Chapter 21

 

***

 

“It’s really pretty.”

 

At that time, as Stella rolled up and hugged her knees, she was engulfed in happy thoughts.

 

Her gorgeous dress was smeared with reed sand and her shoes were loose on the sand, but she didn’t seem to mind either of these.

 

Clyde couldn’t figure out what Stella was thinking. It looked precarious.

 

He looked at her and suddenly thought about it. Why?

 

“I’m glad you were able to come here with an excuse, Duke.”

 

Immediately after arriving at his mansion on the Isle, Stella was guided and scattered in the mansion.

 

Then, with a placid and undisturbed look, she asked Clyde to lend her a horse.

 

Clyde asked to accompany her, and Stella readily accepted.

 

It took them quite a while to arrive at a reed field on the sandy beach.

 

She sat down and  looked at the distant horizon of the lake that spread out endlessly in front of her.

 

“It was the same place I’d visit as Ethel.”

 

Soft brown strands of hair fluttered in the air like a curtain on her fine face.

 

The hair on the other side ran wildly through her ear. 

 

Strands of hair reached Clyde’s face.

 

Clyde was overwhelmed by the urge to bury his nose in her hair and inhale the scent deeply.

 

Is it really okay to think like this?

 

Is it right to dare to think that I want to put such a beautiful person in my arms and get my way?

 

Secretly, he clasped his hands.

 

You have to control yourself.

 

He couldn’t imagine her pensive, appalled gaze if she ever found out about his gruesome thinking.

 

Stella continued to stare over the horizon, as if she was all alone there.

 

Her dry, bloodless lips clapped.

 

“It’s a place to hide from the people of the Imperial Family. I thought it would be okay to show this to Clyde.”

 

“…..”

 

“You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?”

 

She slowly turned her head and looked at him.

 

Have you ever felt that someone was pretty, so purely and instinctively?

 

Clyde’s mind went blank.

 

With her in a closer distance, he could notice the minute details her eyelashes were extraordinarily long, eyes even bigger and rounder, and her nose just as small and cute..

 

Wondering what made him feel this way, Clyde kept staring at Stella for a long time.

 

Maybe a fairy popped out of a fairy tale.

 

He nodded his head in a daze.

 

She smiled looking at the sun disappearing deep into the horizon, clueless of how Clyde felt.

 

Stella turned her head and watched the vast lake devouring the lumps of light.

 

And in a daze, she rested her head on his arm.

 

Clyde could feel his heart palpitate for the first time.

 

After a while, he barely looked at Stella’s face. She had comfortably closed her eyes.

 

He tried to avoid her gaze before she opened them. Unexpectedly, she opened her mouth and he flinched.

 

The words that flowed through her lips felt very calm and lonely.

 

“I wish I could just stay like this.”

 

It seemed like the words of someone who knew better than anyone that it couldn’t happen.

 

Clyde knew well that he wasn’t someone to be trusted.

 

He was someone who had neither lust of power nor lust of fame.

 

That is because if he had greed, he would never have been satisfied with the North. He would have asked for the eastern part of the granary. He would have fed his supporters and built up strength by giving them a place to live.

 

Clyde’s supporters, the commoners, the Seoers, and the slaves, were hoping for a new land, a new home for themselves.

 

It was desirable to give them what they wanted.

 

But Clyde is said to have taken his supporters straight to the North as soon as the Emperor sent him there.

 

What has been given to those who have followed the revolutionary leader for a long time in their dreams of a new era, is nothing but a land with endless barrenness.

 

It was a privilege, but that was all.

 

Hiding to the North for fear of discrimination, persecution, and tax was something that could be done even before the new era began.

 

It was because in society the saying ‘severe politics is scarier than monsters’ was prevalent.

 

Contrary to his followers’ expectations who believed in him, their hero led them to North because he was biased that a bastard could not be a hero.

 

It was a choice unwelcomed by his supporters.

 

Endless winters and blizzards were far from utopia.

 

And those who couldn’t represent the interests of the group would soon lose their power.

 

Although Clyde’s position in the Empire was still solid, there must have been voices of dissatisfaction.

 

I was certain Clyde took that risk for a reason.

 

To obediently listen to the words of the imperial family…

 

Perhaps his driving force was loyalty.

 

‘So, even with the northern part that the emperor gave me, I was happy.’

 

Contrary to public opinion, he may have been more loyal to the Imperial family, rather than a spokesman for the b*stards, slaves, and suffering commoners.

 

The royal family dismissed his identity as a child and guaranteed him a basic life, so his loyalty was not incomprehensible.

 

However, if he is the sword of the imperial family, he shouldn’t be trusted.

 

Since he knows my identity as ‘Ethel’, my beloved Mary, Hans and Daisy and my previous home, I have to be wary of Clyde.

 

Nevertheless, I felt comfortable when I was reunited with the piano in my memory and pressed the white keyboard in his mansion.

 

I felt strange.

 

Maybe it’s because of the familiar tune tapped on the ear.

 

Suddenly, I felt that the man sitting beside me was not the great revolutionary leader, or the great spokesman of the suffering.

 

He seemed to be the Clyde I knew from the past—the one I missed.

 

The original plan was to follow him, make excuses for staying in the duke’s mansion, and head here, but I modified the plan a little.

 

I watched as the sun set.

 

It was a day when the sky appeared especially pretty; the ripples of the calm, unmoving lake glistened with a new shade of silver and the reeds swayed gently in the cold breeze.

 

I think that’s why I asked him.

 

Can you keep a secret?

 

“You’re not going to tell anyone, are you?”

 

I couldn’t bring myself to ask if he could keep ‘Ethel’, my family and their home a secret. Instead, I asked something vague that carried a lot of meaning.

 

Even though I already knew what crazy things he had done for the imperial family.

 

Despite knowing he was responsible for tearing me apart with my loved ones, I still had a tinge of hope. 

 

He looked me in the eye and nodded, just like a boy, resembling Clyde from the past.

 

Then an unexplainable sense of relief finally bloomed in my heart.

 

Have I ever felt so comfortable? 

 

Have I ever let go of my mind— forgetting my identity and worries— to be in the moment?

 

I leaned my head against the arm of the boy who had now become a man.

 

I sighed deeply as I recalled the wish deep in my heart which I knew would never be true .

 

“I wish I could just stay like this.”

 

Without realising that the thoughts of a person shouldn’t leak out.

 

“…the two ducks were close. However, one day the brave duck didn’t come. The ugly duckling waited, waited, and waited, but the brave duck never came.”

 

Knowing that this person could hurt me again.

 

* * *

 

I leaned against his arm for a long time.

 

I didn’t want to tell him to get up first, so I just waited for him to move, but he sat there calmly and let me lean.

 

When I got up from my seat, my feet sank in the magnificent sand between the reeds.

 

He realised I was searching for my shoes and immediately placed them in front of my feet.

 

As I cautiously lifted them, he brushed off the sand from the soles of my feet with his rough hands, and carefully put on my shoes, one side at a time.

 

I felt dazed because it was unexpected. As I was contemplating whether to thank him, he took me in his arms.

 

I looked up at him with his eyes wide open in surprise, but he walked silently.

 

It was stranger than I thought, to look at the boy who became a man.

 

I never knew he was this tall.

 

Neither did it occur to me that his embrace would be so warm.

 

In this short time, I started wishing for this person to stay by my side.

 

After heading for the horse’s nest in the reed bed, he dropped me from his arms and focused on untying the horse’s knot.

 

I tried to do it with a different knot, but it didn’t work.

 

It was very difficult to untie the horse as it was usually tied up tightly to prevent it from running away.

 

He gave me the reins of the horse when I was wondering how to loosen it with less force and more efficiently.

 

My hands brushed under the reins. He quickly retrieved his hand, looking surprised.

 

 “Clyde.”

 

I suggested carefully to him, who shied away and washed his face dry.

 

“Do you want to ride with me?”

 

“…Yes?”

 

It was the most intense emotional change I had ever observed in him.

 

“If you don’t like it, you don’t have to.”

 

I shrugged my shoulders, stepped on the saddle stirrup, and jumped on the horse.

 

When I was about to say I was going first, in the blink of an eye he sat behind me. His hand gently wrapped around my waist.

 

I felt that a head was next to my ears, so I put strength in my hands which were on leather straps.

 

The man looked me in the eye and pointed his finger somewhere.

 

“…the peacock is over there.”

 

It felt like his breath had hit my cheek.  I quickly looked ahead and started riding the horse so that my face would not be seen.

 

I thought it was fortunate that the saddle had dropped us so we couldn’t reach it.

 

Otherwise, it was obvious that he would have noticed my arms trembling.

 

Although the  horse was quite slow, the man did not let go of his hand from my waist.

 

Occasionally he gave me directions and leaned closer to me, and I felt strange for nothing, so I quickly replied that I knew what he was going for.

 

It was near the lake, so when the cool night breeze blew, my hair flew back and tickled him.

 

* * *

 

Belviche’s institutional society was particularly renowned for its aristocratic and conservative members.

 

They were obsessed with discipline and were just as strict when it came to art and sexuality.

 

They were people who always spoke with a high level of formality, but kept their ears open.  Although they despised the Yellow Daily as vulgar, they loved gossip.

 

For this reason, the yellow daily report of the premium label— which aimed to focus on  them— was even released.

 

Of course, the catchphrase, which promotes newspapers, was a daily newspaper of sophisticated people for gossip’s “high-level briefing.”

 

And the newspaper was a hit.

 

It was the story of the famous Velvet Daily.

 

The reaction would be devastating if rumors spread that a Princess, who is not married, stayed at the house of a single man.

 

That said, I chose to stay firm against the detractors. 

 

I know it’s good to gain the power of nobles, but I’m not desperate enough to crouch at them.

 

It was nearly midnight that, after running for quite a while, Clyde and I finally reached the duke’s mansion.

 

I got off the horse and looked up at the white marble building that shone in the dark.

 

“I see there are a lot of rooms here.”

 

It sounded like an admiration for Clyde’s mansion, but the intention was actually brazen.

 

I meant that there would be no room to stay in such a spacious house for about a day.

 

It was late, but I didn’t intend to return to the palace, conscious of possible rumors that could spread.

 

As much as today, I did not want to see the faces of the royal family again.

 

I didn’t want to ruin the good memories.

 

In addition, for the first time in my life, when I get to the front page of the newspaper, I wonder how hot the reaction of the Imperial family will be.

 

I wanted to show that if the emperor was thinking of using me as a trophy for the noble, he was  wrong.

 

I said I’d stay in the palace for six months. However, I never said I would stay calmly and quietly.