Chapter Fourteen: Fear it, Dread it, That Day Will Come
“So, as for our daily meetings, is it okay for me to take this much time from His Highness Gilbert’s busy schedule? Maybe I can submit some of my reports in writing, so that the two of you can meet without…”
“Lina’s hair is quite beautiful.”
With no regards, Lord Gilbert took a lock of my hair and had whispered those words in such a honeyed way behind me. I just froze stiff when suddenly planted a kiss on said lock of hair. Deliberately making a loud smacking sound for good measure.
I know. I know all too well. He must be toying with me because I somehow injured his pride, what with trying to sneak out of the meetings. Figures.
“…On the other hand, being able to spend more time with Prince Gilbert is an amazing privilege. So, if possible, I don’t want to skip any meetings no matter what.”
“It’s only logical. We may become engaged to each other, after all.”
What a bald-faced liar! I’m a Princess candidate in name only! I thought we were already past the point of pretending! But here we are.
He starts exploiting people once he finds their weaknesses and use it to make them do his biddings. I can see now how Lord Gilbert got along with Sir Glenn so well. They’re two peas in a pod! Excuse me. I want to downgrade him back to the gentle and attentive Prince I met those first few days. Thank you very much!
Today, we were appointed to have a Princess candidate date in the Palace Garden, but to put it bluntly, this feels like overtime. Because, of course, I’ve been by Gilbert’s side every day as Sarita Khlore since I signed that contract from hell.
But, to avoid raising suspicions, I also had to continue living my daily life as Lina Randall. At least the very least, my work shift was limited by the inconvenient physical inability to split myself in two. But every day? There isn’t a day in week when my eyes, mind, and body got to forget about it all and just rest!
Moreover, the speed at which Gilbert and Glenn worked was unusual. They just exchange a couple of difficult words, nod at each other, then carry on full tilt. I can only wonder what the mountain of unstated information that they alone understand are, and that, likewise, is left unspoken.
Anyway, I don’t think there’s any point in making me do any work besides my aura observation duties. It just makes sense to rely on experienced secretaries, bureaucrats, clerks, and such for the day-to-day Royal business. I think I’ll be more than happy to let those Royal people do the, uhm, Royal stuffs.
“Sarita, bring me the compendium of last year’s minutes. It’s at the top of that bookshelf.”
“Sarita, please take this document to the Finance Bureau.”
“Sarita, summarize the main points of the parts in this document marked for review.”
“Sarita, read this proposal and underline any unclear points where improvements could be made.”
“Oh, and could you bring us some tea? Make mine with two spoonfuls of sugar, please.”
Okay, okay! I’ll pour you as much tea as you want! But aren’t you piling up more tasks on me than what’s written in the contract? There are clear instructions that exceed my ability, right? Give me a break! Just because you changed my name and outfit doesn’t mean you morphed Lina Randall into your multi-use, all-purpose Sarita robot!
“Lina, you are being too absent-minded, you know? I’m really gonna have to…”
We switched to date mode later in the day, and Gilbert was escorting me to maintain appearances for the Princess stuff… But when Gilbert made a sudden motion with his arm, I just tried to jump out of the way. My hair raised like a cat.
“Hey, what are you doing? Take a seat already.”
He had taken my arm and pulled me down to sit on the bench. However, he also gently supported my body so that I wouldn’t slam my butt on the seat. A seat that he had carefully covered with a handkerchief without me even noticing. Say what you will; he’s got the gentleman act down pat.
By the way, did Gilbert just say ‘Hey, you!‘ to me just now? My mind was elsewhere, so I almost missed that. Well, that’s some change in attitude. I remember when he used to always refer to me as Lady Randall with all the bells and whistles back when we first met.
“Lord Gilbert, aren’t you getting just a bit too familiar with me?”
I want to get back at him with a well-placed zinger. Whenever Glenn was around, his snake-like attitude always made Gilbert look normal, even though he’s also the same.
No, rather than a snake… Hmmm, a grade school bully? It might be a bit of a stretch to say so because of his upbringing as a privileged princeling, but I’m starting to get a glimpse of his annoying tendencies with wanting to put his mark on every crucial point he comes across with.
“Oh, come on, Lina. We don’t have to care about formalities anymore, right? Just relax and be yourself. Oh, I know, you should talk like you’re back at your parents’ farm. Just go ‘What in tarnation! Y’all, dagnabbit!‘”
What an insult.
“We don’t speak like that! And even if we did, regional dialects are part of the culture, too! I have to wonder if such remarks reflect poorly on Lord Gilbert as a person!”
I can’t look at his face, so I can’t show him the look of disapproval in my eyes, but I’m going to raise my shoulders menacingly and stand my ground. I have to convey my anger.
“Hehehe,” I can only hear a tiny chuckle. He is totally toying with me, isn’t he?
Even though he was blatantly making fun of me, he was likewise making friendly gestures here and there; such as taking a lock of hair from my face and gently moving it behind my ear. So, I can’t help but wonder what kind of expression was on this weirdo’s face…?
I didn’t know whether I should be angry or embarrassed, so I was only able to stare forward with my body solid stiff.
Unfortunately, Gilbert looked like he was enjoying himself. You can laugh as much as you like, but I won’t give you the satisfaction of my ire.
“So, how’s your life been here lately? Looks like the other Princess candidates have taken to you quite a bit, too.”
When I noticed that, I could hear the bird’s chirping, and I was musing to myself in the back of my mind, ‘Oh, what nice songs of nature‘. I realized that Gilbert had run out of laughter, and silence had fallen between us for a serene moment until Gilbert finally started talking again. When he emphasized the word too at the end of his sentence before the brief interval of silence began, I felt that he might have wanted to convey some hidden meaning to me. Still, if I started pondering on what Gilbert might have meant with each of his weird utterings, the story would slow down to a crawl. So, let’s move on.
“I’m getting along well. Everyone is a good person.”
Unlike a certain somebody who’s sitting right next to me! My heart screamed in the muffled safety of my chest.
“To think that you could ingratiate yourself into that group of, uhm, strong-headed ladies.”
Did he just slip in a bit of a sarcastic tone when he referred to the other candidates?
“Lady Merlia uses very strong words, but she gives off a feeling alike to an older sister. Lady Alisa is also a bit high-handed, but after you get to know her, she is very amicable and cordial. Lady Laila seemed to be cold at first glance, but she is very attentive and considerate, and Maribel just lights up the room with her sunny disposition. They don’t have any hidden intentions, so even I can see that they were a bunch of really nice ladies. I didn’t have to ingratiate myself or anything to become friends with them.”
I told him off with my chin held high. He’s always kept poking at me with tinged words, but now that he did the same to the other ladies, I just had to put him in his place. In a still polite and lady-like way.
Oh, I don’t like silence when it’s just the two of us. It gets awkward. Be considerate of my shyness.
“O-oh, that’s right, one of them will be chosen by Lord Gilbert, right? Have you made a decision yet?”
I managed to sneak myself out of the conversation’s topic. However, my question did not break Gilbert’s silence. Voices are all that I could go by because I can’t see the other person at all. So, in this case, the silence was becoming a real hindrance.
“Why you… What’s the point in asking? If I say a name, would you get jealous?”
“What? I’m not jealous. I was just under the impression that Lord Gilbert had to make a choice soon. I’m afraid that things will become more intense, politically speaking, no matter who you choose. But considering that maintaining the status quo was for the best, I guess the frontrunners are Lady Laila or Lady Maribel, correct?”
That’s right. This is my current objective that I figured out after sitting down and thinking calmly about the contract. While in the Royal Palace means that the contract will end if I so much as set foot outside the Royal Palace.
Sir Glenn called it the secret service detachment, supposedly they’re there for my protection, but I bet they’re also under orders to stop me from leaving the Castle, so sneaking away in the dead of night is not an option.
I can tell that they’re pretty good at covert operations because I’ve never even realized that they were around. I have never even noticed the faintest sign of their auras betraying their position either. I wonder where they are watching from right now. It’s a bit like a horror movie.
But at any rate, ever since I was officially made a member of the Princess selection process, part of that mandate was to remain in the Palace. It is inevitable that if I were to disappear in the meantime, it would become some minor national crisis. Timid little ole’ me can’t dare make those kinds of headlines in the news.
So, in the end, my logic goes back to the fact that I can’t go home until Gilbert decides who to go with on his engagement. I have no choice, but to buckle up and accept that I’m going to be living here until that happens.
However, that doesn’t mean that there was no timing window to escape right when the Princess is decided. By then, I will cease to be a candidate myself and thus, will no longer have any official role in the Palace. This penniless Countess will start looking quite out of place as a guest at the Royal Court.
The important thing is that I don’t get tangled up in any other Royal affairs that would land me with a new role or position that I can’t sneak my way out of.
First, it would be awkward for the new Princess to have one of the former Princess candidates hanging out with her husband forever.
I just need to pretend, be quiet, and obedient while I wait for the right time to make a move.
The point here was that I’d have to have an air of ‘I gave up. I’m fine with this.‘ Otherwise, it’s to be expected that the sneaky chamberlain was going to prod at my weaknesses (while his aura jiggles with joy, of course) and was going to hatch some plot to keep me shackled to His Highness’ service.
Yes, after my heated exchange with Glenn, I was able to regain my composure. So, now I’m just calmly thinking about my plans to extricate myself out of this sticky situation.
By the way, Gilbert’s vibe is really weird right now. He’s just silent with this sullen, cold air surrounding him…
Oh no! I suddenly sensed danger. But before I could rise from my seat and make a bit of distance between us, he had already grabbed my hand. Nothing good had ever come from Gilbert hand-grabbing me. Furthermore! As he pulled my hand, he also snuck his arm behind my back and around my waist!
You’re too close, Gilbert! I don’t know what I did or said to deserve this. Did I step on a land mine again!?
Now, I’m in an almost full embrace. Even with my eyes shut tightly, I could still feel Gilbert’s face being directly in front of mine.
I can feel Gilbert’s breath!
I can smell his scent!
“…Lina, be my wife.”
The grip he had on mine remained, but he did remove his arm from the small of my back back and waist, so I was able to distance myself a little.
I’m glad I didn’t reply out of reflex. It would have been a very unpleasant experience no matter what I would have wound up saying.
That’s right. After all, I’m just a rare bird and a human alarm system to him. He doesn’t think of me as a Princess at all. Gilbert’s playfulness placed a lot of strain on my heart. Ah, it’s going thump-thump again.
“Look over there!”
Please stop speaking in a loud voice all of a sudden!
My heartbeat kept going over the normal operating range.
Without even seeming to notice my wildly fluctuating heartbeat, Gilbert’s free hand pointed to a spot in the sky while keeping his other hand tightly gripped around mine.
“It’s shining through the sunlight like a flying pearl! It’s so beautiful. It’s rare for these things to be around here, so it’s got to be good luck, right?”
Excuse me, but I have no idea what you want me to look at right now. Your finger is just pointing at the blue sky.
“Uhm, I can’t see anything, is there something out there?”
“Huh? Can’t you see that giant butterfly! Oh, that’s right, you’re nearsighted. Damn. Hey, come on! We gotta get closer so you can see it!”
Gilbert stood up while holding my hand, leaving the handkerchief behind and moving forward at full throttle.
“Damn. How close do we have to be, so that you can see it? These butterflies are fast, so… Hey, don’t slow down. Hasten your pace! Ah!”
Gilbert stopped walking, so the butterfly must have flown away.
It was pretty challenging to move fast while looking only at the ground. Those who have never done it must don’t know what it feels like.
“Lord Gilbert, do you like butterflies?”
“…No, I don’t.”
Huh. Why does he seem irritated all of a sudden?
Thinking about it, if he didn’t like them in the first place… Then why was he so eager that I see it?
“Also, don’t call me Gilbert. I told you. Gil is fine.”
Ah, there it is. He’s changing the subject. At least he didn’t tease me, so I guess it’s okay…? However, I’m still wondering what bothered him so much.
A-anyway, it’s about time that we close the book on today. The butterfly went home too, so let’s go home as well without any further incidents. Okay? Let’s go!