Chapter Thirty-Three: His Highness’ Verbal Slip
The fact that the second prince was now regent was immediately announced to the nation. Nolan was brief with his words when we returned to our assigned room in the Royal Palace.
“What? Prince Nolan, what did you just say?” I asked back as I stood in the middle of the room. Nolan took off his dark jacket and threw it on the sofa. I don’t particularly appreciate seeing such a fine jacket handed so carelessly; it’s terrible for my heart.
Despite the pain coming from my poor-person heart, Nolan was matter-of-fact in his reply, “There’s nothing more to do here. Let’s return to Dahl Island.”
“But… Are we allowed?”
“We’ll do what we have to do.” Upon saying that, Nolan offhandedly laughed. “It makes me sick seeing my second eldest brother act like he owns the place while draped with a crimson mantle.”
The second prince quickly gathered the dignitaries in the throne room and gave them detailed commands as required of him as regent. He now sat in the same seat the king sat on mere days ago, listening to explanations by officials and making inquiries. With a steady hand, he would take the king’s seal and place his stamp onto documents. Marquis Dortrek, looking like this was the springtime of his life, followed closely behind… It was not a sight Nolan wanted to see.
If Nolan, the Fourth Prince, had nothing left to do here, then I, as the Teddy Viscounty’s freeloader, had even less reason to be here.
We quickly made our preparations to leave and visited the king once more to say goodbye. The king’s high fever had begun to lower, and he was starting to show signs of recovery. Beside the bed sat the queen on an opulent white chair. Her appearance was like that of an ornately decorated doll. And although he still looked quite languid, the king, raising his upper body, addressed Nolan in a solid tone, “It appears that I have caused you concern as well.”
“I am relieved that you are on the mend.”
“Are you returning to Dahl Island already?”
“Yes, as I have livestock to attend to.”
This isn’t good, Nolan. My expression instantly stiffened. I could sense the king’s mood plummeting.
Sure enough, the king’s next words were steeped with anger, “What is a son of mine doing tending livestock…!? At one time, you were even offered the Princess of Sevesta.”
It felt like he was indirectly attacking him for marrying me. Because I entered the fray, the marriage talks between Nolan and the Princess of Sevesta fell apart. It was an awful position to be in at this moment. I wish I could become air.
Then, perhaps sensing my uncomfortable nerves, the queen admonished the king, “Your Majesty. A person’s heart is not so easily changed. It is a love that transcends rank and status, but it’s also a love directed toward one person and one person only… There is no way to control its direction or fervor.”
The queen’s unusually impassioned words were strangely persuasive yet serious. It reminded me of the story between the Minister of Finance and the fifth prince. Perhaps this doll-like queen once crossed such a line, burning from the passion of fiery love.
I quietly checked on Nolan, who was looking at the queen with piercing, fiery eyes. On the other hand, the king snorted in annoyance, “You’re always quick to side with Nolan on this subject.”
“Father. You have not yet fully recovered. Please do not be too heated with your emotions.”
The king’s eyebrows furrowed, but after a short sigh, he called Nolan’s name once more.
“Dahl Island is small and distant. If you cannot maintain your dignity as a prince living there, I will consider bestowing upon you other lands.”
Nolan stood in front of the king and looked at him as he sat on his bed.
“Father, I am happy for your consideration, but that is unnecessary… I had failed to protect my brother.”
“Again, you’re…!” The king furrowed his brows and shook his head at Nolan. Had the other princes been there, they would have done the same. When I glanced at the queen, her head was down, and her eyes were downcast. Her pale face was evident with her fair complexion. It was a color as white as wax.
Unfazed, Nolan took my hand and turned to the king. “It is time for us to leave.”
“Alright, alright… Please come and visit again soon.”
“Yes. Definitely. In the near future.” Nolan’s response was forceful.
As we left the king’s bedroom, the queen, who had followed behind us, approached us in the hallway.
“Quick as usual, Nolan.” The queen looked up at Nolan with her haggard eyes teeming with fatigue. Despite her exhaustion, her beauty remained intact.
In the hallway, the two faced each other. “Thank you for supporting Liz and me earlier.”
“Yes, of course. You are my son… You, be happy with the one you love, okay?”
I can’t help but be taken aback by those words.
“But Nolan, His Majesty is right. You should leave Dahl Island to its caretakers and live with us here in the palace.”
“We will not remain in the palace.” Nolan abruptly cut off his words. He sealed his mouth, closing both eyes as he looked down, and let out a long breath. Then, he slowly opened his pale blue eyes and looked straight at the queen with powerful eyes.
He clenched both fists and opened his mouth again, “There are too many memories of Aaron here. Even now, I can see Aaron’s eyes gazing up at me, reflecting both the night sky and me.”
Nolan’s face twisted in pain as he recalled the scene. I felt his shoulders trembling slightly and gently touched his arm. Nolan suffered for it. He was too quick to rush his brother, resulting in his death. As his brother lay dying before his eyes, helpless, all he could do was stare.
“I cannot forget Aaron’s eyes that night. They were the same color as father’s… Those eyes.”
“Nolan…” The queen, who had a pained expression, suddenly widened her eyes. “Aaron’s eyes were brown.”
“Oh… Is that so?”
His Majesty’s eyes were the same as Nolan’s, a pale blue. As I curiously listened in on their conversation, Nolan muttered on as if to confirm something, “I made a mistake. They were not the same color as father’s.”
I had a feeling that it was on purpose.
In truth, there was no way he could have mistaken the color of the fifth prince’s eyes, but Nolan said it regardless to ensnare the queen.
At first glance, Nolan merely stated a simple fact, but the queen’s face was tense. Her pale face, reminiscent of a porcelain doll, lost even more color. But the queen said nothing more. It was a mistake to which only the queen, Nolan, and I would be sensitive to. Still, I did not know what to do about the awkwardness between the two.
“Mother, why…” That was all Nolan would allow himself to say in questioning his mother.
—Mother, why did you betray father? That was what he truly wanted to ask.
Nolan broke the air as he got down on his knees, bending down gracefully and speaking calmly, “Mother. Wherever I am, as your son, I will always love you.”
Nolan stood up and gently kissed the queen’s cheek as she stared back at him. He then reached back, took my hand, and started walking toward the stairs at the end of the hallway.
The queen’s eyes remained fixated on us. She just stood there like a beautiful doll—perhaps it was because she was not sensitive to the subtleties of the heart that she looked like a doll. That was the impression I had. I sensed that the queen had once been left alone in the past. After a gentle bow, I turned my back away from her and made our way to the exit.
The second prince, the now regent, also had to be greeted. When we arrived at his office, Prince Stefan was surrounded by several bureaucrats, busily flipping through papers. As he looked up, he let out a strained laugh.
“Father’s only been asleep for a bit, but the documents have already piled this high. Just look at this bundle of approvals.” In front of the second prince was a pile of documents that appeared to be unresolved. It looked as though it would collapse from the slightest touch. A bureaucrat carrying an armful of settled papers bowed and walked briskly past us.
Nolan knelt before the second prince, and although I was a little surprised, I followed suit. Then, in a matter-of-fact voice, Nolan began speaking, “I will be returning to Dahl Island. I have come to give my greeting.”
“I see. You’ve had a hard time coming and going, too. Father’s fever has just broken. He should be able to return to his duties soon. I’ll take care of the rest.” Nolan bowed his head silently.
The autumn wind was cold as we waited for the carriage at the exit of the Royal Palace. The occasional cold breeze would instantly rob my body of its warmth. I rubbed my arms together as I waited for our carriage to arrive. Prince Ethan had come to see us off as we returned to Dahl Island.
Together Nolan and Prince Ethan waited for the carriage, saying little, but eventually, Nolan broke the silence, “I wanted you to be regent, brother.”
Prince Ethan sighed and replied, “Enough with that.”
“But, brother, you told father that you were against the war, did you not?”
“I did. I thought I was standing up for what I believed in, but now I’m sure it was a mistake.”
“I did not have the courage to do so… Our second brother has publicly stated that he will continue the war.”
Prince Ethan bit his lip. The aloof Prince Ethan looked very chagrined at this moment. Nolan continued, “Do you see the discontent brewing among the people, brother?”
“…Why do you think I am a member of the Royal Cavalry? Because I wanted to be a royal who listens to the voice of the people.”
“Then you must know what I mean. There is a limit to the people’s patience. If left unchecked or if the lid is opened, it is bound to erupt. We must turn the helm before we find ourselves in a situation from which there is no return.”
Prince Ethan stared at Nolan with open eyes, questioning his true intentions.
“You must be the one to do it, brother.”
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