Chapter 16: The Past
Upon returning to his room and collapsing into a chair, he didn’t move for a while.
Throwing his limbs out like a doll, his face showed no expression.
I hesitated on whether I should speak to him or not, and if I should, what I should say… In the end, I just stood there, unable to do anything.
I wonder how much time passed.
“…Shall I make you some tea? Flores, would you like one too?”
William-sama slowly stood up and said this.
I blinked at the bright tone that suddenly came from his mouth.
His face seemed to be smiling peacefully, but upon closer inspection, it looked unnatural, as if it was pasted on.
“How much sugar do you put in? I might use more than usual.”
As he said this and turned his body towards the cupboard, I impulsively grabbed his wrist.
William-sama turned around, looking puzzled.
I didn’t know what to say in front of him.
If I let him go now, William-sama would drink the tea, pretending everything was fine, end the day, and greet me with his usual smile tomorrow morning.
… But I couldn’t let it be.
If I did, I would be plagued by a vague and unsettling anxiety that William-sama would break somewhere I didn’t know about.
As I remained silent, holding onto his wrist, William-sama looked at my face for a while.
“…You are a kind person.”
He quietly murmured this and peered into my eyes.
The light coming through the window reflected off of his lustrous hair.
“Flores, would you like to listen to my old story?”
I looked him in the eye and nodded clearly.
“Since I was young, I was sickly and almost never left my room. My father and mother showed no interest in me and hardly ever visited.
The only people who came to my room were my older brother, Martha the caretaker, and Oscar the gardener who brought flowers. To be honest, I don’t have many memories of my father and mother. It’s really because we hardly saw each other.”
He spoke somewhat sadly.
“That’s right… Father is a strict person. In order to govern the Dukes of Moore that has been passed down through the generations, he values discipline. Mother is the sister of His Majesty the current king and has inherited the royal family’s characteristic platinum hair. I heard that she married here to strengthen the connection between the royal family and the Dukes of Moore.”
He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone and looked distant.
“Older brother Theodore… was a cheerful person. He was as bright and warm as the sun. With his platinum hair that resembled Mother’s, he always had a bright smile and captivated those around him. Mother especially loved him very much and I often saw them having tea parties in the garden… Father, who is strict, seemed to favor him as well, although he would caution him to put effort into not just fencing but also his studies. When he looked at my brother, Father’s eyes were gentle.”
After taking a sip of tea and taking a breath, he started talking again.
“As for me, I stayed in my room all the time because I never knew when I would have an attack. I looked at pictures of foreign landscapes in picture books and imagined myself there, and read adventure stories that stirred my heart. Older brother would visit me and bring me books he thought I would like. When he brought rare treats and said “It’s a secret,” we would secretly eat them together.”
William-sama had a nostalgically wistful expression and smiled slightly.
“I talked to Martha about nothing in particular, sniffed the flowers Oscar brought, and played with my older brother… I was happy. There were a lot of tough times because of my illness, but the days I was able to be with them were even happier.”
“That daily life was disrupted when I was 7 years old. I told you before… Older brother Theodore died of an epidemic.
William-sama’s hand tightened.
“I couldn’t believe it. That gentle, handsome, and strong older brother was gone in an instant.”
William-sama quietly lowered his eyelids.
“At the funeral, Father had furrowed brows. Mother was shaking and crying. I was just dazed and staring at my older brother surrounded by flowers in the coffin. After the funeral, it took me a few days to realize. Older brother would no longer visit my room. I would never see him again.”
Saying this, he trembled his lips.
“Originally, my father and mother, who could not be said to have a good relationship, seemed to be getting worse day by day. One day a few months after my older brother’s funeral, I was called by my father and mother. My father told me, “You are weak and not worthy as an heir,” and said that if I could not overcome my weak body by the age of 18, I would be exiled to the border and welcome a new adopted heir as an heir. He said this was the result of deliberations with my mother.”
William-sama slowly blinks.
“I must have looked terrible. When I returned to the room, the attendant Martha and the gardener Oscar, who happened to be in the room, asked me what was wrong. I … told them everything. Even though I knew what they would think of me when they heard the story, they cared about me.”
He bites his lips as if regretting that time.
“They were enraged. And they were about to tell my father and mother something. I tried to stop them, saying there was no need for that, but they just kept repeating, “William-sama, don’t worry. Please wait in the room.” A seven-year-old child couldn’t stop two adults, and they left the room.”
He bows his head.
His jet-black, wet-feathered hair sways gently.
“I waited for the two of them in the room. I wanted to believe them when they said, “Don’t worry, wait in the room.” … It became evening, night, and even in the morning, the two of them did not come back. Around noon, when I was hungry and left the room, I heard the servants gossiping in the corridor. “It seems that William-sama’s attendant and gardener have been driven out of the mansion.”
He does not raise his face.
“I heard that and headed for my father’s office. When I opened the door and said, “Do you know Martha and Oscar?”, my father looked at me with an indifferent eye as if he were looking at dust fallen in the corridor. He slowly opened his mouth and said to me, “Employees who cannot accept my decision as the head of the duke’s household are worthy of punishment. Dismiss them and send them away from the mansion.”
William-sama tightly grips his hands to the point where the sound almost comes out.
“Even if I begged to cancel the punishment, I was just repeated like a machine, “This is a final decision. There are no such employees in the mansion anymore.” I can’t contact them because I don’t know where they went. I returned to the room in a daze.”
His clenched hands were so painful that when I touched the back of his hand, he relaxed as if in a huff.
“… Flores, thank you.”
I nodded my head loosely to those words and straightened my posture again.
He starts talking again with his eyes lowered.
“After that, the servants began to avoid me. It seemed that rumors were flying around about being dismissed or exiled to the border if they had anything to do with me, so I gradually gave up on having any contact with the servants.”
Taking a deep breath, he leaned back on the chair.
“After a while, I began to study about managing territories and diplomacy. I may not be as good a lord as my older brother, but I thought that I had to try as long as there was a possibility of becoming a lord … I always liked reading, so it didn’t seem too hard to me if I thought of it as an extension of that.”
With a faint smile, William-sama looks at me.
I didn’t feel like laughing because I thought of his hardships, but I returned a slight smile in an effort to soften the atmosphere in William-sama’s room.
“One day, while I was on my way to get a book from the library, I heard my mother’s voice from the other side of the corridor. My mother had been avoiding me since my older brother died because she had a sad face when she saw me, but I felt that the voice coming from the other side of the corridor was so tense that I quietly checked on it.”
William-sama’s eyebrows narrow and he has a severe expression as he looks at me.
“There were my father and mother standing there. My mother was crying and shouting, “Why …?”
As he says that, he distorts his expression as if he refuses to remember, and covers his face with his hand.
Unable to bear seeing him moan in a faint voice,
“Your Grace, please don’t push yourself.”
I called out to him.
He covered his face with his hand for a while, but eventually he lowered his hand and weakly whispered, “No, it’s okay. Thank you.'”
“‘Mother said this. “Why did Theodore have to die? If it were William…” She was crying and yelling like that. Father was silent, but it was clear from his expression that he felt the same way as Mother.”
He continued, looking off into the distance.
“I don’t remember how I returned to my room after hearing that. I came to my senses and found myself sitting in a chair in my room, alone… It’s hard to take in when it’s put into words like that. I realized that I wanted to believe that I was loved by my parents. Even though I knew I wasn’t loved.”
His eyes were empty as he said this.
“It was when I was nine years old. Mother, who had met me, smiled at me as if she was looking at something dear. I was surprised. I also hoped that Mother thought I was dear.”
The face that twisted into a bitter smile seemed to pity his thoughts at the time.
“The illusion was shattered when Mother rushed over to me and called out, “Theodore!” She had come to believe that I was my older brother. She couldn’t accept the reality that my older brother had died.”
His arm, resting on his elbow, weakly droops.
“The moment I denied it, saying, “Mother, I am not Theodore,” she opened her eyes wide and began to scream. I couldn’t bear to see Mother screaming like she was cursing the whole world, so I comforted her like my older brother would. After that, whenever I met Mother, I pretended to be Theodore.”
After saying that, he took a sip of tea.
The tea was cold and there was no steam coming from it.
He returned the cup to the plate and said,
“I think things went pretty much as you imagined after that.”