Chapter Four: Your Highness, Please Explain
The count crossed his long legs, placed a picture frame the size of his palms on his lap, and gazed at me. His beauty made me forget time. Though, I couldn’t help but think about the rumors that circulated last year.
He does not look like someone that would collapse standing in the rain over his brother, the fifth prince’s grave. The count also does not look weak at all. Instead, his strong appearance makes him look scary and difficult to approach. His face was far too beautiful to be considered human. Honestly, I’m even suspicious if he was actually breathing the same air as I do. I couldn’t help but stare.
However, I returned to reality as soon as I realized he was comparing me with the picture frame on his lap.
“…I’ll ask again. Just to be sure. Are you really Lady Liese Teddy?”
“Ye… Yes… That’s correct.”
What’s with that question?
The count knitted his brows and looked at the picture frame again. After that, he held it out to me. Displayed in the elegant golden frame was the image of a woman. This must be the painting that my stepbrother made for the count.
“I also thought about it when we met at the Teddy Estate, but… You look very different from the painting sent to me by the Teddy Viscounty. They must have hired a very unskilled painter.”
Looking at the painting he showed me; I was also surprised. The woman on it was far more beautiful than I was. I had only seen the painting when it was halfway done being colored, so I had no idea how it would look when finished. It was usual for these portraits to be painted to make the subject look more beautiful, but this was clearly too much. I was intensely embarrassed and handed back the painting while feeling relatively small.
“If it really is you, then there is no problem.”
Is that so? I would rather know why he had courted me, Liese Teddy, in the first place. It was so strange that he needed to confirm that it was really me, whom he had fallen in love with, just from seeing the painting that my stepbrother sent him.
The prince held out his right hand to me.
“From now on, please call me Nolan. I look forward to living with you for many years.”
I awkwardly held out my right hand and held Nolan’s hand. Nolan quickly ran his beautiful, pale blue eyes over my dress and shoes.
“Now, then. About your attire… There’s a small problem.”
“…What is it?”
“Please change out of those bizarre, tiresome, and over-the-top clothes when we arrive at the estate.”
Nolan crossed his arms, looked at my shoes, and said: “Are those lethal weapons that you call shoes standard equipment for you?”
Lethal weapons…? Was he talking about the heels being long and thin…?
“Please change them as soon as we get out of the horse wagon. You can’t walk around the territory with those heels.”
My eyes opened wide with surprise. What did he mean by I can’t walk? It seemed that my eyes had spoken louder than my mouth. So, Nolan explained: “Don’t expect the same kind of environment as the Royal Capital you grew up in there. We’ll have no paved roads nor tiled squares. From today on, you will live in my territory, on Dahl Island.”
Dahl Island…? I blinked with shock.
“Uhm, Lord Nolan, your territory is… An island?”
“Just Nolan is fine. As for your question, my estate is on an island called Dahl.”
“Dahl Island… So it’s an island?”
Nolan frowned as I persisted with the same question.
“Are you saying you didn’t know?”
“…This marriage progressed without me knowing much about anything at all.”
Silence dominated inside the horse wagon. We sat facing each other in silence as our eyes investigated each other’s faces. After a while, Nolan finally spoke.
“…Do you know who I am?”
“You’re the fourth prince, the Count of Dahl County. I’ve heard that you’re twenty-one years old.”
I couldn’t say that he was the prince infamous for losing himself in his grief over his brother’s death. Unmarried women weren’t allowed to go to social gatherings in the first place. There were parties in town where only unmarried ladies were invited, but, regrettably, I was treated as a burden by the Viscount’s family. So, as a fake noble, I was never invited to any and all aristocratic gatherings.
Further, after my stepfather passed away, when parties and dinners for other nobles were being held at our house, I was the only one that wasn’t allowed a seat. When we had noble visitors, my stepbrother strictly told me that I was not to leave my room. With all that, there was a limit to the information I could gather.
“Uhm… Lord Nolan, you are aware of my lineage, right?”
My birth parents were destitute nobles. My father had tragically died while fighting in a war with a neighboring country to overcome our situation. My mother, who was further suffering from poverty after, had simply taken me with her and entered into Viscount Teddy’s family. Leaving aside my sister Leticia, I was only kept on the estate for appearance’s sake.
As I explained all this to Nolan, he did not look surprised and listened without changing his expression. I finished my tale and told him that there was nothing more to know.
“I’m well aware.”
“…Then, will you really be happy with me?”
“Of course. I’m happy to be with you.”
Facing Nolan’s eyes that did nothing to hide his feelings, I was at a loss for words. I had many more questions to ask, but considering who my partner was, I didn’t want to be rude.
“If you have anything to say, please say it.” Nolan smoothly said so. The light blue eyes looking at me didn’t even have a slight hint of falling in love at first sight. I have to ask him.
—Stop being so hesitant. You have to ask now!
I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and started rattling on before I could lose my courage.
“You didn’t really… You didn’t really fall… Fall in love with me at first sight… It’s… It’s a lie, isn’t it!?”
“Of course not. My heart was taken by you the moment I laid eyes on you.”
After a direct reply, my thoughts, for a moment, came to a halt.
No, no, no! You’re looking at me with such cold, unfeeling eyes…!
“My lord, that… Is that really true…?”
“I’ll repeat myself, then. I’m crazy about you.”
How can I believe that when you’re saying it with such an expressionless face?
“Uhm… How should I put this… I’m sorry, but… I can’t feel any enthusiasm or love from you at all, but…”
“That’s worrying. Are you a bit dull?”
—What!? Are you going to tell me this my fault?
There’s no way this unfeeling, expressionless former prince turned count was so captivated by me that he can’t even sleep at night! I gasped in shock and looked at myself from the glass window as I calmed myself down. What I saw in the reflection was a very ordinary woman who had gotten just a bit more pretty with make-up staring back.
—There’s no way such a beautiful prince would give up all of his property for someone like me. There has to be something else behind this.
I boldly touched the core of the matter.
“I know it’s coarse, but… You didn’t really see me in town, did you?”
“Of course I did. I saw you in a secondhand bookstore in the town.”
…There’s no mistaking it. He must have learned the places that I frequented from someone. Who was the one that put Nolan in touch with me?
“At first, the marriage was opposed by my father…”
Of course, it was. His Majesty must be a man with some common sense.
“So, I decided to leave the court and moved into Dahl County, which has no geographic or political significance. Along with this, I threw away my lands, offices, ranks, and official positions that I had until now. All for you.”
As he said so, Nolan pierced through me with his beautiful eyes. I felt dizzy from the fatigue and anxiety.
—What should I do? He intends to insist on this story about love at first sight until the end…
Nolan began to talk about his territory enthusiastically. He had more feelings about this subject than when he spoke about me. Apparently, the Dahl County was formerly much more significant, but over generations, it was parceled and sold off, and, as the name suggested, Dahl Island was all that was left.
In short, the Fourth Prince, Nolan, had apparently given up quite a lot. All for this marriage, according to him. When I raised my face again, Nolan averted his eyes from me. He turned his gaze outside the window. His well-featured profile was quite the sight to look at. After, he continued as if simply just speaking to himself.
“I want to refrain from a physical relationship for a while. It would be a problem if I got you pregnant right away.”
I couldn’t think of a reply to this abrupt plot change. To be honest, a part of me was relieved. However, more than that, I was in marvel and shock. I felt like I was being rejected by my new family, too.
—It would be a problem if I got you pregnant.
I wonder why that is? Unconsciously, I gently touched my belly. Somehow, I felt I was even being denied the right to have my own child.
“I currently have no financial leeway for such things.”
As I was looking down, I raised my head in surprise. Nolan’s eyes were still tracing the world’s view outside the window.
“I don’t hate children. Well, I’m not very good with them either. However, I do intend on having you give birth someday. I want you to keep that in mind.”
I felt my rigid heart loosening a bit, but, at the same time, I was a bit embarrassed. Nolan took his eyes off the window and looked at me.
“I’ll be honest. The Dahl County is having some financial difficulties. As I said, I have no leeway for such things. If I may be direct, I have no money.”
My eyes opened wide with shock again. He was a prince, and now a count, but he has no money…? I looked once more at the horse wagon I was riding in.
—It is indeed a modest horse wagon. Even the Teddy Viscounty’s horse wagons are more prominent and more elegant.
I gently patted the seat that I was sitting on. It had a cloth covering it. Not leather, not some luxurious embroidery made by a seamstress, but just a simple and ordinary cloth. As I adjusted myself, I noticed it was pretty dented and old. Nolan seemed to have read my thoughts and started explaining: “This horse wagon is very old. I bought it from my nursing mother at a special price.”
His nursing mother!?
“It seems that we are missing a lot of information about each other. However, I will confirm this much… You were sorely mistaken if you thought you were marrying into money.”
I didn’t think that at all.
Just… I knew that there was some bigger meaning behind all this.
Nolan turned his beautiful face towards me and made a concise declaration: “I’ll repeat. I have no money.”