Akuyaku Reijou ni Koi Wo Shite:
“The Crown Prince’s Yearning.”
If there were people tasked with observing Rion, they would probably be surprised by the wide scope and intensity of his activities. A normal person would consider Rion involved in too many things and trying to move forward too many projects at once. Especially given the fact that he was not invoking the influence of his employer even though he was a valet of a major House.
The only reason he was able to accomplish all of his tasks was his extraordinary diligence. He treated all his responsibilities as things to be done at all cost, regardless of their apparent importance, and he would execute them without cutting corners, being the very example of being particular to details.
But with those perfectly performed tasks piling up, his great project finally began to come to fruition.
The reputation of Vincent was improved significantly by now, although not in a way he initially desired to achieve. His lord was now rumored to be a friendly and good-natured heir of a marquess house, an aristocrat putting little weight on the background of those he was dealing with. This, of course, was the result of mingling with commoners and minor nobles.
Ariel’s reputation was naturally also great, to the point of being considered outstanding.
Within the game, Ariel had been the archetypical despicable noble lady, not only arrogant but also abusing the authority of her family name. But in this world she was a fascinating dual-natured girl – on one hand, a dignified aristocrat giving off a difficult to approach aura and on the other a charming young woman full of laughter that made others feel intimate.
Furthermore, her grades were excellent. Ariel, gifted with both looks and brains, was the ideal to aspire to for the female students and was admired by the entire student body.
Although the reputation growth was only limited to the students and not terribly important when looked at from the perspective of the Academy, Rion was very happy seeing even such a small result of his actions.
He was changing the course of the world. Such thoughts lifted his spirits but they also made him forget one thing. The protagonist was protected by a plot armor, a force that compelled reality to follow the plot of the story.
The more uncertainty and deviations his actions introduced, the bigger the backlash he was bound to face as the inevitable correction happened.
With the exams over, the results were once again posted in the hallway. The names of the top four were unchanged. Arnold was first, followed by Maria, trailed by Charlotte and Lancelot. The immovable top four, still the same ever since they enrolled.
As this became the norm, those looking for the grades didn’t spare it a thought any longer.
「This time… It’s still no good?」
Although Maria welcomed her second rank with a disappointed tone of voice, the disappointment couldn’t really be seen in her face any longer. The only reason she competed with Arnold in grades was to close the gap between them and now that this already happened, she did not hold the rivalry in much importance anymore.
But even so she was still able to keep her grades up was because she was originally talented anyway. Maria was not like the typical ugly and bullied protagonist in her former life. It was actually the total opposite. She was an active scholar in a famous national university, constantly being invited to the Miss University pageants ever since she was a first-year. Gifted with brains and beauty since birth, an existence admired by everyone.
That had always been the case ever since she was a child. She had been constantly praised as cute or pretty and before long it became normal for her not to feel any satisfaction about it.
For that girl, although with a different name back then, otome games would be the only, secret, hobby.
An impossible setting with unbelievably high-spec men – she enjoyed worlds where the protagonist was faced with those circumstances. And the more she got hooked by the games the more lacking the real world felt to her. Originally, she was one of those earnest women who would really yearn for her own prince riding a white horse.
To that Maria, fed up with the real world, being reincarnated in this one was really an astonishing development. She really became the protagonist of an otome game just like in her dreams. Maria was really grateful for this reincarnation from the bottom of her heart.
However, the school life arc that she had been waiting for was not progressing according to her will ever since that incident. The characters whose purpose was to make her look better, for some reason, became popular with a portion of the student body. Even worse, the most important capture target, Crown Prince Arnold, rather than falling for her was now even trying to close his distance with her rival.
She clearly knew the cause of all that. It was that irregular, Rion, who survived the event even though he should’ve not come back alive.
Initially thinking that he was a rare character, she tried to capture him and that resulted in the world affairs deviating from the plot line. Once that became apparent she thought of killing him, but that approach also failed. Maria was now convinced that Rion fully became a major character in the game.
She could only ponder on how to revert the story back to the way she wanted and deal with Rion but currently no good idea came to her mind.
「Please, excuse me.」
As she was thinking of Rion she heard his voice coming from behind her.
「Just for a quick look to check the results, if possible?」
「O-Oh. I’m sorry, I’m obstructing people by standing here, don’t I?」
「Please do not worry about it, I shall be done momentarily.」
He said as he surveyed the ranking table. His eyes methodically scanning the list from right to left, Rion tilted his head searching for his objective.
「…He was seventh.」
Lancelot said unprompted as if annoyed.
「Eh? Ah! Indeed! Thank you my lord.」
It was at the seventh rank on the leftmost part of the ranking table. The name Vincent Woodville was clearly written over there.
「We did it…」
Tracing the letters of his master’s name at the seventh position, Rion was being overwhelmed by emotions.
After a little pause, he quickly departed.
「To think that Vincent, an apparent failure of an heir, could actually rank seventh. Impressive indeed..」
She put her impression into words as if Rion’s feelings rubbed off on her.
「That’s still just seventh. He is of the marquess rank, it’s a disgrace if he’s not at least fourth. Well, fifth, given that Maria is here too.」
It seemed Lancelot was unwilling to offer any acknowledgment. His level of animosity towards Vincent didn’t show any signs of decreasing.
「Maybe you’re right, but I still am envious a little bit.」
「What is there to envy?」
「That. All that.」
「All what again?」
What Charlotte was looking at was the greatly delighted figure of Vincent that was just informed about his results by Rion.
His joy instantly spread to the surrounding students. After getting to know him in the cafeteria all the commoner students took on themselves to tutor Vincent a bit. Now that they learned the results, they became really vigorous and shared his happiness.
The ripple of jubilation didn’t stop there. It started to spread onwards from the group of students hugging each other with Vincent in the center. More and more people gathered after hearing the ruckus the rejoicing students were making and all of them were familiar with Vincent too.
Before long, the young lord was flying up and down in the air. Watching that, the students grew even more delighted. Ariel was also there looking in exhilaration at the spectacle with her brother in the center.
「And there it is again. Why does she keep it from me?」
No one paid any attention to the muttering Crown Prince.
Recently the heart of the Crown Prince wouldn’t calm down. He knew why it was. He was displeased by Ariel’s attitude.
The way she conversed with Arnold was very decorous, like a perfect noble lady. In his mind, he knew that her behavior was forced by the situation, but his heart didn’t agree with that at all. He just felt really irritated.
The obvious solution would be to shorten the distance between them, but presently that path was closed to Arnold.
He wanted to see Ariel’s honest and unrestrained smile. He wanted to be a recipient of such a smile. He was convinced that as her fiancé it was his right.
That conviction was just an excuse he constructed for himself. An excuse that was hindering his attempts at getting closer to her, a fact he so far failed to notice.
「That thing… Is it not with us today?」
「The valet. He’s conspicuously absent.」
「Oh, Rion. He is with Vincent onii-sama right now. Despite any appearances to the contrary Rion is my older brother’s valet and must attend to his needs.」
Arnold, his feelings running riot, became all the more curious why was there such an intimate relationship between Ariel and that, if this was really the case.
There was no one capable of looking into the depths of Arnold’s heart, but if such a person existed then they would diagnose a severe case of jealousy.
「Leaving that topic aside for now, Highness, are you really fine with coming here?」
The two of them were currently in the favorite pastry shop of Ariel and Vincent, but not one that was House Windhill’s official purveyor. The siblings established a personal relationship with this place and treated it as somewhere they could spend time without having to mind the surroundings.
「It’s fine. I have been searching for a relaxed place just like this one for a while now.」
Ariel took him here because he explicitly requested it but she regretted it immediately.
The disruption caused whenever Arnold headed out could not be compared to Ariel’s visits with Vincent and Rion. Once the Crown Prince decided to grace a shop with his presence all the customers of that shop would be driven out, nobody would be allowed to approach the premises and the area would be secured by numerous royal guards.
Although all the trouble caused to the shop would be covered by generous monetary compensation awarded on top of the price of goods obtained, Ariel still had reasons for regret. Now that the shop could boast of having the Crown Prince as its customer, it would instantly become famous and cease to be a good retreat.
To be honest she found it strange that was still unknown among the aristocrats with a sweet tooth despite the delicious desserts it served. It was a nearly perfect place that catered both to the need for tasty snacks and the need to not be recognized.
(I guess it can’t be helped. I will have Rion search for another one like this.)
Ariel thought from the bottom of her heart.
「Do you come here often?」
「Not as of late, Highness.」
「Why is that?」
「My brother, Rion and I only came here to discuss things in a casual manner. Recently it became possible to do so in the cafeteria, so we began to meet there.」
「Is that so…」
Just from hearing Rion’s name being mentioned, Arnold’s gaze unconsciously turned intense.
「Nevertheless, because I like the desserts served here very much, we still come here sometimes.」
However, Ariel failed to notice that. Despite the rules of etiquette demanding that she looked straight at Arnold’s face, she was always looking at his neck only. She was doing this now too and the prince couldn’t help but get vexed by this politeness.
「Indeed, one can’t argue with delicious things, and desserts here are as good as those made by royal chefs.」
「My, to hear that from your Highness, that’s high praise.」
Having her favorite being praised, Ariel was really happy. As a result, a smile bloomed on her face.
Although it couldn’t be called the perfect one, the smile that Arnold craved for so long suddenly appeared in front of him. Arnold was taken by surprise and became completely fascinated by what he was seeing.
「…Is there something wrong?」
Puzzled Ariel asked Arnold who suddenly fell silent. That made the prince in his heart deeply lament his failure to keep the smile alive.
「Ah no, just lost in thought.」
Rion in that situation would say, 『I was merely fascinated with Ariel-sama’s smile』 and make Ariel even happy but the current Crown Prince was not capable of that. No normal, nerve-wracked person would.
「Can I ask one more thing?」
「Of course Highness. As long as it’s something I’m capable of answering.」
「Why do you use the school cafeteria?」
「So I can have a casual conversation with my brother over a meal without having to worry what people around us think. Didn’t I mention that already, Highness?」
「You did, but I wanted to follow up on a certain aspect. Why worry about people around you? Are you discussing things you don’t want to be heard?」
Arnold asked without any hesitation. Usually, that would make the person asked struggle for a reply.
「No, Highness. We simply do not wish to be judged by the company we hold.」
But Ariel, undisturbed, gave a prompt and honest answer.
「…Company? The valet, again?」
「Yes, Highness. The members of high society would find such a close relationship between aristocrat and their servant to be odd at best. I personally care not for their opinions, but such rumors would damage my brother’s reputation and this is a risk we cannot afford.」
Getting to know that it was actually for her brother, allowed the Crown Prince to calm down his feelings.
「For Vincent, huh? He seems to be putting in a lot of effort these days.」
「He certainly does. Truth be told, he was always capable of this much. Sadly he was chained down by expectations and prejudice of those around him.」
「Most wanted him to be a flawless heir from the start. The perfect, legitimate, eldest son of the Lord.」
「But nobody is flawless, no person can be perfect at a role from the start Neither was my brother. So he did not meet these expectations. Each of his missteps was met with scorn and each success with indifference. Eventually, he understood he would never be acknowledged for what he was. And he gave up.」
「So it was like this…」
The prejudice aimed at Vincent was of the same kind as the one he was facing. Arnold understood that now.
However, the Crown Prince faced with expectations to do everything right simply worked harder. Vincent didn’t, he just gave up and failed instead.
Although this didn’t absolve young Windhill from the blame for his failure, the prince didn’t hold him in contempt anymore.
At this point, Ariel should have changed the subject, but she carried on.
「It was Rion who made my brother raise his head again.」
Immediately, the Crown Prince’s face clouded. Just hearing that name from Ariel’s lips displeased him. Even more so because it was clearly loaded with trust.
With the conversation turning to the topic of Rion, Ariel stopped being reserved with the smiles Arnold craved.
However, even though he had them just in front of him he was not happy, he knew that they were meant for Rion and it made him terribly annoyed.
「You won’t be able to take that servant to the castle with you, you know.」
「Maids are permitted, no matter the number, but the Queen-to-be cannot take a male with her.」
「…Of course, Highness. I am aware of the fact.」
「That is good. Do keep in mind we will marry immediately after graduation.」
「…By your wish, Highness.」
On this day, the Crown Prince Arnold became clearly aware for the first time. That before he knew it, he had already fallen in love with lady Ariel Windhill. With the full understanding of his feelings, the desire to monopolize her coming from his heart became even stronger.
Arnold didn’t know whether that was stimulated by the existence of Rion, or if the valet was entirely unrelated to it. He couldn’t understand that about himself yet.
What he knew was that he would never allow that smile of Ariel to be offered to any other man than him.
With this, the flow of the game’s events had greatly deviated from the original plot. The only thing that did not, and would not change was upon whom would the misfortune befall when the game reached its conclusion.