I squint at the bright sunlight. The comfortable warm feeling naturally makes me sleepy. It’s like the night fairy that governs stars, dreams, and sleepiness, is half-awake and showed up in the daytime.
I hold back the yawn that’s about to escape my mouth, walking along the corridor of the royal palace. ‘It was a mistake to wear my dress coat,’ I can’t help but think, even though it’s too late. In the blink of an eye, there’s now only one month left for the grand festival. It’s only natural that it’s getting hotter but my hand still pulled out the dress coat like usual out of habit.
「Looks like I should take this off on the way home……」
Since my baggage has increased this time, there’s nothing I can do now. Murmuring that in a half-sigh, I hold the basket in my arms properly.
The reason I’m especially walking in the royal palace like this is very simple. Namely, I’m here to deliver lunch to that man and his disciple, Widnichol.
If someone else asks, ‘again?’ no doubt I’d get deeply questioned. Even I, the perpetrator of this, think that. I may be the wife of the savior of the world, of the royal palace’s head wizard, but it’s ridiculous to just attend the palace so carefreely like this. Even if I get criticized, ‘know your place!’ I can’t argue with that. And on top of that, shamefully, the one who made the reason to attend the palace is none other than me.
This and that, all of it is because I overslept this morning. He, my husband, should have woken me up but he left me in bed as I indulged myself in sleep, made breakfast by himself, and left a note beside it before immediately leaving.
I’m certainly grateful that he made breakfast – it tasted so good it frustrated me – but even so, isn’t this supposed to be my place as his wife?
As I ate that soft buttery omelette, delicious even while cold, I read that note. 「I’d like you to bring me lunch.」 In flowing letters, just that one sentence was written.
I couldn’t help but think ‘then you should’ve just woken me up in the first place’, was that unreasonable of me? I wish he’d put himself in my shoes as I woke up, terribly shocked to see my husband wasn’t beside me and the sun, visible from the balcony, was too high up in the sky. Maybe he was just being considerate towards me, but more importantly, I wanted to tell him 「have a good day」.
Anyway, he used to always jump into work or research without having lunch, so it certainly makes me happy that now he’s started eating the lunch I make. Nonetheless, it’s a bit mortifying just accepting that obediently. Though it’s clear that the outcome has been a victory for me as I’m very willingly making and bringing him lunch as he asked.
‘What will I do about this complicated mental state I’m in?’ Internally muttering that, I walk through the long corridor. Until now, I’d cut through the courtyard, making my way to his laboratory. But since our marriage has been grandly announced, there’s no need to avoid the public eye so I’m not going to especially go through the courtyard. But it’s still true that the courtyard is a shortcut. ‘So should I really go down to the courtyard around here?’ I’m thinking about that, not stopping my walking, when in the blink of an eye I see the door to the Black Lotus Court.
In front of that large door with a lotus crest engraved into it, a palace guard and an unfamiliar person are arguing over something. No, arguing might be somewhat of a wrong way to put it. The guard is aggressive while the stranger is really being as slippery as an eel, avoiding the topic, which provokes the guard’s anger even more…… That’s probably the right way to put it. With no signs of noticing me who’s relatively close to them, they seem to be having a conversation that’s very unlikely to do any good.
I know the guard. I’ve met him countless times as I visited the Black Lotus Court until now. He’s rather serious about his job, even though we’re acquaintances he never lets me in unless I show him the magic jewel bracelet. I can’t forget him even if I wanted to. And the person arguing with him is.
「Who could it be?」
I unconsciously murmur that. The tall person with their back to me is wearing a cloak that I can tell at a glance is of high quality, with delicate embroidered hemming. Their hood is pulled down deeply. I’m sure the guard standing in front of this person can’t see their face either. To be honest, they’re a very suspicious person.
I can’t hear what exactly they’re arguing about, but judging by the guard’s irritated voice, it stinks of trouble.
Yep, I’m not getting involved in this, no thanks. They do say slow and steady wins the race, so I’ll turn back for now. Thinking that, I’m about to return to the road I used to take, when:
「——Yo, I was waiting for you!」
I reflexively stop at the voice I hear from behind me. It’s a calm male voice, pleasing to the ear.
Did he just call out to me? I turn to look behind and see the owner of that voice, the tall person clad in a cloak, is waving and randomly approaching me in a friendly way. The upper half of his face is covered with the hood, the only part I can see is his light lips in a gentle smile just like his voice.
「Sorry for making you carry my stuff, I’ll carry it from now.」
With a flowing gesture, the person – who’s probably just old enough to be called a young man – grabs the basket from my hand. It happens in the blink of an eye. I can’t even protest or resist.
My thoughts are at a standstill and my mouth is open, flabbergasted. In front of me, he opens the basket, sticking his hand inside. My sense of reason finally catches up at that extremely selfish gesture.」
「P-please return that!」
I take back the basket from his hands, which are considerably fair-skinned for a man’s. It was unexpectedly easy to take it back; relieved at that, I check the contents of the basket.
On today’s menu is a cheese and tomato cake salé. I didn’t make this with my current knowledge but from the 『past』 『me』’s knowledge. In this world, pastries or cakes that aren’t sweet are extremely rare. I’ve been making this since I lived with my family but it was popular with them, even that man who rarely openly praises anything enjoys it very much. That cake salé seems to be safe, but.
「Is this what you’re looking for?」
Making sure the guard behind us won’t see, the mystery man whispers that; he lightly thrusts before me the bookmark I’d put in my book along with lunch in the basket. Of course, that’s not just a bookmark. It’s my favorite, beloved bookmark that that man gave me, made of pressed daisies.
Before I can reach out and take it back, he pulls his hand away and puts the bookmark under his cloak. Then he bends his tall body, softly whispering in my ear.
「If you want it back, you’ll have to play along.」
What the heck is this person saying? I couldn’t help but be speechless. Holding my shoulder, I’m forced to get dragged halfway to the guard in front of the door.
「She can prove my identity, then there’s no problem, right?」
Holding my shoulder in a friendly way, the person who seems to be a young man shamelessly says that, taking my right hand and showing the guard the magic bracelet.
「……Is that true?」
As usual, the guard is very serious about his job. Even though he knows me by face, he still looks suspiciously at me and the man, and then at the bracelet, making a hesitant face.
「No, this is the first time—」
I’m about to say ‘this is the first time I met him’ but right at that moment, the man holding my shoulder tightens his grip. I look at him from the side of my gaze to see his lips, the only part of his face I can see, silently move. 「Bo – ok – ma – rk」 he mouths.
「……Excuse me. There’s no problems here.」
To think that my mouth would run off by itself, about to say 「bastard」. There’s no way I can say that. Since the recent incident with the curse, ever since I fully accepted the 『past』 『me』, I feel like my tongue’s gotten extremely sharp.
As I think ‘I can’t carelessly slip up with my words,’ I put on the smile mask I inherited from my father. I feel like it’s turned into a cramped smile, but for better or for worse, the guard doesn’t notice, stepping to the side of the door and making way for us. The large door opens with a creak.
「Thanks. Much appreciated.」
Still holding my shoulder, the young man says that to the guard in a really so gentle voice, then steps into the other side of the door——namely, the Black Lotus Court.
The peaceful air that touches my skin, somehow a bit cold and tense, is characteristic of this peculiar section of the palace. From behind I hear the sound of the door being gently shut. Almost at the same time, I pull myself away from this incomprehensible young man, holding my basket tightly and glaring at him.
The gentle smile on his face doesn’t disappear at all at my reaction, as if to say it doesn’t concern him at all.
「You saved me. Thanks to you I could enter here surprisingly without trouble. I give you my thanks. Well now, you can go.」
Then, he leaves me and begins walking ahead, but it’s no joke for me as I’m left here. I incomprehensibly let this suspicious person into the Black Lotus Court, I have no idea what trouble I might get involved in now. And not just me, but it might cause trouble for that man or my family, I can’t have that.
Then in the same way – no, more importantly in a sense, there’s something I can’t overlook.
「Please return my bookmark!」
That’s right. The bookmark he stole is still in his hands. How can he say 「You can go now」? I can’t possibly go like this.
The hem of his long cloak reaches his ankles, dashingly arranged. He continues walking and I hurriedly catch up behind him. He doesn’t show even the slightest sign of stopping; I hold the basket in my right hand, reaching out with my left hand and grabbing his cloak, pulling it off with the force. The cloak feels pleasant to touch, it certainly must be high quality——wait, there’s no time to be thinking about this.
Since I pulled it with all my might, his cloak peels off of his shoulders just like the cocoon when a butterfly grows wings. Perhaps it’s because of my ordinary person nature ingrained in me from my past life, improper for aristocrats, I reflexively gather up that coat in my arms so it doesn’t fall to the ground. 「Oh man,」 the gentle voice full of smiles hits my ear.
「You’re a pushy lady. Are all the ladies these days as assertive as you?」
At his calm manner of speaking, I can’t help but blink in confusion, losing all words at the sight of him finally exposed.
The first thing that jumps to my eye is that magnificent silver hair. It’s so long I wonder if it reaches his knees, that straight hair is a silver so light you could mistake it for white, naturally lightly flowing down his back. He’s older than me, perhaps in his late twenties? His somehow otherworldly, well-arranged features are sweet, with a grace to them that would be improper for a townsperson to have. You wouldn’t be mistaken if you called those features beautiful; I feel like those features resemble someone I know but right now, I just can’t pin down who that person is. The clothes this beautiful young man wears, making ample use of pure white fabric, show that he’s a person that serves the goddess——namely, a priest.
I look fixedly at his face, and he deepens his really so gentle smile. If shown that smile, all men and women would naturally listen to whatever he says. If I weren’t used to that man’s beautiful face, I might have just said 「I’m very sorry」 and withdrawn right here.
As I stare fixedly up at him, his eyes sparkle with light.
I gasp. I realize too late the color of his eyes. Amber eyes that one could mistake for silver with the light, like flower nectar.
「Are you perhaps……」
There’s no ‘perhaps’ now that I’ve seen his eyes, but I can’t help but ask that. That amber that looks like silver in the light——everyone in the kingdom knows that’s the sign of people that belong in the royal family’s lineage.
Dumbfounded, I look up at those eyes. He still gently smiles like usual, taking the cloak from my hands and putting it on with an elegant gesture.
As I can do nothing but just watch that closely, I hear hurried footsteps approaching.
「Oh, looks like I’ve been found.」
The two of them always have composure, valuing being calm and formal, so it’s very unlike them as they quickly rush towards us from the inside of the Black Lotus Court. The living gem our kingdom boasts of, Princess Clementine, and my husband, the royal palace’s head wizard.
The sight of the two of them rushing over here, both boasting unparalleled beauty conflicting each other’s, if it were a different situation I might have been fascinated by that sight. But unfortunately, this isn’t that situation.
「Uncle! I’ve finally found you.」
「Hey, Clementine. Long time no see. Haven’t you grown even prettier?」
「……It has been a while, Uncle. What’s above all is that you’re the same as always.」
The princess, calling him 「uncle」, puts both hands on her waist and raises her beautiful eyebrows. As she says 「above all」, it seems like she’s feeling annoyed more than pleased.
With that, I finally understand the deja vu I had earlier from his face. Despite the differences in gender or age, the princess and the man’s white lily-like beautiful faces resembled each other in some ways.
‘I see, so that’s why,’ I think that strangely distantly, when Agedilus faces me. I instinctively stand on guard, and he asks with an irritated face for some reason:
「Filmina, why are you with him?」
「Um, I was forced, or how to put it, I don’t really know myself……」
His brow furrows at my vague words. But even if he makes that face…… That really is my unexaggerated thoughts. I’m not with this man out of choice or anything, so I hope he forgives me.
As I think that, I’m probably making a clearly troubled face. He lets out a small sigh. Even if he sighs, I’m still worried. Even if I say I’m very involuntarily put in this situation, I’m sure he won’t believe me.
As I can’t help but internally get irritated at this situation out of my control, the young man suddenly claps his hands.
「Well, for now we can’t just stand around talking so why don’t we sit down somewhere?」
「Uncle. I don’t mean to be too forward but I don’t think you can easily say that.」
I internally strongly agree with the princess’s words. That man standing beside me is also the same, with his brows furrowed and a sour expression on his face. The princess, being the princess, goes beyond just anger – she makes an astounded, disgusted face, not hiding it.
Even surrounded by us like that, the young man doesn’t stop smiling and boldly says, 「Oh, come on. Instead of saying that, how about you show me around?」 His delicate appearance would make everyone that looks at him feel like he’ll break if you touch him, contrary to his bold nerves. This might be rude, but I do think he gives off the same feeling as the princess.