Chapter Twenty-One: A Queen’s Conservatory
The tea party to meet with Princess Eugenie will be held in the Royal Palace’s conservatory.
Together with Nolan, I followed after the maid who came to guide us.
…How would it feel to have tea in the conservatory?
Wouldn’t it be too hot…?
Maybe the best choice would have been to dress lightly. It felt galling thinking about drinking hot tea while sweating profusely there. I imagined myself drinking tea with the queen in the middle of a glass conservatory. Perhaps, the tea party might be more relaxing than last night’s party…
However, reality unfortunately betrayed my imagination yet again.
The conservatory erected in the garden was exceedingly spacious and magnificent.
I do not doubt if it was really a conservatory, but it never occurred to me, even in my wildest dreams, that there could be such a massive conservatory located in the capital.
The conservatory’s temperature was slightly warmer than the outside, and as we stepped inside, we were soon greeted by various plants. Lovely flowers were blooming on the flower bed, displaying their vivid colors. A wide variety of lush trees of all sorts of heights were growing in a plot of land, and just taking that plot into account, it was so dense that it could be mistaken for a jungle.
Along the brick-paved road, my attention was attracted by rows of bushes trimmed in animal shapes. I watched over them one by one as we made our way.
Butterflies also hovered above flowers, occasionally fluttering into our field of vision. The dance of colorful butterflies, such as yellow, striped patterns, and so on, have turned an already magnificent conservatory into a fantastical land.
The conservatory was stunning, no matter where our gazes ran to, and it was as if all the equipment here were completely new.
In contrast to me, whose eyes rounded in evident admiration, Nolan next to me looked unhappy. His shapely brows were making a deep crease in the middle of his eyebrows, and his aquamarine eyes were filled with anger as he hurled his gaze as cold as a freezing lake around the surroundings.
It must either be that he didn’t like this conservatory or that he was on bad terms with the princess.
“Onii-sama, here!” A loud and clear voice reverberated inside.
The center of the conservatory was paved with black and white stones, with a table set arranged in the middle. The princess sat there and beckoned us by waving her still slightly small hands. The queen was already present beside the seat of the princess.
It seemed as though the king’s parade was over as she had changed from a ceremony dress to a purple-colored dress that seemed slightly easier to move in. The lustrous fabric of that dress shone in sync with the queen’s movement, further emphasizing the charm of the already beautiful queen.
The conservatory already looked so unbelievable, no less than a paradise. Still, with the addition of the queen, who seemed so mesmerizing, it looked like a piece of heaven descended in the conservatory.
There was a sense of dissonance that the brick-paved road I was treading in and the place where queen was in were far from reach, despite the fact that she was in front of my eyes, welcoming us. I felt as if I was assailed by a mysterious sensation, no longer able to discern if I was looking at the present, the past, or the future.
I don’t remember how long it lasted, but I broke from my reverie at the sudden chirping sound of a bird from somewhere.
The princess said in a pleased voice once Nolan and I took our seats, “Onii-sama, are you surprised? I pestered our father and finally had him build this. My conservatory.”
“Another wasteful act by father… Sigh.”
The princess’ expression clouded when Nolan replied in a low voice as if she had given up on something.
I don’t think I would even need to ask explicitly. They obviously don’t seem to have any eye for each other.
“I said I wanted it!”
Nolan exhaled a fed-up sigh and averted his gaze to somewhere else.
When I turned my gaze as I felt someone staring at me, I saw that the queen was looking at me. Thump. Thump. Thump. I felt my heart racing.
She spoke while continuing to stare at me. “Liese, are you accustomed to your lifestyle in Dahl Island?”
The queen shifted the topic to me, but I guessed that she must have just wanted to know how Nolan was doing. So I spoke about some trivial matters in Dahl Island while taciturnity keeping away some things as not to hurt Nolan’s self-esteem.
Sometime later, the princess was in her own world, chasing after the cats playing in the conservatory, separating from us. The irony, given that the tea party was held for the princess and me, yet she didn’t have any interest in me, was too evident.
She just wanted to look at the rumored woman who charmed Nolan so much, and her curiosity must have already been satisfied after seeing me at the ceremony venue.
I couldn’t help but think again that she must have had no choice to attend since she was asked by the queen herself to tag along.
“With the help and care from Nolan-sama, I somehow… I mean, it’s a very fulfilling life to me.”
“I’m glad,” said the queen with a sparkling smile.
The queen was so elegant in everything that even when we chatted about some menial stuff as we drank our tea, it didn’t mar her beauty at all. Moreover, her vocabulary was so graceful. However, even when her lips curved in a smile… I wondered if it was just my imagination or what… But her ashen color eyes seemed as expressionless as a doll.
To be frank, she was such a terrifying beauty that a feeling of uneasiness was building inside me just by staying in the same place as her.
As I further explained our lifestyle with the utmost effort, albeit incoherently, the queen’s gaze suddenly skipped over me and looked behind me.
She looked slightly stunned. When I turned around to check what surprised her, I saw the king taking his entry from the conservatory’s entrance.
The princess also seemed to have noticed him as she slipped past us straight towards the king. She began to speak in a spoiled tone when she was hugged by him.
“Lord father, let’s have tea together, okay? At my conservatory!”
“You truly are fascinated by this place. I guess it was worth building it if you like this place so much.”
The two of them arrived beside us while talking happily.
The princess had the king’s arm circled around her body, clinging to him.
“You see, lord father, I want a fountain. I want my one and only personal fountain in the garden.”
“You really know how to act spoiled.”
“I want a big one! I hate normal fountains!”
I understood very well just how much the king doted on Princess Eugenie as I looked at the coaxing voice of the king and the fawning princess, even if they were in public.
“But older brother Nolan said it was a waste! He said what father did was bad!”
Stiff. My heart skipped a beat… I was startled for some reason.
As I glanced at Nolan and I saw his cheeks twitching slightly.
The king came to the seat beside the queen while giving a wry smile. The queen, Nolan, and I quickly stood up and bent our knees to greet him. Inwardly, I was relieved that I didn’t lag behind.
Then the king said to Nolan, “Quite a harsh criticism that was… Coming from my own son.”
However, Nolan didn’t say anything in response to this; he just bowed his head deeply.
The king sat down, stretched out his hands to the baked sweets on top of the table, and casually began eating them. The princess, looking delighted, also took a seat next to him.
The corner of the king’s eyes dropped in gentleness as he gently patted the princess’ hair. I guess that’s how much he loves his daughter and spoils her.
However, the following thing the princess said was anything but cute. “You know, lord father. A maid was rude to me in the ceremony today.”
“That’s a problem then.”
“She doesn’t have any respect for royalty. Fire her. You can do it right? Right, father?”
“I got it. Let’s discuss it later.”
When the king readily agreed with a smile, the princess’ face blossomed into an even bigger smile, and she said, “Thank you, lord father! You’re the best!”
The king’s cheeks slackened in response when the princess kissed his cheeks happily. Being the sole princess she is, she surely was being spoiled without any constraint.
The princess got off the king’s lap, ran deeper into the conservatory, and again began playing with the cats.
I looked at Nolan, and his face was blatantly showing his dissatisfaction. “You’re spoiling Eugenie too much. Despite the predicament where you should focus on appeasing the citizens.”
“As straightforward as ever, aren’t you?”
“There are already multiple riots happening in the territories besides Dahl Island. It’s just a matter of time before your own courtyard catches fire.”
The king’s expression took a threatening turn, and the queen chided Nolan in a slightly reproachful tone.
However, Nolan didn’t heed her words and continued to stare at the king.
The king frowned in displeasure. “I didn’t think you would say the same thing as Ethan. I thought we were of the same belief… Did you get infected by the countryside winds and have a fit of change?”
“It’s not that I didn’t have any opinion or that my thinking has changed. I was simply uninterested.”
The king finally looked away from Nolan, leaning on the chair’s back and crossing his legs. In doing so, his knee hit the table, and the tea-filled cup on the table swayed from the impact.
The king, Nolan, and I stared at the slight ripples in tea for a while.
The king changed the topic when the rippling subsided. “Nolan, are you alright? I have heard you’re struggling financially on Dahl Island.”
I was startled to hear that even the king had come to know about it.
“Father. Dahl Island may be small, but not to the point of being destitute. The first thing I’m focusing on is an investment as a lord. The territory’s income will prosper by itself if its inhabitants are well-off. You don’t need to worry about such a trivial land.”
“Don’t forget that you’re also my son. Dignity is to be never lowered.”
“Of course, I understand.” Nolan replied indifferently without any ripple of emotions on his face in contrast to the king, whose expression looked slightly stern.
I subconsciously thought about the usual Nolan I knew.
Our mansion in Dahl Island was quite worn-out, to the point that even wind blew inside. And don’t even talk about the strong ones, as when it does come across us, the curtains would sway even if the windows were closed. The broken furniture in the rooms not in use were also being left unattended.
However, I never saw Nolan as uncouth.
When I was reflecting upon this, my eyes met with the king.
“Liese, how is it? Is Nolan really doing fine?”
“…Yes! Nolan-sama is acting as a splendid lord. Just the other day, he even worked together with the engineers to fix the well on Dahl Island.”
…It seemed as though my reply wasn’t up to what the king wanted to hear.
As the king’s eyebrows wrinkled, I saw a look of discontent floating in his aquamarine eyes, the same as Nolan’s.
I hurriedly added, “The people of Dahl Island carry much respect for Nolan-sama.”
The king finally nodded.
Then he quietly addressed Nolan as if remonstrating him, “There may be many things to experience in Dahl Island. However, never forget… You also have your image as the prince of this country.”
The king’s remark nearly frightened me… Since Nolan’s everyday life on Dahl Island ran utterly non-parallel to how a prince should be, without any clue of them ever crossing.
Nevertheless, Nolan’s expressionless face didn’t falter even slightly in contrast to my flustered self.
The king stared at Nolan with a probing gaze. To which Nolan finally replied, “I quite like my life on Dahl Island. So you can take it easy for yourself.”
The king tossed another dessert in his mouth as he stood up.
We, too, in the rhythm of his movement, stood up. It seemed like it was already time for the king to return to work. Apparently, he had come out to meet us by taking time from his busy schedule.
Although the meeting was full of bumps, nevertheless, I still felt their love as parents for Nolan.
The king kissed the queen’s forehead when she asked with a monotonous voice if he was returning already and then proceeded to give her a light hug.
“Lord father!” The princess, who noticed the king leaving the conservatory, briskly ran up and leaped towards him. She clung to the king’s arms when he spread his arms to accept her rushing figure, and while walking, she seemed to have made another wish she had in her purse.
There’s no end to the things she wanted… I thought as the two left the conservatory side by side.
“What did he even come for?” Nolan said in annoyance as he stared at the their departing backs.
The queen once again took her seat; however, Nolan didn’t return to his seat this time. He took my hand and pulled me beside him. “Mother. We have scheduled to leave the Royal Capital before the day’s over, so with that, we will be excusing ourselves.”
“…It’s still so early. And the ceremony had just ended.”
“There are lots of things to manage. In the end, I’m just a poor nobleman now.” Nolan gave a self-deprecating smile.
The queen tilted her neck which was glossy and slender, opposite to her age, as if it didn’t know what aging from time was.
“But you could still take things slowly… No matter what, the Royal Palace is where you have grown up, at least.”
“I will surely look for my mother another time. Please excuse us now.”
“Everyone is leaving me behind…“
The queen shook her head, indicating that she had said nothing.
Nolan slowly took the hand of the queen and kissed the back of it. He then took my hand, and we left the conservatory, leaving the queen who was looking at Nolan as if she still wanted to talk with him.
When we came out to the Royal Palace’s garden, it was much cooler than I’d imagined, and I quivered for a moment at the difference between the conservatory and its outsides.
I somehow suppressed the chill and turned to see that the queen was still sitting on her chair through the beautiful spotless glass door.
However, she wasn’t looking at us anymore, but at the empty space, as if gazing something that was far away.
The conservatory, protected by the shining glass dome, was built as if a separate existence from the Royal Palace. The flowers in their glory, the lush and vibrant trees… And all kinds of lovely butterflies fluttering around.
However, only the beautiful queen was left alone in the paradise-like conservatory.
I heard that the king had built this conservatory at the request of Princess Eugenie. However, at this moment, the queen was like an abandoned existence left in conservatory to me.