I felt a slight tinge of regret as I was illuminated by the light of a moon that still needed another day to be whole.
Leaving the dance hall itself was fine. Even stretching my body a little in the garden was acceptable. Even throwing myself onto the bench instead of sitting properly was not completely out of bounds.
However, I should not have laughed aloud like that.
Even if I was discovered, escaping into a garden was a rather agreeable kind of escape, my unladylike manners could still be seen as childishly adorable. But laughing boisterously was not acceptable.
There was absolutely no reason for me to be ashamed of my own bold laugh. But even I knew that it was not something I could let anyone besides my own family, the servants at the mansion and Mariywa hear.
In any case, being seen by this boy who stared back at me in silence, could hardly result in anything positive.
My mistake was thinking that my loud laugh would be erased by the music that leaked from the dance hall. But if someone got close to me like this one had, they would be able to easily assess from the situation that I alone could be the culprit. That was why I kept my attention on the entrance to the garden. But it was no use now. I had been careless.
No regret would fix the situation now.
It could not be helped. Of course, it would have been preferable for the night to go without a hitch. But being able to flexibly conjure up a new scheme once the first has been crushed was one of my qualities as a genius.
I stood up and directly faced the blue-eyed boy who looked at me in puzzlement.
Drawing myself up to my full height, I addressed him with my usual voice restored.
“Good evening, boy. My name is Christina Noir.”
He had already seen me laugh. I had no intention of putting the princess disguise back on now. I proudly introduced myself with a fearless laugh and with my arms folded in front of me.
My next scheme was simple. There was nothing to hide, I was the daughter of a duke. In all likelihood, this runt was a child of nobility who had escaped the dance hall like myself. And if he was the son of nobility, well, it didn’t matter if his father was a marquis or a count, he was no match for me. As a genius, there was a huge gulf between us as people. But there was an even bigger one in terms of our station. Most children my age could be dominated by my authority as ‘the daughter of a duke.’
In other words, what I was about to do was a silencing through authority.
As one who was older than him, I was able to look down at from a step above. It was most advantageous here that I was older than he. The first thing to do was to establish a clear relationship and show my superiority.
“I don’t know if you know this, but House Noir is one of only three houses that hold the title of Duke in this country. We are known as the three great houses and are the most esteemed among the nobles. And I, Christina Noir am the sole daughter of that family! Now, fear and obey me!”
As I boasted this with a puffed out chest, the boy started to clap with a sincere applause.
It was quite the reaction. I felt good about his honesty and I drew up my shoulders even more.
“Hehehe. You’re quick to understand for such a small boy. I appreciate those who are smart. I may even make you my follower… Who are you anyway?”
The boy had been so awestruck by my overwhelming presence, that he had forgotten to introduce himself. He clapped his hands. His age-appropriate actions suggested to me that his formal education had not started yet. Well, it was not kind to compare him with a genius like me. And he was probably only five years old. And he was probably a better speaker than most his age.
Thinking about this, I watched him introduce himself with a forgiving smile.
“I’m Charles Eduard. Nice to meet you.”
I accepted the boy’s name with a smile.
“I see. You are called Charles Eduard, eh.”
“I see, I see. Charles. Charles Eduard.”
I nodded and smiled and repeated the name. I chewed on the name for a moment, and after fully tasing the name that had entered my ears I finally understood where it was from.
This boy was royalty.
“…Ah, are you really Charles Eduard? Are you sure you didn’t get the family name wrong?”
“It’s not wrong.”
The shocking truth caused me to stretch the last word.
I did that. I acted immodestly in front of royalty and then acted as if I were above him on top of it. Even if he were only a boy of five, I had been putting on airs to someone who was connected to the king. My follow-up scheme had turned into a time bomb. Well, I could only laugh about it now.
This was not amusing at all. What could I do?
Even if I knew that there was no help coming from there, I could not help but look up at the sky whenever my ability to think failed me.
The moon that had just earlier been shining its gentle silvery light was now covered with clouds that had stealthily crept towards it.
“The moon disappeared, huh.”
I agreed with Charles as he too looked up at the moon.
In the whole country, there were only a few who were allowed to carry the name of Eduard. The one family with the royal lineage. It was a crime to be a pretender. Pretenders received a harsh punishment. I had already confirmed that this was not some misunderstanding of a five-year-old child, and there was little doubt that this boy in front of me was of the most powerful family line that carried the name of our countries founder, Gillick Eduard. Come to think of it, I had memories of the name Charles Eduard. I won’t go into details, but his name matched the third prince of this country. It was very likely to be him.
“I see… Charles Eduard… Yes, you are Charles Eduard…”
“Is something wrong?”
After looking at Charles more closely, I noticed more and more convincing attributes. He had the same blonde hair and blue eyes as his cousin Mishuly, even their facial structures bore a resemblance.
It was not a truth that I wanted to accept, and my mind raced to other possibilities, but the truth was the truth. I may have still been immature, but I intended to be a lady. Mariwya had taught me how to swallow the bitter realities in life.
My follow-up scheme had been thoroughly crushed. Trying to throw your weight around against royalty would result in the most painful boomerang throw. There was a strong possibility that my conduct towards Charles would have consequences. I had my misgivings. If one were to strictly view it in legal terms, the crime ‘lese majeste’ could be brought against me. But perhaps I was overthinking it.
No. I was overthinking it, I decided with a shake of my head.
I could still salvage this. I would turn this around. It was not yet an impossible situation. As a genius, I was immediately able to think of a way to escape this predicament. From here on my third scheme would be put into action…!
“You know, Charles,”
“What is it, My Lady Christina?”
Why was this boy, the third prince of this kingdom, speaking to me with such reverence?
“Yes. Well, I did have something I wanted to ask you, but it can wait till later. More importantly, why did you put ‘My Lady’ before my name?”
It would only look suspicious if I changed my attitude now. It also had the benefit of fitting within my next plan, so I continued on in my usual way of speaking.
And his reply had been to call me ‘My Lady Christina.’
This completely spoiled it from the onset. I could only be impressed that he could so thoroughly unbalance me from the beginning. I, a genius conversationalist. Even in the dance hall earlier, I had led the conversation and grasped control of its outcome without letting go. But this prince had casually thrown me off course.
This one, he was capable.
I raised my guard even further, but Charles was looking at me with a puzzled expression.
“But My Lady Christina, I am only doing it because you told me to ‘fear and obey you’?”
“…Ah, yes. I see.”
I did say that.
Apparently, this five-year-old child had not only thoroughly memorized the biggest slip of the tongue in my short, seven-year life, but he had even gone as far as carrying it out. If he indeed was not trying to mock me with advanced techniques, then Charles was an incredibly naive and good child.
One might even be worried about his future.
I don’t know. With the exception of Mariwya, no one has ever made feel so defeated after a short conversation.
“I did say that, yes. That is correct, yes…”
I ground my teeth as Charles, who meant no malice, pushed me even further. I had been very disheartened by the defeat at the hands of Mariwya, but it was not like me to give up in a place like this. This was an unintentional yet punishing blow, however, I had still not been struck in the way I had been by Mariwya. And in spite of appearances, I could take being hit.
Right, I recomposed myself and raised my chin. I returned my thoughts back to the present and focused my gaze on this formidable enemy.
“What is it, My Lady Christina?”
His petty psychological attacks made my lip curl, but I somehow continued in a soft tone.
“I did say all that a moment ago, but you don’t have to call me ‘My Lady.’”
Why. What a simple-minded question. It was simple and could lead to different paths. It made his former formidability seem like a joke.
…Was this a trap?
I had my doubts as I looked into his pure, questioning blue eyes. But even so, I laughed to show that I was not phased.
“Hehe. Why, Charles. It is because we are friends, are we not?”
“Yes, we are.”
He reacted strongly to the word friend. I did not miss his mumbled question and nodded vigorously. Good, this was going well. But if he lost interest here, or said ‘I don’t want to’, then my whole plan would be ruined.
“I am your friend. Well, more accurately, we are going to be good friends.’
“Going to be friends?”
“Yes. Being in a friendship is splendid, you know? Among friends, there is no station, age or reservations in conduct. Friendship is a kind of relationship that allows you to connect and bypass all of the other things!”
I emphasized the wonder of friendship by spreading my arms wide. Charles listened to my speech and raised his voice in admiration.
I could taste my victory. He only needed one last push before it was mine.
“If you understand me, stop calling me My Lady. If anything, you can casually call me Chris!”
“I understand, Chris!”
This boy was so naive.
I watched Charles who seemed to be overjoyed at making what was likely his first friend on equal footing. I mentally posed in triumph. You could say that my plan had all but succeeded now. I just needed to insist that our first interaction had been something between friends and I would not be tried for lese majeste. There was only one last thing left to do.
“One more thing, Charles.”
“What is it, Chris?”
We referred to each other casually and I put a finger up to my lips.
“Let’s keep what happened here a secret between the two of us.”
“Yes. A secret. What happened here, everything.”
“…Even the part where you laughed like, Fuaahahahahahha?”
“That’s a top secret!”
Why did he have a tendency to pinpoint the worst parts and pour salt on my wounds?
“Listen. You can’t tell anyone that you met me here tonight.”
I repeated strongly and Charles curled his lip.
That Charles’ question contained a degree of discontentment was likely due him wanting to tell someone of tonight’s events. But I did not think it was because he wanted to spread the story of my boisterous laugh… He just wanted to share the joy of making a friend with someone he was close with.
As a genius, I understood his childish heart and so I gave him a humorous wink.
“After all, it’s a special, commemorative day for our friendship. Don’t you want to keep it just between the two of us?”
By beautiful suggestion seemed to works as I saw satisfaction appear in his eyes.
“I understand! It’s a secret!’
Internally, I was applauding myself for being able to draw out from him the exact words that I had wanted.