23. The Third Prince is Too Dazzling! I Can’t Look at Him Directly!
Chapter Twenty-Three: A Proud, Solitary Rose Blooms at the Soirée
I don’t know why, but Gilbert’s mood is volatile. We finished our dance with him in high spirits and truly enjoying himself even after starting in a sullen mood. Something must have happened between then and now with Queen Trianna.
He walked past me at a brisk pace with loud steps and went straight to face Prince Jerik, leaving me behind.
Treating me like I’m not even here…
Ah, maybe he has some secret state matters to discuss, so that’s why he’s keeping me out of the loop here. OK, OK, I’ll take my leave, and a bit gladly at that, to be honest. I’d better find someone already.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
No sooner have my heels turned than I feel my arm grabbed from behind by Gilbert.
Quite the statement from someone who has just gone past me like I’m nothing. I think that as Gilbert pulls me to his side, where I stand dumbfounded. Please let go of my arm, by the way.
“Gil, being mean to a lady is rude, you know? You’re supposed to be kind and courteous. Right, Lina?”
Jerik is involving me in the conversation, at least. But please don’t. Now Gilbert is gonna turn his attention to me and throw darts with his pretty face.
I don’t know! I have nothing to do with this! I shake my head, trying to convey this to all present.
“See? You’re scaring Lina and making her smile vanish.”
Please stop, Lord Jerik! You are taunting Gilbert too much!
“You seem to be having a good time. I wonder if I can partake as well.”
It’s Queen Trianna’s second stage entry. I was so concerned with Gilbert’s ill-temper that I had completely forgotten about her.
“Gilbert seems quite infatuated with you. The moment our dance was over, he wasted no time in returning to your side.”
Queen Trianna says, casting a sideways glance at me. Her attractiveness and presence are like none I’ve ever seen. The bright red lipstick she is wearing shines, but not many people look good with this color. The glossy lips lift with a smile.
“Will you have this girl give birth to a successor so you may regain your former status and power?”
Wow. Straight to the point. Aren’t these touchy matters supposed to be discussed only in a roundabout way and by surreptitiously throwing hints here and there? Wait, never mind, what’s this about me being supposed to give birth to Gilbert’s kid? No, no, no, that’s just a misunderstanding, Queen Mother. But the air is so tense that I can’t muster the courage to set right Queen Trianna’s mistake.
“Far be it from me to presume how you could have come to such an impression, my Queen, but I believe we can rest easy on such matters, for Elvasti already has a kind and intelligent Crown Prince, who turned out to be very much unlike someone else.”
Gilbert’s smile as he bears the brunt of and then counter-attacks Queen Trianna’s blunt opening salvo is amazingly charming while still concealing a hint of something terrifying. I didn’t know this kind of smile existed until now.
“How brazenly you refer to me in such terms. Why don’t you state it outright so you may be frank with me: my mother-in-law is an obstacle in my way.”
“I could never mean any such thing, Queen Mother. I was simply saying I am glad that His Majesty, the Crown Prince, does not bear a resemblance to Her Majesty the Queen after all.”
“What a strange thing to say. Jerik’s eyes are handed over from me, and surely his benevolent personality is not unlike mine? After all, look at how you have lived this far and are even close to becoming engaged.”
“I see, that’s quite right. Hopefully, it will continue to be so, for it is quite vexing to find myself from time to time in the wrong end of hidden daggers coated in fake poisons.”
What an exchange of brutal icy-hearted comebacks. The unconcerned looks and gentle, refined smiles they keep without a break on their faces add to the scene’s somehow deeply ghastly vibe. I thought the ladies in my circle could strike wintry precision strikes with their words, but compared to the verbal exchanges between these two, I look fondly back on them as a soft autumn breeze.
“Mother! Gil! Please stop it already. Why are you two always like this? I was heartened by the truly rare sight of you dancing amiably with each other, but no sooner it was over, you are back to your old selves.”
Prince Jerik stepped in between the two. A wrinkle borne out of unpleasantness has formed between his eyebrows, but his sublime facial features are far from collapsing into ugly overreaction. At times like this, the many years of upbringing as a true noble seem to show up in almost imperceptible ways like these. Lord Jerik is the epitome of manly, calm elegance, and dignified serenity.
Of course, Gilbert and Trianna’s grace and elegance are nothing less than what you would expect from true royalty. Nobody who looks at them can describe them as anything other than refined and beautiful. But their egos are another matter…
As I watch the events unfold with bated breath, I inadvertently face Queen Trianna, and our eyes lock.
“Oh, that’s right. Pray tell, aren’t you supposed to be the daughter of House Randall? When I was dancing with Gilbert, I caught you staring at me with a ghastly intensity. Was that a declaration of war, I wonder.”
Just by coincidentally making eye contact, I’m suddenly pulled into the ring. Queen Trianna is too scary. I know she’s expecting an answer, but the only thing that comes out of my mouth is an imperceptible squeak. Regardless, she’s assuming too much. Like I could ever sign up my own death warrant like that!
Perhaps she means when I took off my glasses and inadvertently caught sight of Gilbert with my naked eyes, and well, you know how that goes… Oh no, don’t tell me… did she see me at that exact moment?
“I beg your pardon, but Her Highness is mistaken. This lady suffers from bad eyesight, so she probably just squinted to look closely.”
Gilbert, nice follow! And a nice assist, setting up a pretext to remove my glasses! Now I can get to see Trianna’s aura.
“Is that so? She was frowning so intensely at me that the wrinkles between her brow extended all around her nose… At any rate, you, what do you see in Gilbert? Oh, I remember, you are the daughter of that House that is in its twilight. Did you come here like a stray with her tail down who smelled free fodder at our castle?”
That is some seriously unreservedly aggressive speech. And the way she raises her chin and half squints at me while delivering such hurtful remarks really makes her look like a cartoon villain. However, when I catch a glimpse of Trianna’s aura, I am so astonished that I can’t even pay attention to her words.
“Mother, your words are too much! What are you talking about in a place like this?”
“Oh my, isn’t it the truth? I don’t like saying things in roundabout ways. Otherwise, certain impertinent girls could misunderstand my intentions.”
“Mother, please stop, for goodness sake!”
Prince Jerik and Queen Trianna’s altercation had become quite fierce. However, what I see in Queen Trianna’s aura is consuming all of my attention.
I had never seen such a beautiful aura. The crisp navy blue radiates outward into a bluish-purple, and silver sparkles throughout. It’s as if I’m looking at the personified star-studded moonless night.
“So, you, I must tell you that nothing good will come out from tangling with Gilbert. You’ve already had your life endangered because of him, haven’t you? If you wag your tail and tell me what you really came here for, I shall grant you your wish. Hold it with your maw and return home.”
The Queen’s stream of barbed words directed at me continues to flow without any sign of abatement. But who cares!
Trianna’s crimson hair complements her aura’s strength… Like a single rose swaying in the deep of night. Proud. Lonely. I feel as if a cold but clear breeze emanates from her aura. Being in this aura’s presence would be enough to stir anyone’s feelings.
“Oh my, what a poorly raised child. To be so quick to cry.”
Prince Jerik turns his attention to me the moment he hears those words from Queen Trianna, whose expression can’t perfectly hide an incredibly faint tinge of regret.
Gilbert rushes to me, calling my name. He softly takes my cheek in his hand and inspects something on it with his thumb. I then notice that somehow, before I even know it, large teardrops have been flowing down my face. Gilbert embraces me in a hug with a strange sense of urgency and gently slides his hand down my back as if to comfort me.
No, no! It’s not like Trianna’s bombs have made a dent in me. Certainly, the intimidation I feel before her remains unchanged, but this is not it! I have been so deeply moved by what I saw in Trianna’s aura that my eyes have teared up all on their own.
“I am fine. I am not crying because I feel hurt in any way.”
I put my hands on Gilbert’s chest and push him away, breaking away from that gentle embrace that is trying to protect me.
“Oh, you are a mutt, after all. You look cute but have a bark.”
I look straight at Queen Trianna. But no matter how many times I’ve seen it, no matter how much I try to control myself, I…
“If you have something to say, go ahead. If you say it immediately, I’ll listen to your request.”
I stumble for a moment, unsure as to whether this is the place and time for what I’m about to say. If I say it, it must be without any pauses or trepidation. And once started, there’s no stopping till I finish.
Putting aside my misgivings, I take a firm breath and open my mouth. I feel supported by Gilbert’s hand, which has remained on my back, and it feels warm on my skin as if reassuring me that no matter what happens, everything will be alright.
“W-well then, availing of your kind offer, I shall speak. I would like to ask, why does Her Highness say things that are not in her heart? It is apparent to me that Her Highness cares deeply not only for Prince Jerik but also for Prince Gilbert and this kingdom. Moreover, Her Highness’ au—… heart is so beautiful yet holds such loneline—”
Queen Trianna’s eyes opened widely, flaring intensely. If stares could kill, I’d have been reduced to a crisp. If you tell me I can speak up, don’t yell at me if I do!
I-I’m scared! I request Lord Gilbert’s protective mode be activated!
I softly take hold of Gilbert’s arm and cling to it. I am suddenly very appreciative of his sticking by my back on this occasion.
“What’s with all this ruckus?”
What a timing for the King himself to make an entrance! With one eyebrow raised, he places his hand on Queen Trianna’s back and makes circular motions.
“Trianna, are you fighting with the boys again? Calm down a little, and let’s have some wine over there.”
As he says that, His Highness uses his hand to nudge Trianna towards his direction until they have both turned their backs on us. Then, His Highness turns his neck just a little and says.
“Gil, your Lady appears to be tired. It’s alright. You may head back to your quarters now.”
How smoothly he defuses the situation! A true gentleman!
Or rather, it seems to me that His Majesty the King is protective of Trianna. His royal aura sways as if snuggling up to Trianna’s. Trianna’s aura has become calmer. I feel as if I’m witnessing a relationship, unlike what I have been told.
I am tilting my head just watching, perplexed, so I jolt when Gilbert grabs my shoulder.
Oh, that’s right! I think. We have just been granted permission to leave! Let’s withdraw quickly from this battlefield!
As we start to walk towards the exit, Gilbert takes off his coat and puts it on me. After wrapping me in it like a crepe, he continues to escort me by my side as we walk. This treatment is a bit rough!
“Lord Gilbert, I-I’m not particularly cold at the moment!”
Talk about nobody taking you seriously.
In all this hustle and bustle, I don’t think I could even say goodbye to Prince Jerik properly, so I twist my body in whatever way I can and make a quick bow towards him. However, Gilbert continues to hurry me along as if I am a prisoner being taken to the dungeons by a guard.
What is your problem! I’m walking along, aren’t I?
I started the soirée trembling at the prospect of dancing in front of all the royal families.
The surprise reunion with dad and successfully completing a magnificent dance with Mr. Moody Prince were the highlights of the night. But talking on personal terms with Crown Prince Jerik and Queen Trianna, as well as meeting His Majesty the King in person, were things I did not expect at all when I first walked into this venue.
For a penniless Countess such as myself, this was too much on my plate at once. Come to think of it, I didn’t get to eat anything from the delicacies on the buffet table, but now I feel like I’m going to get heartburn after being served such a meal.
With my stomach grumbling a bit while at the same time worrying about digesting everything that has transpired and the figurative heartburn I will get from all of it, the curtains close for me on this day of the soirée.