Chapter Ten: My Lord, I’m Confused (Part 3)
“…Ah, Miss Nako.”
In the morning, when he woke up earlier than usual, the earl left his room to check on the newborn foal reported yesterday. However, he was stopped in his tracks by Martha’s voice that burst into his ear.
He tilted his head as he stood by the door of Nako’s room. His lingering proximity to a lady’s room might be seen as a bit of a problem, the earl feared. However, he was only thinking about inviting her for a morning walk, so there shouldn’t be a problem. The earl was deep in thought when Martha’s voice echoed once again.
Her voice was well suited to her size.
“The hem of your dress has gotten quite short. It’s about time for you to get fitted for a new one.”
What followed was a small voice that was hard to hear.
Perhaps, as usual, she was being reserved. Nako didn’t want or ask for anything else; she only needed and asked for the bare minimum. She’s a girl at that age, so I was sure she had plenty of things she wanted. At first, I thought she was just being reserved, but it was only recently, after three months, that I realized that she really just had no desire for things to begin with.
In the beginning, every time I saw her, I would ask her if she needed anything, but I realized it was only for my self-satisfaction that I wanted to impose unnecessary things on such a sweet girl.
After realizing this, I felt a little lonely. I left Martha and Maria in charge of her clothes, accessories, and other personal items.
I placed my hand to my chin and stood there for a while.
Even though she had only been my fiancé for a small amount of time, would I be allowed to choose and give her at least a dress?
Compared to when she first came to the mansion, her face had become more mature, and her body had developed a more feminine softness, probably because she was now eating correctly.
The presence of the young lady instantly enlivened the mansion. The servants adored her cheerfulness and honesty, likewise for her lack of arrogance. This was all despite her sometimes unpredictable behavior and words that hail from being summoned from another world.
The earl likewise felt that she was innocent and bright. She always had a full smile on her face as she ran towards what she wanted without minding what he thought would cause her sadness… At times, she would also be straightforward while at others, puzzled.
…Come to think of it, someone in the knight order said that they were able to have a dress at a reputable store in town.
The knight lamented that half of his salary had been wiped out, but it was worth it as his wife was delighted with the excellent artistry.
I don’t think they would be able to give me any good advice because of their usual ruggedness, but if we could choose colors and designs together, I’m sure we would be able to have a good time nonetheless.
The earl finally strode past her door. However, he did not go down the stairs and instead went to the drawing-room to find Maria, who was probably already awake.
Maria knew the store’s name, which was apparently famous, as soon as I asked her. She said she knew the shop owner, so I left the arrangements to her. The following weekend, a rather old and plump woman coupled with three seamstresses with very similar faces arrived in a giant horse-drawn carriage.
…A flood of colors spread out one after another on the carpet in the largest room.
Nako, who was next to the earl, stared at the endlessly unfurling rolls of cloth with a puzzled expression. It was as expected.
“Miss Nako, is there a color you like?”
The store owner was meeting with Maria while the seamstress and Martha were busy unrolling the fabric. It seemed like it would take a long time, so I initiated a conversation by asking her a simple question.
When I asked the carefully thought-of question, Nako muttered as something had caught her eye. She raised her heels and looked up at me. Her eyes were eager, her hands tucked behind her back.
Her eyes, as earnest as a puppy’s, always gleamed, perhaps because of their jet-black color. The color behind them was so deep and quiet that it always sucked me in. I have a hard time dealing with it. Rather… It’s more like she could see through me, and I always find it difficult to resist.
After a long but brief moment, when she finally looked away, I felt a sense of relief, and for some reason—loneliness.
I muttered in my mind.
You can’t beat the advancing years. I stared at the small of Nako’s back as she stepped forward. I held my chest, wondering if I was feeling was some kind of arrhythmia.
Nako took off her delicate-looking heeled shoes to not step on the fabric. She headed over the edge, past the flood of cloth. She lifted her dress slightly to avoid getting caught up on anything, making me able to see the milky-white and small ankles that are usually covered underneath. The petite and slender feet that had tiny nails at its tips looked like glass buttons… I was amused by the fact that they were so elaborately small that it was a wonder how they moved. Somehow, I was able to look away. My demeanor… is out of its usual tune.
“…This. I’d like this one.”
As she picked up one of the layers of fabric, Nako looked at the earl and the fabric alternately. She nodded with conviction and said as such in a steadfast tone.
She stared at the fabric in her hands as if she were being sucked in. She tilted her head slightly. The sight was familiar. For some reason, the deep indigo color reflected light in a delicate way… It may have been because we were below light that gave off a pale luminescence.
“Wouldn’t a brighter color be better?”
The earl thought that light colors, like spring sunshine, autumn flowers, and the summer sky, would be more suitable for Nako.
The people at the store thought so too, which was probably why they kept the darker colors that would be appropriate for evening parties at the edge. The fabric spread out in the middle and edges were all the bright colors that the earl had imagined would complement her.
“…Doesn’t it suit me?”
Nako’s happy face clouded over, his eyebrows raised in response. The earl felt Martha’s gaze pierce past her fallen shoulders geared towards him, but he didn’t know why. She, however, regretted not being able to stop the rude remark he had inadvertently said that made Nako sad.
The earl was getting impatient with the situation with Nako, who was drooping more and more like a wilted flower, so he tried to draw near. However, before he knew it, the conversation seemed to have already ended. Maria moved next to him, whispering quietly into his ear.
“My lord, isn’t that the same as the color of your eyes?”
I heard the sound of a small bell tinkling from deep in my chest.
I licked at my dry lips and stared at the cloth that Nako was holding so carefully to her chest.
I was already sure that the color was reasonably familiar to me. It’s a great way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your time with your family and friends – when you feel a sense of familiarity and comfort… Oh, so the look you just gave me was because you were comparing the shade of my eyes to the fabric?
When I remember the expression on the face of the girl who had smiled so contentedly just a moment ago, I felt an inexplicable surge of emotion from the depths of my heart. What was the name of this swelling of emotions that cannot be adequately described by the word ‘adorable’?
“It’s alright, Miss Nako. The impression of dresses change depending on the design. Let’s see how it would suit you. Once we apply it like this…”
The owner of the store nodded as she knew what she was doing. She took the cloth from Nako and unfolded it.
“…See? It looks lovely.”
Indeed, the deep indigo color suited Nako’s mysterious black eyes better than I had expected, making her look more mature.
…I’m sure this will be fine.
I was startled by the small but firm voice in my mind that sounded like a plea. It was definitely not about the fabric. It would be nothing short of ridiculous to put myself on the level as a piece of cloth. It was evident that if Nako and himself were placed side by side, they would look like a granddaughter and her grandfather. Again, I found myself wondering what an older man like myself had gotten himself into.
The earl looked at Nako, who smiled in turn, hiding her anguish at his crude remark.
“It’s true… It suits you very well. And I’m glad to hear that you were thinking of me, thank you very much.”
At his words, Nako’s willow eyebrows relaxed in relief. She responded to the seamstress who spoke to her from the side. After which, a conversation that shifted into a story of the past began, and the earl just listened on.
It was already late at night. While Maria and Martha were working on their designs, a languid Nako was resting with the earl.
He smiled at Nako, who was still trying to sip tea elegantly despite being exhausted.
After numerous changes in clothes, anyone would have been tired, even if it weren’t Nako. On the contrary, however, the maids and Martha were still in a frenzy. The earl previously thought all the women in the world liked to shop, but apparently, not all of them do.
A lisp of voice tickled my eardrums while a lightweight hung on my arm. I looked down to see a small head leaning against me.
She was so tired that she instantly fell asleep after putting her cup down.
The warmth that radiated from her made me want to stay like this for a while longer, but I knew she would just end up hurting herself if we remained in this precarious position. Besides, the season was about to change into winter, and it gets cold quickly once the sun goes down.
“Ah, Miss Nako, are you resting right now?”
However, although I had stayed still to relish in this irresistible feeling… The astute Martha came running up to us with a grass-colored dress in her hand.
I looked at the soft color of the dress again, realizing that it was the dress that Nako often wore. Like a young leaf that had just budded, the simple dress suited her very well.
When I asked her if she would dispose of it, she smiled at me as if she were a cat.
“Ah, I’m sending it out for alterations.”
After handing it to a nearby maid, Martha bent down in front of the couch to look at Nako’s resting face. She smiled like a loving mother, I think. Martha liked her more than any people in the mansion, and Nako seemed to love her like a mother.
…I wondered if I could have given her a place where she could be healthy and laugh. I felt a little frustrated that I wasn’t in Martha’s position, but I guess I can’t blame anyone because we’re of the opposite gender, and I’ve always been no match against her.
“…She seems to be fond of it.”
Martha looked at Nako once more with a relieved expression on her face as she subconsciously tried to keep the earl from moving. I’m not sure what to make of it, but I’m sure it was a good thing.
“I do not like this situation, my lord.”
“…I’m not sure I understand. What’s the matter?”
When I asked her that with a bit of a sulk, Martha’s expression softened, she even laughed a little.
“I know it’s the dress that her husband complimented her on. That’s why she cherishes it so much.”
For a moment, I couldn’t help my face from relaxing.
He pretended to adjust Nako’s posture, turning his gaze away from Martha, but still, a voice that sounded like his own replied, “I see,” He cursed himself, upset at the husked-up voice that came out of his mouth.
“You still don’t understand a woman’s heart, do you, my lord?”
“It looks that way… Oh, I’m sorry, but Martha, would you mind opening the door?”
I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, so I changed the subject, and Martha, who seemed to understand my intentions, tilted her head and asked, “Why don’t you just wake her up?”
Looking down at Nako, the earl shook his head.
“She’s sleeping so well; don’t you feel sorry for her?”
Without waiting for Martha’s reply, the earl placed his arms under her shoulders and knees, standing up slow and easy as not to wake her up.
“Then,” he said, leaving the room to escape from Martha, who smiled as his figure disappeared.
He walked to Nako’s room. When he got to the door, he held her with one hand so that she was leaning against his chest, allowing him to turn the knob with his free hand.
This was the first time I had entered her room since Nako’s arrival. The furnishings hadn’t changed since the first time, but the smell was different. It was the sweet scent of a young girl, like the nectar of flowers. Disconnecting my senses from my consciousness, I laid her down on her bed.
I brushed the bangs out of her face and tried to move away, but a small voice called out to me.
“…What’s the matter…”
She was probably half asleep as her eyes were still closed. Nako’s hand lifted to search through the air as if reaching out for something.
Nako laughed like a cat when I grabbed her hand, pressing her cheek against my palm. It felt as soft as fresh fruit.
This time, both her hands were up.
“You are such a sweetheart.”
He chuckled softly as he held on to her midsection.
“Yes… I love you…”
A sweet voice tickled his eardrums.
“Will you hold me…”
“Hold me, my lord, hold…”
She shook my head like a grumbling child. Her hair tickled my cheek while the soft swell of her breasts rested against my shoulders.
…This isn’t good.
Just as I groaned, a cold and chilly voice came from behind me.
The door swung open. I scrunched up my eyes against the glare of the light, simultaneously shifting my body so that the light didn’t shine on Nako’s face.
“I cannot allow you to spend the night here, Uncle.”
“…Were you watching the whole time?”
His embarrassment helped him take a slightly sullen tone.
“Don’t tell me you thought I was going to get physical with Miss Nako…?”
Even I knew that the servants were making some disturbing bets.
But it was the first time in years that she had called me uncle. She only changed how she called me when she had something important to say.
“Yes, because you’re an uncle. It was you who taught me that men are wolves no matter how old they are.”
“I didn’t mean to say that in general, but in your case, it was with regards to the king. I’m not sure how far different you think I am from… him.”
“Uncle, you’re the one who’s most concerned about the age difference.”
Her challenging eyes behind the glasses looked just like his sister’s, who he lost early… The earl was vulnerable to them.
“Don’t be too hard on me.”
Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been involved with anyone for such a long time, but if I could, I’d watch her all the time.
The earl could not put into words the complex feelings of protectiveness and unknowingness that occupied the spaces of his heart and mind.
“Yes, I’ll leave you to it. Now go to your bedroom, my lord.”
Muttering, the earl looked toward Nako again, placing his hand on her tiny forehead. He swept back her unruly bangs and kissed her forehead.
This much, I believe, would be forgiven.
“Goodnight, Miss Nako. Have a good dream.”
Fixing his outstretched hand onto the sheets, the earl stood up and left the room with Maria.