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The Lionheart Emperor - Year 994

'Forgive me. You may leave now.'

'Yes, sir. Please call for me if anything happens.'

The head butler, now in his later years, bowed before leaving. The other man sighed deeply as he lied down on the bed.

He was elderly and sick. His well-trained body was as sturdy as a fortress still, and very few would ever doubt the condition of his health. However, he was clearly aging, weakening, and felt his end looming over the horizon.

The Lionheart Emperor, otherwise known as Dreichels Reise Arnor.

He was the 73rd emperor, and nearing the age of 70.

After ending the five year long civil war known as the War of the Lions, Dreichels had been working tirelessly for 40 years.

Although he was enthroned the year the war ended, he had lost his Nordic friends and parted with the witch. He and his vassals worked hard to restore the empire.

(I have no regrets.)

(No need to worry about the children, either...)

The empress had also urged him to give up on thoughts of the past. She was the daughter of a marquis who was assassinated during the civil war, and although she was much younger than he, they fell deeply in love and she bore him two sons and two daughters.

Although she passed several years earlier, their children remained healthy and would shoulder the burden of the reconstructed empire's future.

(The next generation is being raised as well...)

In the first half of the war, his best friend, Roland Vander, gave his life to protect him, and now Arnor raised his son. The son was already in his 40's now, and he flourished as a martial arts master while serving as a military officer.

Then there was Thors Military Academy.

He had established the academy 20 years prior. It was a place for the best and the brightest, accepting students from various backgrounds.

(He'd be surprised...)

He smiled, thinking of his good friend that had fallen into a deep slumber at the end of the civil war.

The academy was constructed at the place where he now rested.
(These long years weren't for nothing, then.)

(As long as I can endure that thing before Aidios comes for me, that is...)
He looked apathetically to the corner of the room.

There waited the nameless darkness.

...................

Today, it came again to speak to him.

Begging pathetically.

Threatening with intimidation.

Subtle and inviting.

He knew what it was. Ever since that day, 40 years ago, when he took the throne.

(I suppose I should be happy the children and their descendants were not cursed...)

If he were not the man with a lion's heart, it would have surely been the start of unbearable suffering and despair.

'...Dreichels?'

An incredibly nostalgic and harmonious voice.

Long, golden, flowing hair suddenly appeared.

『獅子心皇帝・後日譚』 S0994

「すまぬな、もう下がってよいぞ」

「は、何かありましたらお声掛けください」

壮年の執事長が一礼して退出し、"彼"はそっと溜息をつきながらベッドに背を預ける。

"彼"は年老い、病んでいた——鍛え抜かれた体躯は、いまだ些かも衰えておらず、大抵の者はその壮健ぶりを疑いすらしないであろう。

しかし"彼"は確実に老い、衰え、最期を予感していた。



——七十歳を迎えた第73代皇帝、

獅子心皇帝ドライケルス・ライゼ・アルノールは。

5年に渡る内戦《獅子戦役》終結から40年あまり、ドライケルスは一時も休むことなく走り続けてきた。

終戦の年に即位し、ノルドの友や魔女と別れを惜しみつつ、臣下となった仲間たちと帝国の復興にひたすら尽くした。

(——悔いはないはずだ)

(子らも心配いらぬだろう……)

かつての想いを振りきるように妃も娶った。

内戦中、彼を支えながら謀殺された侯爵の息女で歳の離れた妹のような存在だったが、ひたむきに慕い続けてくる姿に心動かされて妃こ迎え、後にニ男ニ女をもうけた。

その妃も数年前に亡くしたが、息子と娘たちは壮健で復興を遂げた帝国の未来を担ってくれると確信している。

(後進も育っている……)

内戦の前半、彼をかばって命を落とした腹心にして親友、口ラン・ヴァンダールの忘れ形見の成長を見届けられたのも彼にとっては満足いくことだった。

既に四十代、軍の要職に就きながら武術師範や守護職として活躍する彼は、もう一人の息子そのものだった。

そして《トールズ士官学院》——

かつて仲間たちと語り合った、身分を問わぬ軍学校についても20年前に設立し、既に優秀な卒業生を数多く輩出していた。

("彼"も驚くであろうな……)

終戦の年、別れを惜しみつつ永き眠りについた戦友(とも)のことを思い出して、口元に笑みを浮かべる。

士官学院が建てられたのは、まさに"彼"を見出し、再び"彼"が眠りについた地だったのである。

(ならば余の生も無駄ではなかったのであろう)

(女神の迎えが来るまでに"あれ"を凌げればだが……)

ふと無感動に部屋の片隅を見やる。

そこには名状しがたき"闇"がうずくまっていた。

『——————————————』

それは今日も繰り返し、飽くことなく語りかけてくる。

乞うように哀れに。

脅すように猛々しく。

誘うように密やかに。

その正体を彼は知っていた。

40年前、帝位を継いだその日から。

(倖いなのは子や末裔(すえ)には祟らぬことか……)

そして——今日もまた、獅子の心を持つ男でなければ到底耐え切れぬような苦痛と絶望の時間が始まるのだった。

「……ドライケルス?」

——懐かしい、あまりに懐かしい鈴のような声と共に黄金を熔かした髪をなびかせた"その人"が顕れるまでは。

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