About five years ago.
“My engagement?” Looking up to my Father, I asked. “To whom?”
“Amelia Laurel,” Smiling, he said. “You’ll meet her soon.” Placing his hand over my hair, he ruffled it and said. “She’ll be a fine lady like your Mother so treat her well.”
Leaving those words behind, he turned his back and walked on the opposite end of the hallway.
As I watched his back recede from the stone-slabbed hallway, I thought. Laurel’s first princess huh. Though Mother and Father were engaged similarly, they lived happily like an ordinary couple.
Lifting my feet, I turned around and took a step in the opposite direction. It doesn’t matter. I thought. It’s my duty as a prince, no matter where it leads, I have to live up to it.
As Brent’s first prince, I've met numerous women of varying statuses. Nevertheless, it was my duty as the next King to please the Nobility for me to create a stable foothold before ascending to the throne.
“Your Highness.” Beside a large wooden double door, a man in a black tailcoat bowed. “Your guests are waiting inside.”
“Lester.” Shifting my sight to my right, “When was this arranged?” I stood upright over a red carpet and asked.
“The talks have been going on for two years,” Unblinking, he said. “Does his Highness have any qualms?”
Casting a shadow over the carpet and the marble floor, the round portion shook. “No,” I answered. “Most of our mineral resources came from Laurel, and for years, we have been indebted to them.”
“I see,” He answered as his eyelids fell over his eyes. “Well then,” Turning to face the door, Lester knocked and announced. “His Highness has arrived.”
From the other side of the door.
You’re charming as always, Amelia.
Gradually, the clopping of the hooves diminished while a girl dressed in a gleaming silver armor reined her horse to face mine.
“It’s been a while.” The silver-haired girl smiled. “Prince Maxwell.”
Nodding, “It has, princess Amelia.” I returned a smile.
“Shall we?” She asked, turning her horse to her left.
In response, I grabbed the rein of my horse and led it to my right. Facing each other, we both nodded and started reining our horse forward till we were side by side.
When she advanced a bit further, “Advance!” Maize commanded.
In unison, “Depart!” Lester, my butler, and guard commanded.
“We’ve been doing this for a few times now,” I started while our Guards spread side by side.
“We have,” Facing forward, she replied. “We don’t even have to remind them of the protocol.”
In the distance, A walled city started to emerge.
“Should we raise the pace?” She asked.
“Fine with me,” I answered.
Not long before the clopping of hooves and the rattle of the carriage increased in frequency.
As her silver swayed like unhindered threads, I looked at her from the side.
Back then, I was the one leading you…
Trampling the grass, “Come on!” Wearing a wide smile, I enthusiastically called. “Come on Lia! I’ll show you something!”
“M-max!” She panted, trying to catch up. “Wait up Max!”
Scratching my head, I ran up to her and offered my hand. “Here,” I said. “Let’s go together.”
Placing her hand over mine, I grasped it and thought. It’s warm and soft.
“Max?” She asked as she looked up at me with a tilted head. “What’s wrong?”
What is this? I thought. She’s different.
“Max?” Again, she asked, leaning closer and closer.
Realizing that she’d been staring at me for a while, “N-nothing.” I said as I turned my head to the side.
This is bad. Placing my left hand on my chest, I thought. I can't keep my calm.
“Are you okay?” Worried, she circled to my side and asked.
“I-I’m fine!” Pulling her hand, I started walking. “Anyway, let’s go!”
By the hand, I lead her from one place to another: around the garden, through the hallways, inside the library, to the kitchen, down the abbeys, and up to the throne.
We played like children, told stories of our own, argued over games, and made peace. It was the most memorable 5 days of my life.
Maybe it was because that I knew she'd be my Queen or was it her bright smile and gentle blue eye? Could it be due to our equal status that we could see eye to eye that I warmed up to her? I didn't know. It didn't matter.
I shouldn't have let her hand go. I should’ve kept her close. I shouldn’t have thought that a year of waiting is nothing but a dime compared to the rest of the time I’d spend with her.
20 days after they left, we received information that they’d soon return from Niveria back to Brent then onward to Libet. Thinking that we should escort our soon to be family, we set out from the capital, expecting that'd we arrive earlier.
Contrary, we arrived two days late. It was all due to unexpected villages burning down as we advanced.
At the time when we arrived at a town bordering Niveria, it was silent, dead silent.
“Y-your Majesty!” A horseman shouted. “The town! N-nothing is left but corpses!”
Spurred by the unexpected news, we rushed inside the town. From the gates to the houses, bodies littered the streets; children or adult, nothing was left behind.
“Search everywhere!” I shouted. “Find the cause! Look for any trace of Laurel’s Royals!”
Before Father gave an order, I commanded the Knights and Soldiers on my own. Whipping the rein of my horse, “Father I’ll join the search!”
Urging my horse, its hoof-beats clopped louder at each passing second.
Darting my eyes around, I caught sight of something unusual. Immediately, I jumped down my horse and approached the corpse of a fat-bellied priest.
Kneeling before the body, I thought. A stab wound?
Dubious, I scanned the vicinity. Although faint, I found a fading depression on the ground.
Grabbing a pile of dirt on the ground, I caught sight of a silver strand in the mix, causing my heart to race uncontrollably in an instant.
Hurriedly, I climbed my horse and urged it to run as fast as it could.
Amelia! My thoughts shouted repeatedly.
Roaming around for a few minutes, “Your Highness!” A soldier called. “We’ve found the princess and her attendant!”
In a reckless attempt, I reined the horse to an abrupt stop and risked myself from being thrown off the horse. Fixing my posture, I shouted. “Are they safe?!”
“Yes!” The soldier replied. “This way!”
Arriving at the mansion, Amelia stuck up to my feet and begged. “Max!” She cried. “Max, please! Please bring me back to the forest! Grandpa, Ria, Mia, and everyone else! Please!”
Never have I thought, that the woman that’d be my Queen would wail and beg in front of me just to see the corpses.
Answering her wishes, we went to the forest, but when we arrived, Amelia broke.
“Amelia!” I shouted. “Stop!”
Trying to stop her from digging the ground like a madman, I embraced her at the front.
“Nooooo!” She cried. “Grandpa! Ria! Mira!”
Although weak, she struggled from my embrace and tried to run towards the ashen forest.
Her struggle did not hurt one bit, but each of her wail and cries scraped me from inside.
Why does this have to happen? I thought. The next King, tasked to protect the citizens, failed to protect a few.
Feeling a hard object on my cheeks, I tried turning to my left, but a finger held my head in place.
“Max,” Amelia said. “What are you spacing out for?” Then asked. “I’ve been speaking for a while now, and you’re not even listening. Since when did you grow up this rude?”
“Ahaha.” I chuckled a laugh. “Sorry, I was reminiscing a past event.”
“Past huh.” Shifting her sight downwards for a moment, she turned her face forward once again. “Anyway, we’re almost at the gates so fix up that face of yours.” Then she moved ahead once again.
Releasing my hand from the reins, I reached out to Amelia's shoulder, but midway, I stopped.
You’re so near, yet so far at the same time. I thought as I grabbed the reins.
Shaking my head, I held the reins tightly and thought. It doesn’t matter. No matter how far you go, I’ll chase after you, Amelia.
Before we entered the gates, “Amelia,” I called.
Turning her face around, “What?”
Smiling, “I love you.” I said.
Twitching for a moment, “Haah…” She sighed. “Your words are cheap.”
“Cheap it may be, but those are words that I’ll only utter to you.”
For a second time, she placed a hand on her forehead and sighed. “Haah… Whatever should I do to you.”
“Marry me, and I’ll stop.”
“How about marry someone else and stop?”
“I told you, I’ll never give up.”
“And I keep telling you, give up.”
After a short moment of silence.
““Ahahaha.”” We both laughed.
“You’re the same as always Max.”
“And you haven’t changed a bit since we went to Academia.”
“Have I?” Glancing, she asked.
“At least to me, you haven’t.”
“I wonder.” She said. “Anyway, it’s time for the usual parade. Show your best smile and shoot down the ladies.”
“And it’s up to you to cull the men like always huh.”
“Want to charm the men for a change?” Turning a glance, she tilted her head wearing a smile.
In return, “I’ll pass.” I said. “I’m not into men.”
“You’ll never know.”
Passing the gates, we proceeded with the usual parade. Men, women, children, adult, and elderly, they all waved from their wooden framed windows, and stone-paved streets and alleys dotted with a mix of wooden and concrete structures.
We kept waving and smiling to the citizens of Laurel up until we arrived at the Tervin’s mansion.
“Amelia,” I called after we went down our horses.
“I know,” Rubbing the horse, she replied. “Two days from now, the meeting will be held.”
“Max,” She turned around and said. “Let me rest for today.”
“Max, don’t be childish.” She said. “You’re four years older than me.”
“A few hours is enough,” I said. “It doesn’t need to be around the city. Anywhere is fine as long as we can talk.”
“Then tomorrow, three hours after dinner at the garden.”
Puzzled, “Why at night?” I asked.
In response, “So you could cry yourself to sleep.” She said smiling. “Well then, I'll see you tomorrow.” Then she waved goodbye.
Inside a bed-chamber at the left wing of Tervin’s mansion.
“Lia!” Kanna, trying to rip a cloth apart, shouted. “Who’s that pesky man! I’ll beat him! I’ll beat him to death and feed him to Birby!”
Smiling, “Kanna,” I said. “If someone else hears you, you might be executed for treason.”
“I don’t care!” She slammed the cloth to the floor. “I was first! First I say! Lia is mine and mine alone!”
Picking up the cloth, she tried to rip it apart again. “Wait here, Lia! I’ll beat some sense into him!”
The cloth is extending.
Standing from my seat, “Kanna.” I called as I approach from behind.
Turning around, “Yes?” She asked.
Activating reinforcement, I brought down my fist on her head. “Buu!” Then she fell to her knees, then to the floor with a thud.
“That’ll keep her quiet for a while.” Lifting Kanna, I said.
Sitting on a chair beside a drawer, “Is she dead?” Erina asked.
“The whites of her eyes are showing, but I think not.”
“You should heal her even for a bit to make sure.”
“I’ll do that.” After placing her on the bed, I chanted Heal and placed my fingers on her forehead. “I guess this is enough.”
Falling on the bed beside Kanna, “Haah...” I sighed. “Wearing an armor in broad daylight is a bad idea.”
“The season will turn to fall soon.”
Turning to my side, I faced Kanna’s direction. “We rushed to Tervin’s dukedom and arrived a day earlier, so it’s three days more before the months of summer starts.”
“It is, but at this course, you’ll be late for the start of the Academy.”
Closing my eyes, “It’s fine.” I said. “Academia cares about results anyway, so attendance isn’t a must. Besides, I have to stay at the duchy to drag Mola and Glasses to Academia.”
“And what for?”
“There’s the issue with the Dasbalites, the seeds from the Tree Mimic, the Horn Shedding from Amalthea, Mother’s request, and of course the Labyrinth itself. But it may change depending on when I’ll meet the runaway Hero.”
“What about the prince?”
“...” In silence, I thought. That’s what I want to know.
“Are you prepared for the meeting the day after?”
“I’ll be acting as a representative diplomat this time, but I’m sure that the prices for the weapons they asked will jump due to the incoming war. At a minimum, at least a ten percent increase will be observed.”
“I’m planning to let Laurel cover at most sixty percent of the cost to aid the rescue operations and reclamation of Niveria, but that’s something I should discuss with Uncle tomorrow since the matter of the Refugees is also present.”
“Then perhaps you’d want me to prepare a bath after your nap?”
“Please do,” I answered.
With a short rattle, “Before I go, Amelia.” Erina said. “What do you plan to do with Maxwell.”
“… To be honest, I don’t know.” I answered. “Our engagement was long broken, and even if it was forced now, it won’t end as good as it was before.”
“What do you feel?”
Lifting my eyelids, “Like I said.” I answered. “I…” For a moment, I paused.
“Erina,” I said. “Even if I did answer his feelings, it’s impossible for us.”
“Doesn’t that mean you have a lingering feeling?”
“You could say that...”
“Then excuse me, your Highness.” With those words, Erina left quietly.
What do I feel huh? Again, I closed my eyes and recalled. That dream, wait, was it really a dream? It felt too real.
A time when everything went well and I ended up with Max. A time when I bore a child named Lara and pregnant with another. During those times, I can't deny that I was satisfied and happy.
Besides, why did I even named her Lara? Now that I think about it, I haven’t met Elaine’s mother for a while now. I wouldn't have minded it if it was Liz, but I don't have any problems with Elaine's mother.
“Haah...” Clutching the necklace, I sighed. Celes, it would’ve been easier for me to keep denying Max, but because you showed me that possibility, I can’t say that I still feel the same…