SETP Vol. 3 Chapter 23
Chapter 23 – Hot Water
“Things you want to ask, huh…”
The boy surely knew I would ask sooner or later.
That’s the impression he gave as he replied.
The look he gave me seemed to urge me to continue, so I complied.
“I heard about those ancient relics, but not about what they actually contain.”
“You want me to tell you?”
As soon as the boy said that, I slowly shook my head.
“No. What I want to know is whether they contain what I’m thinking. I don’t want to know the contents themselves. Only if there’s a certain something in them or not.”
I had a terrible feeling about the whole thing.
Ever since I smelled that awful stench of rust I knew so well, I had a hunch. But I couldn’t just say it was a hunch and forget about it.
“A while ago, in Diestburg, I was attacked by someone from the empire.”
“It must have been troublesome for you, but a tragedy for those who dared attack such an unusual prince….”
So said the boy, in a humorous tone.
“No one would expect it normally, right? That a royal prince could be so bloody and quick to fight.”
“…I don’t think I’m that quick or keen on fighting though.”
The culprit attacked me while knowing I was a swordsman and used my “Spada”, but there was no point to correct the boy’s words, so I just nodded.
“Anyway, I neutralized the attack, but in the process came face to face with something bizarre.”
“Yes, bizarre is the right word. Something that makes you feel sick to the stomach just by looking at it…that kind of bizarre.”
I looked down at the thin crescent moon reflected on the hot water. Next to it, my face was reflected. My frown, deeper than usual, could be seen clearly.
“Have you ever heard of human-like monsters, incapable of rational thought?”
The scene surfaced in my mind.
Those creatures were so deeply engraved in my memory that I was sure I would never forget them, no matter how long I lived. The word “monster” was so utterly fitting for them.
The boy replied.
Maybe influenced by my mood, his words sounded a little awkward.
“Really? That’s fine then.”
I stood up, disrupting my reflection in the water. That answer was enough for the time being.
“…were you thinking that those monsters might be connected to the ancient relic?”
“I thought so, but if you don’t know about them, it’s fine. It was just a hunch. I just thought that if there was a connection, I would have to apologize ahead of time.”
I would surely—
“…apologize for what?”
“Because I would surely…leave anything else behind and go straight to those monsters.”
It was not a prediction.
The moment they appeared before me, I would definitely swing my sword. I would rush to kill them, even if I had to sever all the ties, literal and figurative, that I had. In such a case, I would surely forget any promises I made or requests I accepted.
Thus I said I would have to apologize.
“…as bloody as ever, Your Highness.”
“Hey, if I could, I’d spend my days sleeping. But there are circumstances that won’t let me do that.”
“That’s kinda surprising.”
I didn’t expect the boy to reply like that, so I reacted spontaneously.
What surprised him?
“I expected you to ask me about what happened with that maid you see.”
“Maid..? Aah, Feli.”
“Oh? You actually didn’t care much about it?”
“No way I don’t.”
If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t say those things to her as soon as I met her. She was important. But I knew there was nothing I could do, so from another person’s viewpoint, I might seem uninterested.
“Anyone has one or two things they don’t want others to pry into. So I’m leaving her alone for now…that’s the best thing to do at the moment.”
“Hmm, really…so you do act princely sometimes.”
“Just what kind of person did you think I am…?”
“Someone rushing off to die, without thinking of any consequences”
The impression of our meeting in Rinchelle. Normally I’d shout back at him, but those words were strangely apt to describe me, so I found myself at a loss for words.
“Oh? Did I hit the spot? And render you speechless?”
I glared at the boy, my eyes half-open.
His smug smile only irritated me even more.
“Oh yeah, may I ask one question too?”
The boy spoke in a rather excited tone while splashing the water. It even looked like he had sparkles in his eyes, but that was probably my imagination.
“…only if it’s something I can answer.”
“Hmm, yeah, I think you can.”
The boy then continued.
I was a bit on guard, wondering what he was going to say. Then…
“So, which one of them are you going for?”
My mind went totally blank.
“I mean, you’re the Prince, right? Based on your personality, I bet you’re not one of those maniac types who get their hands on anyone they like, but it wouldn’t be weird to be in a relationship like that with someone, right?”
“The dumbest thing you could ever ask…”
But I felt immediately relaxed.
I wondered what he was going to ask…but it was something more lowbrow than I could possibly expect. I expressed how worthless I thought it was and exited the bath.
“What!? You really mean it!?”
The boy saw how I didn’t desperately deny his words, but really acted disappointed and was about to leave, so he hurriedly spoke again.
He also quickly got out of the bath like me, but then I heard a loud splashing noise.
“Rather than really meaning or not, I’m not interested in…no, I should say…”
I looked over the shoulder at the boy.
“I’m not used to that stuff.”
I held back from laughing at myself and replied.
“I’m pretty clumsy, to be honest…I only see people as those I don’t want to lose, and the rest. So I wouldn’t be able to answer a question like that.”
I could talk about things I knew in a number of ways. But I didn’t even know what would constitute an answer to a question like that. So I had no way to answer. That was my answer to the boy.
“…you really are weird, aren’t you. No, not only you…you *both*.”
“That isn’t anything new, at least in my case.”
The boy knew that I was the Diestburg kingdom’s “Trash Prince”. A decadent royal who either slept or thought about sleeping all the time.
I was always told I was strange, so his words felt like nothing new.
“Yeah, I guess so. But I was really surprised. I expected your father or someone to assign that sort of *chain* to you, in order to keep you under control.”
That sort of *chain*.
I could easily tell he meant a lover, a woman’s presence. So I asked. What reason would there be to do such a thing?
“Because it works.”
He answered immediately.
“It works with people like you, people who prioritize others over themselves as they rush to their deaths.”
If you had a person you wanted to be together with, you’d feel compelled to live, wouldn’t you? So said the boy.
“If that person passed or was used in some sort of negotiation, the damage would be fatal, though. Fatal…yeah…”
The boy’s tone grew more and more desolate as he talked.
More than his change in tone, however—
“You’re talking just like the empire.”
— what he said left a bigger impression on me.
They reminded me of the words of that knight, who enjoyed taking a laid-back attitude. His words about families and ties and all that.
“…am I, really?”
“I heard it from someone, though, so I don’t know how true it is.”
The conversation then stopped.
I opened the sliding door leading to the changing room. The air in the room felt a little warmer than the open-air bath.
“Oh yeah, there was one more thing I wanted to ask.”
I wondered why the boy would stand there, deep in thought, instead of coming with me, then I remembered about the other thing I wanted to ask.
It was the more important thing, so I reprimanded myself for forgetting and asked the question.
“You said we have to wait for the right timing, but how long will it take, more or less?”
“…ah, that will be five days from now. It might change a bit, but if that happens I’ll tell you in the morning, don’t worry.”
I learned what I wanted to know.
So I proceeded through the door towards the place we left our clothes. The door slowly slid to a close behind me.
“…I think I’ll take another dip.”
The boy’s voice slid through the gap of the closing door.
“You can spend the remaining five days freely, but be careful at night.”
The answer came before I could ask.
“Because there might be scary military types out and about.”