Chapter 94 – A Heated Voice (2)
“My apologies. Can you wait a little longer?”
Ian nodded agreeably at the nervous butler. His visit was sudden and it was only polite that he was expected to wait.
“Would you like to appreciate the paintings in the meantime?”
The wait seemed to be prolonged, so Ian nodded at the butler’s invitation. He had never seen the paintings depicting the beauty of the duchy before. Ian walked down the simple corridor and paused in front of a painting every few steps while the butler followed him and explained the background of each painting. He had a good knack for telling a story and Ian listened with great pleasure to his narration. At the same time, he wished he could go visit the Archduke’s castle with Simon one day.
He heard a sound from a distance and his shoulders tensed.
“You must be crazy!”
It was the voice of the Archduke. The butler hastily suggested to Ian that they walk in a different direction. He seemed anxious to show his master’s dirty laundry to the guests. Ian was a boy of good manners and knew that overhearing a lord’s private conversation in his home was disrespectful, and Ian made to turn back.
“… I’m sorry, Father.”
Until he heard Simon’s voice choke out.
“Young lord, do you really think you’re that great?”
“N-no, it’s just…”
“How dare you try to defeat the Prince!”
“ …I didn’t mean to win.”
There was a cold silence for a moment. Ian walked up to the room where he could hear the voices coming from. Several times the butler made a desperate noise, but he ignored it. Then a hideous noise cracked in the air.
That was probably the sound of slap against Simon’s cheek. The harsh sound repeated several times, but there wasn’t a single word of protest.
“… Simon Hillard. ”
The Archduke spoke again, his voice weary.
“Do you want to survive?”
“I asked you if you wanted to survive.”
“Then don’t let anyone find hope in you.”
The Archduke’s words were short, but Ian understood it all.
“No one should hope in vain.”
Ian gripped the box with the arrow.
“Those stupid nobles seek hope in nothing. And if they hear that you’re better than the crown prince?”
There was only one reason why the archduke wanted Ian and Simon to train together: To prove to everyone that Simon was inferior to Ian. But what kind of parent would want to prove that their child was lesser? However, the Archduke’s tone was quite serious.
“The moment their hopes are embodied in you, your life will be threatened.”
Nothing was more important than living.
“…and even I have the strength to save you from that.”
So the archduke emphasized only one lesson to his child.
“Even one small thing you do should not exceed the prince’s. Do not expect what he has.”
And the archduke was silent. Ian backed away slowly. Something weighed heavily on his shoulders, but he didn’t know why. In the end, he left the box to the butler, as if he were running away. He went back to the palace to hole himself up in his room without going to the greenhouse. He thought about the weight on his shoulders. Was it because he was sorry about the damage to Simon’s life? No. It was different from that. Ian repeated the archduke’s words in a faint voice.
“Even one small thing should not exceed the prince’s. Do not expect what he has…”
A few days later Ian made some conclusions of his own. There was a heavy rain that day, and it was bitterly cold, so the boys warmed their hands by the fire after their lessons. After some great effort, Ian finally opened his mouth to speak.
“I…I’ll be good at anything.”
He couldn’t say he overheard the conversation with the archduke, so Ian’s words seemed to be coming from nowhere.
“You are good at anything.”
“No, I’m not saying that.”
Ian picked up a poker nearby and nudged the fire. The red and yellow sparks swirled in the air and soon disappeared.
“I…I won’t let anyone past me.”
“I’ll work hard and be good…at anything.”
Simon was staring at the end of Ian’s poker as he replied.
“You mean to crush my existence.”
“That’s not what I meant! I–!”
He liked it when Simon was happy and doing his best. There was only one way for him to keep such joy. Ian would become the absolute best man. Simon would not be able to overcome him no matter the effort. Of course the nine-year-old did not know how to express this. But he meant it. He wanted the Simon back from that day.
“I suddenly said something strange…sorry.”
“It’s all right, Your Highness.”
Simon’s expression became more pleasant.
“Please do me the favor and completely crush me.”
“Let me struggle.”
Simon remembered a thrill he had felt only once. A moment when he felt a sense of satisfaction.
“Be a wall I can never cross. If you do, I will give you anything.”
All Ian wanted was a relationship between the two. For the first time in his life he had someone he considered a friend. Of course, it was not easy to be friends with the Simon, blunt as he was. Tired of talking and asking alone, Ian later made a big decision.
“I’m Louise Sweeney. It’s an honor to meet you, Lord Hillard.”
Louise had a knack for making people express their emotions, Ian’s decision was far from wrong. However.
“I hope your relationship is very strong. I don’t want anyone to be able to interfere…”
Anyone. The first person that had to be the word was…
Simon. Ian closed his eyes now as he meditated on the past. A heated voice flashed in his mind.
“If you don’t trample on them, they would dare to desire what belongs to their masters.”
The sound of summer rain, different from autumn, filled his ears. It looked like the season of dreary rain was about to begin.