“…Thia, how much do you know about yourself?”
I was surprised when she suddenly asked me about myself.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I don’t know that much about it because I don’t remember, but all I know is that my mother is His Majesty’s half-sister, and my father is the Duke of Elzevert…”
Also, needless to say, my husband is His Highness Nigel.
“Then, what about your mother?”
“I was told that she was His Majesty’s youngest half-sister born to the former King, His Majesty King Ragulus II, and Her Royal Majesty, Queen Eleanor the Fourth Queen…And that she was a bit of a tomboy, according to Crown Prince.”
“The Crown Prince?”
“Yes. He told me a lot of things.”
My mother in His Highness’ story was an active girl.
She loved music, animals, and was very fond of riding long distances.
I preferred the stories His Highness told me about my mother, rather than the stories of the mother who was the tragic hero in the gossip of the maidservants. She was alive and well in His Highness Nigel’s memory.
“You are so much like Princess Efinia, that you are like a living copy of her. And to Princess Efinia’s mother, Queen Eleanor.”
I have heard her name many times. When one speaks of the most beautiful woman in the land, the name of Her Highness Eleanor, the former Fourth Queen, is said to have come up first.
She was the princess of Reefid, a small kingdom bordering the northwest of Dardinia, famous for its craftsmanship, and she died soon after giving birth to my mother.
But the real picture is ambiguous.
She was known for her beauty, and despite being a noblewoman of a small kingdom called Reefid, she was the first ever to be made a full-blooded queen in this country.
This was a unique and unusual event in the Dardinian royal family, who rarely practiced matrimonial diplomacy, and all say that it was because of her that Her Majesty Queen Yulia was allowed to marry His Majesty.
“My daughter, Alienor, was named after Queen Eleanor. It was His Majesty who named her.”
Her Majesty says so, while wearing an expressionless mask.
In my head, I try to figure out what’s behind those words.
The Dardinian reading of Eleanor is ‘Alienor’.
It’s not unusual for a royal princess to be named after a queen known for her beauty. It was also normal for her father to name her after himself.
However, Her Royal Highness deliberately said this. I wonder if it means that there is something unusual about the name.
If I dared to assume that there was some meaning in it, it must mean that His Majesty had some kind of emotional attachment to it.
“His Majesty has always loved Queen Eleanor.”
Though the words did not contain any emotion at all, Her Royal Majesty’s gaze wavered slightly.
That seemed to show her heart more than anything else.
I didn’t know what to say, though I had expected it.
To His Majesty, Queen Eleanor was supposed to be his father the king’s queen, and his mother-in-law.
Well, it doesn’t matter how much you love her in your heart, but is it so well known that Her Majesty Princess Yulia knows about it?
I’m probably ignorant of a lot of rumors, but this is the first I’ve ever heard of it.
It’s not with the nuances of respect or anything, the way Her Highness is talking.
Even though they were stepmother and son, there probably wasn’t much of an age difference between them.
Because their children, my mother and His Highness Nigel, are not far apart in age.
“Queen Eleanor’s homeland, Reefid, and my homeland, Dahal, were both small countries of about the same size. As they were neighbors, they had a long history of intermarriage. Both countries welcomed spouses from each other’s countries of their respective overlords…Do you know what that means?”
I shook my head honestly.
It doesn’t make sense to say that the two dukes of the two countries have both had blood in their veins for many generations.
“It means that the two grand dukes are so closely related that there was a secret agreement that if either duke’s blood was cut off, they would receive an heir from the other duke…My mother and Lady Eleanor’s father were brother and sister.”
I waited silently for Her Highness’s next words.
It was as quiet as a tranquil sea.
Perhaps it was because this was a cathedral, but the air was somehow solemn, and I took one deep breath and gently held my chest over my coat.
I heard a small sound of paper crinkling. That alone made me feel strangely calm.
Then Her Royal Majesty Queen Yulia spoke up with a completely different question.
“Thia, do you know about my homeland?”
A slight sweetness oozes from her voice.
Whether it is a desire for nostalgia or love for home, I cannot tell.
“I’m told that it was invaded and annexed by the Empire before I was born.”
Her Royal Majesty gazed into the air with distant eyes and then proudly said to me,
“Yes, that’s right. It was a tiny little country in the mountains…and I was the heiress of that little country, Dahal.”
The name “Dahal” is spoken of with great care by Her Royal Majesty.
“I have two younger sisters… I was the eldest daughter.”
The murmuring heart of Her Royal Majesty was not here, and in the strangely restful darkness, we were facing each other, facing each other in this way, but not looking at each other.
Her Royal Majesty stretched out her mind to her long-forgotten homeland in her memory, and I thought of His Royal Highness Nigel, looking at her blankly.
I am sure His Highness Nigel knew this all along, too…
About Her Majesty. And more than that.
Because His Highness knows everything.
I’m probably just floundering in the palm of His Highness’ hand. Sometimes I’m a little pissed off about, but more than that, my chest hurts.
The only thing I can think of is the loneliness of His Highness in such high places.
“My father had no sons…but he never took a concubine because he loved my mother. So it was decided that as the eldest daughter, I would eventually take a son-in-law and become a female lord. That’s why I was also educated at an early age.”
Her Royal Majesty smiled quietly. It was a smile that I had never seen before… I thought it was much more beautiful that way. The usual smile always seemed to be hold something scary.
“I thought I was going to be the female lord and protect Dahal. I never doubted that future.”
I once heard that when His Majesty was still the Fifth Prince, the Household Order had made all inquiries to His Highness.
I wondered at that.
It was Lilia and Phil-Lynn who told me about the rumor, as an example of His Majesty’s total lack of interest in politics and publicity, then I wondered how Her Royal Majesty could make such a decision…Could I do it?…No, no.
I have a role to play as the Crown Princess.
But I haven’t been able to do anything about it.
Actually, I thought I’d do something about my own territory.
Unlike Arthirea, who was, in truth, a young child, I am an adult with more than ten years of experience in the workforce, so I thought that if I tried my best, I could handle it.
But I was wrong.
At first, I thought that running a fiefdom was like running a company. The Lord is the President and the people are the employees.
But this is totally different. They look similar, but they are completely different.
It’s a polar opposite, but to put it plainly, the president is responsible for the employees’ salaries, and the lordship is responsible for the peoples’ lives.
Life…It’s all about living better, that’s what it’s all about.
A salary is a way of life, but it is not the whole of it.
In other words, that’s how much responsibility you have.
One decision, one order from the lord, and the people live or die.
In this world, that was the norm and normal thing to do.
And I couldn’t make such a major decision.
If someone dies or is badly hurt because of a decision I have made…I am not prepared to still be able to say with pride that it was not wrong and that it was the best way to go.
But the Queen was able to do it.
In other words, that’s what the Queen had the determination and background to do…I think I understand part of the reason.
Queen Yulia was raised to be the ruler of the country, and that’s why Her Majesty is where she is today.
“I was Dahal, and I thought that I myself was the country of Dahal itself. The pride of being born as the daughter of a grand duke who has ruled Dahal since the days of the united empire…I was a little bit more proud of that than any of the dukes. I used to bother my father, saying that I loved Dahal more than anyone in the family, no, more than any of the people.”
Pale green eyes look further away.
The heat in the Queen’s words. It touches something inside me.
Something different, but I’m distracted by that strong feeling…but I feel the heat.
“I was still young, foolish, ignorant, and arrogant. I had been carefully raised as the princess and heiress of a grand duke. The center of the world to me was Dahal. It wasn’t supposed to be that way.
The expression on her face was one of crying and laughing.
“The turning point came three years after I celebrated the corolla ceremony…yes, when my son-in-law search began in earnest.”
The turning point…The turning point in the fate of Her Royal Majesty. I can see it…
Meeting His Majesty, or marrying His Majesty.
“His Majesty… At that time, His Highness Vidal, the fifth prince of Dardinia, visited Dahal. The palace was in an uproar, but it didn’t matter to me and my sisters…At that time, Lady Eleanor had already married into Dardinia, but it never occurred to me that such a thing could happen to us. (***His Highness Vidal = King Gladis IV)
Queen Yulia is still such a beautiful person, even now, even though I’m sure she was such a beautiful girl when she was young.
“My mother was a beautiful person, so I had a certain amount of confidence in my own looks. But, you know, I didn’t think it mattered. Royals and royalty and aristocrats, you know, they’re usually beautiful looking. Do you know why?”
“…Because they want beautiful companions. Or because it’s allowed.”
“Yes, that’s right. In other words, such families carry the blood of beautiful people from generation to generation, so in a sense, it’s natural to be born beautiful.”
There will be a lot of fluctuation in the preferences from generation to generation, but still, the genetic factors include the traits of beauty, and they will be layered on top of each other. The probability of having a beautiful child certainly increases.
“So while I have a reasonable amount of confidence in my appearance, I didn’t think it was worth much either. More than anything else…I knew. Unlike Reefid, which was on the path of the Continental Route and produced an abundance of precious stones, Dahal was only a small mountainous agricultural country. When I looked at the map, Dahar and Reefid were both small countries that were not much different in size, but they were very different in content. There was absolutely no need for Dardinia to marry into such a small country. Your grandmother, Her Highness Lady Eleanor, is the exception to the rule.”
“The exception within the exception…”
“Lady Eleanor was one who was destined to marry into Dardinia before she was born.”
There was something about this that stuck with me.
My mother and I…by some factor, we are treated exceptionally by His Majesty, and at the same time, share similarities in the specialness of our marriages.
It probably began with Lady Eleanor, I think.
“Because Lady Eleanor’s mother was the Princess of Elzevert.”
“Yes, yes…It’s your birthplace, Thia.”
Elzevert. I was a little surprised, and even a little convinced, that the name came up here.
My birthplace…Elzevert of the East, sometimes referred to as the Royal Spares.
“Aside from the minor circumstances, Lady Eleanor’s marriage to the Dardinia royal family set one precedent that you don’t have to be a princess of the four dukes to be a queen. But in fact, this was not the case at all.”
The marriage policy in Dardinia is very specific.
Particularly distinctive, is that princesses do not first marry out of the country. And the king’s consort, with the two exceptions of Her Royal Majesty Queen Eleanor and Yulia, is always sought from within the country…and also from the four dukes.
But considering the meaning of the Queen’s words, Queen Eleanor is not one to be considered as an exception.
“As His Majesty the Prior King’s words had convinced everyone, Princess Eleanor’s title was Princess of Reefid, but in effect, she was treated as a princess of the Duke of Elzevert.”
I nodded at his words. Somehow many things were starting to make sense to me.
The Queen is the only exception to the truth.
“…But the example of Her Royal Majesty Queen Eleanor allowed me to become the Fifth Prince’s wife…I had no blood of any of the four dukes, but His Majesty would normally have been free of any claim to the throne.”
Queen Yulia’s calmness suddenly took on a hard air.
“It was good that I wasn’t allowed. It would have been better if there had been no precedent!”
Her voice changed to a scream-like sound.
“I did not want to be the princess of a prince of Dardinia. I wanted to be the Princess of Dahal, and protect Dahal…Hey, do you know? When Dahal was lost, someone said to me, ‘Her Royal Majesty has the best of luck.’”
The Queen flashed a smile that was akin to self-mockery on her brilliant face.
“What’s lucky about it? That I was the only one who survived because I was married in another country? Being a queen to a great power? Or that the man who became my husband became the king? That the child I gave birth to was smart enough to be considered a rare genius? That it made me a queen because of that? There was never a single thing I wished for…Not a single thing I ever wanted came true!!”
Gushing with emotions. Something you can’t suppress, even if you try. Something akin to passion.
It’s as if I could see a pale flame flickering behind Her Majesty.
“…During the welcome banquet held at the Royal Palace in Dahal, Prince Vidal, the master of the banquet, noticed me. The bard’s song says that the prince fell in love with me at first sight. But that wasn’t the case at all…Because His Highness Vidal had come to Dahal to see me from the beginning.”
I tilt my head, not knowing what it means.
“But I didn’t know that. And without knowing it, I even had a faint feeling…but it was like a slight fever, no different than a child yearning for a prince in a storybook. Because I was the heir of Dahal. There was nothing more important to me than that.”
I’ve learned more than enough about Her Majesty’s feelings for her country.
I don’t claim to understand it, but I think it’s a bit like how I feel about my previous world.
But hers was much, much more intense than mine was, and I was a little afraid.
I don’t have this kind of fever in me. I’ve never loved anything like this.
The feelings I have for His Highness Nigel in my chest are feverish, but softer, something that makes me want to blush just thinking about it, something gentle and embarrassing and ticklish.
I never had this kind of almost contagious heat.
“Are you displeased with His Majesty?”
Her Royal Majesty shook her head violently.
“It was faint, but I certainly fell in love with His Majesty…and there was a moment when I thought that even the most important things didn’t matter. His Royal Highness Vidal was very kind… so when His Highness asked me to marry him, I was happy. I knew it would be impossible to enter into a marriage, but I was happy to hear him say so.”
She cried out that she did not want to be a queen, but on the other hand, she was happy to have been asked to marry, according to Her Majesty.
It was an obvious contradiction.
But perhaps both are true. Neither of her words are a lie, which is why the Queen regrets a past she can’t get back, and tries to turn away from the present, thinking of a future she didn’t choose.
But…you know the truth.
“I even practiced saying, ‘I’m happy, but I can’t be your princess because I have to take a son-in-law to lead my country.’ I did…but he pretended it didn’t happen.”
“What do you mean he pretended it never happened?”
“His Highness didn’t seem to think that he would be refused, and he laughed and said to me, ‘Yulia, you may not understand, but I wanted it and my father agreed. Maybe you don’t understand, Yulia, but since I asked for it and my father agreed to it, it’s a done deal.’ The fact that I said no was gone.”
“I didn’t understand the meaning…But the result was indeed what His Highness said. I should have refused, but the next day it was decided that I was going to marry His Highness. No one heard me say that I didn’t want to…rather it was taken as a joke no every single time.”
I can imagine.
People tend to judge things based on themselves. And they think that just because they think so, others will think the same way.
“Did your family say the same thing about you?”
“No. My father listened to me properly. But that didn’t change the outcome…My father told me to obey, ‘Because a small country like Dahal can’t stand a chance when Dardinia is staring at you,’ he said.”
That’s certainly true.
Dardinia is one of the continent’s leading powers. Its national power and the size of its landmass were incomparable, and above all, the strength of Dardinia’s army resounded across the continent.
Considering that Dahal, which was later attacked by the empire, had fallen in just three days, it was only natural that my father’s words would have been justified.
“I complained that I couldn’t marry a foreign country because I was a princess of succession…but my father said that my sisters could succeed Dahal. ‘You are the only one who can be the prince’s consort of Dardinia and protect Dahal from the outside, not from within.’ he said. I can tell you now, after all, I was just looking for a reason. A reason to marry my first love.”
And then I became His Royal Highness Vidal’s queen, Her Royal Majesty laughed to herself.
“In spite of marrying like that, I was unable to save my country. Despite my father’s advice to protect from the outside, I was unable to do anything useful for my country…”
I wonder if that smile looked like self-mockery, because I know what happened next.
Surely, no matter how gently she smiled at me in the future, I wouldn’t think she was just a gentle…charitable person.
“I was happy when I first married because I did not know why His Highness was so obsessed with me.”
“Yes…My despair began when I learned the reason for His Majesty’s obsession.”
“Is that because you love him?”
At my words, Her Majesty lets out an involuntary sigh.
“How much do you know? Thia.”
There was nothing in the look that was directed at me.
There was no compassion, no hostility, no challenging sharpness, nothing.
There was just a woman who seemed to have given up on everything.
“There isn’t much that I know. Because I don’t remember.”
I smiled, pushing down all my various inner thoughts.
I tried to look innocent and more beautiful than anyone else.
Because I now understood that it was my weapon.
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