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I know. I think I’ll die.
The idea came to mind while Cornou was brushing his teeth after dinner.
It had been ten years since he became King. The whole time, he had hid his true self, and tried his best to wear the mask of a splendid ruler.
The nation had been struggling through a famine when he succeeded the throne.
When he did, he began to lower the taxes.
Cultivating the lands, endeavours with flood control, preparing for irrigation, adjusting and fixing laws… Seven years of wrestling with problems facing the nation until it could finally yield tax again. Even now, he was struggling with supporting education.
The nation finally saw the light of day.
The citizens sang praise of him. Lately, even people from the neighbouring countries praised him as a wise king.
More! Praise me more!
That had been his reaction until just three days ago.
But now, even praise seemed irritating.
To be honest, Cornou actually hated trouble. No, not just trouble either. Things that hurt, things that were difficult, things that were sad. Having to try hard, having to endure, having to work. Having to leave bed, having to concentrate, having to train. All these things he loathed. He even loathed to ride on the ooma when he toured the country by air, and he found that speaking to people was tiring as well.
If he could, he would prefer to hole up in his room and devote himself to his hobbies.
A man like him had faced the sly geezer politicians in nauseating battles of wit and otherwise. He had spent an entire ten years reforming the country. And the reason was very simply so that the woman he loved would look at him.
Even now, he recalled that day fifteen years ago when the two first met.
At the time, Cornou had just turned thirteen, and she had only been five.
The girl had climbed a tree without thinking, and was at wits end because she couldn’t descend.
With fiery bright red hair, and bright blue eyes like a lake, her striking features made quite an impression.
At the time she had been an energetic child, befitting of her hair colour, and was the complete opposite of the intelligent but reclusive Cornou.
Their two fathers joked that if only they could split Cornou’s wisdom and the girl’s energy between them, they would be perfect.
He would see her once every few years, and with each time she would grow more beautiful, remaining lively as ever, and as time passed by his feelings towards her changed as well.
From a rash and noisy child, to a girl he considered his sister. And then from that little sister, to the girl he was in love with.
He wanted to match her.
He wanted to be worthy of her.
He wanted to improve the country, so that he could bring her here with pride.
With that in mind, Cornou put in his most hated ‘effort’, and hiding his real self, he played the perfect king.
Before long, his efforts yielded dividends, and when Hitow turned sixteen, he sent a marriage proposal, which her father, King of Sunayu, accepted with pleasure.
King Sunayu had wanted to marry them right that instant, but it was Cornou himself who asked to wait.
Hitow had been growing more beautiful by the day, and in fear of having her taken, Cornou had sent a proposal. Even so, his nation was not yet fit for her.
In the four years until their marriage, he would restore and develop his nation further.
When he imagined the life they would be living together, his steps became light, and even going outdoors turned from Hell to paradise. The shitty beard-geezers that would do nothing except complain even turned into stupid but adorable children to him.
And then finally, finally, when everything was ready to receive her…
‘I would like to postpone our marriage. Having said that, you are already at the right age to marry. I am sure that you are in a rush to leave a successor. It would go against my good conscience to delay the birth of your heir due to circumstances within my own nation. If you desire to annul our engagement, that is also fine.’
When he had sent a message to inform her that the day of their marriage was arriving, the reply that he received caused the blood to drain from his face. Or rather, so much blood left his head that he fainted.
The letter said that she wished to postpone things, and yet she gave no reason. In other words, she simply wanted to annul their engagement.
What he did, what he ate, how he spent the last three days, he honestly had no memory of.
For three days he had been a shell, and only just now as he brushed his teeth, did his senses return to him.
Suddenly, nothing seemed to matter any more.
Going out was now nothing but a pain, and the bearded geezers were now scary again.
He was sick of it.
He was sick of all of it.
He was sick of giving his all and enduring everything.
A west wind began to blow. The decades of calm were over. The breeze had finally turned into a storm, and Cornou felt, no, he knew, that a maelstrom was coming.
He didn’t think he would be able to weather the tempest without Princess Hitow.
So he decided he would disappear before the tempest ever came.
Cornou prepared a study rope.
After tugging it a few times to test its strength, he tossed it over a beam, and created a noose.
Standing atop a chair, he placed his neck through its ring.
All he had to do was kick the chair away, and all would be well. He would be free from all troubles.
Cornou closed his eyes.
“What are you doing!” rang a deep voice.
It belonged to a man who knew Cornou’s true self; Baz, his trusted retainer.
Baz was the only person permitted to enter Cornou’s quarters.
Just why was he here? Cornou had clearly told him that he needed to think, and that he wanted to be alone.
“Please stop this! You must stop this, please!”
Cornou didn’t turn to face him.
He didn’t want to end his own life before his friend, but at the same time, doing so would free Baz from this troublesome lord of his.
As small children, Baz would secretly eat his carrots for him. He would help clean up the bedwetting that continued until Cornou was ten. After Cornou became King, he would patiently wake up the lord that hated early mornings, and when Cornou made decisions that he personally hated, Baz would listen to his complaints until deep into the night.
Farewell, Baz. Please live for yourself, from now on.
Cornou took a deep breath,
when suddenly a shining rectangle of light appeared with a clatter.
Cornou caught his breath.
It was a bright-lit rectangular space, that seemed to suspend in mid-air. And inside it, a woman. Her black, wet hair clung to her face, and eyes darker than the deepest night beheld him.
A small shriek escaped his throat.
“What horrid tye’ming,” groaned the low voice of the woman.
There was white froth all over her hair and her bare shoulders.
The moment he saw this, Cornou knew who she was. She was a woman who had crawled out from the land of the dead, deep beneath the earth. She was a spectre. And judging by the foam, she had come from the Froth Marsh Hell, where sinners drowned for eternity.
Suicide was forbidden. It was said that those who ended their own lives would never rejoin the circle of life, doomed to imprisonment in the depths of the earth. Cornou had always considered it a dated and ridiculous superstition, but now he loathed himself for his stupidity.
“I’m going to put on my Barth Rohb, so just stay there. Listen, okay? You absolutely can’t move from there!”
In other words, “You’d better not run from me.”
This spectre was here to drag him into the abyss.
His knees went weak, and then the strength left his legs. His teeth wouldn’t stay clamped, and clattered despite himself.
That trembling reached his whole body――――and so he lost balance.
The chair began to tilt, and the noose bit into his throat.
He had forgotten about Baz due to the terror.
“Aahhh! I told you! I told you not to move! Aahh, geeezz, how am I supposed to dress myself while you’re like that! Umm, ummm, WHAT DO I DO!? AH-, I KNOW!”
The woman slithered through the entrance to the underworld.
Her hands grasped large scissors, the length of her upper arm.
Cornou tried desperately to right the chair. But his trembling legs wouldn’t listen to him, and the noose only tightened.
Water dripped from the woman as she approached.
Foam dripped from her hair and bare body, sullying the floor beneath her.
The scissors glinted in the light.
Cornou was about to wet himself.
The drenched arms found their way to Cornou’s legs.
It was over.
Cornou had found it scary when the geezers shouted. But they were nothing compared to the horror of this spectral woman.
He would have continued living even if it led to Princess Hitow’s rejection, had he known things would end up like this.
Cornou felt tears gathering in his eyes.
The woman placed a leg onto the slanted chair, and leapt up towards him.
The leg of the righted chair slammed noisily against the ground.
For a moment, the noose loosened, and air surged through his throat.
The woman climbed up, almost clinging to Cornou’s skin, as she raised the scissors in her hands.
It was impossible to even scream.
Cornou found himself frozen to the very core.
The honey-coloured body was pressed against him, its figure slender enough that he could have easily thrust her away. But despite that, he couldn’t muster the slightest resistance.
The blades now pointed above his head.
Just as he registered the sound, the rope fell from above him. Having lost its support, Cornou fell from the chair.
Because he covered it at once, there was no injury to his head.
Still, his body had slammed against the floor.
The pain caused him to grimace as he began to sit up, when suddenly something soft fell from above.
It was the spectre woman.
By reflex he had supported her with his arm, but the sensation transmitted to his skin was surprisingly smooth.
Cornou flushed red.
It was saddening that for even a moment, a spectre had made him feel this way. More important still, was the fact that he had long pledged himself to Princess Hitow.
He pushed the soft body away from him.
And when he did, the woman blinked, and then…
“C-, CLOTHES! CLOTHES!”
The woman paled as she looked down at her body.
She’s a spectre, but she’s still a woman I guess, thought Cornou in a daze.
As he sat there vacantly, he saw her standing up in the corner of his gaze, before returning to the gate to the underworld.
But after only two, three steps, she turned on her heels, and returned to Cornou’s side.
Placing her hands on the noose around his neck, she glared at him resentfully and said,
“I’m confiscating this! I don’t know what happened, but you’re still young, so how about trying for a little longer?”
Still seated on the floor, Cornou simply nodded.
He had no idea why, but apparently she had given up on taking him to the underworld.
The woman ran across the wet floor, before jumping back into the rectangular door.
With the robe held by her chest, the now bright-red woman spoke to Cornou.
“This will not happen again, understood! This is too much for my emotions, so you’re going to have to help yourself.”
Again, Cornou nodded.
With a clatter, the door disappeared.
Cornou slowly closed his eyes, and then opened them.
Grey-white walls, and a window built into them. Through the window, verdant leaves rustling in the wind.
Things were back to normal.
The spectre had gone.
Cornou looked around the familiar room.
There was a saying that went, ‘once on shore, pray no more’.
Perhaps he might normally forget the terror, and wonder if it was all a dream, but the sharp blades of the large scissors seemed to caution him from the side, and neither had the froth disappeared from the floor.
Speaking of which…
Cornou turned around, and found Baz slumped against the wall in front of the doorway. Apparently his legs had given way. He was sitting there staring in the direction of the now-gone spectre, forgetting to even blink.
“Didn’t you need something?” asked Cornou.
“Y-, Yes. Right. That’s right.”
Still looking dazed, Baz turned to face Cornou.
“Princess Hitow is here.”
Cornou doubted his ears.
Although they had known each other for a long time, when royalty visited each other, they would always send a messenger, days in advance.
But this rashness was quite like her.
Without knowing, the corners of his lips rose into a smile.
She was probably here about the wedding.
Cornou stood up.
He lightly struck his clothes to straighten them out.
Perhaps Princess Hitow was here to cancel the engagement. If that was the case, perhaps she would spit harsh words of rejection at him. But mysteriously, he didn’t think of running.
If there was something about him she didn’t like, then all he had to do was correct it.
If the problem was actually on her side, then all they had to do was work together to fix it.
As long as she was there, effort, endurance, he would give it his all.
Once he imagined meeting that dreadful spectre again, it felt like there was nothing he couldn’t do.
Heading to the doorway, he held out his arm to Baz.
After he pulled him up, he saw Baz’s mouth wrinkle into a smile.
“I’m sure it’s good news.”
TL Note: Timing(taimingu) and Bathrobe(baasuroobu) are loanwords from English, so he can’t make heads of tails of them.