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Flashback chapter: In which the Idiot Prince is even worse than you think.Chapter 2 (the real one this time)
I was stunned, shock freezing my face in an unpleasant expression.
What did I just hear?
That I have a fiancée? That my fiancée is also the second prince of this country?
I am the daughter of a Duke. If it has already been decided that I'll marry, then I must do my best to represent my house with pride. Even if the other party is ugly. Even if he is difficult by nature.
Let my heart be as iron. There can be no hesitation.
In order to attend this banquet, I have already broken with my old personality.
But, Father. It really has to be this person?
I've never heard a rumor that Kyle, the second prince, was a poster child for ill-bred brats without common sense, unable to perform the most basic of greetings. That can't possibly be true, right?
"It's no use hiding! You're going to be my companion for the rest of my life, idiot!"
— Thus, my h.e.l.lish days began.
Every single evening party from then on, Prince Kyle would turn up like an obsessive stalker.
Not only did he force his presence on me, an ordeal that never became easier to endure, but he also started a campaign of sober hara.s.sment.
Sometimes, in public, he would trip me and laugh.
Or my silver hair would bother him and he'd yank at it like a toddler.
There were adults who saw and carefully tried to chide Prince Kyle for his abominable behavior but he had no qualms about about abusing his status. He would just give them a haughty look and say, "Do you know what'll happen if you offend me?"
And so everyone would back down, pretending to see none of his deeds, no matter how blatant…
Make no mistake, I did not suffer this abuse in silence. I asked my father to invalidate the engagement over and over again. I told him the truth about how Prince Kyle treated me. Some of the incidents, he even witnessed personally.
In a normal situation, it would be a terrifying thought for a Duke to even consider dismissing a royal marriage. But this wasn't a normal situation. I had many valid reasons to break the engagement on our end. It was absolutely justified.
Time and again, however, Father shook his head. He was a great supporter of the royal family, insisting that my engagement was a good thing.
At the same time, my loathing for evening parties turned to hatred. I still had to go because if I didn't, it was likely Prince Kyle would show up at our house afterward. I wanted to prevent that by any means necessary so I grit my teeth and faithfully attended every banquet I was invited to.
While painful, since it was more or less happening constantly, I eventually got used to it over the period of a year or two.
No matter what kind of foul words were thrown in my face, I had a spirit of steel that was unshakable. Even violence could not move me.
This was an act of calculated defiance.
After all, if a victim didn't react to torment then the tormentor would grow bored and seek more entertaining prey. And sure enough, Prince Kyle became tired of my lack of response and stopped attending parties altogether.
For a while, the chances we had to meet gradually diminished and my temper slowly settled.
But, of course, that couldn't be the end of it.
Time pa.s.sed and when I turned fifteen, I entered the Academy and my trials of endurance began anew.
[Morning of the Entrance Ceremony]
Dressed in a bright orange uniform, I crossed my arms and examined the large map on the wall.
It depicted the continent of Romancia, said to be the combined work of many G.o.ds of creation, who made the earth from dust and the sky from void.
There were four great powers in Romancia, each with their own territory and culture.
In the east, the Vanquish Empire.
In the west, the Holy Eldoland.
In the south, the United Kingdom of Lindburg.
And in the north, the Princ.i.p.ality of Falconia.
These four countries frequently made war with their neighbors, repeatedly engaging in b.l.o.o.d.y battles over unstable borders.
Despite the aggressive nature of the great powers, there were still countries who steadfastly resisted a.s.similation and remained independent. Mostly small kingdoms, located near the center of the continent.
The county where I was born and raised, the Kingdom of Pallistan, was one of them.
We have an alliance with three of the four major powers. Our foreign policy is excellent.
If the domestic policy was equally stable, then our safe future was almost guaranteed. Alas. The interior stability of Pallistan has been greatly disturbed by doubt over who will inherit the throne.
There were two princes who had the same age.
The first, the son of a righteous man, was scheduled to be the next king. He had a public att.i.tude that said, "Injustice will never be forgiven!"
Some of the more corrupt n.o.bels felt that such a person with even more power would threaten their rights and interests. To combat the first prince's influence, they tried to raise the foolish second prince to be the next king instead.
When the two princes entered their fifteenth year of life, the battle between their factions intensified and became much more noticeable. A side had to chosen. There was a serious divide in the power diagram of the royal palace between those who supported the first prince and those who favored the second prince.
It was the same at the Royal Academy.
From now on, you'll have to work hard every day for three years but please do your best to put together your faction, oh princely one. I thought those kinds of things because it had nothing to do with me.
My father held me back the day I boarded the carriage to travel to the Academy. He was making the tough face he used when he knew I wasn't going to like what he had to say. Deep in my gut, I felt a terrible premonition.
"Scarlet. Even at school, you must do your best to support Prince Kyle as his fiancée."
At that moment, my happy school life was over before I set foot on the campus ground.
I wonder why Father is stressing me out like this. Is he trying to drive me to commit suicide? I have never once had anything good to say about Prince Kyle. Does Father actually hate me and I just never noticed?
Well. Even if he does, I don't care. He's an old man and I'm still young and full of vigor. No need for bitterness when I'll outlive him anyway.
Having survived the Prince's bullying for six years already, I soon recovered my unwavering mental strength. No matter what happened in the future, it was only three years until graduation. I'm prepared to endure it.
Determined to seize the first move, I reunited with Kyle in front of the school's main entrance. Pleased to deny him the fun of seeking me out and knowing that I was avoiding him, it made the upcoming encounter slightly more bearable.
"What? Duke Vandimion ordered you to support me as my fiancée? Hmmm. Then from today on, you're my slave! Rejection is forbidden! Good!"
The sky was clear and blue above us, the complete opposite of my inner feelings.
I've been demoted from companion to slave.
Um. Father. Mother. I can't do this. May I please be excused from the whole school term?
My face was expressionless. In my heart I was screaming but my voice didn't reach anyone. Just looking at him, so smug, nodding to himself like a moron, made me unbelievably angry.
But, as always, I put my rage in a bottle and pretended it didn't exist.
The daily routine.
Morning. Wake up early, dress, walk to the other side of campus to greet Kyle outside the men's dormitory, walk with him to his cla.s.sroom, then run to make it in time for my own cla.s.s.
Lunchtime. Take Kyle's order all the way down to the Capital City to purchase him a hot, fresh meal with my pocket money. Sprint back to avoid tardiness and locate a private corner to cram my own prepared lunch down my throat as fast as possible.
Evening. Pick up Kyle from his final cla.s.s, sling his bag over my shoulder, and accompany him back to the dormitory. Return to the women’s dormitory. Complete the day's a.s.signments. Pray for relief that's never going to come.
Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
It's agonizing spending so much time around a person who hates you so deeply.
But what was the alternative?
Nothing I did was good enough. Every time we met, I was scolded for some failure on my part, real or imagined. Often, the shaming was public.
I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a complete meltdown. My mind grew colder by the day. I sometimes caught myself standing perfectly still, tracking Kyle with my eyes, and thinking…
…even if Father disowned me, it might be worth it to just let go and really mess him up.
But my pride wouldn't allow it. I, who had endured Prince Kyle's bullying since I was seven years old, could not turn to easy violence now or everything I'd done in the past would be for nothing.
I've already made my decision. Making a tense kind of peace with it, I directed my energy towards academics instead of my growing desire to break every bone in Prince Kyle's body.
I had a decent foundation in swordsmans.h.i.+p and magic, thanks to the exhausting efforts of my childhood tutor. The combat-related cla.s.ses at the Royal Academy still required a tremendous amount of effort on my part.
Fortunately, I had a substantial amount of fury to burn off and the only way I could sleep was if I worked myself to exhaustion first.
In the end, I'm proud to say that I successfully gained the top grade in my year in every subject I took interest in. It was when the scores were published that I came to a realization.
My reputation, previously that of a poor, somewhat shady girl being bullied by her powerful fiancée, slowly improved. It's embarra.s.sing to admit, but I was flawlessly isolated. I had neither friends nor casual acquaintances, but now other students took notice of me.
Rumors began to spread.
I became known as the best female student in the whole Academy. Pa.s.sing students greeted me in the halls and looked at me with respect. People kept a.s.signing me meaningless t.i.tles, such as Ice Queen or Empress of the Freezing Sea.
I was basically indifferent. I had been through too much to care for the opinions of others.
My parents, however, cared quite a lot. Apparently, I was improving our n.o.ble reputation by leaps. My mother thought it important enough to send a letter, congratulating me on a job well done.
There was one individual who did not feel have positive feelings about my improved status, though.
It went without saying, that person was Kyle.
Possibly, he found it unnatural that a slave he had always considered stupid was receiving more attention that him but how could I, a human, understand the mind of an imbecile?
Kyle recently came to a.s.sociate with the sons of n.o.blemen who supported him and, as a result of too much playtime, his grades slipped. He was one wrong move away from from being dropped from the special course to the general course, and found my unrivaled success intolerable.
One day, during lunch break, an incident occured.
The lecture had only been finished for a minute. I was chatting with a few of my cla.s.smates when the door swung open with such force that it rebounded off the wall.
There stood Kyle, having ditched his uniform jacket somewhere, with a generic posse behind him.
He stomped into the room, clearly in the mood for his usual antics, grabbed my arm and yelled right in my face. "You! Why aren't you out buying my lunch?! I'm starving here!"
The cla.s.sroom was crowded and lively conversations died in a rush. If you want to have lunch so early, everyone thought, why don't you just go to the cafeteria?
But this unreasonable temperament was nothing new to me.
I gently pulled his hand from my arm.
"Okay. I'll go down to Capital City and buy it for you."
It was a bothersome marathon run but once I got used to it, I found it to be a relatively mild cla.s.s of hara.s.sment. It was hard at first, but the more I ran, the easier it became, and spending my own money to purchase his food only stung the first few times.
My current complaint, if I ever made one, would be that it left me with very little time to eat in a dignified fas.h.i.+on.
But it's nothing I can't handle.
"What's with that att.i.tude, huh?! You're making me wait and you're not even going to apologize?"
"I am very sorry. I'll be more careful in the future."
I looked up from my incredibly practiced Chin Tilt of Reflection and saw Kyle shaking his head in exaggerated disgust, his face flushed red. I was long resolved to not give him any reaction he'd actually enjoy.
"Don't apologize now! Are you stupid?! Come on, you're getting punished!"
Kyle yanked my arm again. Out of the corner of my eye, some of my cla.s.smates edged closer.
I wasn't the only one who noticed. Confident as ever, Kyle sneered.
"What are you guys thinking? Do you really think you can do something to me…. Kyle von Pallistan? Do you know who I am?"
The same familiar scene. Everyone who looked disapproving suddenly found something else to occupy their attention. It wasn't surprising at all.
I turned to them with my usual blank expression and said, perfectly calm. "I'm fine. Don't let it bother you."
One, braver than the rest, spoke up with a small voice. "But Lady Scarlet…"
"I said it's fine."
Losing patience, Kyle screamed, "Come on!"
Pulling my arm, he leveraged me out of my seat and forced me towards the door, barking orders at his followers.
"You lot, watch that those guys don't tell the teacher. Sigurd, you come with me."
With the exception of the male student named Sigurd, Kyle left the rest of his group in the cla.s.sroom and kept on dragging me by the arm. It didn't hurt exactly, but I wasn't happy about it.
Sigurd Forgrave. His face was beautiful and his dark blue hair was stunning. A knight apprentice with well-rounded skills and a very dignified presence.
I think he was the son of the current Knight Leader and I may have heard something about him longing to be the sword arm of royalty according to some family tradition. One of the strongest candidates for the next Knight Leader.
From what I've seen of him, he seems the decent and honest sort. I wonder why a person like that would hang around with a person like Kyle.
Has your family been taken hostage, Sigurd?
Ah, I probably should start paying attention now. It seems we've arrived at the clearing behind the school where students often like to hide among the tall overgrown trees and do various things.
Kyle ordered Sigurd to keep watch and then turned back to me with a scowl.
I wonder what the punishment would be today. It'd be nice if my uniform didn't get wrinkled.
"Recently, you've been acting pretty high and mighty just because you got a good grade."
"I have been behaving the same as normal."
"Shut up! Slaves don't have the right to talk back!"
It is impossible to have a sane discussion with a person who is beyond reason. Best to speak gently and keep expectations low.
Still, the whole affair feels a bit different than the usual nonsense.
Maybe something else is driving this particular tantrum?
"f.u.c.k! Why is an idiot like you even in the Advanced Section when I'm getting dropped to the d.a.m.n General Department!"
Ah. There it is.
Considering his lackadaisical approach to work of every kind, this doesn't come as a surprise to me at all. Congratulations, Kyle. Good job. You have only yourself to blame. You fool. Dumba.s.s. You utter buffoon.
"It's your fault! Just being around you makes people stupider!"
"I have done nothing."
"Even if you deny it, I know the truth! I can always tell what an idiot like you is thinking because I'm a genius!"
Wow. What should I do? It's getting a little hard to keep a straight face. Is this real life?
"But don't worry. I'll help you since I'm generous."
Kyle pulled out a dagger.
Well, I wasn't expecting that and I didn't like it either.
"…What are you going to do?"
"I haven't been bothered by your annoying hair for a while. So I think I'll bring the hair of a stupid, arrogant woman as a souvenir to the General Department."
My face didn't give anything away but, on the inside, that statement inspired some unease.
I take good care of my hair, you know? I'm proud of how healthy and long it is.
The mere thought of it getting cut off with some cheap dagger was chilling. The Idiot Prince has a real talent for finding soft spots.
Enough is enough.
If he so much as grazes my hair with one filthy finger… I will murder him without mercy.
"Please stop. I'll scream."
"Stupid. No one is going to come help you! Who in this whole Academy is willing to talk back to me knowing I'm the second prince?"
"I'll tell my father. Forcing a woman to cut her hair will cause a lot of talk. The engagement could be annulled."
"Hah? What's a Duke going to do against me? It would just be your word against mine and I say you have to stay!"
Kyle gripped the dagger harder. He grabbed my shoulder and pushed me against a tree.
What is patience again? How do you spell it?
A woman's hair is worth almost as much as her life. Those who tarnish it should be prepared for any amount of retaliation.
"…Goodbye, Prince Kyle."
At that time, when Kyle drew back his fist to strike at me with a smile…
…there came a carefree voice from nearby.
"It's so noisy, I can't sleep. Can't you talk this comedy routine somewhere else?"
"Who the h.e.l.l are you? Where are you?! Come out!"
Kyle took a step back and looked around wildly.
Teetering on the brink of a b.l.o.o.d.y rage, I eyed the tree behind Kyle where the voice had originated. This was bad for my heart. I rubbed idly at my chest, which felt pained.
"What? You don't recognize me, my foolish brother?"
Laughing, someone dropped out of the tree from where they had been lounging on a branch. Possessing a beautiful face like an angel and sharp eyes the same color as Kyle, they had an invincible smile.
This person, lightly brus.h.i.+ng leaves from his bright orange uniform, grinned as he spoke to the Second Prince.
"I'm not doing anything wrong. How about you study more in the future, huh? And then maybe you wouldn't be dropped into the General Department with all the other stupid people."
Julius von Pallistan, the First Prince.
We were in the same cla.s.s so I know his appearance well… but I didn't know he had a mouth like this.
When he was around other people he always seemed quite pleasant.
Is it, in fact, a black belly scenario?
"Oh, shut up! You're always looking down on me!"
"Aww. If the truth hurts, who's fault is it? The person doing the telling or the fool who refuses to accept reality?"
Julius shook his head and sighed.
Kyle’s face became even more twisted than usual. He was visibly sweating and his eyes were crazed.
"Why don't you accept this?!"
Ignoring Kyle, who swung the dagger at him like an untrained child, Prince Julius stepped around him and stopped in front of me. When I met his gaze, I couldn't help but find that black smile incredibly ominous.
Did he notice my killing intent?
No. Surely not. It would be impossible for someone to a.s.sume that a weak-looking woman like me would even consider striking royalty.
I haven't been exposed. Probably.
"Are you the daughter of Duke Vandimion? My brother was giving you trouble. I apologize."
"No, I don't mind. It's always like this."
Prince Julius c.o.c.ked his head, giving me an artistic look of disbelief.
"I've heard the rumors that my foolish brother is making his fiancée's life difficult, but he was just threatening you with a dagger. Does that idiot really treat you like this on a daily basis?"
"It isn't all the time."
Father, why must I defend this trash?
Kyle stood with his fists clenched, trembling. He winced when Prince Julius glanced at him, though it wasn't out of shame, more like the fear of a rat when confronted with a wolf.
"Hey, Kyle. Which is it? Depending on what's going on, it might be fine."
Going from red to purple, Kyle threw the dagger down and started pacing, ranting all the while.
"Look, it's not my fault! It's all because of Scarlet! She's the worst woman you can imagine! Because of her habits, people don't respect me! Oi! Segurd! What are you doing? Get rid of Julius, quickly!"
Sigurd, previously watching the drama unfold with a blank expression, rushed over.
"Prince Kyle, I am sorry but I cannot obey that order."
Kyle yelled at him.
"What?! Are you deaf?!"
"Prince Julius also possesses royal blood. It would be treason to lay my hands on his person. Disobeying your words is also treasonous, but I still cannot do it. That is –"
"Relax. No need to get all wound up over this fool."
Kyle made another bad expression, glaring at me like his humiliation was my fault.
I stared back for a time, expressionless.
"I'll remember this." He spit out some final words and left.
Tomorrow is going to be troublesome again. I am deeply troubled.
While I thought that, Prince Julius waved a hand as if to brush the whole affair away.
"I'm relieved that he won't cause you direct harm anymore."
What. What does that even mean? What are your intentions?
I wonder if perhaps he will inform the king.
"Thank you for your help, Prince Julius."
For now, let's leave it with a respectful bow. Since he did help me, it's a good idea to make sure he understands I am sufficiently grateful.
"Hmm. I wonder, who was actually saved?"
Prince Julius's smile is terribly sweet and cruel.
"If I left it for a little longer, I bet I would've seen something interesting."
So he does know that I was going to beat Kyle. Unfortunate.
But, since he was silently watching our interactions from the start, at least he wasn't offended.
"…By the way, what were you doing in that tree?"
"If I stay in the cla.s.sroom during lunch break, people come over and try to rub against me. It's much better to read a book out here, so long as I'm not wasting valuable time listening to that kid bellow."
This prince definitely has a black belly.
I'd like to tell everyone who admires you. Heeeey. This guy is a phoney.
"But I think I might spend some more time in the cla.s.sroom from now on. Since I found something interesting."
"Oh, it it really?"
"Oh, yes. More interesting than books even."
Prince Julius, having said so, turned another angelic smile on me.
No… please. There's nothing that interesting about me. Rather, I'd like to be left alone.
— In the wake of this incident, I was forced to interact with not only the second prince, but also the first price.
My anger is becoming more difficult to manage. My stress levels are touching the sky.
If it wouldn't cause such a bother, I would prefer to deal with this before it became an issue. For a moment today, I almost felt like myself again. I wish I could live honestly.
But if I do, the honor of the Vandimion house will collapse.
After tolerating many troublesome things, I decided… it really is best to continue concealing my nature.
I will do my best to aim for a peaceful Academy life.