The field exercise ended on the evening of that day. Currently the headmaster of Royal Institute was racking his brain on how he should handle the matter.
「It’s been reported that the responsibility for causing the group to deviate from the established course lie on the sons of Duke Euguno and Marquis Rodan. It’s a fact that Princess Flora nearly fell of the cliff as a result of their actions.」
Hearing the report of the incident from the teacher in charge of the field exercise caused the headmaster of the Royal Institute, Garcia, all kinds of worry.
The students strayed from the established route which had been confirmed to be safe, and deliberately entered the forest endangering the princesses’ lives.
Furthermore, they were attacked by a swarm of goblins.
The series of events were allowed to happen because it was backed by a number of influential nobles.
When he first heard the reports, he unintentionally ended up seriously considering an escape plan.
「Although there were a handful of injured students, thanks to the presence of several『Heal』users, it didn’t become a serious problem. One is dead, or rather should I say, missing. The student’s name is Rio.」
Garcia breathed a sigh of relief since it was a problem that could be ignored for the time being.
Fortunately, there were no serious casualties among the members of the royal family and nobles.
There seemed to be a single casualty according to the reporting teacher, but it appeared that the teacher did not want to make a big deal out of either.
Garcia was extremely grateful for that.
「That former orphan youngster, huh. Well, this must be a blessing in disguise.」
Not to mention that Rio did not have a guardian much less parents.
To the kingdom he was only a mere commoner.
It could be argued that the King who recommended Rio was his guardian, but after he entered the Institute, the King completely disregarded him.
Garcia was told to only notify the King if he noticed any suspicious movements.
Since the King had to remain vigilant of the factional disputes within the Royal Court, he had no time to spare for a boy whose background was dubious at best.
There were simply not enough resources to spare for such trivialities.
Therefore, it was not particularly a problem if one such person disappeared.
Far from grieving, it was completely someone else’s problem.
「Only one problem remains. It’s regarding the person who caused Her Highness Princess Flora to nearly fall off the cliff.」
Garcia’s stomach ached just thinking about how unpleasant it would be to deal with the issue.
「Alright, let’s hear the story. Please continue.」
Despite his outward calm demeanor, it was only a facade forged with age.
「Firstly, the majority of the students including the son Duke Euguno insist Rio was responsible. On the other hand, only Her Highness Princess Flora of the royal family claims otherwise. However, there doesn’t seem to be any reliable eyewitnesses. Her Highness Princess Christina and Duke Fontine’s daughter have both chosen to remain silent.」
「Mu, that… but wasn’t Princess Flora a witness?」
Even if it were only one person, the opinion from the royal family could not be disregarded so easily.
However, if she did not have any witnesses it would be a different story.
He could ignore the two remaining girls who chose to remain silent.
「Yes. Also, that… Duke Euguno is strongly pressuring for us to acknowledge it is Rio’s fault.」
「I expected as much.」
「What will you do?」
The reporting teacher awaited Garcia’s decision.
「It won’t be funny if His Majesty the King is overthrown by Duke Euguno over such an insignificant incident. Sacrificing one life is a small cost to pay. Making a reckless move will only more or less serve to worsen the issue.」
「Then, I shall submit a report to the Royal Palace indicating Rio as the offender. Is that alright?」
「Let’s see… Duke Euguno can use this to smoothly deal the Royal Palace. At least this favours the popular opinion.」
Honestly, Garcia was not concerned about uncovering the truth.
The highest priority was to not let the incident spiral out of control. Pushing the blame was a convenient scenario. If he sided with the majority, there would not be any problems.
「Then, I will prepare the report for the Royal Palace according as we discussed.」
* * *
Three days after the field exercise ended, Rio sneaked back into the royal capital.
The royal capital was huge.
Therefore, it was not possible to enclose the whole city within the castle walls; people were free to come and go in the areas outside the walls.
On the other hand, it was necessary to present identification in order to access the inner areas surrounded by the walls.
The Royal Institute was situated in one of the inner areas, but that did not stop Rio from entering through unconventional means.
Covertly collecting information over the past few days, he learned that he was already considered dead.
The district where the Royal Institute was located was surrounded by formidable walls in addition to having guards stationed at all entrances. However, thanks to Rio’s overwhelming physical abilities aided through magic, bypassing the walls was but a simple task.
Since infiltrating during the day would attract too much attention, he waited until night fell and made his way towards his destination via jumping from roof to roof.
（I hope you’re alright but…）
Rio was going to meet the only person he could trust in the Royal Institute.
He did not want to risk getting caught in the middle of the noble district so he circled around the patrolling guards.
After effortlessly infiltrating the library, he made his way towards his final destination.
Light from a magic tool leaked through the gaps of the door.
The person he was looking for, Seria, was likely inside.
Knocking on the door, Rio waited for her to come out.
「Who? To come at such a time!」
Seria opened the door with a sullen expression, but the moment she saw Rio’s face, it turned into an expression of surprise and relief.
Rio immediately gently covered her mouth with his hand as she was about to unintentionally cry out.
「Shhh~ I’m sorry but please don’t make a ruckus. I’ll tell you everything in a moment.」
The tone, the atmosphere, the manners. Seria instantly realised the boy before her was truly Rio. Tears began welling up in her eyes as she embraced him.
「Rio! You, you’re alive!」
As a result of Seria’s short stature, her face was right in front of his as she looked up.
Rio was already taller than Seria.
「Ah— Sensei, please calm down… Sigh… as I thought, I’ve been pronounced dead huh…?」
Closing the door in a hurry, the moment they were inside, Seria bombarded him with questions.
He already expected to be considered dead, but there were other things he wanted to know about too.
「Please tell me what happened! I heard that Rio fell off a cliff and died during the field exercise. To make matters worse, Rio is treated as the criminal who endangered Princess Flora’s life.」
「Uhm… I’m responsible for endangering Her Highness Princess Flora?」
It was a development that was a little bit outside of his expectations.
However, upon hearing the facts, he was immediately convinced.
「As I thought, they really were all fabrications. Tell me, what really happened?」
Seria believed that there was no way Rio would have done such a henious act.
Rio revealed a thin smile.
And then, he began summarizing the events that occurred.
「What the heck is that!? Let alone being innocent, isn’t that a meritorious deed befitting for a medal of honour!? …But, you’re in quite a precarious situation now.」
Hearing the story, Seria became angry.
However, her expression changed to one of worry in an instant.
「That’s right. It’s already been arranged to frame me as the one who attempted to kill a member of the royal family.」
Rio could instantly guess what was weighing on Seria’s mind.
「If they find out Rio’s alive, it’d be a disaster… That’s right, you’ll certainly be executed.」
Imagining the kind of treatment Rio would receive, Seria made a bitter face.
The handling of the case had probably already been decided by the court.
Once the top brass had made a decision, it was nigh impossible to overturn it.
Let alone a commoner like Rio who lacked any kind of support.
No matter how much he pleaded innocent, the outcome could easily be guessed.
「It’s probably best for you to leave this kingdom.」
The only conclusion she could arrive at was to have Rio leave the kingdom.
His current situation was no joke.
Rio had planned to leave after graduation.
However, he had no choice now.
Seria did not want such an outcome either.
However, he could not prove his innocence by himself.
Therefore, she understood that he did not have any other choice.
「Well, I’ll somehow manage.」
Rio spoke in a carefree manner.
Fortunately, he had enough money saved up that even a lower class noble could live lavishly for two years.
Most of the money he received from rescuing Christina and Flora remained untouched.
「But if you were to be arrested because of visiting me…」
Seria spoke in an apologetic manner.
「I’ll be fine. If it wasn’t for Seria-sensei, I wouldn’t have been able to gather necessary information. You also believed my story. I’m really grateful, Sensei.」
「I’m content with just informing Sensei of my survival. I will prepare for my escape and leave afterwards.」
「Rio, will you be okay? I’m worried. Should I come too? Do you have enough money?」
Rio smiled wryly at Seria’s concern that was like that of an older sister.
「There will be an uproar is sensei disappears too. Also, since I haven’t had the need to spend much in the Institute, most of my money remains untouched.」
Yet, Seria still felt uneasy.
Understanding her anxiety, Rio spoke what came to his mind at that moment.
「I intend to head towards Yagumo, the hometown of my departed parents. Please don’t worry, I’ll periodically send Sensei letters under an alias during my travels. I promise you this won’t be our last meeting.」
As one would expect, it would be scandalous if a distinguished lecturer of the Institute received a letter from a person named Rio.
However, he could avoid that risk by using an alias.
「Really? Absolutely? I won’t forgive you if you forget okay? Also, I’m not too sure but isn’t Yagumo really far away? Won’t it be dangerous? If you find it impossible you must come back here okay?」
At his proposal, Seria once again embraced Rio with a smile.
As he was finally able to ease her anxiety, Rio began considering various possible names to use as an alias.
* * *
Christina visited her younger sister who had been holed up in her room for the past few days.
If given the choice, she would rather not tell her the truth.
However, it was the duty given to her by her father.
When Christina entered the room, she spotted the depressed Flora lifelessly sitting by the window.
Noticing Christina’s presence, Flora answered her sister in a frail voice.
Seeing the state Flora was in, Christina thought it would be better to remain silent. Yet she knew it was futile since Flora would learn of that boy’s fate sooner or later. She steeled her resolve and called out to her younger sister.
「Judgement has been passed regarding matters about the incident. Alphonse received a one month suspension, Stead was determined to be innocent, and lastly… Rio has been charged with attempted murder of a member of the royal family and is sentenced to death. It’s currently unknown whether he’s still alive or not but a bounty has been put out for him. He’s also at the top of the wanted list.」
「Wh— Why was he charged with attempted murder of a member of the royal family!? Moreover a bounty!?」
It was the reaction Christina expected.
The incident this time became a political mess so compromises had to be made.
As a member of the royal family, Christina understood that.
However, Flora did not.
Currently, Duke Euguno held the most support in the royal court. Even though the opposition was only the minority, Duke Albo could not be taken lightly.
Although Helmut lost his position in the royal court five years ago, it did not stop Duke Albo from trying to rebuild his political influence through his son.
The two noble factions held radically different opinions on how the kingdom should deal with the Proxia Empire, which lay on the northern border of the Bertram Kingdom.
Duke Euguno’s moderate faction insisted on maintaining strained relations with their northern neighbour and conserve the kingdom’s strength. On the other hand, Duke Albo’s hardline faction insisted on mounting an offensive against the Proxia Empire.
While Duke Euguno’s faction currently held the most influence, if they were to falter here, the balance would be tipped in favour of Duke Albo’s faction.
It would not be surprising if a civil war broke out.
As such, Christina understood why her father, King Philip III agreed to Duke Euguno’s proposal.
Things would take a turn for the worst if Duke Euguno were to lose his position now.
Duke Euguno himself was using every possible means at his disposal to ensure there would be no obstructions for his successor.
He even went as far as to arrange all the testimonies of the students belonging to his faction to match.
The commoner was a convenient scapegoat for him.
It was easy for him to turn something from white to black.
「I understand your feeling, but the matter has already been settled.」
Her kindhearted sister had yet to understand the dirty side of politics.
If possible, Christina wanted her sister to never need to dirty her hands with such affairs in the future. It was her heartfelt desire.
「…No, I can’t accept that!」
Shouting all of a sudden, Flora jumped down from her bed and bolted from the room.
She could not endure it.
She could not tolerate it.
Her expression said as much.
Trying to stop the Flora she never envisioned could display such anger, Christina called out in a fluster.
However, Flora headed straight towards their father’s office without so much as hesitating.
An Imperial Guard Knight stood outside the office doors, but Flora barged into the office without even taking notice of the bewildered guard.
For some reason, the headmaster of the Royal Institute, Garcia, was also present.
However, Flora immediately turned her attention towards Philip III.
「…Is there something the matter? Flora.」
He could roughly guess the reason behind Flora’s intrusion, but he never thought she would act so aggressively.
Philip III widened his eyes in surprise at her completely different demeanour.
「In regards to the incident from a few days ago, I believe the verdict to be unjustified.」
Again with this matter? Philip III could only sigh in his mind.
「…You know Flora. Listen to what I have to say. I do not believe you’re lying but I beg of you, please overlook this incident.」
「Tch, why is father also saying such a thing!? He rescued me and fell off the cliff as a result! On top of that you’re charging him with attempted murder of royalty!? And you Headmaster Garcia, why are you fabricating the report!?」
「Oh my, there is no such thing. I’m merely recording the students’ testimonies.」
Garcia floated a smile like a jolly old man. It was one full of confidence.
「A duke’s household and royalty share deep relations. The disgrace of a subject is not wholly unrelated to royalty. When the time comes to judge, it is necessary to choose the lesser of the two evils. In this case, the life of a commoner is well worth the sacrifice to uphold our honour. I want you to understand this since you also carry royalty in your blood.」
Philip III lectured his daughter from a logical standpoint.
Although Flora was quick-witted, her gentle disposition did not allow her to accept his explanation.
She was afraid to uncover the dirty truth.
Flora wanted to understand the father she loved so dearly.
She had always been able to come to an understanding before this incident.
However, no matter how hard she tried, she could not understand him this time.
Nevertheless, the father before her currently possessed the aura of a king, not that of a doting father.
Her subconscious told her that it would be futile to argue any further when he was like this.
She was barely able to squeeze those words out.
It was painful.
It was much more difficult to tolerate than she imagined, the pain that was.
「Princess Flora, as a member of the privileged class you will frequently have experiences like this. You must not let your emotions control you.」
Garcia’s advice was not something a child could possibly do. In the first place, even he did not follow his own advice on occasions. Of course he did not voice his thoughts aloud.
「Garcia, don’t bully my cute daughter so much.」
「Oh my, allow me to apologize for that.」
Having been lightly reprimanded by Philip III, Garcia chuckled and offered an apology.
Unsure as to whether Rio was still alive or not, Flora could only pray for his well-being.
The year was 996 of the Sacred Calendar. Five years and six months had passed since Rio’s rebirth in this world.