The light that suddenly shone in was so dazzling that I couldn’t help but squint.
The soft silhouette…The backlighting convinced me that it was a woman, even if I couldn’t tell who it was.
“…She’s dressed quite strangely.”
The sound of a flat voice echoes in the cool night air.
A voice that was completely different from the usual, with little or no inflection.
But I knew the owner of that voice, of course.
“…Her Royal Majesty…”
His Eminence Shion, next to me, gasped at the sight of the figure.
It wasn’t astonishment, but was tinged with something akin to resignation.
Her Royal Majesty closes the door with her back hand, somewhat expressionlessly.
With a creak and a dull sound, the world of silence and darkness returned again.
And when I say darkness, I don’t mean total darkness because of the altar’s everlasting lights. But compared to the hallways of the palace, which are lit at regular intervals with twinkling lights behind the door…it is still dark here.
A pleasant darkness…
In this world, I first learned that there are different kinds of darkness.
His Eminence glares at Her Royal Majesty with a grim expression.
Not grim, but…
The look in his eyes as if he had encountered an enemy…It’s clearly hostile, and it seems to be a somewhat unsuitable of an expression to direct at his own mother.
Perhaps His Eminence knew…
As he had said so himself, His Highness Shion must have known.
The face that exists behind His Highness Princess Yulia’s charity.
That his own mother was involved.
And it seems to me that he even expected the Queen to come here like this.
“Well, I can’t say anything about other people, either.”
The queen is wearing light makeup, but her hair is down, and the thin garment under the coat of the snow leopard coat, called a gashuk, could be a nightgown.
It is unusual for a lady to go out in public dressed like this, even if the person you are talking to is a relative, and it is unthinkable from her usual, never-changing appearance.
However, that’s a trivial matter.
“You are here alone?”
There are surprises, of course.
But, in a way, it was also predictable for me.
It was an absolute certainty that the Queen was involved. If that wasn’t the premise, then everything that had been going on wouldn’t be possible.
So it’s not strange that she’s the one coming here.
Though I didn’t expect her to be alone…
It would be an uproar to have the queen go out of the palace at this hour. She’d have to sneak out here alone.
It certainly is, I think.
The private living space part of the royal family in the main palace is collectively called the back palace. The public space of the main palace used to be called the front palace, and it was called so because it was located behind it. Now it’s somewhat more subtle to say that it’s behind, but it’s a complicated procedure for a royal woman to get out of it, which is just a designation to indicate the location in the first place.
I wouldn’t have had time to do those things, and this is the sort of thing I wouldn’t want to be known for in the first place.
“Didn’t you bring an escort with you as well?”
Her Highness didn’t have an escort or even an accompanying maid with her.
I was a bit surprised by that, even if she was sneaking over.
“You are the same.”
“I’m not alone.”
“…Shion won’t be able to help protect you.”
Unlike the older children, he had no talent for martial arts at all, His Highness the Queen smiled sarcastically.
His Highness Shion showed no emotion about it, but the sternness in his gaze remained the same.
There must be something deep-rooted in relatives, I think.
Something I don’t know much about…
I can imagine it, but I can’t understand it.
There was never something like that in me that I felt that strongly about, and even before, I no longer had any close family members that existed for me.
Oh, I didn’t have much of a connection to my immediate family anyway…
Maya had long since died from her parents, and Arthirea had lost her mother at birth, and her father was present but not very aware of her, so there was no room for any kind of emotion to arise there.
Thinking that I’ve discovered a strange commonality, I tell Her Majesty the Queen.
“I don’t need His Eminence Shion to protect me. I’m a fast runner.”
“That’s an interesting thing to say.”
Her Royal Majesty gazed at me from head to toe, as if I was a rare creature.
It was an assessing look. Like when a woman assesses a rival woman.
“…You’ve really lost your memory, Thia.”
Her voice didn’t have the usual mousy, sweet sound to it.
But when she called my name, I felt a little uncomfortable with it.
I have an aversion to being called Thia, too.
Maybe that is…
I guess it’s related to a memory I’ve forgotten, about the person who calls me that.
Even if I don’t remember it in your head, my body is reacting…probably the same kind of thing.
And I’m vaguely aware of who that person is.
“…I don’t know if that’s fortunate or unfortunate.”
The people around me have accepted me for who I am today.
Of course I’m happy about that, and I think it makes me happy.
But I I’m here because I lost the little Arthirea along with my memories, so I can’t say I’m happy to let go of it.”
I will never forget that.
“…Fortunate, I suppose. For the Crown Prince.”
Her Royal Majesty gently lowered her eyes.
That sorrowful profile is very beautiful, and I can see why it is said that His Majesty’s favor is still undiminished.
“Please return Lilia, Your Majesty the Queen.”
My not-so-loud voice echoed in the silence.
Her Royal Majesty did not say that she did not know where Lilia was, or that she was not involved.
A silent affirmation…
…That she was involved in Lilia’s not coming back.
So I repeat again.
“Please return Lilia.”
I looked straight up at her without raising my voice.
Her Royal Majesty’s eyes were hollow.
Then she shook her head lightly and told us,
“She’s…probably back in the West Palace by now.”
His Eminence Shion exhales in relief. I breathed a small sigh of relief, too.
“Safe, I see.”
“I didn’t do anything, nor am I letting you.”
The sound of a tired voice.
His Eminence and I look at each other and rejoice in the fact.
I gently push His Eminence’s hesitant back, even though I wanted to rush to Lilia’s side.
I nodded as if to say ‘go.’
His Eminence Shion looked worried, but nodded and ran off.
“It’s okay. Lilia is back on her own feet…”
The Queen’s Highness’s tone is like a mother’s, and I find it strange that that seems strange.
Because, truth be told, Her Majesty is the mother of His Highness Shion.
But no matter how much she is like a mother, I think that this person in front of me is not really a ‘mother’ in the true sense of the word.
I didn’t spend that much time with her, but I felt that way.
Suddenly, I notice Her Majesty staring at me.
“Hey, why did you come here? Thia.”
Her Majesty Yulia, who doesn’t have that usual compassionate smile on her face, looks even more doll-like than me.
“To get Lilia back.”
“Just for one lady-in-waiting?”
Her Royal Majesty Yulia twists the corners of her lips.
“It’s not just a mere thing.”
To me, Lilia is not just a lady-in-waiting.
“Oh, you believe in her? I’d be very surprised if you did. Some of the things that happened to you, also happened to her. It could have been Lilia who killed your handmaiden.”
“Oh, how can you say that? You don’t even remember.”
Her Highness said so with a challenging look on her face.
I shook my head.
“…Certainly, Lilia may have been involved in some of the things that happened around me. But that’s not the same as this.”
Lilia is far too competent and knows far too much.
But at the same time, I know that Lilia is sincere to me.
There are things I won’t say, and of course there are things I can’t say. But that doesn’t mean I don’t trust her.
I’m only vaguely aware of it, but maybe Lilia is looking for something…and that’s why she’s hiding or not telling me about.
“Quite a lot of trust, isn’t it?”
I do believe in Lilia, that’s for sure. But when it comes to Ellucia, I know that Lilia wouldn’t be involved.
I take one deep breath.
It’s a critical moment…
“Your highness knows the name of my dead handmaiden?”
“…Right. Because I’m your mother’s replacement.”
That’s not all.
“Because Ellucia was the daughter of a military officer attached to His Highness Nigel, I assumed that she had become my maid through that connection. I am certainly not wrong about that. Her father is a military officer of His Highness Nigel, and it is true that he had a mouthpiece for her.”
‘What does it matter?’ Her Royal Highness’s gaze nudged the conversation forward.
“But her mother was once your lady-in-waiting.”
Her Royal Highness smiled wanly.
“Yes, that’s right.”
Easily, she affirmed it.
So I continued on.
“The first thing she needed to do was to get a job at the West Palace. On the surface, she followed her father’s path. But in truth, she had ascended to the royal palace before that by her mother’s side…and served in this western palace. At your command.”
“Is there a problem with that?”
A gentle look. And yet, I’m afraid of it.
“It seems that Ellucia has done a lot of things at your behest.”
“…Is there evidence?”
“To ask such a question, Your Highness, is to imply that it is true.”
I smile slightly. I try to look as comfortable as possible without my cheeks twitching.
The truth is, I’m scared. But I can’t just retreat here.
Because this is my fight.
I can’t pick up a sword.
I don’t have those abilities, I don’t have the heart for it, and I’m not prepared for it.
But I’m not going to run away from this place now.
“Hey, don’t you think Ellucia died because Lilia killed her to protect you? That’s the least you could do if she were that one, right?”
She laughed, ‘That one was raised in the rear of the palace, a native.’
“It doesn’t matter how many times I tell you the same thing, it’s pointless. No matter how many times you tell me, my answer will never change.”
“Are you trying to upset me, or do you have another intention?”
“If it was Lilia who did it for me, it would be on me, the Master, to do it. But not Lilia.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“…Do you really need that much evidence?”
Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of clear evidence.
And no matter how hard I tried, I could find very little in the way of physical evidence.
What there is, is circumstantial evidence and the hole-filled reasoning I’ve assembled based on it.
“Oh, so you denounce people without any evidence?”
“I’m not denouncing it, and I don’t intend to.”
Yes. This is not a denunciation or anything like that. I don’t have anything to denounce.
“I’m just checking…I just want to know.”
“…Why ‘I’ am here.”
The real meaning of what I said would not have been understood by the Queen.
The “I” that was both Arthirea and Maya Izumi.
It is probably impossible for anyone to define what the consciousness of “I” is.
I believe that Maya’s reincarnation is Arthirea, and because her consciousness as Arthirea was killed, her memories of her past life came back to life. But whether this is true or not is something that no one can know.
But it is true that “I” exist here because the consciousness of young Arthirea was lost.
That is why I want to know.
“I really wanted to catch the culprit. I wanted to catch him and bring him to justice…But…I found it impossible to do that. Because while there are laws in this country that bring the nobility to justice, there are no laws that bring the royalty to justice.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Her Royal Highness looked surprised, and then laughed with a somewhat bitter expression.
“So I just want to know.”
“It doesn’t matter what I know?”
“If you know, you can make an effort to avoid repeating the same mistakes.”
“…That’s why I say ‘effort.’”
I can’t say I won’t make the same mistake again. Because it may be out of our control. I know now that it’s no one’s fault and that there are things in the world that we can’t control.
However, knowing it is more likely to be avoided if you know than if you do not know.
Her Royal Highness looks at me with a look of surprise.
“Thia, you…what on earth is…?
I am no longer a young child who has closed herself off and lost her voice, who can be disliked or blamed.
Instead of answering, I begin to speak.
“Ellucia’s family home is in the north, and the man who was made to be the one who tried to poison me in the castle of Elzeveld was also born in the north.”
The North…is now a battleground…or at least an area that is about to become a battleground.
“I don’t know how Ellucia could have been saved from dying because the incident was the result of an interweaving of events from the past. When I heard that Ellucia was dead, I got mad, angry, was self-loathing, and then I ran with those emotions…which were actually very far off the mark…”
However, I would add that it’s not in vain because that’s how I got to where I am today.”
“Ellucia was the perpetrator of one incident…and the victim in that poisoning. There are a number of distant events that were complicated…and I honestly don’t know all of them.”
Maybe I can’t figure it all out.
I know some of the central events, but there is a lot of chain of events that stemmed from them and spread like a ripple. There are a lot of things that are not understood, even by the people involved.
“But at the end of the day, it all comes down to a single event.”
I let out a small sigh.
Her Royal Majesty looked at me with an expression on her face, as if she was unsure of how to make a decision.
“But that’s why I don’t understand your motive.”
While digesting the meaning of my question, Her Majesty replies in return.
I look straight into her eyes and ask her,
“Why are you trying to destroy this country…and then try to protect it again?”
Conflicting factors and consequences.
That applies to almost every case.
At my question, the expression completely disappears from Her Majesty’s face.
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