Arc 1, New Moon
After the man left, the room had grown cold. Ernst had long since realized that the fire in the hearth had gone out. Shivering from the extreme cold, Ernst curled up his quaking, trembling body within the cold bedding.
That man, just what did he say…
Even though Ernst had submerged himself in blankets, sleep never came for him.
Morning eventually came, and Ernst hadn’t even gotten a wink of sleep. Seeing that the candles and firewood had burnt themselves out, the butler turned a condemning glance on Ernst. With his head fuzzy from a lack of sleep, Ernst ate his breakfast, which was the same food as yesterday.
In his office, Ernst cast his eyes over some of the documents that the head butler had gathered.
The number of villages in Meissen, the number of towns, their population, demographics, militia count, the resources within the fief, the resources they imported from other territories, the number of livestock, the acreage of farmland, the rate of usage. The relationship with the neighboring Lux Kingdom, the relationship with Grude Continent, the previous Lord’s reign.
There was no end to the things he had to know, and even if he did learn them all, there was still more to come.
Yet not a single thing stuck in Ernst’s mind. It wasn’t because of his lack of sleep. Even Ernst knew that.
Last night, what was that man saying? Ernst had deliberated over the meaning of what that man had told him all through the night.
Loved him to the bottom of his heart. Loved him. L, o, v, e.
Ernst now noticed that the concept of ‘loving a person’ was a gaping wide blank in his understanding.
After all, he had been the crown prince. For sixty years since his birth, up until a few months ago, he had been the crown prince. This wasn’t an existence where he could frivolously fall in love, and the partner whom Ernst was to love was to be some powerful noble’s daughter, as decided by the leaders of the Kingdom.
It was an existence where, regardless of Ernst’s wishes, he would have to usher in several people as his consorts. Ernst’s circumstances had nothing to do with falling in love with anyone.
That was how it was supposed to be. Ernst himself had thought that this was how it should be.
Falling in love…
What type of feeling was it, to fall in love?
All throughout the night, he had thought this over.
Even now, while he was looking through the information on his territory, most of his head was filled with that matter.
In the royal palace, people were ‘things’. 
The head butler, the butlers, the maids, and the royal guard, all of them were ‘things’. They were the same as the desk, same as the chair, same as the walls, same as the pillars. Even if the person were replaced, nothing would change except for the face; it was no different from re-upholstering the back of a chair.
It was for this reason that Ernst never asked for anyone’s name. He had looked at them the same way he looked at objects. The ambassadors from other countries who had come to visit the royal palace were also ‘things’. There was no difference between anyone or anything.
Ernst, who couldn’t discern people from objects, let alone pick out individual people, couldn’t possibly do something like fall in love.
But, he pondered.
From now on, he was free. He wasn’t royalty; he was going to live as just any other noble now. Ernst could now choose his own partner to love at his own discretion.
In that case, he considered.
Do I fall in love with that man?
He had never considered something like taking a man as his partner. It couldn’t be helped. He had been royalty, after all. That was something who had to leave behind a child no matter what. That wouldn’t be possible if his partner were a man.
But from now on, he was free. In the first place, the races of Schell continent lived longer lives than races from other continents, so they didn’t find much worth in having children. Marriage itself involved a painstaking exchange of contracts, and only royalty and nobles bothered to go through with it.
Love between the common people was more free. Ernst had also witnessed this with his own eyes in those few months he had spent at the villa. There were male companions, female companions, and also lovers for only a few days.
That’s right, those people had all freely loved, and Ernst had also become just as free as everyone else.
Freedom, what a great word that was. Ernst looked out the window of his office.
Here, there was no tall fence to obstruct his view, and he could see the enormous forest spread out over the distance. If Ernst wanted to do so, he could even go and run over to that forest as he pleased.
Even now, Ernst had never gone running before. Once spring came and the snow melted, he wanted to try running up to that forest. It was an idea that made his heart thump with excitement.
Aah, no, wait. He had a much more urgent problem to think about than spring.
That was, ‘falling in love’.
What was it that the man had said? Right, he’d said that he wanted to stay by Ernst’s side.
Ernst had been happy. There was someone who had said to him that they wanted to stay with him.
Was this what it meant to be in love, he wondered.
No, that wasn’t right, was it. Ernst recalled his memories of those faces that he would be able to recognize, even now.
If those three hunters had told him that they wanted to stay with him, he would also be happy. If the villa’s butlers and maids said it, that would also make him happy. This feeling wasn’t how it felt to be in love.
At some point, it became time for lunch. He blankly ate the same thing he had eaten in the morning.
He kept thinking it over until his head felt like it was going to burst. He wished he could separate it from the neck up and just leave it somewhere.
There was nothing he could do cooped up in his office, so he went to take a walk inside the manor. On second glance, it was a shabby mansion. Bare stone walls without any wallpaper spanned the corridors. Here and there, the eaves of the roof were broken, letting some snow blow inside. Couldn’t they fix it? Even though he was inside the mansion, Ernst wore a heavy cloak as he walked.
Had it always been this lacking, or had it only been dirt before? This shabby mansion’s only benefit was its spaciousness. Even after walking for a long time, Ernst hadn’t come across any butlers or maids working here. It seemed like they had limited the areas where they worked.
The servants in Meissen were extraordinarily pragmatic, he found.
A fine, authoritative voice drifted over on the wind. Ernst walked down the corridor, then looked out a window.
The militiamen were training. No, to be more precise, the stern-eyed commanding officer and that Dunbertian were sparring.
As expected of the leader of the militia, the officer’s movements looked sharp and fast to Ernst’s eyes. But he wasn’t a match for a natural-born warrior, and the Dunbertian easily sidestepped him.
Soon after, the other militiamen who had been watching from the sidelines stood, and they turned their swords on the Dunbertian. Though the commanding officer tried to stop them, they didn’t hear his order, and a large number of people dashed forward.
Without even realizing it, Ernst rushed toward him. All he could think was that even if the man was Dunbertian, there was no way he wouldn’t be hurt when fighting against that many people.
But then, the way the Dunbertian held himself changed – just as that thought passed through Ernst’s head, the Dunbertian evaded all of the swords pointing toward him, and he stood in the place the militiamen had just left. Some of the militiamen let out sounds of amazement.
Ernst was so relieved that he carelessly patted his chest and gazed at the man in admiration. That enormous body was capable of making such vivid movements.
After that, the frustrated militiamen who wanted to fight again, along with the militiamen who thought it would be amusing and pulled out their swords, together formed twelve opponents who faced the Dunbertian. Yet in the end, not a single person was able to land a hit on him.
Amidst the exhausted Kleber who collapsed to the ground, the Dunbertian alone stood without losing a single breath.
 This hasn’t been apparent in the translation, but all this time, whenever Ernst refers directly to another person (usually his servants), he uses the word 者 (mono) rather than 人 (hito). Though both words mean ‘person’, 者 is also a homonym of 物 (mono), which means ‘thing’. 者 is used mainly in formal situations; it seems to denote a lowered status, so people may use 者 to refer to themselves in order to be polite/humble, while a superior may call others 者 to show they have higher rank. In this particular sentence, Ernst says “人はモノ” or ‘[In the royal palace,] People are things’. It’s implied that he now understands that people are living and breathing beings that he can feel connected to. After leaving the royal palace, he has learned that others aren’t ‘things’, they are ‘people’.