Chapter 17: A Knight’s Oath
Somewhere along the way, the light coming in through the window had become oblique.
His face, lit by the orange light, takes on an air of sorrow.
“Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I had died instead of my older brother.”
He closes his eyes as if lost in thought.
“I’m sure my older brother would have become a wonderful lord loved by the people of the territory. And Finn too… “
He begins to speak the nickname of the crown prince, but shakes his head as if regretting calling the absent crown prince by a nickname.
“…originally it was my older brother who was supposed to become close friends with His Highness Finlay, the crown prince. At the crown prince’s 10th birthday, my older brother and the crown prince were supposed to be introduced to each other.”
His voice, like a whisper, echoes through the room.
“I met His Highness Finlay at the ceremony I attended in my older brother’s place. The crown prince was happy, saying, “I’m glad to have a friend of the same age”, and proposed that we call each other by friendly nicknames. He called me a friend and even went out of his way to come to the Duke of Moore’s territory… “
He slowly opens his eyes.
“I think if it had been my older brother, Finn would have been able to talk more comfortably. I can’t help but keep my distance from him.”
He drops his gaze to the cup of tea.
“Before, you asked me if something had happened when I had a sad expression while talking about Princess Sofia. Remember?”
He smiles wryly.
“I… was jealous. I envied their family who loved and were loved by each other.”
He wears a self-mocking smile as if laughing at his own foolishness.
“A family should show compassion for each other, it says in the book. My older brother, Martha, and Oscar all taught me that a family is something to be valued.”
He blinks, as if remembering people who are not present here.
“If a family is something to show compassion for, then I at least tried to love my father and mother in my older brother’s place. But…”
He twists his face in agony and presses his chest as if enduring suffering.
“Every time I try to love my father and mother, my mother’s cries of wanting my older brother to live and me to die, my father’s expression at that time, keep flashing through my mind over and over again.”
He speaks with a bitter expression, and his fingers turn white from gripping his chest tightly.
“It hurts… It hurts, Flores. The more I try to love, the more it hurts… What was I supposed to do? What could I have done?!”
He spewed out the words as if exposing the wound in his heart.
It was a cry from his soul.
When he turns towards me in response to my call, my pained face is reflected in his dull eyes.
I approach him and kneel by his side.
“It’s alright now… it’s alright. You don’t have to force yourself to love just because they are family.”
I speak, hoping that my words will reach him as deeply as possible, while looking into his eyes.
“A family who loves and is loved is surely wonderful. I think it would be wonderful if it were like that.”
The red setting sun shines on his body.
“However, it is also a fact that not all families are like that. One-sided love that does not receive anything in return from the other person is painful and difficult. Your ambition to love your family is a noble and worthy thing, but the consciousness of having to “love” is now tormenting you like a curse.”
His body, dyed red by the bright red light, seemed as if it were covered in blood from the wounds of his heart that he had borne until now, and my chest became painful.
“You have already put in enough effort. It is okay to now free yourself from the curse of being a “loved family” that loves and is loved. It’s okay now.”
Silence envelops the area.
The distant cry of a raven reaches my ears.
“…Is that okay?”
A voice that can hardly be heard unless I listen carefully.
“Is it okay even if I can’t love my family?”
I nod firmly to that voice.
A pearl-like tear dropped from William-sama’s eyes.
“Even if I can’t be like my older brother, is it okay for me to keep living?”
Still kneeling, I nod strongly again.
“Will you…come follow me?”
I smiled at him as he asked in a hushed voice.
“As I said before, “I don’t need any other lords”…I am just a simple knight. I can’t replace your family, but I can be with you.”
As I said this, tears flowed down his cheeks, one after another, from his eyes.
While looking at him, I changed my expression and opened my mouth again.
“Your Grace…please allow me to call you “William-sama”. I am not serving you because you are the duke’s son. It is because…I want to be with no one other than William-sama that I am here.”
I continue my words towards him as he blinks his eyelashes.
“Until now, I have called you “Your Grace Moore” according to etiquette, but if possible, I want to call you by that name…May I have your permission?”
He nods, with the drops rolling down his dignified face.
“…I permit it.”
Upon hearing this, I placed my hand on my chest and lowered my head.
“Thank you for your generosity. I, Leah Flores, swear on this sword to earnestly serve William-sama.”
At the moment William-sama heard my oath, he narrowed his eyebrows and made a laughing expression as if crying.
“Fufu, are you mimicking the ceremony of when knights of old swore their loyalty by using their own weapons as proof? Fufufu…”
He laughed for a while, but eventually opened his well-shaped lips.
“…Can I also call you Leah?”
I have no objections.
“By all means.”
Upon hearing this, he wiped his tears with his fingers and smiled without paying attention to the tears still running down his cheeks.
“Leah. Let’s start over from now on.”
His eyes, illuminated by the sun, were beautifully dazzling as if they were swaying like the sea I had seen before.