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In front of a painting

"Ara? If it isn't Sein-sama"

For the time being we decided to finish for today and left the special officials' room, when on the way back we caught sight of Sein-sama.
We're in the hall right next to the entrance.
Sein-sama is standing in front of the last painting of successive generations of royalty decorating this place.

"… Claire, Lily, and Rei, huh"
"Good day, Sein-sama. What are you doing here?"

Claire-sama called out to him on behalf of us three.
Sein-sama sent us a fleeting glimpse with a listless expression, and immediately his gaze returned to the painting.

"… I'm looking at Mother's portrait"

Following Sein-sama's gaze, there was a portrait of the late queen, Lulu-sama.
The three of us looked at it together.

"Lulu-sama, is it… She was a beautiful person. It is impossible to express through painting, she was a person whose beauty came from inside"

Claire-sama's words aren't flattery.
Lulu-sama was truly a beautiful person.
lustrous silver hair reflecting light and red eyes containing a hint of mystery.
Perhaps it's rude to say it, but she gives off an impression of a beautiful courtesan.

However, as the Bauer Kingdom obtained stability with Lulu-sama becoming a queen, in reality far from courtesan, she was a beautiful savior.
Unlike the current queen Lishe that brought with her strengthening of the Church's power, the former Appalachian princess Lulu-sama brought about co-existence and co-prosperity with the Appalachia Kingdom.
In those days the Bauer Kingdom was losing ground in the conflict with the Naa Empire, by strengthening the relationship with Appalachia their forces increased and together they succeeded in opposing the empire.

"… It wasn't only Mother's appearance that was beautiful. She was a gentle person…"

Saying so, Sein-sama looked at the portrait with heartrending eyes.
The line might be a little Oedipus complex-y, but there's nothing unpleasant in Sein-sama's words.
It's not because he's handsome, it's probably because it's a normal behavior.

"Certainly, Sein-sama adored Lulu-sama"

Lulu-sama and Claire-sama were acquaintances.
As Dor-sama's daughter, Claire-sama visited the Royal Palace from young age.

"… Although there are only few things I remember…"

Sein-sama suddenly smiled in self-derision.

After Lulu-sama gave birth to Sein-sama her recovery from childbirth wasn't going well and she had to remain in bed.
It's largely the cause of Sein-sama's difficult personality.

"… I wonder… if Mother didn't resent me…"
"There is no way…! What mother would resent her own child"
"… But, as a result of giving birth to me, Mother couldn't live for long. In her last years she could hardly get up from bed, even though she loved socializing she could hardly do it"

According to the game's setting materials, Lulu-sama had similar preferences to Claire-sama.
For better and worse she loved socializing with royalty and n.o.bility and shined in the Royal Palace engulfed in trickery, she seemed such a woman.
Hearing such a person was bedridden by himself, certainly, Sein-sama's thoughts are inevitable.

"As a man Sein-sama might not be able to understand. Nonetheless, for women their own children are definitely special?"

Claire-sama comforted Sein-sama.
What Claire-sama's saying is no more than a popular opinion.
I know that in reality there are many mothers who suffer, unable to love their children.
But, there's no point in mentioning that here.

Be that as it may, I wonder if Claire-sama's sincere consolation reached Sein-sama.
With his unchanged sour look he gazed at Lulu-sama's painting.
For a short while silence fell.

"Se, Sein-sama. Lily too thinks Claire-sama is correct"

It was Lily-sama who extended helping hand.
Or perhaps the silence was too much for her.

"The, there was something Father has said. The affection of Lulu-sama for princes was extraordinary"
"… Salas did?"

Lily-sama nodded.

"Sein-sama especially weighted on Lulu-sama's mind. That she couldn't give healthy birth"

Sein-sama's birth was difficult.
Just as Lulu-sama's recovery after childbirth didn't go well, Sein-sama himself was a premature baby.
Hence as a child Sein-sama had a frail body, and his health frequently deteriorated.

"It seems both of you have misunderstood each other"

I also feel it's as Claire-sama said, but one of the parties has already passed away.
The truth is buried in the dark.

Sein-sama said nothing.
In the first place he's not a person of many words, but today it's even worse.
Let's see?

"By any chance, Sein-sama, are you worried about the rumors spreading in the castle town?"
"Rei!"
"Yes? … Ah"

I came to my senses at Claire-sama's words.
Rod-sama said that, but the matter being what it is, the person himself shouldn't be asked.
I'm sure Claire-sama and Lily-sama have long ago noticed the reason Sein-sama is in low spirits.
Unlike me they were reading the air.

"… Did you all hear it"
"Sein-sama. There is no reason to worry about irresponsible rumors spread by commoners"
"Tha, that's right!"

Claire-sama and Lily-sama followed up my gaffe.
However――.

"… But, there are various things that suddenly make sense"

Sein-sama's complexion was poor.

"… His Majesty… was often distant with me. It's obviously a different treatment compared to Rod's or Yuu's"

That is to say, Sein-sama believes His Majesty knows the truth.

"… From the start I thought I was a disappointing prince. But, even bearing that in mind, His Majesty's attitude towards me had many mysterious aspects. If the rumor is true, I feel like it explains everything"

His tone of voice was flat, but it oozed with the bitterness he accumulated over the years.

"Sein-sama…"

Claire-sama called out to him in a worried voice.
From the start, Sein-sama got along with Claire-sama.
Looking at Sein-sama feeling sad like this, of course it'd tickle her maternal instincts.

"… I can't. No matter how my mood is. Whining like this, it's unlike me"
"If you are fine with me, I will listen to you any time"
"… I'm happy about your feelings, but I'm still this country's prince. It's not something I can do if I want to be the king"
"It is the role of retainers to support the king"
"… That's right. If I become the king, Claire-sama will surely be reliable"

Sein-sama finally showed a smile becoming of him.
He seldom smiles.
For that reason, his smiled packed quite a punch.

"What are you being fascinated by, Claire-sama. When you have a person like me"

And without reading the air I immediately threw a retort.

"!? So, something like fascinated… Or rather, just what kind of person are you!"
"Eh, your soulmate, right?"
"I am hearing this for the first time!?"
"Every single one of you is a love-obsessed idiot!?"
"Cardinal Lily, keep silent!?"
"So, sorry"

Just where did the solemn mood go.
We caused a lively racket.

"… Haha, by watching you I feel silly for caring about it. I'm sorry I've caused you to worry. I'm okay"
"I wasn't particularly worried though"
"Rei! … If there is something, please talk to me any time"
"Li, Lily too will do what little she can!"
"… Thank you"

Saying so, Sein-sama walked away from the painting.
His gait is firm, it seems like he really is alright.

At any rate――.

"Difficult, isn't he"
"You truly are… If Sein-sama was not broad-minded you would be beheaded?"
"Well, I know how to choose who to joke with. Unlike Lily-sama"
"E, eeeh!?"

I tried acting as cheerfully as I could.
I'm also worried about Sein-sama, but for me Claire-sama is always most important.
So that Claire-sama isn't swallowed by the dark mood, I'll joke to lighten it.

It's fine even if I'm called a buffoon.
Because, it's the path I chose.





CHAPTER DISCUSSION