Title: The Duke’s Daughter Slated for Execution Dreams of a Prince of Salvation
Summary: As she lay her head on the guillotine, she remembered an unreliable prince from a neighboring kingdom who once offered to save her. Her voice called out for help and was carried along with the winds, reaching far away…
“The execution of Sophia Von Vorland shall begin.” As soon as the executioner declared that, the crowds erupted in cheers.
Clad in a thick, heavy gray robe, I—Sophia—rested my head against the decapitation block.
“Now, for the list of crimes! She’ll thereby be executed for the crime of misleading people, the crime of shaking the nation, the crime of colluding with the enemy kingdom and threatening our Empire. Moreover, despite being engaged to the third prince—Richard Von Lanford, she committed the crime of adultery!” The executioner read my charges out loud.
The guillotine, which was located at the center of the Imperial Capital, was built for the sake of entertainment.
In the war-torn Empire, the hearts of the people were exhausted. Therefore, the Imperial Family framed innocent nobles and sentenced them to death to win their hearts.
The executioner paused briefly before shouting—
“—Thus, Sophia Von Vorland shall be put to death!”
Both the executioner and the nobles watching from afar knew I didn’t do it—
—and as a matter of course, the Royal Family who set me up.
At the end of the day, any aristocrat could be sentenced to death.
An aristocrat who levied a huge tax on the people was executed.
Surely, that story was deemed entertainment for the war-ravaged people.
Indeed, any aristocrat would do.
As for me, I was chosen because I was formerly engaged to the third prince.
“I hereby declare that my engagement with Sophia is annulled! Starting from today, I’ll be engaged to Emma Rhyland!”
Stricken with fear, it took me a while to comprehend those words. But when I did, I fell into despair. I wasn’t foolish enough to not understand what it meant to lose the protection of the Royal Family in that country these days.
I wailed throughout the night.
The very next day, I was arrested for a crime I didn’t commit, and what awaited me was the death penalty.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Even though I was already put on the guillotine, the executioner still asked that.
…No matter what I say, it’ll be for naught.
As I thought so inwardly, I suddenly recalled the past.
I didn’t even know why.
Regardless of anything, my thoughts drifted to ten years ago.
Those days felt very nostalgic.
…Perhaps, my life was flashing before my eyes.
Ten years ago, my father summoned me to the drawing room. Upon arriving there, I spotted an unfamiliar boy.
“M-my name is Heinrich… Nice to meet you…”
The little boy my father brought was a head taller than me. His silky, golden hair swayed in the wind while the boy himself fluttered timidly. Beneath his long eyelashes, a pair of all-encompassing blue eyes could be seen.
“Starting from today, he’ll be living with us. He’s the same age as Sophia, so please get along.”
Just like that, the boy was put in my care.
The boy awkwardly stared at me. He was carrying a disproportionately huge package for his small body.
After I had stared at him intently, I clapped my hand.
“Heinrich is too long! Alright, how about ‘Hein’?”
“H-Hein? Is that how you’re going to call me?”
“Yes, because your actual name is too long. Hein, leave your luggage here and go to the garden with me!”
“Eh? Uh… O-of course…”
Considering how much of an oddball I was when I was young, Hein must have had a hard time.
After all, the very first thing I did with him was—
“I-is this a sword…?”
“Yes! Let’s spar! Like this!”
As a child, the only way I could catch a glimpse of the outside world was to hear it from my older brothers.
Oh, how I longed to see the outside world!
I’d ask my brothers to tell me a story, and they’d kindly tell me stories of their bravery. I was fond of such stories. However, since I was a duke’s daughter, neither my father, mother nor the maids took kindly to my tomboyish side.
I encouraged Hein, who immediately became discouraged.
“Hein, you mustn’t be weak! You’re a man, after all!”
“S-sorry… It’s just… I’ve never done anything like this before…”
“Hmph! Boring. Why is Hein so weak?”
“…I-it’s not like I have to be strong. I’m fine with the way I am.”
“Because I’m a hostage…”
What does that mean?
When I asked, Hein—who was little at the time—explained in detail.
“To prevent an uprising, the Empire dictates that the other countries offer their children as hostages… I-I’m one of them…”
“I see. Hein came to my house as a hostage.”
“R-right… My country’s weak, so we can’t refuse the Empire’s demands.”
“Then be strong.”
Upon hearing my words, Hein averted his gaze.
“U-uhm… Like I said, my country is weak, so…”
“So, be strong! Simple, isn’t it?”
“No buts—! There’s no excuse—! It’s important to try—!”
I proudly puffed my chest to Hein. Then, a hand was gently placed on my shoulder.
“Those are nice words, Milady.”
“Isn’t it? Teach him, Teacher! Hein just makes excuses and refuses to do anything…”
“…Before anything else, Milady, can you attend class without making any excuses today?”
To the tutor’s words, I couldn’t say anything other than ‘yes.’
After that, I continued to live with Hein for a while.
He was a meek child who’d always follow me around. Before long, I began to think of him as my little brother.
“Hein, come here.”
“L-like I said, it’s impossible…”
I sat on a branch of a large tree in the garden, and when I invited Hein from the top of the tree, he remained downcast.
“What are you doing?”
“I-it’s just, I’ve never climbed a tree as high as this before…”
“Why did you give up from the beginning? You didn’t even try!”
I slipped from the tree and took Hein’s hand, making him hold on to the trunk.
“Stick your hand there. That’s right! That’s how you do it! Then, put your foot in the indented area below. No! That’s not it!”
Hein, who had a slender waist, climbed the tree at a snail’s pace.
“See? You can do it after all!”
“E-even someone like me can actually climb…”
“You’re not just anyone! You’re Hein!”
“Ah! I’m sorry…”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Be-because I made a mistake in how I referred to myself…”
“Who cares about that? Hein should do whatever he likes!”
I didn’t care if Hein was a member of the Royal Family of another country—
—because to me, he was akin to a younger brother.
“…Thank you very much, Lady Sophia.”
“Why so suddenly?”
While sitting on the branch, Hein squeezed those words out, so I tilted my head.
“Thanks to Lady Sophia, I opened my eyes.”
“Huh? Were they closed?”
“That’s not what I mean, but…”
Hein pondered while scratching his cheek.
“I’m saying it’s all thanks to Lady Sophia.”
“…I don’t understand.”
When I said that, a particularly strong breeze blew.
“Ah! Milady! I found you—!”
“You skipped the afternoon magic class! I wondered where you took off! Apparently, here you are!”
“Hein, do something—!”
In the end, nothing happened—well, besides getting scolded by the tutor. For some reason, Hein was scolded as well.
Afterward, the two of us decided to take the magic course together.
“Lady Sophia, Lord Heinrich, when you use magic, your mind should be at peace, for even the slightest unrest can cancel the casting.”
“I-I’ve never casted a spell before…”
“Hein, I keep telling you, it’s important to try!”
After I said that to Hein, he slowly closed his eyes and adjusted his mind.
“Then, let’s make a water sphere. Calm your mind and visualize the sphere forming in your mind…”
“Milady, calm down, please.”
“Milady, do not fall asleep.”
“I-I’m not sleeping! I’m awake!”
However, since I wasn’t very good at relaxing my mind, I always got scolded by the tutor.
On the other hand…
“…Lord Heinrich, is this truly your first time?”
“Yes, I’ve never used magic before.”
The tutor couldn’t hide his surprise when he saw it. The same went for me.
“L-Lady Sophia! Look! I managed to create a beautiful sphere!”
“I-I see… Great job!”
I tried to sound as positive as I could, but in reality, I was extremely frustrated.
“…I-I won’t lose.”
The fluffy, circular mass of water began to wobble in my hand.
“Milady, calm down.”
The moment I screamed; the shape of the water changed
I did the opposite of calming down.
As if responding to the impatience that swelled inside me, the water sharpened like an icicle.
Hein was the first to act.
He wrapped his hand around the mass of water.
Let go, Hein!
Before I could do anything else, the water exploded.
“Hein, are you alright!?”
“I’m fine. More importantly, how about Lady Sophia?”
Hein stood up while hiding his hands.
“That’s a relief.”
Hein smiled brightly.
However, I knew more than anyone else that he was enduring the pain.
“Lord Hein, show me your hands.”
The tutor’s expression changed as she looked at Hein’s hands.
Because of my magic, Hein’s slender, white hands were bleeding.
As he received healing magic from the tutor, Hein tried to conceal the injury from me.
Hein, who had appeared so weak all this time, suddenly showed a reliable side.
For some reason, my chest felt warm, while my heart beat grew faster…
However, as soon as I witnessed the look on the tutor’s face, a chill ran down my spine.
With a deadly serious expression, the tutor was casting a healing spell on Hein.
No half-baked magician would be allowed to teach the duke’s daughter.
The fact that she was healing with such a serious look on her face…
One wrong move and he could’ve died.
At the same time, if not for Hein, I’d be seriously injured.
Although he had helped me, I could do nothing for him in return.
Surely, that event was the catalyst for my change.
Be it etiquette, magic, or history—I no longer skipped any lessons.
I was afraid of causing any harm to Hein.
I was afraid that my lack of strength would result in his injury; therefore, I studied hard.
I used proper words and showed exemplary behavior.
I also studied history, painting, music, and magic.
I even learned the basic education necessary for aristocrats.
Eventually, I was freed from being called a tomboy.
Two years after Hein came to my house, my father called for me again.
The drawing room had a sofa that was too big for even me and my father.
Hein was also present.
“Sophia, as of today, Heinrich will return to his homeland.”
“What do you mean?”
“Last month, the emperor passed away. The next battle for the succession of the throne is underway. To put it bluntly, the Empire no longer has the power to hold foreign members of the Royal Family as hostages.”
The Lanford empire, once the largest country in the world, which was also considered a paradise for wizards and the world’s leading industry and economy, suddenly found itself in a state of decline.
It didn’t go unnoticed by the surrounding countries.
Since the beginning, the surrounding countries had been forced to sign overwhelmingly unfavorable contracts with the Empire. Considering that they had trade and commerce relations with the Empire, they took advantage of the situation to gradually strangle the Empire with economic sanctions and land disputes.
As a result, the Empire was exhausted to an unprecedented degree.
…The Empire was weakening.
I had heard the story countless times but found it difficult to believe.
When I was worried about the future of the Empire, Hein stood up.
“Lady Sophia, I’d like to express my gratitude to you.”
“Yes, thanks to you, I could find my own path. Thanks to you, I could find a way to keep moving forward without ever giving up.”
It was our first meeting after a while. Hein seemed to have grown a little taller.
How cheeky. Is he trying to catch up with my height?
Normally, he’d stumble with the language.
However, the current Hein didn’t.
As of the present, I no longer had to worry about him.
“Therefore, I’ll never forget this kindness. I want to become a splendid person who’ll be useful to you someday.”
I was bewildered when Hein, who had become a little more mature, said so straightforwardly. However, I soon regained my composure.
“Then, I’ll be waiting. Someday, when I’m in trouble, be sure to come and help me, Hein.”
“Of course! At that time, I’ll come for you!”
Hein proudly put his hand on his chest.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that it was the highest degree of salute in his homeland.
“Sophia Von Vorland, do you have anything to say?”
Suddenly, I was dragged back to the harsh reality.
I wondered why I’d recall such a thing.
While still beneath the guillotine, I vaguely stared at the distance.
“Hahaha! It serves you right! This is what you get for deceiving me, Sophia!”
The third prince, Richard, who was also my ex-fiancé, exclaimed while standing under the scaffold.
While I knew nothing about deceiving him, I knew his attitude.
Rumors said that he was a womanizer from the beginning. He’d court and lay his fingers on absolutely everyone.
What a man.
Then, I just so happened to witness his unfaithfulness.
However, of course, he turned the table on me.
Even if I was a duke’s daughter, no matter how much I tried to explain myself, having lost my father in the war, my words had no power in court.
Thus, I was sentenced to the guillotine.
The populace hurled abusive words at me.
As expected, they were entertained.
“…How filthy this country is.”
I inadvertently spilled those words.
The repulsiveness of my country was beyond words.
I sincerely thought so.
“…Hein, save me.”
Of course, I didn’t actually think that any help would come.
I just remembered out promise and tried to say those words.
Words that would never reach anyone.
…However, in the next moment, the bell tower rang loudly.
A deafening sound echoed amidst the execution site.
“Enemy attack! Enemy attack!”
Amidst the confusion, the people gathered in the plaza were in a frenzy, as if chaos had been unleashed. Even Richard, who had been hunched over the table until just recently, blanched and let out a cry before disappearing amidst the fleeing people.
Above them, a young man donning a cloak woven with gold and red embroidery slid by. Before I knew it, he was by my side.
“W-who is that!?”
As the executioner raised his voice, the man soared gently before descending to the ground.
“…Sorry for the wait, Lady Sophia.”
A low, soft voice that I had never heard before.
Then, the metal shackles fell with a clattering sound.
To be able to unlock it without a key—
When I slowly lifted my head, there was a handsome man I had never seen before. His flowing, blond hair glittered under the sunlight while his eyes were as blue as the sky. The man, who was three heads taller than me, smiled gently.
“It’s me, Heinrich.”
“Heinrich? Uhm… That small Hein?”
“Yes, I’m that Hein.”
Then, Hein gently draped his embroidered cloak on me.
“I’m sorry for arriving late.”
“…Wait, I don’t get it at all. What’s going on here…?”
When I met Hein for the first time in a long while, he had become an adult. As such, I involuntarily spoke in a formal tone.
“I’m here to save you, Lady Sophia.”
“You, you came for me? But aren’t you supposed to be in another country…?”
“The Empire has lost the war. We’re the victor.”
“…Lost the war?”
“We, the Sivartz Kingdom, were preparing for the final battle of our four-year war with the Empire. At that time, the Imperial Army that was fighting us suddenly raised a white flag. We didn’t understand it either, so we discussed it with the General of the Imperial Army. His name is none other than Edward Von Vorland.”
The Sivartz Kingdom was a rising country that had succeeded in industrialization over the past few years. Its national power was growing at a tremendous speed. But more than that, the name of the General who raised the white flag sounded familiar…
No, rather than familiar, I recognized that name.
After all, that General was—
“Indeed, he’s your older brother. I heard about the current state of the Empire and Lady Sophia from him. Because they’ve surrendered, it didn’t take long for us to reach the Imperial Capital.”
“That’s how you arrived here…”
“Yes, this war will end soon. I’m here to end it.”
“To end the war…”
Heinrich smiled quietly at my question.
There weren’t many ways to end a war.
Not only that, the people in charge of the losing side of the war would be executed.
The people in charge of this war… Were none other than the emperor and his relatives.
At that time, knights dressed in armor rushed into the deserted execution site.
“Your Highness Heinrich, it’d be troublesome if you were to proceed by yourself.”
“I’m sorry, but I truly wanted to save this person.”
“Who is she?”
“My most precious person.”
Heinrich said so and turned to face me.
“If I hadn’t met Lady Sophia, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. At that time, I was a pathetic and cowardly youth, but thanks to Lady Sophia, I was able to change. After returning home, there were many painful things. However, thanks to Lady Sophia’s words, I managed to overcome everything.”
“…I-it’s all in the past—”
“—Because of the past, we are who we are now.”
With a serious expression, Heinrich gently held out his hand to me.
“Thanks to Lady Sophia, I was able to become the successor to the throne and develop the Sivartz Kingdom to this point. Therefore, I’d like you to come with me.”
“What do you mean…?”
“I want you to marry me.”
It took me some time to process those words.
I slowly looked down.
“But I’m… I’m a criminal.”
“I know that you’re innocent. In my country, it’s already common knowledge that the Empire wrongly executes the innocents.”
“I-I no longer have a father. As a duke’s daughter, I have almost no authority…”
Hein looked straight into my eyes and spoke in earnest.
“It doesn’t matter. I don’t care about any of that. I want to walk with you, Lady Sophia.”
“However, a duke’s daughter from the opposing country… I’ll just damage your reputation.”
“There’s no problem. I already did the groundwork.”
“…Why would you go to such an extent?”
“From the moment you told me to do whatever I like, I stopped restricting myself. I’d like to marry someone I love, that’s all.”
“…Hein, could it be?”
“What is it?”
It might’ve been better not to ask.
Still, I wanted to know.
I wanted to make sure that he was different from Richard.
“…Are you in love with me?”
I blushed and smiled at his straightforward kindness.
“Then, I’ll gladly accept your proposal.”
I took his hand.