Chapter Twenty: Near Misses and Double Lives Go Hand in Hand
“You there. Come over here.”
Uh-oh. Not good. Merlia’s calling out to me.
Right now, I was coming out of Gilbert’s private room, so I’m not Lina, but Sarita.
Oh, who may you be calling for, Dear Lady? Did you mean me? I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t imagine such an important lady could be addressing this humble servant… I wonder if that excuse would work if I turned my back right now and headed out in the opposite direction?
“You, what’s your name? You’ve been seen very often by Lord Gilbert’s side these days, have you not?”
Although I had very discreetly turned my back and started walking away as naturally as I could to try and avoid a frontal confrontation with Merlia… My escape route had been cut off.
Why do people always show up at such convenient, or should I say inconvenient, times? Alisa was coming from the opposite direction.
“Oh my, Lady Merlia and Mister Chamberlain. What are you doing here, standing in the middle of the hallway?”
“Oh, hello there, Lady Alisa. I was just trying to have a word with him because he’s the new chamberlain serving in Lord Gilbert’s service.”
“Is that so? What is your name, mister?”
“…My name is Sarita Khlore.”
I respond in a low voice, seeing how there’s no choice but to talk my way out of this.
“Mr. Khlore… I have something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Come to my room at once. Oh, you too, Lady Alisa. Let’s gather, everyone.”
I was then taken into Merlia’s room without anyone even asking my opinion on the matter. I was tense in the face of a difficult situation that I had just been plunged into.
Although I’ve been disguised, I knew it was always just a matter of time before someone somewhere started to have suspicions about where I popped up from or who am I.
Laila and Maribel joined us soon, and I was sweating cold all over.
“I was told that Lady Randall was taking a walk. I looked for her in the garden, but I didn’t see her. I’m sorry.”
Of course. Because Lady Randall was right here.
Even so, Miss Heidi had gotten very good at covering for me. She was in the loop regarding the Sarita situation. Though aura-related details have been kept from her. Need-to-know basis, and all that.
Sir Glenn was the one who briefed Heidi, so I’m sure he made no mistakes in telling Heidi either too much, or too little.
“Well, I wanted Lina to be here as well. I have other matters to discuss with her, so please continue to look for her.”
Yes, ma’am. Said the maids as they departed from the room to continue on their quest.
So, like I was saying, I’m just right here~
“Lady Merlia, who is this person?”
“Mr. Sarita Khlore, who recently became a chamberlain of the court, I summoned him because I want everyone present here to know.”
Merlia, what are you about to say, I wonder?
I’m wearing the aura-blocking prescription glasses right now, so I can only guess by facial expression, but it seemed like it was not a good thing.
“Well, what is it?”
“I saw it with my very own eyes! The scene of Lord Gilbert embracing Mr. Khlore!”
Everyone’s eyes turned to me all at once.
I… I… I haven’t done anything like that!? I shook my head from side to side desperately, my neck muscles doing their best to assert my innocence.
Regardless, Lady Merlia began her story.
“The incident… Occurred two days ago. I saw Lord Gilbert and Mr. Khlore walking down the hallway. I thought they were engaged in important official business, so I was hesitant to interrupt and thus limited myself to following their actions from afar. And then… And then!”
Merlia was trembling and shuddering all over. I’m also not exactly in a relaxed state, desperately tracing back my memory to figure out what she could possibly be talking about and try to get ahead of whatever she was going to say.
Oh, wait… The corridor, two days ago?
Ah!? You mean when that happened!?
“N… No! It’s not like that! I stumbled, and His Highness just broke my fall…”
A wholly unconvinced Merlia cast a stern glare at me.
“And after that, Lord Gilbert began stroking his cheek!”
Damn you, Light-Pollution Prince!!! Blowing my cover just because you couldn’t keep your hands to yourself!
“N… No! The cheek thing… He was pinching it, not stroking! He was scolding me for, uhm, forgetting to bring an important document!”
The ladies’ stares were almost physically prickling me at this point.
“Oh, Lady Ordis, a… Are you under the impression that His Highness and I are, uhm, fond of each other? That’s just a misunderstanding! If we were in such a, uhm, relationship, we wouldn’t get intimate with each other in a place where there was danger of being exposed to the public!”
Even as I said that, the memory of Gilbert’s hand tenderly running across my cheek was still fresh in my mind. True, I did stumble, and Gilbert did catch me, but no, he didn’t pinch my cheek as reprimand as I had just made up. He stroked my cheek as tenderly and intimately as Merlia had just depicted it.
“…That logic has some merit to it.”
It seemed that my contrived, last-second excuse had a little convincing punch, after all. As long as they don’t start pressing for more answers…!
“Of course it does! Everyone knows that His Highness is very fond of women! And only women! You all have seen His Highness’s heart-melting smile! Right?”
My words apparently conjured the picture of Gilbert’s smile straight into their minds since they immediately stared into the distance and sighed in unison.
I, on the contrary, just felt an unpleasant chill run down my spine.
Lord Gilbert, you really have the ladies eating from the palm of your hand, don’t you? How nice for you.
“S… So, it seems that this hilarious misunderstanding has been resolved, and I’m no longer required in your presence, right?”
He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day, goes the saying, so I sat up.
“Wait just a moment, Sir Chamberlain. Hmmm… Have I met you somewhere before?”
This time it was Laila saying the words I least wanted to hear.
The other ladies started nodding and murmuring to each other. Oh, no… Situation too hot. Requesting immediate extraction!
“I… I… I get that a lot because I have such a commonplace face with no interesting features. It must be your imagination, ha-ha-ha. I’ll go help look for Lady Randall!”
I’m hanging by a thread, just moments away from someone’s memory of Lina’s face overlapping with Sarita’s… I have to make a run for it right this instant.
I excused myself and escaped the room. I was able to take a deep breath only after I closed the door completely. Even so, I caught myself walking at a brisk pace until I was at a far enough distance.
That was really close! My heart pounded relentlessly.
It’s all your fault, Gilbert!
I changed clothes in a hurry and returned to Merlia’s room as Lina and said to everyone, ‘Thank you very much for your patience.’
With the Sarita incident resolved, I wonder now what the other items of discussion Merlia mentioned were?
“What were you doing out there, taking a walk at this hour, just on the eve of the ball!?”
Oh, oh. Is that what we’re going to talk about?
Merlia was indignant, striking a pose with a hand on her hip.
“I don’t want you to apologize. What I want to know is if you had the chance to try on the dresses and accessories I gave you. I wanted to know what you selected to wear for tomorrow’s event.”
“No, not really, I still…”
“What!? Try them on now! What if the sizes don’t match!”
What if the sizes don’t match?
It’s been only a few days. If I remember correctly, Lady Merlia’s maids adjusted the dresses to my size and figure before and right after I tried them on, right?
No matter how delicious the food was here, a girl wouldn’t gain pounds right away. However, I dare not speak out.
Prompted by Merlia’s misgivings, and so did each lady in turn…
“Lady Lina! Have you been applying the special face lotion I gave you as per the instructions?”
“Y… Yeah! Every night, yeah…”
“Only at night!? Please apply it in the morning, too!”
Lady Alisa’s guidance has entered the record.
Because I didn’t want to bother Heidi, the maid, with getting me dressed in the morning, I just do it myself. I think I have skipped on the morning lady care because of that, as Alisa pointed out. At night, though, Heidi was there, so she misses no detail. I go to bed every night after being thoroughly kneaded by Heidi.
“Lady Lina! Were you able to glance at the materials I compiled on the Royal family and major aristocrats that will be in attendance tomorrow?”
“I read it through and through!”
“That’s good to hear. Let’s have a quick quiz!”
I’m not confident in acing this test. Still, I can’t bear the thought of disappointing Laila, who put a lot of effort into this research work and compiling these materials by hand. She showed an incredible amount of respect for my intellect in sharing them with me. So, I will do my best for her.
Yes, bring it on!
“Let’s enjoy ourselves at the party tomorrow, okay?”
“You… You’re on!”
Lady Maribel, your positive attitude to face anything with a smile… I admire you.
I agree. Don’t just assume wrong things will happen every time. Cast your eyes wide instead, and you’ll find something interesting in everything.
There’s no stopping this party, so let’s just enjoy it to the fullest! I won’t waste your thoughtful considerations and dance lessons!
Even though I had just become enthusiastic about it all, Merlia said, ‘Let’s continue in Lina’s room!‘ and everything became a mess.
If everyone talked to me at once from all directions, kneaded, dressed, pulled, and hugged me, anyone would just end up emotionally emaciated, you know?
After just a short time of being thrown around between these ladies and their strong personalities, there was but one feeling that overwhelmed my heart.
A… After all…
Can’t I just be absent tomorrow…?