40. The Third Prince is Too Dazzling! I Can’t Look at Him Directly!
Chapter Forty: Playing the Acting Distant and Disaffected Game
One month has passed since that reunion with the royal family when we sat at a round table and decided on our futures. Finding a spare moment, I manage to have everyone in the former princess candidates group come together for tea time.
“Thank you for coming! I wanted to meet with everyone so much… I’m very happy today!”
I am blessed by everyone’s friendly smiles, full of kindness as when we last met. I am responding in kind, with a full-face smile brimming with happiness.
“Thank you for inviting us today. We were delighted to see your invitation.”
“We’re gathered here like when we could do so every day, but since the princess candidates group was disbanded, meeting up has proven quite difficult.”
“You look like you have been exerting yourself a lot these days, Lady Lina. I was even a bit worried, you know.”
“That’s right, me too. To smile under that grueling crown princess training, it even occurred to me that you could secretly be a masochist, Lady Lina.”
After hearing that remark, the other three ladies close on Maribel, who is innocently and obliviously laughing.
“Lady Maribel, a word with you!”
“W-why are you looking at me like that?”
The three ladies are weirdly flustered in unison. Maribel is also clearly troubled, though that is because everyone is ganging up on her.
“No way! You all were saying the same thing on the way here, weren’t you? That anyone who takes with a smile Her Highness’ heart-chilling stares and dagger-like remarks has got to be some kind of maso—”
Laila quickly thrusts a macaroon into Maribel’s mouth. Three of them even. I pour some tea for Maribel, but against my best intentions, I burst out laughing at poor Maribel, who is trying to chew with her stuffed mouth, her eyes watery and full of innocent tears. It’s a very casual and friendly mood, and I feel completely at ease. Chatting and interacting with each other as we did back then is pleasant, even after all this time.
“Lady Lina, please don’t be offended. We were just worried you may have been overworked or overburdened.”
You don’t have to have such a troubled face, you know, Alisa. It’s fine. It’s not a shallow relationship that has no room for your concern. Also, after Her Highness Trianna’s guidance began, I got used to the evaluation and that kind of gaze.
“I’m not offended at all, girls! I’m not a masochist, and neither is Her Highness a sadist. You are just a bit too worried, or should I say, mistaken on your impression about her!”
I say so with a bright smile, but that seems only to weird out the girls all the more.
About Queen Trianna’s dreaded tutelage, well, I gotta admit it’s not something you can take lightly. She doesn’t have me learning one thing at a time, like one hour of language learning and one hour of etiquette. She simultaneously throws at me all sorts of stuff. For example, even during tea time recess, she will evaluate my table manners while quizzing me on domestic politics. I’m expected to answer in the northern regions of Elvasti’s official language.
It seems natural that suspicions of masochism would arise for anyone who would take hours and hours of that without even a single word of praise. But thanks to my aura vision skill, I always feel relieved to see Trianna’s true feelings behind her icy facade.
When she feels I’m about to make a mistake, she gets anxious. When she sets forth a new challenge to me, she is thrilled to see what happens. And when I’m finally getting the hang of something, she is excited. That kind of easy-to-understand aura movement always encourages me more than words. Even when you get a harsh scolding after a mistake, you can avoid all the trauma if someone’s aura clearly tells you that you are doing well, even though you still have a ways to go.
However, to people who cannot see auras (i.e., all of them), this situation is sure to appear like a plucky bride forcedly smiling as she is racked every day by a mother-in-law from hell. So I can see how I’m being pitied from all sides, but lately, some are even showing awe at my seemingly unreasonable perseverance. But the truth is not at all what it seems.
“How to say this… Her Highness is just misunderstood because she is actually a very good person. Her expressions and words are sharp and biting, yes, but deep down, she is one of the finest ladies I have ever met. I really love her!”
I find myself advocating for Trianna with all my might, as you can see, almost as a reflex out of the bad rap she gets.
“How to say it, Lady Lina is…”
“Yeah, she is really broad-minded or…”
“Or really naive…”
“Or really meek…”
The group seems half disgusted, half in admiration. Whenever I try to restore Trianna’s public image, I get this usual reaction. I guess it’s going to take a long time to undo all of the suspicions around her. But I’ll do my best! This is my “Lovely Trianna Project”! I will show you what a wonderful person she really is!
“C-changing the subject, but how is Lord Gilbert?”
“T-that’s right! Tell us everything from the moment we left the royal palace, please!”
“Yes, yes! Have you become really intimate after you became officially engaged?”
Ah. I knew that topic would be brought up. Suddenly, my tone of voice becomes so low it’s almost imperceptible.
“I haven’t seen him at all.”
“He’s not concerned about me at all, is what I’m saying!”
“Huh!? B-but, how come!?”
I wanna know that myself!
First of all, there’s the bewildering busyness. I don’t have any free time from the moment I wake up in the morning till the moment I plop back in bed. I know. After becoming the crown princess, the queen position is awaiting me. I can’t waste one minute or even one second. It’s only natural. It’s only natural, but! At least we could be together during meals and rest, is that not so!?
The item in my schedule taking up the biggest chunk of time is, needless to say, my tutelage under Trianna. After that, it’s the various lessons with all sorts of rotating professors. Basically, I’m studying all day long.
I know that Gil is even busier than I am, though. In addition to his own duties, he is assisting Jerik as an advisor, and he is even having trouble getting enough hours of sleep. But at least we could meet a few minutes once a day, right?
“It’s almost like you’re being avoided, Lady Lina. Aren’t you worried…?”
I wonder if this is Gil’s “retaliation by cold turkey” or something. Maybe that move I made postponing further kissing and insisting on being proposed was a bad idea?
“No way. Lord Gilbert only has eyes for Lady Lina.”
“Indeed, we saw firsthand how Lord Gilbert would find no interest in any other lady.”
“You two are just ridiculously busy. Especially Lady Lina. It feels her life has been upended overnight.”
I am grateful for the words of encouragement. But after all, I do want to meet, and I can’t help but feel lonely. My lips form into a pout when I think about it. But I haven’t told these feelings to anyone. I realize now I let my guard down completely around these dear friends and blurt out my unfiltered feelings.
“Um, why don’t you just go to where he is and tell him honestly that you are sad you don’t meet anymore? Or is it so that you’ve been given any word that it is forbidden for the two of you to meet?”
So says Maribel, and everyone looks at me as if they have been thinking the same thing.
“No… nobody has said any such thing.”
Right. Now that I think about it, I haven’t even been hinted at that that would be verboten.
“Well, you just have to let your feet take you to him then!”
Maribel yells, suddenly filled with enthusiasm as if she has found my anxiety trifling and fixable with just that one simple suggestion.
“Now that you mention it, that’d do the trick.”
“Certainly, nothing is stopping Lady Lina.”
“She is formally his fiancée, after all.”
Doing that had crossed my mind too, you know. I even scheduled it multiple times. But each time my feet started walking there, my heart stopped them. I was afraid that when I opened his door, I would be interrupting some crucial royal negotiation, or I would cause him to lose his train of thought during some complicated deliberations, and so on. I imagined a hundred ways it could go wrong. Ultimately, I found myself losing courage every time.
I want to drop some cold water on everyone’s high spirits, as they agree in unison to Maribel’s plan as if it is some sort of genius idea. I’m not feeling their optimism at all.
“But if I just show up while he is working, I might just end up getting in his way and…”
“What are you talking about! Maybe if you were visiting every day, but he hasn’t seen you in a month! Let’s go now! Yes, yes, stand up. Yes, yes, post-haste!”
Maribel is surprisingly a go-getter when it comes to romance, apparently. She quickly gets beside my chair and puts her hands on my back, pushing me so I would get up.
And so, physically pushed in the direction of Gil’s office, I can’t help but be filled with anxiety as we walked together, with the ladies’ happy mood in sharp contrast with mine. But what should I do if Gil appears disgusted upon seeing me barge through his door? I may not be able to recover…
And so it happens that when we get out of the garden and back into the royal castle’s main building, about to turn a corner, we get stopped.
“Ah, how convenient to run into you here. Lady Randall, make your way to… Well, if it isn’t the noblest of ladies, long time no see.”
We bump into Glenn, who just stands there, smiling at me and the ladies’ group behind me like a gentleman running into a group of dear old friends. Said smile couldn’t have been more forced, though.
“Oh my, long time no see indeed.”
“Your face has healed completely too.”
“I wonder if your memories vanished along with the bruises.”
“My trading business keeps expanding, and I have come across more wonderful gentlemen I can introduce you to.”
Without turning back, I can feel the ice-cold aura emanating from the ladies. Even I start shivering. I almost feel as if their happy and wholesome auras of just a moment ago has been nothing but a summer dream. And what’s more, I start to feel similar wintry emanations from Glenn in front of me. It is like I have suddenly gotten caught in an ice sandwich.
“Please don’t mind me, dear ladies. Well then, shall we, Lady Randall?”
I respond to Glenn’s forced smile, directed straight at me, with a fake smile of my own. Certainly, I haven’t been bullied by him since then. But what should be my answer to this encounter? Looking back, everyone’s eyes are focused on my next move. This is not a situation to be indecisive. If this standoff goes on any longer, I risk being fried by the sparks flying between the two sides.
“Y-you are always so helpful. I mean it, really.”
A brief silence falls, and everyone is staring, focused on me. Did I say something off the wall or something? Or was my olive branch too obviously fake? I didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s impossible to do anything that’d make both sides happy here.
“If… Lady Lina is okay with it, let’s leave it at that.”
Despite Merlia’s mildly cordial words, the atmosphere remains so tense you can cut it with a knife. But I grab onto Merlia’s words and run with them to change the topic.
“S-so, what brings you here today, Glenn?”
“It’s regarding the special bonus that had been convened previously… A vacation period of five days has been arranged for you. Permission from the His Majesty the Crown Prince has been received.”
A special bonus from before? Um… Oh! It was the fourth clause in the contract that I requested before jumping head first into that whole Orban debacle. But is that contract still effective? It was supposed to be annulled when I officially became a fiancée. Is it supposed to be possible to receive the bonus payment with a time lag?
“Oh, isn’t this a happy thing, Lady Lina? You do a great job after all, sometimes!”
Everyone is smiling giddily. However, I have no idea how to spend those five free days without Gil. It suddenly feels like I’m just gonna have an empty schedule and too much time on my hands.
And that vacation comes at an unexpected time when my mood is not so cheery. In fact, I’m feeling rather lonely. I guess if I could continue to have tea with everyone here at the royal palace or even sneak out of it to help with the gardening secretly, it could be time decently spent.
“I’m fine… I don’t need a vacation. Thank you for arranging it, but…”
“Why you, what do you think we spent this grueling month for?”
“I sent Glen ahead to call for you, but he was taking his time, so I came here myself.”
It is Gil’s voice, which I haven’t heard in what feels such a long time. My heart starts thumping inside my chest. I am rendered speechless as Gil steps up to me and slides his arm behind my back and around my waist. Wait, aren’t you taking things a bit too fast and close? I need a little time to prepare my heart!
“Oh my, Lord Gilbert, nice to see you. It’s been a long time. But never mind that. Lady Lina has been sulking a lot lately!”
“She looked really neglected and sad, and she was really hard to look at!”
“I know His Highness is busy, but leaving alone a loved one is a bit cruel, isn’t it?”
“Even so, Lady Lina was too cute moping and brooding over His Highness’ absence.”
Wait, no, everyone! Don’t leak those secret details to Gil! Hearing the ladies’ vivid descriptions of my plight, Gil looks sweetly at me. I feel like a warm breeze is blowing on me. What is this happening just the moment we meet? It’s been a month apart, but I don’t want my heart to go into overdrive in two seconds flat! And my anti-dazzlingness shields have been left in disrepair this month!
Still, I’m glad I am not wearing glasses, even though my retinas get blasted by Mr. Human Sun just now. Had I seen Gil’s face all of a sudden without warning just now, my blood would have rushed to my head, and I would have fainted out of the shock. The wild thumping of my heart as I feel his arm around my back and waist is proof enough of that.
“We were busy like crazy all this month so we could secure this five-day vacation together. I was silent about it because I wanted it to be a surprise. Sorry about that.”
A kiss comes down on the top of my head. With what kind of expression do you do such an embarrassing thing in public view!? I am frozen. And then, before I can react, he takes my hand, and now those lips were kissing mine. I put my hand on his chest and hurriedly separate myself from him, but it is too late. The ladies are clamoring with shrill, girly shouts. If the Earth could have opened and swallowed me, I’d have jumped in instantly.
“I’m sorry, but we will be taking Lina. Please visit her another time.”
“Of course. Lady Lina, aren’t you a happy one?”
As soon as Gil hears Merlia’s reply, and before the other ladies can chip in any opinions, he once again slides his hand behind my back and waist and starts taking me with him. I am still in the middle of speaking, though.
“We worked hard together, so we’re a little ahead of schedule. Let’s not waste a minute and get going now.”
“Wait a minute. Where are we going?”
Thank you for reading today!
The next chapter is the finale.
As announced, it’s already available if you’re reading this one, so if you want, you can go and complete the story now!