In the capital of the Kingdom of Lugunica, a loud voice resounded through the Karsten family’s secondary residence.
With their short skirt and flaxen cat ears fluttering, a lovely character dressed in a blue toned outfit dashed through the corridor with light steps.
Out of breath by the time they reached the room they were looking for, this person flung the door open and barged in.
“―You’re being rather boisterous, Ferris. Is something the matter?”
Greeting the cat-eared intruder was the calm voice and countenance of a beautiful woman.
This voice came from the imposing woman sitting at the desk in the room, using her quill to attend to her duties. The woman’s voice contained a tiny trace of affection only known to those close to her.
And receiving this affection directly, the other person smiled gently.
“Yes, Crusch-sama! It’s incredible, it’s shocking, it’s astonishing, I tell you!”
“The fact that you’re emphasizing it to that extent with such a lively voice, I must say I’m expecting something quite significant indeed. So, what kind of tale shall you amuse me with?”
“Myumyuu, please don’t put that sort of weird pressure on me, Crusch-sama. Ah, but Ferri-chan’s got something so surprising it’ll blow those expectations away.”
Saying this, the cat-eared person passed by the desk and went to the window on the other side of the room. They then pulled the thick curtains covering it to the side―
“Please have a look outside the window, Crusch-sama.”
“This is, snow… huh.”
White crystals of lightly falling snow danced down outside the window. The woman ― Crusch Karsten narrowed her amber eyes at the sight of the snow descending from the somewhat cloudy sky.
“Quite unusual around this season, is it not. Is this snow not natural?”
“Yes. I think there might be someone using a huge amount of magic or something. It seems the aftereffects of that magic have spread all the way out here.”
“I see. A being capable of manipulating the atmosphere to this extent would certainly be quite the threat, but…”
Rising from her desk, Crusch approached the window which had its curtains opened. Releasing the window’s latch, she gently pushed it open, after which a bit of snow and wind blew into the room.
Gazing at the wind and snow, Crush suddenly smiled,
“Their intent does not appear to be malicious. Furthermore, this degree of snowfall is not severe enough to prove inconvenient. That being the case…”
“That being the case…?”
“… I will be able to enjoy this rare sight with you with no worries.”
Saying this, Crusch turned around and gently took the slender hand that was by her side. Their eyes widening at Crusch’s smooth movement and gesture, the cat-eared person ― Ferris’ cheeks reddened,
“Jeez, your splendor is driving Ferri-chan crazy, Crusch-sama…”
And he muttered this with a resigned expression.
When he entered the courtyard with Crusch who had donned an overcoat, he found that there was already someone there.
Looking up into the skies, gazing at the snow falling from the faint clouds was an old man whose entire being was clad in heroic spirit, the sight of whom caused Ferris’ eyes to widen, “Huh”
“Old man Wil, why are mew out in the courtyard?”
“Mm, it’s you, Ferris… And also, Crusch-sama.”
Reacting to his call, the old man ― Wilhelm turned around and bowed to them as they approached. In response, Crusch who had linked her arm with Ferris’ nodded solemnly.
“It would seem the two of you have come to see the snow as well.”
“That is correct. From the way you put it, it would appear that you too have come here for the same purpose.”
“Yes. In this kingdom, it is very unusual to see snow in this season. The skies do not seem to have undergone any significant change so I would not say it is anything to worry about, but it also wouldn’t do to act after something has already happened.”
“Nyaow, don’t go saying such boorish things. I had such a great mood going too, coming out here with Crusch-sama so we could watch the snow, just the two of us.”
Ferris pouted as he complained about Wilhem’s response. Ferris’ dissatisfied gaze caused Wilhelm to force a smile as he offered a slight bow, “My apologies.”
“If that is all, let us leave it at that. I do not wish to be a bother to the two of you, thus I shall return to my quarters and await further instructions…”
“Wait, Wilhelm. Your words did not contain any lies, but… I can see that you haven’t told us everything.”
“Let me warn you, it would be useless to feign ignorance. I possess the divine protection of wind reading. According to this divine protection, there’s definitely a certain something behind that attitude of yours.”
As Wilhelm moved to excuse himself, Crusch detained him and pointed to her eyes.
―The divine protection of wind reading was a special ability Crusch possessed, one that truly deserved to be called a heavenly blessing. By reading the natural flow of wind, the user could even comprehend others’ emotional states, a divine protection granted only to a special few.
Simply put, lies would not work on Crusch.
Wilhelm’s expression changed to one of hesitation when Crusch called him out with her powers of observation. Seeing this unusual reaction, Ferris mischievously narrowed his yellow eyes.
“Hmmm? Gosh, Wil, trying to keep secrets from Crusch? Don’t you think it’s shameful to have that sort of attitude towards your master to whom you offered your sword and pledged your loyalty?”
“Mm, that is…”
“Or are you perhaps scheming something you can’t tell us about? Oh no, Crusch-sama, Ferri-chan’s scared… Uyan.”
“Good grief. Do not tease Wilhelm so much. I understand your true intentions, but it would be asinine to create unnecessary misunderstandings with that sort of behavior.”
Crusch poked Ferris’ cheek, surprising him, and then offered him a faint smile. And with Ferris still grasping her arm, she turned to Wilhelm and gave a brief apology, “Excuse us.”
“It can be difficult to understand, but Ferris does not bear you any ill will. I hope you have not taken offense at his words.”
“Aah, not at all. I believe his grievance was only natural. You need not be concerned, I do not believe I would misunderstand his true intent either way.”
“I see, that is good then. Now then, what of your ulterior motive?”
“… I am simply no match for you, Crusch-sama.”
Saying this, Wilhelm shook his head with a slight smile. The old man then narrowed his blue eyes and looked up at the snow falling overhead.
“Under the guise of caution towards an unusual event, I was indulging in reverie. The sight of snow brings to mind a conversation I once had with my wife.”
“… Seems to me like just about everything reminds you of your wife, old man. There’s nothing new about that.”
“It is rather embarrassing that I have no response to that.”
With his eyes still on the snow, Wilhelm simply accepted Ferris’s statement without attempting to deny it.
Flashing through those blue eyes of his were deep love for his dead wife ― Theresia Van Astrea, and nostalgia for those bygone days.
― His feelings towards his dead wife were a major factor in Wilhelm’s decision to become the royal selection candidate Crusch’s vassal.
Fourteen years ago, the kingdom carried out the ‘Great Conquest’ in order to subjugate one of the Three Great Witchbeasts, the White Whale. Back then, Wilhem’s wife, Theresia, was one of the people recruited for this mission, and she ultimately died a heroic death in battle when the kingdom’s forces were defeated.
Ever since that day, Wilhelm had continued to chase after the White Whale in order to avenge his wife. Crusch had promised to help him fulfill this most cherished desire of his, and thus made the ‘Sword Demon’ her vassal.
Understanding how dangerous the path would be, Crusch chose to answer this old man’s wish.
“But it kind of sucks to always hear your love stories about your wife whenever something happens.”
“My apologies. My life only truly began when I met my wife. No matter where I look or what I feel, memories of my wife well up on their own.”
Ferris puffed his cheeks, and in response to his dissatisfaction, Wilhelm lowered his eyes and stared at the cat-eared knight head-on as he continued, “That is,”
“Something you understand yourself, surely?”
“―, Wil, you coward.”
Having a precious feeling in his slender chest touched upon, Ferris spoke resentfully.
Wilhelm had declared that his life only began the moment he met his wife. And that Ferris himself should be able to understand that feeling well.
Ferris’ ― Felix Argyle’s life began when he met Crusch Karsten. Imprisoned by his real parents, Ferris meaninglessly lived on in a half-dead state until she brought him to the outside.
Was it not natural to vow to offer such a person everything they wanted?
“Get a hold of yourselves, you two. We do not know how long this snow will last. Enjoy it while you can.”
“Yeees, Crusch-sama. Ferri-chan’s just gonna toss this Wil stuff out and forget all about it!”
Crusch stopped her servants’ trivial quarrel, and when she did so Ferris raised his hand and hurled some more abuses. Wilhelm smiled bitterly at this, and Crusch continued, “Well then,”
“Might I ask what sort of memory with your wife you were looking back on as you gazed at the snow?”
“Yes, of course. I find it rather delightful that you would wish to learn about my wife.”
As Wilhelm smiled broadly, Crusch faced him with a gallant expression. As he watched this from the side, Ferris couldn’t suppress the bit of envy that welled up within him.
It might have looked as though Crusch was simply saying this sort of thing to show her consideration and magnanimity towards her servants, but that was not the case, she proposed this because she was genuinely very interested. It was not because she had an interest in others’ love affairs as was commonly said, the reason was a lot simpler.
It was because Crusch was a swordswoman who admired the Sword Demon Wilhelm Van Astrea.
Setting Crusch’s true feelings aside, Wilhelm whom she had asked to tell her about his memories nodded a few times and then quietly turned toward the end of the courtyard.
In his line of sight were some shrubbery being covered in bits of snow, and a small flower garden.
“My wife was a woman who liked to admire flowers. Regardless of what kind of flower it was, she would say they each had their own good points so she did not choose any one type to admire. But even so, she did have some flowers that she was particularly attached to. For instance, the yellow flower Diana which can spread its roots in any environment.”
“You occasionally see them in the capital too. What was it that she liked about them?”
“My wife once planted the seeds of this flower in an area of the capital that was still under construction, and it was there that we first met.”
“I shouldn’t have asked…”
Ferris had intended to collect himself, but pouted when he ended up poking at the core of Wilhelm’s love story.
“I have a number of other stories relating to flowers, but there is one among them connected to snow. Back then, my wife would say that there was a special flower that would only bloom on snowy days.”
“A flower that only blooms on snowy days, is it.”
Wilhelm’s words caused Crusch to quietly look at Ferris. In response to her questioning amber eyes, Ferris thought for a bit but ultimately shook his head.
Unfortunately, Ferris did not know of any flower fitting that description. However, supposing that such a flower really existed,
“That is definitely something I would like to see at least once.”
“My wife would often say that whenever there was snowfall. Back then, I was a terribly simple man and the blood flow to my head was lacking. I cannot say that I have improved in this regard even now, but I was even worse back then. Whenever there was snowfall, I would get my friends and secretly head out to search for that flower, trying hard to find it as I hoped to surprise my wife.”
“Heeh, how unexpected. You have friends, Wil?”
“― At this point, it might be more accurate to say I had friends. In their eyes, my present self would probably seem to be much more of a fool than the simple fellow I was back then.”
He slowly shook his head, his tone somehow seeming unshakeable as he spoke. In response, Ferris shut his mouth, aware that he said something he shouldn’t have.
Thus, an awkward silence fell over the courtyard. ― And then,
“Raise your head, Wilhelm. Have you forgotten the words you said when you swore loyalty to me?”
Crusch spoke firmly, she would not tolerate this sort of silence from Wilhelm.
Maintaining her dignified stance, Crusch stood right in front of Wilhelm’s eyes,
“I am aware that you have sacrificed many things to get here. It cannot be helped that you have some lingering attachment to those things. However, that is not something you must regret.”
“Regret is something that always seeps into you regardless of what choice you make, like stagnant dregs. I am no exception, nor are you, nor is anyone in this world. These dregs cannot be avoided, but they only produce hesitation when you look beyond the results of your choices. Therefore, I shall firmly declare this right now:”
Pausing for a moment, Crusch took some time to select her next words,
“―Today is not a day for crying and mourning.”
Ferris wondered if anyone beside him had noticed the fleeting emotion that filled Crusch’s words.
For an instant, Ferris’ heart was torn apart by Crusch’s strong words, and he felt a sadness so powerful it could rend his soul itself.
The throbbing of the powerful conviction that pushed her spirit to such noble heights ― Just who besides Ferris knew that the source was none other than the dregs known as ‘regret’ that Crusch herself felt.
“Not today, is it. ― Aah, seriously, at this age I even have to be taught how pathetic I am.”
Suddenly, having reflected on Crusch’s words, Wilhelm hung his head deeply. The old swordsman then faced Crusch once more and nodded with a face that suggested he was no longer tormented by his troubles.
“It is just as you said, Crusch-sama. I lack the qualifications to even stand here. And despite that, I am still here. ― Therefore, today is not a day for regret.”
“Correct… Although I do feel that it was Ferris and myself who left you hanging.”
“C-Crusch-sama… Ferri-chan was intentionally staying quiet about that too…”
The serious atmosphere that had enveloped the courtyard was dispelled by those few words from Crusch. Sensing this, Ferris dropped his shoulders at his master’s overly honest nature.
And thus, intentionally acting like he normally did, he buried the earlier impact deep in his heart.
Watching their exchange, Wilhelm smiled gently,
“Once I avenge my wife, I could search for the elusive snow flower she dreamed of. I am able to think this way thanks to you and Ferris.― I thank you.”
And so, in that courtyard’s gentle snowfall, the Sword Demon discovered yet another way to offer his wife his love.
“A flower that only blooms on snowy days, you think something like that really exists?”
“From a commonsensical perspective, it is difficult to imagine a flower blooming in the snowy seasons. However, in the end it is just that, difficult to imagine. A spirit’s influence or some special terrain… There exist a number of possibilities.”
As she said this, Crusch looked closely at Ferris who had grabbed her arm, and fell silent.
Close enough that they could feel each other’s white breaths, Ferris clung tightly to Crusch’s firm warmth. He knew that this was disrespectful, but he also knew that Crusch’s magnanimity was such that she would forgive it.
Like this, Ferris would occasionally wish to feel Crusch’s existence so strongly it hurt.
This was a coping mechanism to deal with the sense of loneliness the memories of his early childhood brought about, this had completely settled down over these past several years, but―
“… You’re thinking about his highness.”
Ferris responded to Crusch’s question with a slightly lower tone of voice and nodded.
Between the two of them, the word highness referred to just one person ― The fourth prince of the Kingdom of Luginica, and a young man who was irreplaceable to them, Fourier Lugunica.
He was a precious person who unfortunately left this world due to the epidemic which ravaged the royal family and ultimately became the impetus for the royal selection. ― Well, if it really was the case that everyone in the nation mourned his loss, perhaps Crusch wouldn’t have even participated in the royal selection.
Wilhelm had left, Crusch and Ferris were now alone in the mansion’s courtyard.
The Karsten family’s secondary residence in the capital ― Even here, they had countless memories of Fourier. Cheerful and affable, he loved Crusch and Ferris from the bottom of his heart, memories of such a person.
“But we never did see the snow with his highness. I was under the mistaken impression that no matter what, no matter when, there would be a memory of him accompanying it, but…”
“There are still any number of things we haven’t done with him, and sights we haven’t seen with him.”
That was the source of the regret Crusch was trying to tell Wilhelm about, this was something only Ferris who had spotted her momentary agony knew.
Crusch’s current goal was to bolster the public’s sentiment toward the now deceased Fourier.
He had never directly confirmed what exactly she felt towards Fourier. However, Ferris was not heartless enough to ask her such a cruel question.
So he simply wished to share her feelings towards the person her eyes were looking back on.
“If his highness were here, he’d definitely be having the time of his life in the snow, huh. And after playing in the snow with all his heart, he’d be exhausted and come down with a fever the next day.”
“It is certainly easy to imagine such a thing happening. It is as if I can hear him imploring you to cure his fever.”
“Yeah. Perhaps he would simply dislike the cold, and complain about it. After all, wasn’t he always bundled up in fur because he was so sensitive to the cold?”
Fourier would often choose to don an overcoat made from animal pelts. Ferris’ impression of him caused Crusch to lower her eyes ever so slightly.
“… Because he was the lion king.”
“No, it’s nothing. I was just admiring the fact that you were watching him so closely.”
“Well, it was obvious that I would. After all, this is his highness we’re talking about here.”
He really stood out. He was always so boisterous, and he just wouldn’t leave you alone.
Loved by all, he was always the center of attention, and for some reason seeing this made her proud.
―She liked him. She loved him. It wasn’t about the relationship between a man and a woman, she felt that way toward him as a person.
“Speaking of snow, there was that marriage proposal his highness suddenly received from the Holy Kingdom. Judging by how desperate he was back then, perhaps he really was no good at dealing with the cold…”
As Crusch reminisced nostalgically, Ferris shook his head. Releasing Crusch’s arm from his grip, Ferris stared at her face to face.
It was his own joke that started it, but he did not want her to misunderstand Fourier’s feelings. He loved Crusch from the bottom of his heart. So,
“The reason he turned down that proposal was not because he disliked the cold. His highness…”
“― I know.”
“I know, Ferris. ― I know.”
Repeating these words any number of times, Crusch would not allow Ferris to finish that sentence.
And Ferris realized too late that what Crusch was showing him was not rejection, but consideration.
If at this moment, Ferris were to speak Fourier’s feelings in his place, the wound in Crusch’s heart would once again bleed.
And they would both have no choice but to admit that the responsibility for that lay with Ferris.
The two fell silent, and the snow falling from the sky slowly piled up on their hair and shoulders.
The freezing snowflakes caused Ferris’ shoulders to tremble slightly. The wind wasn’t all that cold, but if they stayed like this they would certainly be chilled to the core.
Perhaps they were no longer in the appropriate state of mind to enjoy the snowy scenery―
As if reading Ferris’ thoughts, Crusch called his name and offered him her arm.
In response to this gesture, Ferris hesitated slightly and then timidly took her arm once more.
The distance between them was one they were completely used to, and Crusch gently stroked Ferris’ head.
“I wonder how his highness would have taken Wilhelm’s tale of that snow flower.”
There was no need for them to keep talking about Fourier. But if they decided to avoid the topic of Fourier now, there would be no going back.
Fourier definitely wasn’t someone who had only left them with sad memories.
Crusch’s attitude was proof of this, and Ferris felt ashamed of his thoughtlessness. He then nuzzled his face against Crusch’s shoulder with no hesitation.
“―His highness would definitely go and exaggerate it like crazy, he’d probably say something like how finding the flower means your wish will come true. And then he’d be all excited about going to look for it.”
“Aah, I can practically see it.”
“But Ferris would stop him by telling him he needs to prepare properly. And then his highness would take it seriously, hear what he needs to hear from a whole lot of people, gather his tools, and then…”
Once they started talking about it, once they started imagining it, they could clearly grasp what Fourier would do, what he would say, and what he would wish for.
―Even now, the fact that he was unable to save Fourier remained in Ferris’ heart as regret.
Crusch was the same, so this regret probably would not fade or even lessen.
Fourier’s final days could not be called pleasant by any means, they were filled with pain and suffering.
But even so―
“―His highness definitely would have done that sort of thing.”
“― Yes, I think so too.”
Surrounded by the gentle snowfall, with their smiles undying, Ferris and Crusch spoke of the man who could not be with them now for a long, long time.
The image of the blonde young man bearing a gentle, handsome face manifested in their minds.
―The face they imagined, was forever smiling at them without reservation.