Afterstory Part 3 – A Certain Prince in Chaos and a Certain Double
“I forgot my towel…”
The boy realized when he had already started bathing himself with the hot water in the stone bathtub.
Maybe he had left the towel outside of the bathroom with his clothes? Yet, as he tried trace back his steps, he didn’t even remember getting a towel ready.
Remaining like this would probably be inconvenient bath-wise, but it also wasn’t that much of a deal to bother the soldier keeping guard outside.
The boy started washing his arms after crushing some buffle leaves and making a soapy foam.
Slightly green bubbles started to cover his body.
Even though the boy was still not used to the grassy smell of the buffel leaves, he was relatively used to the life of his second confinement.
The desert king he had met during the strong sand storm had welcomed him with overly annoying, kind words. But, the boy hadn’t lived a simple enough life to believe the king’s words, his eyes gave him away the most, they were too sharp to match his pitying and encouraging tone.
And so, before he could rest from the numbness caused by an entire year of confinement, he was taken to Yohk’Zai with pretexts sugar-coated in kindness. In the end, he was only thrown into a new prison labeled a ‘guest room’, but he didn’t feel any surprise or discouragement.
Compared to that tower, he now had a big window, more than enough food, and if he wished for it, he could even take baths like he was doing right now.
When he thought he had been freed, the castle was destroyed, and it could be said the land was about to… well, collapse. To be precise, they were being invaded by Yohk’Zai, and he had been imprisoned once again.
It isn’t like he didn’t suffer at all. But rather than thinking about the circumstances surrounding him, the boy felt hope inside of him.
He wasn’t the tool of a king.
From time he saw that ambitious and confident desert king cladded in blue clothes, he knew.
He knew this king would be able to charm people with his strong words, with his unwavering eyes, with any of his actions.
He was the one deserving the tittle of king.
Compared to such a magnificent king, he was almost nothing.
When he noticed that, he realized that the story he had read before in the tower was true.
He was obviously the descendant of an usurper. He wasn’t the legitimate successor to the throne of Ii’Jibro.
If they were to find his true birthplace, all the people who struggled to free him would probably despair.
Why did that man who rescued his mother from the tower have to become a king. It would have been so much better if they had ran away together and lived freely, that way he wouldn’t have to…!
He knew he couldn’t do anything, but he still kept lamenting his ancestor’s decisions time after time. Swept in by his worries, he pressed on his arm stronger.
It was at those times he felt annoyed with himself by how feminine he felt.
“And for the next one, please let it be prince Hinoki!”
A seemingly irritated and hurried voice resounded through the small bathroom.
All the steam filling the room seemed to get sucked into the direction that voice had came from, clearing his view.
“Ah. Prince Hinoki?! I did it! Mhmm, isn’t it working almost all the time? Maybe this actually works all the time…”
Though he was only faking, the young Hinoki who became the king of Ii’Jibro opened his eyes in surprise.
In front of him was the witch he had met back in the tower.
Her peculiar face features and her black hair matched perfectly with the description of a witch found in the old myths of Ii’Jibro. And even though she was only covering her chests with a piece of cloth, she didn’t seem to be embarrassed at all, not even minding showing her marble like skin.
At first her black eyes were brimming with joy, but when she looked down she slowly made a weird expression.
“Umm, I definitely didn’t come to steal your lifespan or…fertility you know?”
“…What makes you think you can convince me?”
He coldly answered her, after she pretended to be looking away from his face.
“No, I swear! I didn’t even know you were taking a bath. Or actually, I had no other choice!”
The witch looked down to a certain cloth she was holding in her hands.
“You see, I met with Huu-… I mean, that blockhead Karasu, then I wanted to take a bath together with Kyousui-san, but then I was worried she might refuse out of embarrassment!! Then I figured I’d have to give her the bathing salts, and in change I got this body towel… That’d mean that the next place I’d go to would be a bathroom right? So this wasn’t my fault at all, it was all because of that brick dense moron Karasu, don’t you think so?”
“Hold on, I can’t follow your story at all.”
“Well, in the first place, even though someone like me who has no relation whatsoever to this world is worrying so much about them, who does Karasu think he is to leisurely enjoy his newlywed life with Kyousui when he’s the one I’m worried about the most? And anyways, why do I have to listen to his lovestruck delusions, ‘An embarrassed Kyousui-san is good too, washing her back like that has always been my dream’ the heck, I don’t want to hear your so called dreams!”
She seemed to be burning in rage, she flailed her arms up and down. Then she suddenly seemed to run out of energy, only to start again with more strength.
The witch simply appeared without warning, started rambling endlessly on senseless stories, and freaked out of nowhere. And all of that in a half naked situation.
It had obviously been a mistake to think she was sane, she was most probably broken beyond repair…?
After doubting her sanity, he suddenly remembered his own stance, without a single string covering his body, and became embarrassed.
He immediately struck out his bubble covered arms toward the witch.
“I don’t care if you came to steal my lifespan or fertility or anything. Just hand that bode towel or whatever now.”
“Oh, yeah…right. You are in a difficult age after all. Sorry, sorry. Here you go.”
Hinoki wrapped the cloth he received from the witch around his hips.
Then he stared intently at her.
Why did she appear in front of him again?
Was she the one who gave Huuron the key he used? If that was the case, then she must have been an accomplice in the plot organized by Yohk’Zai’s king. But then why did she appear again?
Hinoki remained silent, trying to guess what the witch was trying to accomplish.
The witch too, only mumbled senselessly trying to find something to say.
Once again, the steam filled the bathroom once again while they remained in silence.
A single drop fell from the ceiling, making a splashing noise.
As if pushed by that noise, the witch broke the silence.
“Umm, you look more lively than I thought.”
“I don’t know what you were thinking, but I’m not really feeling bad.”
“I-, I see. That’s good.”
Apparently she had been too vague. After looking around frantically, she gazed at Hinoki, and as if steeling her resolve, she stared intently at his body.
Hinoki was startled.
“Could it be that you really for my fertility?”
In an instant the witch panicked.
“I-, I’m telling you it’s not that! Just forget that already. I didn’t mean it that way, you see, well, I was only wondering if maybe something bad had happened to you…”
What a hard to understand witch, even though she was an accomplice of King Huuron, she would worry about the person they had imprisoned.
Hinoki snorted lightly and answered in a playful manner.
“Luckily I haven’t been tortured or mistreated. King Huuron is only treating me as a guest…for now, that is.”
The witch relaxed after hearing Hinoki’s answer, but frowned at his last words.
“I see, it makes sense. I’m so glad, I made it in time. Or no, that’s not what I mean…”
She fixed her seating posture, and coughed lightly.
Then she bowed towards Hinoki, who was staring at her trying to figure out what she was trying to do.
“I’m really sorry!”
She suddenly apologized
Just how hard to understand could she be?
“I asked him. I asked Huuron to take you out of the tower and help you. I never thought he would lock you up in another tower in Yohk’Zai and take over Ii’Jibro. Aahh, If only I had thought better…I only told him to take you out of the tower, I never said anything about what to do afterwards. I can’t say he didn’t do what I asked for… Ahh, he’s so sly it’s annoying”
Hinoki was wary as he observed the witch.
Her actions and appearance were really suspicious, but he couldn’t detect any other motives in her voice.
It only seemed to him like regret, anger, and suffering.
“That’s why now, I will be taking up responsibility for you and save you. And don’t worry, there’s something we can exchange. I will make sure to send him packing and return Ii’Jibro to you.”
She said hurriedly with irregular breath, clenching her fists as she spoke. Her excitement was worrying, she could easily faint from that amount of stress.
That being said, Hinoki was still doubtful that the witch was offering to help him out of the kindness of her heart.
He started thinking about what situations would favor the witch. If he didn’t want to suffer more, he had to evaluate this situation from a more objective point of view.
“That’s quite farfetched for you to promise. But so what? What would you want in the case Ii’Jibro were to be taken back to me?”
Hinoki thought, perhaps she couldn’t reach an agreement with Huuron, and now was trying to use him.
Maybe the witch wanted the fertile lands, or the moonstone mines, or maybe even the many treasures left behind from the age of the wise old kings.
The witch started saying “Well, there’s a lot going on but–”
“In the case that happened you say… First we would need to stop the invasion to Jebas.”
Hinoki asked back surprised when he heard a response he hadn’t expected at all. But the witch ignored him and started counting with her fingers.
“After that I would like to arrange the fire stones Triht wants. Then I’d like it if the unreasonable demands asked from the Ottko Yu tribe would cease, and if something could be done for the starving arrijighock. I’m also worried for the zhaltkane fields in Insen. …so I’d also be glad if the issue with the underground water currents could be solved. Even if they couldn’t be controlled, at least if their movements could be predicted…”
Hinoki was left more open-mouthed as she continued speaking.
It wasn’t just farfetched anymore. After listing all the names of those other countries, she even mentioned the underground water currents.
Even if she was a witch, this was too unreasonable. If there was any creature capable of doing all that, it could only be god.
“Ho-, hold on a minute. Are you serious about all that?”
“Of course I’m serious.”
The witch stated nodding immediately.
“Thinking about it, this all started because I helped that stranded person… And the way this is going, I can’t enjoy taking a long bath anymore. Since I’m giving up my bath time for this, I want to see it through to the end.”
Hinoki couldn’t understand what the the witch was trying to say at all.
Who did she refer to as a stranded person? In the first place, what kind of relationship did a long bath have with all those countries she mentioned before?
“That’s why, I’ll first let you escape from here. Then you’ll have to hide with someone until everything cools down.”
Saying so, she extended her hand.
Her hand didn’t look like the hand of a warrior, nor the hand of a peasant. More than anything, it looked like the hand of the aristocrats that surrounded Hinoki when his father was still alive.
Smooth skin that never tasted hardships, but gave a completely different impression
“I don’t get it. What would you get from meddling with those countries? Don’t you want some kind of compensation? What about money? Or Silver? Did you consider snatching all the treasure of Ii’Jibro maybe?”
“That would be nice~. All sorts of riches…I’m a woman after all, I love shiny things. But no matter how much I would get, there would be no meaning to it.”
–––She’s contradicting herself.
“Anyways, hurry up! It will be more difficult if you start suspecting me.”
The witch leaned forward from her room, and grabbed the confused Hinoki’s arm.
Hinoki immediately pulled away from that arm trying to run away from it.
Thanks to the buffle foam the witch’s hand slipped.
“Huh, hold on!”
The witch screamed startled.
However, Hinoki was more surprised by his own reaction than the witch’s.
If he were to follow the witch, he might be able to become the ruler of Ii’Jibro, even if only in name. He would be able to be seated in the same throne his father was once, and overlook the vassal families that once served him.
Even if he wasn’t the rightful owner of the throne, it would probably please the people more if he was the ruler than being slaves of Yohk’Zai.
But, only thinking about becoming a king made him shudder.
–––I might not be a madman yet, but my mind broke a long time ago.
He was too weak. When his suspicions were suddenly confirmed, Hinoki could only admit it himself.
“I’m thankful for your kindness, but I can’t accept it.”
She wasn’t aware of the situation surrounding Hinoki, so she innocently tilted her head in confusion.
“I don’t have what it takes to become a king. What could some dunce who got trapped twice even do?”
“But, you couldn’t help that. You are still a child after all…”
Seeing the witch refusing to back off, Hinoki started getting annoyed.
“What does being a child have to do with this? How many people do you think would be naive enough to be more considerate only because I’m a child?”
“Well, right… Hmm, then, you should just get some kind of guardian or assistant. If you ask those people who were trying to rescue you from the tower, I’m sure they will agree to help you, they seemed like decent people after all.”
When Hinoki heard her, he was enveloped in an indescribable feeling of guilt.
He had always been troubled when he thought if he should feel any gratitude towards those people who struggled to free him.
He never was a person worth of being saved!
“If they were to find out about my true birth place, they’d probably go away.”
The witch frowned.
Even the witch would probably lose any interest and disappear if she knew who Hinoki truly was.
He screamed then, trying to throw away all the hesitation he had amassed deep in his heart.
“I’m not of the lineage of the king. I’m just the son of an usurper!”
“Eh. What, you knew about that?”
The witch sounded completely indifferent.
“The man who rescued your mother from the tower was your dad, right? Your ancestor was a brave man, to rescue your mother, opposing the king…”
…It was true, he was brave, or rather, must have been brave. But, that’s not the problem at hand now.
“Th-that’s why, I can’t become the king.”
“Are you really paying attention to me?”
“How rude. I did hear you. You just aren’t from the first generation’s king lineage, right?”
It seemed like she was trying to tell him ‘What’s the problem with that?’
The path the conversation took was so different from what Hinoki expected he was in a loss of words.
“The story of your ancestor taking over the throne is already a pretty old story, yes? And since then after the next generations of kings you came, it’s your lineage, more than enough time has passed. And first–––”
The witch confidently said while she held onto his arm, but was suddenly interrupted.
“If I keep quiet, they won’t find out.”
“So that’s the problem!”
As he responded, Hinoki held his head in a crouching position.
The longer he talked with the witch, the more he felt his own common sense was crumbling.
“And apart from that, what other problem is there? Ah, you know, if you don’t want it to be known you can try getting closer to the Ottko Yu tribe.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the Ottko Yu tribe already knows about it.”
Even though it was a secret that only he should know…。
Hinoki sat where he was out of exhaustion, both from the relief from having that load off his back, and the stupidity he felt for tormenting himself with an inferiority complex.
“Talking with you…is making my head feel strange.”
“…Wait, what do you mean with that?”
The witch glared at Prince Hinoki with a devious look. But shrugged it off and said.
“Well, somehow I get that you were troubled by many little worries. But look, even though I knew all of that, I still want to support you. Also for the sake of all Ii’Jibro. So now, come, it’s time to go.”
She extended her hand once again.
Hinoki looked at that hand for a while, but then silently shook his head.
“I can’t. After all, I can’t become a king.”
The witch received that with a puzzled look.
“I realize you don’t care about my lineage. But, many people do care, and they would clearly live in anxiety. And on top of that–––I’m not cut out to be a king. Even if…even if I were to accept your help, and became the king, Ii’Jibro would surely plunge into chaos sooner or later.”
He wasn’t born to be a king, not his lineage, but all of him. Once he accepted that, there was no way to change his mindset.
He hated his own powerlessness on one side, his strength left his back, and he felt the air being sucked away from his lungs.
He felt a rock stuck in his gut, only by thinking of Ii’Jibro’s future.
He glanced at her. The witch who was always nude for some reason, didn’t seem to be afraid or embarrassed in front of people, and always spoke with incomprehensible words. But perhaps, if he were to listen to her, who even was worried about the underground water currents–––
“Witch, if you care about the people of Ii’Jibro, please hear my one request.”
She seemed to be lost in thought pondering about something, then she blinked once and looked at Hinoki.
“King Huuron is a strong king. He must seem like an amazing king to the people in his own country. Somehow, I’d want that the people of Ii’Jibro to receive that same blessing.”
“In other words, you are saying you want to entrust Ii’Jibro to King Huuron?”
“Exactly. Only the integrity of the properties and social status of the people, that’s all I want. I mean to pass everything to him right now.”
“Right now?! Can’t it be done later? Even if you are being treated as a guest for now, there’s no proof you will be safe later on. And also, you had to go through a whole year of suffering already, do you really want to live like that…”
“You seem quite unsure. Maybe we can make an exchange with ‘convincing him’? Or were those exchanges you mentioned only some bluff?”
“They weren’t some bluff. I’m sure I could convince him. I’m sure but…”
While the witch hesitated, Hinoki started smiling.
He made a broad smile, a smile that contained no fear of shame nor arrogance.
“Then it’s fine. This will be my last order as a phony king. I won’t ask for anything more.”
She stared fixedly at Hinoki. The black eyes of a witch were said to be able to see through any lie. So, Hinoki looked back at her fixedly, without looking away.
After a while, the witch reluctantly nodded.
“…Okay. I didn’t want it, but I accept that you don’t want to become a king. I will try to convince him as soon as I can, propose him my conditions and release you.”
“I will be thankful if you do.”
Hinoki faced the witch and bowed.
He was almost always treated as a weakling, his life in confinement that slowly tainted his determination, when he thought about the meaning of all of that, and realizing there would be an end to it, made it become something completely different.
“Listen, do you have anything you want to do? What do you intend to do after you are out of here and stop being a king?”
After hearing all that, the only thought he could think about was the map he had seen in the tower.
He always dreamed of seeing with his own eyes all the countries he could only read about in books, the snowy village of Triht, the knowledgeable kingdom of Insen, the land of Tohji far in the northern side, and the place called paradis, Jebas.
“Do you remember the map I showed you before? If I could, I’d like to see…Oh well, never mind.”
He suddenly shook his head to untangle himself from being absorbed into his dreams.
There was no way he could be allowed to be that selfish.
He could only live like his ancestors did before, as a regular person in Ii’Jibro. And hopefully be able to at least help some people that way.
“The map huh. Alright! This was a bit different from what I expected, but it should play off well. …by the way, hasn’t something been smelling since a while ago? What is that grassy smell? Whoa, it’s from my hands. Could it be from the green bubbles in your arm?”
She smelled her hands while her brows twitched in disgust.
“It’s Yohk’Zai’s soap. It does smell bad. Even if I’m used to live in confinement I can’t get used to that smell.”
Hinoki took the jar with powdered buffle leaves and showed it to the witch.
“Huh, wait, what is this, is this some kind of flag? Did I just raise a flag? It wasn’t enough with the body towel?”
For an instant, the witch seemed to be about to burst in tears.
“Ahh, whatever, I don’t care anymore. Take this you thief!”
For some reason the witch forcefully exchanged the handmade soap she had gotten from the prince of Jebas with the buffle leaves. Hinoki once again started doubting her sanity after that–––
*Both of them are wearing a towel during the whole conversation.
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