“……Your Highness, is this your dinner for today?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Here we go!
As I thought, the Crown Prince was the kind of guy who jumps four turns far above my expectations.
“Since you were coming, I had the general’s stuff prepared for you.”
Am I the only one who thinks there’s something different about the direction of that concern?
On the table in front of me is a slightly long, vertical metal can.
I’ve seen it before…when I was coming back from Elzevert’s castle.
I did want a little bit of it at that time. I heard that you could even boil water in that can.
“The portable rations for the generals come with a wide variety of dried fruit and three kinds of jerky.”
I also knew that this was the staple of His Highness’ diet.
But, but, you know, give me back my wasted excitement!
A dinner made for His Highness should be delicious! My hopes that I was going to be able to eat something amazing were drastically betrayed.
“What’s wrong, Arthirea?”
“…No. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of portable rations being made for generals or not.”
If I told Lilia, she would definitely laugh at me.
My foolishness as I changed into my new dress.
“Now there’s quite a wide variety. And every army has different suppliers.”
“Why is it different?”
“The reason for this is that if you stick with one supplier, bribes and stuff like that are bound to happen. On the other hand, if you know there’s competition, you can’t just raise the price too high, you can get creative. Basically, the standing army is a money eater. We want to cut down on expenses as much as possible.”
Is that so. I’ve read about how expensive the military is. Come to think of it, I once got dizzy from reading in a newspaper about the huge annual budget of the Self-Defense Forces. It’s the same everywhere in the world that the military is expensive.
“Your Highness, do you eat and compare?”
“Well, it gets old after time.”
I’d get bored if I was eating these cereal-filled biscuits every day.
I only ate them a few times during that trip.
…Somehow, His Highness is in a bit of a good mood. Did something good happen to him?
“…Your Highness, would you like to eat outside?”
“It’s portable and easy to carry.”
At the very least, let’s get fancy with an evening picnic.
“Isn’t it cold out?”
“I’ll take my cloak.”
I’m not going to miss my chance to get out of here!
I only know my own courtyard, so I’d like to go to the tower that looks behind the palace there or something.
“No…it’s too noisy for all sorts of things when you know you’re going out.”
Going out is an exaggeration. I’m fine with the top of that tower or the pavilion in the back yard.
Oh, but it could be an outing in the garden, too, since there are always two guards always available just to go out in the courtyard.
His Highness, who had been staring at me and thinking for a moment, excused himself from his seat and quickly returned with his cloak in his hand.
The hooded cloak, made of a grey tweed-like fabric, is quite pretty.
“It’s the one I used when I was an infant. The size shouldn’t be a problem.
…I’m small anyway.
He holds me in his arms and walks across the yard at night.
“……I can walk by myself.”
“Our strides are different, and you wouldn’t know the road very well.”
Indeed. I only know parts of the crown prince’s palace and my palace. I’ve never been out at night, at all.
The night here is pure darkness.
There is no such thing as a streetlight, and His Highness has no source of light in his hand.
Fortunately, the moon is so bright today that there is not much inconvenience to see it.
I looked up at the sky and realized.
There are two moons…?
“The moon is bright…and both…”
Okay, so two is normal…uh, well, the last time I looked at the night sky was…uh, when I was coming back from Elzevert…The moon wasn’t out at that time…Right, a new moon or…
My memories are coming back a little at a time, like snow falling…and my memories of my 33 years are blended together and the present overlaps with them.
A gradual integration…I am Arthirea and Arthirea is me. I no longer feel uncomfortable with that.
But this is…the first time in a long time that I’ve been shocked. Yeah, it’s a shock.
“Is the moon unusual?”
“…I haven’t been out much at night.”
Not only is it unusual, but I’ve never seen it before, actually.
“I suppose so.”
Come to think of it, I never even went out on the balcony at night. The thick curtains are pulled down when it gets dark and that’s why I didn’t notice…
“…But you’re still light, as usual. Are you eating well?”
“I’m eating. And having good snacks.”
“You won’t gain any weight with that.”
“It’s fine, no need to get fat.”
I’m not a greedy person, and I don’t have any food restrictions. I’m not a picky eater, and I don’t restrict my food, but sometimes I have to voluntarily restrict myself. But I do refuel with snacks!
“I’m afraid I’m going to break you if you don’t gain more weight.”
“You’re too thin. I know I’m holding you this way, but…I feel like if I put a little strength into it, you would snap.”
His Highness is also a renowned warrior. It’s not obvious to see, but I can see the muscles are well formed even through the clothing. I’m sure that my arms and legs could be well-developed…if I put some effort into it.
“Because I am a child, I am smaller than an adult, and my bones are thin. I think that I will break sharply with the power of His Highness, so please handle me with care.”
Handle with care! Heaven and earth! That’s right.
His Royal Highness has to be careful because he seems to think I’m a luggage or something.
But it’s nice to have my eyes up high, and it’s easy. I’m clinging to his neck, and…I don’t know, it’s like I should call him father or something.
“Where are we going?”
“…Let’s go to the city because it’s a big deal.”
I think my eyes were sparkling.
“Yeah, the night has a different scenery than in the daytime…You don’t even know the city scenery in the daytime.”
“I rarely go outside.”
The Crown Prince’s Palace is the only place I am free to visit.
My palace is arranged in the shape of a “B” with a very high wall around it. It is said that this wall is 1.5 times as high as the other walls in the palace.
Only the eastern corner of the wall is connected to the corridor that connects to the crown prince, and there two guards are always standing at each end of the wall.
It’s quite large, so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic, but there’s still a sense of being trapped.
Whenever I look up at the sky from the courtyard, which is surrounded by buildings on all sides, I always feel like I’m in a cage. Well, I guess that’s what princesses are supposed to be like, so I’m not too unhappy about it at the moment.
Storybook princesses often escape the castle, but that’s not something I can do. I’d get lost if I left the corridor before even going outside.
“…Someday, for sure, I’ll definitely let you out of this cage.”
“Yeah…I know better than most that that place is a cage to lock you in. I’m the one who built it.”
I hear His Highness’s voice in my ear.
I cling to His Highness’s neck and he holds me in his arms.
We are closer than ever to each other, but I can’t make out his expressions.
His Highness’s voice had some echoes of regret mixed in so I didn’t question him deeply.
Instead, I smiled a bit and said.
“It’s quite a large cage, isn’t it?”
I added that it was an exaggeration for someone my size.
His Highness let out a laugh in the back of his throat as he chuckled.
“That’s not a compliment, is it?”
It doesn’t sound like a compliment.
“No, it’s a compliment…interesting. I don’t know any other women like you.”
“…Well, I’m a child anyway.”
“No…you’re an adult…at least you have been since you’ve lost your memory.”
I thought I was going to catch my breath.
“…No. I was surprised.”
“……I don’t remember much of what happened before I lost my memory, so I’m not sure if I’m really like an adult.”
Oh my gosh, my heart is pounding. Your Highness, I hope you’re aware.
I was surprised with my whole body just now.
“Actually, I didn’t know you very well before you lost your memory. I’ve heard reports of you, but I didn’t have much direct contact with you.”
“Because……it reminds me of my sins.”
“When you look at me?”
“Did you do something?”
“……I didn’t do anything.”
‘That is my sin,’ says His Highness.
“It’s my fault that you became a doll.”
What does His Highness know?
I wanted to know, I thought, and I was afraid to ask.
“What do you mean by that?”
But it’s important. I was going to ask him sooner or later.
“I didn’t do anything when you were in the rear palace. You could say I was indifferent. By the time I noticed, you were already a doll.”
“How old was I when you were…?”
“It was shortly before your eighth birthday, or maybe it was…when I went to my mother’s for an errand, and I noticed you were there. You never spoke a word or looked at me in the eye.”
“…8 years old, is it?”
I thought it was when I was in the rear palace that I closed my mind off enough to be called a doll…I thought it was when the nanny died.
“I didn’t realize until then…I have no special emotional preference for infants, and more than anything else, I was busy. I was also attending university at that time. There was also an ongoing skirmish with Syram over the copper mine in the south. I couldn’t afford to pay any attention to you.”
His Highness had made a name for himself in a series of battles against Syram. One battalion of the Northern Division and a mixed force of about 3,000 troops from Alhane’s border guards defeated Syram’s 15,000-strong army on the Plain of Idrak.
In Syram, His Highness is said to be the “Black Prince” or the “Black Demon King”. I guess it’s because His Highness’ armor is based on black, but I thought they must have had a terrible experience. Because, ‘Demon King’ is a bit much.
“I think that’s only normal.”
It is easy to imagine that even though I was a princess, he did not have time to deal with infants.
“But I was negligent…Even if it was a political maneuver, you are my princess, and I had to protect you. As long as your relationship with Elzevert was a delicate one and the Duke couldn’t come out strong, there was no one else to protect you but me.”
‘You lost your emotions because I failed to protect you,’ His Highness said. His expression was nonchalant, but I could tell that His Highness was in pain over it.
“I wanted to get you back right away, but my father, who was obsessed with you, wouldn’t allow me to bring out the rear palace…I had no choice, so I turned my hand from the rear palace and arranged for the story of the side queen to be lifted.”
“Well, that’s awesome, Your Highness. That was something that Your Highness set up himself.”
“I’m finally back here for that reason…because of the Tirese incident right after, my father wanted you back in the palace, but I finally got him to shut up by raising the walls and remodeling the palace into a birdcage like that.”
A cage is not just something to be locked inside.
—It is also to protect what is inside the basket.
That’s what cages are for, too.
“…If it’s necessary…
His Highness listens to my words.
“…then I will stay in the cage until Your Highness says it’s okay.”
‘It’s okay. I’m just fine because I’m a coward,’ His Highness laughed when I said that.
…I was being serious.
For the record, this is not a place to laugh.
For the first time, the downtown corner of the royal capital, Al Greya, was full of light.
I’ve never seen such a bright night since I came here.
How did so many people get here? There are so many people. The lights, the light of the lamps, are like Shinjuku at night.
“This area is called the Utoria district, and it’s basically the area where people who work for the national army or the royal palace do their business. There is a particularly large number of food and drink businesses. There are cheap restaurants in the barracks, but the taste is not so good. You can get good food at a reasonable price in the restaurants around here if you pay a little for the barracks’ dining hall.”
“Has His Highness ever eaten in a place like this before?”
“Yeah. A few times…well, I don’t live on food rations only, either.”
I can’t help but look at him with suspicion.
‘”What, are you doubting me?”
“The general’s rations were brought out.”
My mouth is agape.
Isn’t this as if the dinner of a first date was a hardtack and canned food? It’s not even a convenience store lunch.
“That is…well, I tried it.”
“To see how you’d react.”
“You’re the only woman who didn’t get angry or flattered by that, Arthirea.”
“…Do you do that all the time?”
When I looked into His Highness’s face, he smiled with just a slight smirk.
He seemed…very relaxed.
“Oh, and don’t call me Your Highness here.”
“…What do I call you?”
“My name is Nigel, Arthirea.”
“Ah. It’s not uncommon for a man to be named Nigel…especially after I was born.”
It must mean that many parents named their children after His Highness, I’m sure.
“You’re…Okay, let’s call you Luthia. (***There might be other translations for this nickname, but this was the closest I could come up with. Other translations might be “Lutia” or “Rutia” etc.)
As expected, if the names Nigel and Arthirea will be easily recognized.
The portraits of royal family members are popping up all over the city, even for free. I’m sure there were even a lot of portrait cards, reproductions, plates and painted cups for sale as souvenirs of the capital.
I heard that the ones of His Highness and I are very popular. I was shown some of them, but some of them were so similar that it was hard to underestimate them.
“You don’t like being called Thia, do you?”
I didn’t like the sweetness contained in the name Thia. I’m not sure why…it is something that has been deeply engraved in Arthirea’s mind.
I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s something that only His Majesty the King and His Royal Highness the Queen would call me, with the exception of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince.
“I called you that because I knew you hated it. When I called you Thia, you raised your eyebrows just a little bit. That’s really the only response I got.”
I don’t know. It’s like I want to dig into it so badly.
“What is it? The way you’re looking at me.”
“No, it’s just that Your Hi—Mr. Nigel has a surprisingly childish side.”
“I’m not happy about that.”
His Highness gives me a slightly bitter look.
I said plainly.
In the light and heat and bustle of the city at night, I was thinking again of His Highness.
I was thinking of a man named Nigel Elsebard Thea Diehl Vera Dardie.
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