「Me working in the Black Lotus Court. Continuing to be engaged to Luna. Even being a son of the Ronein family in the first place.」
He said that, each short sentence like a falling raindrop. He was talking to himself, a young man named ‘Celves Sin Ronein’, unfamiliar to me.
「I have two excellent brothers. The older one works as an officer in the Purple Peony Court, the younger one is a knight in the Blue Iris Court. Both of them, wherever they go, are never a disgrace as sons of the Ronein family.」
He continued with a calm voice, as if he didn’t mind whether I was listening or not.
Oh right, that made me remember something. Lunamerie said Celves was the third son. If I interpret Celves’s words as they are, his two older brothers are both worthy elites. Just what must Celves have thought as he lived, watching them from behind? Did he respect them? Did he envy them? I couldn’t tell if it was either from his gentle voice, he was just nothing but quietly calm.
「You know my actual hair color, right? Hair mixed with grey certainly is a sign of having magical power. Although I’m a laughing stock now, I decided to leave behind my own mark like my brothers, despite how they and my parents all loathed my different-colored hair. If you search for people with black hair as grey as mine, you’ll find…. No, there were almost no people with stronger magical power than me at the Academy of Magic.」
That was the first time Celves moved his lips in a self-deprecating smile. Then his azure eyes pierced straight through me. He was just gentle towards me, as I could do nothing but listen to him speak.
「And the one that excelled even in all that was Agedilus Von Lancent. Your husband.」
I gasped softly at that name he spoke of. Smiling as he looked at me, he continued.
「I was jealous. I might be crazy for being jealous of a Black-Hair, but I was envious of Lancent who stood in a place I could never reach. He didn’t care a bit about what others thought, he just freely wielded his superfluous talents. Before I knew it, I even started hating him.
Those words were far apart from the gentle tone of voice. I tightened my hands into fists on top of my lap. No matter how much I personally don’t mind, Black-Hairs are shirked and feared from the world’s perspective. And yet, Celves was jealous of that man who had absolutely pure black-hair. I just couldn’t imagine what state his heart was in.
The silver rings on Celves’s wrists reflected the light of the lamp. They were a punishment that would never come off. Celves caressed them in a way so gentle, it almost looked loving.
「I desperately studied. But I couldn’t do anything about the magical power I was born with. No matter how hard I tried, when it came to practical skill, I couldn’t be anything more than 『good in itself』. Then I thought, at least I’d managed to left somewhat of a mark in my studies, but in the end, that’s just studying in front of a desk. All I did was realize that what’s really recognized in wizards is practical skill.」
The lamp’s light wavered. The expression Celves made hadn’t changed at all since I stepped into the room. It was so gentle and tender in a way that I could say I’d never seen anything like it before.
「And yet, I could enter the Black Lotus Court thanks to that studying. But people harshly say behind my back that the reason I could enter this was because of pressure from my family. And that probably isn’t mistaken either.」
Celves had changed his smile to a self-mocking one; I couldn’t find the words to say. ‘What should I say?’ What could I say? Unable to find the words, I hesitated; whether he knew my internal struggle or not, Celves continued matter-of-factly.
「My insubordinates with greater magical power than me backbit about me every day. It was then that I met you.」
「Yes. When I first saw you in the national library, willingly picking a fight with people you could clearly tell were wizards of the Black Lotus Court, I was honestly surprised.」
When he said that, I remembered that time I helped the black-haired boy surrounded by two wizards from the Black Lotus Court when I’d just started visiting the library. The person that actually saved him was the young man in front of me, but I was probably the reason for that. That incident had become the reason I got involved with Celves. As I made a very inexpressible face, Celves laughed softly.
「Don’t you get it? I was surprised every time I met you, you who were doing things like willingly protecting black-hairs despite not considering black hair special, you didn’t look away after you looked at my hair. Then before I realized it, I started enjoying meeting you.」
‘Enjoying it to a surprising extent, even for me,’ Celves continued. My chest hurt at his smile. For some reason, I felt like I’d ended up doing something that couldn’t be undone.
「In front of you, I could just be ‘Celves’. That was a relief for me.」
——I’d rather you just blamed me.
I couldn’t help but think that towards the man continuing to speak in front of me, nothing but gentle. 「How could you trick me?」 「It’s your fault.」 If he said that, I’d surely be more comfortable. Then I could have blamed him too. But he didn’t say anything like that. So I couldn’t say anything either.
After a few seconds of silence, 「That reminds me,」 Celves once again opened his mouth.
「Do you know what Luna’s punishment is?」
「……I was told that she’s been sent to one of the most eminent monasteries in even our kingdom, a strictly disciplined one.」
‘The royal palace’s head wizard Agedilus Von Lancent’s wife, Filmina Von Lancent, cursed by one of the great aristocrats, Celves Sin Ronein, then abducted and attempted murder upon by Lunamerie Elle Valentine, also a great aristocrat’. That case hadn’t been made public. On top of me being revealed as the wife of the royal palace’s head wizard, there would be a scandal that two of the grand aristocrat families’ blood relatives had participated in the attempted murder of that wife. It seemed the higher-ups had decided the scandal should be hidden.
The monastery that Lunamerie had been sent to was so strict with its doctrines that even I knew it, I who had no interest in such things. Nobody knew when she could return back to normal life. It was a rather strict punishment for a girl in the prime of her life.
Nodding once at my words, Celves weakly smiled as if mocking himself.
「Luna is a poor, pitiful kid too. If she wasn’t in the position of being my fiancée, perhaps she wouldn’t have said such a foolish thing like that in the first place.」
「—That’s not tru….—!」
Celves said that, interrupting my words.
「It’s all my fault. If I was really thinking of her, I wouldn’t have done something like casting a curse on you in the first place. In the end, I ended up piling a far too grave crime on that child.」
Then, closing his eyes, he exhaled. Taking a deep sigh as if breathing out all the air in his lungs, he then opened his eyes.
「Very soon, I’ll be put in a temple in the backcountry of the Ronein family’s territory. I’ll probably never return again.」
「——Yes. I know.」
I nodded in reply and he lightly smiled. Ever since I entered this room, he’d been smiling the whole time. It wasn’t because he’d gone crazy, his mental condition could certainly be called normal as he smiled. It was a gentle smile with not a bit of disagreeableness in it, rarely seen when we met at the national library. I could do nothing but look at it.
「The punishment for Luna and my punishment too, they’re rather light for people that get involved with demons. Legally speaking, we couldn’t have escaped capital punishment. We may be relatives of grand aristocrat families, but it’s still far too light. Did you suggest decreasing the punishment for us?」
Even though those words were framed as a question, that was a question from someone that already knew the answer. I meant to keep quiet about that truth until the end, but now that it was thrust right in front of me, in the end I just nodded.
「…….Did I go too far?」
Dying is a really scary thing. I’m sure I know that better than anyone else. None other than 『me』 taught me that. The thought of someone being given death because of me was terrifying. I’m not strong enough to carry the burden of someone else’s death.
And besides, even though I was the victim, by all rights it would be impossible to decrease Celves and Lunamerie’s punishment just by the likes of my appeal. This time, it wasn’t just me – their punishment was decreased because of that man’s help and the appeals of both families, the Ronein family and the Valentine family. At my question, Celves slowly shook his head.
「No. Either way, I’m grateful you gave Luna the chance to start over again.」
Saying that, he smiled. He seemed to forget that this place is jail. Was it because he’s a far too gentle person?
Why did the person that cursed me have to be him, sitting right in front of me? Why did the one Lunamerie choose have to be Agedilus? I knew that they were helpless questions even asking after so long, but I still couldn’t help but wonder that. Before I realized it, I’d cast my eyes downwards. I somehow managed to keep my head straight, looking at Celves. 「Ah, that’s right,」 he nodded once.
「I ended up being the only one talking here. You must have something you want to talk about, right? Since you came to meet me.」
「……Yes, that’s right.」
I felt like I’d already heard everything I wanted him to tell me, but this wasn’t the end. There was just one more thing I wanted to hear. It was difficult to ask, as if pointing out my own mistakes willingly, but just this one question was one I had to ask.
「This is hypothetical, but. If you knew that I wasn’t ‘Suzette’ but actually ‘Filmina’, would you still have cursed me?」
Those azure eyes silently widened. They shook, as if perplexed. But that was just for a second before Celves’s gaze immediately met mine.
After a short silence that felt so long, he nodded.
「I guess no matter what happened, no matter what conditions there were, I would have cursed ‘you’.」
「…Is that so.」
I closed my eyes. That was all. I’d asked everything I wanted to ask.
Right now, what was the emotion filling up my chest? It wasn’t anger, not sadness———……. ‘That’s right.’ I agreed at the answer that suddenly came out. ‘That’s definitely right.’ I was lonely. Here, right now, I was about to lose a friend. That made me so lonely. I was so lonely, so lonely I couldn’t bear it. Celves quietly made a calm smile towards me.
‘That’s so unfair,’ I thought. Until now, he had never shown me that face even once. He was unsociable and crabby just like that man, almost never showing me even a smile, but even so, the tenderness he sometimes let me see made me so happy.
——Ah, what the heck. It seems I liked him more than I thought. I realized that now after so long.
‘Maybe if I’d given him my real name earlier,’ I suddenly thought. Even though Celves had said he’d curse me even if I was ‘Filmina’, I still couldn’t help but wonder, ‘What if?’ Ah, I hate this. Even though I’d heard the truth from the person himself, I still ended up wondering that. My naivety and softness made me nauseous.
Whether he realized my feelings or not as I gripped my hands into fists on my lap, he suddenly opened his mouth.
「Well, I don’t know what you’ll think about this on top of all that, but. I have a request to make from you.」
I looked at him to see his constant gentle smile had changed to a serious expression.
「……What is it?」
His punishment had already decided, I could do almost nothing——no, definitely nothing for that. There’s no way he didn’t already understand that, but on top of that, just what was he going to request me?
I tilted my head and he continued.
「Please, never forgive me.」
I gulped. Not minding that, Celves spoke further.
「I won’t go as far as to ask you to hate me. But I want you to please, never, ever forgive me.」
Even though his voice was detached, there was a definite plea there.
To never forgive someone. That’s definitely not a comfortable thing. I’m sure it’s more painful than I thought. Forgiving someone was difficult, but not forgiving someone was even more difficult. Especially if the other person was someone you wanted to forgive, as in my case.
But even so, I nodded. For some reason, I couldn’t help but nod.
「Alright, Sir Celves. I won’t forgive you.」
No matter what happened. I vowed I would never forgive him. Because that was the one thing I could do as atonement for having lied to him.
At my answer, Celves smiled, full of joy from the bottom of his heart. It was the first time he smiled with his whole face, so pure just like a child’s. Then, with a smile, he continued.
「This is goodbye now, ‘Suzette’.」
That was a farewell. Words of parting to someone you were sure you’d never meet again. We were close enough that I could touch him if I reached out, but my hand would never reach him again. I stood up from my chair and took the customary bow for aristocrats, the same as I’d always done for him until now.
「Yes. Goodbye, Sir Celves.」
That was the end. That was all. Turning on my heel, I put my hand on the doorknob. I felt a gaze on my back but I didn’t turn around. I knew that I mustn’t turn around.
I slowly turned the knob just like when I entered, stepping out of the room. I closed the door, not looking at Celves til the very end, then I took a deep breath.
「…….Are you finally done?」
I straightened my spine with a start at the voice that came from beside me. I slowly looked there to see that man with his beautiful face, my husband, leaning against the wall. There was no sign of the leader of the knights who was supposed to be with him, it was just him.
「E-Edi? Please don’t surprise m—…..」
「Get out of the way. I’m locking it.」
With a forceful gesture, the man took the padlock he must have gotten from the knights’ leader somehow and put it onto the door. ‘Clang,’ it locked with a surprisingly big sound. Watching it carefully for some reason or another, I slid my gaze to the man’s face above me. He was looking down at me with a really displeased face indeed.
「——Edi, you were listening to our conversation, weren’t you?」
What came in response to my words was silence. But that was the biggest answer of all. Glancing down at the bracelet at my wrist, I sighed softly. One of his eyebrows moved with a start. I looked up at him, staring fixedly into those eyes, only for him to be the one that averted his gaze first. It seemed there’s something he was thinking of.
Well, I did think ‘he’s probably listening in,’ so it’s not like I’d be surprised or uncomfortable after so long. Perhaps it would have been alright if I asked ‘Can’t you have at least some faith in me?’ but that might be stirring up a hornet’s nest so I decided not to. Because the one that worried him so much was none other than me.
Whether he knew my internal state or not, he pulled me closer and hugged me tightly. My feet fell at his sudden gesture, and I ended up falling into his chest just like that. As my face was pressed into his chest, I couldn’t move. ‘What is this all of a sudden?’ Even as I tried to protest in his arms, my protests were all shut in by those arms that were stronger than they looked. ‘Ughh,’ I groaned internally, and then he said:
「Won’t you cry?」
At those short words, I had trouble breathing for a second. But still.
「I won’t cry.」
I denied his words. That’s right. Like hell I’d cry. This was completely fine. All that was left was to just continue living without forgiving Celves. That was fine. That was perfectly fine. And yet.
「No one’s looking. You can cry.」
And yet, he pampered me like that. With just that one sentence, the emotions I was supposed to have held back all burst through at once.
My weeping that wouldn’t turn to words all leaked out. My tears soaked his chest but he said nothing. I was so thankful for that, and his warmth was so comfortable that I shed all the more tears.
Celves told me that he enjoyed meeting me. I thought the same too. He resembled this man so much, so awkward, and the tenderness he let me see certainly soothed me. I didn’t think it’d turn out like this. That’s why it was so lonesome. That’s why it was so painful. Right now, I had certainly lost a friend for eternity.
He tightened his arms around me all the more. Clinging to his arms, pressing my face into his chest, I kept crying in his arms until the leader of the knights came to see us.