After much deliberating and worrying, I decided to depend on their generosity.
This is not the place to waver, I snapped some sense into myself.
I requested their cooperation and left Master Julius’s residence behind.
Although he responded when addressed, his mind was absent. He was looking down in silence, and it was easy to tell that his thoughts were occupied.
His hand was gently brushing the black cat sitting on his lap, but in an absentminded manner. Sometimes he ruffled up the cat’s fur, and each time it would swing its tail like it was pouting.
Even when Michael’s hand made a slip and touched the cat’s tail, it didn’t bite. All it did was stop at raising its voice in complaint, Nyaaa.
His head snapped up.
“The cat is telling you it doesn’t like you not paying attention to where you brush it,” I said to him gently.
Glancing between me and the cat, he looked shamefaced as he said, “Eh? Ah, I’m sorry…”
Gently brushing the cat, he apologized to it as well, “Sorry to you, too.” The black cat closed its eyes partway and purred, as if it was telling Michael it forgave him.
Seeing him look so depressed, I couldn’t help saying, “Is there something troubling you? If you’d like, I can offer an ear.”
I only had a short amount of time to speak with him until we reached the Great Temple. There was no time for other talk.
If I didn’t persuade Michael here, he’ll probably leave to travel the kingdom. And then, somewhere along the way, he’ll stop by the temple and lose his life, and probably have his body hijacked by the Dark Lord.
I knew that, but I couldn’t think of his Michael’s worry as of little consequence.
I can’t just dismiss it, saying it was trivial compared to the revival of the Dark Lord. I mean, I knew nothing about him. In the game, almost nothing was spoken of his life before it was over.
Silence fell. Only the sound of the wheels on the stone paving was audible.
His trembling lips hesitated, then were chewed on. Instead of rushing Michael, I watched attentively and he after a brief spell he finally started talking.
“……Your…Highness……Princess, how are you…so strong?”
How am I so strong…? Was I ever strong in the first place?
It was questionable as a compliment for girls, but not disagreeable per se.
The question stuck in my mind, however, because I’ve never felt myself to be strong.
“Am I really, I wonder?” I questioned, and Michael nodded fervently. He looked the very image of a young child.
I was overwhelmed by a rush of desire to protect him, the way you do when holding an infant in your arms.
“May I ask why you think that way?”
He nodded, eyes going shifty again.
“…earlier Your Highness said that even if a person had power or money, it did not make it their responsibility to help others. Because everyone has their own interests to protect, so there was no need to feel shame.”
“That’s right,” I said, throwing in appropriately agreeable words to keep the conversation going.
“You force nothing on others. You never said, You have money, so you should give to the especially poor, orYou’re strong, so you must protect the weak. And yet, you believe it is only natural for yourself to carry out the duties of your role as a princess,” said Michael in an eloquent torrent of speech. A few hours ago he had difficulty communicating, but his speech was so fluid now it made me wonder if it had been an act.
I guess if he wasn’t self-conscious, then he could speak with normalcy. I wonder if he was less nervous now because his mind was filled with other worries.
He had a habit of looking down, but he lifted his eyes and looked at me with painful desperation.
“It does not mean you enjoy having been born as a princess, so how can you come to terms with it so readily? Do you ever want to run away, abandon your duties, or has it never crossed your mind?”
Michael kept talking in a rapid manner without pause, as if he did not expect an answer.
“Ah, of course it has.”
But maybe my words registered, because he stopped.
His dumbfounded expression was, I’m sorry, so amusing I could not help laughing as I answered again.
“There have been times I wanted to abandon everything. It’s only natural.”
“Um, n…natural, you say?”
His one-folded eyes blinked incessantly.
It seems like my answer was quite unexpected to Michael. His honest eyes could not conceal anything and conveyed his bewilderment. My smile became even deeper.
“I’m a flawed human. Even if I understand how blessed I am, there are days I also feel how restricted my life is now. I want to toss away my studies and lessons, and read a book all day in sunny place. I want to fling off my confining dresses, and run around barefoot through the grassy plains in a cotton dress, you know?”
“The Princess wants to…” said Michael in a daze.
“The reason why I only think and don’t put into effect is not because I make a splendid princess. For the future I desire, it’s essential I not run and face what comes head on.”
In itself, there was compensation in acting freely.
The tempting near future, or the stability of the distant future? Which one will be chosen is dependent upon that person. Like ants and crickets, the moral lessons we’ve been taught would have us believe that those who lived in steadiness had the right way of it; but surely there was no true correct answer.
“If there’s something that makes you want to run away, you are permitted to imagine. In that moment before you run, which one will you choose? That which you stand to gain or lose?”
I looked Michael straight in the eye, telling him, The one I choose is you.
In the end, I couldn’t persuade him at all, ahhhh.
But he was so worried, I couldn’t bring myself order him around, telling him his thoughts were useless.
“I think you did well,” said Sir Leonhard as he watched me reflect.
It was a short distance from the Great Temple to the palace. Only the two of us were inside the carriage.
“He may seem timid, but I venture to say very stubborn. Even if you tried to stop him with a legitimate reason, he wasn’t likely to bow down, was he?”
I nodded to show my agreement.
In the game, he left the Great Temple to help people because he had the leverage to. Even if he seemed like the type to give up easily, at heart he was a strong person.
“Furthermore, the troubles he carries are not necessarily completely unrelated. I detect no falsehood in his determination to help others, but he hesitates. Until he comes to a decision and puts his foot down on what he wants to do, he is unlikely to go rushing out.”
“If that’s so, then it should be fine,” I answered vaguely, unable to calm my emotions.
“It will be all right,” he said quietly.
I automatically looked up and met his calm eyes. He smiled kindly, like he was trying wipe away my worries.
“Men are far vainer and simpler than you think. Though the lovely, younger girl has a strong determination and purpose, as long as her path remains unclear and her steps hobbling and ungainly, they will not follow her lead.”
“It’s alright. You’re not wrong.”
He repeated his litany, and strength poured out from his upright body.
My trepidation seemed to be leaking out to Sir Leonhard. Hoo, I blew out a sigh, and he smiled again as he watched.
This person was truly skilled at handling me.
It’s not like I don’t feel like he has me eating out of the palm of his hands, but even then I find I don’t care.
When he said it would be okay, I finally felt like I wasn’t alone.
Though the words were the same, coming from another person…that’s not right. Sir Leonhard only had to say it, and I’ve already gained so much peace of mind.
“Thank you,” I said, relishing this feeling of happiness that seems to have lighted up like a lamp in my heart.
Very gently, he accepted.