01. A Humble Princess (5)
The hem of her navy dress swept through the garden like waves as the rain poured.
Catherine walked barefoot through the rain. She clutched the hem of her dress and the crumpled orgel’s musical score in her hands. The flame-stone necklace kept swaying as it hung from her bandaged neck.
She had to go there. To the corner of the back garden, where a spire rose sharply, almost as though it was touching the sky. Most noble families used it as a place to hide mad family members or to confine sinners from the household.
However, Caliburn’s prison was Catherine’s sanctuary. As a child, Catherine would always hide in the spire prison whenever she experienced something upsetting. When her father noticed this, instead of forbidding her from entering the tower, he climbed it with her.
“Cathy, would you like to build a music box with me?”
“A music box?”
“Yes. We’ll compose the song together, and decorate the box together. It’ll be Father’s and Catherine’s secret music box. Mom, Lancel, and Charlotte won’t know about it. It’ll be our little secret. How does that sound?”
Using the piano in the spire to compose, write a musical score, and draw its schematics together. It probably would’ve taken just a few hours for her father to finish all those processes by himself. But after completing the composition, he spent nearly half a year with Catherine until she could assemble the orgel herself.
Her father, as she remembered him, was that kind of man.
Dragging her dress that’s damp and heavy from the rain, she climbed up the spiral staircase, supporting herself with the cold stone walls.
Suddenly, she lifted her head. At the end of the staircase was a small arched wooden door. It was due to the piano melody that flowed through the cracks of this old doorway.
Who could it be? Lancel? He didn’t play musical instruments. He was raised as Caliburn’s successor from a young age, so he was more accustomed to wielding a pen or a sword rather than an instrument. Charlotte was with her mother…
Blood rose once more. Even if it was her, it was hard to endure the unwanted guest that had intruded into her memories. Flames danced before her eyes.
She gritted her teeth and ascended, forcefully opening the door with her wet hand.
Tung. The piano’s melody came to an abrupt halt. Catherine’s words suddenly cut off like the music.
The rain seemed to have stopped as the birds flew up the tower, and the dark sky beyond the window slowly regained its original colour. Sunlight poured in diagonally was blocked by the man sitting at the piano, casting a dark shadow.
He looked at her. Noble golden hair, loftier than the sunlight beyond the window. Fine and sharp eyes.
Unlike the formal black uniform he was wearing yesterday night, he was currently clad in a somewhat more relaxed attire. His shirt collar was loosely unbuttoned, his sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, revealing well-defined muscles in his strong forearms.
Red lips curled upwards languidly.
Ack. His golden gaze, akin to the merciless sun, made her throat dry.
At that moment, droplets of water began dripping from her damp crimson hair, tracing down her eyelids and flushed cheeks to reach her bandaged neck. Last night. It was where he had wounded her. The pain, which she couldn’t bear to forget due to the excitement and tension, resurfaced.
Right, there’s this man. She had momentarily forgotten the fact that he had chosen to stay at the ducal castle. He was just one of the many misfortunes in her life.
“…Greetings to Your Highness. I had caused you great trouble last night.”
She politely curtsied to him.
How did he know about this place? Such questions were meaningless to him. No matter how much this space meant to her, it was insignificant to that man. What would a man that found the emperor amusing cherish?
“I sincerely apologise for disturbing your rest. I hope you have a peaceful time, and will take my leave now.”
“Don’t you have much to say to me?”
Who would dare to disobey that man?
The previous Emperor, who’s alive. Even if he’d temporarily dispensed himself of that noble status, he still exuded a daunting aura.
She had come here to escape her loneliness, only to enter a dangerous place. It seemed like her luck was against her at every turn. Naturally, her complaints surfaced when she was unexpectedly met with the person she least wanted to face.
Catherine lowered her eyelashes demurely as she walked towards him. The sound of her wet footsteps seeped into the quiet that had settled after the rain. The hem of her dress brushed against the carpet, and even the sound of her damp body touching the wet carpet seemed loud in the silence.
When she stopped in front of the piano bench, he gestured to the floor with his chin.
As she knelt on the floor, her navy dress crumpled under her legs like a budding flower. His gaze, which swept across her forehead, nose, and shoulders, was as scorching as the midday sun.
Despite her damp body, her mouth was bone dry. What does he want from her now?
…Don’t be afraid. In any case, all she had to keep in mind was the marriage annulment. The situation wasn’t lacking in evidence, as she’d displayed such an appearance yesterday.
However, there was only one thing that worried her. She lacked confidence in her ability to converse. Catherine had never spoken to a man who was not a blood relative. She had never had the opportunity to go out, because she was the family’s disgrace.
For the past twenty-five years, her world had consisted of the castle and the garden. Moreover, ever since she reached adolescence, her father and Lancel disliked it when she peeked into the drill hall. As a result, Catherine’s domain was limited only to the garden and the estate.
‘Could I, who has learned about the world only through rumours and books, possibly deceive him with a glib tongue?’
“How was your morning?”
His fingertip touched the bandage wrapped around her neck. The pricking sensation jolted her back to reality.
“Didn’t some blood spill yesterday? It was my first time inserting.”
Her face flushed instantly. Although she had no experience, she wasn’t foolish enough not to understand such a metaphor.
She suddenly realised her current position. As he was sitting at the edge of the piano bench with his legs apart, Catherine appeared to be kneeling between his legs.
Unconsciously, her grip tightened on her dress and the musical score in her hands.
“…Thank you for your concern, Your Highness.”
“I enjoyed it too. It was my first kiss, after all. Even though you look like that, you’re surprisingly healthy.”
“So. Are you ready to take responsibility for the rest of your life now, Catherine?”
Was this conversation even making sense?
Unable to follow the flow at all, she sat there fidgeting her fingers clumsily.
“It appears that my fiancée has a taste for trash. Yesterday was just like that.”
She heard him bending down, and shadows enveloped her entire body. She realised that his face was coming dangerously close. His scent wafted through the air like dissipating mist.
Without a moment of exclamation, she quickly turned her head to avoid him. It was because the vivid memory of their rough kiss from yesterday resurfaced.
She closed her eyes and bit down hard on her lower lip, but his actions once again defied her expectations. She felt the sensation of the musical score slipping from her weak grip. In a matter of seconds, her ragged, yet precious sheet of paper was snatched away.
When she opened her eyes, overwhelmed by confusion, she saw him unfolding the long piece of paper with both hands.
“You carry musical scores around in such a unique manner. I’d even thought it was trash.”
Trash. Catherine repeated the word silently in her mind.
“Shall I play it for you? I feel refreshed, because I slept well for the first time in a while.”
He glanced at the long and wrinkled musical score and nonchalantly placed it on the piano desk, unravelling it haphazardly.
He placed his hands on the keys in a rather natural position. Yesterday, his golden hair and eyes had made him seem like a blood-crazed mass murderer. But seeing him like this, she was once again reminded of the fact that he was a man born with the noblest bloodline one could find.
Shouldn’t someone like him be far removed from things like musical instruments? Archduke Deimos was the Empire’s only surviving legitimate prince. The current Emperor was his younger brother, born from a concubine.
Even Lancel didn’t know how to play an instrument. He listened and evaluated music, and not a lowborn that stood before others and showed off their skills. Since Father had raised her, Lancel and Charlotte in an equal manner, Catherine was also ignorant when it came to playing musical instruments.
It was truly contradictory that an imperial like him could play the piano. Had he learned during the few years he had hidden himself from the assassination attempts?
At any rate, she wondered how this nobleman would mock her this time. There wasn’t anyone in the world who could identify a piece just from an orgel’s musical score, especially from one that didn’t even look like it in the first place. Now that the orgel was broken, it was just a long sheet of glaze streaked paper.
The chord that filled the round prison smoothly struck Catherine’s forehead like a bolt of lightning. Softly layered harmonies and an exotic melody. It was a rhythm she couldn’t fail to recognise.
Without realising it, she rose to her feet, and the music abruptly stopped. He turned his sharp gaze towards her as she stood.
“How does Your Highness know this music?”
This, this was a melody that did not exist in this world. It was the song she had created with her father.
He leaned his elbow on the piano shelf and stroked his chin thoughtfully. Hmm, his eyes and the humming sound were strangely soft. Her agitated response seemed to have ignited his interest.
“There’s nothing that I don’t know. I’m living this life for the second time, after all.”
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