Present day Paradis, a year and a half after the war with Marley
“Hard to rank, there’s not just one,” Philip told Prince Eren.
“You can tell me the top three,” the prince offered as a compromise.
They were at the royal palace, playing between their school lessons. Princess Ymir was away with Queen Historia and Armin Arlert on a diplomatic mission abroad. They’d been invited by the royal family of a small country called Kramden. It was Historia’s first official foreign visit, and she took her eldest with her.
The spare was left behind on the island. Levi Ackermann and Ernst Hoffmann, the Lord Chamberlain, were adamant that one of the royals be safe at home in case anything happened to the Queen and the heir to the throne.
Jürgen Schmitz was working at Hange’s lab, while Jean and Mikasa each had work to do on opposite ends of the island and couldn’t bring Philip with them. On days like this he was dropped off at the palace. He’d just turned seven, while the twins were a year younger at six years of age. It had been a year since Philip was welcomed into the Kirschteins’ home.
Today the two boys were playing a card game devised by Layla Graf, Mikasa’s aide-de-camp. The stack consisted of questions you picked at random and had to take turns answering. The question stumping Philip was: What do you consider to be the happiest day of your life?
“One was the time I was at the police station after I confessed to my crime. The constable locked me up in a broom closet and I thought I was a goner,” Philip said. “But then, Dad came back for me. That’s got to be the happiest day ever.”
What happened was that, after Jean and Constable Schäfer left him in the interrogation room to talk in private, it was only the constable who came back into the room. Philip was then locked in the broom closet. He thought Jean had abandoned him after learning of what he had done. After a bout of sobbing, he fell asleep on the floor.
He awoke to a large, warm hand shaking his shoulder. He thought it was the constable coming to take him to the gallows, but instead, there was Jean. The light coming from outside the door outlined his tall figure. It was definitely Admiral Jean Kirschtein. Philip’s eyes shot wide open, and he got up to rub them, not believing what he was seeing.
“Sorry it took me so long,” Jean said. “Let’s get you cleaned up. We’re going to the capital. You’ll be staying with me and my wife for a while.”
It turned out that Jean had gone to buy clothes for him. Philip washed up in the bathroom, and put on his new garments. There were even a vest and a cap, which he found delightful. When they arrived at the capital, Jean brought him to the shoemaker’s and got him a new pair of shoes.
“Ones that actually fit. I’ve never had shoes that fit before,” he told the prince. “The admiral coming back for me that day, I’ll never forget that moment. The light from the door formed a halo around him. It was like a god coming down from heaven, to save me.”
“Uncle Jean’s the best,” Prince Eren heartily agreed. “What’s the other happiest day?”
“When Mum and Dad decided to adopt me a month later,” was the reply. “They told me I would get a new name. And that I’d legally be their son. I asked if I could call them mum and dad and they smiled and hugged me and said yes. That’s got to be the happiest day ever.”
Prince Eren was grinning. “I’m glad they adopted you. Did you know, the moment you asked if you could call them mum and dad was one of the happiest moments in Auntie Mikasa’s life?”
“Did she tell you that?”
“No, I overheard her telling Mum,” was the prince’s reply.
An indescribable joy bubbled up in Philip’s heart. He had no idea it meant that much to Mikasa. For him, it was the greatest honor and privilege, to get to have the strongest, kindest people he’d ever met as his new parents.
“I know the third happiest day of your life,” Prince Eren said, grinning at the other boy.
“You’ve a knack for this stuff, don’t you?” Philip remarked. “Tell you what, you turn your back while I write it down in my notebook, three yards away from you. Afterwards you tell me what I wrote.”
They proceed to do just that. Philip scribbled, closed the notebook and walked over to the prince. “So, what’d I write?”
Without missing a beat the prince replied, “You wrote about me, and Lily.”
Philip stared at him, dumbfounded. He had written that meeting the twins and becoming friends with them was the third happiest day of his life. “How’d you know?”
Prince Eren simply shrugged. “Like you said, I’ve a knack for this stuff.”
“Can you read everything people think?”
“No. Just the ones they feel strongly about.”
“You’re really strange, but in a good way,” Philip opined. And with that he let it go.
What would have freaked out adults he simply accepted as one of his friend’s special powers. For it was Prince Eren that Philip somehow naturally gravitated to. For some reason, he found the prince’s eerie intuition deeply consoling.
He was a bundle of contradictions, the prince. On the one hand he was a mischievous, boisterous little boy, always with pranks up his sleeve. He seemed to be constantly on the lookout for ways to make the grownups around him jump.
One time he handed a largish, nondescript box to the governess. “I’ve something for you, Miss Sedara,” he said, with studied innocence. She took off the lid and out jumped a jack-in-the-box depicting the Colossus Titan. The exposed muscles and tendons on its face looked incredibly realistic.
“Eeek,” she shrieked, dropping the box in surprise.
The prince was on the floor in stitches, jubilant over her reaction. It took him a good month to paint the doll to that level of realism. He convinced Jürgen Schmitz to help him with it in the military lab, when the older boy’s work was over.
“For my birthday,” he explained to the puzzled but ultimately cooperative Jürgen. The bladesmith’s son, by then, had gotten used to the prince’s shenanigans. How many times did he become party to the prince’s plot without even realising it?
They engage Hange Zoe’s help and advice in making the doll look as close as possible to the real thing. The unsuspecting scientist simply assumed the boys were making a toy for themselves. Now that the Nine Titans no longer existed, it seemed that nowadays children wanted them as dolls.
Prince Eren would be working hard on his pranks, or gamboling at the playground with his friends, or quarreling with his sister, or whinging to his tutors, or trying to weasel his way out of his chores, being every bit as ordinary as any child his age.
But on the other hand, there were times when he showed great maturity, coming up with unbelievable insights into other people. It was as if he possessed the wisdom of a thousand years.
One time Philip and the twins were passing by one of the servants’ offices in the palace and overheard two of the household staff arguing loudly.
“Hey, Mr Hartford, why’re you so upset with Miss Bancroft?” Prince Eren inquired, poking his head through the door.
“Well, Your Highness, Miss Bancroft here was twenty minutes late to our inventory meeting, three weeks in a row,” explained the head butler, glaring at the head housekeeper. She glared right back at him.
“That’s not why you’re upset,” Prince Eren pointed out. “You’re in love with Miss Bancroft but are too shy to tell her, and you’re upset because she’s begun dating a bailiff from the neighboring town. As for Miss Bancroft, she fancies you, too, and has for quite some time. But when she’s around you’re always so cold and aloof, making her believe you don’t care for her at all. She deliberately comes late to your meetings in hopes that you will think of her and notice she exists. And she’d rather have you furious at her than act indifferent towards her.”
The two stare at him, jaws dropping, cheeks bursting into flame. How could this royal child possibly know all that? The look on their faces was a mixture of shock and fear bordering on terror.
“Don’t do that, Len,” Princess Ymir reprimanded her twin. “You freak people out.”
“Oh, I’m the freaky one? You’re the one who talks to stray cats on the street!” Prince Eren retorted. They went on to argue about who the freakier one was between them. They couldn’t decide, so they forced their friend to break the tie.
Philip threw his hands up, nearly toppled over by the flashing of their uncanny, different-colored eyes. One emerald eye, one sapphire eye per heart-shaped face. How very peculiar and yet beautiful at the same time. Did the twins have any idea how stunning they looked, how overwhelming they could be sometimes?
“You’re both equally freaky,” he answered, not wanting to take sides, fearful of the consequences of doing so, adding for good measure, “but I like it! I like you both very much!”
As Prince Eren grew, he went on to drive everyone around him near mad with anxiety because he had an uncanny ability that many interpreted as mind reading. Where did his astonishing insights come from? What was the secret to his remarkable empathy? It baffled and perplexed the grownups around him.
But to his new young friend, he was just Len being Len.
They pull out another card from the stack. What do you consider to be the saddest day of your life, it asked.
Prince Eren told Philip of that time when Princess Ymir’s beloved tropical greenhouse was savaged by a blight and every single plant in it died. She was so distraught she cried for days. “It was as if a part of her died. She’d spent an entire year collecting the seeds and plants. Her sorrow was so heavy it made my chest hurt. None of us could do anything about it. That was the hardest part.”
“Lily’s sorrow became your sorrow…”
“Yeah. She didn’t cry as much when the old stray dogs and cats she took in died. She said, it’s the circle of life. But the plants, she blamed herself for the blight. She said it could’ve been prevented. It’s the most painful, when you think something’s your fault.”
Philip remembered the first few times he saw the twins. Immediately he felt them to be different from anyone he’s ever met.
“Lily’s such a peculiar girl. It’s like she can talk to plants and animals. Or am I imagining things?” Philip had asked the prince.
“Nope. She can, in a way. Lily likes to converse even with them rats in the sewer.”
“Does she speak with bugs, too?”
“Don’t think so. Only mammals and reptiles, I think.”
“Wish I could converse with snakes. Be real cool…”
“You can talk to them through Lily,” Prince Eren had suggested.
In time, he had gotten used to their peculiarity. He chalked it up as having something to do with their royal mother and titan shifter father.
Waving the card, Prince Eren said, “What about you, Philip? Your birth father beat you up a lot. That must’ve made you sad.”
“How’d you know? Don’t remember telling you…” It was a part of his past that he wanted to completely forget.
“Nope, you didn’t. I just know. What was it like?”
“After a while, you get used to it,” was the reply. He put the violence his biological father rained down upon him to the man’s own upbringing. “I think it’s an inherited violence.” The word had been taught to him by Princess Ymir, who was currently doing a peas experiment with the aid of one of Hange’s lab assistants.
“My father’s father beat him, the way his father’s father did, and so on,” Philip continued matter-of-factly. “My birth mum’s mother, too, hit her kids back then. Aunt Edith told me their mum had no qualms about backhanding them in front of other people. So both my birth mum and my aunt beat me also, with the slipper or shoe. My birth dad kicked me plenty, or beat me with the stick, the belt, the fire iron…”
The brunet boy gazed at the blond one, empathising. He’s rationalising the violence, trying to normalise it, trying to make it sound okay so that he’ll feel okay about himself, the prince thought. But he said nothing along this vein. Instead he remarked, “It must’ve hurt a lot.”
“Well, if something happens enough, it becomes routine. I wasn’t the only one. A lot of the kids in my neighborhood got beat up by adults. I thought it was normal. But it did hurt. Very much so. When you’re a five-year-old kid and a grownup is beating you, all you’re thinking is: When is this gonna stop?” Philip shuddered in remembrance.
Prince Eren listened, wincing the whole time. “Glad the adults in your life aren’t beating you up anymore. Mum scolds me, but she doesn’t hit me. I’ve been lucky.”
“It’s great now, with my new parents,” Philip told him. “They’re the best. I couldn’t be happier.”
The prince decided the card he picked was too depressing. He wanted Philip to keep up his high spirits. “Let’s pick a new card,” he suggested.
“No, I want to tell you about the saddest day of my life,” said his friend. “Though I reckon I was more angry than sad.”
Gazing at him, Prince Eren mused, “It’s got something to do with Auntie Mikasa…she was so heartbroken that your heart broke, too.”
Philip looked at him in wonder and shook his head in amazement, muttering, “You read my mind again.”
“Uh huh,” the prince shrugged nonchalantly, before demanding, “but what happened exactly? Tell me.”
Thank you so much for reading! Please consider sharing a thought or two in the comment section below. Your comments give me life and are a real source of encouragement. xoxo, hana
The scene with the household servants is an homage to the masterpiece of a novel The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Unspoken love is a common theme in Ishiguro’s novels, making them painful and frustrating but also poignant and unforgettable. The novel is pure perfection as it is. Yet I can’t help but wonder, what would have happened if the two protagonists had been more honest with each other? Since I’m into AU fanfics, here’s me wanting to give the butler and housekeeper the potential for a happy ending together, by giving them a nudge in the right direction via Prince Eren XD
Next – Chapter 18: The Saddest Day