Chapter 10: Friends Forever.
"In other words, the short version of your story is, you destroyed a sealed door of another country, forced the other party to sign an unequal treaty in order to obtain what was inside, that is correct yes? I thought I raised you to be a prince, not some cruel thief."
"I have no excuses."
"It’s not just ‘I have no excuses’, you damn fool."
In the innermost part of Helifalte Royal Palace, inside the most beautiful room in the entire continent, Schwan Helifalte the Lion King is facepalming upon hearing his son’s reports.
Although his age has already passed its prime, but his rock-like body still stood strong, his venetian red eyes shone fiercely, overflown with dignity as expected of the greatest king on this continent.
"Why did you only visit remote countries like Aquila in the first place? Though I did say that you should travel and study the countries, but the countries you chose are all small countries that are very distant from Helifalte. Our neighbors are getting impatient you know, they kept asking me when is it that you’ll visit their country."
"I travel to those countries because of my personal preferences, not because of necessity."
"Don’t you think it’s unreasonable that you’ve visited so many countries, even the smallest one on the continent, yet you never even bat an eye to our neighbor, the second largest nation on the continent?"
"I’ll pay them a visit one day."
"One day, huh. Well I can understand why you always chose to travel to faraway places. You’re probably just trying to buy time. There’s ‘that’ in our neighbor after all."
"……It’s exactly as you said."
"Whoops, we’re getting off-topic. Let us return to our Aquila’s Princess and your tomfoolery. The reason I dare to sent you alone on a journey is because I considered you already an adult. But to think that you’d act so thoughtlessly like this……"
"Oh my, it’s fine isn’t it. It’s romantic."
The one who interrupted Schwan’s lecture is an easy-going looking woman with a platinum blonde hair, sitting on the throne next to him. In contrast to the frowning Schwan, she clasps her hands together while smiling happily.
"Fine you say…… Ibis, you always spoilt Milano. That’s why he acts so thoughtlessly like this."
"My, in the past you also acted quite unreasonably just for my sake aren’t you?"
Schwan flinches when she hit his sore point. Though this soft and gentle woman named Ibis is currently the Queen of Helifalte, but her original background is just a humble Helifalte’s maid.
In order to fulfill his love for the girl of different status, the young Schwan had overcame many trials and tribulations and eventually achieve his goal. He developed Helifalte to prosperity, going so far as to created a soon-to-be ruler of Helifalte, Milano the Holy Prince. Now, none dares to challenge the reign of this king and queen.
"I went through a lot of hardships in the past as well, but in the end I overcame all of them. Princess Selene that you mentioned, she seems to have gone through a lot more than I had, so make sure you take responsibility and make her happy."
When Ibis finished speaking, Schwan who’s beside her shrugs his shoulders. The signal of white flag.
"People called me Lion King but I can never seems to win against my own wife. Well, the official treaty had already been signed, it’s too late go back on our words now."
"Does that mean I’m pardoned?"
"Just like I said earlier, I treated you as a fully grown-up adult. So you shall take responsibility for any problems that arise, using your own judgement to solve it. That’s all I have to say."
"Thank you very much!"
Milano said as he kneels before the King and Queen, his own father and mother, who reign supreme in this nation.
"Now, let’s end our grandiose conversation here. Then Milano, how’s that beautiful Princess Selene doing?"
The heavy and oppressive atmosphere from before suddenly disappeared, now Schwan stares at Milano from the throne, as if to pry as much information out of him as possible. His eyes sparkled, like a child who wants to see a cute little kitten that has just arrived home.
"Father, please calm down. Didn’t you just said that I should resolve my own probl……"
"Do not confuse public matter and private matter with one another, that official conversation had already ended. From now on it’s private talk, my own interest. I want to see her with my own eyes."
"Yes, I want to see the cutie Selene-chan as well. Can you bring her here for a minute I wonder?" (Ibis)
Seeing the two’s real expression without the masks, Milano smiles softly. Though they’re the King, Queen, and Prince respectively, but they’re still a family before their statuses.
"I’m sorry to say this but right now Selene’s resting."
And when he was about to say that he’d bring her here tomorrow, suddenly the door behind him was slammed open. And the end of the Milano and the two’s sights is Marie standing there, alone. She’s panting heavily, seemingly ran all the way here.
"Marie? What’s wrong? Rushing all the way here."
"Selene…… Selene she’s……!"
Frantic, Marie jumps straight into Milano’s chest and clings to him.
Selene’s currently sleeping, comatosed, and is in Milano’s arms being held in literally princess carry position. Walking silently through the corridor behind Milano is Marie who’s hanging her head, dejected.
"Why didn’t you called nearby maids?"
"……I was in a panic."
Marie muttered so while still looking down. When Selene suddenly collapsed, the first person who came into her mind that could save her friend are not the nearby maids nor servant, but her reliable big brother.
"I think I already told you that Selene’s tired and we should let her rest first."
"But I’ve come up with a play that won’t tire her!"
Marie thought that since playing outside is a no-no, then perhaps just listening to music inside her room would be okay. So after such consideration, Marie decided to bring Selene out of her room. However, that choice was a grave mistake.
The profound melodies performed by the court musician is one of the best entertainment out there, and for any ordinary citizens they had to pay a large sum of money just to be graced by it. However, for Selene who has only ever listen to anime songs and nothing else, such melodies were like sleeping pills. The two were sitting next to each other in Marie’s room when the incident happened, and Selene who couldn’t resist the sleepiness fell off the chair.
Still, Selene should’ve woken up when her head hits the floor, but compared to the good-for-nothing bed that she used to sleep in, the carpet in this room is very soft and feels nice to touch, it wraps Selene’s body gently. Thus, Selene who didn’t get to sleep for more than ten hours because of all the travel earlier, falls into a deep sleep without any signs of waking up.
Marie who was next to her was horrified. The young girl who just now was sitting on the chair quietly suddenly collapsed to the ground without any warnings. Moreover, even when she calls her name or shakes her, there are no signs of her waking up. Judged that this isn’t normal, Marie dashes off to where her brother is, half-crying.
"So as a result of your selfishness, she collapsed while accompanying you. Why did you do such a thing?"
"But no one ever pay any attention to me. Both Otou-sama and Okaa-sama are busy, and you’re on your journey Nii-sama. You even brought such a cute girl home, so I thought everyone doesn’t need me anymore……"
Behind Milano, Marie slowly confesses everything. One of the reasons she brings Selene out was because she wants to play with a girl her age, but more than that, she wants to retaliate against both her big brother and her family.
"Do you remember Mia?"
After a short moment, Milano suddenly replied back, and that made Marie speechless.
That’s the name Marie will never forget, even in her short life.
"Of course I do. She’s a cute little kitten, a white one, just like Selene."
"You kept playing with that newly-born kitten because it was ‘cute’ without break. And you probably remembered how that plays out as well."
Marie answers back with a voice that seems to be fading away. That story was years ago, one day Marie found a kitten abandoned in the one of the castle’s corners, so she brought it back intending to keep it. But since Marie’s too young to take care of it, the cat was entrusted to Milano instead.
Though abandoned, the kitten is healthy and energetic, but one day when Milano went to check on it, it was limp and listless. That was because Marie kept playing with it whenever her brother isn’t there, thus its stamina was quickly drained. Fortunately once Milano nurses it, it regained its health again, but Milano decided to take the kitten away from Marie who’s crying, unwilling to separate from it, and entrust it to one of the cat-loving servant. Still, Marie couldn’t understand why he suddenly brings this up.
"This girl, she was abandoned by her mother as well."
Milano straightforwardedly reveals one part of Selene’s secret. Marie’s totally suprised at what he said. The fact that a mother would abandons her child, such a thing is unthinkable for a girl who grows up in a proper family like her.
"E-eh? But isn’t that weird? What you meant by her mother is, like, Okaa-sama-like person right? And for example, Okaa-sama abandoning me? That’s impossible. If that happened to me I’d have gone insane."
Perhaps greatly bewildered, Marie speaks with her thoughts unorganized. Though the fact that Selene’s mind is already warped and insane even before being abandoned is unbeknownst to anyone.
"This girl, she’s just like Mia. Just like how you couldn’t ignore the abandoned kitten, I couldn’t stay oblivious to her situation either. I didn’t mean to insult you for your incident. I also don’t mind you being selfish towards me either, but please, be kind and gentle to Selene."
Milano carries Selene to her room and laid her down on the bed, he then lightly pats on Marie’s head and left without saying anything. Inside the spacious room, now only two young girls left, but in the end Marie didn’t leave the room. She carries a nearby chair to the bedside and, quietly, stares at Selene’s sleeping face.
After a while the sky is dyed dark red, and Selene’s finally awake. This is when Selene’s most active, now that she had slept for a long time and her sleepiness is completely gone.
"Selene! You’re awake!"
The moment Selene opens her eyes, Marie rushes in to wraps her arms around Selene’s neck. Though this’s supposed to be a happy occasion, but instead Selene’s confused. Since she has never experienced a blonde loli hugging her the moment she wakes up like this, so she felt bewildered rather than happy.
"You suddenlly collapsed, are you okay!? You’re not hurt right!?"
Selene replied and immediately understands what’s going on. She remembers that she was invited to go listen to some music, but she can’t recall anything after that at all. She guessed that she’s probably just fallen asleep during the music no doubt. But still, that’s very rude of her no matter how sleepy she was. Having no excuses, Selene kept silent in guilt, but apparently Marie took it that the silence meant Selene’s angry.
"So you’re angry after all…… Umm, I’m sorry."
As if her usual feisty attitude was a lie, she squeezes her little hands on her laps hard, looking dejected.
"Umm, well, I…… since I don’t have any friends, I don’t know how to get along with people."
"Maribelle-sama, friends, none?"
"Even though, Princess among princesses?"
Selene tilts her head, puzzled, but Marie kept her eyes down looking at the floor, as if having difficulty getting her words out, but after a while she opens her mouth.
"Yes, it’s true that I’m the best princess among them. But, it’s just that. The truly best and capable are Otou-sama and Okaa-sama. The strongest one is Nii-sama, but I’m nothing."
"Maribelle-sama, not amazing?"
"Nii-sama’s the amazing one. He’s good at exercise, is smart, and have a lot of magic power too. They say that the one who was born first will receive the most amount of magic power. That’s why even though I did play with other girls, behind my back they are definitely talking down on me saying that I’m just a failure, I know that well."
That’s when Selene recalled the time when she was still imprisoned behind that sealed door. Her big sister Arue can open the door by just touching it, but when she replicate the same motion, nothing happens. If what Marie said is true, then that meant she herself doesn’t have much magic power.
"That’s why, if I’m not a princess, no one will play with me……"
Because Selene doesn’t reply at all, Marie gradually expresses her feelings more and more, and eventually her words are mixed with sobbing and tears. Seeing Marie like that, Selene opens her mouth.
"Me too, friends, had none."
Right before her eyes, the white young girl said it. That ‘She had no friends’.
Not ‘Has none’ but ‘had none’.
Marie who noticed that fearfully opens her mouth.
"Selene, you aren’t angry? Could it be that you considered me as a friend……?"
"If Maribelle-sama, allows."
In contrast to the Marie who’s on the verge of crying, Selene smiles softly. That beautiful smile, unlike the calculating smile of those aristocrats’ daughters or princesses, this one is without deceit, the true smile of joy, even the young Marie could see through it.
Selene’s ‘I had no friends’ is certainly in the past tense true, but that’s when she was still an old man. Selene’s in her past life had no friends at all. And even now, her only friend is a mouse. Yet, this beautiful blonde loli is asking to be friends with her, so of course this is a joyful occasion for her.
"B-but, are you really okay with me? I have no good points at all you see?"
"I have none! My head’s not good, I’m not strong, and my magic power is almost nonexistent!"
"Have, because Maribelle-sama, is Maribelle-sama."
Selene said it so casually as if it’s something natural, which shakes the core of Marie’s heart.
‘This girl, she said the same thing as Otou-sama!’
In the past, Marie once vented her anger on her father and mother, asking them ‘Why is it that she has so little magic power, why wasn’t she born with excellent abilities like her brother’. Against the crying and throwning tantrum Marie, her father and mother said this.
"Did you think that there’s no point in you being born since you didn’t have any abilities? That’s not it at all. Marie, just by you being yourself and stay by our side, you give us strength. By carrying something of great importance on our backs, it pushes people to polish themselves and become a better version of them, so that their cherished will be happy. That alone is a value in itself. Perhaps you may not understand this yet, but one day, the person you treasured will definitely appears before you."
Marie thought that was a lie. Even until now, the only people who said something like that to her are only within her family, the young Marie’s anxious that everyone else look at her with cold eyes. Compared to her big brother who’s perfect in everything, other people called her ‘Holy Prince Milano’s trash’, a fact that Marie herself knew very well.
That’s why Marie started calling herself ‘Princess among princesses’ and behaved arrogantly. Because if she doesn’t conduct herself so, she’ll be branded as incompetent by others. However, the delicate white young girl in front of her, even when she reveals her weaknesses to her, still recognizes her as a friend.
In actuality, Selene’s thought was just ‘You have a great value just by being a blonde beautiful loli’. Selene’s the kind of person that will choose ‘a satanic war criminal beautiful loli’ over ‘a good-hearted saint old man’ any day without hesitation.
"Thank you. Selene."
"Unn, Maribelle-sama, cute after all."
"Just Marie is okay. Since we’re friends after all, adding -sama would be weird isn’t it?"
Marie giggles. The darkness looming over her just a moment ago dissipates, the glittering eyes of hers returned.
"Selene, would you like to make a good luck charm?"
"Good luck charm?"
"Ah, I see. So you didn’t know about this Selene. Hey, can I have a bit of your hair?"
After Selene spoke, Marie walks to the shelf and finds herself a small scissors. She crawls to behind Selene who’s sitting up on the bed and combs Selene’s hair with her hand.
"Such pretty hair…… It’s so soft and smooth, white in color, as if it’s silk threads. It’d be better if you let it grows longer."
Marie giggles at her honest reply.
On one humid day in the summer, Selene has shaved her whole head bald because of her habit when she’s still an old man. Arue who saw her little sister suddenly became bald fainted on the spot. After that, a court physician was called to check up on her, in which he misdiagnosed as the cause stems from Selene undergoing extreme stress, so a surveillance was put on her for a while. After that, she compromised with a shoulder-length short cut hair.
"Then, I’ll take a little."
Marie cuts a little of Selene’s hair with the scissors, rolls it up, made it into ring shape.
"Done! How’s that, great isn’t it?"
Selene applauses without hesitation. What Marie did was weaves the white hair, made it into a small white ring. Such a thing made with excellent dexterity made Selene astonished. Then, she wears that ring on her own right little finger, and this time Marie cuts off her own sparkling golden hair, and made the same ring.
"Selene, can you give me your right hand?"
Selene holds her right hand out, and Marie puts the golden ring onto Selene’s right little finger.
"What, is this?"
"Girls would cut each other’s hair and turn them into accessories. After that they exchanged with each other, meaning that they’ll be friends for forever, a good luck charm in Helifalte’s tradition."
"Girls, friends, forever."
Those words awaken the evil thoughts inside Selene, but of course, she also added the pure side of the word friends into it as well.
"Though no girls actually do something like nowadays. So doing this with you is my first time as well. Then, see you later. Let us play together next time when you’re healthy!"
Saying so, Marie winked and left the room. The depressed atmosphere from earlier has disappeared completely, the only thing left in Selene’s eyes is the cheerful figure of a young girl.
『As far as I can see, I don’t think she’s incompetent by any means.』
『Since you were in the middle of conversation, I remained silent. It is true that Prince Milano is outstandingly talented, but there are subtleties that men wouldn’t and couldn’t understand, things that only women would notice and pay attention to. One couldn’t judged one as superior or inferior merely by strength alone.』
"Not only, strength."
As if reflecting on what he said, Selene holds onto Butler’s words tightly. That’s right, I can’t beat him in term of raw strength, but if I use underhanded tricks then maybe I can defeat the Prince. Fighting’s not only about strength. Selene smiles devilishly.
But more importantly, being able to become friends with Marie today is a big harvest for her. Now that she decided to let her tomorrow self conjure up underhanded tricks, Selene glances at her right little finger and goes grinning wide for a long, long time.