SETP Vol. 3 Chapter 10

 

Chapter 10 – Only Look Forward

 

I spent the rest of that day in the garden.

Father, Grerial, and Feli told me to stay in my room, but I refused.

I wasn’t feeling sad in the slightest.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel the slightest resentment toward the empire, which forced the knight to take such actions, but it was just a fleeting feeling.

Yet, my heart still felt conflicted.

I was angry, I guess.

Not at someone else, but at myself.

I had no intention of saying anything about how the knight died. It’s different from person to person, and all living creatures eventually died.

I have been closer to death than anyone else, so I had nothing to say to the dead, not anymore. That period ended a long time ago.

Then why?

Probably because of the way the knight died overlapped with my past comrades’ deaths.

The feelings inspired in me by the knight recalled my past.

The past in which I couldn’t protect others came back to life in my mind.

Was it going to happen again?

I felt such a whisper in my ears.

“….shut up.”

Those illusory words were louder than usual.

But I knew full well the reason why such past events tormented me so much. The way the knight died was too similar to my mentor and the others.

That day no wind was blowing.

If there was at least a breeze, these shitty thoughts might be swept away…I thought and cursed the sky under my breath.

I lay on the grass and closed my eyes. Usually, I could let go of my consciousness right away, but for some reason that day it didn’t work. I couldn’t do something so natural.

Then, I heard the sound of scraping against the ground.

Something like a rustle. In the world of darkness behind my closed eyes, that sound was clear.

“Can’t sleep? You’re not really suited to the sleeping beauty role after all.”

Words without restraint.

Normally I’d talk back, but for some reason, those words sounded comforting.

“…I just woke up.”

“Oh my, why would you lie like that? You truly are the Prince that, until 4 in the afternoon, doesn’t wake up even if you stick your fingers in his nose, yes?”

A wristwatch was then shoved in front of my half-opened eyes.

The hour hand was still pointed at 2.

“…you just said something terribly awful, you know?”

“I-It’s just your imagination…I think.”

My light accusation had the brown-haired maid — Ratifah — look away.

A response that gave it all away.

You really did that, you little…! 

I felt anger starting to bubble in my gut.

I thought I had to teach her a lesson once and for all, and felt the train of thought that trapped me without end had turned into irritation directed at Ratifah before I could realize it. 

It was probably a coincidence…but I mentally thanked her as I sat up.

While I was shaking the grass off my back, Ratifah sat down next to me.

“Did something happen?”

Ratifah spoke first.

Maybe out of concern for my feelings, there was a tinge of sadness on her expression.

“…no? Nothing in particular.”

Had Feli told her something?

So I thought for a moment, but Feli von Yugstine was too kind for her own good. She probably kept quiet about everything.

There was an unnatural pause before I replied, though.

“You have to lie better than that to fool me, Your Highness.”

Ratifah’s clear eyes seemed to see all the way into my soul, and I felt the urge to look away grow stronger.

Doing so would have been admitting she was right, so I resisted the urge with all my might.

“Hah…”

I heard a small sigh.

“I don’t know what happened to you, Your Highness. Because a certain unkind person tries her best to not say anything and won’t speak a word.”

Ratifah’s stinging words and expression were filled with discontent.

“But Your Highness is easy to understand, so, by looking at your face, I can more or less tell what happened. Even with a title like ‘Hero’, Your Highness is always the same sleep-loving lazy slob of a Prince.”

I knew that.

Better than anyone else.

A title like “Hero” didn’t fit me at all.

“Trash Prince” fit me much better, and I liked it too.

“Everyone has regrets.”

Ratifah suddenly continued.

“It’s normal. I can’t even count how many times I have. Why didn’t I do this, why did I do that…I think about such regrets every day. But I am walking forward. I am living.”

Her words felt terribly convincing, her eyes burned through me.

“Do you know the reason why?”

I didn’t know what other people thought. There was no way I could.

Besides, unlike Ratifah, I probably wasn’t living while walking forward. On the contrary, I was always looking back, dragging my past with me.

I couldn’t simply make peace with it and go on.

So I couldn’t answer her question.

“I’ll change the question. Your Highness, if you could go back to the past and change it…would you do it?”

If my personal maid Ratifah really had the power to turn back time, I… — I knew there was no way she did, but her question froze me all the same.

I couldn’t say yes or no.

Again, I couldn’t reply.

I found myself thinking…

When did it happen exactly?

My mentor once asked me the same silly question. If you could go back in time, would you? That memory lodged itself in a corner of my mind.

The past came back to life in my head.

 

◆◆◆

 

<<***, if you could go back in time, would you?>>

<<What are you saying now?>>

<<Just answer me, ***. Would you?>>

The question came all of a sudden.

My mentor asked me out of the blue. There was no way it was possible to go back in time, so why would he ask something like that? I had no idea at the time.

I decided to answer, though.

Even if I knew it was a pointless question.

<<I would. I want to go back to my ordinary life.>>

I liked my mentor and the others, the people I lived with.

There was no doubt about it. I could say it with confidence.

But my days now were filled with killing, battles, death. It was hell. The people around me were hurt and would eventually die.

It was painful to see.

<<What about you, mentor? Would you go back in time?>>

<<Me? Hmm…>>

My mentor laughed wryly.

My answer was probably expected. His expression didn’t change, but he probably didn’t think I would flip the question back.

<<Nah, I don’t think I want to go back. Or I should say that I can’t.>>

<<What’s that supposed to mean?>>

If you could go back in time.

Why do you answer “I can’t” to a question like that?

I didn’t understand why my mentor would choose such words.

<<Going back in time means that anything that happened after that disappears and you can manipulate things as you want. Our present is built on many sacrifices. You and I also experienced all sorts of things. We carry a lot of sadness too.>>

<<That’s why you’d want to go back, no?>>

I felt that my words were completely accurate. My mentor answered with a smile filled with kindness.

<<Listen to me, ***. No matter how cruel of a past you have, no matter how many regrets you have, you must never look away from them.>>

<<…why?>>

My mentor’s words were unusually passionate. My voice trembled slightly as I replied.

<<If you look away, they’ll never be repaid.>>

What won’t? I wanted to ask, but— 

<<The resolve of the people who desperately lived, survived, but eventually died…won’t be repaid.>>

I couldn’t say anything after hearing my mentor’s words.

<<***, you’ll find more regrets in the future too. You will see those dear to you die before your eyes. But when that happens, don’t ever think that you want to go back. Especially if they have entrusted something to you. Never turn away from the baton of life.>>

I could understand, if a little, why my mentor said he couldn’t go back.

<<Everyone has regrets. I do too. No human doesn’t.>>

<<You too, mentor?>>

In my eyes, my mentor had everything.

He was strong, had comrades, and was probably happy too. His personality was awful, but I admired everything else.

So I couldn’t hide my surprise.

<<I’m a human too. I have so many regrets I can’t even count them. But it doesn’t matter how many regrets you have. If you want to lament them, do it as much as you want. But in exchange, never stop going forward.>>

<<Never stop…going forward?>>

My mentor sometimes used really difficult expressions.

He said it came with age, but I was sure that wasn’t the only reason.

Failing to understand, I pouted a little and my mentor put a hand on my head.

<<In other words, keep living just like you are doing now, ***.>>

<<…yeah, I really don’t get it.>>

<<…hmm, let me put it another way. Right now you’re doing your best to live, thinking that your life was granted to you by others, right? That’s what it means to never stop going forward.>>

I couldn’t understand after all.

<<You might stop in your tracks one day. If that happens, think back on this conversation. Repeat it to yourself. It will definitely become a light, showing you where you should go.>>

My mentor frazzled my hair while showing a beautiful smile.

<<Look forward and walk. That’s the best thing you can do for those who entrust something to you. At least that’s what I believe— >>

 

◆◆◆

 

“Are you even listening, Your Highness!? My words are too precious for you to ignore, you know! I just said something really nice, you know!? You didn’t hear, did you!? Your thoughts are totally elsewhere!!”

Ratifah’s noisy complaints pulled me back to reality.

I couldn’t just get emotional like that by myself, so for the time being I decided to tell her the truth.

“Sorry, my consciousness was kind of gone.”

“Why does it have to go when I’m talking!?!”

Ratifah held her head with her hands, shaking at the absurdity of my reaction. I felt sorry for her, but I also thought I had found a clue about what I should do.

And it definitely wasn’t to mope around in the garden.

It didn’t matter if the knight’s words were true or false— 

“…okay then.”

I put a hand on the grass and stood up.

The maid had fallen into a sort of negative mood. Crouching on the ground, she was mumbling words that sounded like a ritual curse, but I decided to ignore that.

It was true that her coming here was like a trigger for me. I extended my free hand toward her.

“Ratifah.”

“….yes, what is it now…?”

Her response was void of any kind of energy.

I felt a bit guilty this time but recalled her betrayal and alliance with Stenn, so any guilt vanished in an instant.

“I feel like I got over it.”

“Hoh?”

After such a particular reaction, Ratifah looked up. She looked at me for a few seconds, a bright smile on her lips.

“Is that so. I’m glad.”

“Yeah, you’ve been a big help.”

Ratifah took the hand I extended.

While I was pulling her up— 

.

This reminds me, the same thing happened *before*…though he’s pulling me up this time…

.

Ratifah spoke in a tone too faint to properly hear.

“Did you say something?”

“No no!! I didn’t!! Say anything!!”

Ratifah denied loudly. Her grin implied that this was her punishment to me for ignoring her before.

I concluded that it was definitely something ridiculous anyway and decided not to think about it.

I needed to say one more thing, though.

That day, I had to say those words.

“Ratifah, thank you.”

“Hmm? Your Highness, your voice is strangely low, I can’t hear you well…what you should say now is that next time you’ll properly ask your maid Ratifah for advice, without hiding anything anymore, you knooow?”

“…you’ve heard perfectly, haven’t you.”

…I immediately regretted saying it.

But strangely enough, it wasn’t unpleasant.


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