Chapter 37: Courage at Your Fingertips

“…You’ve become a lot more like a crown prince’s princess, haven’t you?”

At my smile, Her Royal Majesty Queen Yulia’s eyes widen lightly, and then she smiles.

“Because I’m a princess.”

Honestly, at this young age, I’m a lost cause, but I’m proud.

I’m proud to be His Highness Nigel’s Crown Princess.

“…That’s right.”

However, if His Highness Nigel was in front of me, I couldn’t say it like this. There’s no way I could say it. I’d pass out in embarrassment.

“Your Majesty is of the opinion that His Majesty sought you out as a substitute for Queen Eleanor, is that right?”

“Yes.”

It was an immediate answer. In Her Majesty Queen Yulia’s mind, that would be an unshakable truth.

The truth changes its shape in different ways, depending on the person.

Because we each have a different angle of perspective.

“I was reputed to look a lot like Lady Eleanor…I even heard that my voice was even more similar than the appearance…His Majesty said so several times…and he even used to call me by Queen Eleanor’s nickname.”

Her Royal Highness smiled.

A vague smile, as if resigned…and yet unable to give up.

“…Nickname…”

“Yes.”

It seems unusual to call one’s wife by another woman’s nickname, and even more unusual to give their daughter that woman’s name.

“Everyone says that I am the most favored, but the only person His Majesty truly loves is Queen Eleanor. So he is obsessed with here blood, Princess Efinia…and by extension, you.”

The gaze of Her Majesty penetrates me.

As if seeking image of my mother, or the Queen Eleanor who gave birth to my mother.

“I love this country as much as I love His Majesty, and at the same time I hate it as much as I hate His Majesty. I love this country that made me queen, but I do not care what happens to the country that did not  save my home country.”

Her feverish voice is quiet for all intents and purposes, and Her Highness looks distant again.

“I know better than most that even though I am praised as the Mother of the Country, Queen of Charity, it is not really like that. I’m not going to be able to stop repairing and sticking to the fact that I am a queen…Then I shudder at my foolishness and shallowness that if I did so, I would be able to obtain His Majesty.”

‘I don’t know who I am anymore,’ Her Royal Majesty Yulia laughed.

I opened my mouth, hesitating whether to speak or not.

“…Because contradictions are in everyone.”

This isn’t just about Her Majesty.

After all, it was only less than two months ago that I made a firm decision to find the criminal and bring them to justice, but now I have no intention of doing so.

You can’t blame me for changing my mind too quickly, but it couldn’t be helped.

It may be impossible to do so, but if I were to blame everyone for all the sins, not only Her Majesty, but also His Highness Nigel would be guilty of a great crime.

Because His Highness knew this…

I don’t think that His Highness didn’t know.

It’s not that he was overbought, but the reason His Highness piled on so much and told me not to follow anyone, was because he knew that his relatives were behind everything, and his own blood family…and also that Arthirea would be willing to forgive him.

“The fact that you have become a grown-up speaker…”

“…I’ll take that as a compliment.”

I seem to forget myself these days, but my mental age is more than double my actual age!

The light of the wavering everlasting lamp flickers.

I watch it vaguely and wonder if Lilia and His Eminence have met.

I’m sure His Eminence is probably in trouble with Lilia, and maybe he’s even gotten a fist.

Those two are somehow like sister and brother, and Lilia’s position is overwhelmingly strong.

“…That girl’s mother, Maria, came from Dahal with me when I put her in.”

Her Royal Majesty Queen Yulia opens her mouth.

I nod silently and listen to her words.

The faint, feverish sound of her voice conveys her intentions to my ears.

“Maria and I were milk sisters. Maria married soon after I married the prince, who was only a duke at the time, and married into the southern family of the Viscount Ikea, albeit as a second wife. In a country where the royal family rarely engages in political marriages between nations, there are not many cross-country marriages. In a country where the provinces are so large that each province is almost a country in itself, there is no shortage of intermarriages between domestic aristocrats, but I suppose that is partly because they are not so welcome after all.”

It is unlikely that a royal family member would seek its marriage partner in a foreign country, so the nobles also follow suit.

I thought a lot about what the source of this was, but I couldn’t figure it out.

In fantasy novels, it’s usually ‘something inherited in the bloodline’ or ‘something in the bloodline,’ but I don’t know what it is in this royal family of Dardinia. One of these days I was going to ask His Highness about it when I get a chance.

It’s probably a common blood secret that connects the royal family of Dardinia to the Duke of Elzevert.

It’s probably why Elzevert is the first duke’s family, and why princesses are more likely to marry in Elzevert, and why most of the first queens marry from the Dukes of Elzevert.

And it’s probably also one of the reasons for this current situation.

Viscount Ikea is a small but hereditary family. And his wife’s son was already a legitimate son. I’m sure Maria had a hard time with that. It’s not at all like that in the letters she sometimes gives me, but it’s easy to imagine that for me…Nevertheless, she was married because she wanted and was wanted. I thought she would be happy.”

Her Royal Highness breathed there and closed her eyes softly, as if searching for words from within herself.

“Not happy, you say? Did she take advantage of the fact that she was the milk sister of Her Majesty?”

No, there wasn’t anything there for me to take advantage of.

She shakes her head.

“If it was for use, I think it would still have been better…at least, because then it would have been respected, even if only in form, while I was princess.”

I don’t know how much of an impact the Queen’s milk sisters have on her royal highness. However, milk sisters and milk brothers can sometimes have a bond that rivals that of their own siblings. The relationship between Lilia and His Eminence Shion seems to be a classic example of this.

“At the time, His Majesty was only a prince’s who was still awaiting his descent into vassalage, and I was also only his princess. His Majesty originally disliked to be involved in political matters. There would have been little or no use for that queen’s milk sisters…so they would have been genuinely loved and desired in the beginning. At least, for the Viscount himself.”

I hear the implied meaning of the word that those around me would not have been so.

This country places a great deal of emphasis on legitimate lineage.

It is absolute, just as His Majesty could not ignore that order of succession, no matter how much he might not want to be king.

“Shortly after that girl was born, the child born by her ex-wife died. It was five-day fever. At the time, five-day fever was an unexplained disease. Now we know a lot more about it, but there was no cure, no way to prevent it, and all you could do was pray to God…It was the first disease you could not survive if you had it.”

So, Maria seemed to be very much to blame. One of the reasons for the blame was that Maria herself was taking care of him and she never got a fever or was sick…However, I didn’t know that all along.

Her Royal Highness laughed somewhat in self-deprecation.

“I had been unable to sleep because of my anxiety about His Majesty. Perhaps it would have been better if I could have thought that I was loved for having been forced be made his wife, or that I was loved for being constantly and strongly desired near by.”

‘But I couldn’t lie to myself,’ Her Majesty said.

“There is no way I could have been of any help to Maia, and unbeknownst to me, the marriage between her and the Viscount was pretended not to have happened…just as the words I refused to say were pretended not to have happened.”

“Not have happened?”

“Yes.”

Oh, I see. I have no knowledge that Ellucia is a Viscount’s daughter in my mind.

Even as far as I’ve been able to get them to look into it, there’s no mention of it. That’s probably because it’s being pretended that it didn’t happen as Her Majesty said.

“The Viscount kicked Maria and Ellucia out and took the Count Renan’s outcast daughter as his second wife. He could have at least divorced her normally, but when he refused to recognize the daughter of a nobleman from a small country as his legitimate daughter, he ‘dismissed’ her.”

“That’s…”

“Yes, he was careful to make the marriage retroactive.”

A retroactive marriage is when the date of marriage is set in the past and the cathedral recognizes that they were formally married from there.

This is one of the means of retroactively recognizing a legitimate son, and I’m sure my father, Duke Elzevert, would have wanted to do that if he could.

But it would not be recognized unless the conditions were right and there was a good reason.

The duke couldn’t do it because the conditions were bad. But Viscount Ikea did that much. Did he hate exotic blood to such an extent?

I’ve never felt that much exclusivity before, but maybe I need to change my perception a bit.

“The Southern Lords tend to be conservative, but it is only a small part of that tendency to think that way. In the first place, Maria was supposed to be a member of my entourage, the heiress. Of course, I have a strong presence. But in this country, being the daughter of a nobleman in a small country like Dahal would have been of no value. Of course, there may have been many other factors in addition to the fact that he disliked the exotic blood, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Viscount abandoned and even trampled on Maria and Ellucia.”

Indeed. I really think it’s a terrible thing to do.

To deny a child, even with a retrospective marriage…It must have cast a great shadow over Ellucia’s heart.

“When I learned of this fact, I was outraged, but there was nothing I could do but make Maria my lady-in-waiting again. I could do nothing to improve Maria’s situation or restore her honor…”

‘Obligation,’* said Her Royal Highness, clenching her fist. (*** The word used was “Giri” which a Japanese word for duty, or burden of obligation. To serve one’s superior’s with a self-sacrificing devotion.)

“But, fortunately for Maria, spring had come around again. A man came to ask for Maria’s hand in marriage.”

Ellucia was not a bastard. If she was a bastard, she probably wouldn’t have been my maid. She was the daughter of a low-class nobleman from the north.

If that was the case, there would have been a partner who went to the trouble of marrying Maria retroactively in order to have Ellucia as his biological child.

“Initially, Maria never nodded to his marriage proposal. Naturally, she had been so badly hurt. But he did not give up…Eventually, Maria accepted. The new husband of Maria was the Baron Doras, who would later became the Crown Prince’s chamberlain.”

Associate Baron Doras was one of the military officers attached to His Royal Highness Nigel after his elevation. I’m familiar with his name alone. I don’t know his face.

I haven’t met him since ‘I’ took over.

“He was born into a poor northern knight’s family and rose to his position by virtue of his skill with a sword. He was clumsy, but a gentle man despite his fearsome appearance. Maria loved the man, who even married her retroactively to prevent Ellucia from becoming a bastard, and Ellucia loved him very much…I was glad that there God was there and that misery never stays the same. I prayed that they would live happily ever after.”

If there is a God to throw away, there is a God to pick up, I guess.

I, too, was glad of that blessing for Ellucia. Although it was in the past.

Then I took one deep breath and opened my mouth.

“Why would the one who was so happy for you to be happy give that girl the poison?…Did you want to kill me, so badly?”

I stare straight at Her Majesty.

I don’t want to miss a thing.

“No.”

Her Highness shakes her head. Her black hair shakes, a rarity in this country.

“I…I have ordered the door of the bird’s cage to be opened, and ordered to break your favorite tea cup, but that is all…I have never given you any poison. None of this would be a crime to be charged with.”

Surprisingly easily, Her Royal Highness told me what she had done.

She probably thinks it’s because they’re all trivial things. It’s true that it’s not much if you name each one of them, and there’s nothing that can be charged with any kind of crime.

It’s not even beyond harassment…

But if the combination of all of that continued on and on, and if the mastermind behind it was one of the guardians, it’s no wonder that Arthirea had become a doll.

While being cherished, important things were destroyed. Sometimes it’s harder on the heart to lose something important than to have something done directly to yourself.

You also knew His Majesty didn’t wasn’t really interested in you…

You might have thought that there was no help for you.

Or maybe there was hope that His Highness might be able to help you.

But at the thought of the endless harassment, all I could do was sigh.

“Did you think that I only had to be alive?”

“……Here we go.”

As I had said earlier, perhaps even Her Majesty didn’t understand.

The conflicting thoughts were both equally strong, making Her Majesty’s mind waver.

Suddenly, a strong, sweet, somewhat bitter tinged scent came from the altar, and I frowned lightly. I don’t really like this scent.

“…Thia, I wonder what you’re going to do now that you know about it?”

Her Majesty smiled lustrously.

In an instant, it felt like a transformation.

It was a remarkable and dramatic change.

The woman in front of mer was not the quiet, wilted-looking woman from earlier.

There was a strong will in her eyes, and she wore a mask of a compassionate smile.

The usual Her Majesty the Queen…

“As I said before, I just wanted to know.”

I just wanted to know why I became me.

I wanted the truth enough to convince myself, if not all of it.

To stand next to His Highness Nigel.

“…Was it Her Majesty who wanted Ellucia to be my maid?”

“No.”

“Is that so.”

Dimly, the puzzle pieces are beginning to connect. I can’t say for sure, and that’s not all.

“Thia, who are you?”

I was thrown off for a moment.

“I…”

I wondered what I should answer, but in the end, there was only one thing I could say.

“I am the Princess of His Highness Nigel.”

It didn’t think it was the answer to the question, but I didn’t have any other answer.

It seemed a little embarrassing to say it out loud, but I was even more happy.

I’m simply happy that I can say that.

“That’s not what I’m talking about…You’re like a different person after the amnesia.”

“Because I’m a different person.”

I smile as softly as I can.

“I died once in that winter lake. I’m not the person I used to be.”

I think I’m speaking the truth from the bottom of my heart, but it probably won’t get it in the way I think I should.

I think I’m a different person, or maybe a reincarnation…

“…You love the crown prince.”

Princess Yulia smiles in wonder.

!!!!!!!!!!!!

For the first time, I lost confidence as to whether the facial muscles made the poker face properly.

Ah, I love you, I love you…

There is no way I can say such a stupid word.

No, I can say as much as I want about other people.

But I can’t say it about myself. There’s no way I can do that.

In general, what happened to that question in this current trend!?

However, turning red and clamming up here is a poor strategy.

Hahaha, me!

“Yes.”

I smiled and nodded graciously, as best I could.

Her Royal Majesty Queen Yulia looks at me in surprise.

I don’t say anything else.

Just show a smile.

The large smile of the girl called the Doll Princess would speak more eloquently than anything else she could say.

“…I have never had any desire to kill you. Neither your mother, nor your grandmother.”

“Then, why are you doing this?”

I didn’t expect her to answer, but I asked anyway.

It wasn’t Her Majesty who tried to kill me, but she was definitely involved in an endless series of harassment, deaths, and all sorts of other things.

“Here we go…”

Then Her Royal Majesty Queen Yulia laughed beautifully.

“There’s only one person in the world I’ve ever wanted to kill…”

Sounds like a statement.

…It’s His Majesty.

“Only His Majesty.”

She loves him more than anyone else, and at the same time she hates him more than anyone else.

That’s exactly how Her Majesty feels about this country. Thee two must be inseparable.

Her Royal Majesty stands up lightly.

“I’m going back now.”

I didn’t get to hear everything I wanted to hear, but I didn’t want to hold her back.

If Lilia was back, it seemed to be enough for tonight.

Her exhaled breath was white and she could tell that the room temperature had dropped considerably. Maybe it was snowing again outside.

I don’t stand up, but look up at Her Majesty.

“…Take care of yourself.”

I couldn’t find the right words to say what to say.

I know it’s funny.

“It’s more about you than me.”

Queen Yulia says ludicrously.

Yes, I agree.

“…Thia.”

At the door, Her Royal Highness turned around.

“Yes?”

I give a small tilt of my head.

“…That was Queen Eleanor’s nickname.” (***I don’t know how ‘Thia’ comes from ‘Eleanor,’  but the point is that Arthirea and Eleanor (and Yulia, I guess) were given the same nickname from the King.)

“………”

A light shone through the doorway, and while I squinted at the glare of light, Her Majesty left.

I let out a deep, deep sigh and then looked at the altar.

“Is that so?”

There was no answer, but a figure emerged from behind the altar.

Thinking it was a long, long night, I gently pressed my chest again. The rustling sound roused me to action.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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