——I had a nostalgic dream.
A dream that started the morning I met him to the night we were parted.
I didn’t go to see him off as he quietly left, so that night was in fact our last meeting. I still remember it so clearly. I remember his white face, illuminated by the moonlight, the shadow of his long, upturned eyelashes, the beauty of his flickering sunrise-colored eyes.
Laughing at myself for being like that, I internally sigh as a slow realization builds up within me. That indeed, I was still looking at everything with rose-colored glasses. It made me realize that I’d meant to prepare myself for the worst, but in the end, that’s all it was — I 「meant」 to do it. I’d never have thought that I’d collapse from the shock, it’s not like me. Really, it’s not at all like me.
「My lady, have you awakened?」
Just as I opened my eyes, thinking about that, the relieved voice of my wet nurse reached my ears. That voice made me realize this was reality. Reality that I could do nothing but accept, even though that was the last thing I wanted to do.
What the messenger from the royal palace had brought was, sure enough, the news of that man’s death. No, to be more precise, maybe calling it ‘news of death’ is too much. Since we were just told that the chances of his being alive were very slim. …….Either way, it sounded like a report of his death.
It seemed they had been attacked in the middle of the trip by a high-ranking demon, said to be the strongest even among the demon king’s inner circle. He willingly became a decoy and used some grand magic. Magic so powerful that it was said to have taken the lives of all the wizards that used it, leaving no successful survivors. Apparently the magic had relentlessly gouged out even part of a large nearby ancient forest. The other heroes had been transported to the nearest inn town thanks to his magic, and once they returned for him, they found nothing but his wand stuck into the ground.
I also heard that that man’s apprentice had left the royal capital to follow the troupe of heroes in his master’s place. I’d seen that apprentice just once.
At first, I hadn’t even thought that he would ever take on an apprentice. Because if he had enough free time for an apprentice, he was the type that would use it to further his own studies and research.
The apprentice he’d taken on had hair rather like Uncle Lancent’s, an ashy silver mixed with black. I did think once, ‘this guy has a father complex!’
I must be such a cold-hearted person to hear about this young introverted boy who was scared of strangers to be headed towards his death, and think 「it doesn’t matter.」
But even so, the truth is, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. That’s what I thought.
「My lady, please do not be disheartened. The messenger may have said what he did, but do you truly think that Sir Agedilus can be done in so easily by a demon king of all things?」
「……Thank you, Suzette.」
I smiled at her as she desperately tried to convince me. Her being concerned about me made me happy. She was usually so strict, but I know she did all that with my best interests in mind. Her kindness and warmth have always saved me.
Even that man was no match for her. I wanted to nod and agree with what she said. I wanted to nod and feel relieved.
「Could you please let me by myself for a little while?」
The second I smiled and said that, she looked heartbroken, narrowing her eyes. Aah, I’ve done it, I might’ve messed up here. Maybe I didn’t smile properly. But before I could say anything, she bowed and left the room. I was left alone, watching her leave.
I sat up in bed. My head hurt, throbbing in pain. The words I’d heard from that messenger before I passed out kept repeating in my head.
「He willingly became a decoy」? What even was that about? He wasn’t the type to be so valiant and admirable as that, was he? He was never the kind of man who would do something like give up his life for someone else, right? He was rather obstinate — cynical and sarcastic, doing as he pleased to the point where he’d show up unannounced at a young lady’s house, focusing on his job above all else.
Why would someone like that willingly use themselves as a decoy? Was it because of his mission? Was it because he judged it to be the most rational course of action? Or was it because he was that charmed by the 「heroine」… The princess?
That’s why I objected to this. Though I couldn’t object more than just once.
It was the first time I’d ever asked anything of that man, that man who’d turned from ‘that boy’ to ‘that man’ in the blink of an eye. It was the first time I was pleaded with him. 「Don’t go.」
From the moment I was cut off and deserted, I had a gut feeling that this would happen.
As I let my mind wander, I felt like I was about to start sobbing. I bit my lip to stop myself, and a strange ‘guh!’ sound escaped my throat. Instead of the sobs, my tears started to fall endlessly. Even as I covered my face with my hands, they wouldn’t stop.
At least, at least, at least.
「I wouldn’t have minded if you at least survived for me.」
It would’ve been fine if he’d just come back alive. That’s why I had resolved myself. Even if those eyes of his wouldn’t reflect me back anymore. Even if I wouldn’t be his fiancée anymore. At least I would’ve had my only friend beside me.
「Just as I thought, once again it looks like I can’t get married.」
The words I muttered in 「my」 voice echoed throughout the room, unexpectedly uncompassionate.
Even if that man really had left, the days still passed as they always did. That was exceptionally strange to me. Why hasn’t anything changed? Why was the world so unaffected when the ‘Black Haired One’ said to be the strongest of all the generations had died?
Even though everyone would pointlessly make merry around him when he was alive. Despite that, the world simply made rumors about the young boy added to the party of heroes (hah) as if they’d forgotten him. It was so, so foolish. Hey, why don’t you care anymore even though you made such a fuss when he was alive? I wanted to yell about that, but I forced myself not to.
I only spend the first few days crying constantly after hearing about his death. At first, I couldn’t help but suddenly start crying at random moments. Despite that, by the time I realized it, even those tears dried up and I became able to look at the situation calmly.
I meant to behave like I always did before. But it seemed it didn’t look like that to everyone around me.
I realized everyone around me began to fuss about me one after the other. But instead of being grateful that they cared or guilty about it, I just felt uncomfortable, like some spoiled brat.
Soon, I started thinking there was no need for me to stay faithful to a man that had already died, and that it might be time to start searching for a new family to marry into. Because it was either doing that, or turning into some old spinster. Neither my parents nor my brother minded that, telling me it was alright for me to always live with them if I wasn’t interested in getting married, but I didn’t want to trouble them so much.
But was someone with strange tastes who wanted to marry me despite my scars from a high-ranking spirit just going to appear out of thin air? The answer was of course not.
「…….I really didn’t have any options besides Edi, did I?」
I whispered that unintentionally, blessed not to have anyone around to hear me and start criticizing it.
He was my only option, the only option I’d believed in since I was 9 years old, and he’d been snatched away from me. The only thing I could do were my hobbies, like before, reading and embroidery.
In the midst of those days where I immersed myself into my hobbies more than ever before, I fell asleep in the courtyard once. Although the weather had grown dull and gloomy since the demon king’s return, it was surprisingly nice that day, so my wet nurse had taken me out from the room I kept myself holed up in. I had fallen asleep on the bench right under the shade of a tree, the one where me and him would sit and read when we were younger.
The soft wind felt pleasant, and my sleep-deprived eyelids were quickly shut.
And then, I had a dream. A dream about the 『past』 world. At an intersection where cars passed by, I was the only one standing still, petrified and unable to move. Many people passed by here and there. I was searching for someone. Many people moved quickly past me, with black hair that I can’t see these days anymore. Black, black, black. Even though there were so many people with black hair, I couldn’t find the black hair I was searching for. It was nowhere.
Not in the 『present』 world, not in the 『past』 world, not anywhere anymore.
I woke up then, leaning on the back of the bench. I sat up straight, steadying my breaths — I’d unconsciously started breathing violently. The sun had been shining brightly before I fell asleep, but now it was once again covered by clouds. The wind turned the pages of the book I had open in my lap, and I couldn’t tell at which page I’d stopped reading.
I’d fallen asleep like this once before too, on this bench. The only definite difference was that that time, when I woke up, that man was sitting next to me.
I realized I’d been leaning my head on his shoulder and grew flustered, thanking him. He simply let out a piercing sigh. I slowly realized his black robe was draped across me, and he sounded surprised as he said that.
「Even if it’s warm outside, it’s going to be chilly in the evening. Do you want to catch a cold?」
When I said I didn’t, he shrugged as if to say, ‘I don’t know about that.’ I thanked him for lending me his robe and his shoulder, and he said the same words he’d said once, 「It’s not a big deal,」 with a very difficult to describe expression on his face.
I could see his black hair at an even closer point-blank range when he sat beside me. That glossy black hair, so splendid I was jealous of it. Even though everyone around him shunned that black hair, it was important to me. Now it wasn’t because the 『past』me was used to seeing it in the 『past』 world or anything. That reason somehow vanished in the blink of an eye. It became important to me and I yearned for it because it was his hair, that was all. It seems I only realized this once I lost it.
Losing it made me realize he was the only one with that black hair. Wasn’t it too late to realize that now?
My bookmark lightly fell from the book on my lap to the ground. I’d taken one of the daisies he’d gifted me in return for the woodsorrel-embroidered handkerchief and turned it into a pressed flower bookmark. As I leaned over to pick it up, my vision grew blurry.
The last meaning of the daisies he’d given me in response to my woodsorrel was ‘I have the same feelings as you do.’ The promise we’d made without words had now broken. Even if another ‘Black Haired One’ appeared, I’d never be granted a chance to see the black hair I longed for again.
As I thought that, tears that should have been dried up by now spilled across my cheeks again.