Chapter 4

 

“Sister.”

 

On the journey home Daisy dozed off, and as soon as I washed her and laid her down on the bed, she looked at me as if to ask when I had done that.

 

She smiled as I stroked her hair. She squeezed my hand and whispered. 

 

“Tell me a story.”

 

I looked out of the dark window. My gaze shifted to the burning candle in front of the starlit window. The candlelight, which has a short life span, burned precariously.

 

It’s time to change the candle. With that thought, I shifted my gaze to Daisy again and whispered.

 

“Promise me you’ll sleep soon if I tell you a story.”

 

“Yes, I promise.”

 

“You can’t ask for another one.”

 

“I promise. I promise.”

 

Daisy stuck her pinky finger out at me, and I happily wrapped my pinky finger over hers and smiled slightly.

 

“So, what story should I tell you? Story of a giant going to a dwarf country? Or about a man who flew so high that he lost his wings in the sun and fell to the ground? Or about a princess who went and met a fairy in the land of flowers?”

 

“No.”

 

Daisy said, shaking her head .

 

“Tell me about the ugly duckling. That’s the most interesting.”

 

“Yes, Daisy. That’s the most interesting story.”

 

Daisy, who was completely buried in the pillow, nodded, her eyes shining.

 

The candle flickered in the wind and my shadow disappeared.

 

In the darkness, I began whispering the story.

 

“Once upon a time, in the kingdom of the ducks, there was an ugly duckling princess. Her parents were the most dignified and beautiful ducks in the land.

 

The first son, the prince duck, was like his father and was very dignified. The second daughter resembled her  mother and was the most beautiful in the world.”

 

“By the way, is that so?”

 

“The youngest born, the Princess Duck, was an ordinary duck. If she was ugly, I would have understood a little better why people hated her. But the youngest duck was just plain ordinary.”

 

“Then maybe there was a mystery of birth?”

 

Daisy said with a twinkle in her eyes. I shook my head without saying anything, Daisy blinked her eyes and added.

 

“But, you know, there’s a puppet show at the market, and there really is a mystery of birth…….”

 

“The youngest duck is the youngest child of the imperial family. There is no such thing as a birth mystery.”

 

“I see….”

 

Daisy nodded with a puffy face.

 

Then she asked me with a twinkle in her eyes.

 

“So what’s happened to the ugly duckling?”

 

“The emperor and empress duck became worried when the ugly duckling was so ordinary. How could she be their child? Not only she didn’t have any abilities, but also her face didn’t even look like theirs. At first, they were overwhelmed with worry, but then anger took its place. They fought with each other the whole day.

 

“It’s because she’s like you.” Said the emperor.

 

“No, I think she’s like you.” Said the empress. 

 

“Oh, my God, you’re so mean. But she’s still my daughter.”

 

“Isn’t that right?”

 

So the ugly duckling stood in the corridor at dawn, breathless.

 

She had a nightmare that night, but even scarier than the nightmare were the voices leaking out of her parents’ room.

 

“I think she went there because the nightmare scared her.” Daisy said.

 

“Yes. After a constant battle, the emperor and the empress decided to keep everything about the ugly duckling a secret. At that time, the situation outside the palace was not good. Fearing the nobles, the emperor and the Empress Duck spread rumors that the youngest princess was actually very beautiful and powerful.”

 

“And then what?”

 

“Then they demoted the ugly duck princess from princess to maid. The “real” one, who never existed, was abandoned in a remote palace, so the ugly duck princess actually became a fake who took care of her sister.”

 

That’s how they decided to hide the existence of the ugly duck princess.

 

“What’s next?”

 

Next….

 

I continued the story calmly. 

 

“The ugly duckling met a very special duck. He was a brave duck that cherished the ugly duckling.There was also a gentle side to him that every time he visited the ugly duckling, he gave her fresh apples with a slightly reddened face.”

 

“The brave duck?”

 

“Yes. He was the best duck in the Imperial Palace at sword fighting. “

 

“What happened to him?”

 

“They spent a lot of time together. One day, however, the brave duck disappeared. The ugly duck princess waited, and waited, and waited again, but the brave duck never came.”

 

“She must be sad.”

 

“Yes. Then, someone poisoned the duck pond. So the imperial duck family ran away quickly. And the ugly duckling princess…. She did her best to escape and survived. But when she came back to her senses, there was no one around. The little duckling waddled in the darkness, calling for her mother and father. But…”

 

Daisy nodded with downcast eyes. Eventually, she closed her eyes tightly, unable to withstand the sleepiness. 

 

I pulled Daisy’s covers up to her chin.

 

“Good night.”

 

I blew out the candle and the white smoke at the end of the candle wick dispersed into the darkness.

 

A cold wind came in and I closed the window tightly.

 

The starry sky flickered like an afterimage.

 

****

 

There was a place under the same sky, but not a single star was visible…. It was above the Imperial Palace.

 

I looked at a somewhat lonely sky. It reminded me of the phrase “the imperial house that the stars abandoned”.

 

The Imperial Palace, a woman on the luxurious bed tossed and turned and opened her eyes.

 

Her body was shaking with her head buried in her hands, as if she had a terrible nightmare. 

 

“Honey.”

 

“No, I’m the one who threw her away…”

 

“Michelle!”

 

She finally took a breath and shuddered as her body cramped .

 

“I miss my child.”

 

With those words, the Empress dove into the Emperor’s arms.

 

Her thin shoulders raised up and down. She was sobbing. 

 

“I still remember it vividly. How that little thing stared at me and the look she gave me. I felt so guilty that such despair was on the face of that child…”

 

“Michelle.”

 

“I know, I know. I know that it is impossible to find the child. I also know that she may be dead.”

 

“She’s in a good place.”

 

“Really…I can’t live with myself…… with all this going on, I’m sure I’m going to end up like this one day.”

 

“I understand. I want to see her too.”

 

[Father!]

 

The emperor’s brows wrinkled as the scream of the child was still clearly echoed in his ears.

 

The situation was like a blood stain that can’t be erased even if you try.

 

Rather than being erased, the guilt grew bigger day by day.

 

[Father!]

 

He wanted to grab anyone and ask them what it was about blood relations that made him gouge his heart so badly.

 

He knew that what they were looking for was a shell with no ability. But in order to get rid of this endless guilt, he had to find Stella.

 

He wanted to find her and make amends.

 

He wanted to enjoy the luxury of sympathy for that little thing that he discarded as surplus to life.

 

As he was suffocating with guilt, time beautified the memory.

 

Yes, she was a normal girl, but she had his eyes.

 

She had a cute smile on her face, a rare kindness.

 

As they did so, a sense of loss enveloped them, as if they had lost something precious. The Empress whimpered silently and raised her head to look at her husband.

 

“The Duke of Delanhill is looking for the child.”

 

“…”

 

“…Stella.”

 

“We must find her sooner than that monster.That is, if Stella is still alive.”

 

The Empress nodded and remembered Clyde – the Duke of Delanhill. Black hair and red eyes.

 

When that man came to them soaked in blood, they shuddered as if they had seen the Grim Reaper.

 

“He’s a monster. I would never give Stella to that person.”

 

“They all said that he seems crazy about something.He turned his house into a pool of blood and didn’t even blink. The fact that someone like that wants our daughter so badly is a real surprise……”

 

Clyde – the Duke of Delanhill.

 

He was the one who helped to take control of the family and rebuild the imperial family by killing the members of his own family who were instrumental in the rebellion.

 

People referred to him as such.

 

But behind the scenes…

 

He’s a monster.

 

There were no two monsters alike under the sky.

 

Born as the fifth illegitimate son of a baron, he entered the palace with his superior swordsmanship and lived quietly as if he was dead.

 

As soon as the rebellion broke out, he went to the territory and killed his father and the people of the house, just like that………

 

“The day he became a duke, I told him that he must keep his promise to give me Stella, how stern his eyes were….”

 

The Empress closed her eyes, shivering with shame. The emperor said with conviction.

 

“No matter how much he helped to rebuild the imperial family, what belongs to the heavens belongs to the heavens, and how could he dare to go after our child with that duke status?”

 

“From what I’ve heard, Karen is attracted to his monster face and wants to marry him.”

 

“This is outrageous! He can have Stella as his bride after finding her but he won’t ever have Karen!”

 

“I was hoping that the storm would sweep away the dirty dust, but I don’t think of calamity as a friend for the reason that I am grateful.”

 

A spent storm must go.

 

“Let it be as it is for now. The duke is not happy about the engagement with Karen either, so we’ve some time………..”

 

“First thing first is to find Stella.”

 

The Empress nodded.

 

“Yes, of course……”

 

****

 

“Duke.”

 

A voice interrupted his thoughts, the Duke pointed with his chin to the desk.

 

A bottle and glass lay neatly in front of him, and his sharp gaze leisurely skimmed over the writing on the bottle.

 

<Pure White Saint>.

 

It was a cheap wine he bought for 2 gold.

 

He lowered his head in silence and then looked at the papers on his desk. 

 

He was a Duke.

 

Born as the fifth bastard in the prestigious Barony of Delanhill, he was too shallow by blood to be called a duke. If he dared to trace his childhood, all he could remember was the beatings.

 

When he thought of how colorless and vague his life was, a faint voice lingered in his ears.

 

[Garbage that crawled out from between the bridges of the lowly ones. Die. Die. Clyde Delanhill.]

 

His father, who was looking at him with his eyes as if he was a livestock, paid a high price to the slave dealer.

 

It seemed like a natural procedure, since all the so-called ‘bastards of the Delanhill family’ had been sold that way.

 

He was a skilled swordsman, and risked his life to hold the gold that would satisfy his father, while his father pushed him out of the house.

 

His trembling hand picked up the wine bottle and poured it relentlessly into the empty glass.

 

 

‘…I miss her’

 

Her beautiful brown eyes.

 

Her soft brown hair.

 

A sweet voice.

 

[No. Brother Joseph!]

 

[…Stella.]

 

The Duke, isolated in the room, gulped down the wine like a thirsty man.

 

His throat began to swell.

 

[Please don’t hurt this man. I beg you.]

 

The voice that kept echoing in his head made him thirsty even as he drank and drank.