༺ Problem Child Counseling (3) ༻
I climbed the back mountain again with Saladin.
As Saladin climbed the mountain trail, he opened his mouth as if he couldn’t understand at all.
“Why on earth are we climbing this again for counseling? We just came down a while ago, didn’t we?”
“It’s more efficient than sitting still and talking. You have to exercise after eating.”
I thought it was a decent idea, but it didn’t seem to be for Saladin.
To be honest, I was secretly surprised while climbing the mountain with Saladin like this.
I didn’t know that instructor Lirya’s counseling would be this effective. I didn’t do anything other than feeding him as instructor Lirya said.
When he suddenly requested counseling, I was so choked up that it was unlike me.
What kind of emotional change had taken place?
Saladin didn’t seem to think about opening his mouth while climbing, and he just climbed the mountain silently, slowly catching his breath.
Whether he was embarrassed by the fact that he had climbed the back mountain to escape alone just a moment ago and now was climbing with the instructor, Saladin walked with a reddened face and a scowling expression.
Since the back mountain was not a big mountain, it didn’t take long to reach the top.
After arriving at the destination, Saladin took a moment to catch his breath and sat down again in the shade of the tree where he had been sitting earlier.
It was the same place and the same person, but the atmosphere felt quite different from before.
Saladin remained silent for a long time even after reaching the top. He sat in the shade and quietly looked at the scenery, and I leaned against the tree, waiting for him to be ready to speak.
Saladin’s gaze had been fixed on one place since a while ago.
I followed his gaze. There, a part of the forest had been brutally torn apart in a straight line.
Saladin looked at the scene of destruction I had created and slowly spoke.
“Instructor… have you ever felt powerless?”
I didn’t answer him. It didn’t feel like he wanted an answer somehow.
Whether my guess was correct or not, Saladin asked a question and immediately continued with a heavy tone.
“I feel it every day. Every single day, without fail.”
Saladin’s voice was quiet, but it contained deep emotions that had been suppressed for a long time.
I asked as calmly as possible.
“…Because I was born as the son of a spy.”
I hesitated for a moment at his words. Going all the way back to the beginning?
Somehow, I had a feeling that this story would be a long one.
I almost regretted agreeing to give counseling, but I maintained a poker face, not letting it show.
Saladin sighed deeply and continued his long story.
“Al-Kamil kingdom practices fratricide. The most suitable heir inherits everything, and the Sultan does not share power with his other siblings. My mother had many children, and only one of them could become the heir… so competition for succession among the princes is natural. Losing means death.”
“There must be more than one or two siblings. Do they all get killed?”
“Haha… It’s unbelievable, right? But the Sultan never spares his siblings. It’s a tradition in the kingdom. In the past, there was even a Sultan who killed as many as nineteen brothers right after his coronation.”
I couldn’t casually comment on the customs of that country, but I couldn’t help but frown.
As instructor Lirya said, being born into royalty in Al-Kamil was not a good thing at all.
Saladin continued his story while wiping his face dry.
“My mother was of low status even within the Sultan’s harem. I was crowned as a prince because I was the first-born son, but I was just a first prince in name with no support base. So it’s only natural that I would be pushed aside by my younger brother who was born later.”
“Your younger brother?”
“…Prince Adil, the second prince. Unlike me, he had everything.”
Saladin spoke, biting his lips.
His eyes were filled with anger as if talking about a sworn enemy rather than a younger brother.
“He was called a genius for his outstanding swordsmanship and received all kinds of support from my mother’s family. He also received more love from the Sultan. He had a ruthless personality and had no qualms about killing his siblings for power.”
Judging by his tone, it seemed that this Prince Adil was now a strong contender for the next Sultan of the Al-Kamil kingdom.
I nodded and said,
“Did you come to the empire after being pushed aside by your younger brother?”
“…I wasn’t pushed aside from the beginning, you know? The situation was tough, but as the first prince, there were people who supported me despite the difficulties. My mentor, my mother’s friend…”
Saladin clenched his teeth and slammed the ground.
His voice was full of anger and resentment.
“They all died because of the war against the Demon King. If the empire and the alliance had sent support, maybe they could have survived…!!”
I crossed my arms and kept silent.
To be honest, I had some sympathy for the situation during the war.
Of course, it wasn’t that the Human Alliance ignored Al-Kamil’s request for support when they had the means to do so.
The Demon King’s army, which had invaded from the north, attacked all human countries adjacent to the demon continent, and later used guerrilla1guerrilla unit-member of an irregular military force fighting small-scale, limited actions, in concert with an overall political-military strategy, against conventional military forces. units to raid the rear.
No one had the luxury of time in a situation where war was everywhere. I, of course, along with the other seven heroes and the Human Alliance army, fought desperately against the invasion of the Demon King’s army without a moment’s rest.
However, it was also true that the empire and the alliance countries, prioritizing the defense of their own land, effectively ignored Al-Kamil.
The top brass of the alliance countries, including the empire, claimed it wasn’t true, but those in the know were well aware that it was the truth.
As someone who knew the truth, I decided to respect Saladin’s position.
Saladin, after venting his anger for a moment, shook his head as if shaking something off.
“…There’s no point in talking about this with an instructor. Anyway, after the war, my base kept shrinking, and I couldn’t see any solution. That’s when a few friendly people told me: I should save my life at least and seek refuge in the empire…”
He clenched both hands and trembled.
“I… I wanted to live. I didn’t want to die so meaninglessly.”
Saladin clenched his wrist tightly as he spoke. From that, I could feel his vague fear of death and a strong sense of guilt for an unknown reason.
The reason for the guilt became clear soon.
Saladin opened his mouth with difficulty, wearing a dark expression.
“I left my younger sister behind in my homeland.”
“I don’t think you’re talking about Adil.”
“…Not him, my younger sister. Her name is Sisila.”
“Is she your blood sister?”
“No, we have different mothers. But what does that matter? She was the one who made my life bearable in that suffocating palace. She was practically my only hope in that hellish place…”
The only hope in a hellish place.
Without realizing it, someone’s face came to my mind. I deliberately erased that face and focused back on Saladin’s story.
Saladin continued with a distorted face.
“But… I lost contact with her not long ago. Since a woman cannot become a sultan, I thought Adil wouldn’t bother her…!”
Desperation seeped into Saladin’s face. His voice was full of clear self-blame and regret.
“I was stupid. I should have brought Sisila to the empire somehow… I should have escaped together using any means necessary! This idiot, this moron, this imbecile…!!”
The angry curses were directed at no one else but himself.
Saladin wiped his face with both hands. I saw tears welling up on his twisted face.
Seeing that, I pretended not to notice and turned my head to look at the passing clouds.
Saladin silently shook his shoulders and cried without a sound.
In the clear sky and passing clouds, a man’s sobbing lingered for quite a while.
And a little later.
Having vented his long-suppressed emotions, Saladin seemed to have calmed down a bit and opened his mouth with red-rimmed eyes.
“That, uh… thank you…”
It was a whisper as small as an ant crawling.
Although my hearing was able to catch even that tiny sound, I pretended not to hear it.
“I can’t hear you.”
“Th… th, thank you! Ugh, geez…!”
Saladin rubbed his reddened eyes with his arm.
And then he spoke in a much calmer tone.
“It felt like talking to a wall since you didn’t say anything, but it was quite alright. You didn’t pity or criticize me, so it was exactly what I needed… Somehow it turned into a complaint rather than counseling, but it feels better to have confided in someone.”
It was a bit awkward to see a man being shy, but it was a relief to see the burden on the shoulders of my student lighten up.
“Did you miss the class because of your sister?”
Saladin scratched the back of his head as he spoke.
“Yeah, well… I lost contact with her, so I sent a letter to one of my few remaining subordinates, and I received a reply this morning. They said she hasn’t been seen in the palace… I just couldn’t concentrate on class.”
“There’s no need to look at me like that. I’ve thought about it calmly, and if it’s not execution but disappearance, there’s still a possibility she’s alive, right? There’s also the possibility that Sisila escaped on her own…”
Well, Saladin, the first prince, barely managed to escape with the help of the empire. Could a princess, who had even less support and power, escape the palace on her own?
The possibility seemed very slim, but I didn’t mention it.
Saladin would know that better than anyone else.
“I’ve thought about it, and if I go back to the kingdom now, I’ll just be killed. So, to prevent that, I have to become stronger.”
Saladin looked at the traces of destruction carved into the distant forest as he spoke.
“If I become that strong… I won’t lose loved ones ever again, will I?”
I was momentarily at a loss for words. While I was pondering what answer to give, Saladin seemed to find his own answer in my silence and nodded as he spoke.
“From now on, I’ll concentrate on class without doing anything unnecessary. And with the others in the class… well, if I feel like it, I’ll talk to them.”
Saladin spoke with a sullen face, seemingly trying to hide his embarrassment.
Seeing that, I slowly opened my mouth.
“You asked me earlier. Have you ever felt powerless?”
“Huh? Oh, well… yes.”
I nodded slightly.
“Yes, I have.”
Saladin’s eyes widened in surprise.
“You too, Instructor? Well, I guess you weren’t strong from the beginning… So, what did you do?”
“I tried to become stronger.”
Just like you are now.
Then Saladin’s eyes brightened as he spoke.
“Oh, really? Hearing that makes me feel a bit better.”
Saladin grinned with a smug expression.
“So, you had a time like mine, right?”
After the lengthy counseling session, I returned to the dormitory with Saladin.
Saladin submitted his absence slip for the afternoon, but I still had classes to teach, so I headed to the lecture hall on the school tram.
At that moment, a voice suddenly echoed in my head.
I quietly closed my eyes and tried to erase the voice.
Because I knew this was just a simple hallucination.
However, after the counseling with Saladin, her face and voice, which I had been continuously forgetting, gradually came back to life in my mind.
“It’s not your fault, Eon.”
If Ella smiled brightly like the sun, she was like a lone star shining in the deep darkness, becoming my only hope.
She, who was once my only light.
“Please… don’t get up now.”
Now, she has become one of my two nightmares.
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- 1guerrilla unit-member of an irregular military force fighting small-scale, limited actions, in concert with an overall political-military strategy, against conventional military forces.