Chapter 7

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01. A Humble Princess (7)

 

“Are you out of your mind? Catherine, why are you here…!”

Catherine merely lowered her gaze in response to Lancel’s anger-filled voice. When she came to her senses, she realised where she was.

A place she hadn’t set foot in since her adolescence. The Caliburn’s Order of Knights.

Perhaps a meeting was in session, because Lancel’s office was packed with around fifteen unfamiliar men. Even the guards stationed at the door kept stealing glances at her.

“That’s Ducal Princess Caliburn…”

Dazed murmurs emanated from within the office.

Such gazes were familiar. When she was young, all the knights would look at her like this whenever she wandered around the training grounds. She understood their sentiments all too well.

A red-haired ducal princess. How strange and fascinating she must appear.

“Close the door immediately. All of you, go inside the office.”

After storming out of the office, Lancel sternly ordered the guards who were eyeing her.

The door slammed shut with a loud thud, causing her shoulders to jump involuntarily. His blue eyes, burning with anger, were unfamiliar.

With a hand on his waist, Lancel ran his other hand through his silvery hair, which sparkled with an almost bluish sheen. His impeccably smooth forehead appeared momentarily, and was then lightly covered by the silky strands of silver that blocked it from view. 

“Did you completely forget that His Highness the Archduke and his knights are stationed at the manor? I can’t believe you’re walking around like this… Catherine, are you hurt?”

His body swiftly approached, and wide hands grasped her shoulder firmly.

His face drew nearer. Shadows, darker than before, loomed over his clean and handsome face, akin to a holy knight. Catherine turned her head away from him and instinctively covered her neck with her hand.

“I’m not hurt. It’s the wound from yesterday…”

“You wandered around in the rain, and the place where you were stabbed yesterday reopened, didn’t it? Didn’t anyone stop you? Was there not even a maid that can hold up an umbrella for the ducal princess here at the Caliburn Castle?”

“I know I shouldn’t wander when guests are present. I do understand that, but…”

Her damp hair caused the hair to become even more curly. Rainwater continued to drip from her wet clothes and her damp skin. She was well aware of how undignified she must look. 

“The only person who came to mind was Brother, no, the Duke.”

“……”

“A place that I can go to… now…”

For the past 25 years, Lancel had been her blood-related brother. He had been the one to comfort and protect her whenever Father was absent.

She could have waited until he finished the meeting and returned to the manor, as he always did. But she didn’t want to return to the manor. The maids would report to Charlotte and the previous duchess that she’d wandered around like this, and then this entire day would become unbearable.

“…I was foolish.”

His voice softened in an instant.

“I didn’t realise how much you needed me, and I just blindly vented my anger…”

Lancel’s hand gently cupped her cheek. It was only then that she looked up at him. His face was right in front of her. His dense silver eyelashes, dignified eyes, straight nose, and even his shapely lips.

Her frozen heart began to thaw slowly at his usual affectionate blue eyes.

“We’re in the middle of discussing an urgent matter, so I can’t listen to your story right now. Why don’t you at least take a bath and rest in my bathroom for a while? I’ll be back in an hour exactly.”

Catherine nodded quietly, and a smile appeared on his lips. He draped his white uniform coat over her shoulders. The wide coat practically covered her body like a blanket.

Lancel turned around, and opened a slight gap in the office door with his back against her, as if covering her from sight. He ordered through a narrow gap where only half of his face could be seen.

“Young Lady Meitner, end the meeting and serve Ducal Princess Caliburn.”

Catherine watched the broad back that covered her like a wall blankly. The broad back of the only remaining family member in her heart, her brother.

***

Unable to wait for the short gap before Young Lady Meitner settled the meeting, Catherine fell asleep. She fell asleep on Lancel’s cot at that.

Although they were siblings, they were of an age where they should keep a distance. However, it was a man’s room, so there wasn’t a vanity table, and since it was a makeshift bedroom, a sofa or dressing room wasn’t present. There wasn’t anywhere that’s suitable for her to sit.

It’s probably fine. After all, until a year ago, this had been her father’s bedroom as well. Catherine laid face down on Lancel’s bed for a brief moment. The bedding was filled with Lancel’s scent. It was similar to Father’s.

Childhood. Whenever her father returned from a trip, he would always look for Catherine first, right after getting off the carriage. Neither Morganier nor Charlotte, but her.

“My treasure, Catherine!”

Her father would lift her up and hug her tightly. Then, he would take out the mysterious items that he’d loaded several wagons in and brought from beyond the castle walls just for her. 

Jewels, accessories, clothes, valuable books, small mechanical toys, and the blueprints for those items that her father had personally drawn. And… 

“Isn’t it beautiful? It’s a flower called daffodil, and I picked it myself. I couldn’t just leave it there as it’s as lovely as our little princess.”

What would it have been like if her father hadn’t left so tragically……

At that moment, Young Lady Meitner’s voice penetrated through Catherine’s hazy consciousness.

“Oh, Ducal Princess. You’ll catch a cold if you sleep like this. Let me assist you quickly!”

Catherine allowed herself to be led by the count’s daughter as her consciousness remained somewhat muddled. She entered the bathroom in her dreamlike state.

As she washed away her fatigue with the soft foam and soaked her body in the warm water, her consciousness gradually returned.

Everything that had happened to her felt like a lie. It had been a year since her father passed away. It was around the same time she’d received the imperial edict to be engaged to the traitor she’d never met, no, the previous Emperor. Back then, Lancel had tried everything in his power to stop the marriage, but it was to no avail.

Now that all her plans had failed, she needed to find another way to break off the engagement.

All the plans have failed, so we need to find another way to break up the marriage….

Deimos. His low yet languid voice resounded in her ears.

“It’s an Asekhan folk song. To be precise, a requiem.”

“You haven’t seen it before, have you? An Asekhan funeral. It’s quite fascinating.”

Asekhan. The most noble man beneath the heavens had naturally referred to her as an Asekhan. Not a barbarian, nor a beast, nor a Radiate, but an Asekhan.

Resplendent gold shimmered within her dazed vision. Impossibly pure golden hair that shone within the darkness. With his back against the rainy sky, he sat at the piano, gazing at her with a languid golden gaze……

“I’ve brought a towel, Ducal Princess.”

Catherine turned her head at the soft whisper of someone hesitating at the bathroom entrance. Beyond the steam, she spotted the legs of a woman standing with a towel in her arms.

As Catherine rose, her wet hair clung to her thin shoulders, round chest, and slender arms. The damp flame stone necklace around her neck sparkled.

The knight, who’d been placing a towel on the shelf was taken aback, and her face turned red, casting a shadow on Catherine’s brow. Catherine approached her and picked up the towel herself, reciting softly.

“I’ll handle it. Young Lady Meitner, no, Dame, please return back to your meeting.”

“Oh, no! This is also my duty. Please, just call me Liese.”

“……You’re truly a remarkable person, Dame.”

Despite her status as a ducal princess, given her half-human, half-Rediot status, it must be quite uncomfortable for her to touch Catherine’s body. In fact, she wasn’t even half-human, so Catherine felt more sorry for Liese. 

“I, um, I apologise. Ducal Princess is r—really beautiful. I’ve seen all kinds of women in the Empire during the expedition, but a lady like you is a first. I understand why Duke Caliburn hides you away like that.” 

Catherine expressed her respect for Young Lady Meitner’s manners and upbringing. To be able to sincerely utter such words to someone whose hair colour was pointed out as barbaric, and a lean body that lacked any curves, was truly commendable. In Catherine’s eyes, Liese’s shining black hair and deep blue eyes beyond her glasses were far more beautiful.

“If you’ve been on an expedition… Did you participate in the war?” 

Catherine looked at Liese through the mirror. She was truly amazed. In this world, noblewomen were granted only one right, and that was marriage. To have completed the Academy’s training and become a knight was impressive.

This Young Lady must be a genius on the level of her father.

As Liese dressed Catherine, she chatted incessantly.

“I have a title, but more precisely, I’m responsible for weapons development within the Order of Knights as a scholar. You might know that your father, the previous Duke, was a genius in his own right, but don’t you think that for dealing with Chimeras, we’ll require flame stone weapons?” 

“The Academy? Have you ever met my father?”

“As the previous Duke was mainly involved in fieldwork, he was closer to the Lanius knights than to the Academy’s scholars. I wanted to participate in the development of Airships that the previous Duke was working on, but he passed away like that…”

In essence, Liese’s words indicated that her father had once worked as a knight directly under the previous Emperor. In that case, did Deimos also have a close relationship with her father? Did Lancel know about this fact?

Catherine realised something. She was incredibly ignorant about the matters outside Caliburn Castle. She didn’t even know what kind of life her beloved father had lived.

“Dame Liese, can you tell me more? About the person you serve, His Highness Archduke Pendragon. In particular, the kind of woman he dislikes and things like that?”

“As for the kind of woman he dislikes, you’re probably aware, but isn’t there that famous Young Lady, whose tongue was cut by His Highness the Archduke in the ballroom of the Emperor’s birthday banquet?”

A Young Lady that was famous for her severed tongue. It wasn’t that surprising.

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