24. The Third Prince is Too Dazzling! I Can’t Look at Him Directly!
Chapter Twenty-Four: Girl Talk (A Peek Into the Princess Candidates’ Hearts)
“I thank everyone for joining today. We have matters to discuss regarding our friend Lina.”
This is the second time the princess candidate ladies have held a gathering in my room. Judging from the events that transpired the first day we met at this castle, I never dreamed we would be sitting at a round table as we are doing today.
“Lady Merlia, if you want to discuss something about Lady Lina, is it because of anything that happened in the soirée last night?”
Alisa is really quick to figure things out and understand the state of affairs.
“That is correct. I presume everyone witnessed it with their own eyes.”
Everyone promptly nods in unison when I say that.
“I wanted to state my support for this couple and to ask everyone’s opinion on the matter, so I…”
Oh! It is obscene to interrupt another Lady while it’s her turn talking. And if that was not enough, to jump out of your seat making such a loud noise is very improper!
“Lady Maribel, it is because of such rudenesses that you are looked down upon. Why don’t you calm down a little and return to your seat?”
I have only knitted my brow at such an outburst, but I’m grateful to Laila for restoring order to the room.
“I-I’m sorry. But I just thought that your feelings of supporting Lady Lina and His Highness as a couple were wonderful, so I suddenly got excited!”
With her hands folded in front of her chest, her cheeks blushing with innocent enthusiasm, and her eyes watering almost as if ready to cry, Maribel is the perfect picture of a young maiden.
“I understand Lady Maribel’s feelings. Both looked like true lovers on the night of the soirée.”
So Alisa also got that impression too.
Especially because I really felt like the world had become just the two of them during the dance.
I have had many opportunities to meet with Lord Gilbert since I was a child, but I have never seen him so happy.
“However, are you fine with such a conclusion, Lady Merlia? At our first tea party, I believe you were adamant in your stance of conquering Lord Gilbert.”
Lady Laila interjects, her light purple eyes narrowed as if probing into my heart.
“You remember well. Lord Gilbert has been fine-looking since the day we met as infants so long ago, and since growing up, he seems to dazzles in one’s eyes… moreover, he is always ready to smile sweetly while conducting himself with a true gentleman’s presence. Is there a girl who would not sigh at the mere sight of Lord Gilbert?”
Again, everyone nods in unison to my remarks.
“Additionally, from early childhood up until the present, I have been well acquainted with Lord Gilbert’s complicated situation, so I thought that I, as a daughter of House Ordis, would be the most suitable as the best shield to stand by his side.”
That’s right. I had always thought that Lord Gilbert had no one but me by his side. My father had hinted at such a possibility.
“However, seeing how Lord Gilbert has changed since he met Lady Lina, my thinking began to change. How about you?”
I realized that I have always seen Gilbert only at a surface level.
The way Gilbert’s expressions changed when he caught sight of Lina, the subtle changes in his voice when Lina was mentioned during our conversations, all of these signs, even if so subtle and faint as to be almost imperceptible, to me they were undeniable and unmistakable.
“I think so too.”
Oh, it is rare for Alisa and me to agree.
“My father… Unlike House Ordis, House Eusera backs the Crown Prince. Though not hardliner, my father had high hopes upon hearing of my selection as a princess candidate.”
As I thought. I had misgivings from the start at that part of her story.
I had suspected that, as a princess candidate from a family in the Queen’s faction, she could do something that would somehow lead to Gilbert’s misfortune.
“Even if I am aware that I am being forced into a marriage by my House’s expectations, if it is with someone as wonderful as His Highness, I felt as if I couldn’t be more fortunate. But it is just as Lady Merlia has said. I can’t rival Lady Lina anymore. And it seems that for a while now, Lord Gilbert has made his decision, even if he isn’t aware of it.”
I feared she could take a hardline stance here on account of her House’s position, but it seems that turned out to be a groundless apprehension on my part.
From our discussion’s flow, it seems everyone is far more reasonable than I gave them credit for. I’m greatly relieved.
“Lady Laila, I would like to hear your opinion as well.”
Everyone’s eyes turn to Laila.
“My feelings for His Royal Highness are so intense as to border on worship. When I gaze upon his face or hear his voice, my heart flutters. And yet, I think it is different from love. Above all, my inner intentions haven’t changed: raise to a high position through marriage to His Royal Highness and create an environment where a woman can show true interest in scholarship and politics without receiving derisive looks and cold shoulders. Such was my calculation coming to this castle. But compared to that, my friendship with Lady Lina is more important to me now.”
Certainly, she has expressed such views before about what it’s like in this world for a woman of her intellectual caliber.
That wish she just expressed is something I believe Lina can help with if she ascends to the throne. The more Laila can trust Lina with her vision, the more she will help Laila. I’m certain of it.
“Lady Maribel has been an aye since before we even got started talking, but how would you like to speak your mind now?”
She has been listening with a smile, so we can all see right through her.
“I would say that there is nobody who could shine brightest in a girl’s eyes than His Highness. So, even though my chances are so small, I would be so lucky should I be the one chosen. I didn’t think deeply like everyone else… it is just I rejoiced every day here, knowing I was given a wonderful chance that few people ever get in their lives. That is enough for me! I am so happy I got to know so many wonderful people!”
Lady Maribel really is pure as snow, isn’t she? Rather than Lina’s innocent simple-mindedness, Maribel is just too happy-go-lucky to harbor any ill feelings.
“Henceforth, now that our hearts are in agreement, I would like to turn over to the practical matter of how shall we go about supporting Lady Lina and Lord Gilbert as a couple.”
“The Gilb-Ina Supporters!”
“N-no, no way! Such a name is too terrible for such a perfect couple!”
Quite right, of course. I agree unreservedly.
“N-names aren’t important… are they?”
“T-that is true. What should we do?”
Lady Alisa can’t help but be a follower sometimes. So that strange name now looks like it stands a chance.
“Well then, it’s decided! ‘The Gilb-Ina Supporters.'”
Alisa and I did not affirm Maribel’s proposal. This is a terrible misunderstanding.
However, falling into arguing at each and every step would be terribly counter-productive, so let’s carry on with the next item in today’s agenda. I loudly clear my throat to signal that we are moving on.
“There are still other important matters to discuss. I believe that we were not the only ones to notice the bond that Lady Lina and Lord Gilbert displayed at the soirée.”
In fact, I think that anyone who paid even a modicum of attention to their dance must have realized it clearly.
After Lina withdrew from the hall, all four of us had our turn to dance, but the difference was as clear as night and day.
“I thought the same thing. I’m worried that this will make Lina’s position in the castle difficult.”
Laila followed my remarks. I’m glad she sees what I’m getting at. This will save us time.
There is no doubt that each of the factions, whose balance had hitherto been preserved by the well-balanced selection of the princess candidates, will collapse on account of this development. And Lina, who has no backing, has no way to protect herself…
I glance at Alisa knowingly.
“Yes, I am aware as well. The Queen’s faction, and every hardliner faction, the course they will take after this event is almost certain to be problematic, isn’t that so? Leave it to me.”
I nod firmly without uttering a word. Alisa’s understanding gives me confidence.
However, Laila interjects with legitimate doubt.
Once again, I feel relieved that everyone is engaging seriously.
“Would such treasonous behavior be able to go unpunished, though, I wonder?”
Faced with such questioning, Alisa lowers her head for a moment before promptly looking back to meet Laila’s eyes and states firmly.
“As I said earlier, my House does not hold a hardline position on the matter of succession. If anything, House Eusera backs whoever the Crown Prince is, at the moment Prince Jerik, purely in the spirit of softening the tensions that have taken hold of the Kingdom. Therefore, it will be no problem. I will apprise my father on the state of affairs, and he will provide me with all the information he can gather from his position so I can respond to whatever events unfold in the castle.”
My hand goes to my chest in a gesture of relief at her answer full of logic and sense. Even if our actions are to help Lina, I wouldn’t be comfortable with someone else’s position collapsing as a result.
“Um, w-what should I do…?”
Since coining the term Gilb-ina, Maribel has been quiet, sitting with her hands folded on her chest and just looking at the other members.
“You should just behave as you have so far.”
I don’t imagine her having a role in the group beyond that.
I didn’t mean to say that remark with a negative connotation but seeing how Maribel’s heart seemed to sink upon hearing it, I wonder if my choice of words was harsh.
“Lady Maribel, that is the most important job right now. Even if it is evident that Lina has grown on us, it is crucial to make it look like His Highness hasn’t narrowed his decision to a single candidate yet. There isn’t a more effective way to gain us time.”
That’s right. Well said.
Alisa and I nod in agreement towards Laila, whose expression remains unchanged as she says her remarks. However, she smiles faintly when she sees Maribel’s eyes light up. It looks like we have all become friends after all.
“I understand! I’ll do my best!”
Maribel’s innocent and enthusiastic attitude seems to energize the group, and all the ladies look at each other in agreement.
“Mistress Merlia! Something terrible has happened!”
The maid loudly interrupts right as the group has become of one mind and was filled with a sense of exciting tension for the task at hand, completely ruining our mood.
It is absolutely against the basic training of a royal maid to do anything so impolite. What on earth could she be so alarmed about?
“What is with this ruckus? This is absolutely disgraceful.”
“P-please excuse me, my Lady. However, I have an urgent matter to report. I heard other maids rumoring that, early in the morning, Lady Lina was summoned by Her Highness the Queen to her private quarters.”
“What did you just say!?”
Just our luck. Even though we have just come to a unanimous resolution and agreement on our plan to help Lina, other forces seem to have taken the initiative before we even made our first move. We look at each other’s faces without uttering a word.
This must be repercussions from Lina standing up to the Queen during the soirée last night. Many thoughts swirl in my head, but one thought remains at the center of it all.
Please let Lina be safe. May she return safely.