「Fernan, you, what kind of face are you making?」
I muttered, having returned my brother’s gaze, which had been staring this way, and seeing that expression.
His face looked as if he had something sweet, or maybe bitter, but something strange-tasting in his mouth. My inner thought, 「What a waste.」 whether or not he could sense that, he clenched his fists and ground his teeth, bitterly saying, 「It’s exxxtremely irritating, but that man’s selection looks very good on you. Today, you look even more lovely than usual.」
「Thanks. That makes me happy to hear.」
Although his complement might have been thanks to his sister complex filter. Yes, the reason that, after all this time, my brother had not had any stories about girls, was the because he always had a sister complex. My former self had been an only child, so when first got a brother, I thought he was unbearably cute, and spoiled him terribly, and this was the result. I felt a stinging sense of guilt. It was about time he got over it though, and found a girl who would become my younger sister-in-law.
「It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, since I served as your escort.」
He said in a high-spirited voice, completely unaware of that wish of mine. Then I realized,
「You, did you not receive any other invitations from any noble girls?」
If you disregarded his complex, this brother of mine was the son of the esteemed Adina bloodline. He was handsome, with a gentle character, thanks to my training him to treat girls with kindness when we were younger. Even if he wasn’t escorting me, he should have gotten invitations from at least two or three noble girls. His eyes, the same color as mine, blinked, as if in surprise.
「Why would I want to escort any girl other than my sister?」
I had no reply. To say that so plainly, he was already beyond saving. I only wished that, if possible, some girl would appear that would knock some sense into him.
「It’s about time. Well, then, shall we be off?」
「Yes. I’ll be in your care, Fernan.」
Taking his proffered hand, we headed to the carriage stopped outside the entranceway. Our mother and the wet nurse said their goodbyes, and my brother helped me into the carriage. Our destination was the Purple Peony Court, which was the home of the royal castle.
Inside the carriage, my brother repeated over and over again, to not overdo it, enough to make me start to feel uneasy. Each time, I simply nodded in response, and in what felt like no time, we had arrived.
「Sister, are you okay?」
My brother had exited first and extended his arm to help me out. I nodded silently. Having come this far, I couldn’t turn back now.
The second my new shoes, which were comparably comfortable to wear, hit the ground, I felt as if all eyes had turned simultaneously turned our way. I could sense those glances sizing me up, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Then, some talk furtively worked its way through the crowd, and I began to feel ashamed. The sensation of being an outsider was unbearable. While some of it was simply me being overly self-conscious, there was definitely a part of it that wasn’t just in my imagination. As proof, my brother, pulling my hand, and looking very proud of himself, laughed and whispered into my ear,
「Look. Everyone is enthralled by your beauty.」
「Fernan, I think it is just the fact that this dress is so unusual.」
「That’s not true. Even if it were, the only one who could pull off such a dress is you.」
As he continued, telling me to be confident, I smiled wryly. He really was a good brother. I was glad that I hadn’t come alone. Thanks to this brother of mine, I was able to stand in this place.
The large doors, carved with an intricate image of a peony, opened wide, and the crowd began to migrate into the reception hall. The light from the chandeliers, intricately made from magical gemstones, was dazzling. The spacious reception hall was already filled with a large number of the aristocracy. It looked livelier than I had expected.
The interior was loud with boisterous conversation. Slipping through the gazes that seemed to traverse my whole body, I settled down in a corner. I hadn’t seen the princess’s figure yet. Although, it was natural for the host to make her appearance late.
After talking with my brother for a little, the orchestra’s music suddenly changed. My brother grabbed my hand.
「Sister, since we’re here and all, for once song at least, would you…」
At that moment, a cute voice cut in. A petite girl wearing a light pink dress was looking at us. There was no need to ask what she wanted. Her cheeks were flushed red and her moist eyes stared at my brother. But my brother, not appearing to notice her intentions, blinked in puzzlement. His thick-headedness made my head hurt. Looking at the girl curiously, I lightly pushed my brother toward her.
「Have fun, Fernan. Don’t occupy yourself with just me.」
I pushed my brother, who looked like he wanted to say something, once more, more firmly than the first time. He finally rose, and took the girl’s hand, heading to the ring of people dancing to the music.
Watching them leave, I breathed a sigh. Since the music had changed to be danced to, the gazes fixed on me had abated somewhat, although I still couldn’t calm down. If this kept on, maybe I’d better stick to the wall and wait for a good chance to escape. Having decided that, I watched the group of dancers.
A familiar voice called out my name. I stood reflexively, and turned to see a familiar group of noble ladies, who crowded around me at once.
「It was Filmina after all! It has been such a long time. You must tell me about that dress.」
「It is so beautiful. Which dressmaker made it?」
「The shape is lovely, and this cloth has a wonderfully curious hue. As if it was cut out of the sunset!」
「It looks very good on you. It makes you give off a completely different atmosphere than usual, at first I didn’t even recognize you.」
I was overwhelmed by the barrage of complements. Feeling extremely embarrassed, I hung my head, and my friends giggled good-naturedly.
「I don’t know how to put this, but you always wear conservative dresses, so I was worried.」
「And here we are at this wonderful party, and you’re acting like a wallflower again.」
「Everyone agrees that it’s such a waste.」
No, but that’s because I’m already married, and I’m not good with standing out at this kind of affair anyway. I hadn’t considered that that might make my friends worry.
I smiled vaguely at their teasing faces. Suddenly, one of them said, 「Come to think of it, did everybody hear?」
「About Lunamerie, from the Valentine House.」
The sudden appearance of that name made me gulp. But thankfully, nobody noticed my reaction. At that name, the target of so many rumours nowadays, my friends ears would naturally perk up. Pleased with the reaction she had gotten, the girl who had brought up Lunamerie, added 「But you can’t go around telling everybody about this」, and then continued,
「Apparently, she entered a convent.」
「That girl, of all people? Why would she do something like that?」
The natural question arose. And in response, somewhat triumphantly, the storyteller replied, 「Because she got her heart broken.」
「And that means, Sir Agedilus…」
「It means it did not go well between them.」
「She was still young, too. It must have really been pure love.」
「How pitiable.」the lady continued. I managed to nod in assent. I guess that was how it was being described publicly. It wasn’t really incorrect. Just skipping over a lot of parts. But the main thread of the story went exactly as such.
Come to think of it, when the princess had come to visit me, hadn’t she mentioned something. She had said, with a dreadful smile, 「With this, both the Valentine’s and the Ronein’s are in my debt.」
This must have been what she meant, I now realized, understanding the situation. I unconsciously put a hand on my chest, which had started to throb.
When I got ahold of myself, a gloved hand suddenly appeared in front of me. Surprised, I looked up to an unfamiliar young man, smiling refreshingly. I looked back and forth between that hand and his face, and he smiled somewhat wryly. But this was just for show, and he returned to his previous broad grin. He wasn’t so beautiful as to stand out, but he was a handsome young man.
「Would you care to dance?」
Was he talking to me? I blinked. My friends grabbed my both of my shoulders and pushed me towards him.
「Filmina, he went out of his way to invite you to dance. We won’t let you be a wallflower this time.」
「Yes, that’s right.」
Even if they said that, that was my intention. I looked around for someone to come to my rescue, but my friends were all looking my way with sparkling eyes, looking forward to me dancing with him. I guess this was my punishment for handing my brother over to that girl. I sighed internally, resigning myself to dance to one song, and hesitantly took the hand that was extended.
At that moment, fanfare resounded from up high. The double doors at the entrance of the reception hall opened wide, though the guests paid little attention. But the instant those two figures made their entry, the whole hall fell silent. Then, a second later, the hall filled with excitement.
「And escorted by Sir Agedilus!」
My friends whispered quietly among themselves.
Not the sort to dress half-heartedly, the kingdom’s living gem wore a marvelous deep crimson dress, walking towards the center of the reception hall. Escorting her, my husband had shed the black robes he always wore, sporting the noble uniform, in bluish purple.
I could hear someone’s sigh of admiration. That sigh definitely spoke for all of those in the hall. Even I, who should be accustomed to this sort of sight more than other, could not help but let out a sigh also.
Lunamerie’s claim, that Edi was more suited to be with her, echoed in my ear. Lunamerie, who had complete confidence in herself. And here was the princess, who was way more suited to Edi than Lunamerie ever was. The feeling of wanting to run away filled my chest. Seized by this urge, I was just about to put it into action, when those sunrise eyes looked this way.
The second he had deposited the princess at the seat of honor, he came straight this way. I couldn’t move, as if my feet were bound to the floor. The gazes of the attendees, who were murmuring even louder than before, gathered to Edi’s intended destination. In other words, they were all focused on me. I had completely lost my chance to escape. Confused, my friends moved a bit away from me. Then, Edi, having reached me, paying not even a glance to the young man who had asked me to dance, respectfully, in the most perfectly refined, elegant manner, extended his arm out to me.
「Would you dance with me?」
It was in the form of a question, but his tone made it clear that he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Perhaps because of that, before I even realized, I had taken his hand.
The instant I put my hand in his, the attention of all of the hall was drawn towards us. Out of the corner of my eye, the princess gave a signal to the orchestra. Then, what they started to play, was the timeless, traditional waltz.
「E, Edi? What is the meaning-」
「Hush. If you bite your tongue or get stepped on, I’m sorry.」
As we started to dance to the music, others flowed into the dance floor. But it still felt like they were focused on us, to say nothing of the spectators who weren’t dancing. I tried to keep pace to the three beats of the dance, but unable to keep calm given the circumstances, I kept stumbling. Each time that happened, Edi would skillfully adapt, and somehow we were able to keep up the appearance of a dance.
Come to think of it, I suddenly realized, this was the first time I had danced with him at a party like this. To speak nothing of the marriage, we had kept even the engagement secret, and in the first place, this man, who hated drawing attention to himself, never attended things like evening parties, until today. To think that he would do something as conspicuous as this. I couldn’t understand what was what. What exactly was going on? As I danced, I was frantically trying to make sense of things in my mind, and before long, the waltz ended.
Being unaccustomed to that much physical exertion, I had to calm my heavy breathing. The princess came towards us. Edi bowed quietly, and I also, flustered, lowered my head into a bow. The princess giggled, seeing the two of us like that.
「Relax. We are friends, why act so stiffly now?」
I knew all ears in the room were straining to hear our conversation. At the princess’s words, I hesitantly raised my head, but the princess wasn’t looking at me. She looked up at Edi, and those amber eyes sparkled somewhat provocatively.
「Agedilus. It took you long enough, but I guess, considering it’s you, it was a good performance.」
「I am humbled to receive your praise.」
「Fufu, this side of you is pretty nice. Now, introduce your partner to everyone.」
「Even if you didn’t say that, that was the whole point of this evening.」
What exactly was going on? Extremely flustered, I looked back and force between their faces. The princess smiled mischievously, and gave me a wink.