When I passed through the corridor to the Western Palace, His Highness was there.
I bow lightly.
“…I heard that there was a fuss.”
His Highness kneels in front of me and is at eye level with me.
I guess he’s used to dealing with children.
I’m probably smaller than the average height of a 12 year old girl, and His Highness is probably around 180cm, so at a time like this, I need to have him kneel down or pick me up for him to get a proper look at me.
“It’s okay. Princess Nadia got bullied by everyone.”
It was going to be a long explanation, so I tried to summarize it.
“…What about Nadia?”
His Highness glanced at Princess Nadia for the first time at that point, perhaps just noticing her.
“Yes. So, we’re staying at my place. Isn’t that nice?”
Princess Nadia stiffens under His Highness’ normal cold gaze. This is his normal state. He’s not mad at you, so it’s okay.
“So I have no idea where it’s going to take…”
“It’s just a little runaway.”
“…This place is also in the same house after all.”
“It’s fine…I’ve been bullied, so I’ll just run to the safest place I can find—His Highness’ cage.”
His Highness muttered the words that followed in a small voice. I didn’t know what it was, but His Highness laughed as if it couldn’t be helped. I’m glad His Highness is laughing.
His Highness strokes my head. I’m sure I hate being touched on the head, but I can’t help but be happy about it.
It would be nice if this ‘joy’ would circulate and be transmitted to His Highness.
“I’ll contact my mother and Queen Argenna. I will only admit you a stay, Nadia.”
“Yes, Your Royal Highness.”
Princess Nadia softly bows her head.
Hmm, you call him His Royal Highness the Crown Prince. Is it because you are half-siblings after all?
His Highness noticed a stain on the hem of my gown.
“Oh…I spilled tea.”
“Tea?…What is that color?”
It has a yellowish tint, like some kind of bleaching failure.
“It has rotten milk in it.”
That’s why I didn’t drink it, I said, but His Highness had a difficult look on his face.
“…Did you use milk?”
When asked, Princess Nadia’s complexion is pale.
Princess Nadia wasn’t even close to that…Maybe.
“Lilia, when you’ve changed Luthia, bring that gown to me.”
“Is there a problem?”
No way, His Highness won’t remove the stains himself, will he?
“……Maybe it wasn’t rotten.”
I’m not so dull that I don’t know what is implied by being told that much.
No, it’s not that I didn’t think about that, even in that moment. But it’s a bit too obvious, isn’t it?
There’s a strong case of suspicion on the people who were there. I thought it was too obvious.
Princess Nadia is trembling a little.
…What is she so frightened about?
“It’s okay. I don’t think it would be poisonous enough to kill me.”
“What makes you think that?”
His Highness’ voice remained harsh.
“If I die, or if something happened in there, don’t you think the people who were in there would be suspected? Besides, I don’t know if it was aimed at me, and I don’t think they knew who would use the milk.”
Even Princess Argenna had plenty of that going for her.
“…You were being targeted.”
Princess Nadia shook her head.
“What? Is that so?”
“Because you wouldn’t drink it without a lot of milk and honey or sugar…before you lost your memory.”
Oh, that’s right.
I feel a little tempted to poke myself in the eye a little bit, wondering what state of affairs it is that there are so many people who know more about me than I do.
“Does that mean many people know about it?”
“Luthia, we all know what you like.”
“…My father has a number of different cows on his farm that he keeps for your tastes, and he sends you honey from different places.”
To that statement from Princess Nadia, His Highness added that the majority of the nation would probably think my favorite foods are milk and honey.
“Isn’t that too much?”
“No. That’s not enough to shake the finances. Rather, it’s how the market for dairy products expanded and the beekeeping technology flourished. Luxury isn’t always bad, Luthia.”
Even so, the former common folk might find it distressing.
“…Well, fine then. Just don’t go outside the palace for a while.”
“What about morning tea-time?”
It’s my only petite outing!
…It’s sad that that’s what’s called an outing.
“…Wouldn’t it be the same if I went over there?”
“I can’t walk down the corridor, see a different view, or chat with Anya…”
Anya is the lady-in-waiting for His Royal Highness. A bit of a big deal. As I recall, she’s the assistant to the crown prince, and she often gives me information about His Highness.
She would tell me that he was late last night, that he was feeling a little under the weather, that he was engaged in a cold war with the Minister of Finance, and so on.
“By Anya, you mean Anna Maria?”
“What do you talk about?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Your Highness, it’s not very tactful of you to ask about the secret conversations of a girl.”
I can’t tell him that I’ve been asking about him!
Such an embarrassing thing!
“…And don’t ask Anya about it. If you do, I will be angry.”
Not that I can do anything about it if I’m angry, but I can glare at him as if I’m expressing the strongest determination I can.
There’s something unsettling about His Highness’ subtle pauses and smiles.
When I went to change into my loungewear, Alice had made me a cup of tea.
It’s a common green tea here…that is, green tea.
It’s super strange to be poured into a teacup. Tea is supposed to be in a cup, a cup! I can only compromise on a corporate mug!
But here, it’s usually a teacup. They recognize green tea as a type of black tea.
“What are you talking about?”
I sat down in my chair for a bit.
Princess Nadia looked a little tired.
“You, oh, and the Crown Prince.
“…I don’t know about you, but he’s always like that.”
Lately, I think Lilia has definitely been treating us like a couple.
I think that every time I see those warm eyes.
It’s not like that!
“I didn’t know you could talk like that, and I’m surprised His Royal Highness can talk like that.”
“…I don’t have any memories of it.”
I laughed that I had reset it.
“I forgot why I stubbornly refused to open my mouth, and everything else along with it.”
So now I’m picking the place, but I’m talking normally. I tell her.
The princess looked somewhat hurt herself.
“Please don’t tell anyone.”
“To those who are not from the West Wing.”
She nods with a serious face. I guess she has a good reason for that without explaining it.
“…Can I ask you…?”
“What do you mean?”
“Someone tried to kill you before, right?”
I’ll never forget the moment I realized the killing intent that was directed at me.
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid.”
I’m always faking my fears. I did that a minute ago. I’ll say anything to convince myself that it’s not poison. I’m always looking for a way out of it…
“But I’ll be fine as long as I’m here.”
Princess Nadia looked a little mystified when I said, “His Highness will protect me.”
“What is it?”
“Well, you avoided the Crown Prince before, too, so…”
“Broth—No, the Crown Prince’s lady-in-waiting even came to me to research what girls today might want in order to find out what you like…”
“What is it?”
“I mean, that’s how little you expressed yourself. It was annoying to watch.”
Still, Princess Nadia smiles with a complicated laugh, saying that she came to find out what I might be interested in to get my attention, because we’re close in age.
“Really, I wonder what was going on that would get you there.”
It’s still a mystery to me after all this time.
How can a child of less than 10 years old think over something so much…
After all, one can forget about bad things after a night’s sleep, especially if you’re a child.
She apologized out of the blue.
With a thoughtful look on her face, the princess lowers her head vigorously.
“What is it?”
Princess Nadia, you’re actually using the first person, “I.”
I’m glad that you seem to be forgiving me.
“I mean, you were scared, and you were in pain, and you were crying.”
‘But I pretended not to see it,’ says Princess Nadia.
“When did that happen?”
“That’s a statute of limitations…And I don’t remember it in the first place.”
“But…I think that’s probably the reason…”
“That I stopped talking?”
“Yes…So I was a little relieved when you were escorted out of the rear palace by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince.”
He said that even when they were talking about bringing you back, he still hoped you wouldn’t come back.
“Because even though you had been avoiding it, I thought that the Crown Prince’s place was much better than the Rear Palace. If I may say so, the Rear Palace is not my favorite place to be…because everyone is competing for my father’s attention…”
Competing for the king’s favor…is the fate of women in the rear court.
“But it’s funny. No matter how hard they try, they will never be able to compete with you.”
“Yes…My father’s absolute number one is you. Even Queen Yulia is no match for you. That’s why the whole court was jealous of you.”
Maybe that’s not the case…
His Majesty’s absolute number one is not me, but Efinia.
“There was even a rumor among the dullards that you were the child of Princess Efinia and my father.
“…Huh? How is that possible?”
“It’s impossible…because the princess who went off to marry couldn’t come back to the Royal Capital until she died, and my father didn’t go to her during that time.”
Rumors are irresponsible, but isn’t that too much?
“………How can that be a rumor?”
“The court sparrow is irresponsible…But the person who spread the rumor was punished. It was too impolite. It’s not just a nobleman who started the rumor, a lady-in-waiting was also disposed of.”
But in a way, I think it’s natural. Because if the rumor was true, I would be a child born between half-brothers and sisters, married to another half-brother.
Darrdinia tends to hold “blood” or “lineage” as sacred. It’s only natural for them to be more sensitive than usual.
“My father will never tolerate anyone who insults you.”
“…It’s overkill, isn’t it?”
“There’s no denying it…I’ve always been jealous of you. Yeah, I still envy you, to be honest.”
‘I wish my father would pay more attention to me, too.’ It seems too lonely to say out loud.
There’s nothing I can say here. No matter what I say, I am said to be His Majesty’s number one, and if I say anything, it will only sound like sarcasm.
“But just as much, I was also glad I wasn’t you.”
“Because I can’t stand it,” she murmurs in a powerless voice, “I can’t stand it.”
“You were given everything, but you had nothing…”
That distant look…eyes that see a past I can’t remember.
“What do you mean by that?”
“The things you hold dear were always lost. The things you cherished were always lost…At first, your favorite ribbons and shoes…and then the dresses you used to wear were torn, or your prized goldfish on the table…There was also a time where a canary His Majesty gave you had it’s wings broken and died.
It’s insidious. But this is the kind of thing women do with each other, isn’t it?
It’s always the same, isn’t it?
“The handmaid who lost the ribbon and the handmaid who deliberately stained your shoes were fired…It was the female handmaiden in the rear palace at the time who tore your dress, and she was kicked out. Whoever the goldfish person was…I’m pretty sure they were disposed of either way…Of course, it was the canary that was the biggest thing that happened, but…”
Well, it would be a problem if the canary, a gift from His Majesty the King, had died in an unusual way.
“The teacup you loved was shattered the next day, and the gardener offered you flowers was gone before you even knew it, and…rumor has it that he was fired for no reason. Oh yeah, and there was also the one time the maid who was on good terms with you was cold at your bedside the morning after a sleepless night.”
The princess lined up, remembering that it must have been discovered by me.
“I don’t know. It was a sudden heart failure, and it was treated as a disease and death…”
It’s disconcerting when the target becomes a human being. I thought the shadow of death was flickering around Arthirea, but it was still more unexpected than I thought.
There’s probably a lot more to the case that Princess Nadia doesn’t know about…
Each of those events, as well as the punishments given out in response to them, must have caused deep wounds on a young mind.
Well, there’s no way to confirm it now that I’ve forgotten.
The things I cherished, the people I put my heart and soul into…all of them were lost…If such a thing kept going on and on, I don’t see any reason not to stubbornly close my heart.
“…Not all the people who ordered it were disposed of, right?”
I can see the way Princess Nadia’s emotions are shaking.
I can see what she fears.
I’m not cut out for this…
I’m sure that Princess Nadia will be too honest and hard to deal with.
After all, unlike me, she is a genuine girl. No matter how much I may say and do as a child, I will still hold on to my memories of my 33 years in the other world.
…I’m not such a little girl that I’m frightened by stories from my past that I don’t remember.
There’s one more thing I need to know…
I stood up and approached Princess Nadia and gently hugged her from behind.
I can’t see her face, but I can tell that she has a suspicious look on her face.
If I were a man of a certain age with this, it would be a super-disreputable scene, this position.
The reason Princess Nadia isn’t too wary is probably because I’m a girl younger than her.
“……What do you know?”
I asked in a whisper in her ear.
With a jolt, Princess Nadia trembled.
I’m sorry. I’m probably the one who needs to apologize…I’m sorry for being a sly adult. I’m going to take advantage of your honesty.
“Why did you think my tea was strange?”
I gently put my arms in a hug and whisper in her ear as I wipe it down.
To the casual observer, it might look like I’m spoiling Princess Nadia.
It would have been true that you were having a tantrum, but it was a bit unnatural for you to pull the tablecloth.
I knew it was on purpose because she immediately regretted it when she saw the tea spilled on my gown.
Lilia is amazing, she knew exactly what I wanted just by looking into my eyes.
“Sure, we were seated next to each other, but it didn’t smell awful enough for the princess to know.”
The smell of flowers in that room was strong.
“You said you didn’t use it, did you?”
I smiles with a small head tilt.
“…I saw it…so I went to…”
A shivering voice.
A shivering body.
“My mother… put something in the milk after she used it herself. If it was something bad and you drank it…and my father found out about it…”
Well, it’s not going to be for free. Based on the precedent so far.
I’m sure Princess Nadia knows that much better than I do, which I’ve forgotten.
“Really? It’s true? Not like you were looking at it wrong or anything?”
Princess Nadia turned around with an almost tearful expression on her face.
The crying face of a strong-minded beautiful girl…It’s quite a picture.
“But…don’t tell my father. Please.”
She squeezes my hands tightly and lowers her head.
“Please… I won’t let it happen again.”
‘I’ll stop it.’
It’s as if she said that to me as if she was praying and clinging to me. I’d be a demon to say no now.
“I won’t say it….it’s okay.”
Well, Queen Argenna…
I’ll ask His Highness what that poison was later.
I don’t know how much analytical skill I have, but I think His Highness instructed me to deliver the gown because he can investigate it.
She looked up at me with wet eyes.
If I were a man, I’d definitely be shaken. It’s really cute.
Is this the end of that milk case?
But I didn’t think it was Queen Argenna. A bit of a miscalculation.
Simply put, it was Queen Yulia who was the most suspicious.
She could have made me a cup of bitter tea, could have induced me to add milk, and even encouraged me to drink it. Otherwise, since the tea party was hosted by Queen Yulia, she would be responsible for everything that happened even if that wasn’t the case.
Well, that would be too simple, and I would have suspected it had it been so.
Queen Yulia isn’t that simple, right?…Maybe.
Somehow I think so.
“So why does Her Highness Argenna want me?”
“Maybe, but…His Majesty intends to let you be the ‘Queen’ at the upcoming Founding Festival.”
“…What is that?”
“The role of the fairy queen who became the first wife of His Majesty.”
Fairies? Why is there a fairy tale all of a sudden?
“The most important ceremony of the Founding Festival is the ceremony in which the Fairy Queen gives His Majesty the holy sword, a symbol of royal power. The role of the Fairy Queen can only be performed once in a lifetime by a royal or noble girl under the age of 18.”
“…Isn’t there a rule that says you have to be unmarried or something?”
“There is no rule, but it’s implied…But in your case, even if you say you’re married, you’re still definitely a maiden.”
And I had a fleeting thought that even if I didn’t, everyone would know about it. I’m afraid of that. Let’s stop thinking about it…
“This is my last opportunity…My birthday is a week after the Founding Festival. So, when my mother asked my father for a favor, he said no and that he’s going to have you do it…I’ve been upset about that for about three days now, with my mother.”
Apart from that, I still have a chance, and I don’t necessarily have to do it.
But I guess no one can argue with His Majesty the King if he says so.
I wouldn’t have the power to veto it…
“……When is the Founding Festival?”
“About two weeks from the 5th of next month.”
“I don’t know what it was, but I wonder what would have happened if I had taken that drug…?”
“In my opinion, I think it’s just a laxative, but…if it was a laxative, for example, it wouldn’t make any sense to give it to you now at all. I’m sure you’ll find that if you have a tummy ache now, you’ll be back to normal on the fifth day of next month.”
Suppose, for example, that I took it and it was not life threatening. I still don’t think Princess Nadia would be able to do it at the Founding Festival.
That’s a completely different story.
“If anything, it would be a big deal if they were successful in finding the culprit, wouldn’t it?”
If she is identified as the culprit, it’s unlikely that even the second queen will be safe…Judging from what I’ve heard so far.
The princess, pale again, spits out.
She is angry at those foolish actions because she worries about her mother because of her love. Affection similar to hatred.
She has a good heart…
Princess Nadia has a miraculously good heart for someone who grew up in a back palace. I think she’s very upright.
But I think that’s why she’s also hard to live with.
…Was it a poison pill…?
If she was willing to kill, it would serve it’s purpose. But it’s too easy to get your foot in the door.
“If you’re just going to threaten me, you’re going to have to threaten me in advance to decline in some way, right?”
“You don’t know the story?”
“Oh…they’ll find out who did it soon enough.”
I don’t know what Princess Argenna wanted to do at all.
“I think…you know…she maybe just wanted to make you feel terrible. I thought I’d be a little mean to you, or rather…mother, it was that simple, so…”
“………I think I’m in a pretty terrible situation.”
I fell into a lake in the middle of winter, lost my memory, and my maidservant was poisoned to death as a ransom. Are you saying that the ordeal hasn’t been tried yet?
Princess Nadia’s gaze swept over, looking uncomfortable.
“The rear palace is scary, isn’t it?”
There’s no point in telling the princess.
“I’m scared…Didn’t we all talk so peacefully at the tea party? But those people, they don’t get along at all.”
“Is that so?”
She says it clearly.
Even though she’s giving me such a smile, it’s a scary thing behind the scenes.
“You could say that Nacia-sama and Argenna-sama are dog and monkey friends…My mother calls Ariana-sama a white pig and Ariana-sama calls my mother a red-headed monkey. On the surface, no one is going to oppose Queen Yulia, but behind the scenes, she’s too young, like she’s an old lady and doesn’t want to act like an old lady! And it’s a terrible thing.” (***T/N: Okay, so I guess there was also an Ariana and a Nacia at the tea party, but the names were similar to Argenna and Nadia, so I might have mixed a few up with Argenna an Nadia? Sorry, it’s confusing, but just assume that there were others at the tea party. The translation was unclear. It doesn’t affect the story too much though. Seriously though! Ariana/Argenna and Nadia/Nacia are way too similar!)
A facial expression that is distorted just by remembering…A woman’s fight is scary.
“Lady Nacia is a bit of an alcoholic. She’s drowning it in alcohol. But he’s hiding it. Lady Nacia’s handmaids are in trouble. They throw things.”
“But I’m afraid of Queen Yulia the most. Yulia-sama is always smiling and never shows an ugly face…She doesn’t curse like my mother or throw a tantrum against her maidservants. I’m sure you’ll find that her smile is always very calm and beautiful. Even Queen Yulia’s maids and attendants have a lot to say about it. It is good to be Queen Yulia’s maidservant…but that’s why I’m afraid of her.”
I thought the same. What she’s feeling is the same fear I’m feeling.
“I think so, too.”
“Do you think you’re afraid, too?”
Green eyes looking at me curiously.
Princess Nadia gave a small smile.
Princess, here’s a snack for you! Freshly baked.
Alice comes in with a big smile on her face, holding a tray. The dexterous Alice has been a good assistant for my baking lately. I’ve learned to trust her with simple tasks.
“I didn’t get a chance to eat anything earlier.”
I didn’t feel like eating anything more at the tea party with the rotten milk.
“You should try it, Lady Nadia.”
“What is this?”
As if the feeble expression of earlier was just an illusion…a stunning transformation. She’s not going to show the maidservant that she was crying, not even an ounce of it.
Surely, that is the pride of Princess Nadia. That stubborn pride is terribly endearing.
“It’s a slightly sweet sponge crust with sweetened beans in between.”
In layman’s terms, it’s a dorayaki. The bean paste was cooked by me ahead of time. If you store it in a bottle, you can keep it in an icebox for five days in this season.
“It’s delicious when served with a dark green tea.”
Julia has recently become very good at making tea.
She’s been doing a lot of research on how to make it with her snacks.
Amidst everyone’s attention, Princess Nadia’s cheeks softly flutter.
“Is this butter?”
“Yes. There’s the regular one, the one with butter in between, and the one with whipped cream on top.”
Alice and her friends have become much better at baking dorayaki because it’s easy to make with a single copper pan as long as you have some bean paste. The variations are endless, depending on what you put between them. The principle is the same for pancake sandwiches, so you can make pancake sandwiches if you change the mix of the batter.
“It’s delicious…You’ve improved your skills.”
The surface of the dough is a decent golden color, and it’s soft and sticky. I thought the red bean paste was going to be used up soon anyway, so it’s lightly sugared and not too sweet. The adzuki beans are large and delicious, so that’s enough for me.
I made a special point of making the mashed bean paste instead of the koshi-an*. It’s a little disappointing that we don’t have brown sugar, but I hope to get some someday. (***koshi-an = Bean paste, except it’s also put through a sieve to remove the bean skins)
“Really? Wow, I’m glad.”
“Next time you have a problem with your fiancé, you can feed him…If he doesn’t have a sweet tooth, you can make him a pancake sandwich with a hint of sweetened brandy cream in between.”
“I want to make that too.”
Julia also reacts to the words ‘fiancé’.
That’s as good as it gets, both of you. When ‘fiancé’ is involved, the color of your eyes change a bit.
“Well, we’ll have some pancake sandwiches the day before your next day off.”
“Please…Oh, we’ll go clean up.”
The two of them leave furtively.
Even though we are the only ones in the room, the knights of the guard are standing at the window and anything that could be a doorway. As long as I am here, I will never be alone in truth. This is an absolute safe zone for me.
“There’s been a lot going on…they’ve been doing really well.”
I wonder how long it’s been since I woke up in that castle in Elzevert… I don’t think it’s been two months yet, but the feeling is that it’s been years already.
“It’s really hard to maintain this palace with so few people. Even though we have menial jobs, as far as this wing is concerned, they are the only ones who can run it.”
“There are only four of you?”
“Yes…Lilia got mad at me when I told her I’d at least help with the cleaning.”
Lilia was angry, saying that it wasn’t something Her Highness should do, and I gave up when Miredei almost cried in frustration that I was breaking the oath of a lady-in-waiting, such as making her master clean up with her.
Princess Nadia looks at me as if she wants to say something.
“What is it?”
That’s an face I’ve seen before…Who was it?
There is a scene that tugs at a corner of my memory.
Ah…It was His Royal Highness the Crown Prince.
It was much like the expression on His Highness’ face when we met yesterday morning.
“……You can call me Nadia.”
“Then, I’m Arthirea…but it’s long…right?”
But I don’t want to be called Thia…
“I’ll call you ‘Luthy.’ Isn’t that nice? ‘Luthia’ will be for the Crown Prince.” (*** Again, this is the best translation I could come up with for the nickname. I guess you can also use Lutie, Luthie, or etc.)
…Oh, could it be that His Highness looked like that because I didn’t call him by his name then?
Once I realized that, it felt like the correct answer.
Wow, was it that simple?
I felt crazy and naturally smiled.
“No, it’s nothing, Nadia…No, let’s make it ‘Nadi.’ It feels more like a match that way.
“Okay, sure Luthy. If you like it.”
Nadi’s ears turn slightly red.
Her stubbornness seems to get to the point. The way she chews is also cute.
“Then, Nadi…Shall we have some more tea? I currently like the Sagiya tea that His Highness gave me.”
“I’d love to have some.”
Nadi’s smile, with a slight tint to her cheeks, was very cute.
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