𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝟐𝟎: 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐡𝐨𝐩𝐞
Right now, I am at Freiche-sama’s mansion. Freiche-sama has become bedridden, unable to eat.
Somehow, she seems to be able to consume a thin porridge like water, but her face has turned as white as paper and her cheeks have lost their flesh, becoming gaunt.
“Is His Highness safe?”
“Yes. Everyone is looking for him. I’m sure he will return and tell us many stories of his hardships.”
“I wonder how your loved one is doing.”
“He must be protecting His Highness.”
“I hope His Highness isn’t being too demanding.”
“Stephan is an adult, so he’s handling it well.”
We were both escaping from reality.
If we said something like (he might not be alive anymore), it might become reality.
Why can’t they find Prince Ehrlich and Stephan?
『”𝘼𝙬𝙚𝙗𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙨.𝙘𝙤𝙢” – 𝘿𝙞𝙨𝙘𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧 𝙖 𝙘𝙖𝙥𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙡𝙙 𝙤𝙛 𝙡𝙤𝙫𝙚, 𝙥𝙖𝙨𝙨𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙙𝙫𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙪𝙧𝙚, 𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙘𝙖𝙣 𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙪𝙡𝙜𝙚 𝙞𝙣 𝙖 𝙘o𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙣𝙨𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙣𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙡𝙨 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 “𝙙𝙖𝙞𝙡𝙮 𝙪𝙥𝙙𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙨” 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙚𝙭𝙘𝙡𝙪𝙨𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙖𝙘𝙘𝙚𝙨𝙨 𝙩𝙤 “𝙖𝙙𝙫𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙙 𝙘𝙝𝙖𝙥𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙨”.』
“Okaa-sama, may I go look for Stephan?”
“Wait a little longer.”
“He might be injured and unable to move.”
“Even so. What will you do if you get caught and used as a bargaining chip? If the royal army is still searching for His Highness, you should wait here.”
I understand. I know that’s the right answer. But, I was about to shout out my complaints and ran out of the living room. Hanna followed me, worried.
I went into my room, buried my face in the bed’s futon, and cried, muffling my voice.
Hanna stroked my back as I cried. Even though Hanna herself is grieving that her brother hasn’t returned.
“Hanna, what should I do? What should I do?”
“It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”
We hugged each other and cried. It felt like there was a huge hole in my body, thinking that we might never see each other again.
A few days later, we received news that Prince Ehrlich had appeared in front of the royal army during their search, was protected, and returned to the royal palace.
“Prince Ehrlich has a message for you. He wishes for Ellen-sama to come to the royal palace.”
My father and I went there, as requested.
We were led to Prince Ehrlich’s room. His Highness looked thin and pale. Still, he had changed into proper clothes, sat in a chair, and bowed his head to us.
“Ellen, I’m sorry. Stephan sacrificed himself to save me.”
Sacrifice? What does he mean by sacrifice? My mind started to feel cold.
“It happened when we were heading towards the sea. A considerable number of enemy soldiers jumped out from the mountains. Our army was fighting to protect me, but the enemy didn’t back down. They gradually got closer to me.”
His Highness was speaking with a pained expression.
“Eventually, our formation broke down, and just when an enemy soldier was about to attack me, one of the private soldiers from the Bowen family, who was with me, took advantage of a small gap, grabbed my arm, and ran into the mountains. That was Stephan.”
“And then? What happened then?”
“Stephan pulled my arm and ran quite a distance, but every time I got tired and rested, the enemy got closer. We kept repeating this. Finally, when I couldn’t run anymore due to exhaustion, Stephan covered me with tree branches and fallen leaves, and hid me.”
Prince Ehrlich took a sip of water at that point.
“He hid me, gave me all his water and food, and kept watch, but the enemy still got closer. Stephan told me to ‘absolutely not move or make a sound’, then he jumped out in front of the enemy, and ran down the slope, leading the enemy away. I stayed hidden until my food ran out. A few days later, I was found by the royal army who had been searching everywhere.”
Prince Ehrlich covered his face with both hands.
“Many soldiers died because I was weak. Stephan also sacrificed himself for me. I’m sorry, Ellen.”
“Wait a minute. Your Highness, you didn’t see Stephan’s last moments, did you?”
“I didn’t see it. But, more than ten enemies chased after Stephan. There’s no way he could have…”
“Do you remember anything about the place?”
“Because it was in the forest, there was nothing specific… Ah, there was a rock shaped like a white eagle on the way as I was running away. It wasn’t very big. It was about my height. After passing it, I couldn’t run anymore, and Stephan hid me.”
My father looked down with a dark expression. But no one has seen Stephan’s end. Then he might still be alive.
“Your Highness, thank you for telling us. It gives us hope.”
“No, Ellen, but.”
“It’s okay. If the body hasn’t been found, there is hope that Stephan is alive.”
Perhaps it was painful to see me insisting on this, but no one said anything. In the awkward silence, my father and I returned to the mansion.