Translator: nobunaganochef Editor: Queenie
All in all, for someone accustomed to wiling away their time lounging at their manor, it was a day both thrilling and stressful. That day was an altogether peculiar day that I would never have anticipated.
「It has been quite a long time since we last paid a visit to the orphanage,」muttered His Highness Klanven as he sat wedged between myself and that man. The carriage we were riding—which was used by the priests of the great shrine to get themselves around—was piled high with treats and candies.
Yes, this was the day’s event—paying a sympathy call to the orphans. It seems that no matter what world you live in, there will always be children without parents. Parents who died in accidents, or killed by monsters, or they abandon the children for economic reasons. There are countless reasons, but it was customary in this world for these orphans to be taken to an orphanage that was run jointly by the great shrine and the royal palace.
It is not as if every parentless child is brought there, but there are more than a few cases of so-called ‘street children’ that are taken into their care—not unlike Klanven himself when he was a child. In any case, the orphanage is thought of in the same way as the great shrine, as a place where the doors are open to everyone without prejudice. It was His Highness Klanven’s official duty that day to visit the orphanage.
No hint of a smile played up His Highness’ lips, but even so, he appeared somehow more cheerful than usual. I could not help but to ask him about it.
「Does his grace like children?」I inquired.
「Not in particular. I neither like nor dislike them. I was just thinking that this is far preferable to dealing with the onerous preparations for the High Festival.」
「…is that so?」I couldn’t help but think that, considering his position, he probably ought to just lie and say he likes them, but perhaps I am wrong. It did not seem like a line fit to be uttered by someone accorded the great honor of being master of ceremonies for the high festival, and on top of all that, the next in line to become the High Priest. I was mildly bewildered, but I said nothing further, and allowed my body to relax into the back and forth sway of the carriage.
Since that last incident, His Highness Klanven had not been faced with any sort of crisis situation where his life was in danger. Just as I was musing to myself how it would be nice if nothing else drastic were to happen prior to the festival, the swaying of the carriage came to a halt.
「Ah, it seems we have arrived」His Highness Klanven said as the coachman opened the carriage door for him from the outside. That man, His Highness Klanven and then myself exited the carriage one by one. As I set foot to the ground, excited voices cried out. Several children with their eyes wide and beaming with excitement were staring at us.
Klanven looked at the audience and said,「I see we have kept you waiting. Thank you for allowing us to pay you a visit.」
A refined older woman took a step forward from amidst the children. She faced His Highness Klanven and bowed to him deeply. It seemed that this woman was the director of the orphanage.
His Highness Klanven nodded to her cooly and gestured toward the coachman unloading the boxes of treats from the carriage.
His Highness Klanven smiled faintly at the woman as her eyes widened in surprise.
「…these are just a little something I thought would make the children feel better. I made sure that there was enough prepared for everybody, so please do not be concerned. Shall we hand them out?」
「Well, we are terribly grateful. Children! Say ‘thank you’ to His Highness Klanven.」
Upon hearing the director’s word, the children energetically and sincerely blurted out in unison 「Thank you very much!」 The sight of the children eagerly waiting in barely contained anticipation for the candy to be distributed caused me to let slip a small smile.
The children politely lined up in front of us and His Highness Klanven and I began passing out bags filled with candy. That man, who most certainly could not have failed to notice the children looking expectantly at him, made no move to distribute any candy. He merely stood by Klanven’s side. As I patted the head of a little girl who gleefully received some candy from me, I thought to myself, couldn’t he act a little nicer seeing as this was a special event for the children? After we had passed something out to everyone, there was still candy left in the box. His Highness had mentioned earlier that he had made sure to bring a lot, so I suppose it wasn’t that surprising.
Seeing that our work was done, I let out a sigh, but as I did so that man standing near Klanven pointed at a tree growing in the garden of the orphanage.
「What about that child?」 he said. At his words, all eyes shifted in the direction he was pointing at. A young girl of about seven or eight wearing a hat pulled low over her face was hiding behind the tree.
「Oh, heavens,」 the director muttered in exasperation, before beckoning to the girl with her hands. 「Liliana, Liliana! Come here!」
The girl referred to as Liliana trembled with her tiny body. She timidly inched herself out of the shade cast by the tree, but soon hid herself again—this time in the shade behind the director. She clutched at the older woman’s long skirt and shook like a small animal.
「I am terribly sorry. This girl has only recently arrived. She is extremely shy.」
「I don’t mind. Young lady, won’t you take off your hat and show me your adorable face?」 His Highness knelt before the young girl and smiled gently. He paid no mind to the fact that his long, pure-white robe was now touching the ground. I could not help but be impressed by how unabashedly he was able to say this. The young girl’s eyes darted back and forth in confusion between Klanven and the director’s faces. Then, at the director’s urging, she reluctantly removed her hat.
Her hair spilled out from underneath, revealing evenly cut locks that fell to around her chin. Her hair was adorably curly and was a beautiful ash color that contained an underlying faint pinkish hue, but that was not all. Mixed in amongst the masses of curls around her ears were clearly visible strands of black hair.
It seems this was the reason for concealing her hair beneath a hat. This child ‘had the black.’ The sight of this girl casting her eyes downward from fear of other’s scrutiny was unexpectedly the spitting image of that man when he was her age.
I quickly glanced in that man’s direction, but he was staring expressionless down at the girl. Somehow, the sight of his expression, so devoid of any emotion, devastated me. I felt as though I would burst into tears and impulsively reached my hand out to the girl who was now biting her lip. However, before my hand could reach her, his Highness’ pale hand—so delicate for a male—stroked the girl’s face. The girl looked up in shock.
「 Such lovely hair. So elegant and fine. I am sure the young ladies of high society would go wild with envy.」
「….!」 The young girl’s eyes went completely wide. From within the dark shadows obscuring her emerald colored-eyes, a light emerged. As the girl began to blush a deep red, His Highness Klanven cordially presented the girl a bag filled with candy.
「Would you be so kind as to accept my gift?」
「Ah…t-thank you…」The girl stammered in reply. Royalty is terrifying. That was my impression to the scene unfolding in front of me. His Highness had entranced an innocent girl within a matter of seconds. I felt as though there was no need to check to see the blasé expressions on their faces. The other orphan girls nearby were staring at this girl that had received candy from His Highness Klanven with naked envy written plainly on their faces. Perhaps this is how other ladies look at me when I am speaking with that man.
If His Highness Klanven was neither royalty nor a prince he could probably get by as a gigolo, I mused. I wasn’t even sure whether this constituted praise or condemnation. As I thought to myself, my eyes suddenly met that man’s.
「It’s a good thing isn’t it?」 The moment I moved my l lips to respond, he averted his eyes. Oh, god! I said internally. Just at that moment, His Highness Klanven stood up.
「Well then, shall we be off?」 With that, we can begin our excursion towards the fields in the outskirts of capital with the remaining candy in tow. We boarded the carriage that the orphanage owned along with the children and made our way through the city streets. The sight of the children excitedly and gleefully peering out the windows of the carriage had a calming effect on me. After awhile, the carriage lurched and then came to a halt.
「Oh…!」 I exclaimed unintentionally. The children scrambled over each other in a rush to get out of the carriage. The children pulled at my arm, urging me out of the carriage. The field we had arrived at was resplendent with blooming flower beds. Flowers of all shapes and colors, some modest and some vibrant, were are all in full bloom. The flowers that decorated the streets of downtown were still hard, little buds, but flower season had already arrived in these sun-soaked fields.
「Ah, feels excellent.」 His Highness Klanven said. He went and settled himself in the shade of a tree, and taking a deep breath, he called out to gather the children. 「I have a perfect story for this day. Won’t you come and listen, everyone?」
The children came over and sat in the shade of the tree with His Highness in the center. They listened closely as he began to tell them a legend. It seemed as if the children had never heard this legend countless times before as they listened with rapt attention to His Highness’ splendid story-telling voice. Without a doubt, the child that listened most fervently out of all the children was Liliana, who sat in the front row.
I too listened along with the children, only occasionally glancing over at the man who stood behind His Highness, leaning on the trunk of the tree. On closer inspection, it seemed some of the children too were casting awed glances at that man as they listened to the story. However you looked at him, that man who was posing as「Edilka Vince」 looked every bit the dashing knight. It was no surprise that the children were staring at him the way they were.
「Yes, what is it your grace?」
His Highness Klanven had finished his story, and I noticed his amber eyes were now pointed in my direction. His attention pulled at the children’s, and now all eyes were focused on me. I blinked my eyes in confusion, awaiting for him to go on, but he simply grinned broadly at me.
「I wonder if you know how to make flower garlands? Seeing as the high festival is so soon, perhaps you could teach the children for me?」
I nodded reflexively. It is customary at the festival for people to engage in a ritual where they bequeath flower garlands to people that they are close to. It is said that this is one way that people can confess their affections, and everyone has someone they hope to exchange garlands with.
If I counted the number of times I have exchanged garlands with that man on one hand, I would not even reach five fingers. At any rate, even the high festival is not enough to induce him to return from his studies at the magic academy. The time he has spent at the academy is more than the time we have spent together, so it really isn’t any wonder.
For what is worth, we had exchanged garlands via post, so it was not as if we never did it. However, this year in particular I had actually been looking forward to the festival as an opportunity to spend time with him. Having now accepted Klanven’s assignment it did seem like my wish would be granted.
「Right…well then. First off, could everybody please gather a bunch of flowers that they like. Make sure to leave as much stem as you can.」 The moment the words left my mouth, the children began plucking flowers all at once. I started gathering some growing nearby for myself. After collecting a fair amount, I took a single flower as my model and placed it before the children.