Chapter Twenty-Four: A Bitter Truth
“Kill… Killed him?” I repeated back what my husband had said… My mind unable to catch up with the things being said to me.
However, Nolan didn’t reply right away, and only the pleasant sound of rustling stream water was sticking out like a sore thumb, filling the surroundings.
Nolan quietly began to speak as I stared at him with stunned eyes. “That day, Aaron had promised to meet me when he returned to the Royal Palace after he’s finished at the opera.”
“The opera that happened the day my little brother Aaron died.” I suddenly gasped.
Nolan was still looking at the stream.
He was talking about the day when the fifth prince was killed. Although the fifth prince had come in and out of our conversations many times now, I had intended to avoid talking about his death. I treated it as a taboo.
That was the reason why, now that the topic had been touched by him, I am awfully nervous.
“The opera that year was very popular, the opening was delayed that day and it was quite hard to pull down the curtain under the thunderous applause.”
“Yeah… It was a composer’s opera that became famous overnight, after all…”
The opera the fifth prince went to watch at the day of his death was a new work of an up-and-coming young composer, it was such a massive hit that an exceptionally long-term performance was held for it.
It was extraordinarily famous as a work for which royalties and titled nobles gathered in the opera house day after day. Even my step-brother and sister-in-law had gone many times to watch it. Especially my sister-in-law, I remembered how crazy she was about it, seemingly with endless enthusiasm whenever they were about to watch it.
Though, I haven’t watched it even once…
Nolan’s face when I looked from the side was unbelievably pale. It was as if the blood flowing under his skin had become transparent. He opened his mouth and spoke all at once after a moment of silence.
“Aaron, cheerful by nature, had many friends. He seemed to have encountered them in the opera house when he was about to return, delaying his departure even more. He didn’t take the carriage he used whenever he went out to meet me, but instead, made his way riding a horse.”
Yeah, I heard that the fifth prince was attacked on a street as he was riding his horse…
“I was worried about Aaron when I didn’t saw him coming at our appointed time, so I waited for him at the entrance of the Royal Palace. When it got too late, I went to the opera house with the imperial guards to look for him and not long after, I met my little brother’s servant… He had a pale expression.”
A strange tension ran through my body.
It was then…?
Unexpectedly, he was talking about the very moment the fifth prince was killed.
“By the time we met his servant who was running around to seek help, and had followed him with the imperial guards, it was already too late. Together with his guardian knight, my little brother was covered with blood, collapsed and groaning on the road.”
I unconsciously covered my mouth with my hands.
For Nolan to see the tragic appearance of his own brother… I was completely clueless about it. Although Nolan was staring at the stream flowing in front of him and the scenery of the tiny village beyond it, I’m sure only the memory that’s too cruel to think about was the only thing being reflected in his eyes.
Nolan continued with a matter of fact tone. However I didn’t miss the vague quivering of his voice.
“I couldn’t do anything at the time. He had lost too much blood. I could do nothing but to call out his name and wait for the imminent death of my little brother that would release him of his pain.”
The image of Nolan embracing the bloody body of his little brother, him collapsing on the ground and wailing in helplessness under the veil of darkness flashed past my eyes.
Nolan closed his eyes once and spit out the rest together with his trembling breath.
“I even felt relieved when my little brother passed through the agony and the quietness finally settled. I had cursed my vulgar and weak self then.”
In short, Nolan witnessed the death of his little brother with whom he was the closest with.
After the death of the fifth prince, Nolan stood in front of his grave for an entire night and caught pneumonia. When I heard this rumor back then, I even once thought something like, What a handful prince he sounds.
However, now I felt guilty to even think that I had dismissed such a person who suffered from such an unseeable terrible thing that left a scar in his heart.
I was stumped and wondered what to say to Nolan who was going through such unbearable agony. Even though I wanted to do something and cheer him up.
Yeah, I can at least hold his hand.
I brought out my courage and slowly stretched my hand, touching his and covering it with mine.
His hand was big. Nevertheless, I still strived to comfort him with my tiny hands for now.
“I don’t think I would ever forget the sensation of the warm, flowing blood and the face of my little brother contorting in agony.”
I just kept holding his hand gently. Somehow trying to convey that he wasn’t alone. I’m here with you.
“My mother, who knew about my appointment with my little brother, said to me as she wailed in a very distraught manner… If only you had gone to pick him up earlier… Why did it have to be my precious Aaron...”
Maybe he wouldn’t have been attacked if Nolan was together with him? While I was slightly at a loss at his words, Nolan muttered, “I’m still puzzled, even now, about what she meant when she said that.”
I could only quietly listen to him talking, unable to reply back.
“Aaron was riding the horse because of me, and probably went through an unsafe area to take the shortcut because he was running late. I repeatedly wondered what if I hadn’t forced the reluctant Aaron to make a promise to meet me at that time. Our promise were the shackles that forced him to hurry up when he was already preoccupied as is… It wasn’t that I couldn’t help him. It was that I had killed him.“
Killed him? I wanted to shout, “You didn’t!” However, Nolan’s face looked too much in pain that I couldn’t even come up with the words to comfort him. Anything that I’m to say now would just seem like honeyed phrases.
“It’s my responsibility to take… That Aaron had been assassinated that day because of me.”
Wait a minute.
It was said that a thief was the culprit behind the fifth prince’s incident however since no one was captured, all sorts of rumors had flowed in.
But why did Nolan say that it was assassination?
“What do you mean by assassination?”
A cold look flashed in Nolan’s beautiful aquamarine eyes.
I even felt a vague chill run past my spine when I stared at his cold eyes.
“…The successive princes of our nation have fought with their brothers over the throne.”
“Third brother had already earned father’s disappointment at a mistake he had committed in his youth, losing any favor from him. Now he’s completely out of throne’s race.”
“It… It’s survival of the fittest, after all…”
“I had already declared that I don’t have any interest in the competition and as you can see, I am now no nowhere near the competition for the throne.”
It’s hard to tell just by looking at it, but it should be because he threw away his title as a prince to make me his wife.
“However, the talks of marriage between Aaron and the princess of the Sevesta kingdom was ongoing at that time. The princess often came to Tigaro’s Royal Palace to play, and eventually, she fell in love with him.”
“I did hear that she was present at the fifth prince’s funeral… And that she had been crying the entire time.”
“I think if both of them had married, I’m sure father would have chosen Aaron as his successor.”
In other words, the competition for throne would have been in the fifth prince’s favor, with the marriage serving as the cue. That’s why someone assassinated him to stop it from happening… Was he trying to say that?
I received his words with feelings of disbelief.
“Who would do such a cruel thing…?”
“I don’t have any concrete evidence yet.”
“Yet…?” I said as I looked at Nolan’s sharp gaze.
Could it be, Nolan had someone as the culprit in his mind? And that he’s secretly investigating?
I wonder if that’s the reason behind the occasional outing of Nolan with Ricardo that no one seemed to know what it was about?
I was scared to ask but I gained some courage from our connected hands and once again tried asking him—the doubts I’ve had since our wedding.
“Uhm, Nolan-sama? Please tell me. Did you feel responsible for His Highness Aaron’s death and decided to relinquish your title as prince because of it? And that’s why… You proposed marriage to me?” I somehow asked, managing not to stutter in any of my words.
Was it just my imagination, or did I feel the fingertips of Nolan’s hand in mine turning cold? I tightly squeezed his hand in turn. My hands may have also been trembling as I did so.
Nolan’s aquamarine eyes that was looking at the stream slowly moved away from the scenery and turned to look at me. He closed his eyes and then caught my eyes as he opened them again.
“It’s not only that… There were rumors that talks of my marriage with the princess of Sevesta Kingdom were ongoing behind the scenes after Aaron’s funeral. Because all of my brothers were already married… The King of Sevesta Kingdom must have wanted to build a connection to pull war support from our kingdom for many years to come by hook or by crook. Father also appeared to be enthusiastic since it was for the benefit of both kingdoms, but I didn’t want to rob my brother of his lover. It was something I did not want to do, more than anything.”
I saw the gloomy emotions dwelling inside Nolan’s bright aquamarine eyes that were staring at me.
“That’s why… I hurriedly married, to stop any further marriage talks between me and Sevesta’s princess.”
“I see… That’s right. There were all kinds of rumors about you in the aristocrat’s circle. The Viscount used to talk about you whenever he visited the Royal Palace.”
So that’s why Nolan chose me.
Because if anyone looked at my origin, the marriage wouldn’t be recognized no matter what unless he did something extreme such as discarding his title as a prince.
Although it was a force majeure, the reason why he chose me, a scrap of a noble, was so he wouldn’t meet any strong opposition from the king. Or it could also be the faint pride of Nolan as prince?
“The sixth prince is too young to marry and also too young to succeed the throne. Ultimately, the marriage talks between our kingdom and Sevesta was called off.”
Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that Nolan’s wild marriage uproar was to shake off marriage with the princess of another kingdom.
I recalled the face of the king I met for the first time earlier that day. I wondered how the king felt looking at me at that moment. My appearance foiled his scheme so he must be thinking that I was a terrible jinx or something.
Nolan said in a stern tone as I shuddered from noticing how big an impact my presence had caused, whether I wanted to or not. “I took advantage of my marriage to you… The day I got off from carriage in front of the Teddy Viscounty’s mansion was my first time meeting you.”
I knew it. Rather than vague suspicion, I was almost sure about it. In fact, that’s how it should be.
The fourth prince of this kingdom who married me, and I, were unrelated to begin with. He just opted for the easiest method to achieve his completely different goal. Even if it turned my life upside down from the core. Naturally, there wasn’t an ounce of love between us. Or rather, let alone any speck of love, the prince had never even seen me before.
“I already doubted this from the very beginning. That’s why I asked you so many times about you falling in love at first sight.”
I knew that falling in love at first sight, in general, was an utter lie.
But whatever the goal was, it hurt my feelings. I don’t why it’s occurring at this point but I felt as if my heart had been ruthlessly trampled on. I lowered my head, as I didn’t want to look at Nolan at this moment. Even though it should have been a fact I was more or less sure about.
I managed to put a lid on my emotions and my heart that was complaining from the pain. I hurriedly looked back on the everyday life both of us lived in Dahl Island… Starting from the day we met. It was an attempt to persuade myself… The memories of the leisure days we’ve spent together back in the mansion will not simply vanish like a dream just because the bubble of his lie had officially been broken. Whatever the reason may be, Nolan had naturally become the person closest to me right now.
Even though he always appeared to be a sunny and bright person on Dahl Island, he’s had such a miserable life despite being a former prince. Even though he strangely posed himself as my husband at times and acted all pompous… It’s the truth that the Nolan who sometimes showed his weak side to me, like now, had thoroughly made his way to my heart unbeknownst to me. He was now occupying an important place in my heart.
He was once a prince, nevertheless, what a strange person he was.
Regardless of anything, I have already come to like such a wild Nolan.
That’s why, no matter what our beginning may have been, I just want to be his support right now.
That’s my true feelings.
In contrast to me, who kept her head down to escape Nolan’s eyes, sorting out the complicated emotions long brewing in my heart, Nolan spoke.
“…Forgive me, Liese.”
The atmosphere suddenly took an awkward turn.
I hurriedly looked up with a pathetic smile to dispel the awkwardness. “It’s fine. Since I’d already expected it from the beginning… Because… I already knew that a cool and handsome man like Nolan, a prince to boot, wouldn’t so simply fall in love with me at first sight.”
I’m all right.
It’s just a superficial wound.
“Why do you say so? You look down on yourself too much.”
“Nolan-sama isn’t any different… Didn’t you say you killed the fifth prince. What a strange way to self-abase yourself.”
I also had a similar experience to him. So I talked to him without removing my gaze from his… The sad memories I had been carrying with myself from the time I turned ten.
“When I was a child, my mother passed away in a carriage accident when she was on her way to a trip. When I recall back about my memories of that time, probably, I was the only one who could have stopped her that morning.”
That morning my mother embarked on the carriage to depart for her trip. I didn’t want to be left behind at the Teddy Viscounty’s mansion anymore, so I wanted to stop my mother from going on another trip, or I wanted to coax her to bring me along with her… However, nothing came to fruition, and I was left behind by my mother in the end… If only I had clung to the carriage more tightly, appealed more strongly… And if my mother had postponed her trip at that time, then…
“What do you think, Nolan-sama? Do you also think that I killed my mother?”
“…Of course I will never think that. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Then this and the unfortunate incident with the fifth prince should be the same for Nolan-sama, too.”
Nolan whispered “thank you” in a hoarse voice.
Afterwards, he said in a self-loathing tone, “But the mistake I’ve made is truly sinful. After all, I laid the cause for why Aaron had to hurry up that day.”
What do you mean by that? Or so I wanted to ask, but I lost my chance. Someone had called out to us from behind all of a sudden. Turning around, Ricardo was standing there. I was startled for a moment seeing him present there without arousing any sound and so abruptly. Since when was he by our side…?
Ricardo stared at Nolan with his trademark tepid smile on his lips.
“Nolan-sama, let’s end our break here.”
Nolan and Ricardo stared into each other’s eyes for a while without saying anything.
And after a meaningful stare off which I didn’t understand, Nolan said to Ricardo, “I got it. We will return just after you, so you go ahead first.”
Ricardo went down the bridge after bowing his head politely and strode back to the road. Nolan once again turned his focus on me after seeing Ricardo reaching a considerable distance.
“I had decided to never talk about the reason why I chose you as my wife and yet, I ended up speaking about it… I didn’t want to lie to you anymore.”
“It’s fine. And to be honest, I’m relieved that you talked to me.”
Because, including the conversation about the fifth prince, the reason why he talked to me about everything was that he deemed me as someone trustworthy.
I don’t know who started it between us first, but we brought our bodies close to each other. And then, we both leaned on each other’s warmth. I felt Nolan’s body temperature as we did so. It was like we were cuddling with our heart, too.
“I’m sorry… To use our marriage as a tool for my own purposes.”
“You don’t have to… Thank you very much… For sharing your painful feelings with me, and for choosing me.”
“I’m the one who should say thank you,” Nolan whispered. He then asked me, seemingly feeling slight uneasiness, “Have you come to hate me?”
Immediately after an unconditioned reflex answer of “No,” I slowly restated my true feelings.
“Maybe… A tiny bit…”
“What a foolish question it was. To start with, you shouldn’t have even liked me from the beginning.”
I couldn’t deny that. However, I still had the intention to give my all and bring the distance between us to a close. Nolan probably was the same. Neither of us released each from the tight embrace for a while, even if we both have hurt each other.
After a momentary silence, Nolan finally spoke.
“Okay, let’s return to carriage now.” Nolan said in a refreshing tone as if to remove the melancholic feeling and circled his arm around my shoulder as we both began to go down the bridge together.
When I looked ahead, I saw Ricardo standing at the tip of the road, seemingly waiting for us to walk out with a daunting pose, with both his arms on his waist. Beyond him was Marco, who was opening the door and preparing for us to get in the carriage parked on the roadside.
Nolan said while walking, “Honestly… Our kingdom should just borrow the same system as Ryoluka Kingdom and begin to settle on the crown prince based on their birthdays.”
I was startled to hear Prince Nolan actually praising the system of another kingdom which had long-standing antagonism against our kingdom.
The throne should be inherited by the prince who was most capable, not by the number of turn they were born on. Based on that idea, Tigaro’s throne had always been passed to the last standing prince in the competition for throne. In the process of competition, only the most outstanding prince and someone who have gathered most public sentiments will gain the right to throne while culling out anyone unqualified. It was because the king’s throne wasn’t your average out of mill thing where you just roll in and sleep.
Ryoluka determined the crown prince based on the order the princes were born in. However, this method was more prone to attract unqualified ones to win.
I think Tigaro’s way of selecting the crown prince was logically better. If the internal struggle was to be ignored.
However, Nolan didn’t seem to be sharing the same thoughts.