Chapter Thirty-One: Father and Mother
The days after that night, albeit on the surface, continued peacefully. And on a particular day, Nolan proposed that I go to the Royal Capital with him.
“The Royal Capital?” I asked back while continuing to sweep the wooden floors of the long corridor.
“I wanted to take you to Viscount Varda’s residence.”
Viscount Varda—I reflexively stopped my hands from sweeping.
Now that he spoke about it, Nolan supposedly went to meet him on the same day as my stepbrother’s sudden visit to search for Leticia.
Viscount Varda was a name nostalgic to me. He and my stepfather were best friends. I wondered if Nolan was also as familiar with him.
“It was a request from Viscount Varda… To take you to his residence in the Royal Capital at least once.”
“He requested that of you? Why?”
“He said he has something to talk with you about—It’s about your stepfather.”
Now that’s an out-of-the-blue request. I haven’t met Viscount Varda since my stepfather passed away five years ago.
“What did he want to talk about?”
“I don’t know either. He wants to meet and talk to you directly, apparently.”
According to Nolan, Viscount Varda initially requested to come to meet me at Dahl Island, but he firmly rejected him. It seemed like Nolan didn’t like the other territories’ aristocrats coming to this place. When I asked him, he replied, “I don’t want to build up unnecessary suspicion.”
I refrained from asking any further, but he likely didn’t want to attract the enemy’s attention within the Royal Palace.
I returned to what I was doing earlier, gathering the rubbish and dust that had gathered in the corners of the corridor—where in the world did such a heap of dust even come from? It’s as if the dust suddenly materialized out of nothing and was accumulating on the daily. Thinking it was just unavoidable, I bent down and idly collected the trash with a dustpan on one hand.
My mind wondered about what Nolan said as I rounded my sweeping work.
Just what is there for Viscount Varda to talk to me about? With a slight uneasiness in my heart, I quickly made my preparations to go to the Royal Capital.
Viscount Varda’s residence was a majestic white mansion that stood alongside the river which divided the Royal Capital from east to west.
He welcomed us warmly despite our sudden visit. It was especially evident when he saw me. And as he intently stared at me, he said, “Time surely flies so fast.”
The last time I met him was five years ago, so I’m sure I must have been like another person in his memories. Viscount Varda’s eyes looked to reflect a distant look in them for a while after he saw me. Maybe, he recalled the time he spent with my stepfather when he was still alive and was currenly missing them.
The entire walls of the Varda Residence’s guest room were of marquetry, made up of a grouping of all sorts of woods from pure white to deep brown, carved with delicate patterns.
While Nolan was skillfully praising the decorations, apparently, he didn’t dislike them, two of the maidservants of the Varda Residence entered the guest room carrying a big box. Both were looking quite serious and careful as they brought it.
I was worried it would damage the table when they put the heavy-looking box on the round table with delicately thin legs.
The box was as big as a cradle, with the whole surface of it affixed with small squares and shellfish-shaped tiles. At the four corners of the box, shining in milk-white light, were golden plates engraved with floral patterns.
Viscount Varda began to talk as Nolan and I wondered what this was all about, looking at the box in front of us.
“Liese. This is the thing, Thoma… Your stepfather left behind while he was alive… It’s for you.”
I looked at Viscount Varda to urge him to explain further, having been told something I had never anticipated.
“Before Thoma passed away, he was perturbed about how you, his stepdaughter, would fare later.”
He said so as he then lifted with his hand, the lid of the shellwork box. Accompanied by the faint creaking sounds of the hinges, the lid was thus opened.
Almost reflexively, I leaned over to look at the box’ contents, and my breath stopped for a moment.
The box inside was packed with brilliantly shining pieces of jewelry lined up.
A necklace and a ring were attached with big, precious-looking jewels. Long and thick gold chains. A tiara shining in silvery lights. A barrette lined with oversized pearls gently reflecting the rays pouring down from the windows.
After a sigh of admiration, I asked the Viscount, “What’s all this about…?”
“Thoma was worried about your deteriorated relationship with Charles till his last moments. He hoped that if Charles ever drove you away, I could help you. And if you plan to be independent, he requested me to hand this to you.” Saying that Viscount Varda pushed the box to me.
If I planned to be independent…? I guess stepfather must have been worried that it may be snatched away by stepbrother otherwise.
“I had come to visit you sometime after Thoma passed away, but…”
“I see, so he was worried about me—I never knew that.”
“I couldn’t meet you then, so I handed a part of the jewel to Mrs. Daphne; however, did you receive them?”
I never received something like that from her—so she just decided to keep them for herself, huh?
I honestly said that I never remembered receiving anything from my sister-in-law.
Accompanied with a sigh, the Viscount shook his head.
“Most of these are your mother’s belonging.”
A shock-like agitation ran through my whole body. I stretched my hand and gently touched the necklace in the box. No matter how much I wracked my brain, I, unfortunately, couldn’t recall seeing either of them.
The appearance of my mother in my mind was just that hazy.
In the pages of my memories, the only thing that’s barely left about my mother’s appearance was her beautiful face, like a piece of art untouched by the red dust of the mortal world, and her honey-colored hair. Even when her emerald eyes were looking at me, I felt as if she was never looking at me.
…That time, the morning of that day when I was 10.
If I had stopped her from riding the carriage at any cost and forced myself into coming with her, could my mother and I have had a different future?
The distant past may remain unchanged for eternity, but I could never stop wondering about that question. Though, I will never get the answer.
And, the remembrance of my mother, sure enough, couldn’t tell me anything either.
The glittering jewelry may have been passed to me, but the feeling of losing my mother was not something that could be buried. It was just a vain act to do all this.
Nolan said gently while I was silently going through the status of the box in front of me, “Your stepfather must have truly loved you as his daughter, right?”
I suddenly felt my eyelids warm, and I nodded slowly.
“…Yeah. I never lacked any care or love from him.”
You’re late in many senses, stepfather.
When we came out of Viscount Varda’s residence with Marco carrying the box, we immediately headed for the carriage. Ricardo, who was leaning on it, hurriedly got up like a bouncing spring and quickly walked up to us.
“Nolan-sama, I have been waiting for you. There’s urgent news…”
With a grim expression, he quickly explained it to Nolan, “I had gone to the Royal Palace to meet Johanna, but I heard His Majesty was struck with a high fever since morning and is currently confined in his bed.”
Nolan’s eyes, as soon as he heard that went wide.
We immediately moved our carriage toward the Royal Palace to check on the condition of Nolan’s father. The carriage was running at a relatively higher speed than usual.
I painfully knew how worried Nolan would be for the king. He, who always sat in an upright, beautiful posture, was leaning against the carriage’s wall in distress.
I gently put my hand on his knee. According to Ricardo, the king has had a high fever since morning and couldn’t even get up, which apparently hindered official matters.
Nolan also put his hand above mine. “Father was all fine with a healthy body… Maybe age has caught up to him.”
“I hope he can get well soon… He looked so full of vigor at the time of the ceremony.”
Like this, I, again, passed through the gates of the Royal Palace for the Nth time in my life. I still couldn’t help but stare at the majestic entrance.
The king passing through this gate to attend the 20th anniversary of his ascension to the throne felt like it had just happened yesterday.
How could this happen when he looked so healthy at that time?
When we arrived at the Royal Palace, the one guiding us was, once again, Johanna. I hurried down the hallway with Nolan.
“You’re finally here, Nolan!” A rough but deep voice echoed from the end of the hallway.
It was First Prince Ethan, who was walking out from the end of the hallway with a grim face.
Nolan and the first prince silently closed the distance between them and tightly hugged each other. The first prince, as he hugged Nolan, muttered, “Listen. This whole thing has become troublesome.”
As Nolan moved his body doubtfully, the first prince shook his head while sighing. “There’s already a dispute over who should be the king’s proxy for the time being.”
Who will be employed as the king’s proxy when the king is in an authoritarian state? The dispute wasn’t just about being the king’s proxy, because usually the proxy will be deemed the prime candidate for the throne. The king’s proxy was currently synonymous with being the subsequent king.
The first prince suddenly burst into laughter when Nolan and my face stiffened.
“How about you? What will you do that, Nolan?”
“Don’t joke around. It should be done by you, older brother.”
“…That seems impossible. Both the mother and father wanted to see you the soonest. Go and visit them.”
We hastened our steps once again.
Regardless of its sheer size, the Royal Palace was eerily quiet.
Whether it was the painting drawn on the corridor or the ceiling that felt like it was staring at us silently, the sound of our hurried footsteps echoed all too well.
The number of people had decreased in contrast to my first visit, and now, the Royal Palace was shrouded in silence. The people we passed by occasionally bent their knees and quickly greeted Nolan and me.
“This way, Nolan-sama.” Under the guidance of Johanna, we arrived in front of a white, big door with a lustrous finish.
Nolan put his hand on the golden rod-shaped handle and pushed the door open. It led to a bedroom.
The queen, with her back facing us, was sitting beside the bed in the back of the room, and on top of the bed lay a lone man—the king.
The queen looked back, seemingly startled, and muttered the name of Nolan in a hoarse voice. Her beautiful otherworldly face was now ashen.
Nolan rushed to the queen.
“Mother, I visited the Royal Capital and suddenly heard about it. I was surprised.”
“I’m glad you came, Nolan…” The queen said that, before turning her gaze to the king laying on his back. Both of them seemed to have lost some of they’re original lusters.
“He suddenly complained of a headache and that his joints were hurting. After that, he abruptly caught fever…”
The queen’s eyes looked bright red from all the weariness.
Nolan gently put his hands on her shoulder and hugged her—he must be going through internal conflict whilst doing that. And yet, seeing him unhesitatingly supporting her moved me.
After a moment of embracing and consoling the queen, Nolan moved beside the bed and looked at the king’s face.
“Father,” called out Nolan over and over. The king lazily opened his eyes, tightly grasped his hand, and responded.
Nolan moved his other hand and touched the cheeks of the king.
“You have a very high fever…”
The words he unintentionally mumbled out had a touch of emptiness in it.
Afterward, Nolan’s siblings showed themselves in to the king’s bedroom.
The third prince looked somewhat in a daze as if he still hadn’t come to terms with the situation. With the purity of youth, the sixth prince repeatedly called out to his father in a worried tone.
Next to him, the partner of the third prince was carefully examining her nail polish constantly, looking as if her mind wasn’t there. She even looked at her reflection in one of the four shining brass-made footboards of the bed and fixed the foundation on her face by hand. Even I couldn’t help being stunned by the act of disregard she was showing at the current time and place.
The first and second princes came in between, surrounded by many people. After confirming the unchangeable condition of the king, they went somewhere again in a hurry without staying any longer.
It must have been the two of them whose names came as candidates for the king’s proxy, undoubtedly.
Princess Eugenie wasn’t here. When Nolan, finding it strange, asked the queen, she stated the princess apparently refused to come here because she’s scared that her father’s disease could be contagious.
Nolan’s temper worsened slightly when he heard that.
Amidst the frequent visits of the Royal physicians and other high officials, I stood in the corner of the room, taking great care not to get in the way of anyone.
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