That one shriek pierced through the silence. The birds that had been chirping as they pleased all flew away from the trees as if startled. But Arche couldn’t bring herself to care about that.
Arche cried. The tears spilled over her face, unstoppable. The woman widened her eyes in surprise, gazing at her and moving closer. Arche simply continued crying.
She loved him. She really, really loved him.
Black-haired. Head wizard of the royal palace. The hero that saved the world. That person more beautiful than anyone else, with so many titles to his name. That person that always influenced his surroundings, regardless of whether he meant to or not. And he selected her.
Why couldn’t she go without developing a superiority complex? Why couldn’t she go without thinking she was special because he chose her?
Considering his superior social status, it wasn’t strange at all for him to have a fiancée. She’d thought about that before.
But she’d started thinking that even if he did, she was the one that greatly understood Agedilus more than any vague fiancée did. In the midst of the royal palace’s gossipy people that cursed at and feared Agedilus, she thought she was the only one that knew Agedilus wasn’t as bad as they made him seem.
That’s why. That’s why it hurt so much. Somewhere inside her, she’d started thinking ‘he might choose me one day.’ And even if he never chose her, she wanted him to at least not choose anyone else, not become anyone else’s.
She now realized how fanciful she’d been, thinking these ridiculous things as she pleased. But it didn’t change the fact that she liked him.
She cried and she cried and she cried. As she did, the woman didn’t say anything. She sat down without worrying about ruining her dress, closing her parasol. She handed Arche a handkerchief, only getting close to her. Even though Arche thought she wanted to be left alone, that woman’s signs of tenderness felt too comfortable and pleasant.
「——Have you calmed down?」
Arche nodded at the woman’s question, sniffling.
「I-I’m sorry, I’ve made your handkerchief all messy…」
The white handkerchief the woman had given her was now soppy and crumpled up with Arche’s tears and snot. There was some delicate embroidery added on it, the same color as the cloth. When Arche looked closely at it, she realized that although it wasn’t silk but cotton, it still must have been expensive. Should she wash it and return it? Or maybe the woman wouldn’t use a handkerchief used by a lowly gardener – should she compensate for it with money?
She timidly looked at the woman, who seemed to notice Arche’s hesitation. She smiled softly and shook her head.
「Don’t worry about that. Please keep it, if you like.」
「It’s alright, it’s just something I sewed to pass time. It would make me very happy if you could keep it and use it.」
The woman gently held Arche’s hands that tightly gripped the handkerchief. The warmth of those hands directly pierced Arche’s heart, and the tears that should’ve stopped now started to flow again.
「No no, thank you.」
That soft, gentle smiling face really did hold a certain affection in it.
Arche didn’t think the smile on the woman’s face was outstandingly beautiful, even though she knew that was rude of her – it wasn’t Arche’s place to say something like that. But the skin of the woman’s face was white, with light makeup on, and her hair was soft and glossy with perfumed oil on.
Arche could tell that since she practiced these things herself too, becoming more conscious of her beauty and health after falling in love with Agedilus. This person’s skin and hair weren’t just the results of hasty preparation once a day to hide her flaws. They were the result of careful, precise grooming.
The smile on her face was strangely attractive, and Arche unintentionally stared at it. The woman noticed, and once again smiled gently at her.
Now somewhat embarrassed, Arche lowered her gaze to her hands.
——What if it’s someone like her?
What if this person was the one that became Agedilus’s wife? This person that had kept her company even as she suddenly burst into tears, this person that had sat with her as she sobbed. If she was, would she give up a little? Could she give up?
No, no matter what person was Agedilus’s wife in the first place, could she give up? Just who could stand beside that beautiful yet terrifying being? She didn’t know. She didn’t want to know. Because no matter how hard she tried, she could never stand in that place. She didn’t want to understand it. She didn’t want to, and yet, she did.
Just then came a rustling sound from behind, of the greenery being brushed together.
「So this is where you were.」
At the familiar voice, Arche turned around to look behind just like the woman did, only to see what she expected.
Black hair you couldn’t run from, eyes that fascinated you whether you liked it or not, beautiful looks that made you fear what might happen. That being stood there, looking down at them without hiding his surprise.
If that was all, she’d end up withering right there. But she could see an unusual light of relief in his sunrise-colored eyes. Even now, she stubbornly ended up thinking silly things like, ‘maybe he was searching for me.’
Sir Agedilus. She was about to call out to him, but before she could.
The woman sitting beside her stood up. Edi. Who was that? Arche instinctively stiffened at the unfamiliar name.
Arche couldn’t do anything but watch silently as the woman brushed off some grass stuck to the hem of her skirt, approaching Agedilus. The woman stood in front of him naturally, as if it was completely normal for her to do so. There was none of the fear that Arche usually felt.
Agedilus too, looked like it was perfectly natural as the woman stood in front of him. He furrowed his eyebrows.
「You didn’t come after so long, so I came looking for you. Just how did you end up here?」
「Oh, that’s because this is the shortcut. You of all people must know it, right?」
「See, as I thought.」
Just what was this?
Still sitting down, Arche couldn’t do anything but attentively watch the exchange between the two, dumbfounded.
The spectacle unfolding in front of her was unbelievable to Arche, difficult for her to just accept. To think, that Agedilus would talk like this with someone. To think, that there was someone who could talk to Agedilus like that. She hadn’t even thought that could happen.
Because he had black hair, because he was special. Not once had she thought that there could be someone who could hold such a gentle atmosphere around him.
Realizing her thoughts, Agedilus turned his sunrise-colored eyes towards Arche as she remained astonished. She started at the sudden movement. Agedilus opened his mouth, looking down at her with the familiar indifferent gaze she knew all too well.
「……Well, nevermind that. What are you doing with my gardener?」
The woman blinked in surprise, turning to Arche. Gulping at that gaze towards her, Arche quickly stood up. The woman nodded, as if somehow understanding something.
「So this is the gardener? Pleased to meet you. I’m Filmina Von Lancent.」
「—Ah, I’m Arche Mashie, I have the privilege of taking care of Sir Agedilus’s medicinal plants garden!」
The woman’s surname was the same as Agedilus’s. Arche wasn’t dense enough to not realize what that meant. Even if Arche didn’t hear her surname, she understood from their previous exchange that this woman named Filmina was close to Agedilus.
‘Why?’ she thought. She couldn’t help thinking it. She vigorously bowed, so she wouldn’t give away her feelings. As she did, she heard a gentle laugh.
「Please raise your head. Thank you so much for the lovely flowers the other day.」
So those white flowers really were given to this woman. Her chest hurt, as if those words pierced through it. She felt like her face was about to look cramped, but she somehow managed to hold that back. Fixing her expression, she looked at Filmina’s face. As expected, she was gently smiling.
「I’ve heard lots about you, that you’re a very skilled gardener.」
「A-absolutely not. I still have a lot to learn, I always keep troubling Sir Agedilus…」
「No, no. Even though he’s rude, he’s not the kind of person to flatter others, let alone openly praise them. But maybe from now on—?」
「That’s enough, shut up.」
Filmina was about to continue, but Agedilus put his hand over her mouth. Ripping his bony yet white, beautiful hand off her mouth with her lace-covered hand, Filmina smiled at him.
「You don’t have to get so embarrassed.」
「—Who’s embarrassed, who!」
That conversation felt just like they were messing about, playing around. It shook the foundations of Arche’s love.
Arche didn’t know this Agedilus. Arche didn’t know this Agedilus who rapidly changed his expressions, raised his voice like this. There were no doll-like features on this Agedilus’s face. He was just like a normal man. Just a man.
That’s right, that was right. Before Agedilus Von Lancent was black-haired, before he was the head wizard, long before he was a hero, he was just a sole man. She realized it after so long – made to realize this reality. Arche didn’t feel sadness or regret at it, but she felt herself mysteriously understanding.
——I see now. That’s right.
She hadn’t understood a single thing. She hadn’t even tried to understand.
All this time, Arche thought of Agedilus as a solitary being. Alone in a world where he never let anyone get close to him.
But she was wrong. This person wasn’t alone at all. She was the one that had wanted him to be alone, wanted him to be special. In the end, nothing had changed with her or with the people around her.
There was nothing Arche had in common with Agedilus, just like the woman called Filmina who’d become his wife. Even if the difference in their social status didn’t exist, just how could she have thought this being was the same kind of human as her, with his black hair and his beauty?
Had she misunderstood, with that one cruel thought? She was a pretty big idiot if it took her this situation to realize it. Just what could have made her different? It was embarrassing, pathetic.
She felt a strange sensation, as if blood was rushing to her head and then going back down. In front of her, the woman in the position Arche dreamed of being said, 「I have some things to do with my father, so I’ll go early,」 and was about to leave.
「Can you go by yourself?」
「I’ve come by this road countless times now.」
「Wait a second, I didn’t hear anything about that!」
「……There have to be things you don’t hear about too, right? Well then, Edi, please go on ahead. Sorry, Miss Arche, let’s meet again sometime.」
「Oi, wait…… Oh, come on.」
Slipping through the side, Filmina disappeared in the direction that seemed to be where the royal palace was. Watching her from behind, Agedilus muttered, 「I’ll show her later.」 Of course, his expression as he said it was one that Arche had never seen before. She couldn’t help being entranced by that man’s face, that face that could never be aimed towards her. Ah…
「Are you… Happy now?」
It was an impolite question. Agedilus really widened his sunrise-colored eyes in surprise. He was a being that was still all the more beautiful with that expression.
「——Well, I don’t know.」
It was a short, blunt answer. But his expression was more eloquent than all else.
「I-is that so?」
That, that was enough. There was nothing, nothing more to do but give up. There was nothing else she could do, right? No matter how hard she tried, there was no way she’d rival her. Thanks to this expression of his, she realized that she couldn’t possibly make him happier than that woman made him.
She still felt like she couldn’t possibly just give up like that, she didn’t want to. But even so.
「This is belated now, but really, congratulations on your marriage.」
Holding back the tears that were about to flow again, Arche smiled.
This certainly was love. Even if it had longing and fear weaved together, even if her feelings could be called misunderstandings, this certainly was love. And as she fell in love, Arche certainly was happy. Even if it was a love that wouldn’t come true, that could never come true. Even if she had no way of earning his affections.
But, even so, the small smile on Agedilus’s face in this moment belonged only to Arche. As long as a day would come when she’d consider this more than enough for her, it was fine. ‘That’s right,’ she thought.