Taking off the tea cosy from the teapot, I pour the black tea into the warmed teacups, ensuring it’s evenly thick. The fragrant scent softly wafts up, tickling my nose. ‘Yes! A good performance today too……’ Escaping reality with such thoughts, I set everyone’s teacups on their saucers before them.
「Here, please enjoy.」
「Thanks, I’ll dig in.」
Even though there’s no way he can’t have noticed my, Agedilus’s, or the Princess’s three objecting gazes, the young man ignores us. He pours a small amount of milk into the tea, elegantly bringing the cup to his mouth in a refined gesture. As he does, his amber eyes blink in surprise.
「I’m surprised. Filmina, was it? Looks like the tea leaves were good too, but you’ve got some skill there.」
「……Honored to hear that.」
Agedilus, who had supplied the tea leaves, indifferently answers in my place. I keep my silence, standing and focusing on serving them.
As per the young man’s request, we ended up treating ourselves to an elegant tea party without even calling a maidservant, in an arbor deep in the courtyard of the Black Lotus Court. Inevitably, I took on the role of serving, and so I poured out the tea like this, waiting beside them just like a maidservant.
Letting out a smile, the young man sips his tea like he’s in a good mood. Under normal circumstances I would have internally rejoiced at those words of praise, but right now I can’t do that. To put it frankly, the thought of openly rejoicing in front of this young man irritates me. Though I can never say that, since if I say it I could be accused of a crime against royals.
「Well, now that I’ve had a short rest, I suppose it’s time for an introduction? My name is Klanven. I’m the half-brother of His Majesty the King, and Clementine’s uncle. I have the privilege of serving our goddess as the priest of a large temple. If Clementine’s the same age as you guys, you must have heard my name at least once, haven’t you?」
With the teacup in one hand, the young man tilts his head to the side. I’m about to get captivated by that magnificent silver hair that lightly falls from his shoulder, but I suppress it. I and Agedilus exchange looks and then nod a second late.
The young man——His Highness, Prince Klanven. If you’re at least a certain age, you must have heard that name at least once, just like he said.
He is a child who was conceived because the princess’s father, His Majesty’s father, the previous king had an… This is a vulgar way to put it, but he had ‘sexual relations’ with a maidservant who was still young at the time. But it’s not like the previous king had an affair in this monogamous country. Her Highness the Queen, his wife, had died early. So Klanven is the result of the previous king’s love in his declining years.
By all rights, it wouldn’t have been strange if the previous king’s maidservant, Klanven’s mother, had become the new queen and stood beside the king based on Klanven’s existence. But it seemed she herself didn’t want that. No one but the physician that diagnosed her pregnancy knew she was pregnant, she didn’t even return to her middle class aristocrat family home. To avoid the public eye, she left to an unsafe town, secretly giving birth to His Highness Klanven.
Meantime, the previous king spent several years searching for that maidservant. Once he heard from the physician that she was pregnant, the search grew even more serious, continuing even after his death. But by the time they finally discovered her whereabouts, it was already too late. The woman who could have lived as queen if she so pleased, the top seat for women in this country, had already died, and only Klanven himself was left alone.
Once they found Klanven, he was summoned to a grand temple to avoid the problem of him possibly being the heir to the throne, where he grew up as a priest…… That’s the life story of His Highness Klanven that’s generally known to the public.
You might say ‘wouldn’t the previous king’s old age love be an unthinkable scandal?’ but the current king made Klanven’s existence public, deciding that it was better than to hide it and have it turn into an awkward problem in the future.
What boosted that is that the love story of His Highness the previous King and the girl who was a maidservant has now turned into plays and drama. Of course, the names are changed, but everyone who knows what happened can easily tell, 「Oh, it’s that story?」
And so, I got a bit off track there but anyway, Klanven hasn’t been involved at all in this society as the priest of a grand temple. I have absolutely no idea why he came to the royal palace——and to the Black Lotus Court on top of that.
Although I definitely don’t say it, my doubts must be obvious on my face. Klanven puts the teacup back on the saucer, very gently facing me and speaking.
「So you find it incomprehensible why I came all the way to the royal palace, hmm?」
I hesitate over whether it’s fine to reply in a familiar way to a person who’s royalty. I glance fleetingly at the princess and that man only to see their gazes certainly look like they’re saying 「It’s fine」. Supported by those gazes, I timidly open my mouth.
「With all due respect. As you say, why is Your Highness here in the Black Lotus Court?」
「Oh, that’s, well I just wanted to see what kind of a person the so-called wizard of pure-black is with my own two eyes, y’know? I slipped out of my room and just went for a walk here.」
「……Is that so.」
Is my husband really such a being that people can come to sightsee him whenever they feel like going on a picnic? That’s a great question in my mind. I glance at him to see him not even touching the tea, expressionless. His beauty is just like a doll who the best dollmaker in the world had made with complete concentration, devoting his heart and soul until they ran out of energy. But even though he boasts that beauty, I can tell that his mood has probably, no, definitely had a turn for the worse. He’s a man that hates being turned into a spectacle for display in the first place. There’s no way he’d be pleased if someone just directly told him 「I came to see you」 like this.
‘I’ll have to follow up on this later,’ thinking that, I looked at Klanven to see him finishing his tea with a smile. 「Might I ask for a second cup?」 He presents his teacup to me. Contrary to his appearance, he really is a shameless person. I silently tilt the teapot and pour the black tea for him. Klanven puts milk in it again, mixing it once with a spoon.
「But well, that was just something I thought I’d take the opportunity for while I’m here. The actual reason I especially left my temple and came here was for the grand festival.」
「By grand festival, you mean the one a month from now?」
「Right. Since I was chosen to be the organiser of the festival this time, you know? So that’s why I showed up here for the preparations.」
Klanven says it without hesitating, but his words are a pretty big announcement.
The organiser of the festival, as the name says, is the representative person that conducts everything in the grand festival. All the priests from the grand temples turn out one after the other, and to take on this role is the highest honor. So this young man had ascended to the role of the organiser.
At all the festivals I’ve witnessed until now, only elderly priests have worked as organisers. It’s pretty unusual that Klanven, who could still be called a youngster, is the organiser. As I think about that, KIanven deepens his smile and continues further.
「This year’s grand festival is the first one being held since the demon king’s reign. It holds great importance in both historical and political ways. To become the organiser of such a festival means almost the same thing as being appointed the next head priest.」
「Wow…… Congratulations on that.」
Is that what I’m supposed to say? Probably, maybe, definitely. Klanven lightly smiles, 「Thanks,」 at my barely squeezed out, plain congratulations.
This young man, the next head priest. This man will become a being that governs all the numerous priests spread around this entire country, wielding a power different from the king. It makes me worry a bit about the future of our temples. No, well, on the contrary, such a vague and slippery person might actually be beneficial amongst the special institutes and the temples.
I look at Klanven with very difficult to describe feelings. He faces those eyes right at me. That amber just like the princess’s, easily mistaken for silver, shine with bright sunlight. Even though there’s nothing shady or questionable in it, I still unconsciously get startled. 「But, you know,」 Klanven continues.
「There are people who don’t think that’s very nice.」
‘Clang,’ the sound of a teacup loudly being returned to its saucer. I look to see the princess glaring at Klanven with her big eyes, bordered by long, thick silver eyelashes. The princess is usually always clad in a calmness that’s uncharacteristic for her age, stinging even when she smiles. I’m the one that’s bewildered at her now different atmosphere.
「Uncle, please refrain from speaking further.」
「Right. It’s not something she should hear.」
That man too, narrows his sunrise-colored eyes and looks at Klanven.
It must be scary to be glared at by these two, with such beauty that the world’s poets grieve that no words can describe it. But despite that, Klanven shows no signs of hesitation. In fact, he smiles like he’s enjoying this, daring to say 「There, there,」 to calm them down. It’s an astonishing sight.
「You say that but Filmina won’t feel better like this, right? Us meeting here was all thanks to the goddess’s guidance too, so wouldn’t it be better if we talked right til the end? Hey, Filmina, you think so too, don’t you?」
「Um, no, I……」
Considering the princess and that man’s responses, perhaps it would be best if I finished this off without hearing the rest. Those thoughts of mine are sadly crushed as Klanven shows the daisy bookmark from his sleeve in a way that only I can see it. As a matter of fact, it’s the absolute limit of irritating.
Unable to say yes or no, I stay silent. Klanven seems to take my silence as a sign to continue, bringing the tea to his mouth and smiling.
「It’s not that difficult of a conversation to talk about. In fact, it might be something I can say very simply.」
Klanven says that, starting the conversation. He says that the current temples today are divided into two factions.
One of them is Klanven’s faction, that recommended Klanven to be the next head priest, as Klanven is a blood relative of the goddess’s beloved child, the recent savior of the world, the Princess. Then the other one is.
「……Sir Heathrow, is it?」
I unconsciously reflect over that name that leaves Klanven’s mouth.
「Yep, so you really do know him.」
「Even someone like myself is aware of Sir Heathrow. I have seen him countless times at all the grand festivals so far.」
Heathrow has worked at a grand temple for countless decades as a priest, his devotees have deep faith in him, and he’s taken on the role of organiser at the grand festivals countless times. Even though he’s at a very old age, he stands tall and dignified, looking like a splendid person.
「So the people that nominated Sir Heathrow to be the next head priest are different from the people that nominated Your Highness.」
「That’s how it turns out, I guess. But with this decision, it’s pretty much unofficially said that I’ll be the next head priest. And now, here’s the problem. There are some extremists among the people that nominated Father Heathrow, you see. What actions do you think they’ll take from now on?」
For some reason, I sense extreme turbulence. A bad feeling about this. A feeling that if I answer his question, that’ll be the end and I can never go back. Neither that man nor the princess say anything. This silence gives me a bad feeling about this as well. In the midst of this, Klanven smiles gently as usual, as if he’s some kind of alien.
The air leaks out of my mouth. Just what’s up with this? Even if I don’t say it, he must know the answer already. I look at Klanven with those thoughts in my gaze, and he softly laughs.
「Well, in other words, it’s as you fear. The extremists in Father Heathrow’s faction are targeting my life.」