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First, a bit of context: there is a knight who grew up with the princess, and they were very close; in the end they killed each other (which is said in the prelude, and then the story kinda goes back).

The princess then is shown as ruthless, executing people deemed as rebels and their families with cruelty, like first killing the young son just to make the parents suffer.

Meanwhile the knight is shown as blind and is treated as a rebel by her former comrades.

In the scene, the knight is figthing with her former teacher, and the point of view is another character.

This is the sentence I'm not sure about:

「先生に勝つには、相打ちしかない。だが私はまだ死ねない。陛下を残しては死ねないのです」

(陛下……?)

一瞬、リーベルヴァイン王の顔が浮かぶ。残虐な処刑と、あの無慈悲な高笑い。しかし、それが「陛下を残しては」という今の台詞と結びつかない。

I read 陛下を残しては死ねないのです in two possible ways:

  • "If Her Majesty is still alive, I can't die" (with this meaning of ては), and since the knight is a rebel and the princess a tyrant, it'd make sense if the first wanted to stop the second; but I don't understand how それが「陛下を残しては」という今の台詞と結びつかない follows: I think it means "That [the cruel executions and loud laughters] doesn't fit the sentence 'If Her Majesty is still alive'", which doesn't really follows.

  • "I can't die leaving Her Majesty behind", which - if 残す as "to leave behind" as a meaning of abandoning - would make sense with the following part, since the point of view character wouldn't understand why the girl would be reluctant to abandon such a tyrant; in this case, ては sounds to me like an "and" ("I can't leave her behind and die"), but I'm not sure if 残す can have that implication, nor if it's right to read ては that way.

Despite the princess (now ruler) being a girl, リーベルヴァイン王 refers to her, since the point of view character saw her doing those executions, and thought about her "あれが、リーベルヴァイン王".

I think the knight's sentence should make sense given the background (knight and princess know each other since they were child, and they were close), but the narrator - not knowing their background - sees a mismatch beetwen the tyrant she knows and what the knight said; I think the second meaning is the right one ("I can't die leaving Her Majesty behind"), but I'm not sure and I am unsure about 残す and ては as said above.

The quote is from 僕の愛したジークフリーデ vol. 1, by Matsuyama Takeshi.

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    If the passage is a quote from a published work, I suggest including the title and the author. That might provide additional context, and it's generally nice to have proper credits. Jun 22 at 13:40
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    Why did you have to read ては any differently to understand the knight’s line in the way you did in the last paragraph? Your English translation “I can't die leaving Her Majesty behind” is exactly the same as above.
    – aguijonazo
    Jun 22 at 15:47
  • @YusukeMatsubara you are right, I added them.
    – Mauro
    Jun 22 at 17:46
  • @aguijonazo I wrote the "I can't die and leave her behind" to highlight how I am reading ては to get that meaning, "I can't die leaving Her Majesty behind" is just a more natural way to rephrase that, but the meaning of ては behind both translation is (as far as I understand the sentence) the same; since I'm not sure about the translation, I wanted to explicitly say how I was reading that part to get that meaning.
    – Mauro
    Jun 22 at 18:00
  • From how you phrase your question it's hard to understand what you think "makes sense" and what doesn't. Are you expecting what the knight says to NOT make sense so that the narrator's confusion makes sense, but it does make sense to you and therefore you are confused why the narrator is confused?
    – aguijonazo
    Jun 22 at 18:56

2 Answers 2

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You might find the sentence easier to understand if は is moved to a different position, like this.

[陛下を残して死ぬこと]できないのです。

What the knight says she can’t do is dying leaving Her Majesty behind. Here, て can be understood as indicating the attendant circumstances under which she dies. She’s basically saying she needs to be alive for Her Majesty. Nobody knows why at this point, including the narrator. But it doesn’t seem to matter. I think the narrator just finds it hard to connect the knight’s reverential language towards the queen with the cruel and merciless person she knows.

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In my opinion, the first interpretation is possible, but is unlikely. It is possible if we assume:

  • 残す to mean "to leave Her Majesty alive"
  • the knight's impression of the queen has completely soured at this point in time, to the point that the knight feels compelled to kill her, and that the knight still calling her 陛下 is just a habit or a type of 未練
  • the narrator somehow perceives the queen to be stronger than the knight due to them having witnessed the queen's actions

then, the narrator might indeed find the idea of the knight leaving the queen alive to be a mismatch. However, I think these assumptions are a bit of a stretch given the context, and also because 残す does not typically mean "to leave someone alive" unless in a specific context like e.g. 他の人は殺したが、あの人は残した where it makes sense to use 残す in favor of 活かす or 逃す. Instead, 残す does typically mean "to leave someone behind", so I believe the second interpretation is correct.

As for the phrase itself, it is not different from other phrases in this (situation-て)(potential-ない) form. However 残す may have two meanings which can change the interpretation of the sentence slightly. 残す can in general be interpreted as "to leave someone behind (in the current undesirable situation e.g. alone, under the care of untrustworthy people, in a battle etc.)", or "to leave someone behind (in this world)". The は that follows adds an optional comparative emphasis here: in the former meaning of 残す, the は emphasizes that the speaker is willing to die if the well-being of the queen was no longer a concern, or that the speaker is going to ensure/confirm her well-being no matter what it takes. In the latter meaning, the word 残す is more emotionally loaded (which makes sense given the closeness of the knight and the queen), and the speaker is emphasizing that they are essentially not willing to die.

In the current context, the first meaning of 残す may be something like "to leave the queen in the state of being a tyrant", and the speaker is expressing their resolve to ensure this changes. The second meaning of 残す will be what you suggested: the knight is unwilling to do die because they still have the queen to live for. Notice that both these cases belong to the second interpretation where the knight's impression of the queen has not completely soured.

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  • In general how should I read (situation-て)(potential-ない)? "I can't [verb] until [situation] persists"? Also, why does it make sense to use 残す instead if 活かす or 逃す, in that context?
    – Mauro
    2 days ago
  • In general, it should read as a statement that they are not willing to do [verb] with an explanation of why not (i.e. the situation), rather than a direct request to change the situation or a statement that they are willing to [verb] upon the situation changing. 残す has a general meaning to "leave something behind", so it can only be equivalent to "leaving someone alive" if there is a base of comparison. In that example sentence I made up, 活かす or 逃す can still very much be used, but I was saying that in the original, 残す should probably not be used in favor of 活かす or 逃す.
    – mcvain
    2 days ago

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