Chapter Seven: People Who Go Tough on the Sickly
A week has passed since I was attacked during the date. Currently, I’m in physical rehabilitation with the aim of getting back to daily life. Back there, I surprised even myself at how quick I was to throw myself in harm’s way, but I’m glad I got back alive.
I’m not lying. The knife didn’t cut deep, so the wound has almost completely healed already, but it seems that its blade had been coated with a particularly potent paralyzing substance, and for the first two days I was wandering between unconsciousness and fever dreams. I had difficulty breathing, and the paralysis threatened to arrest my breathing altogether, so at times it seemed like I could have really died.
It was really fortunate that I didn’t get enough of the substance into my system to the point of it being lethal. I feel as if I have narrowly escaped death. Had it been poison designed to kill, I would certainly be off this mortal coil already.
Thanks to a little luck, I avoided going into that gentle night and returned to consciousness on the third day. Upon receiving word that I had woken up, His Highness rushed straight to me, and, although he held my hand and said a lot of things very passionately, my head was still hazy, so even now I can’t recall a single word he said. Surely some things like “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
And so, after all this, it is a week later, today, that I’m able to get out of bed. “It had to be a serious illness if you had to be bedridden for an entire week!” is what I would have thought, but according to the doctor, my recovery was remarkably fast for a normal person, and the fact that I showed no aftereffects was stunning to him. Is it because all the daily farm work trained my body to withstand rigors that a palace person will never even know about? “With enough money you can probably buy anything, except for a healthy and strong body!” is what I always say.
The room is swamped with flower arrangements of all sorts that just keep coming in every day. A shudder runs down my spine when I look at the little cards attached to them and see that some are written by His Royal Highness himself.
Is it real? This faint feeling of friendship I get from seeing the large number of get-well gifts sent by the other ladies in the final candidates group? Could their intentions be genuine? Since the incident is being concealed under a cover story, namely that I’m just afflicted by a weird case of the flu, all these gifts seem to me like a wild overreaction by the other ladies. Some of them happened to come by at the same time, and heated arguments broke out between them as to whose gift was more appropriate. I feared the flower arrangements would wilt under the onslaught of icy comebacks.
Though, having said that, my nerves have gotten used to this occasional bickering, and I have even started to find some fun in observing it. I guess I turned out thick-skinned enough to tolerate the absolute-zero snides hurled by the ladies as they verbally fought each other. At any rate, even though we may not get along with each other all the time, I think it’s not a bad idea to spend time with other girls my age, so I’m not taking their arguing too seriously.
Right now, as I can only sit on the sofa and sip fine tea without a care in the world, I’m really starting to think that these non-eventful days are something I could grow to appreciate.
“Milady, His Highness has come to visit, may I let him through?”
Absolutely not. Is that an option? No, so my brain yelled while my mouth calmly said, “Please let him in.”
“Please remain in your seat.” His Highness immediately stopped me as I tried to stand up and curtsy.
“How are you feeling? I heard that you are gradually returning to daily life.”
Your Highness, you can sit in front of me. There’s a nice chaise longue in there, why are you sitting right next to me?
“Yes. It’s okay now for me to be up like this. Thank you.”
I reply while protecting my eyes by fixing my gaze on a safe spot on the floor.
“You shouldn’t be the one saying thanks here, Lina.”
Hey, did His Highness just call me “Lina”? Am I still hazy in the head? No way—did the poison mess with my hearing? Despite my confusion, His Royal Highness continued his speech.
“The one that should be saying ‘thank you’ is me. I’m truly grateful. And I feel sorry and ashamed that I exposed you to danger just because I wanted to see your sad face turn into a smile, and I led us out of the carriage and into the town without taking the necessary precautions to protect you. Even now, my heart freezes when I think of the days when you wouldn’t wake up and open your eyes. I’m really happy to see your obsidian-like eyes again.”
There are so many key facts missing from his account of the events that I freeze up and can’t think of a good reply. I can’t blame him, though; he has no idea of my aura-seeing business and all the trouble it has caused.
“…Ahem. Your Highness, may I proceed?”
I hadn’t noticed because I had been looking down, but there is someone else in the room who had entered behind the prince.
“Pleased to meet you. My name is Glenn Artaud. I’m a chamberlain of His Royal Highness. The Artaud family name is very common around here, so just Glenn is fine.”
Sir Glenn has beautiful blue hair and ash-gray eyes, and his deep blue aura has a hair-thin, green outline around it. This color and arrangement of the aura belongs to those who pretend to be quiet people who keep to themselves but in reality are concealing their calculating natures. They are the type who unnerve you with their smiles because you never know what’s going on in the back of their minds.
For the time being, I just say, “Nice to meet you.”
“I would like to hear about the events that transpired that day, straight from Lady Randal, if your physical condition allows. This is the reason I have come along with His Highness.”
So that’s it. Sure, no problem, I guess. But there isn’t much I can tell you.
“Well, even I’m not sure what happened … I turned around and saw the man with the knife hurling towards us, so I threw a crepe on his face out of instinct… and well, when I did that, I lost balance, so I fell on the prince and hugged onto him. And after that it’s a blur and I think it was because of the burning pain I felt in my arm, or rather, because of the paralyzing poison. But I lost consciousness almost immediately after that, so even if you ask me for more details, I’m afraid I…”
Sir Glenn’s gentle smile remains unchanged, but…I’m scared. I know I’m hiding a lot, but I’m not lying. I hope he’ll be satisfied with this explanation and kindly go on his merry way. I have a feeling it won’t be so easy this time, though.
“Pardon me, but I have a few questions. First of all, according to your story, you became aware of this man’s presence well before His Highness did, is that correct?”
This guy’s a sharp cookie.
“I-I guess that’s correct? I-I just happened to get a whiff of the danger a little earlier than His Highn—”
“No, that’s not the case. You became aware of the threat much before it could be possible to establish visual contact. The testimonies of the covert royal guard detail on duty at the scene all match in this regard. They corroborate that you became strangely agitated for no apparent reason well before the attempt on His Highness’s life. I would like you to tell us why.”
Not just a sharp cookie but also a quick closer!
“T-that’s just, I wanted to get to the bookstore so badly…”
“But you were pulling on His Highness and holding tightly to his hand and arm. How do you explain this sudden change from the distant and reserved attitude you had observed toward His Highness until that very moment?”
Oh, for crying out loud, I hate this guy already! Moreover, was I hugging His Highness’s arm so tightly that it made it into the notes of the covert royal guard agents? I know it was a do-or-die situation, but now I’m just feeling embarrassed about it.
“We subjected the perpetrator to torture, but he didn’t know anything. It seems that someone he had never met before provided him a small bag of gold coins and the poisoned knife and simply pointed him to the target. So, therefore…Well, let’s dispense with niceties and allow me to be blunt: Lady Randall, did you have advance knowledge of these machinations? To be clear, we are not suspecting you of being the mastermind, but you are suspected of having some connection with the perpetrators.”
“No way you’re being serious! How could a young lady like me who doesn’t even know which way is left or right in this palace be involved in a conspiracy against His Imperial Highness?”
“I can disclose to you the many grounds on which our suspicions are based. Shall we begin with your financials? We know that the last years haven’t been kind on the wealth of your house. Your family’s financial situation may be more dire than you have let on, and money can be a powerful motivator in desperate circumstances. So one may be excused of suspecting that your making acquaintances with dangerous elements of society might not be out of the question, right?”
Right? It’s not right, you obnoxiously well-informed guy! Please don’t come at me with such a nice smile just to then poke holes at my stories! And to top it all off, I can see his aura is swaying like he is enjoying this! I can feel that he has ulterior motives all too clearly. It’s a bit terrifying.
“No! I’m not…it’s not like that…!”
“At any rate, if you can raise your voice that much, I think your physical condition will allow us to continue this questioning at a different location. It is not as luxurious as this room, and the sun doesn’t reach into it, not to mention that the bed is pretty hard, but you can count on two square meals a day. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”
Excuse me, I DO have a problem with that! Am I to be taken to the dungeon for interrogation…torture? Or at least threatening? This isn’t funny!
Ah, I had forgotten His Royal Highness was there altogether, even though he was being his shiny self right next to me. I won’t be picky; I’m in a real pinch. I’ll welcome any help. If a helping hand is extended to me, I’ll take it, even if it’s His Absurdly Radiant Highness.
“Lina, tell us what’s really going on, please.”
Wait, His Highness is also suspicious of me.
Ah, and now he is sliding up closer to me! Close! His Highness is getting physically close!
His Highness wraps his hands around mine and very discreetly slides his body all the way up to mine. Is he putting the moves on me? It is too much to hope for, I guess: His Royal Highness’s hand is not a “break out of jail free” hand, after all. It’s a hand that shouldn’t be grabbed!
The way he’s snuggling up to me, if I lower my head it’s going to bump on his chest. And then my eyes will be blasted by his radiance. So I turn my face to the side as much as I can, knowing that such a gesture will make me look even more suspicious.
“Oh my, oh my, can’t bear to look at His Highness in the face? Is the guilt too much to bear?”
No, what I can’t bear is different! It’s his ridiculously high candela rating!
“Lina, you risked your life to protect me…I want to believe in you.”
Please do not get any closer! I’m going to pull a muscle if I keep twisting my body to avoid your not-so desired royal embrace!
“Oh, so nothing to say in your defense? I think we are done here. Let’s continue this talk in a place more suitable for questioning.”
No, no! No way! I’m just too flustered to even string words together! And I have no problem looking at people in the eye when talking to them. Um, well, except for His Highness.
“Lina, please say something. You are…”
Gyah!! He is leaning on me; I’m cornered! I’m between a rock and a hard place! Or between a pushy prince and a fluffy sofa.
“I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you everything!”
I have painted myself into a corner at this point. I have no choice but to give them the full picture.
“Very well, please do,” they both said in unison.
At that moment, I notice that His Highness has stopped leaning his weight on me. I suddenly get the vibe that this was pre-planned. Two guys teaming up on a girl? You should be ashamed of yourselves!
But I’m a girl of my word, so here it goes! I’m going to give it to you full and straight!
Translator: Robert F.