Exiting the Japanese-style room, Kazuki was lead by Erika to a garden, which was maintained very well.
Erika, who had changed to a black lacquered geta, was walking in front, while making clanking sounds.
She stopped under a large tree, which was more than 20m tall. In a view where cherry blossom petals were fluttering about like in an illusion, she turned towards Kazuki.
「Greeting you again. I am Tasuku Sumeragi’s daughter, Erika Sumeragi」
As soon as they finished giving their names, silence descended again. Harold’s speech didn’t express any kind of friendly atmosphere at all.
(Or rather, when did this tone return………)
Come to think of it, he recalled that even in the original work, Harold would always speak in a harsh tone with Erika. Perhaps, he could use polite language only in front of his superiors.
「This tree is called 『Sakura』 and it is a flower which represents our, Sumeragi house’s, hometown. It wasn’t existing in these lands, but it seems as though when the feudal lord of those times migrated here, he planted the sapling that he had brought with him. It is a story of about 500 years ago, but now, it has become the symbol of the Sumeragi house」
(TL – Sakura here is in katakana)
While Kazuki was being fed up at Harold’s foulmouthed tone, all of a sudden he was told about the history of the Sumeragi’s hometown.
Since she was troubled by the silence, for the time being, Erika started explaining about the cherry blossom tree which was in front of her eyes. It was admirable that even though her mental state wasn’t calm, her spirit to serve as a guide wasn’t diminished.
Honestly speaking, it was an unsuitable topic for children to speak about frankly, but for Kazuki who was familiar with cherry blossoms, it was a suitable material for him to bite onto.
「It is different from the 『Sakura』 I know of」
(Tl – Sakura here is in kanji – 桜)
The name of this tree wasn’t clear in the game, but the shape of its petals and the way it was attached to the tree was different from the Somei Yoshino one could commonly see in Japan. Somehow, even the color was deeper.
So, even a type like this exists? Even though he thought of it, it wasn’t as though he would get an answer.
「Do you know about Sakura?」
Although Erika was expressionless until now, her eyes wavered slightly at his reply.
「No, it’s probably something different with a similar appearance. Well, that kind of thing doesn’t matter」
His mouth, which was in its best condition even today, bluntly cut down Erika’s question.
This was the result when he tried to just change the topic.
Being treated coldly, Erika’s expression turned grim. He didn’t know if that expression was hate or vigilance.
(Come to think of it, out of the people who appear, the only one that Erika loathes is me)
The easiest way to represent Erika, was without a doubt, as “Yamato Nadeshiko”.
Even while being the daughter of a highly distinguished noble family, she had an attitude of not discriminating anybody, no matter who it was, and let alone allies, she would smile and be gentle even towards enemies, and she also had the tolerance to quietly support the protagonist. The amount of players who were softened down by her, who would always maintain a calm bearing, were uncountable.
The one who made such a girl enraged to the point of slapping him, was none other than Harold. To make her do something like that, in a certain sense, it was an achievement.
Although, there were some players who named Erika slapping Harold as “Reward”, and they would replay that event to appreciate it.
「In other words, does that mean you hold no interest towards the Sumeragi house?」
「Interpret it as you wish」
「………Is that so. After all, the only thing that you people want is the name of the Sumeragi, right?」
「You have nothing other than the name. Aren’t you mistaking it for that? Other than name, it doesn’t seem as though the Stokes house is inferior. Even though you people are called as prominent and prestigious nobles, it is pathetic that you can only sit and cry inside the house」
His mouth rambled on, even to the extent of astonishing himself.
Thinking it would be convenient to be hated to some extent and spouting out a small amount of ill-mannered remarks, was a mistake.
It went past being ill-mannered and could be called as abusive. It couldn’t be denied that he had gone too far.
「What do you know……….!」
Erika murmured while groaning. This was 8 years before the start of the game, and since she was still a child, it seemed as though her boiling point was quite low.
Her face was hidden since she was looking downwards, but it was obvious that she was angry. It would be bad if he fanned the flames any more.
Stopping it here at driving in the wedge for the bad impression, he held out the sealed letter to Erika.
「………What might this be?」
「Shut up and accept it. And after we leave, hand it over to your father」
This was what was called as no island to cling to. Completely reaping what you sow. Turning her face away, Erika started to leave.
(TL – No island to cling to is a Japanese proverb meaning being utterly helpless)
「Ah, is that so. If you want to let the people in your territory, who are suffering, die, then do so」
To those words, she involuntarily stopped.
Because, from the way Harold spoke, it seemed as though–
「………..There is a way to save them?」
「It can’t be said that there is. But it is worth trying out」
Erika looked at the letter.
It looked as though she was hesitating, but Kazuki held the conviction that she would accept it if he told it like how he had.
In any case, the girl was kind. If put in other words, she was softhearted. She couldn’t abandon people who were suffering or those who were troubled.
At any rate, it was to the extent of depicting her as being pained due to monsters being defeated, in the game.
Then, what would happen if she was informed that there may be a way to save the people, who were on their deathbed.
Even if it lacked credibility, and even if it was a suggestion from a person, who supported the pure-blood principle which ran contrary to her ideology, she couldn’t simply ignore it without listening to it.
A gust of wind blew by, and the cherry blossom petals fluttered as though wrapping around the 2 people. After staring at each other briefly in silence, the one who moved first was Erika.
「It isn’t as though I believe in your words, but……..」
Even though she had a dissatisfied expression, she firmly received the letter. For Kazuki, that was more than enough.
If it was her, she would give it to Tasuku, exactly as he had stated.
「There is no need to believe without any reason. Decide based on the results」
Well then, it wasn’t known whether Tasuku would believe in the nonsensical letter written by a 10 year old and try to implement it. But if it was a failure, then he would think about it when the time came. He would think of another idea again.
Instead of sighing, Kazuki looked up and gazed at the cherry blossom tree and the blue sky covered in hazy clouds.
The carriage, which the Stokes parent and child had gotten onto, bathed in gentle sunlight, slowly became more and more distant. Watching that, in contrast to the calm climate, dark clouds were gathering in Erika’s heart.
One of the causes went without saying- Getting engaged to Harold.
Erika firmly understood that she didn’t have a low social status. She hadn’t even thought of getting married according to her own will, and there was no way she had someone in her heart.
But still, it wasn’t as though she was mature enough to not hold any hope for her life and be content by sticking through with her selflessness with becoming a member of a house brazen enough to force an engagement by taking advantage of other people’s weakness.
Much less, when she had heard that the current head of the Stokes house was for the pure-blood ideology, and that he treated people who didn’t have noble blood, similar to objects.
That ideology was hard to accept no matter what, but for people like that, the blood of the Sumeragi house was extremely attractive.
She was frustrated at how the people who were discriminated against, were made the victim. It was so hateful that her power couldn’t be of any help to the Sumeragi house or the people of the territory, that it was hard to endure.
But Erika, even though she was young, understood that by her going to the house following the pure-blood principle, a large amount of lives could be saved.
Without knowing even a bit of Erika’s distress, Harold spoke ill of the Sumeragi house. It was an act which couldn’t possibly be forgiven.
The letter received from such a person, was in Erika’s hands. She just wanted to tear and throw it away according to her desire, but even though it was a verbal promise, she couldn’t break it.
Dishonoring the Sumeragi, and more than anything, compared to abandoning a chance of saving the people of the territory, who were suffering even now, she had enough spirit to swallow any amount of humiliation.
「Forgive me, Erika………」
Those words leaked out in a regretful tone from Tasuku, who was standing next to her watching the carriage leave. He couldn’t honestly be delighted at making someone, who she didn’t even want to be with, marry her.
Even so, if he had to make a mortifying choice to protect the lives and livelihood of several tens of thousands of people, then it was his duty as the head of the house to do so.
「Please don’t mind it, Father. This is also for the Sumeragi and the people who live here」
There were no lies in those feelings.
But right now, she wanted some time to compose her heart.
「Father, this. Harold-sama asked me to give it to you after they left」
Taking out the letter, she held it out to Tasuku.
While thinking that he might have been instructed by his parents to greet them for the engagement, he received the letter. Even if it was so, even handing it via Erika, Harold had specified an odd timing for it to be given to him.
「Then, I will return to my room」
「Ah, rest at ease」
Bowing towards Tasuku, who had a sympathetic smile, Erika left from the place with a quick pace.
Tasuku and Koyomi were truly concerned in their hearts. The kindness from them was all the more painful.
Looking at his daughter who was behaving in a firm manner, Tasuku condemned himself for making her bear such a heavy burden.
Even more, he was thinking whether there were any other methods, which would end up not hurting her.
「……….There’s no use even if I think about it now」
Everything, this situation was all because of his powerlessness. And because of that, he had forced Erika and the people to carry a heavy burden.
He didn’t even feel like mocking himself.
With a gloomy heart, he opened the letter from Harold.
The starting of the letter had a seasonal greeting, which was unlike something written by a child. With that itself, Tasuku didn’t have a bad impression of Harold.
But as he went on reading the letter, the complacency to think about such things was blown away.
Spontaneously, power started filling his hand which was holding the letter, and by the time he had finished reading it, the whole letter was deeply wrinkled.
「Is anyone there!? Call Kiryuu!」
Tasuku’s loud voice rang out throughout the whole mansion. Maybe being flustered by an unusual thing, the servants who were working in the mansion hurriedly searched for Kiryuu.
Soon, the figure of the person who was called for, appeared while making noise due to walking in a hurry. It was the elderly man, who was waiting for Harold and his father, at the gate.
「What is it, Master」
「We can’t speak here. Come」
The place which Tasuku chose was the office, where nobody was present. There, he made Kiryuu read the letter from Harold.
As soon as Kiryuu finished reading, Tasuku started talking.
「That letter is from Harold-kun. What do you think?」
「……….Frankly speaking, I think this is suspicious」
「Agreed. But even if this is true or false, there is no benefit for the Stokes family」
「If so, then is it the work of a third party? At the very least, it is hard to think that it was written by the boy himself」
「At the most, he was just used as a go-between, is it」
That line of thinking was the most understandable answer. Because, the contents of the letter wasn’t something that a mere 10 year old child could write.
But in that case, the biggest question wasn’t cleared.
「The problem is, whose work it is. If it were some supporter of the Sumeragi, there would be no need to choose such a roundabout and unreliable method」
「Then, it’s the work of someone who is against the Stokes house?」
「And that too, someone who is close enough to Harold-kun to make him accept their request, or someone who could manipulate him to any extent. To a degree of brainwashing him」
If that wasn’t the case, there was no way that the letter would reach Tasuku, and even the condition written couldn’t be fulfilled.
The aim of the mastermind was either the fall of the Stokes house or something that came after it. To make conjectures about it, the information was too less at the present point of time.
「It might be bad for the Sumeragi house if we try to pry into them, but……….」
「If we do that, compared to the things we might gain, the risks are too high. Offering a few words, right now, the Sumeragi are in a predicament. If we watch carefully, even without hurrying, it will take the form we desire」
It was as Kiryuu said. As long as a solution wasn’t found, eventually the Sumeragi house would disappear without financial support.
「In other words, if it is that the sender of this letter doesn’t want for that to happen,………」
「It is highly possible that the contents written down are true」
This wasn’t a concrete solution.
But if it was effective, the time required to explore for a solution would be produced. In that case, as written down in the letter, it would be possible to cancel the engagement and let Erika be free.
「Kiryuu, gather the required materials at once. And after explaining the risks, employ those who still have hope」
There was no definitive proof that the contents of the letter were true. But it was the only light that could be seen in the fog.
Even if he was dancing on someone’s palm, Tasuku decided to gamble on this chance.