Even though I’m already twenty-four years old, the name Leon Schafe still feels strange to me.
It was a name given to me when I was seven years old, before then, I was merely called ‘Leon’.
No, in truth I was always the bastard son of Count Schafe, but it wasn’t until seven that I was given that name.
“From today onwards, you shall live at the main house.”
The words that my mother told me so proudly profoundly changed my life forever.
Until then, I only had a single parent, and since my mother did work I didn’t understand at the time, I was looked down on. My mother wasn’t the type of person to pay too much attention to me, so I was always quite a wild child, until one day I was suddenly made into the legitimate son of a Count. They quickly set about taming me.
It was on my seventh birthday, the day when young sons of nobles would receive their first blessings from the Church, that it happened.
My mother suddenly drove me out of the house into a waiting carriage that was guarded by numerous armed men. My skin was scrubbed raw in a bathtub and I was forced into fine clothes I could barely move in and hard leather shoes that chafed at my ankles.
“From henceforth, you are the heir to this house. Before you are to be seen at the Church next month, there are many things that you will need to learn.”
Everything that happened to me after that, I will never forget for the rest of my life. I should have escaped, even if that meant striking my own mother.
Suddenly uprooting me from my life and placing me in an environment that was so thoroughly alien to me, when I was told that a street child like me would have to learn the etiquette and manners of a noble child I thought that they would have an easier time training a performer’s monkey.
But, the House of Count Schafe must have been desperate, so in order to break my resistance, they beat me, kicked me and starved me as much as they could. At the time, I truly felt like I wanted to die.
I was hungry, aching and tired.
On one day, I had to bow my head over and over again to an endless stream of father’s acquaintances, after a while it felt like I would forget how to think.
I occasionally heard them use the word ‘half’. Just how long would it take for the whispers behind the back of a boy born between a noble father and a common mother to cease, I wondered at the time.
Suddenly, the Count’s hall was flooded with a completely different, almost merry atmosphere.
“It’s Lady Elizabeth…” “The Fairy Princess, huh?” “As beautiful as ever, today.”
As voices rose up as if praising a new guest, I lifted my face to see a young lady being escorted arm-in-arm by an older gentleman I could only assume was her father. She was so beautiful that I didn’t think she was of this world.
Both her face and body were petite and delicate as a flower, with a mysterious air around her befitting the title of a spirit princess of the forest. And as all eyes in the hall turned to admire her, a gentle smile spread across her lips.
“I believe congratulations are in order, for today.”
Even as that older gentleman called out to my father and the two of them began to talk, I was so captivated by that young lady’s beauty that I could scarcely think to blink, much less listen.
As that girl met my insolent stare, her smile grew wider.
When she did, the people around me, myself included, let out a sigh at how lovely a sight it was.
It was at that moment…
I saw the hand of the fairy princess move, just for an instant.
She suddenly screamed loudly.
“Elizabeth, what’s the matter!?”
When her father turned around and asked her that, the Fairy Princess shook on the spot, barely able to open her mouth.
“Just now, I thought I saw… a rat!?”
As everyone followed her line of sight, sure enough, a not so insignificantly sized rat scurried across the floor.
It was strange that it would show itself around so many people like that.
I calmly thought that to myself back then, but the reactions of the nobles in the hall, especially the woman, turned into quite a din.
The panicked screams quickly spread across the hall like mania, soon becoming earsplitting.
As people crisscrossed, either fleeing from the rat or pursuing it, the hall soon turned chaotic.
But honestly, it was just a rat? Sure, it might not be the cleanest sort of animal, but it wasn’t something so dangerous to cause such an uproar.
Well, I suppose I was the only one who thought that way.
As I was watching the nonsense unfold in front of me, suddenly someone caught my hand as a gaggle of young ladies fleeing the rat rushed past me.
As her soft to the touch yet powerful hand pulled me along, she flashed me that gentle smile just like before as I left the hall alongside her.
It was all I could do to follow her in silence, my eyes staring in bewilderment at her hand that held mine.
Opening the door to a parlour that was kept vacant in case of any lord or lady drinking too much, she quickly pulled my inside and locked the door behind her.
“Haa… That was so damn boring, huh!?”
As she cracked the joints in her neck, the image of the unapproachable Fairy Princess shattered before my eyes, replaced instead with something much more like the common girls I was used to.
“Don’t worry, it’s a mess out there. I saw some idiot try to use fire magic to try and kill it as we were leaving, so I’m sure the place is in complete chaos now.”
Apparently, she misunderstood the face I must have been making as one of worry, my mouth agape as I witnessed her change before my very eyes.
She must have thought that I was anxious about my father punishing me for leaving without permission, but I didn’t care about that then.
“Jeez, just one little rat and they get their britches in such a twist, huh?”
It seemed like she was trying to make me into her co-conspirator. Well, I didn’t think she was wrong about that, but…
“…That rat, you were the one who let it out after all, weren’t you?”
She wasn’t really frightened by that rat.
As I asked her that question, based on what I’d seen just before, she nodded curtly.
“Right. I found him when I was stealing food from the kitchen this morning; my fellow thief, Karschen.”
“You’ve named him…?”
Just where did the princess I met mere minutes ago wander off to?
Even myself at the time, who was still barely familiar with the ways of the nobility, knew that stealing food and consorting with rats was no way for a young lady to behave. She sure was a strange princess.
As I looked at her dubiously, she giggled.
“Well, I did name him, but Karschen really is an excellent rat, so I’m sure he’ll escape. It was thanks to him that we escaped as well.”
I thought that I would have to thank him as well at some point.
Although I nodded in response, I kept silently staring at her.
“That’s an awful face you’re wearing there, Leon. You probably don’t even realize it yourself, huh?”
As she returned my stare, she suddenly pulled something from the sleeve of her beautiful dress.
“Here, I swiped some of the biscuits that the chef made as snacks! Eat up!”
When I looked at the wrapping paper she unfurled in her hand with a smile, there were, in fact, several cookies inside.
Just who taught her to be like this?
Although I had my doubts, I couldn’t deny the hunger in my gut as I reached out and took one.
“Thank you… very much…”
“It’s no big deal.”
After thanking her, I slowly ate one biscuit, then reached my hand out to wolf down the other one. Ah. They were delicious.
“If anyone gets mad at you, just tell them that the lovely and delicate flower called the ‘Fairy Princess’ grew faint at the sight of a rat, and you escorted her to the parlour to recuperate. Of course, I’ll back you up.”
As she nibbled on a biscuit herself, she told me that.
I didn’t object, but I was sure that no matter what I said, no one would believe me anyway. What she said did sound like a good excuse, but the reality was that we were sitting together in a parlour, munching on cookies. It was strange, to say the least.
“…That rat from before, how did you bring it with you?”
I couldn’t hold back my curiosity anymore, so I asked her.
“Magic~. Just like that, I put him to sleep and had him rest in my sleeve… Ah, in the opposite sleeve to the cookies, okay? So anyway, just as I shook my arm and let him out, I released my magic. It must’ve been a shock for poor little Karschen, being woken up like that.”
“You can do something like that…?”
As I watched her in wonder, she took the last bite of her biscuit and rested her hand on her cheek.
“Mm… No, it’s actually sort of a forbidden spell. I might get in trouble if people knew I could do it, so let’s just keep it between us, okay?”
She smirked at me mischievously.
Thinking about it back then, I really did think that anyone who could induce a coma with magic might actually be trouble themselves. I didn’t know a thing about magic at the time, but even I knew that was dangerous.
“Just what kind of person are you…?”
“What kind…? I guess if you were gonna hold a knife to my throat, I’m the ambitious sort? If I want to see my plans through, I can’t be too fussy about the means. For that reason, if I have to use criminal magic or play a part in front of scum day in day out, then so be it.”
Despite those words, she grinned at me.
“This is just my advice, but it’s always a good idea to keep your best cards held close to your chest. And if you ever become someone strong someday, all the more reason to. You look weak, and everyone sneers at you, using the word ‘half’. If you ask me, being surrounded by people who look down on you is the best thing you could ask for.”
“Being looked down on is… good?”
When I asked her that, she nodded firmly.
“It’s good. If they only think that you’re a fool who can only smile and nod on command, then your enemy will always be caught off guard at the most crucial moment.”
“Enemies. In my case, both my family and noble society, they’re all enemies. They’re the greatest enemy I’ve ever faced, trying to tear what I love away from me.”
There was suddenly a hollowness to her voice, and a spark of hatred in her eyes.
Just a short time ago in that hall, she seemed like the centre of attention of that noble society she claimed to hate, so at the time I truly considered it a mystery.
“Leon, you’re the same, right? That’s to say, you should never trust anything a noble says. At the very least, not someone like Count Schafe.”
I had already come to believe that. So, when she told me that with a serious tone, I merely nodded.
He was a man I hadn’t ever seen in my seven years of life, who suddenly picked me up and kept me for his own purposes. I couldn’t trust him at all, and just like she said, I should consider him an enemy. However…
“Something like that, like what you can… Will I be able to do it too?”
However, when I asked if I would truly ever have the power to fight back one day, she scrunched her face up slightly as she thought.
“I wonder…? It’ll be tough work, for sure. That kind of magic, well, to be honest, it’s more of a curse, when you’re learning it and you’re not used to it at all, it can rebound on the caster, you know? I once put myself out for three days. But thanks to that, the people around me suddenly had a picture of me being delicate and sickly, so it all turned out alright.”
Even though she said that with a laugh, it definitely sounded hard.
“Even so, I… I still want to learn. I want to be strong… Like you.”
As I looked up at her like that, she covered her mouth with a hand.
“Oh stop, you’re embarrassing me~ Mm, well, from today on you’ll be my disciple then, Leon? But keep in mind that I’m self-taught and I don’t plan to stay in the royal capital long… what’s more, I can only teach you about the stuff behind the Academy’s secret doors.”
“Yeah, the one I’m currently attending, though I’ll probably have to run away before my graduation if I want to see this elopement through, but August’s health is… Well, you don’t need to hear about that. At any rate, you’ll probably be attending that place when you’re fifteen too, Leon, the Royal Academy of Magic… That place is positively antique at this point, and it’s like an endless patchwork of new buildings layered on top of the old, I doubt anyone really has a full idea of the entire place nowadays. And, it’s sort of a sanctuary where even the state, let alone my family, can interfere easily, so it’s the perfect place to hide some dangerous books. So that being said, my collection is at the school in a secret place, so I’ll teach you how to find it and open it up! Is that okay, Leon?”
And so, the young lady who became my Master soon fought her battle against the Duke of Marschner for the sake of her beloved.
She escaped from the clutches of high society and, for fifteen years, protected the lives of both herself and her child. I always kept the memory of that person who I loved.
We only knew each other for half a year, nothing more.
Still, she was the amazing teacher who reached a hand out to me, taught me how to both cast magic and wear a mask, and showed me her method of winning.
She was the person I respected more than anyone in the entire world.
But the person who really hadn’t changed at all over those past fifteen or sixteen years in the end was Master.
“Yahoo~ Leoooon~ You sure got big, huh~?”
“Just what are you doing…?”
The woman who was now hanging upside down in my trap, waving at me with a smile.