The Best is Saved for Last [Chapter 9]
Chapter Nine: My Lord, I’m Confused (Part 2)
Gently emerging from the carriage was a small, lovely girl, far removed from Stan’s narrative.
She wore a modest indigo dress with only a few laces and a matching ribbon. She looked younger than I had been told. Right then, I knew that she was a girl who I needed to protect.
I watched her every move, knowing that I was being rude amid the many servants who wished to meet and welcome her. The coachman placed a velvet footrest on the ground with ornaments on four corners.
The house was so old that it had not been repaired in a long while. Some of the cobblestones of the stone paving were already out of place. I walked to the carriage and held out my hand to her, thinking it might be dangerous for her to go down and walk alone. She blinked her big round eyes in response, which bore the same color as her thick black hair.
When I urged her to do so, she tilted her head. In my head, I believed she might be thinking that this older man was being intrusive. However, the Divine Child only murmured in a slightly nervous voice, “Thank you,” gently placing her hand over mine.
I see that your skin color was browned by the sun, while your hands are rough to the touch. It’s enough to be able to say that you are healthy enough to move around as such, but the king didn’t like you like that, did he? The hand on top of my own was small and thin. I felt a sense of danger that her hand might snap if I put too much pressure on it.
…I don’t think she was given enough food to eat.
I have visited the Royal Palace almost every day for my newly assigned duties. I regret my inability to meet with the king, who seems to be avoiding me all the same. I couldn’t do anything about it because he had escaped to the back palace. I even went as far as thinking about asking the eunuch who has adored me for many years to drag him out. This was a matter worthy of urgent questioning.
A faint voice brought me back to my senses, making me look at the girl. Her features may not be too sculpted, but her young but intelligent features had this unique charm that made her unbelievably adorable. The eyes that wavered now and then were probably due to the anxiety of being married to a stranger, a man who was further away in the age that would be more comparable with her father’s.
“I’m sorry that you must marry an old man like me. Won’t you consider giving comfort to a lonely old soul and adding color to his remaining days?”
I knelt and kissed the hem of her dress, asking for forgiveness.
I said, “I would be happy if I could make you smile,” she nodded, her face quickly turning red. On the contrary, I felt a rush seeing her unexpected and lovely reaction.
The girl remained silent. I felt that it was my fault as I had been too much a blockhead when it came to such matters.
When I called out her name to see what was wrong, she looked up as if she had come to her senses.
“I know the king and the prime minister forced you to marry me. I’m sorry for the trouble this has caused you.”
The girl lowered her eyes apologetically from the bottom of her heart. Her thin, slender shoulders slumped. She lowered her head so much that it would have been painful for the much taller earl to look down at her.
That idiotic king… He’s a dead man…!
“Excuse me. Did His Majesty say something like that?”
His brows furrowed as he suppressed the burning anger he felt. The girl quickly waved her hands, denying the question.
“No… Well, it’s just what I thought of on my own…”
The girl shook her head desperately as if she was trying to protect him.
However, even if she hadn’t said it out loud, I knew that she had already been exposed to an environment where a little girl like her could sense it. That alone is worthy of death.
The earl came back to his senses when he felt her slightly retreat. The big eyes stared back at him anxiously, with her small round face reminding him of one of the puppies the village children introduced him to.
The puppy’s shiny fur was black; it pressed against the earl’s big hand with its wet nose. It looked notably smaller than the other puppies, making it all the more adorable.
The earl was calmed by the image of the puppy in his mind. It was probably still vigorously following its owner in a faraway land. He bent down a little and looked into her eyes.
“Miss Nako, it was indeed sudden, but I don’t think I was forced into it. We may not be able to be a normal couple, but I hope that you and I can be good partners.”
She looked up in surprise at the words; her face was shining with happiness, if only for a brief moment before she immediately shifted into a downcast, reserved expression.
The words that fell from her small lips made the earl’s brow wrinkle even more deeply.
…Special powers, such things are ridiculous.
As Stan had said, they cared too much about that. The king who had let such a small girl shrivel up so much for such a mundane reason must be punished accordingly.
The earl then led her to the prepared room and introduced her to Martha and Maria. He was considerate and thought it would be easier if she asked them about marital details if they were of the same gender, but Nako, though reserved, grabbed the earl’s sleeve instead and refused to leave his side. This action made the earl feel as embarrassed as if he were falling in love with a puppy.
“I’m sorry, Miss Nako, but I have some business I must attend to.”
When the earl looked towards Nako, who was talking to Martha, she opened her lips slightly as if she wanted to say something.
He had expected it to some extent, but… It was hard. His body betrayed his will and stopped in its tracks as he stared at her moist, round eyes. She looked like a puppy that its master was abandoning.
“Yes… Take care.”
As the lonesome smile slowly spread on the earl’s face, he seriously wondered if he should just cancel his plans. However, he would not be able to catch the king for a long while if he missed today as he would be more on guard.
He made up his mind by weighing the future against the present. With this method, he had always been able to end his worries as soon as possible. The Count needed to inquire and find out how they had been treating Nako, and if possible, get a letter of intent that they would be staying away from them for the rest of their lives. If the king would disagree, the Count was not planning on hesitating to use his ultimate weapon.
“I’ll be back in the evening, so let’s have dinner together then.”
The earl stroked Nako’s head, coincidentally already in the right place and angle for his hand. His eyes narrowed at the youthful smile directed at him, finding it difficult to believe that just a moment ago, she was bearing a melancholic expression.
He could again see the semblance of the puppy as Nako closed her eyes happily at his touch.
…Unexpectedly, we might be able to work things out together.
The earl pulled his hair back with conviction, left the mansion, and headed for the Royal Palace.
He waved off the guard who wanted to make a preemptive move and walked quickly to his office.
On the way to the king’s office, the earl caught the prime minister by the neck, dragging him along. He knocked the moment they got there.
“Who is it?”
It was the young voice of the chamberlain.
He announced his name in a low voice so as not to let the sound reach the king, who was probably sitting at his desk, a few steps away from him. The earl opened the door without waiting for an answer.
The king appeared to have been taking a break; as the door opened with great force, he bellowed out a loud noise.
“Gil… Huh!? What are you… Why are you here!?”
The cup he was holding broke with a loud noise to the point that it sounded like a gong. The resonant sound of the chamberlain gulping echoed in the air.
“Your Majesty Lionel.”
“I’m sorry I pushed the little monkey on you without consulting you… Even I didn’t think that it was a good idea!”
A blue streak flashed across the earl’s temple. May it be luck or not, the king, whose gaze was wandering in the opposite direction, did not notice the change and continued to speak.
“But it was the minister who said that marrying you and that little monkey would be killing two birds with one stone. He’s been bugging me that you might be going over to another country since he knows you are starting to get on friendly terms with the prince from the neighboring country… He also wanted to keep her here! It’s not my fault!”
…I let out a sigh as he looked at the man hiding under his desk, spewing out every excuse that came to mind all at once.
I did think that would have been the case, but… I wish I had been informed beforehand. If I had been consulted, then the Divine Child would not have been made to be my wife.
If she were allowed to leave the Royal Palace as she pleased, she would have probably been able to look for a man her age that would suit her… I thought about that a lot, tilting my head at myself, thinking it would have been a bit lonely had that been the case too.
I probably still would have seen her if it had proceeded like that. However, I would not have been able to enjoy holding a friendly conversation with her.
“Your Majesty, she… Isn’t she just as sweet and adorable as any other? Why do you hate her so much?”
I asked, hiding my anger. It was a question I had been asking myself since the moment I saw her.
The king repeatedly blinked as if he had heard something strange. He gingerly poked his head out from under his desk, glancing at me suspiciously.
“Gil, have you lost your mind already? How could you have found anything adorable about that thing?”
“…You’re not talking about the Divine Child, are you?”
The room suddenly filled with the angered earl’s raring aura. The young but wise chamberlain had already moved to the door to secure their potential escape route.
“No, not… The Divine Child! I’m sorry, but… That Divine Child… was too dark-skinned; her hair looked like hay. She had a flat face and chest, like a boy… No, what did you even see in that Divine Child that made her adorable in your eyes? On top of that, the first time I saw her… When I got up from my chair to come close to her, she bit me!”
“…I believe she’s from a race that bear soft features. Regarding the other matter, seeing that it’s you, I’m sure you had made some sort of rude remark to make her do that coupled with the confusion of just being summoned.”
It sounded tragic. She must have been in a total state of panic that she bit him.
Remembering the reserved expression on the face of the girl who had just been with me, I felt pity and irritation arise from the pit of my stomach. However, at least now, I fully understand why the king had so quickly released the girl from custody. However, her dark skin was evidently due to being sunburnt, and so was the damage on her hair at the time.
The king must not have seen the girl again within the past six months, even once. The Miss Nako I met today did not give me any ill impressions. With a little more time, I believe her normal skin and the luster of her hair would return. Nonetheless, her current skin color was also full of vitality… To the point that it dazzled me.
Don’t they know the remarkable growth of a girl turning into a woman that happens around her age? A girl like a bud will quickly blossom and become a woman, basking in all her glory.
…For someone who claimed to be a womanizer, the king didn’t understand the situation. I’m not sure what to say further.
“I heard that you treated the Divine Child with disrespect and turned a blind eye to the mistreatment around her.”
“I don’t know! I hadn’t seen her since our first meeting when she was summoned. I left all the matters concerning her to the prime minister’s hands.”
The prime minister, who had become an ornament in the room due to Gil’s displeasure, opened his mouth in a panic.
“Your Majesty! Don’t push all the responsibility on me!”
After deviating from his usual mild-mannered demeanor, he turned to the earl with a questioning gaze.
“Master Gil… By mistreatment, do you mean the lack of maidservants around the Divine Child?”
“…I believe there are other things aside from that.”
“No, the… I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that when I consulted the Divine Child about her servants, she said that my own granddaughter alone would serve just fine.”
“Surely, she would attest to that.”
When the earl agreed to hold off his concerns, the prime minister exhaled in relief. He then reported that he had imposed some punishment on the maids who had abandoned their work without permission.
The king and the prime minister looked languid; however, the earl continued to speak his mind with a mysterious smile and pressure that urged them to go on.
“You’ve lost a lot of weight. Have you been eating properly?”
It was unexpected. The king who laid the question looked at the prime minister to ask for help. The minister tilted his head slightly, opening his mouth somewhat confusedly.
“I thought you were a picky eater.”
“That’s right! You’ve always been like that!”
The earl tilted his head, effectively silencing the king’s teases with his keen eyes.
“Do you think the food of this world fit her palette…”
“Why would you be thinking about, ah… She was once able to eat Custo when she stayed in the Royal Palace. She told my granddaughter that it was similar to a staple food she had from her original world.”
“Would you like to try that as well, earl? It’d be quite the luxury.”
Custo is a grain imported from across the sea. Due to its scarcity, it’s being traded at a high price and is the favorite food of the king. For this reason, most of the domestically cultured Custo is kept in the kitchen of the Royal Palace.
Ah, if that was the case…
“Then I’ll take that as my wedding present.”
“What? Wait a minute! Do you even have any idea how expensive that is!”
“So you’re willing to look that pathetic for a single type of food… You, there.”
Before he knew it, the chamberlain, who had his hand on the doorknob, shuddered, shaking his shoulders in astonishment.
“What are His Majesty’s plans for today?”
“Yes… Yes! After another hour of work, His Majesty will be returning to the Royal Palace to rest.”
“What!? Oh… Nooo!”
The chamberlain, who seemed to have understood the king’s screams, was stabbed with the king’s glare when he tried to make amends through eye contact.
“Gil… No way…”
“It’s been a while since we’ve spared.”
“I don’t want to.”
“What are you talking about? It’s only meant to be a casual bout with this older man. Let’s see the results of my fifteen years of training.”
Looking at his watch, the earl smiled benignly.
There was still some time before dinner. The earl’s motto was that sanctions should be swift. He also reminded himself to make them write a letter of intent regarding staying away from Nako from now on.
The earl continued to watch the king by the door as he continued his royal duties. He then grabbed his cloak and headed for the training grounds.
From there, the king’s screams continued for about three hours… It was not until the following day that the king noticed that every last grain of Custo had disappeared from the kitchen vault.