same as Mia. Just as I couldn’t abandon the kitten you cast away, I cannot leave this girl alone. I’m not doing this to disregard you. I don’t mind if you whine to me, but please be nice to Selene.”
After Milano carried Selene to her room and put her to bed, he gently brushed Mari’s head and left without a word. The two girls were left alone in the large room, but Mari showed no signs of wanting to leave. She carried a nearby chair all the way to the bedside. She silently stared at Selene’s sleeping face.
After some time when the sky turned crimson, Selene opened her eyes. She was the most active starting at this time, and her drowsiness was blown completely away by that full afternoon nap.
“Selene! You were awake?!”
The moment Selene opened her eyes, Mari wrapped her arms around Selene’s neck. This would normally be a joyous event, but Selene was confused. Because she had never experienced being embraced by a blonde loli right after waking up, Selene’s bewilderment won over her delight.
“You suddenly collapsed, but are you fine?! You’re not in pain?!”
Being told that, Selene finally understood her situation. She remembered being invited to appreciate music but had no memories past that point. Most likely, or rather, undoubtedly, she ended up falling asleep. No matter how tired she was, that was just too rude. She kept silent, wondering what excuse to make, but it appeared that Mari saw this silence as Selene being angry.
“You’re angry, right… Um, I’m sorry.”
Mari hung her head, depressed, and tightly clutched her small hands together on her knees. This made her usual confident attitude seem like a lie.
“Um, er, you see, I…don’t have any friends, so I don’t know how to match pace with others.”
“Lady Maribelle, no, friends?”
“Even though, princess among princesses?”
When Selene tilted her head in puzzlement, Mari looked at the floor, hesitant to speak, but she slowly opened her mouth after some time.
“I, am certainly the most distinguished among the princess. But, that’s it. The ones who are really distinguished are Father and Mother, and Brother is the strongest. I can’t do anything.”
“Lady Maribelle, isn’t amazing?”
“Brother is the amazing one. He trains his body, is smart, and even has plenty of magic. As the first-born child, he received most of the magic. That’s why even though the other children will play with me, I know that they call me worthless behind my back.”
At this point, Selene remembered the sealed door that locked her inside her room. Her sister, Arue, could open it by holding her hand over the door, but there was absolutely no reaction when Selene touched it. If she were to believe Mari’s words, then she might have had practically no magic herself.
“That’s why if I wasn’t a princess, no one would pay any attention to me…”
Because Selene didn’t say anything, the emotions inside Mari made their presence known and her voice grew more tearful. Seeing Mari like this, Selene quietly opened her mouth.
“I too, had, no friends.”
Right now, the girl in front of her said, “I had no friend.”
Not “I have no friends” but “I had no friends.”
Mari noticed this and cautiously asked.
“Selene, you aren’t angry? Could it be that, you thought of me as, your friend…?”
“If Lady Maribelle, allows.”
In contrast to the teary-eyed Mari, Selene grinned. The way she smiled wasn’t the calculated one the other noble daughters or princesses made. Even the young Mari could clearly grasp that there was genuine happiness there.
Selene’s declaration that she had no friends was definitely said in the past tense, but that was from back when she was an old man. The past Selene didn’t have any friends. Or rather, not even a mouse like she had now. Nevertheless, for this beautiful, blonde loli to become friends with her, she couldn’t help but be happy.
“Really? Are you really fine with me? I, don’t have any good points, you know?”
“None! I’m not smart or strong. I barely even have any magic!”
“Have. Lady Maribelle, is Lady Maribelle, after all.”
These words that Selene said in such a matter-of-fact way intensely shook the depths of Mari’s heart.
“(This girl said the same thing as Father!)”
In the past, Mari vented her anger to her father and mother, crying, “Why don’t I have a lot of magic? Why wasn’t I born outstanding like my brother?” Mari cried and threw a tantrum, but her father and mother said this.
“Do you think that because you don’t have talent, there was no meaning to your birth? That’s wrong. Mari, just by being our Mari and staying by our side, you give us strength. By taking responsibility for someone precious, people will improve themselves to make sure that they can be happy. That alone gives you worth. You may not understand it now, but there will be others out there besides us who need you.”
Mari thought they were lying. Until now, everyone else, besides her family who told her that, looked at this young girl with cold eyes, driving her crazy. She knew that people behind her back compared her to her more superior brother and called her “the second-hand sibling of the Holy Prince Milano.”
That was exactly why Mari addressed herself as “the princess among princesses” and behaved haughtily. Because if she didn’t insist on that, the brand of incompetence would crush her. However, the ephemeral girl before her said that she viewed Mari as a friend despite Mari’s weakness being put on display.
In actuality, Selene only thought, “Being a beautiful, blonde loli alone was valuable.” If asked who she would support: a heinous, loli criminal or a holy old man, Selene was the type to unhesitatingly chose the former.
“Thank you, Selene.”
“No, Lady Maribelle, is cute.”
“You can call me Mari. I mean, isn’t it strange for friends to address each other so formally?”
Mari giggled. The dark shadow over her before vanished, and the twinkles returned to her eyes.
“Selene, let’s do a good-luck charm.”
“Ah, right. You don’t know it. Hey, can I take some of your hair?”
As Mari said, she rummaged through the shelves in Selene’s room and took out something that resembled small sewing scissors. She circled around to the back of Selene who was sitting up on the bed and ran her fingers through Selene’s hair.
“Such beautiful hair… It’s smooth and pure white like silk. It’ll be better if you grew it out longer.”
That blunt comment made Mari chuckle.
One sweltering summer day, Selene had completely shaved her head, a habit from when she was an old man. Arue, who came to check on her, fainted at the sudden sight of her bald little sister. After that, Selene was seen by the castle’s personal doctor. The behavior was wrongly diagnosed as a fit caused by extreme stress and Selene was monitored for some time. Since then, she compromised by keeping her hair shoulder-length.
“Then, I’ll take a little.”
After Mari used the scissors to take some of Selene’s hair, she rolled it into a bundle and skillfully braided it into a ribbon.
“I did it! What do you think? Good, right?”
Selene reflexively clapped. Mari had braided the pure-white hair and created a small, white ring. It was truly done skillfully, causing Selene to stare in wonder. Then, Mari put that ring on the little finger on her right hand, cut her shimmering blonde hair, and made a similar ring.
“Selene, can you hold out your right hand?”
When Selene held out her right hand, Mari put the ring of golden hair on Selene’s right little finger.
“What, is this?”
“Girls would use their each other’s hair to make accessories like this. When exchanged, this means that the two will be friends forever. This is a good-luck charm popular in Herifalt.”
“Girls, friends, forever.”
Those words manifested an immoral delusion in Selene, but naturally, she added the pure meaning of being friends.
“Though, in truth, there’s hardly any girls who do it. It’s also my first time doing it with Selene. Then, I’ll see you later. I’ll come to play again when you’re feeling better!”
Mari said, winked, and left the room. The gloom around her before was already nonexistent, and Selene saw off this girl full of life.
[From what I could see, I don’t think she is by any means incompetent.]
[You appeared to be in the middle of something, so I remained silent. Prince Milano is certainly outstanding and excellent, but the subtleties men don’t understand are something only women will notice. One mustn’t determine superiority solely on strength.]
“No. Not only.”
As if reflecting on Butler’s words, Selene carved those words in her heart. That was right. She couldn’t compete in a clash of power, but she might be able to defeat the prince through other weak points. Fighting wasn’t strength alone. Selene thought and chuckled to herself.
But, more importantly, today’s real profit was getting close to Mari. She decided to leave the matter of searching for weak spots for tomorrow. Selene gave a slimly laugh while continuing to stare at the ring on her right hand.