Chapter Eleven: His Highness’ Secret
The following morning, Nolan left the mansion along with Marco on the horses.
After eating breakfast, I thought of making cookies with the boy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the cookies I had initially promised him.
Since we didn’t have them, then the only solution was to make them ourselves.
“No matter the time or age, children love to make something by hand!” Asserted Olivia. Since we’re going to make them, we might as well get the boy to help us, so we were all now gathered in the kitchen.
I shortened and folded the apron for adults using clips and put it on the boy. The boy’s face bloomed like a flower in delight. Seeing the baggy apron on his body, Olivia and I also felt relief. Because being separated from his mother for so long… He looked anxious, and his face had been like a wet blanket on a weekend.
It was a simple task of mixing the ingredients, but with the addition of Peter, it became an arduous journey. His tension reached its peak when it was time to thinly stretch the dough and mold. He kneaded the dough like clay and worked hard to shape it with his tiny fingertips.
“Madam, what do you think this is!? Guess!”
“Errr… A tree?”
“Boo~ It’s a ghost.”
I don’t think ghosts and a kid’s imagination go hand in hand. I stared at the boy playing with dough and flour sticking on his nose with complex emotions stirring inside me.
He looked adorable with his innocent smile, simply enjoying the present.
The boy laughed and was surprised by every little thing, and even now, he’s giving his all to carve the pattern on the dough with a butter knife.
“So lovely… Let’s bake them in the oven! It will take a bit of time for them to be baked, Peter. So wait, okay?”
Olivia put the cookie dough lined in a row in the oven while the boy was hoping like a rabbit in excitement.
“Yay! I’m looking forward to my ghost-chan!”
I tagged along with the boy on his exploration until the cookies were baked. Trees and the buildings seen in the garden were like toys for him. One time he climbed on a tree, and another time I saw him trying to capture a bug. Even the unremarkable cow shed was like an unexplored land for an adventure to him.
The cow shed outside the mansion was small, but he was having fun observing the cows there. He nervously stretched out his hand to touch the cow’s head, gently caressing their foreheads, smiling broadly when they acted in kind.
I, of course, didn’t have any goodwill towards his mother, who left such a young child all alone. I was even distrustful of Nolan initially, and my emotions were haywire due to it, but the boy was innocent in all this ordeal. He was quite a sensible child, especially when he never once threw a tantrum. Even we gradually opened our hearts to him and felt compassion for him— We’re simple-minded…
As he stared at the cows, I had no idea what was going through the boy’s mind as he muttered something. “Because Granny’s condition isn’t good.”
“Hmmm? What did you just say?”
“I heard my mother’s mother was going to die, so I’m a bit scared.”
The boy’s grandmother’s condition wasn’t good—?
By chance, that might be a clue regarding where Alex went after leaving behind her child?
“What’s that building?” He asked when we left the cow shed as he pointed to the barn, which was a bit far from where we were. The barn was a pretty significant structure, even though I’d yet to check it out. When I said this to the boy, he smiled quietly.
“Ohhh! Let’s explore it right away! It’s adventure time!” Saying so, the boy dashed towards the barn with momentum like a bullet out of the gun. I hurriedly chased him and saw him holding the doorknob to the barn while waiting for my arrival. He seemed to be holding himself back from entering as he was without permission. He was so lovable.
“Can I open it? Can I?”
As the door opened, we both stepped inside. An extensively vast space unfolded before our eyes. Farming tools and a hand truck were lined around the entrance. Hay were piled up into a mountain shape deeper inside. The whole thing made the boy squeal in delight as he stared at the hay mountain before jumping into it.
He began to climb up as he jumped and turned back to look at me. “It’s soft and so fun! Let’s play together!”
I was slightly resistant to partake in his childish acts, but no one was watching us anyway. Besides, playing with children was best when enjoyed together.
After the tug of war inside my mind, I also followed the kid, ran with all my might, and leaped towards the hay mountain. I couldn’t describe the unfathomable sense of liberation when the soft hay caught my body.
The hay at the bottom collapsed when I got up, and although my legs were buried in it, it was enthralling. The boy rolled upside down from the part where the hay was piled up and laughed heartily. We both burst into laughter as we looked at each other’s appearance covered in hay.
“It was so amazing rolling down! Like a heavenly bed!” The boy lightly rolled on the hay, and I also copied him. The smell of hay was soothing.
I came down from the hay mountain to see the boy’s face dropping like a withered flower. He replied with a pitiful face when I asked why he looked so down. “I seem to have lost my bag somewhere…”
The cross-shoulder cloth bag the boy carried with himself most of the time was not on him now. It seemed as though he had dropped it somewhere during his extreme movements on the haystack.
We both began to rummage around and search for the bag. When the boy went behind and put his hand in the hay, he suddenly tripped and rolled.
“There’s something hard below.” Saying so, the boy pushed the hay knee high and began to look at his feet. Did he step on his bag?
“Huh? What’s that?” The boy’s head slanted in puzzlement as he pushed away even more hay. This intrigued me, so I also approached him to check.
When he finished removing a bunch of hay, a large square gate showed itself on the floor. We had found the bag midway, but the door it was in the vicinity to picked at our curiosity, so we continued to remove the hay from around it. It appears that the boy had tripped over the door knob there.
“What’s this? Is it a door? Could there be a room below?”
“…Indeed, what could it be?”
The boy was looking at the door excitedly, but I had a bad premonition. It felt as if… The haystack had been deliberately put here to hide the entrance. I looked around the barn once again. The space inside was quite broad. I wondered if such a big barn was essential for this mansion with a mere two cows. Under the urging of the expectation-filled boy’s gaze, I stretched my hand towards the door’s knob.
Who knows if it might just be a simple basement storage room? While I was thinking so, the boy said, “I wonder what’s down there? Ohhh! Could it be the hidden treasure of pirates!?”
“Who… Who knows? Though I would be delighted if there was such a thing…”
Maybe it’s the hidden assets gotten from him being a former Prince-sama? I suddenly thought of such a thing. Nothing could be beat if there was such a thing.
The sound of the hinges resounded as I opened the door. Hay, left on the edge of the door, fluttered and fell inside.
There was a staircase under the door. I could see four or five steps at most, with the light only reaching so far, as beyond was utterly shrouded in darkness. I couldn’t even predict what might there be down below. But because it was a reasonably splendid staircase, the space inside seemed to be much more than I had thought.
“It’s kind of scary…”
Seemingly frightened from the endless darkness seen from above, any traces of adventurous spirit disappeared from the boy as he hid behind me and hugged my leg. Even as an adult, I didn’t have a bit of heart to go down. I quietly shut the door, closing the road leading to the mysterious space.
The boy imitated me, quickly pushing the haystacks with both hands, reverting them to their original form. As I was helping him pile up the hay to cover it up, I suddenly recalled the premonition I had just a while ago.
—It was dust.
Both sides of the stairs have quite a lot of dust piled up, making the color of dark wood look grayish. However, of the five steps visible from above, the wood’s original color could only be seen in the center. Meaning someone had been using these stairs recently. That, in itself, wasn’t a problem, to say the least. The strange part was, although the stairs were in use quite frequently, why was there a need to hide them deliberately with a haystack?
Once we finished returning the hay, I thought… Maybe I should ask Nolan once I find the correct timing to do so?
When I stood up, a wave of tiredness swept my body. It was really tiring to tag along with an energetic kid to play. This was the perfect chance to end the entire exploration there, so I once again employed cookies as bait to lure him.
I rubbed at the boy’s head with a smile. “I just realized, Peter. The cookies should already be done. Shall we return?”
“Oh! Let’s go!”
When we returned to the mansion, the sweet smell of baked sweets had already assailed our nostrils even though were still at the entrance. Not to say anything about the boy; but, even I was a bit tempted as we headed to the kitchen directly.
Noticing that we had returned, Olivia pretended to put on airs as she showed us the cookies on the baking tray. The boy let out a short squeal of delight and touched the tray but winced in pain as he pulled back his hand because of the high temperature.
We began to eat cookies, not waiting for the boy’s hand to cool down. It was surprisingly fun to pick up cookies with the boy in the middle of it all.
That night, Nolan and Marco didn’t come back even after the sky had thoroughly been dyed in the ink of darkness. Ricardo had also gone out.
I was a bit anxious inside the mansion… There was no Nolan, no guard Marco, nor his attendant Ricardo.
The Teddy Viscounty had many servants, and the Royal Capital was perpetually bustling. However, this mansion was located far away from the crowd, drowning in pitch-black darkness; there was only Olivia and the five-year-old kid with me.
—I wondered what would happen if a thief were to break in?
I laid on the wide bed with restless feelings brewing inside me, thinking about such horrendous things.
The occasional wind blowing outside and the leaves hitting the window scared me witless.
Although I wasn’t yet accustomed to sleeping together with Nolan on the same bed… Now that I’m all alone, I couldn’t help but miss him.
I turned over the bed in my restlessness. When I rolled up to the spot Nolan slept on last night, I gently touched that exact place. My fingers slid down on the now cold bedsheet.
“Nolan-sama… Hurry up and come back.”