01. A Humble Princess (4)
Consciousness unravelled like sugar dissolving in lukewarm water.
Father. Society’s assessment of him was, ‘A fine line between a genius and insanity’. Despite the scorn he’d receive for having an illegitimate child, he didn’t even hesitate to officially accept her, who was of mixed-blood, let alone be ashamed of her.
“As long as my blood flows within her, she is a Caliburn.”
‘Indeed, if only I were a half-blood…’
“Sister, I heard that you aren’t a family member? Mother told me all about it.”
Last night, as Charlotte entered the dining room, she cheerfully inquired.
Beautiful silver hair and blue eyes were just like Lancel’s. Lovely cheeks that glowed pink from within her milky white skin. She was a child who’d inherited the splendid Caliburn’s appearance.
For some reason, she had been seated rather early. She was even humming a tune and acted so cheerfully. She usually didn’t spare a glance for Catherine, so it was quite favourable.
“So, shouldn’t Sister call me Master from now onwards? Oh, you’re not even Sister? Since there isn’t a drop of Caliburn blood in you, so you’re purely a beast… Oh, sorry. My mistake! Because you’re a Rediot.”
Charlotte poked at the pudding that was placed in front of her, and asked in a nasally voice. Dessert before the meal, of all things. Lancel wouldn’t have allowed such impertinence, so it must have been Mother’s intention.
“By the way, how will you take responsibility? A barbarian can’t become an archduchess, so I have to marry the terrifying Duke of Pendragon. But I’m only sixteen…”
Charlotte giggled and propped her chin up with both hands. Her small shoulders kept shaking, perhaps because she was swinging her legs under the dining table.
“Give me an answer. Even a Rediot knows how to talk.”
Charlotte stopped swinging her legs. Catherine calmly and elegantly articulated her intentions once again.
“A beast? I’m not even a half-blooded illegitimate child, how can I marry an imperial? Unfortunately, you’ll have to carry out this marriage, Charlotte.”
The soft pudding struck her forehead. Charlotte had thrown the entire plate of pudding. Her face wasn’t injured by the silver plate due to the soft pudding, but its gooey residue clung to her neatly tied crimson hair.
The pudding-covered silver plate fell into her lap with a thud.
“T, this barbaric parasite… that doesn’t not know her place…!”
The both of them turned towards the doorway at that low rebuke. It was Lancel.
His blue eyes first took in Catherine covered in pudding. Wrinkles formed on his smooth forehead, and then his brisk steps headed towards Charlotte, who had half-risen from her chair.
“Brother, this, this time it’s Sister’s fault…”
“You’re grounded for two weeks. Go to your room right now.”
“What? Two weeks? I don’t want to! What did I do wrong, anyways? Why won’t you even listen to me? It’s always like this! I’m your younger sister, aren’t I? Both Father and Brother. You’d always protect that barbarian. Your family should be me, and not that barbarian…”
“If you apologise to Catherine right now, your punishment will be reduced to one week.”
Charlotte, who had been breathing heavily, turned and rushed out of the room.
Lancel sighed deeply and then approached Catherine. She was staring at her reflection and using a napkin to wipe the pudding away.
“Are you alright, Catherine?”
He carefully held the delicate, slender hand that was holding the napkin.
“Yes, Your Grace. I deeply appreciate your concern.”
“……There’s no need to be so formal with me.”
“As you’ve mentioned, we are no longer family, Your Grace.”
Lancel had called her ‘Cathy’ all his life, just like Father did. But from the moment it was revealed that they weren’t related by blood, he started calling her Catherine, as if to emphasise that they weren’t blood-related kin.
“I didn’t mean it that way. I just…”
Catherine pulled her hand out of his grasp. The pristine napkin brushed against his palm lightly before slipping away. As he gazed at his palm, which still held a trace of warmth, Lancel spoke like he was mumbling to himself.
“I was just thinking about your marriage.”
It was the most significant issue they were facing.
“You shouldn’t marry him. Even though this secret was revealed so carelessly, it won’t take long before it’s discovered if the other party is that Deimos Pendragon. If that happens, not only you but also this lineage will be extinguished.”
Unlike Charlotte, Lancel and Catherine belonged to the generation that experienced the massacre Deimos conducted in the imperial capital firsthand.
“He will attend the birthday celebration tomorrow, and I will request an annulment tomorrow, citing your chronic illness.”
“The Imperial Family won’t release the title of Caliburn just because of a simple headache. Because it’s a time when the Pendragons need to mend their relationship with the nobility more than ever.”
To address the ethical and legitimacy concerns from the traitorous previous emperor and the illegitimate current emperor, the Imperial Family desperately needed the Caliburns, the only meritorious family that had survived the purge.
“I will consider a way to have a proposal of annulment come from the Archduke’s side first, of course, without making it Caliburn’s fault.”
In order to get away from their urgent necessity, they needed a more urgent excuse than a headache.
“Catherine, then you too…”
Lancel hesitated for a moment, which was unlike himself.
“You don’t want this marriage, do you? Marriage with that man…”
“Of course not. Who would want a marriage that would lead to the extinction of both me and my family?”
“Yes. Well, that’s a relief.”
Lancel carefully wiped away a piece of pudding that clung to her hair. His fingertips gently brushed the boundary between her forehead and hair.
Thump. A sudden snapping sound jolted Catherine awake. The sound of the persistent rain outside intensified as it beat against the window. The room was shrouded in darkness, the heavy clouds blocking out most of the daylight.
Catherine turned her head towards the beside, which was the source of the noise, and frowned.
Small shoulders flinched. It resembled a child that was caught stealing.
Fine silver hair cascading down her waist, wearing a nightdress and indoor slippers. Even the candle placed on her bedside table. It was clear that she’d secretly sneaked into the bedroom.
Catherine’s blue-gray eyes darted between Charlotte’s startled blue ones and then shifted to the small object in her hand. Recognition dawned on her as she looked at the familiar item.
Orgel. It was her orgel, made out of glazed pottery, with gold petals engraved on each corner, and intricately carved patterns on a platinum-coated cover. And in the center perched a singing scarlet canary.
[T/N: In Korean, orgel refers to a music box and not an organ (the musical instrument).]
No, it should have been perched there.
But now, the canary with broken legs was left on the side table, perhaps because it was forcibly tugged out. The orgel’s musical score was sprawled out on the dresser, and shattered parts, such as the cylinder, littered the tabletop and the floor.
Catherine’s temples throbbed.
“You, Father’s keepsake…!”
As Catherine threw off the blanket and stood up, Charlotte must have knocked over the orgel. Clang clang, it landed with a loud crash. The lit candles on the side table toppled over, setting the musical score ablaze.
Catherine immediately reached for the teapot on the tea table. She poured the tea over the sizzling fire and covered it with the teapot’s lid with a Thunk.
The flames died down with billowing smoke. In the distance, the sound of a door closing could be heard.
Catherine breathed heavily, her gaze fixed on the black tea dripping down the corner of the side table and the rising smoke. She still held the teapot, and inched closer while trying her best to deny the truth.
Thump, thump. Blood soared up to her temples. Don’t tell me. Surely not. Even so, it couldn’t have been entirely shattered…?
Was it possible to reuse a broken and shattered window glass? Anyone knew that pieces could be glued back together, but it couldn’t return back to its original form?
Her orgel looked just like that.
Blood surged towards the soles of her feet. Kuang! Catherine threw the teapot to the ground, snatched the musical score that was thrown, burned and now dampened, and dashed through the bedroom. Her dishevelled hair fluttered like crimson waves.
As she rushed out of the door, she spotted Charlotte, who had taken hold of the doorknob of another room, in the distant ultramarine corridor.
Charlotte fled into the room. Catherine chased after the detestable offender that was caught in the act so quickly that she managed to catch up with her and burst into the room before the door could close.
“How many times have I asked you not to touch this, as it’s a one-of-a-kind keepsake…!”
“What’s going on?”
Catherine abruptly stopped at that elegant inquiry. Behind her, the thick bedroom door closed with a thud. Drip, Glaze dirtied her palm and dribbled down to the ground beside her bare feet.
The roaring fireplace cast its light upon the woman seated on the chair, illuminating her cheek and blue eyes. Her wheat coloured hair was neatly draped over one shoulder and she wore an indoor shawl over her nightdress.
The woman exuded the grace of a mother swan. She was none other than the previous Duchess of Caliburn, the mother of Lancel and Charlotte. She was Morganier.
Catherine belatedly folded her hands and curtsied in proper respect. Simultaneously, Charlotte entered her mother’s embrace and quickly turned her head around.
“Mother, I’d damaged Catherine’s orgel. It wasn’t intentional; it was just so beautiful that I couldn’t resist touching it, and then it accidentally just… I’m truly sorry.”
Morganier stroked the back of her daughter’s head while gazing at Catherine. More precisely, at the musical score in her hand.
Catherine was a mess. She’d never left her room without being properly dressed, and yet here she was, in her nightgown with bare feet, holding a glaze-stained musical score…
Could she have just rushed into her room so angrily just because of a mere accident? Morganier knew well enough that Catherine wasn’t the type to act this way.
“…In the future, if you have any misunderstandings with my daughter, report them to me directly. Do not argue directly with my child.”
She spoke with grace, but it actually meant that she wasn’t to reprimand her daughter directly.
“It would’ve been better if he’d made two identical items from the start, but we can’t blame the departed, can we? It’s a pity that the item is damaged, so I’ll order for a new one to be made. How about that?”
“…No, I’m very thankful to hear those words, Madam.”
Morganier, who had been watching Catherine for a while, turned her head. Her gaze turned towards the fireplace, and she patted Charlotte’s small back affectionately.
“Very well. You can go now.”
Catherine cutsied respectfully and retreated out of the room. As she did so, Charlotte acted spoiled in her mother’s embrace.
In Catherine’s hand, the orgel’s musical score crumpled once more.
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